Genesis 18:9-15 “Sarah’s Laugh”

Posted on March 28, 2010. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Redeemer Church Sunday School- Genesis Class

Genesis 18:9-15 “Sarah’s Laugh”

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bryan E. Walker

Read:

9 They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” 10 The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard  for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15 But Sarah denied it,  saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

Pray:

 

Introduction: First of all I am sad to have missed last week; a guy who was suppose to work my site crashed out in the ice and snow on the way to work, so I got called in. It did work out quite well, however, as the Lord knew where he wanted me and it was not here. I was working with a new officer and he had some questions for me about the scriptures and what I believed. It turned into a very nice hour or so long witnessing event that was one of the best witnessing experiences I have had. The young man some serious and thoughtful questions, many of which related back directly to Genesis.

I think his first question was along the lines of: “Since Adam and Eve failed the test God had for them in the Garden and ate the forbidden fruit, and God knew they would fail, Why did God allow them to fail? Why didn’t God just set it up so that they would not fail?” And he had questions about the justice and love of God in light of the doctrine of hell. A very thoughtful young man, a lapsed Catholic, very moral and diligent, serious minded fellow. We discussed salvation by grace through faith as opposed to salvation by being good and the nature of Christ’s death on the cross. So all in all, last week I was where I needed to be.

 In the last couple of weeks we have been studying the first 8 verses of this chapter, although that first week we did an overview of the whole chapter and even ch.19 as well, and we saw that a couple of the themes in this chapter were that Abraham and the LORD were celebrating what amounts to a covenant meal and we see the character of Abraham, the Friend of God. We will continue those themes today yet add to them.

Today we will see that in that covenant meal, the Lord does reveal himself to Abraham, and clearly states that in a year Sarah would have a son, a child of the covenant. Sarah, receives this promise with a secret, cynical, bitter laugh as she acknowledges that she and Abraham are now too old to have children. That laugh is what we will focus on this morning because sometimes I think we, too, can reach a point in our walk with the Lord, where we can give up on some things that maybe the Lord doesn’t want us to give up just yet. Sometimes our faith and zeal grows weary and a hint of cynicism or bitterness can creep in and rob us of our joy. In times like these we need to know and meditate upon the attributes of God such as his sovereignty, his omniscience and omnipotence.

  1. I.                   Is Anything Too Hard for the Lord?
    1. A.     A Message for Sarah
      1. 1.         vs. 9 “Where is Sarah your wife?” The first thing we must realize with this question is that it was not asked because the Lord was ignorant of Sarah’s whereabouts. If he can tell that she is laughing in her own mind and heart in vss.12-13, and if he can promise a son within the next year to a ninety year old woman and hundred yr old man, then he knows that she is hiding just on the other side of tent listening in to the men talk as a good wife should. How is it that the three visitors know Abraham’s wife’s name? And keep in mind that it was likely only a few days prior that the events of chapter 17 occurred and Sarai’s name was changed to Sarah.
      2. 2.         I have to quote Luther here (Luther’s Works, vol 3, p.200) “Nothing is more irksome and more senseless than a feast at which silence reigns; for discourses are the real condiments of food if, as Paul says (Col.4:6), they are seasoned with salt. For word is whetted by word; and not only is the belly fed with food, but the heart is also fed with doctrine, since godly conversations refresh the hearts, arouse faith, kindle love, and instruct in many ways. Away, therefore, with the silly and silent monks who suppose that worship and saintliness consist in silence!”
      3. 3.         It sounds odd to us that Sarah was inside the tent during the meal and the conversation, but remember that oriental hospitality in the land at that time was considerably different from our day. Last week we saw that Abraham himself seems to stand by rather than join in the meal with the three visitors, almost as a servant would. Today when we have a fellowship men and women sit together though not married and freely converse with each other. Not so in Abraham’s day, and not so in the Middle East today in Arab or muslim culture. Wenham writes, p.47, “This scene actually concerns the LORD and Sarah, but as a married woman she apparently stays inside the tent out of sight of the visitors, while the LORD addresses her by talking to Abraham. This change of focus makes this account of the promise of the birth of Isaac rather different from that in 17:15-21. There the promise was made directly to Abraham, apparently unbeknown to Sarah; here the promise is made to her.”
      4. 4.         “Where is Sarah?” may be Abraham’s final realization that this is the LORD eating this meal. The question sounds familiar to other questions from the LORD that Moses has recorded for us: 3:9 “Adam, where are you?” or 4:9 “Where is Abel your brother?” or of Hagar in 16:8 “Hagar…where have you come from and where are you going?” The LORD knows the answer in each case.
      5. 5.         Hamilton points out the similarities between this passage and a later passage involving Rachel in ch.31 (Victor P. Hamilton, NICOT, The Book of Genesis Chapters 18-50, Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI 1995, p.11) “Later, Rachel would be in a tent and would protest to her father that she was not able to rise so that he could search the entire tent because ‘the manner of women’ was upon her (31:35). Sarah too is in a tent, but for her ‘the manner of women’ has ceased…”
      6. 6.         The point here is that the LORD is addressing Sarah as an important part of his Plan of Redemption.  Sarah has a wonderful part to play here and the LORD is including her. The Good News was not for Abraham alone, not for the men alone. Women are included in the Covenant and in prominent places in Scripture. Contrast this to how islam treats women or how mormon doctrine treats women. QQ: Name some of the women who were key players in the plan of Redemption…
      7. 7.         Vs.10 “…about this time next year…Sarah your wife shall have a son.” This is a divine pronouncement for only the LORD can make a promise like this, as Waltke writes, p.267, “This is a clear indication that the speaker is the Lord, since he alone can faithfully promise life out of barrenness and decay.” The promise of 15:4 and the covenant of 17:16-21 are given a precise time and Sarah is included personally and directly. This promise is huge for God’s Plan of Redemption and ranks just below the announcement made to Mary in Luke 1:26ff.
    2. B.     A Miracle for Sarah
      1. 1.         Vs.11 “Abraham and Sarah were old…” for most of us in this room they were old when the story began back in ch.11! Age was one of the faith factors from the very beginning. Now I think that either because of their proximity to Creation itself, or perhaps due to yet another miracle in their bodies, they were much younger in health and looks than their age would normally permit. She is just past menopause and in chapter 20 Sarah is desired by Abimelech. So just get the image of shriveled up, bent over, arthritic old woman out of your mind. She is likely still a beautiful, healthy, vivacious woman just beyond childbearing, yet 90 yrs old. But the point is that they were too old to have children by this point. A miracle would certainly be needed.
      2. 2.         Mathews (NAC, Vol. 1B, p.218) writes, “The passage captures the impossibility of her pregnancy by three successive descriptions: the couple is ‘old’; ‘advanced in years’; and she is ‘past the age of childbearing’.”
      3. 3.         It is amazing that in this child of promise God works a miracle on an older, infertile couple that had been trying to have a baby for decades, and in the NT God works a miracle on a teenage virgin to have a baby who would be the Messiah, who would fulfill this type of Christ called Isaac.
      4. 4.         Vs.12 “So Sarah laughed to herself…” Mathews writes, p.218, “Sarah’s bitter amusement over the announcement reflects from her viewpoint the audacity of the man’s claims: her inner thoughts poignantly confirmed that the couple had not engaged in sexual relations for years. ‘Pleasure’ (‘edna) is used here for sexual delight (enjoyment) and elsewhere of luxuries, delicacies.” Waltke however, does not take it that strong, saying instead that “this is a unique Hebrew term, of uncertain meaning, translated ‘conception’ by an ancient Aramaic translation, ‘lust’ and ‘delight’ (by others). Abraham and Sarah have accepted barrenness as normal.” I would interpret this in light of both chapters 20, where Abimelech obviously desires Sarah and 25 where it is shown that Abraham took Keturah as a wife, probably after Sarah had died, and had other concubines, although that can be interpreted as being a summary of Abraham’s life and was occurring during the whole time. But could it be that Sarah and Abraham were not having relations due to Hagar, who is still Abraham’s wife and living there with their son, Ishmael?
      5. 5.         We can think of times in our lives, perhaps, where our dreams have absolutely crashed and burned, and someone, or even as we were reading the very Words of God in Scripture, tried to encourage us in the direction of our dreams and callings, and we, too, responded negatively with that little cynical laughter that says, “Ha! Yeah, right! Not in this lifetime!” We understand all too often the bitterness of disappointment. Even though we think we are serving the Lord, it just doesn’t work out and we look at what we have sacrificed and the paucity of fruit and we wonder why the Lord did not keep his end of the deal. Now we know the rest of Sarah’s story, that the promise of God was true and that she did indeed have a son in her old age. But more often than not, we do not receive the miracles do we? Yet we should still listen to the Lord in faith, believing that all things work together for good, even our largest disappointments and greatest failures and deepest hurts.
      6. 6.         I must confess that I experience this quite regularly. My life’s ambition, my desires and, I believe, my calling, were to full time ministry. While I never wanted to be a big church pastor I did desire to be a medium church pastor. Instead, I was the bi-vocational pastor of a very small and contentious, struggling church. I had great struggles with pride and bitterness through the years as I worked a regular job 40-50 hrs a week and then did all the things a full time pastor would do on top of it. And then, even that was taken away. But in bringing me to Redeemer, the Lord had good plans for me! The stress of our former church was destroying my health. God has taught me so much here and has brought healing. I feel fulfilled in what the Lord has allowed me to do here and no longer view the full time pastorate as being a need in my life, a desire, yes, but I am now usually satisfied in Christ and what he has for us here. Most of the time. Once in a while, when someone asks me what I do for a living, or when someone seeks to encourage me with a, “Hey you could still go out there and pastor a church” inside, where y’all can’t see, I sometimes respond just like Sarah. “Ha! I am now too old; that’ll never happen!” And that old sin of bitterness and unbelief crawls back out from the darkest corners of my soul. Doubts and regrets float to the surface from the self perceived wreckage of my life.
      7. 7.         Maybe not all of us suffer these Sarah moments of unbelief, especially the younger members of our class, but as you grow older and things don’t always happen as you thought they would, these incidents arise and the temptation to laugh at what the Lord says becomes real. Maybe some of you are strong enough so that this particular sin never plagues you and you are able to rest in the providence of God more comfortably than me. Great! Your strength, your faith can be of encouragement to people like me, and like Sarah.
      8. 8.         What triggers your Sarah moments? Where is the area of doubt, unbelief, and bitterness in your life? Where is it that when the word of God speaks, you go, “Ha! Yeah, right!” I know that there are some childless couples in our church that are childless due to serious health situations. I know there are people in our church who have lost their jobs and cannot provide for their family the way they once could. There are people in our church who have lost their health, lost spouses, and have a very difficult road before them.
      9. 9.         Vs. 13 “The LORD said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh…?’”  Gordon Wenham, p.48, writes, “She laughed not out of cocky arrogance but because a life long disappointment had taught her not to clutch at straws. Hopelessness, not pride, underlay her unbelief. Her self-restraint in not openly expressing her doubts and the sadness behind them go far to explain the gentleness of the divine rebuke.” If it had been today, Sarah probably would have gone to some of Benny Hinn’s healing services, maybe a Kenneth Copeland conference, perhaps up to Tulsa to see Oral Roberts. Maybe she would have gone to a series of OB-GYN doctors and an infertility clinic. But all failed. She experienced hopelessness Notice that he did not say, “Yeah Sarah, you are old and worn out, but I am going to use you anyway.” No, the Lord was gentle.
      10. 10.     Of course this points us back to 17:17 and Abraham’s own laughter at the promise of a son through Sarah just a few days earlier. And on that occasion God told Abraham to name the child Isaac, which means laughter. But then we must ask, did Abraham not tell Sarah of his encounter with the LORD? The LORD promised him a child with Sarah, and he had not talked with her? Sarah is taken by surprise here. If Sarah had been briefed by her husband, I doubt she would have laughed cynically here, she would have been amazed that these three strangers would know her situation and make such a promise only days after the Lord had visited her husband with the same message. Is this a clue that there had been some kind of rupture in their relationship over Hagar and Ishmael that had continued?
      11. 11.     In Hebrews 11:11 Sarah’s faith is praised. Despite her scheming that backfired with Hagar, and perhaps even a rupture in her relationship with Abraham, and here now we see her laughing in cynical unbelief, yet she is praised for having faith anyway? After being confronted by the Lord about her laughter, it would seem that she received the rebuke, repented, made things right with her husband, and trusted in God for the results. Abraham and Sarah both had struggles with their faith yet end up being used as examples by the author of Hebrews. I don’t know about you but that gives me some hope for myself and my doubts and struggles.
    3. C.     Is Anything Too Hard for the LORD?

 

  1. 1.         Vs. 14 “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” Here we have not just a gentle rebuke to Sarah, but a deep doctrinal statement as well, that needs studying. Too hard means too wonderful, extraordinary.Jer.32:17; Mark 10:27; Luke 1:37; Phil.4:13. This situation with Abraham and Sarah is right at the center of a major issue: do miracles happen? Is this a closed, naturalistic universe ruled only by the laws of physics and chemistry or is this a universe ruled by a Creator God who can and does overturn the laws of physics which he determined? Does God enter into our realm and work miracles? Is the Bible true in this regard? You see, if you have a presupposition that we live in a closed universe then you will not believe God’s Word and will call it myths and legends at best. In this context we see that God is both omniscient (he knew what Sarah was thinking and where she was) and omnipotent (he could and would override the laws of physics and biology to bring about his will and show himself glorious).
  2. 2.         Mark 10:17-31 Salvation is impossible for man to achieve or earn. Although we might be rich and successful, and seem to be religious and moral, inside we are totally depraved, lost and cannot even search honestly for God. It is impossible for us to save ourselves, but nothing is impossible for God!
  3. 3.         I once was challenged by a young atheist in my junior year of high school with: “You believe God can do anything? Can God make a rock so big that he cannot move it?” Anyway you answer that nonsense question you will look stupid. No, God cannot do anything that will contradict his perfect, divine nature. He cannot make a rock so big he can’t move it. So there are lots of things God cannot do. God cannot lie, he cannot do wrong, he cannot make a mistake.
  4. 4.         Vs.15 “But Sarah denied it, saying, ‘I did not laugh” Sarah is so caught off guard and surprised by this visitor who could see through the tent and see through her heart, that she lied. Now how futile is it to lie to God; yet people do it every day of the week.
  5. 5.         Finally, in this event we see the sovereign plan of God for our Redemption powerfully overcoming doubt and physical limitations in a miraculous way. Whereas Hagar knew the God Who Sees Me, Sarah experiences the God Who Knows My Heart. Psalm 139:1-4 comes to mind. 1John 3:20; Heb.4:13. God is omniscient, omnipotent and full of grace and mercy.

 

Next Week: there will be no Sunday School on Easter, so we will come back in two weeks to begin looking at the Sodom situation. We will finish ch.18 and Abraham’s intercession with the Lord for Sodom then get into the judgment and wrath of God.

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