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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Written by Susan Hanson

Friday, September 17

The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”
—Genesis 18: 13-15

Who, me? At 90 years of age, the news of her impending pregnancy was the last thing Sarah expected to hear from the stranger who had come to her tent. Laughing, she asked him, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” Surely, there was a mistake here.

Literally “entertaining angels unawares,” Abraham and Sarah had no idea that the travelers they had just fed were, in fact, angels sent from God. On their way to Sodom and Gomorrah, the three “men”—Raphael, Gabriel, and Michael—had stopped to give the elderly couple the surprising news and perhaps to test Abraham’s legendary sense of hospitality as well.

Having heard Sarah’s laughter, God next spoke directly to Abraham, using no angel this time as an intermediary: “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” At that, Sarah denied that she had laughed, “for she was afraid.” And who can blame her?

Unfortunately, the conversation ends there. But if we’ve heard the story before, we know that God did indeed give Abraham and Sarah a child—Isaac, which in Hebrew means “laughter.” And this child, as God had promised, did go on to play a pivotal role in the history of God’s people.

What I find ironic in this narrative is that while Sarah laughed at the angel’s prophetic news—just as Abraham had laughed in the previous chapter of Genesis—neither she nor her husband ever questioned the notion that God would speak to them, or that angels would come to their home to eat. Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

The story of Sarah and Abraham reminds us how tempting it is to draw distinctions between what strikes us as “improbable” and what seems downright “nuts.” When we look at our lives, though, how “plausible” is any of it? 

How likely is it that we would be as healthy as we are, or live as long as we do? How predictable is it that this piece of rock on which we live would follow any kind of regular orbit rather than hurtling off into space? Fortunately for Sarah, as well as for us, God doesn’t let our laughter get in the way of giving us remarkable gifts.

O God, help us to remember that like Sarah and Abraham, we are blessed with the most unlikely of gifts, with wonders that stretch far beyond our imaginations, and with marvels that bear witness to your grace.

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2005.