Scripture Genesis 12 – 21 A few pages in the annals of time telling us of Abram’s being chosen by God to be the foundations of faith and of His people. Abram becomes Abraham and Sarai becomes Sarah toward the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise. My few words walk through the storyline, but do not tell all. Readers must not deny themselves this excellent read featuring a patriarch’s wife. (One of a series from Jill Eileen Smith)
This story of Sarai is extremely well-written. We see the situation through the eyes of the main characters, Abram, Sarai, Lot and his family, Hagar and others. They tell their own stories and are ‘watchers’ and commenters on the other stories.
With description, some humor and some shocking sadness, we see this story of faith fictionally fleshed out. Going ‘way back in time is always a gamble and criticism bait when telling a story because the footnotes of long ago aren’t clear. The lack of facts opens the door to literary license. Jill Eileen Smith works very hard at being true to the characters while giving them personality
A long dry road to the promised land
Sarai, as the Patriarch’s wife, has the major character part in this book. She has the foibles of a woman who loves her husband. Scripture doesn’t indicate anything but that this is a marriage of choice. No matter where the flocks wander as Abram leads his group toward the promised land, she will go along. When the call comes for the next move, sometimes, she doesn’t want to pick up, having become somewhat comfortable. Sometimes she wonders when or if the wandering will ever stop or if she will always be living in a tent.
From page one, we see her pain at being childless. Her nurturing spirit longs for a child, while she wants to be a worthy wife and provide an heir for her husband. She’s a special and highly placed woman in the social order, but not so much that her peers won’t needle her a bit about her barrenness.
I don’t think it is too far fetched to consider that Abram and Sarai are learning about their relationship with this great and very different God, Adonai (Jehovah.) This isn’t a secret god or a new ANOTHER god, but their GOD. However, there would have been some activity with the gods of the culture. Sarai in particular, may have been tempted to try almost anything to become a mother.
Genesis 12: 10-20 Going to Egypt
This story offers a different point of view for the way that Hagar came to be Sarai’s servant/slave. The larger premise that Hagar was part of the apology gift from Pharaoh in Egypt. When Abram traveled to Egypt to get relief from a famine in the land, he told Pharaoh that Sarai was his sister. They were afraid if the Egyptians knew she was his wife, he would be killed so that she could be stolen for Pharaoh’s harem. We knew going in that Pharaoh chose her anyway, without killing her husband. God had to speak out in her defense. Pharaoh wanted them out of his country and gifted them heavily when they left. Abraham’s foundations of faith took a little hit here!
Genesis 13 Great Wealth — Too Crowded in Canaan
When the wealthy flocks came back to Canaan, The Lord made Canaan Abram’s inheritance.
Because of the crowding on the pastures, both Abram and his nephew Lot find their increasing flocks and workmen are too crowded. They make an agreement to separate with Abram giving Lot first choice. Lot chooses the more prosperous looking plains and cities.
Even in a few short scripture verses, we can see how and why Lot was not the Lord’s chosen man. Our story offers some more fictional light on this person and his family. (I stress fiction because the author presents the theory so well that one must keep remembering it is theory) The plains are filled with warring people and Lot is taken captive. Abram must take his own men and rescue him, plus bringing a sort of victory to the King of Sodom, refusing to accept any reward.
Scripture doesn’t give us details on the involvement of Lot’s wife and daughters in his choice. There is no indication that Lot ever gave his wife’s opinions or desires any thought. In our story, Lot isn’t very respectful of his wife’s intervention about living in the city, but does give in because he perceives it will benefit him. He has some understanding of why they must flee the city before destruction, but the story doesn’t give that understanding or appreciation to his wife. Not surprisingly, she doesn’t obey their directive, but turns back to her destruction. At the time of destruction, the story moves back to Sarai/Sarah and we do not have any story about Lot and his daughters. This is Sarah’s story and her part should be dominant.
Genesis 16 The UNpromised child
Sarah represents so many of us when she falters in the waiting for a child. But then, we have to remember that she was over 70 years old and her body had moved into a state where pregnancy won’t happen. Somebody had better build a fire under God. Giving a slave to one’s husband as a surrogate wasn’t uncommon in their culture before Canaan. Hagar was a valued servant and was the choice. This time, Sarah’s foundations of faith are on rocky ground.
But, we’re dealing with real people. Women with real feelings. Sarah wasn’t at peace to be sharing her husband and Hagar wasn’t at peace being only a concubine and surrogate for a child Sarah would raise as her own. Toxicity blooms in Abraham’s tents.
Hagar’s son, Ishmael is not the promised child, but because he is Abraham’s child, he will be the father of a nation as well as the promised boy. When Isaac, the promised child, is born to Abraham and Sarah, the Lord counsels Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away. Scripture tells us this, but in Sarah’s story, events end with Isaac’s circumcision ceremony.
Still Abram and Sarai wait for a son, while the women are less compatible than they ever have been. When messengers from the Lord come to meet with Abraham and reassure him, Sarah laughs to herself as she is nearly 90 years old. Have a baby? Are you kidding? The Lord admonishes her, but keeps His promise and she becomes pregnant in her old age! Remember, dear reader, that people commonly lived for more than 100 years, often 200 or more in these times.
Genesis 21: 4 And the proud parents laugh — their foundation of faith comes back to solid
The entire story is mildly clouded by Sarah’s disappointment in her barrenness. Wives are expected to produce heirs, especially sons. When we talk about barren, we usually don’t have to consider nearly 100 years of waiting. I don’t know how old Sarah was at marriage. I do know she waited for a good long time to see the promise kept that the Lord made to her husband. That there were crabby days, doubts about herself, God and the world in general is surely understandable. This story tenderly touches on the pain in Sarah’s heart during all those waiting years.
Her husband, no doubt, saw his patience tried, but he had no reflection him as a failure to produce. Throughout time, in cultures where heirs were at the top of the ‘To Do’ list, women were regarded as being at fault when the cradles were empty. Sarah is a voice for those who blamed themselves as much or more than their community.
The close is shortly after the birth of Isaac, an event that has made Sarah and Abraham and all who know her laugh merrily. The foundations of their faith have become more solid. In the beginning of this review, I encouraged readers to follow this soft timeline to learn more about Sarai/Sarah, but know that there is much good writing which I have not told you in the review. Do not deny yourselves, dear readers, the pleasure of this book.
Repeating My Reading Recommendation
Sarai is the first book in a series written by Jill Eileen Smith featuring wives of the Bible. She does have an ending note to readers about some of the parts that were significant to her view in faith. Especially the choices made by Sarai and Lot’s wife. To date, I have read one other novel in the series, The Crimson Cord featuring Rahab. I look forward to reading others, but am ‘rationing’ them because I don’t want to become used to them. I prefer to deeply enjoy each and every one! As with The Crimson Cord, I don’t recommend a choice on your part about reading these Biblical novels. The choice is YES — don’t miss out on a well told story that brings women to life in ways to which today’s women can relate.
Disagreeing with Other Views
Usually, I don’t bother with taking exception to other reviews, but I disagree with the viewpoint of some reviewers. If readers read the note to readers, they would have seen the principal pieces of the story for the author were Sarah and Lot’s wife. Their choices can see reflection in our choices. In hindsight, we have them to guide us in our faith (and not always to follow.)
Some didn’t believe that women in Biblical times were extremely submissive to their husbands. In public, they were, just as in similar cultures today. In private, who knows…then or today. Being extremely submissive plus being very expendable was and is part of the culture. That didn’t necessarily mean passive or weak. If the women were all passive and weak, there would have been no need for the rule laid out in the Law in Deuteronomy 25:11
And, YES, there is more to the story after the birth of Isaac. And YES, there was some time skipping over the months of gestation. And, maybe the time was as much under the Lord’s control as the conception! Scripture itself skips the backaches and morning sickness. Pregnancy was important, but the end result, a son was the main goal. Most readers know how the months of waiting work out.
Others felt that Sarah was presented as weak, whiny and paranoid about her barrenness. She had two things to keep her preoccupied while awaiting a child. First, she would have wanted to honor her husband with an heir. Second, she could be put aside as FIRST and ONLY wife and would be fortunate if that didn’t result in her death to control her dowry. Not unfamiliar practices even today. As mentioned earlier, Sarah had the longest wait for a child I have ever read or heard about. 365 days a year, all of those years was a mighty stressful and long time to wait. I would have felt that my foundations of faith were on shifting sand!
Again, I challenge you to read Sarai and form your own version of the intentions!