Sarah was Right to Laugh

In Genesis 18, Sarah overhears God telling Abraham that this time next year, she would have a son.  She laughs.  There is then a reaffirmation by God when, after Sarah denies her act, He says “No, but you did laugh.” (Gen 18:15)

Typically, this is read with a tone of rebuke.  Sarah is lacking in faith when she shouldn’t doubt that God can turn the death of her womb into life.  But is this a reprimand?

After all, Abraham himself laughs when previously told the same thing , and then points to Ishmael.

Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee! (Gen. 17:17,18)

Its as if Abraham thinks God is mistaken.  “You misspoke, God.  Ishmael is Hagar’s son, not Sarah’s.  And he is right here.”

Yet there is no rebuke or other response directed at Abraham’s laughter, and as in other places, we should take notice when God himself later focuses attention.

The emphasis on Sarah’s laughing in the exchange points to something else, and we see the fulfillment after the birth of Isaac.  First, Isaac’s name means “he laughs.” And then in Genesis 21:6,

And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me.

Sarah’s initial laughter is prophesy. It is right for her to laugh. She didn’t know it at the time, but her incredulous laughter was really the laughter of celebration.  And even now, the same incredulity underlies the laughter, for Sarah asks in the next verse “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?”

Part of the lesson we can learn from this is that since God is faithful to his promises, that what seems impossible becomes reality, even before our senses perceive it.  When God give Abraham his new name, He speaks in the not only in future tense, talking about what he is going to do, but also in the present tense.

Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. (Gen. 17:5)

God declares it.  And it is so.  Simple as that. We should treat the promises God makes to us as good as fulfilled, and we should be even better prepared than Abraham to do so.  One, the Resurrection of Christ, the climax of the fulfillment of all things, has happened. Can we think of anything that is beyond His power? And two, God has been merciful enough to give us the Spirit as a deposit or down payment, which is for us a guarantee for the future(Eph 1:13,14).  He has much invested in us already, and he will complete his work (Phil 1:6).

The Arbitrary Beginning of the Gospel

R. R. Reno, in his Genesis commentary, calls attention to the “scandal of particularity” that is the call of Abraham.  Up to this point, the text deals with a broad look of humanity.  The curse of Adam and Eve spreads out to their children, encompassing the entire race.

We have the very first murder, then the founding of the first city by the guilty.  The descendants of Cain then forge the first instruments, both musical and of bronze and iron.  The narrative sweeps us in the global flood, and after the children of Noah spread out on the new earth, the story of Babel tells us of the origin of all languages and cultures.

These have the feel of legend. The stuff myths are made of. We are reading history from a cosmic perspective.

Since the fall, the story has given us several false starts. How is God ever going to put things to rights? But whatever we think, we expect that whatever God does to begin the reversal of the Fall will retain the same epic, universal feel.

And then suddenly we get to Abraham.  One man. One family.  And God tells him to just start wandering in the the land of Canaan.  Abraham is special only because God says he is, declared with the same voice that brought the cosmos into existence.  Why Abraham and no one else?  Because God declared it.  The theme of election, which is a major theme of the rest of the book, is introduced, and this shift is important.

Because the divine plan, of course, is still universal in scope.  Through this one man, the whole world will be saved and the nations blessed.  God instills the promise of the future in flesh and blood.  And what does this prepare us for?

In other words, Genesis 12:1 is the beginning of the gospel itself, both in form and method.

As will happen time and time again in Scripture, God is the God of the unexpected.  He will continuously surprise us.