Mother’s Day Excerpt: Flawed Families of the Bible

In honor of Mother’s Day, here is a post on one of the Bible’s most important mothers – Sarah.

In their 2007 Brazos book Flawed Families of the Bible: How God’s Grace Works through Imperfect Relationships, Diana and David Garland retell the story of Sarah receiving the Lord’s promise that she will bear a son even at the age of ninety.

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It had been twenty-five years since God spoke the initial promise to Abraham. He was now nearly a hundred, and Sarah was nearly ninety. It had been a difficult twenty-five years, with painful detours along the way. A final word came from the Lord, this time via three divine visitors who showed up mysteriously. Although Sarah stayed in the tent, preparing the food for the men and being modest, her ears were turned in to the conversation outside between Abraham and the visitors. The Lord spoke, the story says, presumably in the voice of one of the men. “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son” (Gen. 18:10, NIV).

When Sarah overheard this astounding news, for the first time she no longer had to believe her husband’s word about God’s promise; she heard it with her own ears. It gave her a laugh. She tried as best she could to stifle it and be discreet. It was not a belly laugh, but rather a silent chuckle as she reflected on her situation. “I am dried up and worn out, and my antique husband is in even worse shape” (Gen. 18:12, authors’ paraphrase). But this was the Lord, and the Lord heard her silent laughter and her thoughts. Speaking to Abraham rather than to her, the Lord said, “Why did Sarah laugh? … Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:13-14). The Lord saw and heard Sarah, as he had Hagar, even in her silent laughter and doubt. Frightened, Sarah lied, saying, “I did not laugh.” Perhaps she was being legalistic, thinking that because her laughter was silent, it did not count. God countered, “Oh, yes, you did laugh” (Gen. 18:15). It was a gentle reprimand. It had been a long journey for Sarah.

Indeed, Sarah became pregnant, and at their ages it was a miracle. We can imagine that they had already made plans to enter the Rose of Sharon retirement home, and here Sarah was pregnant. She bore a son, and Abraham gave him the name Isaac, which means “laughter.” The name referred back to the time when God broke the news that Sarah, who was already “past the age of childbearing,” would bear a son. Abraham fell over with laughter (Gen. 17:17-19), later echoed by Sarah (18:12). And no wonder. It had taken almost a lifetime of waiting, but Sarah was vindicated, and so was God as one who makes and keeps promises. She exulted, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me” (Gen. 21:6). One wonders if the joke was not on her, giving birth when she was old enough to use a walker to push a baby stroller. But laughter seems to be an appropriate response when humans receive by faith God’s great work.

©2007 by David E. Garland and Diana R. Garland. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.