Message title: The Faith of Sarah, Hebrews 11:11-12
Broadcast date: October 13, 2019 (No. 4006)
Radio pastor: Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma
Dear Radio Friends,
In our last broadcast we learned about Eve. Today we study a woman named Sarah. We read of her in Hebrews 11:11, 12: “Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.”
Sarah lived around 2,000 years after Eve, so we have skipped over a considerable amount of Old Testament history. The names of the wives of the generations of believers during this time are not mentioned. Sarah first appears in Genesis 11 and 12 together with her husband, Abraham, when Abraham was called out of Ur of the Chaldees and eventually to the land of Canaan. The Word of God in Hebrews 11 points out something that is oftentimes overlooked when it comes to the wives of faithful men of God. They were characterized by the same faith that their husbands had. They stood by their sides with the same hope, with the same valor, with the same faith as that of their husbands.
Sarah, whose name was originally Sarai, was of the line of Shem, a son of Noah. In fact she, like Abraham, was born to Terah, their father. Evidently Terah had more than one wife and, though sharing the same father, Sarah had a different mother than Abraham. This made her Abraham’s half-sister. This was not an uncommon thing during the age in which they lived. Sarah was 10 years younger than Abraham. It is obvious from the account in Genesis that she loved her husband dearly and stood with him wherever he went and in whatever he did. She willingly moved with him from Ur to Canaan—hundreds of miles away. Sarah had cast in her lot with Abraham. She was a woman of faith as her husband was. The Genesis account makes that abundantly clear.
The Word of God before us today also points out that Sarah acted in faith together with Abraham as far as receiving strength to conceive and bear a son. We read in verse 11 of our text, “Through faith also Sarah herself received strength,” and so on. The idea is that Sarah also, that is, together with her husband, received strength. Literally, she received strength to receive the seed her husband imparted to her. The faith of Sarah, therefore, stands in close connection with the faith of Abraham. But it was indeed her faith!
The Faith of Sarah
The verses we consider in Hebrews point out the truth that both Sarah and Abraham received from God a promise. God promised them that He would give them as many children as the stars of the sky for multitude and the sand by the seashore innumerable. Now, we must remember that God’s promise to Abraham was wrapped up in the covenant that God established with Abraham and Sarah. It is clear from our text that Sarah and Abraham received this promise of God’s covenant together. God’s covenant is that relationship of fellowship by which God binds unto Himself in love a people elected in Jesus Christ. It is a relationship into which the most high God graciously enters with His people, a close bond in which He pours out all His blessings and love. This covenant, God established with Abraham. I will be your God and you and your children will be my people, God said. Imagine that! Out of all the people in the world God spoke the words of His covenant to Abraham and Sarah. At this point in history God was narrowing down the scope of His church and covenant to include only Abraham and his children—and then not all his children either.
Now, because God was the God of Abraham and Sarah and they His friends, God gave to them several promises. God does this with the people of His covenant throughout history. He gives them certain promises. But the two God gave Abraham were vital to the continuation of God’s covenant. One was that He would give to their children the land of Canaan. Already this promise of God to them depended on one thing: that Sarah would bear children—or at the least one child! The other promise to Abraham and Sarah was that their children in their generations would be so many that a person would not be able to count them all. They would be as many as the stars in the sky and the sand by the seashore innumerable! Both these promises were given them when they had no children. In fact, the Bible establishes immediately, when first introducing us to Sarai in Genesis 11:30, that “Sarai was barren; she had no children.” Already before leaving Ur of the Chaldees to journey to Canaan, it was known that Sarah was barren. Yet, repeatedly, God gave to her the promise that her children would be innumerable and that they would possess the land of Canaan.
This is the main story line of Abraham and Sarah’s life in Canaan. In Genesis 12 God commands Abraham and Sarah to leave Ur because He would make of them a great nation. In Genesis 13, after Lot split from Abraham and moved elsewhere in Canaan, God appeared to Abraham and spoke to him the promises we just related. In Genesis 15 God ratifies His covenant with Abraham and informs Abraham that his children would possess the land of Canaan. In Genesis 17, when Abraham was 99 years old, God made this same promise. Abraham and his barren wife Sarah had, ever since she was 60 years old, repeatedly heard these promises from God. Evidently, this was not yet considered too old for bearing children at that time, although it was pushing the limits! But Sarah, for example, was 60 when Abraham went to Egypt to escape the famine in Canaan. Abraham had her lie to Pharaoh because she was an extremely beautiful woman yet at 60. Abraham did not want Pharaoh to kill him in order to take Sarah for himself. Pharaoh was immediately attracted to her too. So, 60 years old at that time was probably like 30 or 40 now. But Sarah was barren! During the most fruitful years of her life she could not conceive in her womb. She could not get pregnant.
Now Sarah is 90 years old. Likewise, Abraham is 99, almost 100 years old. We learn in our text that Sarah was past age. This means she was past those years in which a woman can bear a child. She had gone through her change of life. Her womb no longer produced the ovum necessary to conceive a child. Neither did Sarah have the strength anymore to carry and give birth to a baby. She was old. On the other hand, we learn in verse 12 of our text that Abraham was from the same point of view as good as dead. Abraham’s body was no longer producing the seed that was capable of giving life to an ovum. What the Bible describes for us therefore is the utter impossibility for Sarah to conceive anymore. It is possible that a woman, after being barren for many years, suddenly becomes pregnant. But those years were long gone for Sarah.
Now God comes to this old couple and says in Genesis 17:16, “And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.” That was a promise. A promise is a pledge, a guarantee that what was said will surely come to pass. A person who makes a promise is one who vows, and even in certain instances swears, that he will keep what he has promised. God had promised to Abraham, and in him also to Sarah, that He would indeed fulfill the promise that the two of them would have as many children as the stars in the sky! According to Hebrews 8, God even swore an oath by His name that He would keep that promise, along with the promise that these children of Abraham and Sarah would inherit the land of Canaan. The passage we now consider in Hebrews 11 tells us of Sarah’s response to this promise. Her response was that of Abraham too, but we call attention here to the faith of Sarah, this believing wife of Abraham who had as much at stake in this promise as did her husband. We ought never think that God-fearing wives have nothing to do with what goes on in the life of their husbands. Abraham’s life was turned upside down when he had to travel to a place that God would show him. This means Sarah’s life was turned upside down with him! But Sarah too was a woman of faith! She did not forsake her husband. She did not say to him, “You’re a fool if you think that God is going to give us a baby at our age!” Instead we learn that “she judged God faithful who had promised.”
Such reveals the faith of Sarah: she judged God faithful. Her reaction was the same as Abraham’s, of which we read in Romans 4:19-21: “And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.” Sarah was fully persuaded that God would fulfill His promise. She did not stagger at, or doubt, God’s faithfulness to fulfill it.
It is true, Sarah gave Hagar, her handmaid, to Abraham for a wife to bring forth a child on her behalf. Hagar gave birth to a son named Ishmael, but he did not fear God. Sarah had to bear the promised child. It would not be done any other way. Abraham and Sarah together had to bear the promised children of God’s covenant. But though Sarah thought there might be another way, she never stumbled at the promise itself! Sarah judged God faithful who had promised! She always had. She and Abraham at this point may have doubted the way God would fulfill His promise. They had to learn that salvation would come to God’s people by way of a miracle. But they did not doubt God’s faithfulness to His covenant and its promises.
With the conception of Isaac, Abraham and Sarah both learned that what is impossible with man is always possible with God. This is exactly what Zacharias and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, had to learn. It is exactly what Mary learned with the conception of Jesus Christ. God would fulfill His covenant with Abraham and his children through a child that was born to him and to Sarah—and Sarah only! The Messiah had to be born of Isaac. The coming of that Messiah was a human impossibility. But God Himself will fulfill His covenant with His people. God would be our God and we His people on the basis of Christ’s work on the cross. God’s covenant is His bond of fellowship with His elect people in Christ. Christ had to be born of Abraham and his wife Sarah.
Sarah was indeed included in this covenant with Abraham and his children. She believed that! She believed God would fulfill His promise to send a Savior who would save from sin. She did not doubt that Abraham would be the father of many nations and that all the peoples of the earth would be blessed in him—and in her. In this she revealed her faith. The whole point of Hebrews 11 is to show the faith of the Old Testament saints.
God’s Word teaches us that “Through faith also Sara received strength.” Faith. “Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (verse 1 of Hebrews 11). When we hope for something, it has not yet taken place. We are aware that it is coming, but we do not see it yet. From a spiritual point of view, Sarah hoped for the fulfillment of God’s promise. That rested in her having a son. She hoped for a child born to her husband. In this she also, with Abraham, looked for and longed for the coming of the Messiah and salvation in Him. This is evident from the verses preceding our text here in Hebrews 11. The substance of Sarah’s hope was her faith. Sarah’s faith lay at the root of her hope. Her faith was the only evidence that reassured her that what she did not yet see would indeed come to pass. And she believed it would! The promise to Sarah was reality as far as she was concerned. This is why she judged God faithful.
All of this is true, of course, because of the character of faith. Faith is a certain knowledge by which we hold for truth everything God tells us. Sarah had this knowledge. She knew God.
Now, let us be clear, this knowledge was not mere head knowledge. It was not merely academic knowledge about God. Many, even in the church, think that knowing all the objective doctrines of the church and defending them is the same as the knowledge of faith. Neither is that to be belittled. Faith surely is objective knowledge of the truths of God’s Word. The more we know of God and of Jesus Christ the stronger is our faith. But faith is not mere intellectual knowledge by which we give some assent to what is true of God and Christ. The knowledge of faith is that which is rooted in the very spiritual center of a man or woman.
It is a knowledge of the heart. It is an intimate knowledge by which we come to love God and fear Him. It is a knowledge by which we look to Him for all things and believe that He is capable of doing all things. When applied to the covenant and its promises, faith is that which clings to those promises of God and to His great love and fellowship as the mainstay of life. It is to long for the fulfillment of them, and it is the knowledge that God as God is able, and as Father is willing, to perform what He has promised us.
Such knowledge produces in us one more such blessing: confidence in God. A believer clings to God and Jesus Christ (through whom God fulfills all things), with the great assurance of heart that God out of His great love will do what He says. For example: we believe that God will bring about our final salvation when Jesus Christ comes again. God will usher in the kingdom of heaven and we will dwell with Him there. We believe that. Faith is the substance of things hoped for. This is a promise God has given us. We know of it from God’s Word. Well, with confidence we trust that God will indeed work out all the affairs of this world to bring about that coming of Christ and heaven. Faith is such confidence—unwavering, patient, and sure. This is the faith that Sarah had. Through that faith she was able to conceive and bear a son. Why? Because she judged, she considered, God faithful who had promised.
Was God faithful? Oh yes He was. God fulfilled the impossible. She and Abraham conceived a son in their old age. But did they see what God truly had promised? Did they see children as the stars in the sky and the sand by the seashore? God gave them one son! One son! Then we read in Hebrews 11:13 that Sarah died in faith, not having received the promises but having seen them afar off. They did not see the final fulfillment of the promise, but with the eyes of faith they could see that fulfillment afar off. God had promised a Messiah that would be born out of the line of Isaac their son. From a human point of view, if Isaac had not been born, Christ would not have come. But God was faithful. Sarah believed that. Though she did not see the coming of the Messiah, she believed He would come. And God confirmed that by giving her a son in her old age.
God is always faithful to His promises to His people. He always fulfills what He tells us. If that promise of God is that He will not leave us, then He will not leave us. If the promise is that He will send His Son again on the clouds of heaven, He will accomplish His promise. There is no doubt about that in our minds. Just as there was no doubt of it in Sarah’s mind. She and Abraham would be the parents of all believers. That has become a reality! She is our spiritual mother.
She believed and we believe. That makes us spiritual descendants of Sarah.
Sarah was a woman beautiful on the outside, but especially on the inside. She was a woman of faith. As such she has become for us an example to follow. She is joined together with the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11. God grant us to live in the same faith as our mother Sarah.
Rev. Wilbur G. Bruinsma (Wife: Mary)
Ordained: October 1978
Pastorates: Faith, Jenison, MI - 1978; Missionary to Jamaica - 1984; First, Holland, MI - 1989; Kalamazoo, MI - 1996; Eastern Home Missionary - 2006; Pittsburgh PRC - 2016.Website: www.prcpittsburgh.org/
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