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God’s Promises

“And she said, ‘Who would have repeatedly announced to Abraham that Sarah would be made to suckle children? Yet I have borne a son in his old age.’”

(Genesis 21:7)


This is one of those spots where our English translations are not helpful in assisting us to understand the depth of the statement that Sarah is making. Most of our translations render Sarah’s statement something like: “who would have said that Sarah would bear children.” This is not a wrong translation per say, but it obscures the nuances that are contained within the Hebrew verbs that are employed. As we read the English as it is typically rendered here, we walk away simply thinking that Sarah is amazed at the work of God. Indeed, it is amazed, but the statement she is making is far more profound than that.

To begin with, the first verb that is used is lAlDm (malal), which can legitimately be translated as the verb “to say,” though it is a fairly uncommon term in the Hebrew Bible and is only found once in the text of Genesis. What is more important is the verbal stem. In Hebrew, verbs can be found in a variety of forms, called “stems,” which indicate different nuances of how the verb is being used. Here we find the verb in the Piel stem, which refers to a repeated action. In other words, Sarah is not referring to a casual statement, “who would have said…” but to a statement that is repeatedly being made. In addition, when lAlDm (malal) is used in the Piel, it typically refers to an announcement that is being made. It seems that Sarah is not saying, “who would have said…,” but instead is saying, “who would have repeatedly announced.” In other words, she is reflecting back on the pronouncement that had been made repeatedly to them that she would bear a son who would be the vessel through which God would fulfill his covenant promises.

God is very clear with his people as to the way in which one can tell a true prophet from a false prophet. If the prophet is speaking for the Lord, then those things which he says will come to pass (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). Repeatedly, God had spoken either directly or through The Angel of Yahweh (the pre-incarnate Christ) that a son would be borne to them (Genesis 12:2,7; 13:15; 15:2-6; 17:2,16-19; 18:10-15) over a period of 25 years. They have struggled with doubt, fear, and worry with respect to the fulfillment of this promise. Here the promise is being fulfilled and Sarah is confirming in her statement that it is God who was behind the promise to give her a son. You could go as far as to paraphrase her statement as: “who but God would have announced that Sarah would bear a son.” These prophesies cited above, she is saying, have clearly come from none other but God on high.

The second note that reinforces this reading can be found in the second verb that is being used here. The term qÅnÎy (yanaq), which means to suckle, is found in what is called the Hiphil stem. The Hiphil reflects an action that has been caused or brought about. Obviously, it is clear that Sarah’s pregnancy was caused by outside means for she is old and has lived a life of barrenness (Genesis 11:30). God is the one who opens the womb (Genesis 29:31; 30:22) and closes the womb (Genesis 20:18; 1 Samuel 1:5-6). Who but God could bring to pass such a prophesy in the life of a woman who is many years past childbearing age? And indeed, what a supernatural act this was to take place?

On one level, some of these details may seem rather slight. Yet on a larger scale, they affirm that Sarah understands completely the nature of the promise that has been given to her and that she is affirming as well that God has brought things to pass. Oftentimes we struggle with doubt and fear when God fulfills promises in his timing and not ours. Often we struggle when God delays the answer to our prayers by weeks or months, let alone for 25 years. Do not think that you are alone in your struggles; Abraham and Sarah struggled in the same way—hence we have Ishmael and the Arabs that have descended from him. We need to be reminded of their struggles, but we also need to be reminded of their recognition that it was God faithfully bringing about his promises. Sometimes we plead and plead with God for things, yet when they come to pass, we feel as if we have somehow earned them through our own efforts. Yet it is by God’s hand of grace alone that we even breathe for another day, let alone accomplish any plans that may be set before us (James 4:13-15).

Loved ones, set Sarah’s example before you. Rejoice in what the Lord has done both great and small and trust in His timing, for it is always right and true (whether we happen to think so at the time or not!). And give credit where credit is due, for surely it could only be God who brings about such wondrous works in the lives of his people, both then in Sarah and Abraham’s day, and now in our day as well.