“Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.
“Therefore sprang there even of one and him as good as dead, so many as’ the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.”
Why is this scripture here? Why is Sarah mentioned as a heroine of faith? Of course, we must permit this text to stand as it is. Some would read it as follows: “By faith also with Sarah Abraham received the ability for the conceiving of seed when he was past age.” The emphasis, then, falls upon Abraham. This interpretation cannot stand. It is simply an attempt to avoid the difficulty inasmuch as they would maintain that the conceiving of seed belongs to the man. The text, however, declares that the woman here receives strength for the conceiving of seed.
But, according to Genesis 18:12-15 Sarah laughed in unbelief. How, then, can it be said of her that she believed and judged the Lord to be faithful Who had promised? This explains why this text is recorded here. Sarah also believed.
Sarah believed? Does not the divine record tell us that she laughed and that, therefore, she did not believe? Why, then, do we read her name here, in Hebrews 11, among the heroes and heroines of faith?
To conceive seed, we understand, is a physical act. The text tells us that Sarah received strength to conceive seed by faith. But, to conceive seed is not simply an act of faith. Women do not conceive seed simply by believing. The conceiving of seed is not a spiritual but a physical act. The question is, therefore, surely pertinent: what does the holy writer mean when he writes that Sarah conceived by faith? Besides, she laughed and therefore did not believe.
Of Sarah we read that she was “past age.” Literally we read: contrary to age. She was now eighty-nine years old; she had reached that age when the bringing forth of children had become impossible. And this also applied to Abraham. We read of Abraham in this text that he was “one as good as dead.”
And now she did not believe. Abraham and Sarah had received the promise. Indeed, they had received this promise already in Mesopotamia. Later the promise had been repeated several times. Jehovah had promised them an innumerable seed. For several years it was not too difficult for them to embrace this promise. Upon entering the land of Canaan Abraham was seventy-five years old and Sarah was sixty-five years of age. The bringing forth of a child at that time was not humanly impossible. But now they had become old. To be sure, they had pelagian-wise, attempted to assist the Lord in the fulfillment of His promise. When Abraham and Sarah were eighty-five years and seventy-five years old respectively, Sarah had proposed to her husband to take Hagar to wife, thinking that Hagar’s son, the son of her servant, would be considered her son and serve as the heir. But, this was unsuccessful. The Lord informed them that Ishmael would not be the promised seed. And now they had come to a state of utter hopelessness. Abraham was ninety-nine years old and Sarah eighty-nine when the Lord, accompanied by two angels, visited them at Mamre. Indeed, this visit surely revealed that Sarah was past age. It is not so that she now doubted whether they would have a son, that there was still a glimmer of hope in her. No, the Bible tells us that it had ceased to be with her after the manner of women. At first, Sarah’s and Abraham’s faith in the fulfillment of the promise was not exclusively a matter of faith. At first, this fulfillment had also been considered physically possible. They thought that they could fulfill this promise of Jehovah. This also appears from the fact that Sarah gave Abraham her servant, Hagar, to be his wife. Had Sarah given up all hope as far as she was concerned, she did not consider it hopeless from the viewpoint of Abraham. Now, however, all has changed. Abraham, too, was as good as dead. And Ishmael was not to be the heir. And when the Lord came to Abraham at Mamre, Sarah laughed when she heard the Lord tell her husband that they would have a son. This was unbelief. She did not believe the promise of the Lord.
So, the question must be asked: how must this faith of Sarah be explained? Hebrews 11 places her in the ranks of those who act by the power of faith. Genesis 19 holds her before us as one who did not believe the word of the Lord. Yet, we read that by faith she received strength unto the conceiving of seed. She had become completely impotent. Now, however, she believes. And by her faith her physical desire and strength return. She is again able to conceive and have a son.
What did Sarah believe?
First, she judged, or considered, God faithful Who had promised. This means, on the one hand, that she judged the Lord to be able to fulfill it. God would surely not give a promise He could not fulfill. And, secondly, the Lord would not fail her. He would be faithful to His promise. Sarah believed in God’s unchangeable faithfulness. Secondly, Sarah, mind you, judged thisnow. She judged this when she was past age, when the fulfillment of God’s promise had become a matter of life arising out of death.
This also applies to us. Indeed, for us, too, God’s promise is a matter of life out of death. We are by nature dead in sins and in trespasses. And what do we believe? Today people speak of God’s promise as a general offer of salvation. But, what do we believe? We believe that we are hopelessly and helplessly lost in sin. We believe that God is able to save us and fulfill His promise. Indeed, He did save us upon the cross. And we also believe that He is able to fulfill it in us, being God Almighty, and that He will save us to the uttermost, in heavenly glory and immortality.
How was this faith of Sarah effected?
The purpose of the Lord’s visit to Abraham at Mamre is obvious. This visit did not concern Abraham primarily. On the one hand, the Lord had already appeared to Abraham according to Genesis 17. Then the Lord had told Abraham that his wife would bear him a son. And Abraham had believed and had submitted himself and all that were born in his house to the rite of circumcision. And, on the other hand, the Lord immediately asks Abraham: where is Sarah, thy wife? Hence, what the Lord tells Abraham is obviously intended for the ears of Sarah. The incident at Mamre, therefore, concerns primarily Sarah.
Now we know that Sarah had note believed. True, for a long time she had undoubtedly cleaved to the word of the promise of the Lord. Day after day she had lived in the expectation of the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to her and Abraham. But her faith had not always been the evidence of things unseen, and the substance of things hoped for. She had believed the word of the Lord as long as the fulfillment of the promise had appeared to her as humanly possible. But now she had given up on the promise of the Lord. She was becoming older and the prospects of a son were becoming dimmer. In unbelief she had suggested to her husband that he take Hagar to be his wife. And, now, at Mamre, she laughed in unbelief.
What now had happened that she believed?
How wonderful is faith! How often the people of God experience the power of faith in times when everything appears hopeless.
First, the word of the Lord had come to her at Mamre. Secondly, the Lord operated in Sarah. He not only revealed Isaac’s birth to her, but also accompanied this revelation by His Spirit and grace, working in her, removing her unbelief. And, thirdly, through faith she received strength to conceive seed. She believed the word of the Lord. She believed Him to be faithful Who had promised. Her faith was the evidence of the things invisible. And so she received strength to conceive seed. She trusted in God that He would make her dead womb alive again. She submitted to the word of the Lord and was eager to have a child, and this in spite of the fact that she was almost ninety years old. “Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead,” or, literally, “Therefore sprang there even of one (Abraham) and them (Abraham and Sarah) as good as dead.” Believing in God, through that faith, Abraham and Sarah were made alive again, so that a son could be born to them.
We must also apply this to ourselves. We must believe the word of the Lord. How much richer is the word of God as we have it today in the scriptures than what Abraham received at Mamre! Jesus has come, has suffered and died and is risen again, and is now exalted at the right hand of the power of God. Indeed, we have the fulfillment of the promise in Christ Jesus, our Lord. And that Word also speaks to us of things invisible. It speaks to us of the forgiveness of our sins, life, and glory everlasting in the new heavens and upon the new earth. But we believe and trust that God is faithful. He will surely fulfill His promise in us. And, in that faith, be it against all odds, and seemingly all things are against us, we will fight even unto the end, believing that the victory is certain and the crown sure.
This faith of Sarah was rewarded. Its immediate result, of course, was that she became a mother.
Greater, of course, is the other result mentioned in this particular word of God. We read here of an innumerable company. But, please note the character of this innumerable company. The text refers to the promise given Abraham, it refers to the elect of God out of all nations, peoples, tribes, and tongues. However, this people is born of God, through the power of faith. And faith is not something Sarah had; it was given unto her. This people, therefore, has its inception in the miraculous birth of Isaac. Isaac, according to Romans 9, is the child of the promise, born through the wonder of the promise, a child of God’s wonderful grace, as it operated through the faith of Abraham and Sarah, God’s gift to them.
And what is true of Isaac is true of all this seed of Abraham. We bring forth children like unto ourselves, dead in sins and in trespasses. But God calls His own from our children, until one day the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ will be full and His Church shall have been gathered unto the praise and glory of His wonderful grace.