Let Her Speak for Herself: Nineteenth-Century Women Writing on the Women of Genesis

By Marion Ann Taylor; Heather E. Weir | Go to book overview

Part 1

SARAH—THE FIRST MOTHER OF ISRAEL

Introduction

The first matriarch of Israel, originally named Sarai, entered the story of salvation history as the wife of Abram; Genesis 11:27–23:20 contains her story. Ambiguity surrounds Sarai's ancestry but not her fertility. Genesis 11:30 reads, "But Sarai was barren; she had no child." When God commanded Abram to leave his homeland and go to the land of promise, Sarai traveled with her husband and his nephew, Lot, to Canaan. A grievous famine prompted them to take refuge in Egypt, where Abram, fearing that the Egyptians would kill him because of Sarai's beauty, instructed her to say she was his sister. Pharaoh's officials took Sarai into the palace; disease afflicted Pharaoh and his household until Sarai was returned to Abram. God promised Abram many descendents, but Sarai was barren. Sarai decided to solve the problem of her barrenness by giving Abram her Egyptian maid, Hagar, as a second wife (Gen. 16). The pregnancy of Hagar precipitated a conflict that led to Sarai's harsh treatment of her and her subsequent flight into the desert. Hagar returned to Sarai's household and gave birth to Abram's son Ishmael. In Genesis 17:15, God changed Sarai's name to Sarah and promised that she would bear the child of promise. On different occasions, both Abraham and Sarah laughed when they heard this promise (Gen. 17:15–19, Gen. 18:9–15).

When Abraham and Sarah moved to Gerar (Gen. 20), Abraham again claimed that Sarah was his sister. Abimelech, the king of Gerar, took Sarah into his household, but returned her to Abraham after God visited him in a dream. Abimelech gave Abraham and Sarah gifts, and Abraham prayed for the healing of the king and his household, as God had made every female in the household barren "because of Sarah, Abraham's wife."

As God had promised, Sarah gave birth to Isaac (Gen. 21). At the feast of his weaning, the teenaged Ishmael "mocked" his young brother. Sarah told

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