In Genesis, God stages an encounter with Sarah. The previous chapters have focused on God making covenants and reiterating His promise to Abraham. But in this chapter, the spotlight shifts from Abraham to Sarah.
(A) The Lord who came for Sarah (Gen 18:1-9).
The Lord appeared to Abraham on just an ordinary day, when he was sitting by the oaks of Mamre, outside his tent. Notice how God is described not as "God" the powerful Creator, but "the Lord", taking the name of the personal God of the covenant. Abraham showed great biblical hospitality, and prepared many things for his visitor. But the purpose of God's visit here was not for Abraham, but for Sarah.
Who is Sarah?
- Beautiful: Desired by the Pharaoh and given away by her husband in Egypt to save his own life
- Bitter: Her marriage was one with problems
- Barren: (c.f. Ps 128) She lived in a culture that believed that fruitfulness in terms of having children is a sign of being blessed by the Lord and yet she was barren
- Broken: She was so desperate to please her husband that she gave him to her handmaiden.
And God came for her.
(B) The Woman who laughed at God and his word (Gen 18:10-12).
God came and said specifically that He will return at the same time next year, and Sarah will have a son by that time. The promise of God was becoming clearer. The passage highlights for us some of the obstacles to this promise. The couple was old by that time, and Sarah was clearly biologically unable to bear children.
In Gen 18:12, we read of Sarah's response, one of cynicism. She laughed a sad, cynical laugh, betraying a heart that was closed off even to the prospect of joy and hope. This woman is closed off to the possibility that her life can be joyful. The saddest thing is that this cynicism is unspoken, since she laughed to herself. No one else was supposed to know, and no one was supposed to hear.
This was Sarah’s response to God. Notice the difference between her response and Abraham’s. She is so broken and miserable that she cannot believe. We live in a world full of people like that! The greatest obstacle to faith is not the absence of proof, but the absence of hope. Many dare not believe that God is around and can do all that he promised. Faith begins where the limits of man end. But Sarah can’t see this yet.
(C) The Power that brings the joy of promised grace (Gen 18:13-15).
God had come to stage an encounter with Sarah. He had not forgotten her. He responds to her hidden laughter with this question, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Gen 18:14). God knew that she laughed though she denied it out of fear. Sarah was afraid of the God that she did not know, afraid of his judgement, afraid that He'd take back his promise, afraid to believe that He genuinely loved her and sought to bless her.
In this passage, Sarah's brokenness and cynicism came across clearly. Cynicism is more than just doubting his power. It is doubting his will. We realise that perhaps the greatest obstacle to faith is not the absence of proof, but the absence of hope. Faith begins where the limits of man end and Sarah was unable to look beyond what her human eye could see and tell. In the same way, many of us today dare not believe that God is around and can do all that he promised.
But God sought her out, and sought to transform her laughter from one of cynicism to one of true joy. This is the same God that we follow and worship today, who promises to transform all that are broken, bitter, cynical and fruitless. Years later, He fulfilled His promise to make us beautiful through His promised Son, Jesus.
Are you feeling like Sarah today -- disappointed, unable to see God at work, and thinking that God's promises are too good to be true? Genesis 18 calls us to lift our eyes beyond our circumstances, to look at the true Isaac, our Lord Jesus, who came to a broken, fruitless world, amidst difficult circumstances.