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Aug 13 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 4, 2013 – Genesis Chapter 21

The Birth of Laughter

Then the LORD took note of Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had promised. So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to Him. Genesis 21:1-2

INTRO: The two lines that introduce this next story could be considered “poetic”

A literal translation might look like this:

Now Yahweh visited Sarah as He had said
And Yahweh did to Sarah as He had spoken.

– the point is, the storyteller begins this episode with an artistic flare
– he is not trying to load this story with heavy theological information
• he enlists the art of storytelling so his hearers will enjoy the experience
• we may find that the Scriptures enter our hearts more if we enjoy them than if we only study them
○ the maximum spiritual benefit comes by entering and experiencing God’s word

Vv. 1-7, God’s promise finally lighted upon Sarah

Se got pregnant, gave birth to a son, and had a good laugh
“God has made laughter for me” – or “with” me
– “Together we produced this bundle of Laughter. I could not have done it on my own”

The Hebrew word for laughter has many related meanings
– something that evoked or involved laughter or its feeling
• we don’t see here our distinction between an emotion and how it was evoked or expressed 
• laughter was both the action and its cause
– one of the possible meanings for the Hebrew word is “to tease”
• I loved it when one of my children said, “I don’t feel like laughing”
○ for me, it was a challenge
– so I hear Sarah saying, “God has been teasing this old woman with His ridiculous promise. But now everyone who hears [his name] will laugh with me”

She goes on to say, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?”
– this question is ironic, bewilderment, silly, or seriously short-sighted
• three times in first two verses, “God had said . . . promised . . . spoken”
• “Who would have said . . .?” GOD had said it, of course!

Vv. 8-14, Isaac’s two rites of passage: he was circumcised and weaned

I don’t know what age a child should be weaned and I need to keep my mouth shut about it
– my oldest daughter has her own ideas about it and she has certainly studied the benefits of breast feeding more than I
• but I say that if you’re watching TV and your child stops nursing to answer a Jeopardy question, it’s time to wean him
– I find it amusing that the day Isaac was weaned, Abraham “made a great feast”

During the festivities, Sarah saw Abraham’s older son “laughing”
– it’s the same word for laughter – perhaps he was teasing his step-brother
• to Sarah, it looked like he was “mocking”
○ perhaps like Lot’s sons-in-law thought he was “joking” (same word, 19:14)
• he was making fun of her son
– Sarah would not stand for this
• she refused to say either Hagar or Ishmael’s names
○ instead, she uses terms that indicate their inferior status
“Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not . . .”
• by contrast, she makes reference to “my son, Isaac” by name

Two Hebrew words describe Abraham’s emotional reaction — greatly distressed
– one means “bad” and the other refers to an intense emotion
• Abraham took it hard
– but at that critical moment, God spoke and reassured him regarding Sarah, Isaac, and Ishmael
• “So Abraham rose early in the morning” – this usually indicates eagerness
○ he rose early in 19:27 to see what would happen to Sodom and Gomorrah
○ he will rise early in 22:3, because he must do a horrible thing and he will want to get it over with

Vv. 15-21, The scene shifts and the main characters here are Hagar and Ishmael

She left, but they had nowhere to go and insufficient means to travel
– Hagar gave up and abandoned her son
• she refers to him as “boy,” which is a small child or infant–the same word that is used of the infant Isaac
• but God referred to Ishmael as a “lad” – adolescent
○ he gave Hagar a different perspective, which is sometimes enough to change everything
○ they weren’t alone and they weren’t helpless

Story began with a mother laughing over her son
– it has now moved to another mother weeping over her son
– she distanced herself from Ishmael so she would not have to see him suffer or watch him die
• it doesn’t work — it never works
○ there’s never any distance between parent’s heart and their child’s pain
• how does storyteller define or measure distance between them? About “a bowshot”

Again, at the critical moment, God spoke – reassured her about their survival and Ishmael’s destiny
– when God spoke to her, he addressed her by name, “Hagar”!
• she was not “this maid,” not an impersonal (or depersonalizing) title
• she was a woman, a mother, a person — she was Hagar
– he did something else for her – “God opened her eyes”!!

We leave them now, refreshed and ready to go on with their lives
– what about Ishmael? “God was with him” — the best thing anyone could have on their resume’
• and he grew (same word used regarding Isaac)
• “became an archer”
○ the Hebrew has a redundancy that means something like, “an arrow-shooting archer” — emphasizes his stkill
○ now remember, when Hagar thought they would die, she left him a “bowshot” away
○ what she had used to cope with her tragic situation now became her son’s strength

Vv. 22-32, The scene shifts again and two new characters enter the story

King Abimelech and his commander
– what motivated them to call this summit meeting?
• “God is with you” – the same thing we just learned regarding Ishmael’s resume’
• this is underlying reality is at work in every circumstance of Abraham’s life
○ God’s will is indestructible — and he was with Abraham and Ishmael

The king and his commander had come to make a peace treaty with Abraham

Vv. 33-34, This last lonely scene concludes the events in this chapter

Abraham planted a tree – a ritual act in which the intention was to create a sacred space
– he then called on God, but by an unusual title, one he had never used before
• “Everlasting God” – he was looking for a stable reality in his unsettled life
• “And Abraham sojourned in the land . . . many days”
○ his spiritual wandering continued with his “many days” juxtaposed to God’s “Everlasting” nature

CONC: Although laughter is an important theme, we have heard the stories of three troubled people

The storyteller doesn’t attempt to give them a make-over
– he doesn’t present them as non-human heroes – but reveals them to be real people
• with their irritations, griefs, fears, and despair

Sarah: She found her situation intolerable
– so she took action to change it
– this is our first option and we must never forget it
• do you have any control at all?
• if so, exercise your free will — make decisions and make changes to improve your situation
– naturally, we’re afraid to make life-changing decisions
• but where we will find ourselves tomorrow, depends on the decisions and changes we make today
• I have no one to blame but myself if I’m in the same spot today as I was yesterday
– either we change our situation or we change ourselves, but there is no reason to sit in misery when it can be avoided

Abraham: He wanted to be connected to the “Everlasting God” – so he created a sacred space for himself, a place to call on God
– of course, I want a steady, stable life, but I must be careful that it doesn’t become static
• static is motionless, it’s the body resting in the grave
– if we can’t achieve steady or stable, then let’s look for a rhythm in the course of our lives — it’s there
• and it will be the rhythm of God’s choosing, not ours
• to find it and flow with it is the “dance” of life that poets talk about

Laughter or weeping, detaching from others or making covenants with new allies, promises made or waiting for their fulfillment
– through all of it, God is with us
– if we find or create that sacred space where we can meet with him, he will open our eyes

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
Reinhold Neibuhr

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