Sarah's personality is full of life and colour, and her career teems with romance and adventure. She was as beautiful as Cleopatra, but as chaste as Penelope. Two mighty kings were attracted by her beauty, but she remained a loyal and faithful wife. She is the first woman whose travels are related, and at every turn in her journeyings she met with thrilling incidents.
By the express command of God, her original name of Sarai was changed to that of Sarah, signifying a princess, and the destined mother of kings and nations. As the first royal lady in sacred history, Sarah played the part with regal bearing and imperious mien, and knew full well her power as the idolised wife of an indulgent and devoted husband. There is nothing in the career of Sarah which suggests the abject and subject position of the typical Eastern woman, yet posterity has endowed her with a submissive nature, and to-day the Christian bride at the altar is enjoined to obey her husband even as "Sarah obeyed Abraham."
No account is given of the incidents of Sarah's youth. She appears first in the sacred narrative as the bride of Abraham, the son of Terah, a powerful nomadic chieftain, who dwelt in Ur of the Chaldees, a place situated in the upland regions of the great plain of Mesopotamia, below the slopes of Mount Ararat. Presumably, Sarah was herself a native of Ur of the Chaldees, as she husband, and was his brother's daughter, a circumstance which enabled the patriarch to call her his "sister" on the occasions when her fair face attracted the unwelcome attention first of Pharaoh, and then of King Abimelech.
Sarah, the beautiful and stately wife of Abraham, the first woman whose biography is recorded fully in Bible history
The scions of the peerage pale into insignificance before the interest attached to the genealogy of Sarah, the Princess. Born about the year 2000 B.c., her ancestry is traced in direct line to our first parents, for, like Abraham, she was tenth in descent from Noah, and Noah was tenth in descent from Adam. She could claim the Ark on Ararat as an ancestral abode and the Garden of Eden as a family estate.
Some little time after her marriage, Sarah migrated with her father-in-law Terah, her husband, and his nephew Lot, together with their cattle and their people, from Ur of the Chaldees to go into the land of Canaan. The caravan halted, however, at Haran, attracted probably by the beauty of this fertile region between the Khabour and the Euphrates, and there the travellers pitched their tents, and remained, it would appear, until after the death of Terah, whose days numbered two hundred and five years.
Abraham was now head of the family, and the Lord appeared to him and said, "Get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto the land that I will show thee, and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee and make thy name great." We can imagine the proud expectation with which Sarah prepared to depart for the land where the divine promise of prosperity and greatness was to be realised. Lot went also, and we picture the long train of camels laden with food and merchandise, the droves of cattle, and the people pertaining to the households of Abraham and his nephew filing along the mountain valleys until at length they came to Shechem, and were in the land of Canaan. The oaks of Moreh clothed the base of Gerizim, and under the wide-spreading branches of some monarch of the grove Abraham pitched his tent, and there Sarah rested from the toils of the journey at a spot which modern travellers describe as still being the most beautiful spot in Central Palestine. Abraham builded there an altar unto the Lord, as was his pious custom in his journeying.
Soon the travellers left the friendly shade of the oaks at Moreh, and pitched their tents between Bethel and Ai. The Canaanites owned the country, and Abraham was a peaceful shepherd prince, seeking pasture for his flocks, and had no desire to seize upon the land. But again, at Bethel, he received the divine promise that to his seed Canaan would be given.
However, a famine arose, and Abraham and Sarah went down into Egypt to sojourn there. It was possible that Pharaoh might, according to the custom of the time, claim the beautiful wife of the stranger, and Abraham, fearful that his own life might be endangered as well as his wife's honour, counselled Sarah that, at every place whither they should come she should say, "I am his sister."
Some curious Rabbinical traditions have gathered around the story. One legend relates that as Abraham walked with Sarah by the banks of the Nile he beheld her beauty reflected in the water, and was overwhelmed with fear that she would be taken by the Egyptians, and he slain for her sake. He therefore took the precaution of having her placed in a chest to cross the frontier, and when the Customs officers met him he offered to pay for the box whatever they might ask, to pass it free.
"Does it contain silk?" asked the officers.
"I will pay the tenth as of silk," he replied.
"Does it contain silver?" they inquired.
"I will pay for it as silver," answered Abraham.
"Nay, then, it must contain gold?"
"I will pay for it as gold."
"Maybe it contains most costly gems?"
"I will pay for it as gems," he persisted.
Finally there was a struggle for the box, which was broken, and a beautiful woman found therein. The news reached Pharaoh, and he sent and took Sarah. When she confessed that she was a married woman, he sent her away with gifts, including Hagar, one of his daughters, for a handmaid. So runs the legend.
The Bible narrative is clear and explicit. The beauty of Sarah excited the attention of the Egyptian princes, who praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken to his house, and presents of cattle and servants were bestowed upon Abraham, her supposed brother. But the Lord sent plagues upon the Egyptians, and Pharaoh called for Abraham to demand the reason of the visitation. Then Sarah's true relationship was revealed, and Pharaoh delivered her to Abraham, and they departed from Egypt loaded with gold and silver and presents of cattle and servants, and returned again to their old camping place at Bethel.
Lot also was with Abraham, and their joint substance had increased so greatly that "the land was not able to bear them." Abraham, therefore, proposed a separation, and while Lot went east to the cities of the plain, Abraham remained in Canaan, and pitched his tent under the shade of "the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hebron," and there built an altar unto the Lord.
Soon the peaceful serenity of the camp was disturbed by the tidings that Lot had been taken captive by the King of Elim, and Sarah saw her husband go forth with his trained men, to the number of three hundred and eighteen, to the rescue of his nephew. Abraham proved a valiant warrior, and returned victorious to the tent at Mamre.
Sarah had been denied the crowning glory of the Hebrew woman - she was childless - and as the years passed by she grew impatient for some certain indication that offspring of Abraham should possess the land according to the Divine promise. As matters stood, Eliezer, the next-of-kin, was heir to her husband's possessions.
A project in keeping with Eastern customs now shaped itself in Sarah's mind. She had brought from Egypt a favourite maid, Hagar, and she suggested to Abraham that this bondswoman should become his secondary wife. The arrangement brought trouble and distress. Hagar magnified her position, and presumed to treat her indulgent mistress with scorn. Sarah, the Princess, stung and mortified, repented of the course which she bad suggested, and appealed to Abraham against Hagar. He replied, with consideration for his wife's outraged feelings, "Behold thy maid is in thine hand, do to her that which is good in thine eyes." Sarah asserted her power, and Hagar fled from her anger out into the wilderness.
There in the lonely solitude the fiery spirit of the Egyptian bondwoman was calmed. "Thou God seest me," she murmured, and, obeying the command of the angel who appeared to her, she arose and returned home, prepared to submit to the authority of her mistress.
There is no reason to suppose that Sarah resented the birth of Hagar's son, Ishmael. The boy grew up as the heir in the household of Abraham, Hagar resumed her normal place, and Sarah reigned supreme in the tent.
One day as Abraham sat under the shade of the oaks by the tent door he saw three strangers approaching, and, with Oriental courtesy, ran forward to meet them, bowing himself to the ground and offering hospitality. Soon a meal was spread under the trees, and as the strangers partook of it they announced to Abraham that Sarah, his wife, would be made the proud mother of a son. Sarah, resting from her housewifely duties of making cakes for her visitors, betrayed her presence behind the tent door by a laugh when this announcement was made.
It is usually assumed that feminine curiosity had made Sarah an eavesdropper, but nothing seems more natural than that she should come to look at the guests whom she had been labouring to entertain, and that she should refrain from showing herself openly to strangers. She knew not that they were angels, and some of her adventures had, perchance, taught her caution. Her sense of humour could not be repressed even in her hiding-place, and Sarah, throughout the ages, has been admonished for the unseemliness of her laugh. Commentators seem oblivious of the fact that on an earlier occasion Abraham, too, had laughed when the Lord made a similar announcement regarding the birth of a son to Sarah. The angel visitors at Mamre, however, took their host's wife to task for her merriment, and, being overcome by fear and awe, Sarah denied that she had laughed.
Sarah dismissing Hagar, her maid, who had presumed upon her promotion to be Abraham's secondary wife, and had become arrogant and haughty towards her mistress From the painting by Tissot