The biblical matriarch Sarah was the wife of Abraham and the mother of Isaac. Information about Sarah comes from Genesis chapters 11-23.
Abraham and Sarah lived and were married in Haran. When Abraham was 75 years old, God commanded him to leave his home, and Sarah followed her husband to Canaan.
The first incident where Sarah figures prominently in the bible occurred when she was 65 years old and journeyed to Egypt with Abraham during a famine in Canaan. Despite her age, Sarah was beautiful, and Abraham was scared that if Pharaoh knew she was his wife, Pharaoh would kill him and take her. He therefore pretended Sarah was his sister, and Pharaoh did take her, giving Abraham many material possessions in exchange. God then sent plagues to punish the house of Pharaoh until Pharaoh released her and sent Abraham on his way.
A similar incident transpired later in the bible with King Abimelech of Gerar. He also took Sarah, thinking she was Abraham’s sister. God told him the truth in a dream and Abimelech returned Sarah to Abraham, along with a present of animals, slaves, gold and silver.
The first piece of information the bible gives about Sarah is that she was barren. This was significant since God promised Abraham earlier that his children would become a great nation. After ten years of living in Canaan, when Sarah still had not conceived, she gave Abraham her maid, Hagar, as a concubine. Once Hagar conceived, Hagar ceased to respect Sarah, and Sarah began to treat her harshly. Hagar ran away and returned only after God spoke to her, blessed her and ordered her to go back to Sarah. When Abraham was 86 years old, Hagar gave birth to Ishmael.
Until this point, Sarah’s name was actually Sarai. When Abraham was 99 years old, God spoke to him and blessed him with children and land. He changed his name from Abram to Abraham and his wife’s name from Sarai to Sarah. God also promised Abraham that Sarah would have a child, and that God would maintain his covenant with this child, Isaac.
Three days later, three men approached Abraham’s tent. He invited them in and Sarah went to prepare food for them. She was listening from the opening of the tent, however, when one of the “men,” who were really messengers from God, predicted that she would have a child. She laughed; after all, she was 90 years old and Abraham nearly 100! Yet God predicted that in one year, she would give birth. One year later, when Abraham was 100, Sarah’s son, Isaac, was born.
Once Isaac and Ishmael began to grow up, Sarah asked Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away and not to allow Ishmael to share an inheritance with Isaac. Biblical commentators disagree as to the reason why she did not want Ishmael in her house. Some say Ishmael was worshipping other gods, others say he was teasing Isaac or bragging that, as firstborn, he would receive a double portion of the inheritance. God told Abraham to listen to Sarah, but promised that he would bless Ishmael and make a great nation of him. The next morning, Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away.
Hagar and Ishmael wandered around the desert for some time until they ran out of water. God found them and promised to care for them. He caused a well to spring up which flows to this day in Mecca. He made a covenant with Hagar exactly like the one he had made with Abraham, promising Ishmael as many descendants as there were stars in the sky. Isaac became the ancestor of the Jews and Ishmael became the ancestor of the Arabs. The pilgrimage to Mecca is based on Hagar and Ishmael’s sojourn in the desert after being exiled from Abraham’s land.
Sarah died in Kiryat Arba (what is now Hebron) at the age of 127. There are two versions of her death, both concern Abraham’s decision to obey God and sacrifice their only child Isaac. As it happens the child was not sacrificed but Sarah didn’t know that. Desperately seeking word of what had happened she roamed the countryside. In one account Satan appears before her and tells her Isaac is dead and she dies of grief. In the other version an angel appears and to tell her he lives and she dies of joy. After her death, Abraham bought the Cave of Machpelah from Ephron the Hittite and buried Sarah there.