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Sarah, Mother of the Promise

Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Genesis 17:15-16

Dare to be a Daniel! Have you heard that before? Maybe you’ve read articles or listened to sermons on how you should be like this or that biblical person. I’m sure you’re familiar with the good examples: Moses, Abraham, Sarah, Ruth, Esther, Joshua. And then there are the bad ones, the “don’t be like” examples: Jezebel, Herod, Gomer, Lot’s wife.

While we certainly can learn valuable lessons from men and women in the Bible, there’s a deeper purpose to the biblical stories and people. All of Scripture points us to Jesus. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He’s the promise made to Eve and Adam in the garden. He’s the bridegroom who will return for His bride at the end of time.

In Jesus on Every Page, David Murray warns against treating the biblical stories and people as moral examples, saying it “turns the Old Testament into a legalistic list of do’s and don’ts or be’s and don’t be’s. It focuses on what we should and shouldn’t do rather than on what God has done and is doing.”[1]

In looking for what God has done and is doing in the Scriptures, we should see that every passage, every biblical story, ultimately is about Jesus. Murray explains, “Even though every text does not name or refer to Jesus, He is implied in every text since the events and people of every text are part of His plan of redemption. Every story is connected with the overall story of salvation.”[2]

Consider Sarah, Abraham’s wife. She is often used as a model of feminine submission because, as 1 Peter 3:6 says, “she called her husband lord.” But is that all we can learn from her? How does she fit into God’s plan of redemption? How does Sarah point us to Christ? When God made a covenant with Abram, He promised to give him a son and heir (Gen. 15). God told Abram that his descendants would be like the stars in the sky. Unfortunately, there was a problem. Sarai, Abram’s wife, had never been able to have children.

Sarai gave Abram her slave, Hagar, as his wife in the hopes that Hagar would bear children in Sarai’s place. Hagar gave birth to Abram’s son, Ishmael (Gen. 16). But the story doesn’t end there.

Thirteen years later, God renewed His covenant with Abram and gave him circumcision as a sign of the covenant. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, promising that he would be “the father of a multitude of nations” and that his descendants would be kings. This time, God also included Sarai in the covenant promises.

Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” (Gen. 17:15-16)

Abraham laughed and asked God if Ishmael could be the promised heir.

But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. … My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.” (Gen. 17:19, 21)

Look at the parallels in the promises God made to Abraham and Sarah. First, God changed their names, then He blessed them and promised they would have a son together. God promised to make Abraham the “father of a multitude of nations” and make Sarah a “mother of nations.” God promised Abraham that “kings will come forth from you” (Gen. 17:6) and that “kings of peoples will come from [Sarah]” (Gen. 17:16).

As Abraham had, Sarah also laughed when she heard that she would bear a son (Gen. 18:12). She was past child-bearing age. How could she have a child? Sarah would have a child because God keeps His promises. And just as God had promised, Sarah had a son:

Then the LORD took note of Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had promised. So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. (Gen. 21:1-3)

Abraham had other sons, but God established His covenant through Sarah’s son, Isaac (Gen. 17:21). Isaac was a fulfillment of the promises God had made to Abraham and a foreshadowing of the Son who would fulfill all of the covenant promises. Generations later, Jesus was born, a descendant of Abraham and Sarah.

Many people could claim to be descended from Abraham, but the children of the covenant came through Sarah. Paul explains in Galatians that it’s not the physical connection with Abraham that matters but the spiritual connection:

Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. (Gal. 3:6-9).

All of us who are believers have been united to Christ by faith, and so we are sons and daughters of Abraham. But Paul also explains that we are also sons and daughters of Sarah. In Galatians 4, Paul uses Abraham’s sons, Ishmael and Isaac, to illustrate the difference between being slaves under the law and being set free by the gospel:

Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. (Gal. 4:21-26)

Paul concludes that we are children of the promise, like Isaac (Gal. 4:28). Our mother, allegorically, is Sarah. When we study the Old Testament passages about Abraham and Sarah, let’s remember how Sarah points us to Christ. All nations have been blessed through Jesus, son of Abraham, and son of Sarah.

[1] David Murray, Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013), nook edition, 61.

[2] Murray, 64.

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Rachel Green Miller

Rachel Green Miller is the author of Beyond Authority and Submission: Women and Men in Marriage, Church and Society (P&R 2019).  She blogs at .  She blogs at A Daughter of the Reformation and lives in Texas with her husband and three sons.and lives in Texas with her husband and three sons.