Our first introduction to Sarah comes when she was known as Sarai. Genesis 11:29-30 reads,
Abram and Nahor took wives; the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah. ,She was the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.
This passage follows a long genealogical story and as Abram and his siblings are introduced, their wives are named. Yet there is a curious statement penciled in…Sarai was barren; she had no child. From our first introduction, the drama of the story is being set, a woman is barren. This is the first mention of barrenness in the scriptures, which heightens our curiosity of why this detail is added. In an ancient time, barrenness was equated with being cursed by God. A major part of the role of humanity was, and is, reproduction. For a woman to be barren (guys were never painted as barren, sadly) was to be living without purpose and a future.
Which leads to a theological question—why would the story of Abraham and Sarah include this story of barrenness? To what goal would the ancient community want to communicate with their people about their beginnings, about God’s power, about faith?
A couple of verses later, the call to Abram is shared in chapter 12—
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
When these passages are read together, the drama is building. We already know that impossibility of the promise—Abram’s wife is barren! How might this promise come to pass with a woman unable to deliver an heir? Did he know, or Sarai know, that at this early stage of their lives that she wouldn’t be able to deliver on the promise given? I suspect not, for each encircling month, hope must have shined that this just might be the month that a child would be conceived!