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Sarah

by Louise Gardiner Durham

Sarah was the wife of Abraham. Originally named Sarai (which possibly meant "contentions"), she was renamed Sarah ("princess") when, in her old age, God promised Abraham that she would bear a son. The fragmentary information available about her paints a picture of great faith manifested in sacrifices not easily made. Sarah shared equally in Abraham's trials; her experience permits a feminine perspective on the universal obligations of faith, hope, and sacrifice.

Childless until late in life, Sarah suffered years of travail. Barrenness was a heavy burden for any woman in Near Eastern cultures but would have been felt as a particularly searing inadequacy by a woman whose husband had received divine promises of endless posterity.

Against this backdrop, Sarah was twice thrust into situations where she had to feign being unmarried in order to protect Abraham—first with Pharaoh (Gen. 12) and then with Abimelech (Gen. 20). The book of Abraham makes it clear that this was not mere cowardice or prevarication on Abraham's part; it was obedience to divine direction (Abr. 2:22-25). But this did not simplify Sarah's dilemma. Already torn between commitment to sacred marriage vows and the apparent certainty of death if she did not play the allotted role, she was required to rely on God for protection during the very hours when his instructions seemed to place her in the jaws of destruction. As in the ultimate trial with Isaac, it was the joint faith of Sarah and Abraham that ultimately opened the path of deliverance.

In her old age, Sarah gave Hagar, her maid, to Abraham. Modern revelation indicates that Sarah thereby "administered unto Abraham according to the law" (D&C 132:65), and more recent scholarship has confirmed the widespread legal obligation of the childless wife in the ancient Near East to provide her husband with a second wife (Claus Westermann, Genesis 12-36, p. 239, Minneapolis, 1985). Tensions flared with Hagar and later Ishmael (Gen. 16:4-16; 21:8-10). In both cases, Hagar was driven away, first temporarily when pregnant, and then permanently, with her teenage son Ishmael. Significantly, in both cases, the Lord had Abraham place the resolution of these conflicts in Sarah's hands: "In all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice" (Gen. 21:12; cf. Gen. 16:4-6).

The promise that she would bear a son, which had caused Sarah to "laugh…within herself" (Gen. 18:12), was fulfilled in the birth of Isaac. The scriptures do not indicate whether Sarah knew beforehand of the call to take Isaac to Moriah, but she had been prepared. Her experiences had carved out in her a reservoir of patient faith, and she was capable of complete trust in God. Sarah was human and real and sometimes even imperfect in wrestling with the burdens of obedience. Yet she endured. Ultimately, she entered with Abraham into the exaltation that her motherhood helped prepare for all the house of Israel (see D&C 132:37).

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Bibliography

Nibley, Hugh. "A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price, Part 11: The Sacrifice of Sarah." IE 73 (Apr. 1970):79-95.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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