Sarai was a Hebrew maiden of remarkable beauty. Her childhood and youth were passed among the mountains of Armenia, whose fine climate and sublime scenery developed her form and gave strength to her intellectual powers. Her noble figure, dark eye luminous with expression, and the graceful dignity of her manner, made her the admiration of the Chaldean shepherds and the pride of her kindred.
Among the wealthy nomads of the fruitful valleys who sought her hand in marriage, was Abram, a kinsman. A worshipper of the infinite One, he loved her for her elevated piety, no less than for her personal beauty. (Gen 11:29.) And doubtless they often walked forth together beneath the nightly sky, whose transparent air in that latitude made the stars impressively—
“The burning blazonry of God!”
Upon the hill‐tops around, were the observatories and altars of Chaldean philosophy, whose disciples worshipped the host of Heaven. In the serenity of such an hour, with the white tents reposing in the distance, and the “soul‐like sound” of the rustling forest alone breaking the stillness, it would not be strange as they gazed on flaming Orion and the Pleiades if they had bowed with the devotee of Light, while
“Beneath his blue and beaming sky,
He worshipped at their lofty shrine,
And deemed he saw with gifted eye,
The Godhead in his works divine.”
(Psa 19:1; Rom 1:18-20)
But a purer illumination than streamed from that radiant dome, brought near in his ineffable majesty the Eternal, and like the holy worshippers of Eden, they adored with subdued and reverent hearts, their infinite Father.
To a reflective mind, there is great sublimity and impressiveness in the purity and growth of religious principle, in circumstances so adverse to its manifestation. The temptations resisted—the earnest communion with each other—the glorious aspirations and soarings of imagination, when morning broke upon the girdling summits, and when evening came down with its stars, and its rising moon, flooding with glory nature in her repose; these and a thousand lovely and touching scenes of that pastoral life are all unrecorded. The great events in history, and bold points in character, are seized by the inspired penman as sufficient to sweep the grand outline of God’s providential and moral government over the world, and his care of his people.
Just when it would best accomplish his designs, which are ever marching like destiny to their fulfilment, Jehovah called to Abram, and bade him go to a distant land which he would show him. With his father-in-law and with Lot, his flocks and herds, he journeyed toward Palestine. (Gen 11:31-32)—When he arrived at Haran, in Mesopotamia, pleased with the country, and probably influenced by the declining health of the aged Terah, he took up his residence there. Here he remained till the venerable patriarch, Sarai’s father, died. The circle of relatives bore him to the grave, and kept the days of mourning. But the dutiful daughter wept in the solitary grief of an orphan’s heart. A few years before, she had lost a brother, and now the father to whom she was the last flower that bloomed on the desert of age, and who lavished his love upon her, was buried among strangers.
Then the command to move forward to his promised inheritance came again to Abram. (Gen 12:1-5) Sarai shed upon that lonely grave the baptism of her tears, and turned away in the sad beauty of mourning to fold her tent and enter the shadows of an untravelled wilderness. They journeyed on among the hills, encamping at night beside a mountain spring, and beneath the unclouded heavens arching their path, changeless and watchful as the love of God—exiles by the power of their simple faith in him. Soon as they reached Palestine, Abram consecrated its very soil by erecting a family altar, first in the plain of Moreh, and again on the summits that catch the smile of morning near the hamlet of Bethel. (Gen 12:6-8.)
Months stepped away rapidly as silently, old associations wore off, and Abram was a wealthy and happy man in the luxuriant vales of Canaan. His flocks dotted the plains, and his cattle sent down their lowing from encircling hills. But more than these to him was the affection of his beautiful wife. Her eye watched his form along the winding way, when with the ascending sun he went out on the dewy slopes; and kindled with a serene welcome when at night‐fall he returned for repose amid the sacred joys of home.
At length there came on a fearful famine. (Gen 12:10-13.) The rain was withholden, and the dew shed its benediction no more upon the earth. He was compelled to seek bread at the court of Pharaoh, or perish. Knowing the power of female beauty, and the want of principle among the Egyptian princes, he feared assassination and the captivity of Sarai which would follow. Haunted with this apprehension, he told her to affirm upon inquiry that she was his sister—which was not a direct falsehood, but only so by implication. According to the Jewish mode of reckoning she might be called a sister, and Abram stooped to this prevarication under that terrible excitement of fear, which, in the case of Peter, drove a true disciple of Christ to the brink of apostasy and despair. (Mat 26:74; Mar 14:72; Luk 22:60; Jhn 18:27.)
But his deception involved him in the very difficulty he designed to escape. The king’s courtiers saw the handsome Hebrew, and extolled her beauty before him. He summoned her to the apartments of the palace, and captivated by her loveliness, determined to make her his bride. During the agonizing suspense of Abram, and the concealed anguish of Sarai in her conscious degradation, the hours wore heavily away, until the judgments of God upon the royal household brought deliverance. Pharaoh, though an idolater, knew by this supernatural infliction, that there was guilt in the transaction, and called Abram to an account. (Gen 12:18.) He had nothing to say in self-acquittal, and with a strange magnanimity, was sent away with his wife and his property quietly; followed only by the reproaches of Pharaoh, and his own wakeful conscience. (Gen 12:15-19.)
Abram returned to Palestine, became a victor in fierce battles with a vastly out-numbering foe, and was in possession of a splendid fortune. Yet Sarai was unhappy because she was childless. She had the Lord’s promise that a son should beguile the hours of declining life, but the years fled, and there was no token of fulfilment.
In her disappointment and impatience she told her husband it was folly to hope on, and pointed to Hagar, a servant, as the mother of the expected heir. By following his suggestion in Egypt she went to the verge of ruin, and now in turn is the tempter, involving her family in guilt and discord that almost broke the heart of Abram. When the slave was likely to bear a son, her vanity was excited, and she treated Sarai with scorn that roused her indignation. (Gen 16:1-5.) Hagar was banished and became a friendless fugitive in the wilderness—where the angel of God found her weary and fainting, led her to a gushing spring, and there bade her go back submissively to her mistress. (Gen 16:6-9.)
Soon after Jehovah appeared to Abram in a glorious vision, talking with him as friend to friend. He fell on his face in the dust, as did the exile of Patmos ages after, while a voice of affection and hope, came from the bending sky—“I am the Almighty God; walk before me and be thou perfect.” (Gen 17:1.) The solemn covenant involving the greatness and splendor of the people and commonwealth that should spring from the solitary pair, was renewed; and as an outward seal, he was named Abraham, The father of a great multitude—and his wife Sarah, The princess. (Gen 17:2-5; 17:15.) Still he laughed at the absurdity that Sarah would ever be a mother, and invoked a blessing on Ishmael, but evidently said nothing to her upon a subject dismissed as incredible from his thoughts. (Gen 18:10-12.) For when the celestial messengers were in the tent on their way to warn Lot, she listened to their earnest conversation, concealed by the curtains, and hearing that repeated promise based on the immutability of God, also laughed with bitter mirth, at her hopeless prospect in regard to the marvellous prediction. (Gen 18:12.)
And when one of the Angels, who was Jehovah veiled in human form, as afterwards “manifest in the flesh,” (1Ti 3:16) charged her with this unbelief and levity, the discovery roused her fears, and approaching him, without hesitation, she denied the fact. He knew perfectly her sudden apprehension, and only repeated the accusation, enforced doubtlessly a glance of omniscience, like that which pierced the heart of Peter. (Gen 18:13-15.)
The group separated, and two of those bright beings went on to Sodom. The next morning Abraham walked out upon the plain, and looked towards the home of Lot. He saw the smoke as of a great furnace going up to the calm azure, from the scathed and blackened plains where life was so busy and joyous a few hours before! With a heavy heart he returned to his tent, and brought Sarah forth to behold the scene. She clung with trembling to his side, while she listened to the narration of the terrible overthrow of those gorgeous cities, and the rescue of her brother’s household, and beheld in the distance the seething and silent grave of millions, sending up a swaying column of ebón, cloud‐like incense to God’s burning indignation against sin. (Gen 19:27-28.)
They left the vale of Mamre, and journeyed to Gera, where, with a marvellous forgetfulness of the past, the beauty of Sarah again led them into deception and falsehood, and with the same result as before. Abimelech, the king, would have taken her for his wife as Abraham’s sister, had not God appeared in a dream threatening immediate death. Upon pleading his innocence he was spared, and expostulating with his guest, generously offered him a choice of residence in the land; but rebuked Sarah with merited severity. (Gen 20.)
Prophecy and covenant now hastened to their fulfilment. Sarah gave birth to a son, and with the name of God on her lips, she gave utterance to holy rapture. With all her faults, she was a pious and noble woman. She meant to train him for the Lord, (Gen 21:1-8) and therefore when she saw young Ishmael mocking at the festival of his weaning, she besought her husband to send away the irreverent son, whose influence might ruin the consecrated Isaac. Hagar, with a generous provision for her wants, was once more a fugitive; and the Most High approved the solicitude of a mother for an only child, around whose destiny was gathered the interest of ages, and the hopes of a world.
And now, with the solemn shadows of life’s evening hours falling around her, and a heart subdued by the discipline of Providence, in the fullness of love which had been rising so long within the barriers of hope deferred, she bent prayerfully over the very slumbers of that fair boy, and taught him the precious name of God, with the first prattle of his infant lips. How proudly she watched the unfolding of this bud of promise. When in the pastimes of child-hood, he played before the tent-door, or with a shout of gladness ran to meet Abraham returning from the folds, her calm and glowing eye marked his footsteps, and her grateful aspirations for a blessing on the lad went up to the Heaven of heavens. At length he stood before her in the manliness and beauty of youth unscarred by the rage of passions, and with a brow open and laughing as the radiant sky of his own lovely Palestine.
It was a morning which flooded the dewy plains with glory, and filled the groves with music, when Abraham came in from his wonted communion with God, and called for Isaac, and told him to prepare for a three days’ journey into the wilderness. How tenderly was Sarah regarded in this scene of trial. Evidently no information of the awful command to sacrifice the son of her old age, was made to her. She might have read something fearful in the lines of anxious thought and the workings of deep emotion in the face of Abraham. But he evaded all inquiries on the subject, “clave the wood,” (Gen 22:3) and accompanied by two of his young men, turned from his dwelling with a blessing from that wondering mother, and was soon lost from her straining vision among the distant hills. Upon the third day he saw the top of Mount Moriah kindling in the rising sun, and taking Isaac alone, ascended to the summit, whereon was to be reared an altar, which awakened more intense solicitude in heaven, than any offering before or since, except on Calvary, where God’s “only‐begotten and well‐beloved son” was slain. There is no higher moral sublimity, than the unwavering trust and cheerful obedience of this patriarch, when the very oath of the Almighty seemed perjured, and the bow of promise blotted from the firmament of faith! But he believed Jehovah, and would have clung to his assurance, though the earth had reeled in her orbit, and every star drifted from its moorings. He prayed for strength, with his hand on the forehead of his submissive son. (Gen 22:1-14.)
“He rose up and laid
The wood upon the altar. All was done,
He stood a moment—and a deep, quick flush
Passed o’er his countenance; and then he nerved
His spirit with a bitter strength, and spoke—
“Isaac! my only son”—The boy looked up,
And Abraham turned his face away and wept.
“Where is the lamb, my father?”—O, the tones,
The sweet, the thrilling music of a child!
How it doth agonize at such an hour!
It was the last, deep struggle—Abraham held
His loved, his beautiful, his only son,
And lifted up his arm, and called on God—
And lo! God’s Angel staid him—and he fell
Upon his face and wept.”
When on his return he told Sarah of his strange mission, and how the Lord stayed his uplifted hand when the struggle had passed, with deeper yearnings of the maternal heart she clasped Isaac to her bosom, and mingled with his own, her tears of joy. She did not long survive this last test of fidelity, itself the crowning evidence that she was the mother whose posterity would out-number the stars. At Kirjath-arba, in the vale of Hebron, during the absence of Abraham, Sarah died. (Gen 23:2.) When he heard of her death, he hastened to her burial, “to mourn and to weep for her.” There is no more affecting funeral scene in history. Bending over the corpse of his beautiful and devoted wife, he looked upon the strangers about him, and while his hoary locks shook with the excitement of grief, he sobbed aloud, “I am a stranger and sojourner with you; give me a possession of a burying place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” (Gen 23:4.)
He bought the field of Machpelah, (Gen 23:9) and in a cave, which seemed to have been formed for a sepulchre, beneath the shade of forest trees, he laid the form he loved when a beauteous maiden, the noblest of wives, and a faithful, praying mother. With Isaac weeping at his side, he turned away to enforce on his tender spirit her holy counsels, and wait further upon the providence of God toward the youth; upon whom must fall the patriarchal mantle, and who was to guard and transmit the knowledge and worship of Jehovah.