God's covenant to Abraham and Sarah
The Promise to Abraham
God promises Abraham “a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”1 Significantly, when God makes his promise to Abraham, he says, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.”2
This is one of many instances where God commands holiness from those he makes a covenant with. God even goes so far as to change Abram’s name as a sign of the promise.
God declares his promise to Abraham multiple times3 but in the first few instances, he isn’t told when or where or how, or even who would bear him his heir. Despite the ambiguity, we see that “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”4
The Promise to Sarah
In the past, I’ve often read the passage of Sarah and Hagar and the birth of Ishmael (Genesis 16) as an indication that Abraham doubted God’s promise or that he and Sarah tried to take matters into their own hands and messed the whole thing up. I’ve always viewed the story negatively.
But upon re-reading the passages, I realized that it is only after Ishmael is born that God tells Abraham that Sarah will also have a child.5
This is complete speculation, but maybe Sarah giving Hagar as the child-bearer was her sacrificial act. She knew the reality of her barrenness, which is a sad and difficult road for any woman. She may have wanted a child more than anything and could have felt like she had been forgotten in the promise. Maybe she was trying to honour the promise by bringing Hagar into the picture to take her place as heir-bearer.
Despite her perhaps misguided actions, God blesses Sarah in chapter 17 when he does reveal that she will in fact bear a son. I think the reason why God still blesses her is because he knows her heart was genuine.
Preparing Our Hearts
We can reflect on two things from these passages: Abraham shows us how belief in the Lord and righteousness go hand in hand. We see the call to be blameless. And Sarah reminds us how we can offer ourselves up sacrificially to the Lord.
A Note About the Art
I couldn’t help myself: the pinecones looked like a little crown and the name Sarah means “princess”, so it seemed fitting.