Sarah, the wife of Abraham, was a godly woman who trusted in God. It took great faith for Sarah to follow Abraham to a place that God would give them for an inheritance, not knowing where they were going. She was in it together with her husband. They were of the same mind. They received the same promises, as we will find. For her faith, she is numbered now among this great cloud of witnesses given in Hebrews 11. Almost half of Hebrews 11 is devoted to Abraham and his beloved wife Sarah. That the writer of this epistle devotes so much time to believing Abraham and Sarah is because of the covenant that God had established with this couple and their children after them in their generations. Of course, God had established His relationship of friendship with His people long before Abraham and Sarah. Adam in Paradise shared in this relationship with God. We learn too that both Enoch and Noah walked with God. But it is with Abraham and Sarah that God’s covenant was clearly and firmly defined and established. We bring this up because the verses we examine today make reference to the promises of God’s covenant. Sarah’s faith was exhibited in her embracing those promises just as did Abraham. We read in Hebrews 11:11, 12, “Through faith also Sarah 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.”
Abraham and Sarah had been living in Canaan for about 25 years now. Abraham was 75 when called to leave Haran for Canaan. At that time already God promised to give this land as an inheritance to his children. He also told Abraham that his children in his generations would be without number. But 25 years had come and gone. Abraham was just shy of 100 years old and Sarah, ten years his younger, had just turned 90. God had not given these now aged saints any children—not one. Ishmael, born to Abraham by Sarah’s handmaid, was not the promised seed. The promised child had to be born of Abraham and Sarah. The account of Hebrews we consider relates to us the miraculous conception of a son to Sarah in her old age. Sarah believed God would indeed fulfill His promise to her and Abraham by giving to her a son—even though she had been barren and was now past age. Let us consider the faith of this godly woman who trusted in God.
I. A Miraculous Conception
“Through faith also Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age.” This lengthy translation given us in our English translations is much shorter in the original language. We read there, “By faith even barren Sarah received power to conceive at the appointed time of life.” We note the differences because they are important for our understanding of the Word of God before us today. First of all, we learn from the original that Sarah was barren. She was unable to conceive in her womb. It was shut up tight, so to speak, with no ability to harness the power of life necessary to fertilize the seed in her. That is the idea behind the word “strength” in our text. Sarah’s womb received from God the power or the ability to receive Abraham’s seed and conceive life. That may seem a bit crass to put it this way. The original puts it even more crassly. The English translators tone it down for us. But the idea is that Sarah was barren and had no ability (no strength) to become pregnant.
So, we have a commentary here in our text of a marvelous miracle that God performed on her. Our versions also add, “and was delivered of a child when she was past age,” in the place of “at the appointed time of life.” Sarah received strength to conceive at the appointed time of life. Now, that the writer to the Hebrews states this, may seem arbitrary. I mean, a woman always conceives at the time appointed her by God—whether young or old. But this has reference to the Genesis account, where it states several times that Sarah conceived at the set time God had spoken to Abraham.
Now, we need to take note, of course, when this set time was in the life of Abraham and Sarah. The appointed time of life for Abraham and Sarah was that of old age—the age well beyond which a man or woman could bear children. Sarah even went so far as to say that at their age Abraham was not even able to give her pleasure by means of this union. So, the idea expressed in our English version is certainly not incorrect. Sarah, who had been barren her whole life long, conceived when she was past age. Her appointed time by God to bear a child was at the age of 90 when her husband was himself a hundred years old.
Ah, yes, Abraham. The account before us does not leave Abraham out of the equation. Abraham was “as good as dead.” This too is an interesting turn of a phrase. This does not mean that Abraham was half dead at this point in his life. Neither does it mean that he was so decrepit that he was hardly able to move, much less to carry on a normal life. He was only a hundred years old, after all. He lived to be 175. I realize that Abraham was not in the prime of his life anymore, but at 100 years of age he was not as good as dead. What it means, however, is that he too was too old to bear children. To use the words of Sarah, “After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”
Abraham was as good as dead from a sexual point of view. He and Sarah were no longer taking pleasure in one another. Besides, there comes a time in a man’s life as well as a woman’s that he is not able to give life to a child. Now, the writer to the Hebrews describes this for us in detail—almost too much in detail, we might say if this were not God’s inspired Word—in order to impress on us just how impossible, absolutely impossible from a human point of view, for Sarah to conceive. Consider once the accounts we read in Genesis.
God appears to Abraham establishing His covenant with him, a covenant that would be established with him and his seed after him in his generations. Abraham was 99 years old. He and Sarah had clung to God’s promise that He would give them a child ever since they had entered into the land of Canaan some 25 years earlier. By this time they had all but given up. They believed God would fulfill His promise to them in some way. But they had given up on trying to figure out how. How was it possible that God would actually fulfill His covenant with Abraham and Sarah in the line of their generations as God promised?
Now God declares to Abraham at the age of 99 that Sarah was going to be the mother of many nations. She was going to have a son. Abraham laughed because of the utter impossibility of this. Yet, God confirms it: Sarah will bear him a son. Only months or perhaps weeks later God appears to Abraham a second time to inform him that now was the time Sarah was going to conceive. This time Sarah, who was sitting in her tent, overhears God telling Abraham of this and she laughs within herself. God hears and admonishes her for her doubt. With this admonition both Sarah and Abraham become convinced that what was humanly impossible was indeed possible with God. God would be faithful to His covenant promise and would indeed grant what He now said to them. Sarah was going to have a son! It was then that Abraham and Sarah in faith go in to each other in their old age and conceive a child together. Then we read the account of Genesis 21. God gives to this old couple a son whom they named Isaac, a name meaning laughter. Now she and Abraham could laugh for the joy of having an heir through whom God would indeed fulfill His promise to her and Abraham. Now God would make Abraham a father of many nations and she a mother of many nations.
II. An Embraced Promise
Our text leaves the impression that it was the faith of Sarah that caused her to conceive. Through faith she received strength to conceive seed, as if faith was the medium by which she was able to conceive. This, of course, is not the idea of the writer to the Hebrews. Faith was not the cause of Sarah’s miraculous conception. God was the cause of this conception. Many women of faith who have prayed diligently and passionately to God for a child have never received one from God’s hand. It was not as if Sarah, just because she believed, was now able to conceive a child, especially in her old age when it was humanly impossible. Miracles come about by means of divine intervention into the normal circumstances of life. That is why we can say it was God who caused Sarah to conceive.
To understand what the writer to the Hebrews is teaching us in God’s Word here, we must turn once again to that word “promise” spoken of at the end of verse 11, “because she judged him faithful who had promised.” God made a promise to Sarah. It was the same promise he gave to Abraham her husband. This promise was not given merely to Abraham without including Sarah in it—as if Sarah being a woman was of no account. God would fulfill His covenant promises with Abraham and with Sarah. Not with Hagar and Abraham’s son by her, Ishmael. God would fulfill His covenant promises with Abraham and Sarah. So Sarah received the same promises of God’s covenant in conjunction with her husband.
We need to consider the promise God now gives to Sarah along with Abraham, since it is mentioned in these verses that we are considering. God’s promise that stands on the foreground in verse 12 is this: “Sarah, I promise you that your children in your generations will be as the stars of the sky and the sand which is by the seashore innumerable.” The generations of children that come forth out of your womb will be without number—so many that no man will be able to number them. Just as you are unable to count all the stars in the heavens on a dark night or to count the little pebbles of sand on the shore of the Great Sea, so also your children.” Now, that was quite the promise God gave to Sarah, seeing she was barren and then watching as each year she was growing older and well beyond that age for a woman to have a child. “Sarah, I am going to give you millions and millions of children in your generations”—but Sarah had not one child.
You see, this promise was that of the covenant that God had established with Abraham and Sarah. I will be a God unto you and to your seed after you in your generations! I will be your sovereign friend. I, the great God of heaven and earth, in whose hand are held all things, even your very lives, I will be your God! I will hold you in the hollow of my hand to love you, protect you, and will work all things together for your good. I will be near to you in your times of need. I will care for you and give you strength when you are weak. I will bless you in whatever I send to you in this life. I will be your God, Abraham and Sarah, and I will be the God of your children after you in your generations! This was the covenant that God established with this man and his wife. But they had no children!
What is even more, Abraham and Sarah knew as well that, out of their generations, the Seed would be born in whom all the promises God made them are confirmed. Out of this seed of Abraham, Christ would be born. The Messiah would be born, who would give to Abraham and his seed what they truly needed, salvation from sin. Only on the basis of Christ’s coming and of His work in saving God’s people from their sin is it possible to have fellowship with God. God’s covenant and its promises are rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ! In fact, the same is true of you and me today. The covenant that God established with Abraham is the same that God yet establishes with His church today—and that in our generations! Paul tells us in Galatians 3:29, “if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Out of your children, Christ will be born, Sarah! That is what was of far more importance to Sarah than anything else. But she had no children. If no children were born, then no Christ. If no Christ, then no salvation from sin. If no salvation from sin, then no covenant fellowship with God.
This is where the faith of Sarah is revealed: she judged God faithful who had promised. She believed God and what He had promised. Yes, she doubted. How often such doubt can characterize us too when faced with circumstances of life that seem impossible to overcome. Doubting is not believing! Was Sarah’s faith perfect? Absolutely not! Is our faith perfect? Surely it is not. I believe, Lord, help Thou my unbelief. But by means of God’s Word to her and even by means of His rebuke, she was again renewed in her faith and hoped against hope that she would conceive in her womb and bear a child. By God’s grace she was given the conviction that what God had promised He would be faithful to fulfill. Such confidence was hers because God had so worked in her heart that she knew God and loved Him. She knew that God was able to perform the impossible. She embraced His promises by faith, and such faith became for her the evidence of things not seen.
Such is faith, people of God. Such also was the faith of Abraham and such also is our faith. God yet makes promises to us as the people of His covenant today. He will establish His covenant with us and with our children in our generations. This is why the church places so much stress on our children. Yes, God gathers His church by grafting others into the church. It is important that the church be involved in missions. But for us who are parents, it is important that we devote ourselves to raising up a seed unto the Lord. This is the error of too many parents in the church today. They make themselves so busy outside of the home that they fail in their duty to be at home doing the hard work—and it is hard work—of raising up children unto the Lord, that God may carry on His covenant in the line of generations. The promise is to us and to our children. God will save in the line of continued generations and will give to us the inheritance of the heavenly land of Canaan. On what grounds? The work of Jesus Christ on the cross and in His resurrection. We too today therefore, as Abraham’s children, cling in faith to the promises God gives to us just as Sarah did then. The promises are to you too, mothers, just as well as to your husbands. The promises are to you just as it was to Sarah. Be convicted of those promises in your hearts. Embrace them. They are yours!
III. A Future Reality
The writer to the Hebrews writes from the perspective, of course, of one who was able to see what happened in the generations of Abraham. God gave to Sarah and Abraham one son—Isaac. In Isaac God called forth the seed of His covenant. One son. This son, Isaac, was given only two sons, but one was wicked. God had not chosen Esau. God chose Jacob as the heir of the covenant. But Jacob had twelve sons. These sons became the heads of their children in their generations—each of them a tribe. These twelve tribes were united together as the nation of Jacob or of Israel. This nation was given by God, some 430 years after Abraham, the land of Canaan for an inheritance, thus fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah. This nation multiplied until it embraced millions of people. But there is, once again, a greater reality. The sons and daughters given to Abraham and Sarah are not merely their natural born children. The Scripture insists in Romans 4 and Galatians 3 that the true sons and daughters of Abraham and Sarah are those of like faith with them. This means that this promise of God to Sarah is fulfilled in us too. We who believe are the spiritual sons and daughters of Sarah!
In this we find the promise of God fulfilled in Christ. All believers grafted into God’s covenant from the nations and born into the line of the generations of the church make up a church that is without number. Sarah is the mother of many nations! One day the sons and daughters of Sarah will be gathered together in heaven around the throne of God. There we will find the final fulfillment of God’s promise to Sarah and Abraham. Revelation 7:9, 10: “And, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb…and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.”
What a day that will be!