Thursday, May 31, 2012


Back in September I posted about how Bill Cosby's Noah skit has shaped how I remember the story of Noah. It is both fascinating and a bit disturbing how we can allow our cultural experiences shape our reading of the Bible. This isn't always a bad thing. I don't have a heretical or extra-Biblical view of Noah. It has just had a Cosby-esque feel for as long as I can remember..."Hey Noah!"

I came across another story in the Old Testament that I found to be a bit different than what I remembered.

Abraham and Sarah were without a child for a long time. Abraham was 99 years old and Sarah was 89 when God reiterated his promise to them that they would have a child. Genesis 17 tells us the story of how God appeared to Abraham and promised to make his descendants into a great nation. Now it wasn't the first time that God had made the promise to Abraham and Sarah. When things weren't happening fast enough for them, Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands. Abraham had Ishmael through Sarah's servant Hagar but this wasn't what God had in mind. Genesis 17:15-16 tells us:

"And God said to Abraham, 'As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.'"

God ends up telling Abraham and Sarah that they are to name their son Isaac. Isaac means laughter in Hebrew. Now this is where things got a bit murky for me. I have associated the name Isaac with the story of how Sarah laughed when she heard that she was going to have a child. Sarah was listening in on the conversation between God's messengers and Abraham. Genesis 18:9-15 says:

"They said to [Abraham], 'Where is Sarah your wife?' And he said, 'She is in the tent.' The LORD said, 'I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.' And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, 'After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?' The LORD said to Abraham, 'Why did Sarah laugh and say, "Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?" Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.' But Sarah denied it, saying, 'I did not laugh,' for she was afraid. He said, 'No, but you did laugh.'"

I have always associated this story with the name Isaac for a couple of reasons. The first is because such a big deal was made of Sarah's laughter within the story. The statement "Is anything too hard for the LORD?" is a big and major point. And that leads to my second reason. I still remember hearing sermons about this story when I was growing up. The main point of these sermons is that we might laugh in disbelief when we should be trusting in God. The basic outline of these sermons would go something like this: God made a promise; Sarah laughed in disbelief; God fulfilled that promise; Sarah was given a son named "Laughter" as a reminder of how God can do the impossible.

Now there is nothing wrong with this outline. It is accurate as far as it goes. But it doesn't do what my young mind assumed that it did. I assumed that it explained why God told Abraham and Sarah to name their son Isaac. Actually the name came earlier. Genesis 17:17-19 explains where the name came from:

"Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, 'Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?' And Abraham said to God, 'Oh that Ishmael might live before you!' God said, 'No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.'"

Isaac's name came after Abraham laughed. It really is just a minor misremembering of a Bible story and there is no effect on any points of theology or doctrine. But it does point out the importance of continually reading the Bible. We can't–and shouldn't–rely only on what we have heard or learned in the past. We must constantly be going back to the source in order to keep our memory of the Bible fresh and accurate.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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