She Laughed

Sarah in the Tent

There’s an old Yiddish Proverb that says: “Man plans, God laughs.”

Meaning, of course, that no matter how carefully thought out any of our plans may be, it is only God who sees all ends and only God who knows what the best course of action is for us.

In Genesis, despite this truth, we see somewhat of a reversal of this proverb play out.

Let me set the scene. Last time we talked about Abraham, his wife Sarah, and his concubine, Hagar. Hagar, as we saw, had a child, Ishmael. And in time, Sarah had a “miracle child,” a gift from God despite her previously being barren and presently being past childbearing age.

This child was named Isaac, and before he was born, Abraham and Sarah received a visit from three “men.” I put men in quotation marks because, as it turns out, one “man” is, in fact, God, and the two others are angels. Quite the houseparty.

It’s pretty clear that Abraham knows what’s up from the get-go, and since he runs to tell Sarah, we can assume he lets her in on what he’s figured out.

Once Abraham and the … uh … “men” have sat down to eat, Sarah does what we can assume every woman worth her salt learned to do in that sort of pastoral patriarchal society. She sat down behind a conveniently thin tent wall and listened to their conversation.

The conversation went something like this:

“Men”: So, Abraham, where’s Sarah, your wife?

Abraham: [nodding his head towards the tent] Oh, just inside.

God: Well, I’ll be back in nine months, and she’s going to have a kid.

Sarah: [thinking] Snort! Ha, that’s a good one. Yes, let’s give me a kid now that Abraham and I are slowing down a bit.

God: Why did Sarah just laugh and talk about getting older? Is anything too hard for God? I’ll be back in nine months, and she’s. Going. To. Have. A. Kid.

You can just see Sarah’s head swivel in shock and try to peer though the woven sides of the tent. God’s probably sitting there and staring right back at her. At this point, she’s got nothing left to lose. Not only does the whole group know she was listening to their conversation, but, apparently, God can hear her thoughts snarking at them. She decides there’s one way to possibly save face, at this point. After all, she hadn’t spoken aloud. Can’t you just hear her disembodied voice float through the tent wall:

Sarah: I didn’t laugh.

God: [completely unphased] Yes, you did.

And that was that. Sarah wisely bowed out at this point. How do you keep up a “yeah-huh/not-uh” with God? (Hint: You don’t; He knows you’re fudging.)

But here’s the thing in all this. God planned, and Sarah laughed. BUT, Sarah is not punished. We know for a fact that at least one person in the Bible who did something similar did get a bit of comeuppance. Zechariah, in the New Testament, was struck dumb for a time after questioning God, who had given the exact same revelation to him – he would have son in his old age.

Here’s the difference. Zechariah had precedent. The New Testament takes place thousands of years after this point. Zechariah was a priest who knew, likely by heart, every act of God recorded in what is today the Old Testament. The Old Testament is full of families receiving miracle children. And he had the guts to ask just how exactly God planned on making that happen. He was, in effect, saying that God was lying.

Sarah, on the other hand, though she deeply questioned God here, is not throwing all of God’s prior actions back in His face as though they are worthless. She also, it seems, learns quickly, bowing out of the conversation. And we can see that the lesson stuck. Check out Genesis 21: 6-7, right after Isaac is born:

“And Sarah said, ‘God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.’ She also said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age.” (NKJV)

Further, guess what the name Isaac means? Laughter. Guess who told Abraham and Sarah to name him that?


God plans, man laughs.

What is God leading you towards? What plans does He have for you? Has he led you in any ways that seem impossible? Do you feel His nudge towards something that seems untenable? Don’t laugh, and don’t share your plans with Him instead. Go to Him and see where He wants to take your life.

In the end, you may look back and laugh in disbelief about how far He brought you.

Published by headdeskliz

Elizabeth Jacobson is the author of Not by Sight: a novel of the patriarchs. She lives and teaches in sunny California and loves fantasy, science fiction, and historically-based Christian fiction. She has multiple other titles in the works.

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