Did God Say Something Funny?
Background Scripture: Genesis 17:15-17; 18:9-15; 21:1-7.
Devotional Reading: Isaiah 51:1-6.
I’m confident that most of you are familiar with the story covered in the three passages chosen for this week: God promises Abraham that he will father and Sarah will bear a son with whom God’s covenant with Abraham will be carried forward.
Thus, although considering the advanced ages of Abraham and Sarah, Abraham remains faithful, trusting God to fulfill his covenant.
You may remember also that because Sarah had proved barren, Abraham had a son, Ishmael, by Sarah’s Egyptian slave girl, Hagar.
So, before Sarah became pregnant, Abraham was concerned that his only heir would be Ishmael. It was then that God renewed his promise that Sarah would conceive and bear a son who would be the true heir to the covenant and estate.
When God assures Abraham, “I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her; and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her;” we are told, “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, Can a child be born to a man who is 100 years old? Can Sarah, who is 90 years old bear a child?’ ”
Later, God reassures Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son together and he would be the heir to Abraham and the covenant.
“And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. ... So Sarah laughed to herself, saying After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ ” (18:12).
God replies to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, Shall I indeed bear a child now that I am old?’ ”
Then the Lord replies, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” (18:14).
Signs and Wonders
Actually, the question asked by the Lord is the question he puts before us. And the question that occurs to many of us is: “Is the 90-year old Sarah giving birth to Isaac a miracle?”
There are only three places in the RSV Old Testament where the word “miracle” appears — and seven in the New Testament.
We must remember that the Old Testament is written in Hebrew and there is no Hebrew word, nor a Greek word in the New Testament, that means what we today understand as “miracle.”
The reason is that in the popular mind today a miracle is something that is “supernatural,” something that is in violation of the laws of nature. This could not have been the understanding in either Old or New Testament times because there was no concept of our world governed by natural laws.
In your Bible, when you come across the word “miracle,” it is a translation of terms in Hebrew or Greek that signify “acts of power,” “mighty works” or “signs.”
Even then, the “acts” or “mighty works” are regarded as signs pointing to God.
In “A Theological Word Book of the Bible,” Alan Richardson writes, “A miracle in the biblical sense is an event which happens in a manner contrary to the regularly observed processes of nature. We must not say contrary to nature,’ but contrary to what we know of nature.’ ”
For at least the past 50 years I have adopted the term “supernormal” and used it instead of “supernatural.”
When the Wright brothers were making their first flight, they were not violating the laws of nature, but using laws that heretofore had been unknown. The law of gravity was eventually conquered by the law of lift. And the law of drag was overcome by use of the law of thrust.
In this day and age, it appears likely that there are more undiscovered laws of nature than we ever imagined.
The point is that many things thought impossible — like a woman of 90 giving birth to a baby — may simply indicate gaps in our knowledge of the world.
I do not know of any world records that indicate the age of the oldest woman to give birth, but if I learned of a woman who gave birth at the age of 90, I would be in shock, not necessarily disbelief.
I have seen people healed in a moment and there are records of human beings who, in a crisis, were able to perform acts that normally would be thought impossible, such as someone able to lift a car off another person.
Leslie D. Weatherhead, an English Methodist clergyman, defined a miracle as, “A law-abiding event by which God accomplishes his redemptive purposes through the release of energies which belong to a plane of being higher than any with which we are normally familiar.”
“Normally” is the key word. Did God say something funny that made both Abraham and Sarah laugh?
If so, the joke was a beneficent one on them and the Lord had the last laugh.