The former name appears to be derived from the same root as Israel, if, indeed,
We are introduced to Sarai in
Sarai’s career as described in Genesis 11 was not dependent on her being the daughter of Terah. Terah had other descendants who did not accompany him. Her movements were determined by her being Abram’s wife. It appears, however, that she was a daughter of Terah by a different mother from the mother of Abram. The language of 20:12 would indeed admit of her being Abram’s niece, but the fact that there was but 10 years’ difference between his age and hers (
This double relationship suggested to Abraham the expedient that he twice used when he lacked faith in God to protect his life and in cowardice sought his own safety at the price of his wife’s honor. The first of these occasions was in the earlier period of their wanderings (Genesis 12). From Canaan they went down into Egypt. Sarai, though above 60 years of age according to the chronology of the sacred historian, made the impression on the Egyptians by her beauty that Abraham had anticipated, and the result was her transfer to the royal palace. But this was in direct contravention of the purpose of God for His own kingdom. The earthly majesty of Pharaoh had to bow before the divine majesty, which plagued him and secured the stranger’s exodus, thus foreshadowing those later plagues and that later exodus when Abraham’s and Sarah’s seed "spoiled the Egyptians."
We meet Sarah next in the narrative of the birth of Ishmael and of Isaac. Though 14 years separated the two births, they are closely associated in the story because of their logical continuity. Sarah’s barrenness persisted. She was now far past middle life, even on a patriarchal scale of longevity, and there appeared no hope of her ever bearing that child who should inherit the promise of God. She therefore adopts the expedient of being "builded by" her personal slave, Hagar the Egyptian (see
Such was in fact the position of Ishmael later. But the insolence of the maid aroused the vindictive jealousy of the mistress and led to a painful scene of unjustified expulsion. Hagar, however, returned at God’s behest, humbled herself before Sarah, and bore Ishmael in his own father’s house. Here he remained the sole and rightful heir, until the miracle of Isaac’s birth disappointed all human expectations and resulted in the ultimate expulsion of Hagar and her son.
The change of name from Sarai to Sarah when Isaac was promised has already been noted. Sarah’s laughter of incredulity when she hears the promise is of course associated with the origin of the name of Isaac, but it serves also to emphasize the miraculous character of his birth, coming as it does after his parents are both so "well stricken in age" as to make parenthood seem an absurdity.
Before the birth of this child of promise, however, Sarah is again exposed, through the cowardice of her husband, to dishonor and ruin. Abimelech, king of Gerar, desiring to be allied by marriage with a man of Abraham’s power, sends for Sarah, whom he knows only as Abraham’s sister, and for the second time she takes her place in the harem of a prince. But the divine promise is not to be thwarted, even by persistent human weakness and sin. In a dream God reveals to Abimelech the true state of the case, and Sarah is restored to her husband with an indemnity. Thereupon the long-delayed son is born, the jealous mother secures the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael, and her career comes to a close at the age of 127, at Hebroni long time her home. The grief and devotion of Abraham are broadly displayed in Genesis 23, in which he seeks and obtains a burying-place for his wife. She is thus the first to be interred in that cave of the field of Machpelah, which was to be the common resting-place of the fathers and mothers of the future Israel.
The character of Sarah is of mingled light and shade. On the one hand we have seen that lapse from faith which resulted in the birth of Ishmael, and that lack of self-control and charity which resulted in a quarrel with Abraham, an act of injustice to Hagar, and the disinheriting of Ishmael. Yet on the other hand we see in Sarah, as the
Apart from the three New Testament passages already cited, Sarah is alluded to only in
To many modern critics Sarah supplies, by her name, a welcome argument in support of the mythical view of Abraham. She has been held to be the local numen to whom the cave near Hebron was sacred; or the deity whose consort was worshipped in Arabia under the title Dusares, i.e. Husband-of-Sarah; or, the female associate of Sin the moon-god, worshipped at Haran. On these views the student will do well to consult Baethgen, Beitrage, 94, 157, and, for the most recent point of view, Gressmann’s article, "Sage und Geschichte in den Patriarchenerzahlungen," ZATW, 1910, and Eerdmans, Alttestamentliche Studien, II, 13.
(2) The daughter of Raguel, and wife of Tobias (Tobit 3:7,17, etc.).
See Book of Tobit.
J. Oscar Boyd