Some saints are hard to know and love: severe ascetics, bloody martyrs, kings and queens. But Sarah is a familiar saint. She is Abram/Abraham’s wife, and she lived for many years as a childless wife. In her time and in her culture, a childless woman was a useless woman. Sarah must have endured many humiliations.
We know she endured many hardships. Abram heard a call to leave their home in Haran and travel to Canaan. We do not read that Sarah heard the same call as her husband, but she moved with him, leaving all that was known and loved behind. In the midst of the journey they suffered famine as well as a family dispute with the only kinsman, Lot, who left Haran with them. The family fight was ugly enough that Abram and Lot parted ways, which no doubt meant Sarah lost the companionship of Lot’s wife. (You can read about these adventures in Genesis 12:1 – 13:18.)
The scripture says Abram was 99 years old when God made a covenant with him. God changes Abram’s name to Abraham, because, God says, “I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.” We can only imagine Sarah’s reaction when Abraham told her this news. We know her reaction when three men sent by God visited their tent near the oaks of Mamre and promised that Sarah would bear a son. She laughed.
Hebrew scholars say the English word, “laughed,” can’t begin to describe what is meant by the Hebrew word. They say you have to imagine a laugh coming from deep in the belly, a laugh that shakes the whole body, convulsing it. It is just the response one might expect from a childless woman in her 90’s upon hearing the prediction that, within the year, she will bear a child.
But she did give birth to a son, whom she named Isaac, a name that means “laughter.” She said, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” (You can read the story of Isaac’s conception and birth in Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7.)
Sarah believed God’s promises and rejoiced in them, but she also got the joke. Abraham was 100 years old when his aged wife laid their first-born child in his arms. Let’s hope Abraham laughed, too.
– Melissa Musick