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When God told Abraham that he was to have a son the following year, bible recorded it that Sarah laughed in her heart

Genesis 18:12-15

12 Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”

13 And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’

14 “Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah denied it however, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

I can see here that Sarah committed two [great] sins. 1) She mocked God 2) She called God a liar by denying she laughed.

My question is why God chose to overlook her sins and did not punish her for that?

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I think that we must also allow the Bible to retain some if its mysteries. As when both Mary and Zacharias said "How can this be?" with wildly different consequences: we can guess at their motivations (and God's), but not much more. –  Benjol Nov 11 '13 at 10:56

4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

God did not punish Sarah because:

  • God promised to bless Sarah, not curse her.
  • Sarah and Abraham seem to have laughed in a sort of prophesy, because the name of their son would sound the same as the Hebrew word for laughter.
  • God is merciful! Directly after this He allows Abraham to ask Him, repeatedly, not to destroy Sodom if there are any righteous people there (first 50 righteous people, then 45, 40, 30, 20, 10) and each time God agrees to have mercy, if that many righteous people should be found.

There are three instances of laughter. Here are the the relevant passages, and the notes:

Genesis 17
17:16 I will bless her, and I will give you a son by her. Her also will I bless; she will give rise to nations, and rulers of peoples will issue from her. 17 Abraham fell face down and laughed* as he said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah give birth at ninety?” 18 So Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael could live in your favor!” 19 God replied: Even so, your wife Sarah is to bear you a son, and you shall call him Isaac. It is with him that I will maintain my covenant as an everlasting covenant and with his descendants after him.

  • [17:17] Laughed: yishaq, which is also the Hebrew form of the name “Isaac”; similar explanations of the name are given in Gn 18:12 and 21:6.

Genesis 18
18:12 So Sarah laughed* to herself and said, “Now that I am worn out and my husband is old, am I still to have sexual pleasure?” 13 But the LORD said to Abraham: “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really bear a child, old as I am?’ 14 Is anything too marvelous for the LORD to do? At the appointed time, about this time next year, I will return to you, and Sarah will have a son.” 15 Sarah lied, saying, “I did not laugh,” because she was afraid. But he said, “Yes, you did.”

  • [18:12] Sarah laughed: a play on the verb “laugh,” which prefigures the name of Isaac; see note on 17:17.

Genesis 21
21:5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 Sarah then said, “God has given me cause to laugh,* and all who hear of it will laugh with me.

  • [21:6] Laugh: for the third time (cf. 17:17 and 18:12) there is laughter, playing on the similarity in Hebrew between the pronunciation of the name Isaac and words associated with laughter.
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That first point is all that is needed. God already promised to bless her. Whether she mocked him or not that would make Him a liar if He cursed her after a promise to bless her. The second point is interesting; I have never heard that before. I suppose you mentioned Sodom as an example in the third point? +1 –  fredsbend Mar 19 '13 at 15:33
@fredsbend I agree. I brought up the second point because it's interesting and hints at something beyond mere amusement (see also Psalm 126: Then our mouths were filled with laughter; / our tongues sang for joy. / Then it was said among the nations, / “The LORD had done great things for them.”). As for the third point, God's great mercy should not go unmentioned. –  Alypius Mar 19 '13 at 16:59

I am late to this thread, but freshly meditating on the passage in Gen 18. Here's why I think God did NOT judge her for the cynicism and lying.

  1. She did not actually know it was the LORD at first. All she knew was that three strange men had come and Abraham was feeding them.

  2. They are outside the tent eating under a tree. She is still in the tent. She is eavesdropping/listening. One of them says that Sarah and Abraham will have a baby within a year. She's 89 years old. Who wouldn't laugh? It's crazy. She had been hearing Abraham talk about God's promises for 24 years...and at this point had resigned that Ishmael was the answer. And probably not in a very happy place in life at all.

  3. Then she hears the unthinkable: one of the guests reads her mail. She had laughed "in her heart" and apparently had kept the thoughts we read about to herself. But the LORD heard it! And called it out. Now Sarah is freaked out. This Person knows her every thought and feeling. Then He says, "Nothing is too difficult for God." (Basically whats Gabriel later says to Mary. Gabriel was probably one of the angels present with the Lord.) Now Sarah knows something supernatural is happening.

  4. Then the Lord actually speaks face-to-face to Sarah and confronts her with her mockery. She is now trembling with fear and conviction of sin. She tries to hide her sin in shame (suggesting, again, that her mockery had NOT been openly spoken. Perhaps just thoughts, maybe quietly under her breath.)

My take is that for the first time in her life, she has really had an encounter with the living God. As far as I recall, every time before it was only Abraham who met with God. Now Sarah has met the Lord and her sin was exposed. She was humbled.

Hebrews 11:11 says, "By faith even Sarah herself obtained power to lay down seed. For she considered Him faithful who promised." Sarah came to a real and personal faith as a result of God mercifully confronting her sin in a personal way.

This is awesome. Nobody ever gets saved or becomes fruitful until their faith is firsthand and no longer borrowed from someone else.

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Welcome to the site! This next has nothing to do with the quality of your answer, it's just standard to help new visitors avoid misunderstanding the site (as I did at first.) As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": help page and How we are different than other sites? –  David Stratton Dec 7 '13 at 1:14

I believe Sarah's response mirrors that of Abraham's in Genesis 17, when he heard this news for the first time. When Sarah laughs, the Lord asks Abraham why did Sarah laugh, saying "Can I really have a baby when I'm old?" This was essentially the same thought that had occurred to Abraham hearing it for the first time. I believe the Lord was asking Abraham why Sarah was reacting as though she was hearing this for the first time. In Egypt, Abraham (Abram) failed to recognize the valuable role his wife would play in his own story. Even after many tests of faith, and the covenant being expanded to clearly include Sarah by name, in Gerar, only a short while after this encounter with the Lord, Abraham would again uncover his wife and expose her to the desires of another ruler, King Abimelech. Again, Abraham failed to love his wife, like the example set by Christ, to the point he was willing to lay down his life for her. God did not rebuke Sarah because her lie, a shy denial of her own inner response, needed nothing more than a gentle correction. "No, you did laugh," was all the Lord had to say. What Sarah was truly in need of was the cover of a loving husband. Notice, later when Isaac and Rebekah were childless that Isaac prayed for his wife. There is never any indication Abraham prayed for Sarah in her barrenness.

Also, clearly Sarah lacked faith. Faith is the evidence of things hoped for. At this point in her story, I believe Sarah had lost hope. There may have been little affection between her and Abraham, and as is often the case, her life experience to this point was playing a key factor in her view of God. God's purpose with Sarah would move her from a place of believing God was against her, to a place of knowing the love of God and the devoted affection of her husband. Check out Abimelech's rebuke of Abraham as he pays tribute to Abraham on behalf of Sarah. I believe God elevated this princess to her rightful place as the mother of the son of promise.

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Welcome to the site. We are glad you decided to participate. Please see What this site is about and How this site is different to help you learn how the site works. Also see the help center and take the tour to learn the site functions. I hope to see you post again soon. –  fredsbend Apr 5 at 3:59

You must remember that though Sarah did sin the time in which she sinned and the circumstances surrounding her sin were different.

  1. It was before the Law and many things God winked at which he no longer did after the Law. Act 17:30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: In the Old Testiment you can find many seemingly grave sins were basically ignored or glossed over by God because the Law had not come and people didnt have the knowlege of sin . Rom 3:20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

  2. She may not have know it was God. The Bible only says three men stood before Abraham and Abraham did not introduce them as God. Gen 18:1 And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; Gen 18:2 And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground,

  3. It may have been unspoken. Webster's Bible Translation says Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am become old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?

  4. Abraham made the same basic error a chapter before and likewise was not punished. Gen 17:17 Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?

  5. After the Law and the example of Abraham and Sarah having children in old age. Luk 1:18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. Luk 1:19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. Luk 1:20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. Zachiarah was not harshly punished for the same basic sin of unbelief. He was made silent but he did not die early or he did not become sick nor did he become poor as a result of his unbelief. To God this must not be a terrible thing like outright disobdiance which is more harshly punished like Jonah and the young prophet (1 Kings 20:36), Saul (1 Samuel 15:28), David (2Sa 12:18) or various times the Israelites disobeyed God like during the Ezikiel or Malachi years.

  6. Even Jesus spoke highly of the man who initially fails but follows through with obedience. Mat 21:28 But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. Mat 21:29 He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. Mat 21:30 And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Mat 21:31 Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.

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People did have a knowledge of sin before the Law of Moses was given. See Gen. 4:7, 18:20, 20:9, 31:36, 39:9, etc. Also, Avraham's remark was not one of unbelief like Sarah's, but of ecstatic belief. biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/… –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Mar 19 '13 at 9:06
I'm down voting this answer because I believe it seeks more to excuse Sarah's sin, as opposed to magnifying God's mercy. I just don't think that's consistent with the overarching story of the Bible, which is one of God's mercy and grace primarily. –  David Morton Mar 19 '13 at 13:00
@H3br3wHamm3r81 I did not say they didn't have a knowledge of sin the word did. Moreover the Gill interpretation of the Bible isn't sacred nor perfect. The Bible does not say specifically say Abraham did a good thing. –  caseyr547 Mar 29 '13 at 10:29
@caseyr547 Could you please keep your comments about the question and answer, and avoid making unnecessary, presumptuous, and condescending personal assumptions about the attitudes and beliefs of someone you've never met? Throughout our conversation, I've attempted to address your answer, and not your personal feelings. I would appreciate the same respect in return. –  David Morton Mar 29 '13 at 15:09
Moderator notice: Time out guys. This comment thread was getting way off track. I have removed the bulk of it back to where it was still about the post. @caseyr547 please do understand that comments (or this site as a whole) is not a place to make things personal; they should be reserved for addressing the issues of the original post. If you would like to solicit more feedback that's fine, but carrying on a theological discussion is not what comments are for, and certainly not for accusing other people of sin. –  Caleb Mar 29 '13 at 16:24

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