How Does Sarah, Submissive Obedience, and Fear Fit?

Have you ever done this? A wife wants counseling on dealing with a frustration she has with her husband. I Peter 3 brings God’s truth to godly wives (dealing with unbelieving husbands), encouraging them to trust God by submitting, adorning their hearts with righteous beauty, and to act as Sarah’s spiritual daughters. I’ve often thought of Sarah as a fantastic example of this, what with Abraham’s penchant for dropping her off in various royal harems (cf. Genesis 12 and 20). It turns out, most commentators see it this way too: Sarah shows remarkable faith and fearlessness in the face of Abraham’s abdicating husbandry.

But as we’re preaching through the Abraham toledot in our Lord’s Day sermons, I was struck by the fact that Genesis 18 is the only place Sarah refers to Abraham as her “lord” (Hebrew: adon, Greek: kurios). What is more, Peter exhorts godly wives to “not fear anything that is frightening” (I Peter 3:6). Sure enough, the only time we’re ever told Sarah feared something is also in Genesis 18. The links are striking, and even Proverbs 3 comes into play. The following chart helps to lay it out (ESV and LXX below):

Genesis 18:12, 15 I Peter 3:6 Proverbs 3:25
So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord (κύρίος μου) is old, shall I have pleasure?” as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord (κύριον).  
But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid (ἐφοβἡθη). do good and do not fear anything that is frightening (μὴ φοβούμεναι μηδεμίαν πτόησιν). Do not be afraid of sudden terror (οὐ φοβἡθησῃ πτόησιν) or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes

So what is the connection? As I mentioned above, many (most?) commentators favor Genesis 12 and 20 as Peter’s referent, as they see the content in ch 18 emphasizing Sarah’s lack of faith and fear, rather than the godly, positive image that Peter puts forth. Of course, some more liberal scholars think this is just typical NT hagiolatry, similar to what Peter does with Lot in II Peter 2:7 (“righteous Lot?” really?!). But to the contrary: 1) Peter wasn’t lazy; 2) the hermeneutic employed by the apostles is often thicker and more complex than the facile doubts of modernistic assumptions, and; 3) the Holy Spirit knew what He was doing when He inspired this text. Why would Peter so clearly hearken to Genesis 18 – a seeming low point for Sarah – and yet encourage godly wives to follow Sarah’s steps by grace?

John Piper would always say, “Raking is easy, but you’ll only get leaves. Digging is hard work, but you may strike gold.” I don’t have all the answers to this yet, but we can be confident that sustained effort in striving to understand the complexities (and intricate beauties!) of God’s Word are worth it and will be rewarded.

What do you think? What is the connection between these three texts? Don’t hesitate to leave suggestions (or brilliant answers) in the comments below.

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