Saturday, February 17, 2018

Sara's Laughter

Alice C. Linsley

Abraham's half-sister was also his wife. Her name was Sarah or Sarai, both names being derived from the Akkadian word for queenšarratum. Sarah was a wealthy, high-born woman with many servants, craftsmen, herdsmen, shepherds and warriors to supervise in the absence of her husband.

Sarah resided in the region of Hebron, at the northern boundary of Abraham's territory in Edom. Abraham's other wife, Keturah, resided in the region of Beersheba at the southern boundary of Abraham's territory.

Abraham's territory extended between the settlements of his two wives and was entirely in the region the Greeks called Idumea, meaning "land of red people."

In the marriage and ascendancy pattern of the Horite Hebrew rulers, the proper heir to the father's territory was the first born son of the first wife, the half-sister wife. As Sarah was barren, Abraham had no proper heir. Eliezer, the son of the concubine Masek, was chosen to be the steward of the household, not the heir. Abraham took up his complaint with the LORD and was assured that one day Sarah would bring forth the proper heir (There is Messianic foreshadowing here).

Abraham's complaint that he had no proper heir was one the Lord God understood, seeing that Abraham was a ruler and the matter of heirs is especially important for those who rule. Having a proper heir would not be so important were Abraham and Sarah commoners. They were of the ruling class. 

Sarah had everything, except the one thing she needed to fulfill her role as the wife of a ruler. Her resentment of Hagar and Ishmael reveals the growing bitterness she had. She likely scoffed and laughed from a spirit of grief and bitterness. It is easy to judge Sarah who laughed when she heard that she would bring forth a son in her old age. Her laughter seems to be out of shock and disbelief, a natural response for a woman past child bearing years (Gen. 18:13). Yet, Abraham laughed also.
Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born to man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear a child? (Gen. 17:17).
When confronted, Sarah denied laughing. She would not have wanted to insult her guests. At first, Sara and Abraham were not aware of the identity of their visitors. The meal they provided was one of hospitality, not a great feast. It suggests that Abraham was unsure about the 3 strangers, but anxious to provide an adequate meal. The guests are described simply as three men, but when Abraham talks to them, they respond as one ("they said"). We are told that "the Lord appeared to Abraham," but when he looks, he sees three men. Three men speaking as one suggest the Triune God. At other times, only one of the angels speaks to Abraham and he is referred to as "Lord." Only after Abraham is assured of the long-yearned for son (messianic foreshadowing), does he recognize that he is speaking to the Lord. Then he begins to intercede for Lot and Sodom.

Sara apparently did not know that she was hearing a divine announcement, certainly not in the way that the Virgin Mary knew at the Annunciation that she was hearing a word directly from God. Unlike Mary, Sara was not the direct recipient of the message.

When Isaac was born, Sara laughed again (Gen. 21:6). The Hebrew verb  “to laugh" has the initial צְחֹק (in a rare participial form). It refers to Sara's joyful laughter upon giving birth to a son. This suggests that the name Sara is also related to the African word saran, meaning joy. The word saran also is found in Hindi and refers to refugeThe child is named Isaac (Yitzak) which is related to the word for laughter. The Proto-Semitic root for laughter is The Ugaritic word for laughter is tzakhak.

Genesis 26:8 says that Yitzak was caressing his wife Rebecca. The word "caressing" is the Piel/intensive form of the word "laugh" so the verse suggests laughter upon laughter. "He laughs, was laughing intensively with his wife." Hebrew scholars suggest that this is a euphemism for having sex. That is a possible interpretation, yet the structure of laughter upon laughter suggests a connection to a source of joy beyond the physical pleasure of sex.

Related reading:  False Correlations; The Barren and Grieving Rejoice; The Social Structure of the Biblical Hebrew (Part 1); Abraham's Concubines

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