Abraham fell on his face and laughed… Sarah laughed to herself

(Genesis 17:17a; 18:12a)

Many are happy to overlook the way God has revealed Himself in the sacred histories. They prefer to view Him through inspired statements made about Him. Then they define His actions in view of those holy declarations. This is a good principle, but we should not neglect to watch carefully to see how He interacts with people that He loves. Perhaps statements about God might be seen through the revelatory record of His relationships. For example, look at Abraham and Sarah’s unbelief. First, look at Abraham:

Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. “I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. (Genesis 17:15-19)

At least Abraham kept his derision to himself. He only spoke “in his heart.” God didn’t reprove him. God continued to declare His purposes for Abraham. Yet, look at Sarah. Really, this couple just goes from bad to worse…

He said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. Sarah  laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ “Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Sarah denied it however, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh.” (Genesis 18:9-15)

Here’s a woman who actually laughs in disbelief at God’s promise. When she’s called on it, in fear and disbelief in God’s goodness, she lies to God’s face.

Why wasn’t Sarah turned to ashes where she stood? In the very next chapter (the inexorably severe judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah) we read of Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt for disobeying the word of an angel. Here, we have the inspired record: Lot’s wife’s Aunt Sarah secretly mocking God’s word. She laughed!

Not only did God not destroy Sarah, but He didn’t rescind His promise to her. Not only did God not respond in wrath, but Sarah didn’t disqualify herself from His purposes for her. In fact, the gentle reproof He offered did not even receive a penitent response. What did she say? “I did not laugh.” So, Sarah not only laughs at God’s word, but when convicted by the audible voice of God she doesn’t even have the reverence to humbly confess her fault. She denies, she maintains her righteousness. And this woman lived? What did God say? “No, but you did laugh.” I have been familiar with this story for years, but still can’t quite get over this.

This is as poignant and merciful an interaction as anything we read about in the New Testament.  In fact, where else in the Sacred Text do we see this type of behavior? (I’m not just writing about Sarah, but Sarah and God!)

Have you ever received a promise that you believe was from God, but now, if it is mentioned, the very sound of it brings pain? If the LORD, Himself, was to draw near to you and restate His purpose, would you bitterly laugh? Would you mock? Have you done that? If so, take heart. He is the God of Abraham, yes, but He is also the God of Sarah.

Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” (Genesis 21:5-7)

What an incredible display of the God of Sarah’s faithfulness. Before we leave this story, let’s read the way the writer of Hebrews tells this story:

By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. (Hebrews 11:11)

Are you kidding? That’s the apostolic verdict? I am tempted to laugh…

By David Harwood