A Reason to Believe
Standards shape cultures. Several thousand years ago, a woman’s worth in many places was measured by a standard: fertility. Consequently, society at large honored women for bearing many sons, but it likewise shamed them for being barren. Wives who could not be mothers considered themselves cursed. This is exactly the kind of cultural environment that surrounded Sarah, and she understood this plague all too well.
Moses records, “Sarai was barren; she had no child” (Genesis 11:30 NAS95). The first thing we learn about Sarah is that she had to deal with what was perhaps the most societally embarrassing issue for any woman. Unable to bear children, she bore a curse instead. But it was not just a cultural perspective and the corresponding societal pressure that Sarah faced. In her book Spoken from the Heart, Laura Bush poignantly describes the kind of depressing reality experienced by many women haunted by this unending hollow:
“The English language lacks the words to mourn an absence. For the loss of a parent, grandparent, spouse, child, or friend, we have all manner of words and phrases, some helpful, some not. Still, we are conditioned to say something, even if it is only ‘I am sorry for your loss.’ But for an absence, for someone who was never there at all, we are wordless to capture that particular emptiness. For those who deeply want children and are denied them, those missing babies hover like silent, ephemeral shadows over their lives. Who can describe the feel of a tiny hand that is never held?”
We are not told exactly how Sarah felt, but it is difficult to imagine that she somehow would have been immune to the societal pressures and emotional challenges infertility presented. Try to put yourself in her place and imagine how difficult it would be to cope with this, to summon the strength and resolve to live a “normal” life, having been denied perhaps the most fundamental distinguishing characteristic of being a woman. Now imagine someone assuring you that all of this would change.
“I will make you a great nation” (Genesis 12:2 NAS95). That’s one of several incredible promises God made to Abraham, Sarah’s husband. There just seemed to be one problem: it is rather difficult to produce a nation from childless parents. Nevertheless, God assured them that they would have a child who specifically would come from their own bodies (Genesis 15:4). But it had been ten long years since God had made that extraordinary promise, and Sarah, perhaps with feelings of failing hope, was anxious for the child of promise.
“So Sarai said to Abram, ‘Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.” (Genesis 16:2 NAS95) As the descriptive language of this account begins to parallel that of man’s fall in the garden, it is clear that Abraham and Sarah’s faithlessness led directly to sin. And just as Adam and Eve’s sin resulted in painful consequences God never intended, this decision would cause heartbreaking conflict in Abraham’s family on at least two dramatic occasions. As for Sarah, though, another fourteen years would pass with no sign of her promised child.
Having already reassured Abraham that Isaac would be born in a year, God met with him and exposed the faltering faith within Sarah’s heart. “The LORD said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, saying, “Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?” Is anything too difficult for the LORD?’” (Genesis 18:13–14 NAS95) The answer to that question is obvious, yet I am convinced that we all can identify with Sarah’s struggle to believe a promise of something incredible after twenty-five years of waiting, having watched her husband accomplish with her maid what he had never achieved with her. God did not, however, only promise that day that Isaac would be born in a year; He also promised to obliterate Sodom and Gomorrah.
“Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.” (Genesis 19:24–25 NAS95) In other words, God did exactly what He said He would do. Of the two promises God had made that day, God had already fulfilled one in a spectacular way! What do you suppose God was going to do about Isaac’s long-awaited birth?
Before Sarah could find out, she would come face-to-face with God’s power in the household of Abimelech. For years I had missed the significance of Genesis 20 for Sarah. Yes, it is true that God kept Abimelech from Sarah and thus made sure no one could question that Isaac was the true son of promise, but that is not all He did.
“Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maids, so that they bore children. For the LORD had closed fast all the wombs of the household of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.” (Genesis 20:17–18 NAS95) Sarah was literally surrounded by God’s unquestionable power to both remove and restore fertility! She watched how faithful obedience and an appeal to God Almighty resulted in the unimaginable. Sarah could see that, indeed, there was nothing too difficult for the LORD.
“By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.” (Hebrews 11:11 NAS95) I think there are several important lessons we can learn from Sarah’s journey of faith.
First, God can do anything we could possibly imagine, and infinitely more than that.
Second, God always keeps His promises. And finally, God shows us His power in astounding ways that should strengthen our faith in His ability to achieve everything else He has promised us.
What are some things we find difficult to believe? Perhaps we struggle to accept that God can forgive the ugliest sins. Maybe we wonder how minuscule groups of Christians can evangelize a metropolitan population numbering in the millions. Possibly, we strain our minds to grasp our promised resurrection. But then we would do well to meditate on another Son of promise whom God raised from the dead. Now ask yourself: is anything too difficult for the LORD?
BJ Young (2019-03-24)