Last week, we looked at the scripture in which God called Abram to leave his house and his kindred. God promised Abram that he would bless him and make of him a great nation. Abram and Sarah were already beginning to grow old, and had no child. But Abram believed God’s promise nevertheless. That really impressed God! Abram had all the reason in the world not to believe, but he believed God anyway!
In today’s scripture, twenty-five more years have passed, and Abraham and Sarah still have no child. Now they were truly elderly. Our scripture tells us that “Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age. Sarah had passed the age of childbearing” (18:11). I believe that it had also ceased to be with Abraham after the manner of men. Abraham and Sarah were fully retired from the cycle of child-bearing.
They were sitting on their front porch in the heat of the afternoon when they noticed three strangers approaching. The world was a bigger place in those days, rather like Kansas at the turn-of-the-century. People lived isolated lives, and appreciated visitors.
When he spotted the three strangers, Abraham ran to greet them. “Come in. Take a load off your feet. Let me get you something to drink. Can you stay for dinner?” Sarah busied herself in the kitchen while Abraham saw to the slaughter of a calf for dinner.
As they began to eat, the strangers said, “”Where is Sarah, your wife?” (18:9).
Abraham said, “See, in the tent” (18:9).
One of the visitors said, “I will certainly return to you when the season comes round. Behold, Sarah your wife will have a son” (18:10).
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Now Sarah was listening at the tent flap, and heard this prediction. She must have thought, “That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.” She did not laugh in the stranger’s face. The bible says that she laughed to herself. Deep inside she was saying, “Fat chance!” Her precise words are interesting. She said to herself, “After I have grown old will I have pleasure?” (18:12).
After all, how can you have a baby unless you first have pleasure? Abraham and Sarah no longer had pleasure.
Now the tone of the story changes. Until now Abraham and Sarah think they are talking to ordinary travellers. But now the text says that God spoke to Abraham, saying:
“Why did Sarah laugh, saying,
‘Will I really bear a child, yet I am old?’
Is anything too hard for (God)?” (18:13-14).
Sarah was afraid.
• Who were these men who knew her name?
• Who were these men who knew the secrets of her heart?
• Who were these men who dared touch so carelessly on the pain of her childlessness—who spoke so openly of such intimate matters—who spoke so hopefully about a baby to a woman who had long since abandoned hope?
• Who were these men to tamper with her tenderest feelings—to raise her hopes so that she could feel the pain again?
• Who were these men who had acted so rudely while availing themselves of her hospitality?
Sarah protested, saying, “I didn’t laugh.” The stranger said, “No, but you did laugh” (18:15).
There are different kinds of laughter, aren’t there?
• There is the happy laughter of children at play—a musical laughter.
• There is the laughter that comes with being able to laugh at our own foibles?
• There is the laughter of people trying to mask their loneliness and emptiness with the laughter of hollow hearts.
• There is the laughter of evil—Hitler dancing a jig in the Forest of Compiènge at the surrender of France.
• There is the laughter of the person who is filled with joy.
• But there is also the laughter of disbelief—this was Sarah’s laughter. She had tried to believe, but her hopes had been dashed so painfully against the reality of her barrenness so many times. She could no longer believe. Her laughter had the cynical edge of a person who had been hurt before and who was not willing to risk being hurt again.
But the stranger said, “Is anything too hard for (God)?”
We need to confront that question ourselves. Is there anything too hard for God? Is there anything so difficult that he would not do it for us? God works in such mysterious ways. He meets our needs in ways that are not our ways and in times that are not our choices.
I read about Dodie Gadient, a schoolteacher, who decided to travel across America. She wanted to see all the things about which she had been teaching. On her trip, she drove a truck and pulled a camper. One afternoon, she was driving on Interstate 5 near Sacramento in rush-hour traffic. As she rounded a curve, her water pump blew. She was tired, scared, and alone. Traffic backed up behind her, but no one stopped. Leaning against the trailer, she prayed, “Please God, send me an angel…, preferably one with mechanical experience.”
Within minutes, a huge man on a big Harley stopped. He had long, black hair, a beard, and tattooed arms. His black leather jacket proclaimed “Hell’s Angels—California.” He jumped off his cycle. Without even glancing at Dodie, he started to work. Then he flagged down a larger truck, attached a tow chain, and whisked the whole rig off the freeway onto a side street where he could continue to work undisturbed.
Dodie was too dumbfounded to talk. As the man finished the repair, she found the courage to say thanks and to carry on a brief conversation. The man saw that she was frightened. He looked her in the eye and said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover. You may not know who you’re talking to.” With that, he smiled, closed the hood of the truck, and straddled his Harley. With a wave, he was gone as fast as he had appeared.
“Is anything too hard for (God)?”
Sarah had her baby, as the stranger had foretold. She named him Isaac, which means he laughs. Her laughter lost its cynical edge, and became the laughter of joy. She no longer felt the pain in her heart as she cuddled the baby in her arms.
“Is anything too hard for (God)?”
Like Sarah, we have suffered crushing disappointment. Like Sarah, we have waited for blessings that seem always just beyond reach. Like Sarah, we are prone to cynicism. Like Sarah, we are prone to despair.
But the God of Abraham and Sarah is with us. The God of Abraham and Sarah will not fail us or forsake us. The God of Abraham and Sarah brings blessings to those who love him. But he does so in his own ways and in his own time. We are prone to despair, because we want answers to our prayers now.
God gave Sarah the blessing only after there was no longer any hope of blessing.
• God gave Sarah the child only when it had ceased to be with her after the manner of women.
• God gave Abraham the child only when it had ceased to be with him after the manner of men.
• Only when human possibilities were exhausted did God fulfill the promise. But what a fulfillment. He brought Abraham and Sarah the blessing of a child in their old age, and through that child he blessed all the nations of the earth.
Paul says of Abraham:
“Without being weakened in faith,
he didn’t consider his own body,
already having been worn out,
(he being about a hundred years old),
and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.
Yet, looking to the promise of God,
he didn’t waver through unbelief,
but grew strong through faith,
giving glory to God” (Romans 4:19-20).
God does his best work when only a miracle will do. He often waits to save us until it is clear that only he can save us. As we wait for the blessings:
Let no distrust make us waver concerning the promise of God.
“Is anything too hard for (God)?”
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.