Fresh lessons from Sarah’s Story
Author: Leslie Vernick
Category: Marriage, Relationships
Sarah, Abraham’s wife has been iconized as the example of a godly, submissive wife, especially in the face of abusive behavior, citing 1 Peter 3:9. Pastors and counselors have used this passage with hurting women to encourage her to submit to her husband’s foolish, irresponsible, oppressive and controlling behaviors, trusting God to protect her.
Yet, as Christian counselors, we must look deeper. Why would Sarah be given as an example of godly submission when Abraham told her to do things that were against the very heart of God? (Genesis 12 and 20)
We know that God was displeased with Abraham when Abraham told Sarah to lie and say she was his sister, putting her at risk for sexual abuse. Therefore, I trust that the Holy Spirit would not have instructed Peter to praise her for submitting to Abraham’s sin.
In his writing, Peter wasn’t specific as to what exactly he was referring to with his example of Sarah’s submission. Matthew Henry’s commentary says of this verse, “Sara, who obeyed her husband, and followed him when he went from Ur of the Chaldeans, not knowing wither he went, and called him lord, thereby showing him reverence …”
So we must dig deeper to understand the application for today. Why did God put these particular stories about Abraham and Sarah in the Bible?
2 Timothy 3:16 reminds us that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
The wrong application Christians have extrapolated from Sarah’s example is that a wife who is being mistreated should quietly submit to her husband’s foolishness regardless of what it costs her. The underlying belief is that if she is to be protected, she should trust that God would step in to protect her like he did with Sarah.
But this is shortsighted theology and not in line with the whole counsel of God. First, let’s look further at the context of the story: Abraham and Sarah were nomads. They had no family nearby or “church” community to provide accountability or protection. They lived in a patriarchal culture where women had little choice and few rights.
When Abraham told Sarah to lie and pretend she was his sister, God was Sarah’s only protection. She had no pastor to tell, no elders to turn to, no counselor or hot line to call. God himself stepped in to protect her from Abraham’s foolishness and selfishness, not once, but twice.
As believers, God calls us to be His ambassadors. We are to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1). The Church is called represent him and his character to a hurting and broken world.
Therefore, if we are going to be “like God” and represent his character, what is the Church’s responsibility individually and corporately toward those who are mistreated, oppressed, or taken advantage of by someone else’s abusive, foolish, and selfish behaviors? Is it to be passive? To turn a blind eye? To keep silent and by our silence empower the bully or fool to think his or her behaviors are not all that sinful or damaging?
Or, was God giving us an example for the Church to follow by rescuing a wife from her husband’s foolish decision. He demonstrated that he cares about the spouse who has to live out the painful consequences of their spouse’s poor choices. The lesson is that as his people, we also are to care for and rescue those who have been wronged, so that we demonstrate God’s character and his heart for the mistreated.
The Bible says we are to “Open our mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open our mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” Proverbs 31:8,9.
I could quote verse after verse about how God hates injustice, oppression, revilers, pride, liars, and those who misuse their authority to hurt others. Why is it that the Church only thinks God hates divorce? Why is it that they would rather turn a blind eye to revilers, liars, oppressors and the proud when the hurting spouse is screaming for help from those who are supposed to represent the heart of God and protect her?
God values marriage but God cares every bit as much about a woman’s safety and sanity. He cared about Sarah’s plight. He protected her and confronted Abraham’s sin. The application for today is that as his ambassadors, we are to do likewise.
Posted on October 6, 2015