31 January, 2013

What Sarah Can Show Us

Did you know that human trafficking happened in the Bible? 

Actually, it happened a lot more than you might think...

Take, for example, Sarah. Sarah was the wife of Abraham. Abraham and Sarah left everything behind to travel to Canaan. The story of God’s relationship with them is extraordinary, but not without its humanness and failure.

Abraham prostitutes his wife not once but twice. Both times out of fear. 

The first time was when they entered Egypt. Sarah was apparently very beautiful (the Bible tells us so in Genesis 12:11). Abraham feared that he would be killed by someone who wanted his very lovely wife, and so tells Sarah, “Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you. (Gen. 12:13).” He did not say, ‘say you are my sister so we do not become separated’ or ‘say you are my sister so that we may both live.’ Instead he asks Sarah to lie so he may be treated well and have his life spared. 

After they enter Egypt, Abraham hands his wife over to Pharaoh. Abraham was indeed treated well and his wife was taken into Pharaoh’s palace.

The second time, in Genesis 20, was when Abraham and Sarah moved to Gerar. The king of Gerar found Sarah very lovely and once again Abraham handed his wife off to another man to save himself. 

We don’t know what happened to Sarah in Pharaoh’s palace. The Bible does not say how long she was there. In Gerar, we know nothing transpired between her and the king and that Sarah was returned to Abraham the next day after God spoke to the king in a dream.

Twice Sarah was handed over to another man by her husband. Fear can be as much of a coercive measure as force. Abraham chose to rely on his wife’s beauty to save (and further) himself instead of trusting God’s hand in His life. 

But the story does not end there. In a sad twist of irony, Sarah herself became a trafficker in the life of her servant, Hagar. 

Sarah herself choses to force Hagar to lie with her husband in order to produce a child. This may have been “culturally acceptable” during that period, but culture often departs from what God says is good and right. The outcome of Sarah’s trafficking of Hagar produced pain and suffering for literally everyone concerned (Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and both of their children).   

The Bible rarely minces words about sin and human failure. With the story of Sarah and Abraham, we can cover up the parts of their story that make us uncomfortable, or we can use it as a teachable moment in our own quests to become people after God’s own heart, bringing His justice and righteousness to our fallen world.

Notice that God chose Abraham to be the father of a great nation. Abraham, a man who handed over his wife to other men, agreed to pressure to produce a child from another woman, and banished his firstborn to keep peace among his warring women. And God chose Sarah to be the mother of that nation. Sarah, a woman who was trafficked and who trafficked another person to bypass His plan. In spite of their deep failures, faithlessness and sin, God redeemed Abraham and Sarah. He is not daunted nor deterred by the mistakes people make.

God has an amazing way of bringing glory through deep pain, rejection and pride. Sarah’s story is tragic and yet inspiring. The betrayal she experienced by her husband, her pain at being barren, the toll of living a nomadic life, and her use of Hagar as a poor substitute for the failure of her faith, create a story of a complete person who we can relate to - someone who is imperfect and yet used by God for big and mighty things. When we look at Sarah in the entirety of who she is, we see the power of God’s grace and mercy. We see what can become of a life that is marred by such pain. We see how, in the end, the redemption of God works through pain to produce faith, courage, and strength.