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12 May 2024 // Genesis 18

SCRIPTURAL APPLICATION:  Genesis 18:10-15; 21:1-7
Genesis 18:10-15; 21:1-7

A Promise Made  Vs. 10
Sarah’s Problem Vs. 11
                              An Unlikely Situation
               Sarah’s Perspective Vs. 12
                              An Understandable Reaction Vs. 12
                              An Inexcusable Response Vs. 13-15
A Promise Kept Vs 21:1-7
               Sarah’s Present Vs. 1-5
               Sarah’s Perception  Vs. 6-7

  • What did the message teach me about God/Jesus/Holy Spirit?
  • What did the message teach me about the human condition?
  • Is there anything I need to confess, repent, or be grateful for, because of this passage?
  • How do I need help in believing and applying this scripture to my life?
  • How can I encourage others with this passage?

The first car my wife, Barbara, and I purchased after our marriage was a pale green 1959 Volkswagen. Perhaps some of you recall the factory color, a kind of washed-out, pea-soup green. The car’s color had been further dulled by oxidation and sixty thousand miles of road film. How pleased and proud I was to find that a little rubbing compound and lots of elbow grease could make that old Beetle shine—still a pale, pea-soup color, but lustrous and shiny—absolutely VW cool. I also discovered that the paint required regular attention, and I gave it.

Like many everyday things in life, my experiences suggested some spiritual wisdom to my budding preacher’s mind—namely, that as believers who are indwelt by Christ we have the inner potential to shine for him. In fact, Christ calls us to do so (cf. Matthew 5:14–16). However, as we go through life, the sheen gets dulled by the road film we accumulate from our self-centeredness, unconfessed sin, and worldly accretions. And chief among God’s ways of bringing out the shine is the buffing function of trials, which cause us to see ourselves for what we are and then cause us to confess our sins and turn to him. The result, of course, is a renewed, buffed-out luster that shines with the character of Christ. The abiding truth is that for every believer, the frictions of adversity are used to polish the soul. As King David said, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (Psalm 119:67), and “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (v. 71).

This process of knocking off our rough edges and polishing our character through repeated trials and buffetings is as old as Father Abraham and his father’s fathers. Though Abraham’s character and devotion to God towered over that of Lot, he had his weaknesses. His capitulation to Sarah’s insistence that he take her servant girl Hagar as a wife demonstrated a lack of faith in God’s word, not to mention an abdication of his patriarchal leadership (cf. 16:2b and 3:17a). Most recently, he had tried to pass Sarah off as his sister to the Philistine king Abimelech to save his own skin, and this was not the first time he had tried that ploy (cf. 12:10–20). Pagan Abimelech had rightly taken the moral high ground in reproving Abraham. Abraham’s failure, his failure to shine, was the cloud that preceded Genesis 21:1–34. But the patriarch was in process. And from here on he began to shine ever brighter. The present chapter records both Abraham’s and Sarah’s growth in grace as he moved toward his ultimate test.[1]

LAUGH To express joy or scorn with a chuckle or explosive sound. Laughter is central to the account of the birth of Isaac. Both Abraham (Gen. 17:17) and Sarah (18:12) laughed in contempt and disbelief at God’s promise that Sarah would bear a son. The name Isaac (from the Hebrew word for laughter) served as a joyful reminder that the last laugh was on those slow to believe (Gen. 21:3, 6). Laughter can serve as a sign of contempt (Gen. 38:23; 2 Chron. 30:10; Job. 22:19) or of confidence (Job 5:22; 39:18, 22 NASB). References to God’s laughing at the wicked demonstrate God’s confident contempt (Ps. 2:4; 37:13; 59:8). Laughter is frequently contrasted with signs of mourning (Job 8:21; Ps. 126:2; Luke 6:21, 25). Though Hebrew wisdom recognized a time to laugh as part of God’s ordering of time (Eccles. 3:4), wisdom downplayed the value of laughter, associating it with fools (Prov. 29:9; Eccles. 7:4, 6), calling it madness (Eccles. 2:2), and finding sorrow preferable (Eccles. 7:3).

Commentary: The miraculous nature of the announcement is underscored by the Lord’s amazing discernment of Sarah’s private thoughts (vv. 12–15). Sarah’s position in the tent, “behind him” (v. 10b), and her internal monologue, “to herself” (v. 12a), indicate that by unusual means the visitor knew her heart, not having seen a facial expression or heard a chuckle. Such exceptional perception gave credibility to the visitor’s unlikely prediction of a child. The domestic intrigue of Abraham’s household involving rival siblings is intimated in Sarah’s actions in this passage by the lexical hints “listening” (šāmaʿ; v. 10b) and “laughed” (ṣāḥaq; vv. 12–13), wordplays on Ishmael’s name (16:11) and on Isaac’s (21:6). Sarah will later defend her son by urging Ishmael’s expulsion, at which time the Lord directs Abraham, “Listen [šĕmaʿ] to your wife” (21:12; cp. 3:17). Isaac’s wife Rebekah, after “listening” (27:5), takes action to ensure that Jacob receives the firstborn rights in her household.

A normal biological conception was humanly ruled out due to Sarah’s post-menopausal age. The passage captures the impossibility of her pregnancy by three successive descriptions: the couple is “old” (zĕqēnîm); “advanced in years,” lit., “coming with days” (baʾîm bayyāmîm); and she is “past the age of childbearing,” lit., “as the way of women had ceased for Sarah” (ḥādal lihyôt lĕśārâ ʾōraḥ kannāšîm). “Old” and “advanced in years” later describe the aged patriarch in his last days (24:1; also Joshua, 13:1; 23:1–2) and David (1 Kgs 1:1; so Jesse, 1 Sam 7:12). The Hebrew euphemism for menopause occurs again in the description of Rachel’s ruse (31:35).

Sarah’s bitter amusement over the announcement (v. 12; cf. 17:17) 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” (ʿednâ) is used here for sexual delight (“enjoyment,” NJPS) and elsewhere of luxuries, delicacies (ms. pl., 2 Sam 1:24; Jer 51:34; Ps 36:9).

Undeterred by Sarah’s secret doubts, the divine spokesman continues his speech with Abraham, reiterating the promise (vv. 13–14). His two questions of Abraham are rhetorical, requiring no response from the patriarch. Since the Lord can accomplish such a feat, Sarah’s skepticism is unfounded.402 The Hebrew for “hard” or “difficult” (pālāʾ, v. 14) means “wonderful” (NAB) in the sense of extraordinary (e.g., Jer 32:17, 27). The works of the Lord are exceptional by human standards, evoking amazement by his people (e.g., Ps 118:2–3). God’s knowledge of future events as well as the human heart was “too wonderful” (pĕlîʾâ, qere reading) to comprehend (Ps 139:6).

Sarah’s interjection, “I did not laugh” (v. 15), shows that she, not Abraham, was the intended recipient of the man’s statement. His unusual knowledge startled her, and she was “afraid” (yārēʾâ) of the man’s response (v. 15). It was out of fear too that Abraham lied to Pharaoh and Abimelech concerning his wife (12:13, 19; 20:11 with Isaac’s explanation, 26:7). The divine rejoinder is emphatic (asseverative use of kî): “Oh, yes [kî] you did laugh” (NRSV); the definitive tone of his answer ended the matter.[2]

      1.  What do you think happened between Sarah’s doubtful laugh (Genesis 18:12) and the faith recorded in (Hebrews 11:11-12)?
     2.   What does such a change in Sarah – a deep-rooted character change – cause you to think of in your own life and circumstance? What hope does it provide for others?
    3.    Sarah laughs in v12 “within herself”; in Genesis 21:6 Sarah announces that “God has brought laughter for me.” Is the laughter in 18:12 the same or different from the laughter in 21:6? How? What does laughter seem to mean in this story, do we think? When, under what circumstances, do we laugh? How is Sarah’s laughter like our own? Different from ours?

[1]  R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 291–292.
[2]  K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 218–219.