Why did Sarah laugh at God? Have you ever laughed at Him for the same reason?
Bruce Springsteen sang, “Glory days; they’ll pass you by in the wink of a young girl’s eye.” Sarah, in this passage, isn’t young anymore. When you believe your glory days have passed you by—when you feel washed up, passed over, and spent— God’s incredible promises become promises you believe may still come to pass, though you wonder if you will still factor into them.
Sarah was beautiful. Even at 65, her beauty was so compelling that Abraham lied and told people she was his sister so they would honor him for her sake, as opposed to killing him so that they might take her as their own wife (Genesis 12:11-20). The irony was not lost on Sarah. She was alive with beauty, but in a place no one could see, she was dead. In an area she most wanted to be alive, she was not. She was barren—outwardly beautiful while inwardly hurting. (In what area of your life are you like this?)
It wasn’t just that Sarah’s childbearing years were behind her. They never happened. Everything Sarah tried to do to improve her situation only complicated her life. So she laughed at God when He insisted she would have a son: “Will this shell of an old woman, with this wisp of a husband, now succeed at what we’ve failed to do for over 50 years?” (Genesis 18:12, my paraphrase).
The Lord asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh?” Sarah lied, saying, “I didn’t laugh.” But the Lord rebuked her, saying, “Yes you did” (Genesis 18:13-15). Her laugh may not have been as deliberate as much as it was reactionary—half laugh, half exhale. When it came to bearing children, her life was the accumulation of insult added to injury. So she laughed.
We are not unlike Sarah. We hear the glory of God’s promises—some of which are very personal and fragile for us—but sometimes feel like “odd men out” when our lives seem marked by lifelessness, barrenness, and failed schemes. We ask, “Could God’s promise really be for me?” To this God says, “I know what you’re thinking, and I know why.”
God mercifully calls us out when we laugh at His promises because what we consider to be impossible is not (Genesis 18:14).
God’s rebuke is restorative. Sarah’s laugh was a separating laugh. In her pain, she turned her back on God’s promise, and with His rebuke He turned her back toward Him. Why? Because God, who took it upon Himself to uphold His covenant, would not permit Sarah to harbor separation from Him in her heart (Romans 8:38-39). His rebuke was a call for her to believe and rely on Him in the face of impossible odds.
God’s rebuke is also reassuring. God called Sarah out so she could know that the One who reads her mind can also open her womb. He knows better than we do how incredible His Gospel is. His covenant is relational in nature, and He has made it for us to participate in. God’s call is to Himself. He turns us back when we laugh in disbelief, and He assures us that He is able.
May we learn to receive correction from the Lord as restorative and reassuring.