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Gen. 18:12-16

So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” 13 Then the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

I'm bothered by the last verse. Why does the text recount that Sarah denied that she laughed followed by Abraham's rebuttal who insisted that she indeed laugh. What is the significance of this particular detail and what is the biblical author trying to convey here?


In my mind there is no doubt that the entire story of Sarah's Laughter in Gen. 18 is somewhat related to the name of 'Isaac=Izhak', which in Hebrew means "laughing". See for example Gen. 21:6 where laughter is clearly the etiological basis for Isaac's name, and in 17:17-19 it is also clearly implied. So Sarah's laughter here is clearly related to the name 'Izhak' given later on. My question is, how does this detail of Sarah's denial and Abraham's response play a role in this narrative (or Isaac's name), and what was its historical significance to the Israelite audience/tradition?

It almost seems as if the narrative here is incomplete, and that a punishment or response should follow after verse 15. But we find none. Any suggestions here would be appreciated.

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    I always took the rebuttal as being Yahveh’s, not Abraham’s. The text seems to support this as Sarah didn’t just laugh aloud, but she laughed בְּקִרְבָּהּ, “within herself.” Thus, only the omniscient Yahveh would have known that she laughed, not Abraham. – Der Übermensch Oct 29 '18 at 0:24
  • @Übermensch when I wrote it I thought it may spark some controversy. The reason I think it is Abraham who did the rebuttal is simply because it would make Sarah look really dumb if she tried to hide the facts from god. As for your point how would Abraham know she laughed? Well the text recounts that god did tell Abraham that she laughed, Abraham knew she laughed so she confronted her. I don't see any advantage in interpreting it your way, since there is anyways a subject change between verses 14 and 15, as nowhere in the text is it mentioned that god spoke to Sarah only to Abraham! – Bach Oct 29 '18 at 1:59
  • —I'll give it another reading. – Der Übermensch Oct 29 '18 at 2:03
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    I agree that this reads to me like a rebuttal from the LORD not Abraham – user25930 Oct 29 '18 at 10:24
  • There's not much chance it's Abraham who rebuts her. How would Abraham know Sarah laughed? (If she laughed loudly enough for him to hear, why wouldn't lying to him be just as stupid as lying to God?) And why would the pronoun "he" skip the most recent referent so it can refer to Abe — the OT has no problem being repetitive to avoid such ambiguity! More importantly, this wouldn't be the first time someone tried to hide something from God in the Bible, stupid or not. Besides, Sarah doesn't even know it's God. Right now it's a stranger whose promise doesn't strike her as divine, but laughable. – Luke Sawczak Oct 29 '18 at 12:34
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I think that the significance of Sarah's denial being reported is a contrast against her later rejoicing as reported in Genesis 21:6 :

God hath made me to laugh so that all that hear will laugh with me.

Who would have said unto Abraham that Sarah should have given children suck, for I have borne him a son in his old age. . . . . [KJV]

Sarah had expressed herself, secretly and privately within herself, and the LORD had noticed it for he comments on it to Abraham in 18:13 :

Wherefore did Sarah laugh . . . Is any thing too hard for the LORD ?

And he re-affirms to Abraham that he will return at the appointed time, according to the time of life . . . and Sarah shall have a son.

Thence is recorded Sarah's denial and the rebuttal of her denial in 18:15.

The LORD noticed and the LORD commented and the LORD re-affirmed.

I think that the highlighting of this incident reveals that the LORD is aware of unbelief and its sniggering mockery. But that unbelief and inappropriate humour will not, by any means, divert the LORD from his intentions and from his purpose.

But he will not ignore it. It is grieving to him and it is insulting to him.

We see a similar response by Gabriel to Zachariah's unbelief who was struck dumb for nine months.

But as was recorded Zachariah's later response in obediently naming John as he was commanded, contrary to the wishes of the close family, yet also we see recorded Sarah's later response - in contrast to her former unbelieving scepticism.

The LORD will be honoured and glorified among his people, despite their cynicism and unbelief. They shall be overcome by his goodness and his greatness and they shall, in the latter end, rejoice in faith.

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I think that in order to answer this question we must see verses 21:6-8 as a continuation of this narrative, since without these verses the narrative as it is in Gen. 18 is somewhat incomplete.

Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” 7 And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

This is how I interpret the events in Gen. 18: Old Sarah laughed within herself when she heard one of her guest strangers say that she will bear a child. This was indeed a ridiculous claim, and Sarah was entitled to laugh upon hearing this. When the stranger asks Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son,” it is not meant as a rebuke as is commonly understood; it is just reaffirmation of his words that Sarah will have a child and that he is no jokester, and that his words need be taken seriously.

When Sarah realizes that this man is no stranger but a messenger from god (or god himself) who can read her mind, Sarah tries to deny that she did laugh, but the messenger insists "Yes, you did laugh". With this he is implying that her laughter now is a harbinger of what is to happen when the child is born: he will bring a lot of joy and surprising and astonishing events will follow. Indeed when the child is born the whole town is astonished to hear the news, and they all come to share along with her joy and to laugh together with her. And Sarah herself sings that it is a wonder that she was able to bear a child at such ripe old age.

So to repeat myself, the messenger wasn't rebuking Sarah for laughing, only reinforcing the idea that Isaac will bring laughter and joy to this family, as Sarah's laughter now heralded. This is think is the significance of verse 15, it is yet a small puzzle piece of the whole Izhak/laughter tradition.

  • Wouldn't Sarah realizes that this man is no stranger but a messenger from god (or god himself) who can read her mind be a reason for her not to deny laughing. – Alex Oct 30 '18 at 20:53
  • @Alex your right. This is a kind of oxymoron. She realizes it is a messenger from god, but still thinks she can somehow hide the facts so as not to receive punishment. If you look at my question you will see that for this reason I favored the Abe interpretation over the god interpretation, however since I don't see any significance in that, I came to the conclusion that the accepted god interpretation is correct. How to explain this i'm not exactly sure. Perhaps it is more proper indeed to say that she didn't realize that it is god thus leading her to deny it (as you suggest). – Bach Oct 31 '18 at 0:22
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I believe the text is demonstrating that Abraham and Sarah were on the same page with respect to not quite being 100% sold on God’s plan.

The bible tells us that both Abraham and Sarah shared the same opinion of God’s plan. Note Genesis 17:17-19 (KJV):

17 Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is a hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? 18 And Abraham said unto God, Oh that Ishmael might live before thee! 19 And God said, Nay, but Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son; and thou shalt call his name [e]Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his seed after him.

You’ll note Abraham just like Sarah laughed within himself (ie, in his heart) and not audibly. God, in rebuking Sarah, is in effect rebuking them both since they both participated in the plan to conceive an heir through Hagar the Egyptian. It is possible the God chose to rebuke Sarah and not Abraham directly, since it was Sarah’s idea to attempt to conceive the heir through Hagar.

In any event, by rebuking them, God is just making sure everyone’s opinions are out in the open and the naming of Isaaac (laughter) would be a life long reminder about those opinions.

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This event seems to me to be a lovely vignette of family life, and one that has been acted out dozens of times in my own house. Sarah knows the visitors in her front yard are important, at the very least, as shown by Abraham's treatment of them. And she's eavesdropping, of course. And from the context of verse 9, the visitors know she is eavesdropping. Then one of them says something ridiculous! Of course she is going to laugh, because it's funny! And then the response of the visitor shows that he is something more than just important; he has knowledge of her thoughts. But since he has knowledge of her thoughts, he knows why she laughed, right. So, why does he ask a question he already knows the answer to? I think it's because he wants everybody to get the joke. It's a great joke. And Sarah clearly retains her sense of humor about it, because she names her baby 'Laughter.'

We aren't having children in our old age, but certainly my wife laughs at me when I say something ridiculous. Often, I will say something outrageous, just to make her laugh. Since we are observers-but-not-participants (a bi-racial couple) in the racially-driven idiocy in our country, that's usually the subject I make an outrageous statement about; and she laughs, and then tells me that what I said isn't funny, and I point out that she laughed at it, and she denies it. I think this passage beautifully shows the humanity of Sarah, who mostly did a wonderful job. It gives me something to cherish about her. And it also gives me an additional area of intimacy with The Most High.

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    +1. In fact I was thinking along these lines, that the reason god affirms that she laughed is to allay Sarah. Since Sarah was afraid of him rebuking her for laughing at this insane declaration, the angel said to her "don't deny that you laughed, indeed you laughed and its ok, since it will be a kind of funny phenomenon". Indeed Sarah retained this humor and named him Isaac. So basically when he is saying "yes, you did laugh" it is not a rebuke as commonly understood, on the contrary it is an affirmation of her laughter and that it will come true when Isaac is born. Novel indeed! – Bach Oct 29 '18 at 19:17
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One can not help but note that Avraham and Sarah both laughed, yet HaShem (El-him) tells Avraham, "... and you shall call his name Yitzchaq...." (B'rashith [Genesis] 17.19).

"But My covenant will I establish with Isaac ...." (B'rashith [Genesis] 17.21).

"Cast out this bondwoman and her son, for the son of this bondwoman shall not inherit with my son, with Yitzchaq." (B'rashith [Genesis] 21.10).

Yitzchaq means derision (laughter) or scorn as in mockery (Shoftim [Judges] 16.25, Tehillim [Psalms] 1.1, 2.4).

Avraham laughed outwardly (with the mouth, not internally) with joy of heart and in astonishment or wonder believed; while Sarah "snickered" internally!

The Targum Onkleos renders Avraham's laughter as "laughter of the mouth" as in, Tehillim 126.2 "Then our mouths will be filled with laughter [s'choq]."

The significance of this particular detail (Sarah's denial; she was afraid, because her laughter and eaves-dropping were revealed) and what Moshe (Moses) is trying to convey here is that nothing is hidden from HaShem (18.14) and HaShem reveals to His Prophets what He is doing (18.17; Devarim [Deuteronomy] 29.29: "the secret things belong to HaShem [...] but the revealed things belong to us [....];" Amos 3.7); in this case HaShem excluded from His Covenant (e.g. Yishmael) those who mock "the sign of His Covenant" which is circumcision.

The covenant is not established with mockery (scorn), but with laughter of joy as Sarah said, "[...] all who hear will laugh with me." 21.6 Sarah was a Prophetess as it says, "because of the words of Sarah." 20.18

In fact, King David prophesied in Tehillim 105.9 that Yitzchaq's name would be changed to Yischaq (laughter of the mouth).

The difference between Avraham's laughter and Sarah's is that Avraham "fell on his face" (he worshiped in belief) while Sarah "laughed within herself" in denial.

Where it says in 21.10, "with my son, with Yitzchaq (laughter)" the phrase, Im Yitzchaq is superfluous; meaning we are not to read her prophetic decree or statement as a proper name (with Isaac) but as a statement of law! The inheritance comes from proper treatment of our fellow-being and not with mockery or scorn as Yishmael was seen doing.

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What is the significance of Sarah denying having laughed in Genesis 18:15

Being out of sight in her tent, Sarah laughed to herself, the thought of giving birth at her advanced age struck her bizarre, that she could not hold back and laughed , saying: “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?n (verse 13)

Genesis 18:12-11 (NASB)

9" Then they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 10 He said, “I will surely return to you [l]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. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing."

The angel quickly corrected Sarah with a sharp question: "Is anything too difficult for the Lord? : (verse 14). Sarah was overcome with fear, it was only human, and so she became defensive and blurted out;"I did not laugh" and the angel said, " No, but you did laugh"(verse 15)

Genesis 18:12-15

12 "Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” 13 And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed [b]bear a child, when I am so old?’ 14 Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, [d]at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” 15 Sarah denied it however, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

Conclusion.

It was only human nature , her reaction was fear - defensive. Her laughter was not a sign that she lacked faith for Paul wrote: "By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised." Hebrews 11:11( NASB) Sarah had faith and new that God would fulfill any promise he made.

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