God Takes Note of Sarah
1The LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as he had promised.[i] (Genesis 21:1, ESV)
Have you ever been passed over or overlooked?
Were you one of those enviable few who were picked first for teams on the playground? Or, were you left standing until the very last?
These playground dramas continue even in our adult years as we are passed over for promotions or others are recognized over us.
This week I read about a court case from 2004 were a Wisconsin employee won a gender discrimination case because she was passed over for promotion despite excellent performance. Key in the jury’s verdict was evidence of the manager’s history of gender based “humorous” comments such as “Just like a woman to say that;” “You’re being a blonde again;” and “It’s a blonde thing.” The manager also implied that the female employee did not need a promotion because she had a husband to “take care of her” and the manager did not think she would move to another city for a promotion because she had a family (but never asked her about her willingness to transfer). [ii]
God never overlooks or passes over those who love Him.
We all are overlooked or passed over at some point in our lives. A mother or father might overlook a child, but God never will.
Isaiah 49:15 says, “Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!”[iii] (NLT)
We are going to look at the life of Abraham and Sarah and see how God never overlooked Sarah even when others did.
The story of Genesis 12 through 20 focuses on Abraham. God appeared to Abraham and made a covenant with Abraham. It can seem like Sarah is just along for the ride as the focus is on Abraham. Chapter 21 changes focus. Sarah is the central figure. Verse 1 says, “The LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as he had promised.” (ESV) The Lord visited Sarah, and did to Sarah.
This word “visited” used here is a translation of a Hebrew word that means to turn one’s attention to with an intention to provide for. It is used to express the tallying up of a debt when it is time to pay. God turns His attention on Sarah.
Abraham has discounted Sarah up to this point. It may have been the culture of the time. It may have been Abraham’s character. Whatever the cause, Sarah was treated almost like property.
When they traveled in Egypt, Abraham let Pharaoh have Sarah. When he traveled in the territory of the Philistines, he let Abimelech have her. On both occasions, it was God who intervened and saved the honor and dignity of Sarah.
When Sarah could not produce an heir, Abraham was willing to replace her with Hagar and Ishmael. The fact that Sarah suggested it herself only serves to point out the place and position a woman had in that society and in Abraham’s household. Hagar, as both a slave and a woman, had no say, and Sarah was in a position where she was willing to share her husband with a younger woman. Even taking culture into account the impact on Sarah and Hagar’s psyches had to be devastating.
God tells it like it is. Recording history does not make an endorsement by God of what is happening. We see God’s position in the way He responds. It was God that rescued Sarah from Pharaoh and Abimelech. It was God who insisted that the blessing would come through Sarah.
Look at chapter 17 of Genesis. God tells Abraham that Sarai’s name is now Sarah. In verse 16 God says, “I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her and she shall be a mother of nations.”[iv] (NASB) This sounds a lot like the promise God made to Abraham.
However, Abraham pleads for Ishmael to receive the blessings. In verse 19, God is firm. He says, “No, it will be Sarah.” Abraham is looking out for the blessing for himself and his descendants, and God is looking out for Abraham and Sarah as well.
When society, the culture and even your own family overlook and discount you, put your trust in God. He does not forget those who love Him, who are the called according to His purposes. (Romans 8:28)
This truth applies to all of life. People may overlook or discount you on the job, in school, at home and even at church, but God never will.
Jesus told the story of a shepherd with 100 sheep. One was lost. The shepherd left the 99 to go and look for the one lost sheep.
The fact that God never overlooks or discounts a single person can be either tremendously encouraging or horribly frightening.
Wednesday morning I pulled up my daily Bible reading email from Biblegateway.com and began to read. The day’s reading started in Jeremiah chapter 51.
Verse 1 of Jeremiah 51 says, “Thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will stir up the spirit of a destroyer against Babylon, against the inhabitants of Leb-kamai.” (ESV) Here is a “not so friendly” picture of God. He is stirring up a destroyer against a people. You have probably heard of Babylon, but not “Leb-kamai.” This is because “Leb-kamai” is an ancient Hebrew code, similar to our English pig-Latin. It was used by those in captivity to communicate so that the Babylonians captors would not understand. This “Leb-kamai” points to the land of the Chaldeans. By using code Jeremiah is referencing the offences against God’s people and the idolatry and violence of the Babylonian people.
As I thought about this reference, I began to look for other code words that Jeremiah was using in his prophecy of judgment. In Jeremiah 50:21 I found this:
"Go up, my warriors, against the land of Merathaim and against the people of Pekod. Pursue, kill, and completely destroy them, as I have commanded you," says the LORD. (NLT)
This is a “very unfriendly” picture of God. Of special interest are the names: “Merathaim” and “Pekod.” They are very similar to location names in the area of Babylon, but not exact. However, the meaning of the Hebrew words is clear. “Merathaim” in Hebrew means “Double rebellion”. God has spoken to and reached out to the people of Babylon for many years. This is the people to which He sent the prophet Jonah years before this. They repented at the time of Jonah, but the reform did not last. This is a double rebellious people and God has had enough. The scary name is the second name. It is “Pekod.” It is the reason for this long detour. It is the exact same word we are looking at in Genesis chapter 21. In Genesis 21 it says that God visited Sarah. The visit to Sarah was a good thing, a great blessing. The visit to Babylon was not to be so pleasant. Pekod is the Hebrew word “visit.”
When we set our hearts up in rebellion against God, a visit from Him is a frightening event.
Even God’s servants experience this. Jonah thought he would not go where God told Him, and experienced a very unpleasant visit. Moses did not circumcise his boys, and God met him on the road and was going to kill him. Ananias and Sapphira thought they would lie to God, and died instantly.
God does not discount any one, not a single person – not Sarah, not Hagar, not anyone.
I like the New Living Translation’s rendering of Genesis 21:1. “The LORD kept his word and did for Sarah exactly what he had promised.” He did for Sarah exactly what he had promised.
The story of Genesis 21:1-7 is a story of victory, of laughter and rejoicing. I love what Sarah says in verses 6 and 7:
“God has brought me laughter. All who hear about this will laugh with me. Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse a baby? Yet I have given Abraham a son in his old age!”
God does exactly what He says. Not a single word He has spoken will fall to the ground. (Matthew 5:18)
As believers this gives us great hope. We have the assurance of eternal life and a home in heaven because God has said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31) We have the hope of God’s help, protection and presence with us wherever we go. He has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) We know our sins are forgiven because He says, “…if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1:9)
In Abraham and Sarah’s life God visited and kept His word. This had a purifying effect. When God first visited, it led to Abraham leaving his home and family. In following visits Abraham and Sarah were progressively purified.
When God visited Sarah and did exactly as He promised, it caused another purifying moment. I am referring to the story of Abraham and Sarah’s separation from Ishmael and Hagar.
This is a sad story. Verse 11 tells us that Abraham was very upset because Ishmael was his son. But, Abraham had to let go of what was an idol in his heart. God’s standard is, “You must not have any other god but me.” (Exodus 20:3, NLT)
Whenever we encounter God, we confront the issue of the idols in our lives. An encounter with God is a purifying event. As we walk with God, He patiently purifies us. The Abraham we meet in Genesis 12 is not the same Abraham that we read about in chapter 21. The theological term for this process is sanctification.
Some confuse sanctification with salvation. Such confusion causes unnecessary distress and trouble. When a person asks Jesus to be his or her Savior, he or she may only know that the Bible says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”
This is perhaps their first encounter with God. In this encounter they have understood that they need a Savior. They may not know anything else, but let me ask a question. Is their salvation dependent on what they do or on what God has promised? If they die not knowing any more, but relying only on the promise of God, will God not keep His promise?
Let us suppose this person does not die and we meet him or her 30 years later. Let us also pretend that nothing has changed. The person’s life has not changed at all. In other words, there has been no process of sanctification. This would be a clear indication that there was no encounter with God in the first place. God is very clear that He disciplines His children. (Hebrews 12:6)
I am far from perfect. The Lord confronts idols in my life. But, I know that I am saved and am going to heaven. First, I have the Holy Spirit who testifies with my spirit that I am God’s child. (Romans 8:16) Second, I have experienced and know that God disciplines me. (Hebrews 12:6) Third, and most important, I have the promise of God that “all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
Do not worry about whether or not you have been overlooked. You have not been overlooked. Call on the name of the Lord and you will be saved. “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33, NLT) Do not worry that you can lose your salvation. God’s promises never fail. Jude verse 24 tells us, “God…is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault.” (NLT)
The point is: Put your confidence in God – not in what you can do, not in the church, not in your pastor, not in your job, not in your family – put you confidence in God, God alone.
[i] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[iii] Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Copyright 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[iv]Scripture quotations marked NASB are taken from the New American Standard Bible. Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, California.