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Genesis 18:1-15

Genesis 18:1-15 –“Oh yes, you did laugh!”

“Faith is not a reasonable act which fits into the normal scheme of life and perception. The promise of the gospel is not a conventional piece of wisdom that is easily accommodated to everything else. Embrace of this radical gospel requires shattering and discontinuity.” -Walter Brueggemann

Lesson Focus: We sin because we fail to have proper faith in the sometimes-nonsensical ways of God. 

Lesson Outcomes: Through this lessons students should:

  1. Recognize that faith sometimes means living in ways that may not make a whole lot of sense.

  2. God works to fulfill his purposes for creation even when we do not have proper faith.

Catch up on the story: God has promised to make Abram a great nation, through whom all nations of the world would be blessed.  Up to this point, we aren’t sure how this is going to happen because Abraham and Sarah are barren.  Sarah, in an attempt to try and have children vicariously, gives her servant Hagar to Abraham.  This situation only causes discord.  Later, God performs a covenant ceremony with Abraham changing his name from Abram.  God also gives him the sign of the covenant that is circumcision. Once again, God reasserts that he will make Abraham’s children a great nation that will bless all the nations.  

The Text: Our text begins during the heat of the day.  Abraham, who has just had all of the male members of his family circumcised as a mark of the covenant that God has made with him, is sitting at the entrance to his tent.  He looks up, and the text tells us he sees “the LORD.”  This first verse, however, may function as a heading to the section.  Scholars are divided when it comes to the identity of the three men with whom Abraham interacts.  What is important, at this point, is that God is reminding Abraham and Sarah of his promise to them. 

Abraham, while sitting in the entrance to his tent, spies three men and runs to meet them. When he arrives at the three men he bows down and addresses them. The text is unclear about what Abraham knows about these three men. He may know that these men are different in some kind of way. Perhaps he knows that they are messengers from God. His immediate treatment of them gives us no clue as to his understanding.

Providing hospitality for those who were traveling was one of the most important, if not the most important, social rule of the day.  To turn aside strangers or travelers, not offering them food, water, and shelter, would have been unthinkable.  It would have also brought shame on the family.  Abraham’s offer of hospitality will be contrasted with the hospitality (or lack of) that is offered to these men in the city of Sodom.   

So, Abraham addresses the men as if he were their servant.  His aim is to please these strangers. Abraham offers them the things that traveling men most want; water for drinking and washing, rest, and food.  The men do not refuse Abraham’s offer.  The narrative moves quickly as Abraham begins to instruct Sarah to make bread from the best flour and his servants to kill and prepare a tender calf.  It would have taken some time for the food to be prepared but in the interest in moving the story along we cut straight to the shared meal.

Abraham brings the food to his visitors and they engage him in conversation. There is no small talk. The men want to know where Abraham’s wife is. Abraham responds that his wife is in the tent. Sarah, as almost certainly you and I would do in this type of situation, was listening to the conversation between her husband and the three strangers. I’m sure her ears perked up when the conversation turned to her.

The men offer a promise to Abraham and Sarah.  To be sure this promise had been offered to them sometime before and now it seemed as if it would be impossible to fulfill.  The men declare that in due season Sarah will give birth to a son.  Let’s remind ourselves of what has taken place so far.  God came to a barren couple, a couple for whom the possibility of life and future were non-existent.  To be barren, in the biblical world, was to be already in a sense dead.  There will be no one to carry on the name, no one to carry on the memory of the family.  God comes to this barren couple and promises them a future filled with descendants that outnumber the stars in the sky. 

Time passed and Abraham and Sarah still did not have any children. It was then that Sarah decided to take matters into her own hands. She would give her maidservant, Hagar, to Abraham as a wife. They would have a child through Hagar. It works, too. Hagar becomes pregnant and gives birth to Ishmael. Abraham is content now with what he has. After Ishmael is born God comes to Abraham and Sarah once more. Ishmael will not be the one through whom God blesses the world; he is not the fruit of God’s promise to Abraham. Sarah herself will have a son. Abraham’s response is one of laughter. How can this be? Abraham is 100 years old and Sarah is 90! The promise that was originally offered will be kept. Sarah will have a son.

We aren’t told how much time has passed between God’s last conversation with Abraham and the three visitors. It is enough time, however, for the couple to doubt that God will keep his promise. Sarah hears the voice of the men proclaiming that she will have a son soon. Like Abraham, her response to this news is one of laughter. It is, however, not the laughter that is born from the joy of good news. It is the laughter that comes from disbelief.

It is the laughter that comes when a friend tells you that he is finally going to go and talk to that girl he has been admiring for such a long time, or the kind of laughter elicited when a Cardinals fan hears a Cubs fan say, “This is our year!”  “Haha!  I’ll believe that when I see it!” Even though both the NIV and the NRSV render the verse, “she laughed to herself,” the original text indicates that the laughter that Sarah produces is not just a polite little laugh or even a silent chuckle to herself.  It is, rather, a full-out belly laugh produced by the absurdity of an old woman giving birth (Jacobson).  Perhaps the laugh is also a way to cope with the reality that what Sarah has hoped for has not come to pass.  Even now that these men say that it will happen, the wound is still sore; she believes it less now than she did before. 

Sarah wonders out loud how it is that someone of her age, who has stopped menstruating, can have a child.  The question is then put to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh…Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” Here is the crucial part of the text, this question, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”  The question concerns Abraham and Sarah’s belief, or lack thereof, in God’s ability to fulfill the promise against all odds.  It was nonsense to Sarah that at her age, and in her condition, that she would be able to have a baby.

The question is asked to us, and to the aged couple in a rhetorical manner, and it is asked with confidence.  The question is left to linger in our minds.  It is left to challenge our as