Yes, you may laugh.
Solomon does indeed say in Ecclesiastes 7:3, “Sorrow is better than laughter.” Yet laughter is not necessarily foolishness, nor it is always sinful. It can be both, and so often it is both foolishness and sin. Yet remember that God laughs, and a child of God may laugh in the joy of the fulfillment of God’s covenant and of its promises. There is such a thing as covenant laughter.
Once in Genesis 17, and once again in Genesis 18 we read of the wrong kind of laughter. Both Abraham and Sarah let echo in their souls the laughter of unbelief. For they laughed in God’s face. O, yes they did. They laughed at His Word. They did not laugh with Him and in His Word. They laughed at Him and at His Word. Principally they laughed at the idea of that Word of God becoming flesh. For, laughing at the idea of Isaac’s being born of Sarah, they laughed at the miracle of the incarnation of the Word of God, which was by far a greater miracle.
And is not all unbelief a laughing at God and at His Word? Does not unbelief always ridicule the truth and dare to disagree with God Himself? Does not unbelief always call God foolish and the things of His kingdom foolishness? Do not the unbelievers shake their heads and look upon the believer as a fool? They see us go to God’s house on the Sabbath as they rush to satisfy the lusts of their flesh; and inwardly, if not even openly, they smile and laugh. They spout forth their evolutionistic Atheism with straight faces and “learned” nods of the head; but they look down in scorn and ridicule upon the child of God Who bows before God and His Word and ascribes the whole creation to Him. Unbelief laughs in God’s face—for a little while. The unbeliever will have endless time to weep when he finds out his folly in the torment of hell.
We do, however, also find children of God laughing in a sinful way. In fact at this crucial moment in the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises, when the time has arrived for God to inform Abraham that Sarah will bear him a son through whom these covenant promises will be realized, both Abraham and Sarah, as we said, are guilty of this laugh of unbelief. Abraham was now ninety nine years old, and Sarah was eighty nine. Abraham was sexually dead, and Sarah had never in all the years of their marriage even displayed the power to have a miscarriage. Conception was impossible for her. And now that it ceased to be with her after the manner of women, all hope of being the mother of a child was gone. And let us understand that it was gone and did not simply appear that way. God will give Sarah that power, but He did not restore what had been lost. He gave her, after she had passed her eighty ninth birthday, what she never had before and what He gave to other women only in earlier days of their lives. To what could Abraham and Sarah point for hope of having a child of their own? Man had lived long enough on this earth, and sufficient generations had come and gone, so that man knew the span of years during which it pleased God to give conception to a woman. Man knew at that day and in that age already the evidence that spoke of the beginning of a woman’s period of fertility; and he knew the signs that indicated that a pause had come in “the manner of women.”
Let us also appreciate the fact that apart from the miracle of life in the ark for a year and ten days during the flood and the period when the water covered the earth, there were no miracles of God, no departings from the laws of creation which God executed in His work of providence, to which Abraham and Sarah could point. It just never happened before, that when God caused it to cease to be with a woman after the manner of women, He gave them what they never had before! Abraham had never seen a miracle of any kind performed. Nor from the days of the flood are any recorded in Holy Writ. Abraham and Sarah had certainly never seen or heard of a miracle of healing, either from a disease or from barrenness.
Let it be stated parenthetically that the sons born to Abraham through Keturah, as recorded in Genesis 25, were born before the birth of Isaac. Scripture does not always follow the chronological order in relating the events in the lives of men. Note that in Genesis 23 we read that Sarah was 127 years old when she died. That means that Abraham was now 137 years old. In the next chapter we read of the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah, when he was forty years old; and then Abraham was one hundred and forty years old. And it is after this that in chapter 25 we read that Abraham took to wife Keturah and begat these sons. All this would mean that this new power which God gave Abraham, and whereby He could at the age of one hundred father a son with Sarah, remained in him for another forty years. And he who was as good as dead was very much alive sexually for another forty years. We must, therefore, insist that Moses goes back and picks up the thread after presenting the covenant line as it was gathered in Isaac. And these sons of Keturah were born before he became as good as dead. How else will you explain the words of Sarah in Genesis 18:12, “After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord (Abraham) being old also?”
But, returning to the promise of a son through Sarah, let it be borne in mind that Ishmael was as really a son of Abraham as Isaac was. In fact, at that moment, Ishmael was far more really Abraham’s son. He was a son Abraham had. Isaac was at that moment only a child promised. And although Sarah regretted having given Hagar to Abraham to raise up seed for herself, Ishmael stood there as big as life. Whether she liked it or not, seed of Abraham stood there without a miracle’s being performed by God. Sarah laughed when she heard that she would bring forth a son, but she shed many tears after Hagar bore Ishmael. This was so especially when Abraham more and more showed his love for and keen delight and interest in Ishmael.
Now Abraham’s laughter differed from Sarah’s. And it is interesting to note that Abraham is not rebuked for his laughter, while Sarah is for hers. As we already stated, both were the laughter of unbelief, and both deserved a rebuke. Both laughed at the idea that people of their ages could bring forth a son. But there was a difference. Sarah deemed it utterly ridiculous and hopeless that she would conceive and bear a son. Abraham, who also believed it ridiculous to think of such a thing, saw no necessity of it. He had a son in whom all the covenant promises could be fulfilled. He did not need Isaac. Mind you, he did not see the need of Christ, Who would come in the line of Isaac’s seed. Not that he did not want Him to come. It was not that kind of unbelief. He would expect Him through Ishmael. He expected all the covenant blessings to be his through Ishmael. That is also why he cries out, “O that Ishmael might live before Thee.” He had a different problem than Sarah did, and he needs some further instruction. He still is rebuked, but in a different way. He is not directly rebuked for his laughter, but for his insistence that he laugh with covenant joy in Ishmael. Sarah laughed at the idea that she would be used by God in the fulfillment of the promise of a covenant seed. Had it not ceased to be with her after the manner of women? Had God not ceased to do in her what He does in women whom He has appointed to bring forth seed? It is not at all impossible that this ceased to be with Sarah thirteen years ago when she was 76 years old, and that this is the reason why she gave Hagar to Abraham to raise up seed for her. Her first reaction now, upon hearing that she will still bring forth that promised seed, is to laugh at the idea. For that she must be rebuked, even though it was “within herself.” Perhaps a silly grin appeared on her face, as is so often the case with us when we laugh inwardly. But it evokes from the angel those sharp words of rebuke, “Is anything too hard for Jehovah?”
Surely there is not, and the Almighty is able to make the sad and sorrowing laugh with an everlasting joy and gladness. He is able to wipe away all tears from our eyes and to fill our days with joy and gladness.
As we stated, Yes, you may laugh. The same Solomon who says, “Sorrow is better than laughter,” also said, “There is a time . . . to weep and a time to laugh.” Jesus said to His disciples, “Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.” Luke 6:21. And Bildad said to Job, “Behold, God will not cast away the perfect man, neither will He help the evil doers: till He fill thy mouth with laughing and thy lips with rejoicing.” Job 8:21. There we have the clue. Sorrow is changed to laughter, the laughter of unbelief is changed to the laughter of the joyful reception of what God has promised, in the perfect man, that is, in the man who is made perfect by the Seed of.Abraham that will come through Isaac.
No wonder then that the seed to be brought forth by Abraham and Sarah, who will in time bring forth The Seed in Whom all nations shall be blessed, is called Isaac, which means laughter. For he will bring forth Him Whose name is Jesus because He shall save His people from their sins. And in that way He will bring laughter to all whom the Father gave Him from eternity to be His people. A prophetic name then is this name Isaac. And Sarah, moved infallibly by the Holy Spirit, to an holy laughter, also stated and explained that name by saying, “God hath made me to laugh, so that all who hear will laugh with me.”Genesis 21:6. We may laugh at this wonder-birth of Isaac because in that way God is bringing The Seed of the covenant Who will make us laugh with holy glee in the salvation He has prepared for us. Isaac’s conception and birth is a step in God’s realization of such covenant laughter for us.
But get the point made by Sarah. The Holy Spirit is speaking through her and causing her to speak infallibly. God, she said, made her to laugh. Any laughter we make will soon bring us to tears. God forbid that we should laugh with the world—and how hard they try, how numerous are their comedians, how much time of their radio and television programs, what a vast number of pages of their magazines is devoted to trying to make man laugh and forget the sorrows of life, to try to get our minds off sin and the curse! How desperately they try to keep us from knowing our sins and misery, because they do not want us to know the redemption that there is in Christ, and because they shudder in displeasure when they see those who know how to express gratitude to God by a walk in good works. Yet the more the unbeliever laughs in this life, the more weeping and gnashing of teeth is going to be his in the lake of fire. He will have to give an account for all his laughter and suffer the punishment of laughing in and with sin and of being entertained by it instead of being grieved at the very sight of it.
But the laughter God gives us will be ours everlastingly. He will never cast the perfect away and take from them their covenant laughter. Hell will be silent as far as the laughter of unbelief is concerned. There men will find nothing to laugh at, and the divine wisdom of the “foolishness of preaching” will be confessed by all. But in heaven now, and soon in the new Jerusalem, there will echo the laughter which God gives His people. And looking back the saints will see that although they were as good as dead, could not even produce the will to be saved and laughed at the idea of it, God came in His grace to take away that laughter and all our tears and guilt and death to make us sing to His praise forever.