Though the patriarch Abraham and wife Sarah ended up in the ‘Faith Hall of Fame’ (Hebrews 11:8-11), their lives were far from a perfect display of faith.
God had promised Abraham and his wife Sarah a son out of which would come a great nation (Genesis 17). Though they clung to this promise, there were times when they doubted God and took matters into their own hands.
One of these moments involved Hagar, Sarah’s personal maid:
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. 2 So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. (Genesis 16: 1-2 NASV)
Sarah told Abraham to impregnate her slave who would serve as a surrogate and have a child that Sarah would claim as her own. The couple went through with this plan with both believing it would fulfill the promise that God had given them.
Hagar became pregnant birthing a son Ishmael (Genesis 16:4).
As we look at this story, in reality both Abraham and Sarah caved to the cultural pressure of the day.
Archaeologists have uncovered a 4,000 year-old-marriage contract in Turkey. According to the Daily Mail, the clay tablet, cited in the publication Gynecological Endocrinology, provides the first known mention of infertility.
The contract written on a small square clay tablet states that if the couple did not have a child after two years of marriage, then the husband would try to impregnate a female slave to provide an heir.
The contract even stipulated once the female slave gave birth to a boy, the woman would actually be granted her freedom.
This contract on display at the Archaeology Museum in Istanbul, Turkey was found in Kayseri Province in 1925 along with about a 1,000 other cuneiform tablets. This is in the Mesopotamia valley, the very area where Abraham and Sarah lived before God called Abraham to leave:
12 Now the Lord said to Abram,
“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
2 And I will make you a great nation (Genesis 12:1-2a NASV)
There have been so many tablets found in this area, that some archaeologists have labelled Mesopotamia as “the place where history began.”
The tablet believed to be 4,000 years old also dates to the time of Abraham. The slave girl referred to as a hierodule, describes either a slave or a prostitute associated with a pagan temple.
The tablet confirms that the arrangement concocted by Sarah was an accepted practice of that day.
It also shows that there were moments in their journey of faith, that Abraham and Sarah caved to cultural pressure, but these moments of failure did not define them.
In the Biblical account, after giving birth to Isaac, Sarah drove Hagar and Ishmael out of the family. This may have fulfilled the cultural obligation that woman would be granted her freedom once she provided a male heir.
In this instance Sarah was no longer interested in keeping Ishmael and forced both to leave. However, God sent an angel and preserved their lives (Genesis 21:1-21).
We all go through moments of failure and doubt, but as we push through these times and continue to believe, they ultimately will not define our walk with God.
- 4,000-year-old marriage contract found in Turkey contains the first known mention of infertility and says a female slave should be used as a surrogate: Daily Mail
- Infertility and surrogacy first mentioned on a 4000-year-old Assyrian clay tablet of marriage contract in Turkey: Gynecological Endocrinology