Sarah, childless until the age of ninety, is considered the first matriarch of the Hebrew people. At the beginning of her biblical story, Sarah is known as Sarai, married to Abram (later changed to Abraham). Some sources characterized her as a loving, loyal, and capable partner in every way to her husband. Others praised her beauty and called her idealistic and resourceful.
Sarah and Abraham started their lives together in Ur, Babylonia (modern-day Iraq). God promised to make a great nation of Abraham. Sarah may initially have been an obedient, even submissive wife; however, as the years began to pass and Sarah saw other women bearing their husbands' children while she remained childless, she may have decided to take action. If God had not intervened after all of that time, Sarah would have had a child one way or another. The Lord had promised a child, and yet Sarah was growing old. She was ten years younger than Abraham, and must have been in her mid-eighties when she decided upon her course of action. Perhaps her faith momentarily weakened. Perhaps she thought that the Lord had changed his mind or was taking too long. Maybe she had given up on believing that through God all things are possible. The biblical texts do not reveal whether or not Sarah sought her husband's counsel; nor do the texts say she undertook fasting, penance, and prayer to prepare the way for seeking God's counsel. Whatever went through Sarah's mind and heart, her patience with the Lord had run out. She made a decision and took Hagar, her young Egyptian handmaiden, to Abraham.
Sarah's Initial Intent
Some sources say that Sarah's act was one of selflessness. Hagar was given to Sarah by the pharaoh after she had spent a brief period in the pharaoh's court (Genesis 12:11–20). One story states that Hagar was the daughter of the pharaoh, and thus royalty. Sarah might have looked upon Hagar, with her royal lineage, as an appropriate choice as a mother for Abraham's heir. After all, the beautiful Hagar and Abraham would create a wonderful child, perhaps one having the best traits of both father and mother. Such a child would begin the nation of Abraham.
Conflict Between the Women Erupts
Hagar may not have wanted to be intimate with the husband of her mistress, but it's unlikely that Sarah would have asked the girl's permission. Once Hagar gave birth to Abraham's firstborn son, Ishmael, she may have believed that her status was on equal par with, or even exceeded, Sarah's. The household became filled with tension and rivalry, shattering the peace that once existed in Abraham's tent.
Dissent and Rivalry Erupt
As daughter of the pharaoh, Hagar was born into nobility and could have become a queen. Possibly, she believed that she would assume the primary position in Abraham's life, producing the children that Sarah could not. What Hagar didn't understand was that Sarah and Abraham were partners in love and in life. Both were spiritual giants, working together to serve the Lord. God would make of Abraham's seed a nation of people, but Sarah, not Hagar, was to become the matriarch of that nation.
Sarah Becomes Pregnant
The Bible says that when God told Abraham and Sarah that she would conceive, the two of them laughed. Sarah was already ninety and had given up on the idea that she would ever bear children by her husband, who was also quite old. Abraham called his son Isaac, and complying with God's command, he circumcised Isaac when the baby was eight days old.
Kirjatharba was the same as Hebron in the Old Testament. Today, Hebron is a divided city occupied by both Israelis and Palestinians. Abraham and his followers settled in Hebron. Some believe that not only Sarah, but also Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah are buried in Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site considered sacred by both Jews and Muslims.
Hagar Is Cast Out
After weaning Isaac, Sarah made a great feast, and she and her husband celebrated. Soon, however, Sarah told Abraham that the time had come for Hagar and her son to go. She saw Ishmael as mocking, and didn't want her own son to share his inheritance with Abraham's firstborn. Abraham felt saddened and resisted, but God told him that “…in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed” (Genesis 21:12–13).
Abraham's Faith Is Tested
Did Sarah know about God's testing of her husband's faith? The Bible doesn't say, but what a tribulation that would have been for her if she had known that Abraham, following God's instruction, had taken their son Isaac to the land of Moriah to sacrifice him as a burnt offering. Abraham had built the altar, placed wood upon it, bound Isaac, and raised his knife to slay his son, when the angel of the Lord stopped him. Abraham had passed the test. The Lord was pleased and sent a ram for Abraham to use as the offering in Isaac's place. The writer of Genesis does not reveal how Sarah reacted, or even if Abraham ever told her.
Sarah passed away in Kirjatharba, in the land of Canaan, when she reached the age of 127. Her husband greatly mourned her passing. He purchased the cave at Machpelah at the end of a field belonging to Ephron, the son of Zohar, a Hittite man. There, Abraham buried his beloved Sarah.