Why did Sarah lie?
Sarah, the wife of Abraham, is described in Scripture as a faithful and righteous woman (Isaiah 51:1-2; Hebrews 11:11; 1 Peter 3:5-6). Still, we read that she broke the ninth commandment and lied on several occasions. There are mainly two different sets of circumstances, inducing Sarah to lie.
Sarah’s first lie is recorded in Genesis 18. God appeared with two angels to Abraham and Sarah and promised them that they would have a son within a year. Genesis 18:11-15 states:
“Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?’ And the LORD said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, saying, “Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?” Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.’ But Sarah denied it, saying, ‘I did not laugh,’ for she was afraid. And He said, ‘No, but you did laugh!'”
Sarah denied or lied against the truth because she was afraid. She did not want to admit that she had not enough faith.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible states:
“‘She denied, saying, I did not laugh,’ thinking nobody could contradict her: she told this lie, because she was afraid; but it was in vain to attempt concealing it from an all-seeing eye; she was told, to her shame, ‘Thou didst laugh…’ It is a shame to do amiss, but a greater shame to deny it; for thereby we add iniquity to our iniquity. Fear of a rebuke often betrays us into this snare. See Isaiah 57:11, ‘Whom hast thou feared, that thou hast lied?’ But we deceive ourselves if we think to impose upon God; he can and will bring truth to light, to our shame. ‘He that covers his sin cannot prosper,’ for the day is coming which will discover it.”
The second set of circumstances involving SARAH’S deceitful conduct is described in Genesis 20, when ABRAHAM told the lie that Sarah was his sister, denying the truth that she was his wife. As a consequence, King Abimelech took Sarah to become his wife. One might ask why Sarah did not speak up and tell Abimelech that she was Abraham’s wife. Why did she keep silent? Why did she cover up Abraham’s lie?
We read of an earlier account in Genesis 12:11-13:
“And it came to pass, when he [Abram, later called Abraham] was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai [later called Sarah] his WIFE: ‘Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, “This is his wife”; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please SAY YOU ARE MY SISTER, that it may be well with you FOR YOUR SAKE, and that I may live because of you.”‘
God revealed to Pharaoh that Sarai was Abram’s wife. BOTH Abram and Sarai lied to Pharaoh about this. And later, BOTH repeated the same lie to Abimelech.
As God did in the case of Pharaoh, He revealed the truth to Abimelech–this time in a dream. We read in Genesis 20:4:
“But Abimelech had not come near her, and he said, ‘Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also? Did he not say to me, “She is my sister”? And she, even SHE HERSELF SAID, “He is my brother.” In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands I have done this.'”
Why did Sarah participate in Abraham’s lie? Why did she even repeat it herself?
We read in Genesis 20:10-13:
“Then Abimelech said to Abraham, ‘What did you have in view, that you have done this thing?’ And Abraham said, ‘Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will kill me on account of my wife. But indeed she is truly my sister. She is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife. And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said to her, “This is YOUR KINDNESS that you should do FOR ME: in every place, wherever we go, say of me, ‘He is my brother.”‘
Abraham’s and Sarah’s lies are not justified by the fact that Sarah was Abraham’s half-sister. In God’s eyes, they were husband and wife, and God calls them consistently that way in His word. Abraham and Sarah suppressed the truth that they were married, with the intent to deceive their neighbors.
Abraham had asked Sarah to lie in order to save his life, placing a guilt trip on her by suggesting that she would be unkind to him if she did not tell the lie, and she would be without the protection of her beloved husband if they killed him and let her live. Sarah obeyed her husband and broke one of God’s commandments in the process. She should have never done this. Even though we read that wives are to submit to their husbands, we are also told that this must be done “in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). That is, they must never violate God’s Will, and if a demand or request of their husbands would violate God’s Word, they must disobey. We are told that we must obey God, rather than man, in a conflict situation (Acts 5:29). (Please listen to Wray Zehrung’s sermonette, “When to Obey and When Not to Obey,” June 19, 2010.)
Of course, Abraham should have never asked Sarah to lie for him or to actively or passively participate in or condone his lie. Both showed a lack of faith. They were afraid that if they were to tell the truth, Abraham would be killed. They did not fully believe that God would be powerful enough to protect them.
But we also read that both Abraham and Sarah grew in faith, as we all must do (Romans 4:19).
Wives are not to obey their husbands when they are asked to do wrong. And husbands must not listen to the voice of their wives when they ask or suggest to them that they do or say something which would violate God’s Will.
Even before God appeared with two angels to tell Abraham and Sarah that they would have a son within a year, God had already promised descendants to Abraham (Genesis 15:1-5, 18). God had specifically said to Abraham (then called Abram) that “one who will come from your own body shall be your heir” (verse 4).
But as time progressed and Abraham and Sarah remained childless, they began to doubt in God’s promise and reasoned that they had to produce offspring through Abraham and Sarah’s maid, Hagar (Genesis 16:1-2). This episode showed a lack of faith of both Abraham and Sarah. This is perhaps another reason why Sarah later denied that she had laughed when God repeated His promise that they would have a son. She realized that she had again, for a second time, manifested a lack of faith in God’s Word and Power.
However, there were other occasions when God told Abraham to listen to the voice of his wife (Genesis 21:8-12). It is always a matter of what God’s Will is in a particular matter.
Generally, Abraham and Sarah obeyed God and kept His commandments. But they were not perfect and sinned on occasion–and every lie is a sin against God and neighbor. When they realized their sin and repented, God forgave them, and they will be in God’s Kingdom and one of God’s born-again sons and daughters, ruling under Christ in the Millennium and beyond (Hebrews 11:39-40).
Lead Writer: Norbert Link