Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. Genesis 16:1
Not only in this verse it first mentioned that Sarah or previously was named Sarai (Gen. 11:29), was barren without a child. Genesis 11:30 also mentioned the same thing, she was barren had no child. As if God wanted us to know clearly He had closed Sarai’s womb to have children.
Who was Sarai?
Sarai was Abraham’s wife, a man previously called Abram, Genesis 11:29. Abraham is a patriarchal father known for his faith in God. The meaning of the name Sarai is the princess of a king. Perhaps because of her beautiful face, she got the name (Genesis 12:11). But when someone’s name is mentioned in the Bible, it is to show more of the person’s character or his/her destiny, what he/she would be in the future as God intended him/her to be. The interesting thing in Genesis 16, the chapter which told us about who Sarai was, tells of a classic quarrel of husband and wife waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled.
Genesis 16:2 mentions Sarai’s words about God did not give her a child. She was upset. We would understand this because Abram and Sarai had been waiting for 10 years since they received the promise of a child the first time. Genesis 12:4, Abram was 75 years old when God called him. In Genesis 16:16, it is mentioned that Abram was 86 years old when Hagar gave birth to Ishmael for him. So Abram was at least 85 years old in verses 1-4 Genesis 16. There were 10 years passing by in between.
10 years is not 10 minutes, 10 minutes itself could feel like a long time especially if what we are waiting for is urgent. Even so, 10 years!. If a minute = 60 seconds, then a year (or 365 days) equals to 31,536,000 seconds. So 10 years would be about 315 million seconds and more. Counting the seconds while waiting is not an interesting thing to do. Especially for us, waiting for something which is promised for a very long time could change our attitude to those who promise.
To wait upon God
Waiting isn’t measured by how long could you wait patiently but how would you react during the waiting period. 10 years is not an easy time. You could probably imagine this, in the first 1-2 years we are all still passionate about God’s promises and prophecies. On year 3, we begin to ponder. Maybe we are still patient to wait until the 5th year. 6th year? Many of us would have given up, especially in the case of Abram and Sarai: they didn’t get any younger and their condition had become very old to be able to give birth. Especially Sarai. She was upset, this was clear from her words: God did not give me a child (Gen. 16:2).
If she was a person of faith, she could have said: God has not given me a child yet. In the King James translation, she said as if God was the one to blame in this case. God has restrained me back from having children, Sarai told Abram.
Moreover, Sarai clearly said here, God didn’t give me a child. Why wouldn’t she say give us a child? Sarai was putting a lot of implications on herself only in her words. Not to us: her husband Abram and her. Aren’t they supposedly one? Genesis 2:24.
3 mistakes of Sarai
In verse 2, we can clearly see Sarai’s 3 mistakes:
- She had no more faith in believing God would still keep His promise to give them a child. She saw the fact they were experiencing, she had come to a conclusion: God didn’t give her a child.
- She blamed God as if He had restrained her from having a child. Why didn’t Sarai come to God and introspect herself for this matter? Wouldn’t God have a purpose or something if He happens to close her womb? Weren’t there any personal characters that need to be changed?
- She apparently really wanted a child for herself. In those days, not having children was a disgrace. So having a child would not only give meaning to life but elevates the pride (a worth) of a person. Often we forget that what we ask God is only for the prestige of our life. We forget that God is the preserver of our lives, not the keeper (maintain) of our lifestyle! Often we ask for something to just prove ourselves to others. A selfish prayer. Not a prayer according to God’s will.
If she would say God had not given us a child yet, this story might be different. She would still have faith and hope in God and really put herself on the same level as her husband for the promise of God. Not elevate her own self. Didn’t Abram just receive a reaffirmation of God’s promise in one chapter earlier? Genesis 15:5, try counting stars in the sky! So many of your descendants will. An illustration of the number of descendants Abram would have at one time. Abram believed in this promise of God. Genesis 15:6, and He counted it to him as righteousness.
What interesting here was that all this time the Lord only spoke to Abram about His promises. Not to Sarai as well. Or not even to Abram and Sarai together as a married couple. Only to Abram himself. Not because God did not respect a woman but because He highly respected the law in a family, the wife must submit to her husband (Ephesians 5:22-23). The husband is the head of a wive and God is the head of the husband (1 Corinthians 11:3). So God clearly spoke to Abram only, not to Sarai. God also spoke to Adam only, not to Eve. To Abram and to Adam, God gave His Word. From them, Sarai and Eve received the Word of God and had to submit to their husbands as priests who accepted the Word. The reality of married life is the opposite of what it should be. Thus in the life of Abram’s family and even in Adam’s. They both fell into committing sin because they listened to their wives. Genesis 16:4, Abram did what Sarai told him to do. To sleep with Hagar so she (Sarai) would have a child. Genesis 3:6, Adam accepted the offer of forbidden fruit and joined Eve to eat it.
The responsibility of the husband is not only to accept and deliver the Word unto the wife but more, that every husband must stand firm in their faith in the Word of God however the wife would come against it. If Adam said no, I would not share in the fruit which God forbade us to eat. If Abram said no, I would not accept Hagar because God had promised and He had just confirmed it again. Then what happened next in the world could be totally different. Probably there would never be Abram’s descendant from the side of Ishmael. But we all know what had happened.
Back to the meaning of the name of Sarai which is the king’s princess, it is not surprising to see how Sarai became upset in this situation as explained above. When Ishmael was born and Hagar looked down on her, Sarai became even more angry in verse 5 of Genesis 16 to Abram. She admitted that she was the one who gave Hagar to Abram, but the insult she received was Abram’s responsibility? It is clear that Sarai’s desire to get a child was not for the will of God, but for the pride of her life only. And now she felt so insulted by discovering her slave Hagar wanted to replace her position as Abram’s legal wife. So her strong will character as a spoiled king’s princess actually threw her own responsibility to Abram again, she blamed him for her own mistake. If God would be the judge of both of them as she wished, wouldn’t she suffer the most in this case? It can be understood that women think with their feelings and not like men who think with their logic. But every one of us, whether male or female, should think carefully before saying words like Sarai. Sarai was just showing her bad characters before her husband and God.
Ishmael, and God was silence
When Ishmael was born, Genesis 16:5, 15-16, Abram was 86 years old. 11 years had passed since he received the promise of a son in Genesis 12:2 the first time. Genesis 17:1 began with this word when Abram was ninety-nine years old, and the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him: “I am the Lord Almighty, walk before me without blemish.
The question here is, where was God when Ishmael was born (when Abraham was 86 years old) until He spoke again to Abram (when Abraham was 99 years old)? There were 13-14 years passed by without God’s word, even to 15 years longer until Ishak the son of the promise was born. Genesis 17 tells how God repeated His promise again to Abram. One last year before Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old, Genesis 21:2.
God apparently was silent and did not speak to Abram at all since Ishmael was born, due to him listening to his wife and slept with Hagar to give birth to his offspring. In other words, He was cranky! Funny as it sounds for God would never behave like this. But to the fact that no verses, not even one single verse, wrote the story of Abram from 86 to 99 years old shows that God did not speak to him at all. Why is that? Aren’t there 5 chapters: Genesis 12-16 wrote about 5 years of Abram’s life? Since the promise until Ishmael was born. And aren’t there another five chapters more in the last 1 year before Isaac was born, Genesis 17-21? Why wasn’t there a single verse about Abram from Genesis 16:16 to Genesis 17:1? There were 13-14 years of silence, the time of God did not speak to Abram: there was a sin.
Often we don’t like the time when our wives don’t talk to us, especially after a fight. She is being cranky! This shows there is still something unfinished on the side of the wife. This irritating attitude, the wife’s anger usually comes in the form of being silent, would give a woman a better result of her wishes from her husband. Normally her husband would become soft and follow the wife’s wishes. But have we ever thought that it is more dangerous when God decides to be silent to us instead when we follow the wishes of our wife if they are against His Word? When we are not receiving God’s voice, it would show us we are losing God’s guidance in this life. Because when God stops speaking to us, His presence has departed from us. This is a greater danger. Because it is much easier to persuade a cranky wife than trying to get God to talk.
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What is said here is not when God does not speak to us in difficult times. Or when we experience problems and God doesn’t seem to talk to us. Would there a teacher keeps on talking when his students are going through an exam? The teacher will be silent and only expect the students to answer each exam question correctly as the teacher has taught them. Many times does God not speak to us when we are going through difficult times, because all of that is a test we must go through. And like a teacher, God will expect us to give the right answers, the proper reactions, and the good responses as He has taught us before.
To wait longer
But in Abram’s case, there were 13 years gone by without God’s Word. And when He spoke again the first time after, He said, I am the Almighty God, live before Me blamelessly. In other words, I’m in charge here, not you Abram. You must live righteously, without blemish. There was sin in the life of Abram. What was it? He listened to Sarai’s words so that Ishmael was born. If we look at the time span, the first 10 years were a test of patience fully to the faith of Abram and Sarai. At the end of 10 years, Ishmael was born. This was the mark of Abram’s failure in waiting for God to fulfill His promise. Because of that, Sarai and him had to wait for another 10 years plus 5 extra years. If Abram hadn’t listened to Sarai, had Ishmael never been born, would Abram and Sarai still wait for another 15 years longer? Probably not. It could be just a little longer, like another 1-2 years. Isn’t it the faster we surrender to Him, the easier the path will be opened for us? Our yield to Him must be sincerily from the deep of our hearts. God truly knows our heart, Jeremiah 17:9. Every one of us will be tested deeptly, have we surrendered to Him and His will?! In fact, the test of time is the hardest one. Yes, it is clear here the 15 years longer in Abram and Sarai’s life had killed something in their lives. Sara found herself menopause already. She had become so old that her womb had died. Likewise with her strong will. She was fully aware that her strength had gone and now if it was not God, it would not be possible again. She finally yields to Him.
Many of us fail to understand God’s timing for us. God’s time is not our time, God’s way is not our way. As high as the heavens above the earth, Isaiah 55:8-9. God does not measure the length of human life with time, He is eternal and He is outside of human time. He walks in His own time. But it doesn’t mean He doesn’t care about us, only we must understand that He is alone who understand the bigger picture of our lives. Even He alone who is able to understand the whole picture of all human life throughout history from beginning to end. Only Him who is able to connect and interwoven all of us in such a perfect way. So that He knows exactly when He would show us His grace. It’s not just based on what we see today when we are in need of something urgent. We must dare to let go even to sacrifice what God does not want in our lives when He would have not answered our prayers according to our time. Because often only when we find something not answered, closed, then another thing, a better one would come, would be opened. Don’t be angry with Him if He intentionally would not answer our prayer according to our time. Learn to believe that God has a better answer in His time for us.
Yes, we all need to die to our own time, to our own agenda. Let God govern our time of life, His time is better for everything in us. And yes, the story of Genesis 16 is a test of time not only for Abram and Sarai but clearly for all of us. The length of time to wait will purify each heart before God.
When God’s time finally arrived, Abram was already 99 years old. Sarai herself was 89 years old. Genesis 17:17 shows that when they later had a son Abram was 100 years old and Sarai was 90 years old. God’s time is always a mystery to each of us, which is clear that each of us must learn to surrender and not be in a hurry. One sure thing, it is better for us. Not only to change us to be better but for a better future, no one knows exactly how it will be. Luke 12:16-21 tells of a rich man who built larger barns and thought that tomorrow or his future had been secured just fine. He forgot that it is not his wealth that guarantees whether he would still awake the next day or not. He forgot to pay attention to God’s time which had arrived for him.
A changed name
There is one thing here that needs to be considered carefully in Genesis 17. The names of Abram and Sarai were changed by God to Abraham and Sarah. Abram means the father who is exalted or glorified. He was a real big boss in his time with so much wealth and slaves. But he apparently had to learn to humble himself all this time until he found God changed his name to Abraham, the father of all nations. Genesis 17:4. Sarai herself means the king’s princess, now changed and transformed into Sarah, a graceful woman (or noble). Genesis 17:15. What is interesting is that in the Indonesian translation, Sarah’s name does not have the suffix H as in the English translation. As if God had to erase the I in Sarai first before He allowed her to conceive a child. Could God mean that she would not get God’s promise unless she died to herself first? After all, in alphabetical order, after I is J. So if we would die to ourselves (die to the I), then only Jesus able to be revealed in our lives.
When God’s time arrived, Abraham and Sara had to face an issue that was no less complicated. They both had become very old. Abraham laughed, Genesis 17:17. Similarly, Sara also laughed to hear this promise repeated, Genesis 18:12. After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure? Sara’s condition was no longer possible to have children, but for God nothing is impossible. He said, is there anything that is impossible for the Lord? At the appointed time, next year, I will return to you; at that time Sarah had a son. Genesis 18:14.
And yes, in Genesis 21:2, Sara delivered Isaac for Abraham in their old age. Just as it is in the Word of God, at the appointed time.
What interesting here is this, there is a story of Abraham and Abimelech the king of the Philistines in Genesis 20. This story happened just before Isaac was born in Genesis 21. A similar story to the earlier one when Abraham fled to Egypt because of famine in the land of Canaan. And once again because of Sara’s beauty, Abraham had to lie she was his sister so Abraham would not be killed because of her. But regardless of Abraham’s sin of lying about who Sara really was to him, this story is there to show us all that when the time of the Lord arrived, nothing would be impossible for Him.
Abimelech was the Philistine king who lived in two generations: Abraham and Isaac. In Abraham’s time, his name appears in Genesis 20:2. In Isaac’s, it is in Genesis 26:1. So this king would have lived for a long period of time, fortunately. In Isaac’s time, he was old already but still like to glance at women regardless if they would have a husband or not. Yes, in this age of paganism there would be no moral codes or values to respect. It is all about who is in power. He liked to peep into other’s private room, Gen. 26: 7-8. So we can imagine how lust and desireful he was when he was still so young at the time of Abraham. He was a king with many wives and concubines, Gen. 20:17. And he also took Sara to be his wife, Gen. 20:2.
Didn’t Sara have already menopause when she was taken again? And Abimelech was a very young king at that time? Where could we find a young king with a lustful desire for a woman got attracted to an old one who had menopause already? Was Sara a real beautiful grandma or did King Abimelech suffer from cataract eyes?
New wings of an eagle
What happened was this, the power of God (Gen. 18:14) which descended upon Sara hadn’t only strengthened back the womb to be able to conceive but more.. that her whole physical condition: her face, muscle, body, skin and everything of her, refreshed, renewed, strengthened back, revived again to be just as Sara was still a young lady. God’s purpose was simple, so Sara could be strong again in her old age to give birth. Those who wait for God, get new strength, Isaiah 40:31. Even though it’s a long-long time to wait, but when the time of the Lord arrives no one will be able to resist, nor to stop God’s power to work perfectly fulfilling His promise for us all. God’s Word never fail, Isaiah 55:11.
Like an eagle with a new wing soared up into the sky, Isaiah 40:31. When the eagle came in the phase of renewing his life, he experienced a very painful process of transformation for a while. An eagle is a bird that can live up to 70 years. But in the middle of that 70 years, when he reached 40 some years old he must decide to experience the transformation process which would be really painful, or to die immediately. Because at the age of 40, the beak had become so long and bent which would be difficult to eat and to swallow its prey. The nails were dull, the feathers were very long and thick also. So he had to fly high to the top of a high mountain, and build a new temporary large nest. Where he will poke his beak onto the mountain cliff until it breaks, then wait for the new one to appear and grow back. With the new beak, it will pull out all of his old nails. And after the new nails appear, it will pull out all of its old wing feathers to grow the new ones. After all these painful experiences passed by, a long and painful process, the eagle practically would have had a new young body again!
So this Genesis 20 is recorded for us to understand that Sara has truly turned strong and young again, ready to give birth to Isaac. Abimelech came here only to show that Sara now, because of God’s miracle, was as attractive as 24 years ago when God’s promises were first given to Abram and Sarai. The difference now was Sarai had been made ready to be Sara, the mother of all nations. A woman who brought fulfillment to God’s promise for Abraham!
But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31.