We are told in Genesis 21:5 that Abraham was 100 when Isaac was born. In Genesis 17:17 Abraham doubts that a child could be born to someone of 100 years old. But we are also told that Adam was 130 when he fathered Seth, Seth was 105 when he fathered Enosh, Methuselah was 175 when he fathered Lamech, Lamech was 182 when he fathered Noah, and Noah was 500 when he fathered his three sons. Abraham's own father was 70 when Abraham was born, which would still be considered old be modern standards. So it appears that having a child in one's old age was not an uncommon thing. Why, then, would Abraham and Sarah doubt their ability to birth a son at 100?
Earlier, God pronounced a reduction on human longevity in
Genesis:6:1 When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
By the time of Abraham, it was extremely unusual to father a child at 100 years old.
Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?”
The word "doubt" is not found here. He laughed.
The answer here is as simple as the recognition of the biological fact that Sarah was menopausal and past the age of child-bearing as recorded in Gen 18:11
Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing.
The ancients understood that when women reached menopause, no conception was possible under normal conditions. If Sarah was to have children, it would be a miracle - it was such a possibility of a miracle to which both Sarah (Gen 18:12, 13) and Abraham (gen 17:17) laughed. They we both rebuked by the LORD for this lack of faith.
I often think that perhaps God deliberately waited until Sarah was wellr past the age of child-bearing to make the miracle very obvious, and thus to ultimately strengthen their faith.
Besides the fact of Sarai's menopause, The simple answer is that Abram would have looked back, not at the earliest of his ancestors, but at his most recent ones.
Take a look at his forefathers, and keep in mind that Abraham had not had a single child yet:
- Shem, the last to be born prior to the flood, fathered Arphaxad at 100
But then, for everyone born after the flood, everything changed:
- Arphaxad fathered Salah at 35
- Salah fathered Eber at 30
- Eber fathered Peleg at 34
- Peleg fathered Reu at 30
- Reu fathered Serug at 32
- Serug fathered Nahor at 30
- Nahor fathered Terah at 29
- Terah fathered Haran at 70 before he had Abraham
- Abraham fathered Isaac at 100
Almost all of them began having children in their early 30's.
Why Abraham's father Terah started so late is up for speculation, but it's not unreasonable to think that Abraham would have been concerned about not having any children by this point, even far past his father, who was already quite old before he had children.
I'm late to the thread. For the sake of others reading in the future I would challenge the assertion that Abraham doubted a child could be born to someone who is 100 years old, in the sense that he was commenting on male fertility in general. I think he was specifically commenting on his own age-related lack of performance. My reasons are:
Scripture requires us to understand Terah fathered Abraham at the age of 130. I know it is more popular to believe Abraham was born to Terah when he was in his 70s. The problem is Stephen in Acts 7:4 says Abraham left Haran after his father died. We know from Genesis that Terah lived to be 205 and that Abraham left Haran at age 75. If all three scriptures are correct we are compelled to believe Terah fathered Abraham at 130.
This fact alone invalidates the assumption Abraham was commenting on his understanding of the history of male fertility because he would have known his father's more advanced age. Based on the limited post-flood genealogy it may appear on the surface Abraham's birth would have been a very unique occurrence. But all we know from those few ages stated are that the post-flood fathers typically began fathering children in their 30s. We don't know the age when each ceased function.
Late male fertility was not surprising in the case of Ishmael. I note that neither Abraham nor Sarah seemed surprised that Abraham was able to father Ishmael at age 86. I think that Ishmael represented what seemed possible to Abraham and Sarah at the time. But age 86 isn't all that far from age 100 given the extended lifespans at that time. It seems that in the intervening 14 years between Ishmael and Isaac that Abraham must have ceased performing.
I believe the assertion that Abraham was commenting on male fertility, in general, is a translation issue due to the translator's interpretation. I note that various English translations have significant differences. The KJV makes it clear that Abraham was referring to his own body and not male fertility in general. It says: “Shall a child be born unto him that is a hundred years old”. Note the word “him” and not “a man” as in many modern translations. The sense in the KJV is that Abraham was commenting on his own body's lack of performance and not his understanding of the history of male fertility.