Here is a guest post by my fabulous new fiance, Andrea. She blogs over at Redeeming Domesticity. Check it out and enjoy!
Confession: I specifically asked Ben if I could study and write about the first half of Genesis 18. This was mostly because I was hoping to work in the word “orgasm” when talking about verse 11 – there is good reason to assume that the “pleasure” Sarah refers to in that verse is more than just the joy of finally having a baby. It’s everything that is involved in conceiving that baby.
When I was interning with InterVarsity in Arizona several years ago, a veteran missionary couple with the IFES led our regional staff team through an inductive study of snapshots in the life of Abraham. That may have been the best communal Scripture study that I have participated in!
I distinctly remember that the female half of this missionary couple facilitated our study of Genesis 18:1-15. It was a significant time in the Word, particularly as a woman led us through a passage where Abraham’s better half is the focal point of the narrative.
Sarah is mentioned 10 times in those 15 verses; Abraham is mentioned 4 times. I take that as a pretty clear indication that this passage is mostly about Sarah. Interestingly, however, she’s behind the scenes for most of it!
Genesis 18 begins with Abraham, perhaps still recovering from minor surgery, sitting at the entrance of his tent on a hot day. I often find my 90-year-old neighbor, Mr. Stevenson, sitting on his porch in the midst of oppressive summer heat. Abraham’s got the right idea.
Three men show up and the text tells us that they are the LORD appearing to Abraham. Interesting pronoun/proper noun combo, eh? He quickly shifts gears into hospitality mode, encouraging the men to rest, ordering Sarah to make bread, running to select a calf from his herd to slaughter. Yes, 99-year-old Abraham runs and then proceeds to stand by while his guests eat. So much for sitting on a hot day.
I am by no means an expert on Middle Eastern hospitality practices, but it struck me as strange that Abraham is the one to serve the food. I would expect to find him entertaining his guests while Sarah does the serving. The fact that his guests ask him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” in verse 9 makes me wonder if they’re expecting her presence as well.
By this point Abraham is accustomed to God’s interaction with him. Apparently the idea that God is interested in interacting with Sarah is not on his radar screen.
What follows is beautiful.
Knowing Sarah is inside the tent, but within earshot, God announces once more that she will bear Abraham a son within a year.
Is this the first time she’s hearing this? Has Abraham kept that information from her? Was it just too ridiculous for him to believe?
And Sarah has plenty of reason to doubt what she’s hearing. They’re old. Conceiving a baby post-menopause is impossible, right?
So she laughs.
In a culture where a woman’s worth is tied to her ability to procreate I wonder how much pain and disappointment were wrapped up in that laugh of hers. Biological challenges aside, I imagine that hope was just too risky of a prospect for her by that point.
God notices her laugh and he calls her on it. He wants to interact with her right in the middle of the gaping wound in her life. But it’s raw and she’s afraid of it.
I am convinced that God’s visit to their tent that day is for Sarah.