"By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore." Hebrews 11:11-12
We have considered Abraham’s faith, now let’s take a look at Sarah's. From the way the New Testament speaks of Sarah, it feels like her story in the Old Testament is missing some pieces. After reading her account in Genesis, I’m left wondering how to reconcile her experience with her commendation in Hebrews: “she considered him faithful who had promised.” Yet the author of Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, identified in her life a glimpse of faith necessary for us to ponder in our hearts and encourage us along the way.
You can open your Bible and read Sarah’s account in Genesis 11:29-30, 12:1-3, 15:1-6, 16:1-6, 17:15-21, 18:1-15, and 21:1-7. Her story is not has streamlined as her husband’s. If you have time, go and read it!
So, roughly ten years after God’s initial promise to Abraham to make him a great nation, God comes to Abraham and reinstates his promise, bringing him out on a dark night, placing before his eyes the multitude of stars stretched across the sky, and saying, “So shall be your offspring.” God promised with a twinkling visual Abraham would remember every night he stepped back under those little lights in the night sky. And Abraham believed the Lord.
Sarah had a more…difficult time with the promise. Whether we perceive Sarah’s motives in recruiting Hagar to be bitterly taking matters into her own hands or naively attempting to bring about God’s promise in her own power, let us not underestimate her experience. It’s easy to read blips of scripture and assume we have the whole picture without entering in, without really considering the weight that person bore and the inner wrestlings she might have endured. How painful to be identified as barren! How overwhelming to carry a promise of a child well beyond her years of childbearing, years full of dashed hopes and acute grief. How challenging to be married to a man who had faith in this God, who’d tell her to look up at the stars and believe what he did, whose very life reminded her of her own faltering faith.
Another thirteen years would pass following the birth of Ishmael while Sarah continued childless. How terrible now to feel the mocking each time the name of this flesh-born son was spoken, because Ishmael literally means “God hears.”
Through this first leg of Sarah’s journey, we see that hope in God does not come without pain, sorrow, and sacrifice. Hope in God’s hard-to-believe promises requires courage in the face of, by the world’s terms, hopeless circumstances. And if we know that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, we must also understand that assurance does not come easily. It is in returning to and abiding in the Word of God with resolve in this trial-filled life that conviction will begin to settle deeply in us. At every point where our insufficient hopes do not deliver on their promises, let us surrender them through repentance and re-confess the truth of our faith. Hope in God does not put us to shame (Rom 5:5).
Still Sarah’s story continues. Can you imagine? The wound long kept sealed over years of being barren and a promise of a child haunting her, now spoken directly in her ears. This promise would come to pass through her—not because of her pure history, not because of her fertility, but because of God’s glory. As he spoke the world into being out of nothing, so again he can accomplish the impossibility of bearing and delivering life in the most unlikely way, through the most unlikely people.
Perhaps it is here where Sarah’s faith is taking shape. As she hear’s God’s rhetorical question, and firm promise restated, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?…About this time next year Sarah will have a son;” Sarah is forced to go deeper into her faith than before. She has to deal with past pain and regret. She must reflect on her doubts and where she’d lived with man-made expectations. She must consider how his promise will include her own participation, and she trembles in fear.
In Genesis 21:1-2, the reiteration of God doing what he said would for Sarah is stated three times! Sarah herself received power to conceive since she considered him faithful. Throughout the Gospels, the ones who receive power to overcome an impossibility are the ones who put their faith in Jesus. After healing the sick, the lame, the blind, Jesus repeatedly exclaims, “Your faith has made you well” (Matt 9:22, Mark 10:52, Luke 18:42). His time on earth signaled the kingdom’s coming with these evidences of messiahship, the testimonies bearing witness to the prophecies spoken of him. While our faith in Jesus may or may not bring about overt healings and geriatric births, we have an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of these men and women who received power because of their faith.
When Jesus ascended into heaven, he left them with a promise: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8). As we cling to God and his faithfulness, the Holy Spirit will use even the smallest acts of faith in our lives to bear witness to his glory.
If you have trusted in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, resurrection power resides within you (Rom 8:11). Take to heart the ways you’ve resisted being vulnerable and persisted in unbelief. Look to his faithfulness displayed in his Word. Look to the God who would humble himself to enter a womb, who would bear the scorn and mocking of those he came to save, who would cast himself in faith on the promise of the Father, that his death would pay the debt and redeem his people into adoption.