The Heroes of Faith: Sarah.

 ‘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).

Sarah is the first of the only two women who are named in Hebrews 11.  She is held up as an example of faith in relation to her bearing Abraham’s son, Isaac, in her old age.  This might cause us to raise our eyebrows – after all, in Genesis 18:1-15 when the Lord revealed to Abraham that he would father a son, despite of his age Sarah, overhearing this, found it laughable, and then lied to try and save face!  That being the case, how is she seen as an example of faith?

The probable answer is far from spectacular, but that said, it is one that can provide believers with great encouragement.  Over the period of time, and encouraged by Abraham’s belief in the promises the Lord made to him, she grew in faith.  After all she too was part of the Lord’s promise to Abraham which had been reflected in her name being changed from Sarai to Sarah, meaning Princess (Genesis 17:15).

There is some debate as to whether Sarah or Abraham is the main subject of verse 11 as how it is translated in some versions put the emphasis on Abraham.  Lee Cockerill translates the text as: ‘By faith Sarah herself, although barren, receive power for the disposition of seed even though she was past the season for childbearing’.[1]  And I consider that to be the right emphasis as those receiving the letter would have known the scripture concerned and would have known that Abraham had had no problem impregnating Hagar (Genesis 16:1-4), which then does not particularly make this an act of faith on his part (although by the time Isaac was born he was considerably older).  So in my thinking the emphasis is on the: ‘power to conceive’ which strongly suggests that Sarah is the main subject of the verse.[2]  Genesis 18:11 helps reinforce the view as it states: ‘Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah’ (a biblical way of saying she had gone through the menopause).  So, in the course of time, Sarah came slowly to believe, trusting that God would make her capable of bearing a son.

But how refreshing this was for the readers of the original letter and also us as believers today!  Very often faith is not formed by bold steps but by us stumbling, falling because of our lack of trust in the Lord’s promises, then him graciously picking us up again, and so we learn the lesson to put our trust in him!

But that said, in in the end this is still amazing faith!  In verse 12 the writer makes it clear that this is a major miracle.  It could not have been easier than raising the dead yet: ‘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 sands by the seashore.’  This is a faith that trusts the Lord to bring about his purpose, even when circumstances are against it!  And this has got to be a major encouragement to Christians in any day and age!

Want to listen to a sermon on this passage?  Sarah: Faith by a Progressive Experience.

[1] Garth Lee Cockerill, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The New International Commentary on the  New Testament, (Michigan, Eerdmans publishing company, 2012), 535.
[2] As the ESV (English Standard Version of the Bible) also concludes.  Hence  the use of it here.


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