Post 234

By the Oaks of Mamre: An Update

Greetings and Happy New Year!

I am sorry that I did not write to you earlier, but the days have flown past, and it seems that my life has, of late, begun to travel in a new direction. I have hesitated, trying to decide how I could begin to summarize what has happened in our lives since I saw you last.

After some reflection, I have decided I will just put pen to paper and describe it as well as I can, come what may.

Where shall I begin?

As you know, I recently celebrated my ninetieth birthday. Praised be the Lord that I have reached such a ripe old age! My blessings are doubled because I enjoy good health, and I can say the same for Abram, who is almost a century old! Who could have predicted that we would still be walking the earth, albeit more slowly than before?

Ish’mael is in his thirteenth year and is himself now a man. He looks more like Abram than his mother Hagar, as it turns out, which is a personal relief to me. Ah, the lot of a woman!

Oh, and speaking of Lot — I have so much to tell on that score as well, but first I will tell you of our own story.

A few months ago, Abram gave me the most startling news. He said to me that the Lord had appeared to him, and said,

I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.
And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.

Can you imagine? I was just speechless as I listened to him. Abram said he just immediately fell onto his face. There was more. The Lord said to him,

Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.

I was stunned as I listened to him. How could this be, I wondered, that the Lord would speak to my own husband? My regular and simple Abram! Yet at the same time, I could not doubt what he told me, because his word is always true. I have never known him to say a dishonest word.

A million thoughts were rushing through my mind. Was I supposed to call him Abraham from now on? Would we use that name privately or would we tell all of our friends? Surely they would question us! What would they think of a name change after a century of life with one name? I suppose you will think my thoughts were trivial, but I tell you how it was.

But of course, the words were more stunning than that, because they spoke of descendants! I should have been dizzy with the words — “nation,” “kings,” “generations,” “everlasting” and yet I was strangely steady. Indeed, the Lord himself supported me so that I could hear such things! How the Lord had spoken to my own husband!

But this was not all. Abram (shall I refer to him already as Abraham?) could recollect, with perfect clarity, these words as well:

As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your descendants after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He that is eight days old among you shall be circumcised; every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house, or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he that is born in your house and he that is bought with your money, shall be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.

My astonishment, which I thought could not be increased, was doubled upon hearing these words. Circumcision? For all the males? Indeed, it would be a symbol in the flesh! I will make you smile when I say that in that moment, I did not mind to be a woman!

But trust me, friend, I had not yet heard the part which was the most astounding of all, and it is no wonder that Abraham was anxious to get to the end of his news before letting me say very much of anything at all. He said to me, “Sar’ai, Sar’ai — there is more! Sar’ai, listen!”

This is what he told me the Lord said:

As for Sar′ai your wife, you shall not call her name Sar′ai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her; I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.

I was incredulous. When had I heard such words? When does a barren woman receive such a message? I, who had never before doubted my dear Abram, was pushed to the limit now. But he insisted. He insisted that this is what he had heard from the Lord. He said to me that he himself had laughed, saying, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”

Indeed, shall a woman who is ninety years old give birth to a child?

Abram could not believe that the Lord really was speaking of me, so he mentioned Ish’mael. Abram said, “O that Ish’mael might live in thy sight!” but when he said that, he heard:

No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. As for Ish′mael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.

I tell you no falsehood when I say that I would have fainted away, had not the Lord sustained me. Such words! Such words to my heart! I cried and I laughed, and I didn’t know if it would be more painful to believe the words or to disbelieve them.

Could it have happened? Could the Lord really have spoken to my own Abram?

I pondered it and I lived almost in a dream over the next few days and weeks. I went through my ordinary tasks as a person divided. My hands and eyes were in the present, but my mind and my heart were in the future. Could this be true? Could this be true?

As for Abram, however, he had a faith greater than mine, and he did not waste a single moment. Before I could even digest what he had said, he began all the arrangements. The sun had not yet set and both he and Ish’mael and all the menfolk of the house — even the slaves — were circumcised.

It seemed as if our ordinary lives were suddenly turned entirely upside down, and I felt that we had experienced more excitement in those twenty-four hours than we had in the preceding ninety years.

However, the Lord was not finished with us.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in the tent when Abram (I was still accustomed to calling him Abram) rushed in and this is what he said, “Sarah, quickly, take three measures of fine meal, knead it and make cakes.” The weather was unseasonably hot, but he spoke urgently, so I did as he said without delay. While I did this, Abraham went out into his flock and chose a calf for the servant to prepare. I was filled with curiosity, but there was no time to waste.

Later, after I had given the cakes to Abraham, I observed him as he presented them to three tall strangers. They ate them, along with curds and milk and the prepared meat. They sat under the oak trees and Abraham stood there, watching.

I studied the clothing of the men, and their demeanor. I had never seen them before, and they were striking in appearance. They did not speak but they did not appear overly solemn. They had pleasing expressions and manners. I wanted to see more, but I was afraid of being seen, so I retreated towards the rear of the tent, where I could still hear them, if they were to speak.

Suddenly I heard my name! One of them asked, “Where is Sarah, your wife?” If you were to see me, you would have seen my very ears open at hearing my name spoken this way. How did they know me, and how could they know me by that name? Had Abram already mentioned me? I was very attentive.

Do you know what I heard next, from these mysterious strangers? I heard these words, “I will surely return to you in the spring, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.”

Oh, you know me well! I could not help but laugh to myself at the notion!

But would you believe? These strangers read my very thoughts, and addressed Abraham this way: “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, in the spring, and Sarah shall have a son.”

I was so embarrassed, and I sheepishly emerged with flushed face from the tent to say my part, but when I denied laughing (it is true I should not have denied it, but I was afraid), the stranger said, “No, but you did laugh,” and I could say no more, because I knew that he was right.

Ah, you see how I tell you everything, friend! I am sure you have not had a letter such as mine before!

The visitors came just seven weeks ago, so that brings you up to date about our lives.

I am not with child as far as I can tell, but if my account is true, then we shall await the spring! If what we have heard is true, then I will be blossoming along with the flowers and trees. What a sight that would be! Can you picture your friend — me — holding a newborn child in barren arms? Can you picture your friend — me – holding a newborn child as if I were young again? Could it be true?

I hide nothing from you when I say that I feel my life has become more mysterious to me than ever before. I once felt that I had nothing left to see, and nothing left to experience, but now I gaze at the world around me with fresh eyes. I try to pierce the veil that prevents me from seeing the future. Could these promises be real? A son? A son from me? How many times have I whispered the name “Isaac” to myself!

I hide nothing from you when I say that if these promises are not true, then my suffering will have been doubled, for the Lord has allowed to be awakened within me a dream which I had thought long dead.

So I choose to trust in the goodness of the Lord, and we will await the future with trust and anticipation. I hope that you do not ridicule me as you read this.

But the light is fading now, and so I shall not bore you any longer with all of my ponderings and questions.

I remain, as always, your true and constant friend,

Sarah (Sar’ai)

P.S.: I almost forgot to say — the light fades quickly now so I give you the briefest of summaries. Lot escaped the destruction of Sodom and Gomor’rah, along with his two daughters. He attempted to persuade their fiances of the impending destruction, but they did not believe him, and I presume they died with the others. As for Lot’s wife, she escaped the city, but she disobeyed the angel, who told her to not look back towards the city. She’s a pillar of salt now.