Abraham, My Friend
The Making of a Praying Man_42
by faith Sarah
Our devotionals have been focussed on Abraham, but perhaps just for a moment we can consider Sarah. Abraham is waiting on his guests and as he waits confirmation comes. I say confirmation, rather than revelation as only details of this word are new to Abraham; in particular, the timing of events. The timing is critical in Gods works and ways. The early career of Moses is a pointer to this truth. In his address to the leaders of his nation Stephen refers to Moses and his expectations; And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian: For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not. Act 7:24-25 KJV)This is a fascinating verse which indicates that Moses already had some idea of his future role, but Moses is ahead of Gods schedule and the exodus takes place 40 years later.
Sarahs ahead of schedule impatience had brought in Ishmael and now 14 years later she overhears the conversation between Abraham and his guests and her reaction, according to Genesis 18, is one of derision. Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? (Gen 18:11-12 KJV) This is a telling warning that God knows the secrets of our hearts. Sarahs laugh is inward, but God registers it all the same.
There is also a telling pattern here to much unbelief; namely that Sarah is looking in the wrong direction. Her response to Gods word is an immediate reflection on her own state and is captured in the phrase shall I. Gods promise is often in the face of our self-knowledge. Sarah is old and she knows it. Abraham is also old, and she knows that too. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? (Gen 18:12 KJV) Her past experience and that of all her race is against such a possibility. It is this horizontal look that cripples expectation, and Gods first work is to get us to look up.
God replies to Sarahs unspoken protest;Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son. (Gen 18:14 KJV) Sarah has succumbed to the all-too-human dimension; this is impossible to me, just look at me and just look at Abraham. She laughs, the whole concept is a bad joke. Gods answer is to say youre looking in the wrong direction. The question is not can I? but can God? The question is not is this too hard for Sarah and Abraham?, but is this too hard for God?
The word hard can be translated wonderful; Is anything too wonderful for Jehovah. The Greek Translation of the Old Testament (LXX) has the sentence which literally reads; not without-power is a word from God. It is the phrase quoted almost word-perfect by the angel to Mary at her annunciation;
no word from God shall be void of power. (Luk 1:37 ASV). Gabriel was not just reassuring Mary, he was reminding her. In Greek-speaking Galilee Mary would have known these words and they would have linked her immediately to the account of Sarahs miracle baby. The words provide a wonderful insight into the way in which God works His works.
Perhaps if we examine Marys question and ultimate response we shall see more clearly. Marys question was Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? (Luk 1:34 KJV) Her case is different to Sarahs but there are similarities too; both are biological impossibilities. Sarahs biological clock has wound down and so has Abrahams. A baby from this union is quite impossible and Sarahs question is based on this biological impossibility. Marys question is also based on biological impossibility; there is no biological father! There reactions are similar. Sarah asks; After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? Her instinct is to discount the possibility. Mary asks;
How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? (Luk 1:34 KJV) However, there is something in the tone of the questions that separates them; Sarah is querulous while Mary is stunned. But in each case the explanation is the same.
no word from God is without-power. I have never been able to understand why so many translations of Luke take the same route; with God nothing is impossible. The Greek word is rhEma; it means an utterance or saying. If we convert the negative expression into a positive one it will make my point easier to appreciate. every utterance from God is empowered. The word of God has life within it. Every word that proceeds from Gods mouth has within it the power to enact what God has said. It is good seed perfectly able to reproduce exactly what it says on the packet, if the instructions are followed precisely. Every seed is a carrier of life; it only requires the right conditions for germination. Every word from God is the same.
Their initial reactions are different too. Sarah is afraid and denies her incredulous laugh; Mary instantly submit to the power of the word that has been spoken to her. If the verses from Luke are translated literally Marys response makes much more sense.
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? (Luk 1:34 KJV)
For no word (rhEma) from God shall be void of power. (Luk 1:37 ASV)
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word (rhEma). And the angel departed from her. (Luk 1:38 KJV)
Mary has fixed her attention upon the saying of God not upon the biological impossibility. She has not only heard the word she has received it. Sarah struggles with a lifetimes disappointment, and even when her unbelief is exposed she denies. However this is not the end of Sarahs story as Hebrews tells us; 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. (Heb 11:11 KJV) At some point in our story Sarah believed. This should be an encouragement to us all. She did not rise to faith in the first instance but subsequently she believed. Perhaps this is all the more wonderful as she would have had to acknowledge her previous unbelief. Hebrews now reveals details which are absent from Genesis; Sarah believed, and received strength or power. This is a reworking of the angels truth. Sarah received power. No word of God is without power and Sarah received power. The same root words are used Sarah can only have received power by receiving the utterance of God. The Bible is utterly consistent in its explanation of this process; So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word (rhEma) of God. (Rom 10:17 KJV)
The word for power is dunamis; enabling which comes from inherent power. Lets remind ourselves that Sarah had no strength/power to conceive. The account has been at pains to make this absolutely clear; there is no inherent power of conception in Sarah. Those days were long gone. And yet she conceives because she received strength/power. Where did she receive the power from; it was it the utterance of God to her. She received His word with its inherent strength/power. Word of Faith practioners have developed this into a methodology but their hijacking of truth does not mean that everyone else should abandon it. To Sarah and Mary the utterance of God came unsought. God broke into the ordinary pattern of their lives with a revelation and they believed God. The seed of the word found good and honest ground and the ground swallowed up the word. There is such a tiny but thrilling human link here. The farmer ploughs his land and sows his seed; the earth receives the seed and from then on the wonderful process of germination and growth takes place. The life is all in the word-seed but the word needs the earth to provide the conditions in which it can flourish. The seed cannot flourish without the earth, even though the earth is lifeless. The earth has nothing to bring forth unless it is sown.
The miracle is told in a single phrase; I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: but each shall receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow-workers: ye are God's husbandry, God's building. (1Co 3:6-9 ASV) For those who have laboured in the world of projects the word fellow-workers is synergos, co-workers whose cooperation produces synergy. It is a humbling and thrilling fact that without Him we can do nothing. It is a stirring and awesome fact that without us there are things that He cannot do, too.
As a result of the received word dead things in Sarah revived, strengthless things were re-equipped to function as God had intended. Hopelessness was transformed into expectation, and failure into fulfilment. There is one more truth we must observe before we leave the Hebrews portrait of Sarah; all this was accomplished
because she judged him faithful who had promised. (Heb 11:11b KJV) Sarahs faith was dependent upon her appreciation of Gods character. It was not His power that brought her to the rest of faith but His faithfulness. The ancient world was full of gods with frightening powers and the most frightening thing of all was their capriciousness; you never knew when you could trust these idols. Jehovah is immutable; For I, Jehovah, change not; therefore ye, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.(Mal 3:6 ASV) The book of Malachi has some wonderful summaries of Israels history; it begins with the statement I have loved you, saith Jehovah
(Mal 1:2a ASV) Israels survival had been the consequence not of their own stability but of Gods.
In the midst of her distress and fear Sarah came to a place of confidence in who God was. As far as I am aware this is the only reference to Sarahs personal relationship with God in the scripture; she judged Him faithful who had promised. She judged Him. The different versions are not quite sure what to do with the word that the KJV translates as judge; the NASB has considered, the ASV has counted, the ISV has convinced. It is a word which signifies leading or directing. There is a process of the mind at work here. Sarah sets her thoughts in the direction of on the Faithful One who had promised. It appears that when God utters, we have judgements to make. We can set our sights on our own condition and the sure result will be barrenness and death, failure and continuing frustration
or we can set our sights upon the Faithful One who has promised and the sure result will be fruitfulness and life, achievement and fulfilment.
The redemptive purpose of God in history moved on another step because By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. (Heb 11:11 NASB) Every word God speaks is instinct with life and power and awaits our response.