In Genesis 12, Abram is 75. Sarai a bit younger. In our current age such a woman would have a dead womb. And God promised to Abram: "I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you" (12:2) and "“To your offspring I will give this land.”" (12:7). The first step of these is for Abram to have offspring. Could Sarai have given Abram natural children at the time of Genesis 12?
No, Abram would not have thought Sarai infertile yet. Consider Gen. 12:11-12 where Abram says to Sarai:
“See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live.
This is followed by the story of Sarai being taken into Pharaoh's harem. So Sarai looked a lot younger than her reported age and was very desirable sexually. This is an indication of her continued fertility. Sarai herself did not give up trying to conceive until several chapters later, when she gave Hagar to Abram because "perhaps I will obtain children through her.” (16:3)
Also, for those whose hermeneutics allows for a source-critical analysis of Genesis, there is the possibility that the report of Abram's age of 75 is not part of the original account. The Interpreter's Bible and others, say that the line about Abram's age is from "P," a narrative woven into the text at various places, while the the main body of this section is from "J."
Finally, we may consider the idea that "with God all things are possible." God promised Abram a son, and Abram responded in faith. Just as Sarah gave birth to Isaac later on and just as Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist when she was past her child-bearing years, Abram believed that Sarai could have given him children at the time of Gen. 12.
Conclusion: there are three ways to account for Abram's belief in Sarai's fertility in Gen. 12.
- She looked much younger than she was, and this was in indication that she was still fertile.
- Her apparent age is misreported because of an addition to the J text from the P source.
- Abram believed God's promise regardless of his wife's age.
Thus, there are a variety of reasons why Abram would not think Sarai's womb was "dead" at this point.
First, Gen 12 never mentions anything about Sarai not having children or being barren. That statement is found in Gen 11:30 -
But Sarai was barren; she had no children.
The statement about a "dead womb" is not found in the OT but in Rom 4:19.
The difference in age between Abraham and Sarah was 10 years as shown in Gen 17:17. This means that when Abraham and Sarah moved to Canaan and Abraham was 75, Sarah was 65 years old. However, the statement in Gen 11:30 (above) has nothing to do with age; Sarah was simply infertile and could not have children.
Thus, the miracle of the birth of Isaac was remarkable for two reasons:
- Sarah was barren and could not have children
- Sarah was old and had already reached menopause Gen 18:11, Rom 4:19, etc.
Now, the fact that Sarah, in Gen 12, was barren had nothing to do with her being desirable as an addition to a harem as expressed by Pharaoh. Women were added to harems for various reasons:
- sexual pleasure of the harem owner
- to produce children
- to create the trappings of wealth, ie, unrelated to either of the above two reasons. A large harem suggested great wealth!
- to surround the king with great beauty for its own sake, again unrelated to the above reasons
- some harem members were there for ordinary companionship and counselling of the king
Thus, the fact that Sarah had no children and could not have children was not entirely germane to Pharaoh's request. Sarah was very beautiful, wise, experienced and well-travelled and thus could satisfy all but one of the list above.