A Princess
Among Women SARAH is considered to be the first of the matriarchs of what later became the Jewish nation. When we bless our daughters each Friday before the Erev Shabbat meal, we say, "Y'simech Elohim k'Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, v'Leah - May God bless you as He blessed Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah." [1] The handmaids - Bilhah and Zilpah - gave birth to four of the twelve tribes. However, they are considered to be only among the biological ancestors of the Jewish people, whereas Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah are considered to be the spiritual ancestors of the Jewish people.

     Sarah is first mentioned in Genesis 11:29-31, where she is known as Sarai. She was the half-sister of Abraham, then known as Avram. As Abraham said to Abimelech in Genesis 20:12, "She actually is my sister, the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife." Such relationships were later forbidden in the Law of Moses (actually the Law of God!), as mentioned in Leviticus 18:9.


In the ancient Middle East, children were regarded as blessings from God, especially sons. It remains the tradition among Bedouin tribes for the men to arrange for a big party before the birth of a child. They bring a huge amount of food near the tent of the expectant mother. If a son is born, there are shouts of joy, music, and the men have a big party. If it is a girl, they pack everything up and go home.

     For a woman to be barren, that is, infertile, was considered a sign of divine disapproval among both Jews and Arabs. If a woman was unable to produce offspring, the husband was often allowed to divorce her.

     There was a neat little custom in Biblical times. If a woman was barren, unable to conceive her own children, she could offer her handmaid to her husband, and the children born of this handmaid would be considered her own children. Way back in Genesis 12:3, God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of a goy gadol ("great nation"). At the time Sarah was a mere 65 years old. However, after several years, she still didn't have a child, so she offered her Egyptian maid Hagar to Abraham to produce offspring. Abraham offered no arguments, and went in to Hagar. This did not produce a happy ending for the future Jewish nation. The offspring of that the relationship between Abraham and Hagar was Ishmael, who became the ancestor of most Arabs, who unfortunately have not been good for the Jewish people. The angel of HaShem pronounced this blessing: "Behold, you (Hagar) are with child, and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Ishmael, because YHWH has heard your affliction. And he will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand shall be against him, and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren."[2] That certainly isn't much of a blessing. However, in Genesis 17:20, we learn that God would multiply Ishmael, and he would become the father of twelve princes. The spiritual blessings go through Isaac. Also, the promise of the land of Canaan also goes to the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not Ishmael. Ishmael wasn't cheated! The Arab nations have 640 times more land than Israel, and huge deposits of petroleum. May God bless the Arabs! But that tiny piece of land called Israel belongs to the Jewish people.  

     It is one of the ironies of Jewish history that the Patriarchs and Matriarchs seemed to have such difficulty in conceiving and producing offspring. Sarai finally conceived supernaturally, as prophesied by HaShem[3] in Genesis 17:15-16, where Abraham is told that he and Sarai would produce a son, and also gave her a name change - from Sarai to Sarah, meaning "princess."

     In Genesis 18, angels [4] come to Abraham's tent. They confirm once again that Abraham and Sarah will have a son within the year. Since she is 89 years old at the time, it means she would be 90 when the son is born. Since it seems so preposterous, she laughs! However, when you think of this 89-year-old woman, don't think of someone with wrinkles on her wrinkles. In Genesis chapter 20, she is still so beautiful that Abraham tells the people of the area that she is his sister, fearful that someone might kill him in order to take Sarah. However, in Genesis 18:11, we read that "it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women," meaning that her menstrual cycles had ceased. Therefore, this was a miracle conception and birth. Because of the laughter of Abraham and Sarah, the child would be named Yitzchak ('laughter' - Isaac).

     It is interesting to note that the birth of Messiah Yeshua was also a supernatural event, a miracle in which a young Jewish virgin conceived and bore the child who would be the Savior of the world.

     Like Sarah, Isaac's wife Rebecca also had problems conceiving. Isaac finally prayed for her, and Rebecca conceived and bore twins after 20 years of marriage. One of the twins was Esau, and the other was Jacob (Ya'akov). Jacob had two wives - Rachel and Leah, who were the daughters of Laban. Leah was fertile, producing six of the sons of Jacob. Rachel, however, was more like Sarah and Rebecca, going for many years without producing children. She eventually gave birth to Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers, and eventually became Prime Minister of Egypt! That's a real rags to riches story! Rachel also gave birth to Benjamin on the way to Bethlehem, but unfortunately died in childbirth.

     Other Jewish women who had trouble with barrenness were Hannah, the mother of Samuel, and the unnamed mother of Samson. In the Newer Testament, we have Elizabeth, the elderly wife of the priest Zechariah, who miraculously gave birth to Yochanan the Immerser... Okay, "John the Baptist," but he wasn't a Baptist. He was a Jew who would be the forerunner of the Messiah.


THE AKEIDA (The Binding of Isaac)

We don't hear much about Isaac until chapter 22 of Genesis. In this chapter, Abraham hears from Adonai, who tells him to go the land of Moriah, and offer up Isaac as a burnt offering. This is known in Judaism as the Akeida, the Binding (of Isaac). According to Jasher 22:53,[5] as well as according to the Rabbis, Isaac was 37 years old at the time. Abraham would have been 137 years old. The paintings that you have seen of a defenseless little Isaac being offered on the altar by a strong, muscular man is deceiving. Isaac was at the peak of his strength as a man, whereas Abraham was in his waning years.

     Genesis 21:31 tells us that Abraham and Isaac lived in Beersheva.[6] Moriah was a three-day journey from Beersheva. Abraham rose early in the morning, before the heat of day, taking Isaac with him. For three days, Isaac was as good as dead, much as Yeshua was dead for three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.[7] You perhaps know the story. Abraham binds Isaac, and lays him on the altar. Isaac could easily have beaten off the old man, and run off the mountain.

     However, just like Yeshua, Isaac was willing to be obedient to the father, even to the point of death. But instead of Isaac dying, "the angel of the Lord called to (Abraham) from heaven, and said, 'Abraham, Abraham. ... Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to harm him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me'." Instead of sacrificing his son, Abraham was permitted to sacrifice a ram whose horns were caught in the thicket. This remains an important lesson to Jews to this day, that God does not want us to sacrifice our children, as the pagans had been doing for centuries.



According to the Rabbis, as well as Midrash and the Book of Jasher, Satan had gone to Sarah and told her that Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac. Sarah left Beersheva to try to stop the murder of her son. She got as far as Hebron, where she died.

"The Sages teach that the narratives of Sarah's death and the Akeidah follow each other to indicate that she died as a result of the event. She was told by Satan that Abraham had actually slaughtered Isaac, and she cried out in grief and died (Targum Yonasan). This explains why Abraham and Isaac were not present at her death." [8]

In chapter 23, we read about the death of Sarah. A normal English rendering from the Hebrew would be, "And Sarah lived one hundred and twenty seven years." However, a literal translation of Genesis 23:1 would be, "And these were the lifetimes of Sarah: one hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years." According to the Rabbis, this was to show that at 100 years, she was as beautiful as a 20-year-old, and at twenty, she was as innocent as a 7-year-old.

     Abraham loved his wife. Instead of losing his son that year, he lost his beloved wife. He mourned for her, and then approached the sons of Heth to purchase a burial place for her. It had been a tradition among the pagans in Canaan to cremate their dead. However, the Jewish tradition has always been to bury their dead. Abraham ended up purchasing the cave at Machpelah for 400 shekels of silver. At that time, there were still no coins, so Abraham weighed out 400 shekels, and purchased the cave and field from Ephron the Hittite.[9]

     We have had the great pleasure of going to Machpelah in Hebron. We had known, of course, that the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were buried there. And we knew that Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah were buried there. Rachel was, of course, buried in Bethlehem, where her tomb is located to this day. When we read the names on the doors, we were surprised to find that Adam and Chava[10] were also buried there. Ob-viously, there is no way we can prove that Adam and Chava were actually buried there. But it was interesting nonetheless.

     There are three places in Israel in which Jews purchased the land, and the transaction is recorded in Scripture. First is Machpelah, then the place where Joseph was buried in Shechem, and finally the purchase of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem by King David.

     The most sacred of these three places is the Temple Mount. Both the First and the Second Temples were located there. After the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE,[11] the Romans renamed Israel, calling it Palestina, after the Philistines, Israel's ancient enemy. Then they built a pagan temple there. After the Roman Empire became "Christian," a church was built there. After the Islamic invasion, the church was converted into a mosque, which remains there to this day.


Modern History of the Holy Sites

Jews have lived in the Holy Land for thousands of years, although most had been dispersed by the Romans throughout the Roman Empire, primarily as slaves. In the late 1800s, Jews began returning to the Holy Land. However, they were not allowed on the Temple Mount, which had been turned into an Islamic holy site, where neither Jews nor Christians were allowed to go. Also, Jews were also not allowed to climb beyond the third step of the building that houses the tombs of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron. In 1929, there was an Arab pogrom (murderous riot) against the Jews living in Hebron. It resulted in the deaths of 67 Jews. All remaining Jews were expelled from Hebron. For the first time in over 3000 years, no Jews lived in Hebron.

     In the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel miraculously regained Judea and Samaria (the "West Bank"), as well as East Jerusalem where the Temple Mount is located. Hebron, including the Cave at Machpelah, was also re-conquered. Israel regained the Golan Heights from Syria also, as well as Gaza and the entire Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. As a result of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979, Israel withdrew from the entire Sinai Peninsula, a land bigger than all Israel. Since 1994, Israel has also withdrawn from much of Judea and Samaria, as well as all of Gaza.

[1] The Hebrew word order is very different from English.

[2] Genesis 16:11-12.

[3] "The Name" (of God).

[4] Angels (malachim) generally look like men, not women, and generally do not have wings. Malachim are not always "angels" in the sense that we understand them. Malachim also means "messengers," which are sometimes humans.

[5] We do not accept the Book of Jasher as being inspired Scripture. However, it is interesting that Jasher agrees with the Rabbis.

[6] This means either "well of the oath" or "well of the seven" (for the 7 lambs offered - Gen. 21:30)

[7] Matthew 12:39-40.

[8] Quoted from Interlinear Chumash, Artscroll, Brooklyn NY, (c) 2010, p. 116.

[9] Curiously, Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, who was also a Hittite, who was a righteous man serving in the Israeli army. David committed a great sin by having Uriah killed so he could take Bathsheba as his wife. 2 Samuel 11.

[10] That is, "Eve." For some strange reason, even the Jewish translations call her Eve, which is the name of a pagan goddess. However, her real name was Chava, from the Hebrew word for life, because she was "the mother of all living," as we read in Genesis 3:20.

[11] "Common Era," equivalent to A.D.