Time Period: the Patriarchs ~2100-1800 B.C.
“Let your beauty not be external – the braiding of hair and wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes – but the inner person of the heart, the lasting beauty of a gentle and tranquil spirit, which is precious in God’s sight. For in the same way the holy women who hoped in God long ago adorned themselves by being subject to their husbands, like Sarah who obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. You become her children when you do what is good and have no fear in doing so.” 1 PETER 3:3-6
The term patriarch denotes the father or male leader of a family or tribe. In the Bible, “patriarchs” usually refers to the three main characters in Genesis 12-50—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Great civilizations dotted the Ancient Near East. Ur was a thriving city with efficient government and impressive buildings. Under God’s direction, Abraham abandoned Ur, with its culture and conveniences, for the land of Canaan (today’s Israel). Patriarchal life was semi-nomadic as they wandered from place to place, searching for grazing land and water for their animals. They measured their wealth in livestock and movable goods such as silver, gold, and tents.
Archeology has given rich insights into patriarchal times. In the early 1900’s, Sir Leonard Woolley excavated Ur. He discovered the glory of the city, but he also recognized the sin. Idol worship characterized the city. It is little wonder that God called Abraham away.
The patriarchal era is important to us. Through Abraham and his descendants, God began to develop a people of His own. The Abrahamic Covenant (God’s unconditional pledge to Abraham) contains many precious promises: Abraham would have numerous offspring; his descendants would possess the land of Canaan, and the Messiah would come forth one day from his line. These promises passed on to Isaac and Jacob. Jacob’s sons formed the nucleus of the twelve tribes of Israel. Through one son’s kindness (Joseph), the infant “Israel” (72 people) entered Egypt and grew into a great nation.
Sarah is mentioned more times in Scripture than any other woman, even Mary the mother of Jesus. She is the first woman mentioned in Hebrews 11, what is often called “The Faith Hall of Fame”, and God uses her as an example for us to follow in 1 Peter 3:3-6. We should, therefore, want to find out what Sarah was like. Was she perfect? Did she ever make a poor decision? How was she like us? How can we be like her?
1. Read 1 Peter 3:3-6. What words or phrases jump out at you?
Although the focus of this passage is a marriage relationship, the principles relate to any woman’s character (“inner self”), especially the qualities of a gentle and quiet spirit that are precious in God’s sight. These enable a woman to “do what is right and not give way to fear.” But, you may be thinking, “What does that mean?” Let’s find out.
2. Read the definitions for “gentle” and “quiet” in the “Focus on the Meaning” section below. Why would these qualities in a woman be precious to God?
Focus on the Meaning: “GENTLE” does not mean passive, weak, or someone who cannot help herself. Rather, it means “controlled strength.” Picture a mother cradling a newborn. She has the physical strength to harm that child but doesn’t because her strength is under control. A gentle woman has a humble heart that bows itself before God, recognizes God’s dealings with her as good, and chooses not to be contentious or resistant against Him. “QUIET” does not mean whisper, silent, or bland. Rather, it means “tranquility arising from within” and includes the idea of causing no disturbance to others. It is an inner peace and calmness in the midst of any circumstances. Gentleness and peace are fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5: 22-23) in a believer’s life and, thus, available to every Christian woman who desires them.
3. Read Psalm 56:3-4. Notice the psalmist says “when I am afraid” not “if I am afraid.” “GIVE WAY TO FEAR” does not mean never get afraid. It means, “not being terrified by any terror.” Fear is a normal human emotion designed by God to alert us to danger so that we will take action against it. Yet, sudden fear can cause us to be terrified. Women are vulnerable to panic and hysteria. God knows this. What does the psalmist say we should do when we are afraid?
4. Back to 1 Peter 3:3-6, the phrase “the holy women of old” includes women we’ll be studying this semester. From this passage, how did they keep from “giving way to fear”?
5. Read Genesis 11:27-12:9. Describe Sarah and her circumstances in life at this time. [NOTE: Although they are called Abram and Sarai in the early passages, for consistency’s sake, we’ll use “Abraham” and “Sarah” (names later given to them by God) throughout this lesson.]
6. Deeper Discoveries (optional): Research the city of Ur to find out what Sarah willingly left.
7. Barrenness for a woman in Sarah’s time was very painful, not unlike for a woman in our time. Sons, in particular, were needed to carry on the family name and livelihood. How do you think Sarah’s barrenness would have affected her feelings of security (particularly with Abraham) and significance (her status in society)?
8. Read Genesis 12:10-13:2. Why do you think Sarah went along with Abraham’s “Tell them you’re my sister” plan?
Historical Insight: Why did Abram use the “Tell them you’re my sister” plan? One historian said that if a married man of Abram’s day found himself in enemy territory, he could be killed for his wife. But, if Abram were known as her brother, someone wanting her would have to make marriage arrangements with Abram because in that society, a woman’s brother gave his sister in marriage. So Abram would have been the negotiator thus giving him the chance to act in his own interest.
9. What might have been Sarah’s emotions during this time? Would you have done the same to save the life of someone you love? Explain.
10. God honored Sarah for not giving way to fear (1 Peter 3:5-6). When Abraham failed to protect Sarah in this incident, what did God do for her?
11. Your Life’s Journey:
· Abraham was able to share his personal fears with Sarah. Is your husband or closest friend able to share personal fears with you? Why or why not?
· Abraham had not given over the safety of his own life to the Lord yet because his faith did not extend to this area. Like Abraham, what area of your life have you never really given over to the Lord, and how does this affect those around you?
· Sarah was ~65 when she left Haran, moving to who-knows-where. Sarah was willing to cooperate with God’s plan for Abraham even when it was tough for her. How are you at encouraging your husband or your closest friend to follow God’s leading? Ask someone in your small group to pray with you this next week.
12. Read Genesis 15:1-6. What was Abraham’s concern? What was still God’s plan? How many times had He told Abraham this already?
Historical Insight: In ancient times, a man who had no son could adopt a favored servant as heir to his possessions. Or, a man who had no son could take a second wife to produce an heir. Some marriage contracts even spelled out this provision. A wife was obligated to have children. If she could not, she was required to find her husband another wife who could.
13. Read Genesis 16. This is Sarah’s “Plan B” to fix Abraham’s need for an heir. Discuss her idea and the emotions she might have experienced. Notice that Abraham had not already sought a second wife.
14. Sarah’s “Plan B” becomes a nightmare! Our example was no perfect woman. She was just like we are. Look at her behavior!! How did Sarah react?
15. What was threatened in Sarah’s life, and what confirmation did she need from her husband?
Scriptural Insight: Sin now drives a wedge between Hagar and Sarah. Hostility and mutual recrimination loom large, resulting in Hagar’s fleeing her mistress’s home precipitously, and pregnant at that. But in fleeing Sarah, several things happen to Hagar. She is the first person in the Bible to whom “the angel of the Lord” appears (16:11a). She is the first woman in the Bible to whom God directly makes a promise (16:11b-12). She is the only person in the Old Testament to give God a new name (16:13). And lastly, her meeting with the angel “is the only encounter between God and a woman that results in a commemorative place name (16:14)” (Adapted from Handbook on the Pentateuch, page 91)
16. Read Genesis 17:1-6, 15-22. God once again told Abraham His plan to provide descendants for Abraham and a faithful people for Himself. How did Abraham respond this time? What additional information is given in Romans 4:18-21?
17. Read Genesis 18:1-15. Why do you think the visitors came by Abraham’s tent? What did the Lord give Sarah for the first time?
18. What was Sarah’s initial response? Why? [NOTE: The Hebrew word translated “pleasure” in verse 12 is “eden” which is synonymous with sensual pleasure.]
19. Read Genesis 20. This happened shortly after the “tent” visit. Abraham nearly jeopardized the whole situation by again placing Sarah in another man’s harem. He fails in the same area of faith in which he failed 25 years earlier (see Day One Study). At 89 years of age she was taken into a harem of the reigning king. (This gives further information regarding Sarah’s beauty. God must have turned on her hormones again in a big way—super estrogen!!) Did Sarah try to protect herself this time or argue with Abraham? What does this tell you about her trust in both her husband and her God?
20. Your Life’s Journey: Sarah loved Abraham for many years. She followed him in some very tough situations. Their life was definitely not static or boring. Just like ours. If you have been married for several years, in what areas have you learned greater love and trust of your husband? If you aren’t married, can you think of a married couple who have exhibited growth in their love and trust for one another?
21. Tell Your Story: In what areas of your life have you learned greater trust of your God? Describe one area more fully in the space below. Please consider sharing this with your small group.
22. Think About It (optional): Someone once said, “God’s plan is completely different from what you could ever imagine and much more glorious than you would ever expect.” Have you noticed this in your life? Is anything really too hard for the Lord?
23. Read Genesis 21:1-7. Describe Sarah’s experience and the story she had to tell (vs. 6).
24. The name Isaac means “he laughs.” In what ways is Isaac an appropriate name for this baby?
25. Through this whole experience, how do we know that God loved Sarah as much as Abraham?
26. Read Genesis 21:8-13. What situation existed between Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and Ishmael?
27. Contrast the response of Sarah with that of Abraham to the situation.
28. From our study, write down at least 7 descriptive characteristics of Sarah, positive or negative, that will help you to remember her.
God loved Sarah. He knew what was going on in her life. He was able to do something about it. But, God did not give Sarah a child early in her marriage nor did He prevent her from making a bad decision or spending time in a king’s harem. During her walk, a loving God said “no” to some things. Yet, she chose to trust Him rather than submit to fear. And, God rewarded her faith with an outpouring of His blessing in other ways. Likewise, God may not choose to rescue you from poor decisions made by you or someone close to you. But, in any and all situations, you can count on these truths…
§ God loves me.
§ God knows what is going on in my life.
§ God can do something about it.
§ I can trust His goodness in whatever He chooses to do!
29. List all the situations in Sarah’s life that could have “terrified” her.
30. Considering those “opportunities” for being terrified, in which ones did Sarah, by faith, do what was right and not give way to fear?
31. Your Life’s Journey:
· Is there a problem right now in your life where you must make a choice to do right, but the possible consequences fill you with fear?
· From our study of 1 Peter 3:3-6 (see Day One Study), what heart attitude will best help you face this problem with courage rather than terror?
· Are you willing to trust God and live by faith in this area? Ask someone in your small group to pray for you.