By Sam E. Stone
When God originally called Abram (as he was then known) to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldeans, he summarized the blessings that would follow (Genesis 12:1-3). Abram was 75 years old at the time. He and his family went to Canaan and from there to Egypt to secure food during a famine. He and his nephew Lot separated upon their return to the promised land.
Once more God reaffirmed his covenant with Abram (Genesis 15:1-5). Sarai, Abram’s wife, still had borne no children. She encouraged her husband to marry her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar (16:1-4). Hagar conceived and had a son (Ishmael), but Sarai mistreated her and she fled. God appeared to Abram once again when he was 99 years old (17:1). He told him that his name would now be Abraham, “a father of many nations.” Canaan would be his inheritance. The Lord commanded him to keep the covenant of circumcision with every male among the people.
Like Abraham, Sarah now received a new name indicating her role in the covenant relationship. The couple should not have tried to take things into their own hands (having a child by Hagar). God is all-powerful. He will do what he has promised. When Abraham heard that she would have a son, he fell facedown and laughed (v. 17). It may be that he fell to the ground in adoration but, because it was so paradoxical, he could not help laughing.
The Lord appeared to Abraham six times in Genesis; this is the fifth. He is now about 100 years of age while Sarah is 90. In the opening section of this chapter, three visitors came to them. It appears that two were angels while the other was the Lord himself. The Lord told him that he would return in about one year, and that Sarah would have a son. Standing outside the tent door, Sarah overheard their conversation. She laughed to herself in disbelief.
Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’” Sarah had been found out! The Lord knows even the unspoken thoughts of every person’s heart (Hebrews 4:13). He asked, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” The obvious answer is no, as Sarah learned. In the New Testament Mary and Elizabeth learned the same truth (Luke 1:37), and it was later affirmed by Jesus himself (Matthew 19:26).
Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore Abraham a son. You can always count on God to do just what he has said he would! They named the boy Isaac, which means “laughter.” Abraham had triumphant joy when the promise was made to him (Genesis 17:17). When Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, just as God had directed. Earlier the Lord had commanded all males to be circumcised (17:10-12). Ishmael was probably about 13-14 years old at this time (see 16:16). Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born.
Sarah declared, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” While Sarah previously laughed with unbelief at God’s promise (Genesis 18:12), she now laughed with joyful amazement. Sarah’s doubt was transformed into faith since Hebrews 11:11 says, “And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.” Their prayers were answered at last!
On the day that Isaac was weaned, Abraham held a great feast. Children were usually weaned around two or three years of age. The following verses conclude the account of Isaac’s birth, and begin telling how and why Hagar and Ishmael left. Paul uses this event as an allegory of the old and new covenant (Galatians 4:21-31).
Sarah died at the age of 127 years. She is the only woman in the Bible whose age at death is recorded. Edith Deen summed up her life by saying, “The fact that Sarah is mentioned in three other places in the New Testament (1 Peter 3:6; Romans 4:19 and 9:9), as well as in Isaiah 51:2, is evidence of the revered place she held in Hebrew history.”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.