Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 18 2019 - Genesis 21:1-21 – Joyful and scornful laughter

In Genesis 17:17 we read that, after God had confirmed that Sarah would soon bear him a child, "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?'" We can imagine the scene with Abraham rolling around on the ground in a fit of helpless laughter at the preposterous suggestion that such a thing should be.

Later, in Genesis 18:9-15 we read of the Lord visiting Abraham and speaking with him as he sat outside his tent. Abraham was told that about this time next year Sarah would bear him a son. Sarah, who was listening from within the tent, laughed at this suggestion. It just seemed plain ridiculous. But the Lord repeated his promise, saying, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (18:14).

In chapter 21 we read of the birth of the promised and long-awaited child. He is called "Isaac", as the Lord had instructed in 17:19. The name means, "He laughed", or perhaps, "laughter". It is to be a reminder to Abraham and Sarah of their laughter of disbelief; but that is only half of the significance of the name. With the naming of the child, Sarah says, "God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me... Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? [The Lord had said it – several times!] Yet I have borne him a son in his old age" (21:6-7). His name is also expressive of the overflowing joy of his parents who not only have a son, but who also know that God can be trusted to do what he has promised.

The laughter of disbelief has been turned into the laughter of joy – and a joy that will be shared with everyone they meet. What seemed a ludicrous suggestion has become a reality because nothing is too hard for the Lord.

But there is more laughter to come.

When Isaac had finished being weaned, probably at about two or three years old, Abraham threw a party for him. By this time, Ishmael, the son that Sarah's servant Hagar had borne to Abraham, was about 16 years old. During the festivities, Sarah saw Ishmael laughing at Isaac – probably mocking the idea that this little child could be the subject of such great promises. Sarah demanded that Ishmael be sent away with his mother Hagar so that the son of a slave woman would not share the inheritance of Abraham along with her son Isaac. Reluctantly Abraham sent them off into the desert, but God looked after them and preserved their lives.

This rivalry between these two sons of Abraham will continue into rivalry between two nations or peoples – the Israelites, the descendants of Isaac, and Arabs, the descendants of Ishmael. Yet the majority of both these peoples remain united in mocking the promises of God that find their focus in the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing but shared faith in Jesus Christ – a faith like that of Abraham – can heal this ancient division.

Almighty God, there are times when I doubt your word and am tempted to laugh with disbelief at some of your promises. Forgive my small views of you, Lord. Teach me to see that nothing is too difficult for you. Turn my doubting laughter into overflowing joy. And look upon the many who still mock the child who is heir to all of your promises, and so are excluded from your inheritance. Open the eyes of those who mock your Christ that they may see the water of life that is to be found in him. Unite them in faith and make them joint heirs with Christ to all the blessings of God.

Peter Misselbrook