In light of God’s command to be fruitful and multiply and His repeated promises of fertility, why then was procreation seemingly impossible for many key couples in the Bible, particularly for those individuals who later became the matriarchs and patriarchs of Israel? When we are first introduced to Sarai in Scripture, we are told that she is a barren woman, a rather unusual prologue one might think, but one that alerts the reader to the motif of barrenness that will likely pervade the narrative (Gen 11:29-30).
God promised the elderly, childless Abram, meaning “exalted father,” that he would make him into a great nation (Gen 12:2), and promised him a son from his own body (Gen 15:4). God also told Abram he would be the father of a multitude of nations, and kings would come forth from him (Gen 17:4-8). The Almighty spoke awesome promises of fertility over Abram, but in reality Sarai was barren. As always with the true children of God, challenge is transformed to victory as God’s plan unfolds.
Something had to change to release God’s ultimate plan and purpose for Abram and Sarai, and that transformation began with a prophetic name change. With the simple addition of the Hebrew letter, Hey; (ה = H), their names were changed to Sarah and Abraham. The letter 'Hey' is the breath of God, the ruach, meaning “spirit, wind, any type of air in motion.” Abram and Sarai’s names were changed to “Abraham” and “Sarah” respectively by the very breath of God! Like Adam in Genesis 2:7, God breathed into them, and they became living souls, alive with His presence in their hearts, empowered to fulfill His will. Abraham and Sarah both received a 'Hey' from the unpronounceable name of God, YHWH (יהוה Yahweh, or Yehovah).
The exchange of names was a symbol of covenantal protocol in antiquity, a familiar tradition that the barren couple clearly understood. God gave Abraham and Sarah His holy name to ratify the sacred covenant that He established with Abraham in Genesis 15. Today, believers take the name of Christ (Christian) when they are born again. Along with the name change, there came a new destiny for the childless couple.Sarahwas no longer just “Abram’s lady” or “Abram’s princess,” she was now the “princess of a nation” that was still in seed form. By definition of her new name, she was “one of the ruling ones.” Sarah was a matriarch in the making, the symbol of motherhood for the world according to Jewish tradition.
Gone forever were the shameful days of barrenness for Sarah. God had graciously taken her from barrenness to matriarchy, from emptiness to joy, just as His prophetic promises indicated would happen at the appointed time. All answers to prayer come in God’s appointed time. The hand of God is not to be rushed, but to be waited upon with joyful expectation and blessed assurance.
If you would like to learn more about the barren women in the Bible, see:
Barrenness in the Bible – Curse or Blessing?, by Dr. Noreen Jacks, available at www.noreenjacks.com.