DIG: What is the point of the Lord’s visit with Abraham? Why does Sarah laugh? Lie? Disbelieve? How does Sarah’s laughter differ from Abraham’s, or does it?
REFLECT: Where in your life is the Lord telling you, “Is anything too hard for Me?” Or, “I could change this trial you are going through, but it would be better if you grew through it.”
If Abraham had been thinking of the Lord’s promise of a son for Sarah and him, and somehow sensed that the three angels were associated with His promise, he was correct. As soon as the men had finished eating, they immediately asked the whereabouts of Sarah, who was still inside the tent. It was not proper for the wife to come out and entertain, especially with three male guests. But now they asked about her: Where is your wife Sarah? Abraham answered: There in the tent (18:9). Although they all asked about her at first, the Lord Himself would do the talking.
Then the Lord replied: I will surely return to you about this time next year when the promise is fulfilled. The promise was that Sarah your wife will have a son. Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him (18:10).
The narrator merely states the biological facts. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years and Sarah was past the age of childbearing (18:11). She had been barren since she was young and had already entered menopause. From a human perspective, it was impossible for her to bear a child. No mere angel could deliver on such a miraculous promise. Only the Lord Himself could bring about this miracle.
The purpose of the divine visit was to draw Sarah into full ownership of the covenant promises. In the previous chapter, the Lord had been very specific; it was Sarah who would give birth to the son of promise (17:16, 19, 21). Abraham’s response, like Sarah’s here, had been laughter (17:17). And as a reminder of their laughter, the proud new parents would name the child Isaac, or he laughs.
We are not told if Abraham had informed Sarah that the Lord intended to give her a son after all those years (17:19). If he had not, her reaction to this news was certainly understandable. But even if Abraham had prepared her, she could hardly bring herself to believe that after years of barrenness, and long past the age of childbearing at ninety, that He would now grant her the gift of a child.302 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “This is amazing: After I am worn out and my husband is old, will I now have this pleasure of having a child (18:12)?” Now what kind of laughter is this? I think this is the laughter which says that it is just too good to be true – that’s all. I’m sure most of us have had experiences like this. God has been so good to us on a certain occasion that we have just laughed. Something happened that was just too good to be true, and that was the way Sarah laughed.303 Strangely enough, the one thing that helped strengthen her faith was the Lord’s question: Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Will I really have a child, now that I am old?” (18:13)? This man could neither see her nor hear her because she had laughed only within herself. She must have quickly realized that this was the Lord Himself, in order for Him to know these things. That being the case, maybe she would be able to fulfill this miraculous promise after all.304
Then Sarah’s laughter brought forth one of the great statements of Scripture. Is anything too hard for the Lord (18:14a)? The Hebrew word for too hard is pele and means wonderful or extraordinary. It is one of those Hebrew words that is only used of God, never used of man (Judges 13:18; Psalm 139:6; Isaiah 9:6, 28:29). So literally the Lord is asking: Is there anything too wonderful for Me to do? Jesus would say it this way: With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). This is a difficult passage for the Jews because they do not believe that one of the three angels was the Lord. Therefore, the rabbis teach that one of the angels did not simply give his blessing to Abraham, but also brought His greetings to Sarah.
Rather than rebuke Sarah for her unbelief, the Lord gently reminds her that the One who knew her name and heard her innermost thoughts is able to bring it to pass. Her long years of disappointment and sorrow were about to end, because nothing is too hard for the Lord. It was time for her to claim her role in the covenant promises, and to prepare herself to become the mother of nations (17:16).305 Then the Lord reaffirms His promise: I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son (18:14b).
Sarah was afraid, knowing that the Lord had correctly discerned her silent laugh and thoughts of unbelief. But she added to her problem by lying and said: I did not laugh. But the Lord, standing in front of her, said: Yes, you did laugh (18:15). The conversation ends quickly. Abraham listened, but did not get involved. Did the Lord name their son he laughs as a penalty because they laughed? Not at all! It would be a constant reminder that nothing was too hard for the Lord. What a joy little Laughter would be to them.
Is anything too hard for the Lord? This rhetorical question does not present us with a promise to claim, but an attribute to embrace, a faith to aspire to, and a hope to sustain us. When we face difficult circumstances, we cannot claim this verse as a promise that the Lord will change our circumstances. He is capable of doing that, but perhaps the hard thing to do is to help us to accept our circumstances and grow through them.
In 1967, teenager Joni Eareckson took a dive in a lake and broke her neck on a sand bar. That dive changed her life forever. Her story has been told many times, but there is an important point that is not often made; one that gives us a vital insight into how the Lord works in our circumstances. Her broken body at first brought denial and bitterness. When Joni began to confront her paralysis, she was encouraged by some friends to have the faith that the Lord could miraculously heal her. After all, nothing is too hard for the Lord. As she explored this faith, she struggled with the difference between faith that the Lord could heal her and faith that the Lord would heal her. Would it take just as much faith to believe that the Lord would heal her spirit without healing her body and use her in his service regardless of her limitations? Doesn’t the Lord do a hard thing when He uses any of us despite our limitations?
If you told Joni then that thirty years in the future she would be an internationally known mouth artist, author of more than twenty-five books (translated into thirty-three languages), and an inspirational speaker whose radio broadcasts are presently aired by some eight hundred stations daily, she may have considered that doing that would be a much more difficult accomplishment for the Lord than healing her paralysis. If you had told her that in addition she would have produced a number of albums and videotapes and founded a ministry to and for the disabled that put her in the national and international spotlight as their spokesperson, she may have thought that healing was the easy way out for the Lord. As it turns out, Joni’s faith that she could be transformed was of far more use to the Lord than her faith that she could be healed.
We must be cautious that as we accept by faith that nothing is too hard for the Lord, we do not begin to dictate to Him which hard thing He must do. He tends to have things in mind that go far beyond what we are able to ask for or even think of.306
The Teaching Ministry of Jay Mack 2006-2013