Summary: The message helps us understand God doesn't expect us to be great, but he does expect us to be good by doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly.
Four thousand years ago, barrenness was the ultimate disgrace; it was seen as a sign of divine disfavor. If you don’t have children, it’s because God’s got something against you. Period. A woman who couldn’t conceive suffered not only lack of approval, but also the threat of divorce. And barrenness in the ancient world was ALWAYS the woman’s fault. Talk about adding insult to injury! She was ridiculed by others, believed to be shunned by God, and considered disposable by her husband. Sarai was barren.
The Bible is full of irony, and the story of Sarai and Abram “fits the bill.” God had great plans for Abram. This man was to be the “father” of many nations. God carted off Abram and Sarai to “the land which [he showed] them.” This land, Canaan, as it was called, was to become what we know as the “Promised Land.” God was making all the necessary preparations for this nation building through Abram and Sarai, and they were following in faith. They uprooted their lives, left behind their families, and settled in the land to which God had directed them. But month after month, when her monthly began, Sarai knew that there would be no multitude of offspring yet; no nation building for now.
Any of you who have experienced the disappointment of infertility know the hopelessness and despair that eventually sets in. Every fourth week is approached with cautious optimism, only to have your hopes and dreams dashed to pieces. We can only imagine how Abram and Sarai must have been feeling as they journeyed through this range of emotions not only month after month, but year after year; even decade upon decade. And with the added social stigma and pressure on Sarai, the disappointment must have been doubly so. I can’t even imagine the weight she carried on her shoulders day after day, after day.
Still, Abram did not divorce her as he had the right to do. He believed the promise God had made to him, and he believed that Sarai would be blessed by God, too. So it was that Abram and Sarai journeyed through life together. They settled down in Canaan, but when drought and famine struck the land, they were forced to move. The chosen destination was Egypt, where the Nile river basin promised infinite abundance. But there was also a problem in Egypt, a wildly promiscuous Pharoah who would stop at nothing to have access to a beautiful woman. But that was a mild threat compared to the starvation Abram knew would set in if he and Sarai did not leave Canaan. So Abram told Sarai that they would be moving to Egypt until the famine ended. He also told Sarai, who was an exceptionally beautiful woman, that she must claim to be Abram’s sister so that Pharoah would not kill him in order to have access to her; because that’s what Pharoah did, he killed husbands so he could have the wives.
Now, in case you don’t follow what all this means; Abram basically asked Sarai to give herself to the Pharoah up front so that he wouldn’t have to be killed on her behalf. Now, for those of us women who like a “knight in shining armor” kind of guy who we know will defend us no matter what, this is pretty disappointing; disgusting, even. But Sarai complied. We cannot know why. Perhaps she feared Abram would divorce her if she did not follow his wishes. And, of course, the only thing worse than a barren woman is a barren, divorced woman. She was stuck between a “rock and a hard place” on all sorts of levels. Nevertheless, she called herself Abram’s sister and sure enough, she ended up right there in Pharoah’s harem as expected; at least until God intervened. Perhaps there is a reason for this woman to hope, after all. God punished Pharoah and his whole household with a plague because he had taken another man’s wife, and so Pharoah kicked Abram and Sarai (the only ones not affected by the plague) out of Egypt. They returned to their home in Canaan. And I can only imagine that once again that cycle of disappointment set in.
But God’s promises remained. God once again appeared to Abram to reinforce his promise. But Abram is beginning to doubt now. He has no children of his own. He is fully expecting that his household servant will become his heir. Yet, God has other plans. He shows Abram outside and tells him to count the stars; promising him that HIS offspring, Abram’s very own flesh and blood, will be more numerous even than the stars. Abram believed God. At that moment, there must have been something about Abram that changed. Because we sense that perhaps Sarai has noticed his hopes of having his own children have been reinvigorated. So Sarai decides it’s time to take matters into her own hands (take note now, this ends up being a HUGE mistake). She believes that she will never be able to bear a son for Abram, and so she offers to him her slave, Hagar. Again, Sarai did not have to do this, but despite the rather ill-treatment by Abram in Egypt, she still obviously loves him deeply and remains committed to him and to their marriage, and to giving to him all that he desires.