The women of the Bible are beautiful. They flow throughout the Scriptures like a fragrance, leaving sweetly-scented trails of courage across the text. Thanks to my Jewish paternal lineage, I spent some years in a traditional synagogue studying the biblical narratives of brave women who worked, fought, and taught alongside their male counterparts. In the synagogue, the patriarchs and matriarchs–Abraham, Sarah, Deborah, Moses, and Miriam, were all presented in such a wonderful way. I discovered relationships of unity and understanding of purpose that have been forgotten.
This is particularly evident in one set of matriarch and patriarch–Sarah and Abraham, the mama and papa of the Jewish people. Yet, when I finally encountered this couple in the hallways of Christianity, their relationship was portrayed as a commander and underling, cat and mouse, submission and lordship type of marriage that seemed anything but one of unity and shared purpose. Still, my heartfelt admiration for Abraham and Sarah remained deep within my heart. So, I spent a year studying this relationship in order to unearth the beautiful oneness of Abraham and Sarah.
Abraham and his family had settled in Haran. There, Abraham heard the voice of God calling: “leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to a land I will show” (Genesis 12:1). God concealed Abraham’s ultimate destination from him and urged the native born Chaldean to leave behind his family. The Jewish sages say that a man should never force his wife to leave her family or country. A wife was meant to have the liberty to choose to leave with her husband. This is our first glimpse of Sarah’s own heart and our first glimpse into the relationship of Abraham and Sarah. God did not call Abraham alone, he called Sarah as well. She was always marked out as an integral part of God’s unfolding plan which included a powerful matriarch.
In the later chapters of Genesis, God declared that the ultimate promised seed, the Messiah, would come from Sarah’s womb. The Talmud (works of the Jewish oral tradition) contain an interesting account of a prayer that Sarah prayed before she left Haran for the Promised Land. No one knows if Sarah really did pray this prayer, but it does echo that Sarah left Haran entirely by trust. In the Talmudic prayer, Sarah reminded God that she had left the country of her forefathers in absolute trust and faith. Faith in the God she had come to learn about and faith in her husband whose destiny was intermingled with her own. In their oneness, Abraham took Sarah’s hand and included her in to the decision they had to make. There was no hierarchy between the two; they saw each other as God saw them, one in equality and strength. Sarah trusted her husband and their joint destiny, leaving behind the only life she had known and journeying with her husband to a new and unseen land.
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was only one man and I blessed him and made him many”(Isaiah 51:1-3, Emphasis mine). In English translations, this verse simply states that Abraham was one man when God called to him. However, in the original Hebrew text, something different is revealed. The Hebrew says “I called him one,” himin this verse, actually means them. Abraham and Sarah were perfectly one, sharing the one flesh status that was attributed to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They lived out what God had ordained from the beginning, a set apartness, a commitment and unity, and a oneness in their calling. They were in essence one, with two unique personalities and their own individual strengths and flaws. Together, Abraham and Sarah received the very first promise from the mouth of God to jointly parent God’s treasured nation of faith, Israel.
Lastly, there is a beautiful illustration of Abraham and Sarah’s love and equality found in Genesis 12:8, “From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent…” English translators missed the point of this strange sentence. In English, we read that Abraham pitched his tent, however in the original text it reads, “he (Abraham) pitched her tent.” The Midrash (Jewish commentary) on this verse states that Abraham honored his wife by pitching her tent before his own. Tradition describes Sarah’s tent as a place of learning, a place where she would convert souls and teach the holy words of God. Abraham honored his wife’s calling by setting up her tent first, so that she could immediately continue to faithfully teach about God’s holiness and love. The Jewish people credit Sarah as one of seven female prophetesses who prophesied to the people of the nations. She was a unique individual with a beautiful calling.
Abraham and Sarah loved out of faith and they walked that path of faith to reach their ultimate calling. Remarkably, they did so together! Sometimes doubt crept in, sometimes fear crept in, but as the writer of Hebrews says “by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore” (Hebrews 11:11-12).
They were one, a prince of the people and a princess of God. Together, they held hands and walked into their ultimate destiny to be Israel’s parents and the parents of all those who believe in God by faith. May their example of equality, faith, and honor inspire us to undo the bondage of yesterday and unite families, marriages, and communities together in creation’s original equality.