Laughing to oneself – is no laughing matter.

LOL! Laugh out loud. We laugh at jokes, comedies. We laugh when we are happy. We also laugh to bond with the people around us. Laughing out loud with another person or in a crowd makes us feel good.

What about laughing to oneself, a secret laugh? No one knows but the person laughing. Is it mirth? Is it sardonic? Or is there something deeper?

There is this story of Sarah in Genesis 18 when three visitors turned up mysteriously on a hot day near the trees of Mamre. Abraham, her husband saw them and hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. She was told by Abraham to quickly knead dough and to bake bread, immediately.

Then the story continues in Genesis 18:9 – 15

“Where is your wife, Sarah?” they asked him (Abraham). “There in the tent” he said. Then the Lord said “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So, Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.”

Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said “Yes, you did laugh.”

Why did Sarah laugh to herself? At that time, Sarah was 89, Abraham was 99[1]. She even said she was old and worn out and Abraham was older. She was already barren at 65 years; this was before she left Haran[2] . So, the pronouncement made by these strangers (albeit Supernatural) that she was going to conceive at 89 and deliver a baby at 90 was biologically an impossibility. It was preposterous! So, she laughed. Even Abraham laughed when he was told by God that Sarah was going to have a child at age 90[3]. But why did she laugh silently unlike Abraham’s loud guffaw? And why did she deny that she laughed? What was she afraid of? Of whom?[4]

Like most married women of that day, she saw her barrenness as a punishment, a curse from God. Sarah’s deep desire was to conceive and have babies. She thought that it was God who had kept her from having children[5] . Perhaps she felt “cursed,” hence her barrenness. Perhaps she felt she was not part of the promise given to Abraham that he would have an heir. In Genesis 15 when God first spoke to Abram that his offspring would be as countless as the stars in the sky, Sarah (then Sarai) was not mentioned at all.

Now, out of the blue, the Lord tells her within her own hearing[6] that He has not forgotten about her and that she would indeed have a son by the following year.  I can only postulate that perhaps her first reaction was one of incredulity “It can’t possibly happen to me;” even cynical “You’ve got to be kidding me;” then perhaps from feelings of disbelief morphing into “But I do so want that promise;” to “I really want the baby,” “Will it truly happen to me?” to elation, “I’m not cursed!” “I’m part of the promise.”

Her barrenness had caused Sarah a lot of anguish and pain. That stress in her marriage caused her to push another woman (a servant girl) into the arms of Abraham[7] just to bear a child. No woman likes to share her husband with another woman. And to exacerbate the situation, that servant girl was now mocking Sarah. She felt hard-pressed, jealous, envious, and now looked down upon by a subordinate. And she even felt cursed by God.

Perhaps Abraham held her at an emotional distance because of her barrenness and her love for him. In Genesis 20:13, Abraham wanted to save his own skin and for the 2nd time he gave Sarah to another man to be his wife. Abraham had the audacity to say to Sarah “This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.” He expected Sarah to capitulate to his demands as a sign of her love for him. On the other hand, he failed to love and protect Sarah. With all due respect, perhaps he did abuse Sarah’s love for him.

It is no wonder that she could only laugh in silence to herself. Perhaps, her laughter was running on a precipice of tears.

But God saw through it. God neither punished Sarah for her laughter nor her denial that she did laugh. He saw everything, He saw through her fears. In fact, God honoured Sarah and she did conceive. Her baby is Isaac which means “he laughs” and she announced “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me”[8]. God had turned her silent laughter to one of LOL of pure joy “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”[9]

Perhaps you too are laughing or crying silently at this moment. Don’t despair, take heart. God hears and God knows. May God turn your silent laughter into shouts of Joy! Amen!

[1] Genesis 17:1 and Genesis 17:21 (see the word next year, and Isaac was born the following year and Abraham was 100 Genesis 21:5) and there is a 10-year gap between Sarah and Abraham Genesis 17:17

[2] Genesis 11:30

[3] Genesis 17:17

[4] Sarah, Afraid of Abraham, Denies Laughing. The by Prof Tammi Schneider

[5] Genesis 16:2

[6] Genesis 18:10b and not through hearsay from Abraham Genesis 17:15

[7] Genesis 16:5

[8] Genesis 21:6

[9] Genesis 21:7

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