2

Hebrews 11:11 NASB

“By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.” ‭‭

How do we reconcile Sarah‘s faith in Hebrews with her laughing in Genesis 18, when she wondered how it would be possible for her to give birth?

Gen 18:12 - So she laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

2
  • 1
    This subject is dealt with in a number of archived questions on the site, this one in particular being, I suggest, close to a duplicate : Sarah denying having laughed.
    – Nigel J
    May 15, 2023 at 20:43
  • 1
    Yes, the link above to an old Q is extremely similar, but your Q has an angle as to Sarah's faith. It made me think that if I was told by a Doctor that I was about to conceive a baby in my 70s, I would put no faith in that Doctor's prediction - but I would also laugh nervously. Perhaps even hysterically! Ah, but when God promises, faith is strengthened, as I think it was with Sarah.
    – Anne
    May 16, 2023 at 16:05

5 Answers 5

4

There are several factors at play in this story.

First, Sarah may not have realized that when "the man" spoke (Gen 18:2) about having a son, that it was actually, "The LORD", YHWH speaking (Gen 18:10) who appeared as an ordinary man (V2). Thus, Gen 18:12 about Sarah laughing cannot be necessarily taken as an indication of faithlessness.

Second, laughter can be triggered by more than scorn or mocking doubt. Laughter can also be triggered by surprise or exuberant joy. This appears to be the case when Sarah came to name their child, "laughter" (= "Isaac") to remind them of their joy at having the promised son in their old age.

Gen 21:6, 7 - Then Sarah said, “God has made me laugh, and everyone who hears of this will laugh with me.” She added, “Who would have told Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

The fact that Sarah specifically says that "God made me laugh" (Gen 21:6) suggests that she realized (perhaps not in Gen 18 but certainly later) that God had produced a miracle child.

Now, such a miracle child cannot have had any contribution from Sarah for two reasons:

  • she had been childless and barren before menopause
  • at the age of 90 she would have been in menopause for many years

Thus, the fact that she conceived and produced a son was, in this sense, a double miracle. Further, such a miracle must have been by faith and not by works (as was the case for Ishmael) because only God could do such a thing.

Therefore, Heb 11:11 both observes the above double miracle and that the act of conception was indeed a divine miracle as Sarah recognized:

Heb 11:11 - By faith Sarah, even though she was [1] barren and [2] beyond the proper age, was enabled to conceive a child, because she considered Him faithful who had promised.

This verse appears to be alluding to Gen 21:1 -

Now the LORD attended to Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what He had promised.

1
  • a good answer, but see mine for examples of other people of God who began with skepticism and went on to be recognized as paragons of faith. May 17, 2023 at 1:42
3

How do we reconcile Sarah‘s faith in Hebrews with her laughing in Genesis 18, when she wondered how it would be possible for her to give birth?

Temporary wondering is not lasting doubt. Even the Virgin Mary questioned the angel's promise of a miraculous birth:

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man? (Luke 1:34)

One may also think of Paul, who actually persecuted those who had faith in Jesus' resurrection, but went on to become the par excellence example of faith in his time. Sarah, like Paul, overcame her doubt by God's miraculous intervention, when the "men" (angels?) in the story demonstrated supernatural knowledge that she had laughed, even though she laughed "to herself" (Genesis 18:12-14). While not as dramatic as Paul's Damascus Road experience, this would certainly have had an effect on her skepticism.

Secondly, the evidence is clear that Sarah, a woman of some 90 years (Genesis 17:17), engaged in sexual relations with Abraham around this time. It is possible that she didn't intend to get pregnant; but the much more likely scenario is that she did intend conception, which would certainly demonstrate her faith in God's promise. Thus, even if Sarah's initial response was not one of faith, she soon changed her attitude, as have many other people of God. Her skeptical laughter turned to the laughter of joy, as her precious son Isaac was born, completing the author's pun on the theme of laughter.

Sarah then said, “God has given me cause to laugh, and all who hear of it will laugh with me. Who would ever have told Abraham,” she added, “that Sarah would nurse children! Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” (Gen. 21: 6-7)

Conclusion: Sarah's attitude changed from skepticism to confidence in God's words. She united in faith with her husband to conceive the child of God's promise and gave birth to their son with wondrous joy and thanksgiving.

3
  • Mary's example is a good one. Another good answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    May 17, 2023 at 2:21
  • Super helpful answer, thank you Dan! Can you point to where you see that Sarah had sexual relations with Abraham around this time? May 17, 2023 at 17:56
  • I was referring to her conceiving Isaac. Her skepticism changed very quickly to cooperation with God to achieve his purpose. We should also recall that Abraham too laughed when he was told that Sarah would bear a son. Genesis 17:17 - Abraham fell face down and laughed as he said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah give birth at ninety?” Feb 15 at 22:14
2

This question is not about who Sarah thought the personage was who reiterated the promise given to Abraham (in chapter 17). It is about the matter of Sarah's faith. Of course, who she thought had made that statement outside the tent had considerable bearing on her reaction, so might need to be explored, yet the question remains about the state of her faith then, and the statement about her faith in the New Testament.

Of worth is a point, earlier in chapter 17, when Abraham had previously been told by God to change his wife's name from Sarai to Sarah (because she would bear a son), Abraham's reaction:

"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?'" Genesis 17:15-17 A.V.

Abraham's laugh was not one of ridicule, or disbelief, or hilarity. He was on his knees in awe at God so speaking to him, with such a promise for a very elderly couple. He thought in his heart just what Sarah later thought in her heart, so if Abraham could not be suspected of a lack of faith at that point, neither can Sarah, at that later point.

Neither of them could imagine how this miraculous conception and birth would take place, resulting in a son, but that does not mean they had no faith that God could, and would, do it! The letter to the Hebrew Christians centuries later states that Sarah had faith to conceive (which reminds us of the virgin Mary's faith when told she would conceive miraculously). Both ladies had faith that God would keep his respective promises to them.

Not knowing how something amazing is going to happen is not the same as adamantly (or even doubtingly) saying that it will not happen because it cannot. Indeed, the more amazing a promise of God is to be believer, the more faith is required to keep trusting in that promise. Perhaps Sarah's faith grew as a result of what happened after she laughed, her fear having been exposed. She had to face up to it, instead of denying it. Her nervousness had to be replaced with faith, for she could only trust in the Lord for a safe pregnancy and delivery - which faith was rewarded and noted in holy scripture.

1

The question of Sarahs faith in Heb 11 has caused many to wonder who the subject actually is , ie Sarah or Abraham , as has been said it is clear that Sarah received the power to conceive , and Abraham is not mentioned Heb 11:11 in what we may call the original Greek . Maybe God wants us to have faith that all scripture is given by His inspiration , and thus should we not take it at face value that Sarah did indeed have faith ........Sarahs faith is a good point to discuss , but its a fruitless exercise in trying to find proof texts that show very clearly examples of her faith, especially in light of her laughter, we can speculate, but I cannot see that we can be dogmatic . I believe that she had faith because the text says so , and because of that she received the power to conceive........which led to Isaac , which led to God saying to Abraham 'now I know'.

1
  • The text attributes faith to Sarah.
    – Nigel J
    Feb 21 at 23:58
0

Faith is an ability to act in absence of an immediate stimulus. And so even when God wasn’t under any force of Abraham he fulfilled his promise and so Sarah believed this God’s promise and did what was due driven by her faith, even when she wasn’t forced or seduced by a material stimulus. That she had laughed at the beginning is just an illustration of how big a leap of faith had to be taken.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.