Focus on Sarah: Motherhood in the Ancient World

Sometimes it’s hard to understand the traditions from ancient times in comparison to our life today. God teaches in his Word certain principles that hold as true today as it did many years ago in spite of the current accepted practice. We can learn a lesson from Abraham’s wife Sarah when her great desire to have a child overcame her desire to follow the promise of God. She tried to “help God out” and it ended in disaster.

Genesis 16:1-2 “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said.”

According to the Code of Hammurabi, the Nuzi Tablets and old Assyrian marriage contracts:

• A woman could give her maid to her husband to bear children on her behalf, Jewish and Oriental Inheritance Rights also dealt with this issue:

• Children of a servant woman would be considered children of the wife

• Son born of wife rights supersede rights of adopted son

•First born of wife supersede rights of child of a servant woman

In Sarah’s way of thinking and according to the customs of the day, Sarah had every legal right to give Hagar to Abraham in order to produce the heir that God had promised her. Women in that day were scorned, ridiculed and harassed because they were barren. Sarah was in this position most of her life before Isaac was born to her at the age of 90 years old. What happened after Hagar gave birth to Ishmael is known to most of us through God’s account in Genesis. Hagar and her son Ishmael (father of the Arab nation) were forced to leave by Sarah from their home with Abraham because of Ishmael’s ridicule of Isaac. Even to day there is animosity between the Arabs and the Jews that dates back to this account. Had Sarah waited for God’s best instead of “helping Him out” our current world might have been different.

Sarah in her attempt to have a child forgot to rely on God’s promises and set in place events that would carry through to this very day. Waiting on the Lord to fulfill what He has promised is not an easy task. We live in a world that gives instant gratification to every want and need. But just as in this case, God expects us to wait on his timing and abide by His principles found in the Holy Bible even if it is acceptable in our culture.

Be very careful as you contemplate decisions that lead you to actions outside of God’s will. Remember:

  1. Just because it’s OK in our society, it may not OK in God’s eyes.
  2. Waiting for God to answer or act in His timing is difficult, but it is important that you wait for God’s best rather than experience the consequences of your wrong decision

Sarah became a mother to the son through which the covenant of God would continue and bring forth the promised Messiah Jesus Christ. What God did for Sarah was to prove that He alone is God by taking an old woman of 90 years of age and performing a miracle that He had planned before Sarah was born.

What miraculous thing has God planned for your life? Are you waiting on His timing or are you trying to “help” Him out? Avoid taking action. Psalms 46:10 “Be still and know that I AM God, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Sandra Hardage is a retired public educator who has had experience in public school, public television, adult education and ended her professional career as the Media, Technology and Distance Learning Coordinator for an education cooperative. She is the founder of My Journey of Faith Ministries and leads several studies for women, couples, children and youth.