Abram and Sarah: Faith Tested and Tried

He went out, not knowing where he was going. —Hebrews 11:8

In the Old Testament, a person’s relationship with God was seen by the degree of separation in that person’s life. This separation is exhibited in the life of Abraham by his separation from his country and his family. When we think of separation today, we do not mean to be literally separated from those family members who do not have a personal relationship with God, but to be separated mentally and morally from their viewpoints. This is what Jesus Christ was referring to in Luke 14:26.

Living a life of faith means never knowing where you are being led. But it does mean loving and knowing the One who is leading. It is literally a life of faith, not of understanding and reason— a life of knowing Him who calls us to go. Faith is rooted in the knowledge of a Person, and one of the biggest traps we fall into is the belief that if we have faith, God will surely lead us to success in the world.

The final stage in the life of faith is the attainment of character, and we encounter many changes in the process. We feel the presence of God around us when we pray, yet we are only momentarily changed. We tend to keep going back to our everyday ways and the glory vanishes. A life of faith is not a life of one glorious mountaintop experience after another, like soaring on eagles’ wings, but is a life of day-in and day-out consistency; a life of walking without fainting (see Isaiah 40:31). It is not even a question of the holiness of sanctification, but of something which comes much farther down the road. It is a faith that has been tried and proved and has withstood the test. Abraham is not a type or an example of the holiness of sanctification, but a type of the life of faith— a faith, tested and true, built on the true God. “Abraham believed God…” (Romans 4:3) // from Oswald Chambers “Utmost For His Highest” //


Introduction: Hebrews 11:11-12 celebrates the faith of Abraham in the promise that he would have many descendants. The reality of the marriage between Abram and Sarah, and their relationship to God, seems a little different than the perfect picture of faith. It makes us scratch our head. What should we conclude about this? The writer of Hebrews had his blinders on? Or, that God is more merciful and generous to us in our marriage decisions and our relationship with Him than we might think? Let’s dive into our study this week and find out!

The Wait

A. Read Genesis 12:2-3. Abram was 75 years old (Genesis 12:4) when he was first promised by God to become a “great nation.” Put yourself in Abram’s sandals: when would you expect that promise to be fulfilled? (Soon, given his age!)

1. How important a promise would you guess this was in Abram’s culture?

B. Read Genesis 15:1-3. If you owe someone money, are you conscious of this when you see them? Is it the first thing that comes to your mind?

1. Abram is now 85, ten years have passed since God promised him (at 75) to “become a great nation.” Why does God, no doubt remembering His promise, tell Abram that his faithfulness to God is a “great reward?”

2. Evaluate Abram’s response: is this the response of faith? Abram immediately tells God He has not kept His promise and the arrangements have been made to have his chief servant inherit Abram’s “great reward.” (There are two levels of faith. The first is accepting and patiently waiting. The second is challenging God to keep His promise. Both look to God as the One who is able to perform. The “non-faith” response is simply to ignore God because you no longer think He is a factor.)

C. Read Genesis 15:4-6. What did God say to Abram that revived His faith in the promise?

D. Read Genesis 17:15-17. How many years have now passed without God fulfilling His promise? (25 years!)

1. What stage of “faith” has Abraham now reached? (He is at the edge of simply ignoring God. He laughs at the promise because it seemingly had no value.)

2. What do failed promises do to a marriage?

3. Why would God wait so long? What purpose does a 25+ year delay serve? (This is one of those areas in which it is difficult (at least for me) to understand the mind of God. A son, Isaac, was born to them. Isaac’s name means “to laugh,” and thus he was a perpetual reminder to Abraham and Sarah (who also laughed in derision (Genesis 18:10-12) of the reliability (if not speed) of God’s promises to them.)

a. Read Hebrews 11:12. Does the fact that God waited until this couple was “as good as dead” to give them the promised child help explain the wait? (This is a recurring pattern in God’s dealings with humans. He waits until it is impossible, and then He does the impossible – so that no one is confused about God’s role in the matter.)

E. Read Genesis 17:18-21. What does God do here to make the promise more real? (He actually names the son Abraham and Sarah will have and gives a specific time period.)

The Work

A. Read Genesis 16:1-2. Abraham was 85, so this was ten years after God’s promise of a son, and fifteen years before Isaac would be born. What do you think about Sarah’s statement that “The Lord has kept me from having children?” (At first blush, this seems completely at odds with God’s promise. But, go back and reconsider the promises that God has made to Abraham so far. God does not mention who will be the mother – He only mentions Abraham as the father!)

1. Considering that Sarah has not been named as the mother, in what kind of light does this put her offer? (Since God has kept her (or so it seems to her) from fulfilling His promise, “perhaps” God has in mind some other woman to fulfill the promise. Sarah seems to be unselfish, impatient, and willing to help God.)

2. Read Proverbs 3:5-6. How does Sarah’s suggestion run afoul of this proverb? (The Bible commentary “Be Obedient” says “faith is living without scheming.” The pattern of God is that He works with human partners to fulfill His work on earth. The line between being “God’s helper” and “scheming” is not always a real bright line.)

B. Re-read Genesis 16:2.

1. Let’s take a small detour right here. Read Genesis 12:10-20. Whose great idea was it to lie to Pharaoh?

2. What lesson do we learn for our marriages from the advice given by these two?

C. Read Genesis 16:3-4a. At this point are Abraham and Sarah congratulating themselves on doing God’s will?

D. Read Genesis 16:4-5. What has happened to Sarah’s unselfish attitude?

1. Is Sarah right? Is Abraham responsible for “the wrong” Sarah was suffering?

2. How would you anticipate that God would judge between the two of them?

E. Read Genesis 16:6. Evaluate the actions of this couple now? (Abraham deserts his leadership position. Sarah abuses Hagar. Neither spouse is acting like a follower of God.)

F. Read Romans 4: 17 – 21. Is this how you would have described this sequence of events?

1. How do you explain Paul’s statement? (The New Bible Commentary says Paul’s point is “not that Abraham was a perfect person or never had any doubts at all, but that his heart attitude was consistently one of faith and hope in the promise of God.”)

G. Read Genesis 20:11-13. What did Abraham lie about his wife? What was he afraid of?

The Promise Fulfilled

A. Read Genesis 21:1-3. The text is about the birth of Isaac. But, what other fact keeps being repeated in these verses? (That God kept His promise!)

1. What does that teach us about trusting God? (God’s timetable may be much different than ours. However, God keeps his promises.)

2. What does this teach us about marriage? (Remain faithful to your spouse and your God. It may seem difficult, but the alternatives are worse.)

B. Read Genesis 21:6-7. What kind of attitude does Sarah have? (She feels vindicated. Against all odds, she finally has a son.)

Tested Again

A. Read Genesis 21:8-10. What kind of attitude do we see in:

1. Ishmael? (Ishmael was jealous and mocked Isaac. I’m not surprised.)

2. Sarah? (Now that she has a son, she will let no one “steal his thunder” or get in his way.)

B. Genesis 21:10 contains more advice from Sarah. Would you take it if you were Abraham?

C. Read Genesis 21:11-13. How does it feel to be Abraham right now?

1. Do you think he wishes that he never had Ishmael?

2. God, amazingly, supports Sarah’s demands. What does God say to Abraham to comfort him? (That Ishmael will live and be a great nation.)

D. Read Genesis 22:1-2. Put yourself in Abraham’s place. What impact does the fate of Ishmael have on your thinking? (This is where Abraham’s name is entitled to be chiseled in stone in the “faith chapter” (Hebrews 11). I would have been very worried because God let Ishmael go. I had the heartbreak of that! Now this command!)

1. Read Hebrews 11:17-19. How did Abraham work this out in his mind? (That God would raise Isaac to life.)

E. Friend, sometimes our spouse gives us good advice. Sometimes not. Our heavenly Father is always with us – even when it seems He is not. Will you trust Him?

Evidences that God was helping (leading) Abraham

A. In Genesis 21:22, King Abimelech said to Abraham, “God is obviously with you, helping you with what you do.” Describe evidences that God was helping Abraham and using it to build his faith.

1. Read Genesis 14. When Abraham heard that was taken captive by King Kedorlaomer, the King of Elam, Abraham took 318 trained men to pursue him.

2. Who is King Kedorlaomer (Chedolaomer)? Read Genesis 14: 4. The purpose of Kedorlaomer’s campaign was to show Elam’s might to all the territories under Elamite authority. His armies and allies (4 other kings) plundered tribes and cities.

3. Was God totally with Abram? In verse 17 of KJV, Kedorlaomer was actually slaughtered.

B. Describe how God intervened in Abraham’s behalf to solve a difficult situation with Pharaoh and King Abimelech?

C. God’s faithfulness is not dependent upon Abraham’s faithfulness. Describe a situation where this statement is true.