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Monday, January 19, 2009

Sarah's Story

Alice C. Linsley

Sarah’s story is one of loss and long-suffering. She was born a princess of the house of Aram (Syria). Her mother was an Aramaean princess who likely raised Sarah to enjoy the noble life. When Sarah traveled with her husband to Canaan, she lost some of her status, for although she was recognized as a noble woman by Pharaoh, she was no longer the pampered daughter of Terah and her queenly mother.

As Abraham's mother was Canaanite the move to Canaan made it possible for Abraham to reconnect with his mother's side of the family, but it meant that Sarah was leaving her roots in "Aram of the two rivers". Here we gain a glimpse of the long-suffering Sarah. In obeying God's call to leave her home, she would later be granted a higher status as the mother of the promised son, Isaac, and the royal ancestress of the Promised Son, Jesus Christ.

When Sarah set out with her husband to the land of the Canaanites, she was Abraham’s only wife. As the first and only wife she would have held a high status. But she lost some of that status once Abraham took a second wife.

Note that Genesis doesn't say that Abraham married Keturah after Sarah died. It simply tells us that “Abraham married another wife whose name was Keturah”. The idea that he married her after Sarah’s death is implied by the order of the accounts of the two wives and reinforced by rabbinic tradition.

In Canaan, Sarah settled in the area of Hebron. This is where Abraham sought guidance from the Moreh (seer) at the sacred Oak. The Scriptures don't tell us what guidance Abraham sought, but we may speculate that he hoped to gain a territory of his own; to become a ruler like his father and grandfather. Before this could happen, Abraham had to secure a second wife who would dwell to the south of Hebron, according to the tradition. Genesis 12:9 tells us that after seeking advise from the Moreh at Mamre, Abraham traveled south to the Negev. It was probably at this time that he went to Beersheba and contracted marriage to Keturah, his patrilineal parallel cousin. Both Abraham and Keturah were descended from Sheba (Gen. 10:7).

We have a good deal of information about Keturah's people, but Sarah's people are a bit of a mystery because Genesis tells us very little of Aram’s descendents. Around 350 years after Aram was born to Shem, the Aramaean clans separated from the clans of Eber. Genesis 10:25 notes this division, telling us that it took place was in the time of Peleg.

Sarah's status was further reduced when Abraham took a second wife. This must have been especially painful for her as she was struggling with barrenness. Keturah bore Abraham six sons. Here we find echoes of the Rachel-Leah conflict.

Keturah's fruitfulness and her own barrenness is but one of many losses Sarah endured. She lost status as a princess among her people, she lost status as Abraham's only wife, she lost status as a barren woman, and then she endured Hagar's presumption and Ishmael's hold on Abraham's heart. In this, Sarah's patience appears to have failed. In the account of her treatment of Hagar and Ishmael she appears ruthless and unreasonable. God, who looks on the heart, must have seen how she was suffering because the Almighty took Sarah's side in the argument.

It is good that she won that argument, because she wasn't going to win the final argument over Isaac. Abraham took her only son to Mount Moriah and offered him there as a sacrifice and burnt offering to God. The binding of Isaac was the final straw for Sarah, and Abraham must have known it because he never returned to live with her in Hebron. He apparently lived out his days in Beersheba with Keturah.

According to Genesis 23:1, Sarah lived 127 years. These numbers add up to the number 10 which symbolizes a new beginning or new life. She died in Hebron and was buried in a cave in a field which Abraham purchased from Ephron the Hittite (Gen. 23:1-20). In this final act, Abraham honored his wife and half-sister through a costly purchase of land.

Related reading:  Sarah's People; Sarah's Laughter

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