Abraham Laughed

“Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’” (Gen. 17:17).

- Genesis 17:16–17

In considering the biblical covenants, most of us remember the one made with Abraham. As the patriarch represents a new start for man and a major advancement of the Lord’s plan of salvation, we jump immediately to this important bond. Yet if we are not careful, we can forget Sarah’s valued role in God’s covenant with Abraham. Theologians title this covenant with the name of Sarah’s husband, but her place in God’s plan is of no little import.

Today we see all the earlier hints at Sarah’s role in this covenant come into bloom. She is the one to give to birth to the promised son (Gen. 17:16). Abraham is not the sole recipient of the Almighty’s grace; his elderly wife will share in her husband’s blessing. Though she took matters into her own hands by giving her blessing to Hagar’s union with Abraham and even though she came close to blaming God for her infertility (16:1–6), Sarah has not been forgotten. This matriarch who followed Abraham when Yahweh called him out of Ur gets the privilege of mothering a nation of priests and royalty.

We would like to think Abraham believed God at once without any doubt, but this is not the case. He falls down laughing, not from joy, as many older commentators suggest, but because he finds God’s word nearly impossible to believe. His reaction is not so incredible; after all, Sarah is well past the age of childbearing (17:17).

However, contrary to many modern scholars, Abraham’s response to the Lord does not display total disbelief in the covenant promise. He falls on his face, a posture that ought to be considered a picture of submission, trust, and worship. Once again Abraham shows us that real confidence in God does not rule out times when His awesome promises are hard for us to receive (see Luke 1:5–25, 57–66).

Despite Abraham’s trepidation, the Lord’s will for his family is most certainly guaranteed. Ironically, in laughing at the incredible nature of God’s promise, the patriarch indirectly confirms the Creator’s pledge. The Hebrew for “and laughed” (vayitzhak, Gen. 17:17) contains the name of the promised son “Isaac” (yitzhak, v. 21). God’s word may seem incredible, but it is absolutely sure.

Coram Deo

Sarah helps us understand that all those who by faith identify themselves with Abraham’s Lord and family shall be included in the promises to Him. It seemed incredible for God to bless Abraham with royal descendants, and it is often hard for us to see that God is continuing to do this in the church today, given the problems we face. But the Lord is indeed bringing this word to pass, and He uses our prayers and outreach to grow Abraham’s family.

Passages for Further Study

Ps. 126
Isa. 51
Matt. 19:26
Mark 5:21–43

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.