In slowly reading through the Bible again, I’ve come across the story of Abraham and Sarah (or Abram and Sarai, as they started). I’ve always pictured Sarah as a graceful figure, since she’s both the wife of the great Abraham and the mother of a nation. But a different picture of her has emerged as I’ve been reading.
Almost every mention of Sarah’s name is coupled with an example of bad judgement. First, there’s the Egyptian deception in Genesis 12 (admittedly not her idea, but she was definitely involved). Next, in Genesis 16, she brings her servant, Hagar, to Abraham for use as a sex-slave. Hagar’s desires are never mentioned or considered. Then, when her plan works and Hagar’s expecting a baby, Sarah’s jealousy drives her to cruelty. This cruelty is so extreme that pregnant Hagar leaves the community and flees into the desert in an act of near-suicide.
Yet in Genesis 17:15-16, God give Abraham great promises for Sarah. He changes her name from Sarai, which means something like ‘my princess’ or possibly ‘quarrelsome’, to Sarah, which means ‘princess’. God promises to bless her and give her a son. She also receives the female version of Abraham’s blessing: that she’ll be the mother of many nations. God goes even further than he had with Abraham, and promises that kings will descend from her line. Noticeably absent from the text is the reason God is blessing her. In Abraham’s case, his faith has already been credited to him as righteousness. In Sarah’s case, her account was surely overdrawn. God is clearly not blessing her because she’s great, but because God is great. He’s showing her unmerited favor, blessings she clearly doesn’t deserve.
So Sarah emerges for me not as an illustration of gracefulness, but as an illustration of grace. If God looks at people like Sarah and decides to bless them, how can I not wish blessings for the undeserving? Am I to place myself above God and wish ill of anyone? In the end, God’s blessings, when they’re seen in the light of their undeserved-ness, serve to glorify Him, not Sarah. The blessings may have been for her, but they’re still God’s blessings.