We’ve had COVID sweeping through our house. So it’s been a week (so far) of fevers, aches, and congestion (along with a very active two-year-old). The feeling of being “closed-in” has been building, something we haven’t experienced since the height of the shutdown during the pandemic. During this time, my Bible reading has taken me through the book of Hebrews. Chapter 11 is so familiar to us. The Hall of Faith. Those who went before and proved faithful in the midst of hard circumstances. What drove these men and women? What kept them enduring when others fell away? The author of Hebrews seems to be writing to encourage. He is going to use the encouragement of chapter 11 to push his readers to lives of steadfast endurance in chapter 12.
One of the “faithful” is found in verses 11-12. Verse 11 begins with “by faith Sarah…” Now, we are immediately faced with a translation issue. Is the text talking about Sarah or Abraham? Every translator has to make a decision on this. The grammar seems to indicate Abraham as the subject, but most translations place Sarah in that role. It is that translation that we’ll adopt. Remember Sarah? The 90-year-old wife of 100-year-old Abraham? The matriarch who could not have children and laughed out loud when God said she would? See, the faithful are not the perfect (something that I am encouraged by every day). The faithful are not those who never stumble or fall, who never sometimes doubt. No, something else marks the faithful, and verse 11 gives us insight.
Hebrews 11:11 continues, “received power to conceive, even when she was past the age…” Sarah was past the age of childbearing. The clear implication is that nothing inside of Sarah had the ability to produce a child or even the female contribution to a child. But even in that stage and condition, she received the power to conceive. “Received power” is passive. This ability didn’t come from her. Oh, she made a contribution. She brought her aged, sterile body. And she brought something else. She brought her faith. She brought faith in a promise. But not just in a promise, but in a Promiser.
Now, we all make promises, and we all have promises made to us. Some of those promises go unkept. Oh, it’s not usually malicious. We don’t treat our words as “pie crust” promises (to quote the great theologian Mary Poppins). But we’re fallen, imperfect. We don’t know everything, and things come up. We get tired, and that late-night movie with our boys or that trip to the mall with our girls sounds way more taxing than it did when we floated the idea. It’s not that we don’t want to keep our word every single time. It’s that we aren’t….God.