Sarai’s womb was barren, and she was desperate for children. In her culture, she had been raised to understand that it was her honor and purpose to give her husband an heir, a son. But she couldn’t. For thirty years she had lived the life of a nomad’s wife because her husband believed the Lord was going to give them a son, and that through Him all the nations of the earth would be blessed.
But there was nothing Sarai could do about it. Nothing. The covenant God had made with her husband would require a miracle birth. For her to be able to give Abram a son, God would have to resurrect her womb from the dead. And that sort of thing simply didn’t happen.
She knew her barrenness wasn’t her burden alone. Her husband bore it too. So with all this talk of an heir and with her inability to deliver one, she came up with an idea: What about Hagar, the maidservant? Perhaps she could bear a child.
Sarai went to her husband and said, “Since the Lord has prevented me from bearing children, go to my slave; perhaps through her I can build a family” (Genesis 16:2). In what must have seemed like far too little time, Abram agreed to this, and Hagar bore him a son, Ishmael. Sarai got what she said she wanted, and she hated what she got (vv.3–6).
But Ishmael was not the son the Lord was talking about. Sarai was as much a part of God’s covenant as Abram was. God renamed the couple—Abram became Abraham, “the father of many nations,” and Sarai became Sarah, “princess.” These new names were appropriate, for the Lord intended to bless the earth through a child Sarah would bear for Abraham. She was to be the mother of the promise.
I cannot imagine how frustrating this must have been, given her barrenness. So, when she heard the Lord say, “I will certainly come back to you in about a year’s time, and your wife Sarah will have a son!” she laughed (18:9–12).
It wasn’t just that her childbearing years were behind her. It was that they had never happened, and everything she tried to do to improve her situation only complicated her life. This shell of an old woman with this wisp of a husband were now going to succeed at what they had failed to do for so many years? And by this time next year? Really?
The Lord heard her laugh from outside the tent. He asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh?”
Sarah lied, “I did not laugh.”
But the Lord said, “No, you did laugh” (vv.13–15). And He knew why. Her laugh was the laugh of turning away. She had reached her end. Surely God understood this.
But with His rebuke, He turned her back to face Him. The Lord would not permit Sarah to separate her heart from Him (Romans 8:38–39). The One who had read her mind could also open her womb.
One year later, Sarah laughed again (Genesis 21:6), perhaps as she crawled out of bed to feed her hungry, crying, rosy-cheeked baby boy. She named him Isaac, which means “laughter,” saying, “God has made me laugh, and everyone who hears will laugh with me” (Genesis 21:6–7).
Written by Russ Ramsey