Women in the Text: The Name of Sarah

Exploring the family descent from Eve is an uncommon way to work through the ancient stories of the Hebrew Scriptures since its pages are male-dominated. I believe this androcentrism is a result of the way the world works, not the way God works. Woman has always been a pivotal part of God’s plan, and we can see how God uses her in the pages of the Bible. My reasoning for following female lineage is based on Genesis 3:15. God prophesies that Eve, as yet unnamed and called woman, and Eve’s descendants will defeat the serpent with whom she is at war. The promised one is the seed of Woman.

After Eve, the next woman who is detailed in Scripture is Sarah. It was to Sarah and her children that God promised His unique blessing (Genesis 17:19).

Sarah’s Lineage

Sarai was the daughter of Terah, like Abram, but from a different mother. Having a different mother was a crucial point for her marriage to Abram (Gen 20:12), and this distinction gives us some hints about how ancient peoples figured lineage. Society frowned on intermarriage between siblings from the same womb, perhaps because family relations were determined through the mother, not the father. Think of the Egyptian line of royalty which intermarried sons and daughters of Pharoah. We may have a similar case with Terah’s family especially considering Sarai’s name, which I will address further down. Either way, Abram and Sarai left these pagan relations and idolatry behind as “God caused them to wander” to a new land and began to reveal God’s friendship to them (Josh 24:2; Gen 20:13).

Sarah’s Name From שרי to שרה

Sarah began her life as Sarai, a pagan in Ur. Her name is her title. Princess. Sar in Hebrew means prince, chief, ruler. A tiny vowel mark at the end of Sar feminizes the title. She was royal, a legendary beauty and wealthy. Her titled name is not a reflection of Abram’s status, but it is her own, most likely handed down by her mother.*

In Genesis 17:15, God tells Abraham to stop calling his wife Sarai, princess, and call her Sarah. The subtle shift – God changed the final letter- is significant. God alters Abram’s name in the exact way by adding a Hebrew ה (H) to the middle. Joel Hoffman, who wrote ln the Beginning: A short history of the Hebrew language, makes a convincing case for what he calls “the Magic H” which is how the Hebrews  set themselves apart from other people groups. He argues the Hebrews transformed written language by re-using three consonants as vowels, and the premier vowel “H” was used to identify all things Hebraic. God’s name is also transformed with the “H” from Elym, the common name for gods, to Elhym, the Hebrew “gods” characterized by being One. Replacing the final vowel in Sarah’s name changes the feminizing letter to one that marks her not as female, but as God’s. A Hebrew.

Sarah’s Nation

As God marks Sarah and Abraham with “the Magic H,” God applies their name-meanings to each other. What a unifying moment! God defined what their new names signified, and God also declared the new meaning as prophetic. The prophetic meaning of Abraham, meaning exalted father, is that he and Sarah will parent many nations (Genesis 17:5, 16). The prophetic meaning of Sarah, which we detailed above as ruler, is that she and Abraham will produce royalty  (Genesis 17:6, 16). It is through Abraham that children will come, but it is through Sarah that kings will come.*

Consider the source of the name of the great nation Israel? The promised nation carries the name of their matriarch Sarah. God renames Sarah’s grandson from Jacob to  I(sar)el, because he “sarah” with God (Genesis 32:24). The verb “sarah” is only used in this story. Hebrew is a very rich language and one word rarely has a single meaning, and this is the case with “sarah”. It carries the idea of struggling, wrestling, control, negotiation, and craft. From this it is easy to understand the interpretation of royalty, government and rule that in English we interpret as “Prince.” Israel means Prince of Elohim. Jacob, in struggling with God was not doing battle in enmity, but to guarantee an heaven-earth alliance as a form of statecraft – the role of a prince.

Sarah’s grandson Israel is the first ruler of her line, but he is not the last. Many more would rule over Israel, but only one more would carry her name. Sar Shalom -the prince of peace.

*Credit to Katharine Bushnell paragraph 277, God’s Word to Women.



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