Introductory Note:

Do any of us really wonder why Abraham and Sarah laughed at the heavenly announcement of a child-to-be? We would laugh too; laugh in disbelief laugh at the absurdity of it all. The Scripture tells us, “It had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.” That was a polite way of saying she was no longer ovulating. Now, they may not have had all the vast medical information we have at our fingertips on conception and birth, but they knew enough to say with confidence that Sarah could not have a child. No way.

But then we hear the query that is as much for us as it is for Abraham and Sarah: “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” Well, there we have it. I mean, when it is put that way we have no option but to agree; yes, indeed, nothing is too wonderful for the Lord! But even so . . .

You see, we also laugh in disbelief because, like Abraham and Sarah, we are so often living in and counting on the “flesh.” The flesh says very simply, “I will rely upon what I can do in my own natural abilities and strengths without any reference to God. And, may I just say, many things can be done in the power of the flesh. I have seen whole churches built in the power of the flesh. But we cannot do the work of the Spirit in the power of the flesh, and Isaac was a work of the Spirit.

But, now comes the great reversal for Abraham and Sarah. They had laughed in disbelief, but now, with baby Isaac in their presence, they are ushered into the laughter of celebration. Sarah, we are told, exclaims, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me” (Gen. 21:6). The laughter of doubt was transformed into the laughter of praise. The latter laughter is the better laughter.

Richard J. Foster
Renovaré Founder

Excerpt from Spiritual Classics

Sarah’s Laugh­ter

Quan­ti­ta­tive­ly speak­ing, you don’t find all that much laugh­ter in the Bible, but, qual­i­ta­tive­ly, there’s noth­ing quite like it to be found any­where else. There are a cou­ple of chap­ters in the Book of Gen­e­sis that pos­i­tive­ly shake with it. Sarah was nev­er going to see nine­ty again, and Abra­ham had already hit one hun­dred, and when the angel told them that the stork was on his way at last, they both of them almost col­lapsed. Abra­ham laughed till he fell on his face” (Gen­e­sis 17:17), and Sarah stood cack­ling behind the tent door so the angel wouldn’t think she was being rude as the tears streamed down her cheeks. When the baby final­ly came, they even called him Laugh­ter — which is what Isaac means in Hebrew — because obvi­ous­ly no oth­er name would do.

Laugh­ter mixed up in the Bible 

Laugh­ter gets mixed up with all sorts of things in the Bible and in the world too, things like sneer­ing, irony, mak­ing fun of, and beat­ing the com­pe­ti­tion hol­low. It also gets mixed up with things like come­di­ans and slip­ping on banana peels and hav­ing the soles of your feet tick­led. There are times when you laugh to keep from cry­ing like when the old wino stag­gers home in a par­ty hat, or even in the midst of cry­ing like when Char­lie Chap­lin boils his shoe for sup­per because he’s starv­ing to death. But one hun­dred per­cent, bond­ed, aged-in-the-wood laugh­ter is some­thing else again. 

Mak­ing mer­ry till the cows come home 

It’s the crazy par­rot-squawks that issue out of David as he spins like a top in front of the Ark (2 Sam. 6:16 – 21). 

It’s what the psalms are talk­ing about where they say, When the Lord had res­cued Zion, then our mouth was filled with laugh­ter” (Ps. 126:1 – 2), or where they get so excit­ed they yell out, Let the floods clap their hands, let the hills sing for joy togeth­er!” because the Lord has come through at last (Ps. 98:8).

It’s what the Lord him­self is talk­ing about when he says that on the day he laid the cor­ner­stone of the earth the morn­ing stars sang togeth­er, and all the sons of God shout­ed for joy” (Job 38:7), and it’s what the rafters ring with when the Prodi­gal comes home and his old crock of a father is so glad to see him he almost has a stroke and they began to make mer­ry” and kept on mak­ing mer­ry till the cows came home (Luke 15:24).

Blessed laugh­ter

It’s what Jesus means when he stands in that crowd of crip­ples and lon­ers and odd-balls and fac­to­ry rejects and says, Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21).

Nobody claims there’s a chuck­le on every page, but laugh­ter’s what the whole Bible is real­ly about. Nobody who knows his hat from home-plate claims that get­ting mixed up with God is all sweet­ness and light, but ulti­mate­ly it’s what that’s all about too.

Ecsta­t­ic laughter 

Sarah and her hus­band had plen­ty of hard knocks in their time, and there were plen­ty more of them still to come, but at that moment when the angel told them they’d bet­ter start dip­ping into their old age pen­sions for cash to build a nurs­ery, the rea­son they laughed was that it sud­den­ly dawned on them that the wildest dreams they’d ever had hadn’t been half wild enough (Gen. 17,18,21).

Orig­i­nal­ly in Pecu­liar Trea­sures: A Bib­li­cal Who’s Who. Harper­San­Fran­cis­co, 1993

Pub­lished in Spir­i­tu­al Clas­sics: Select­ed Read­ings on the Twelve Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines Richard Fos­ter and Emi­lie Grif­fin, Edi­tors. New York: Harper­Collins, 2000.

Text First Published January 2000

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

View Selections & Learn More >