Sarai remembered the day well, though probably not as well as the men in their camp. It had been a painful, bloody, and solemn day. God had come to Abram again, and that very day Abram had called out every male in their household, young, old, slave and free. Starting with his son Ishmael, he had circumcised them as a sign of God’s covenant with him and all who belonged to his household. Abram himself submitted to the circumcision, and from that day forward, every male would be marked in this way.
For Sarai, that day was a turning point for a different reason. Abraham had rushed into the tent while it was still dark. “Sarai,” he had said, almost breathless, “I need to tell you, God visited me this morning.”
Sarai’s heart no longer leapt with anticipation when God spoke to Abram about the future. She was still Abram’s wife, but as she had no child, she had no future to speak of, nothing that would live beyond her. God’s grand vision for Abram and his descendants did not include her. She waited.
“He’s changed my name to Abraham because he is making me a father of many nations!”
“Well, that’s nothing new,” Sarai thought. And anyway, this was about Abram and his son, Ishmael, and by extension, Hagar, who had given birth to him. A familiar sadness washed over her as she thought this (would that never change?), but she smiled up at him. She had had thirteen years of practice. “That’s great, Abram. I mean, Abraham.” She did mean it. If only she could get past feeling excluded and forgotten. She turned back to her work.
“No, Sarai, listen!” She looked up at him. “Your name is now Sarah. He’s changed your name, too!”
Abraham continued to talk, about the boys, the men, Ishmael, the covenant, this new ritual called “circumcision,” but Sarah was still processing the name change, surprised that God had mentioned her at all. “Sarai” or “Sarah,” there was not much difference in the meaning. But God had remembered her. Could it be that God was not yet finished with her?
Abraham went out to gather the men. He had wanted to tell Sarah everything, how God had said, “Her new name will be Sarah. I will bless her. I will give her a son, and you will be the father. She will be the mother of many new nations. Kings of nations will come from her.”
Abraham had laughed, picturing Sarah pregnant at ninety, and himself a new father again at one hundred. He had laughed, too, because it was too incredible to believe that the very thing they had hoped for could actually happen, even now. Yet the joy he would deny welled up and spilled out, in spite of himself.
Even so, he could not go there again, the waiting and uncertainty. He was sure Sarah could not. “Let Ishmael be the heir of this covenant,” Abraham had said.
But God had replied in no uncertain terms. “No, but Sarah, your wife, will give birth to your son, and you will call him ‘Isaac.’ I will make my agreement with him that will continue forever with all his descendants.
Abraham’s mind reeled with the implications. Until now he had treated Ishmael as his only heir. They had all assumed he would be the recipient of these promises.
“As for Ishmael,” God continued, “I heard you. I will bless him, and he will have many children. He will be the father of twelve great leaders. His family will become a great nation. But my agreement is with Isaac — the son that Sarah will have,” he added, as if for emphasis. “He will be born this time next year.”
Abraham wanted to tell Sarah all these things, (well, maybe he would leave out the part where he asked if Ishmael could be the heir). But how could he?
Not that Abraham ever doubted God. Not now and not before. But God did things his way and in his time, and things were not always what they seemed. He could be trusted, but he was not predictable. This much he had learned, or perhaps was still learning. How could he explain this to Sarah? How could he expect her to hope again when he could give her none of the assurances she would expect? No, this time he would wait to see what God would do.
What came next:
Mysterious Visitors, What Sarah Heard
What came before:
Yelling into the Void
Note: Though I try to remain faithful to the events and characters as described in the Bible, I take some liberties where the Bible is silent, especially regarding what the characters might have thought or felt. I encourage you to read the original story to separate fact from fiction.