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B'resheet/Genesis 18:15 And Sarah lied, saying, "I did not laugh", for she was afraid.
In a moment of panic, having just heardHaShem Himself say that she was to bear a son within a twelve-month, Sarah finds herself trying to lie to G-d. Caught out laughing at G-d's prophetic word, Sarah attempts to deny that she was laughing. How could Sarah expect to get away with such a bare-faced lie, particularly to G-d Himself ? Let's see if we can work out what is going on here.
The first possibility is that Sarah didn't know that the figure whose words she overheard, as the stood in the tent doorway behind her husband, as he received the words of the stranger, was G-d. After all, it was and still is a middle-eastern custom to call down a blessing on those who have given you hospitality as you leave. Perhaps she thought that the stranger was simply making nice noises and offering traditional wishes without even being aware of Sarah's age.
The second possibility is that Sarah thought that her act of laughing was either not visible because she was hidden inside the doorway of the tent and that, as the Hebrew construction could be saying, she only laughed inside - to herself, as it were. In other words: she thought she could reasonably get away with it. She didn't allow for G-d's all-knowing and hoped that her moment of indiscretion or discourtesy would be able to pass unseen.
The third and most likely option is that given in the text itself: Sarah was afraid. Consider how she felt: she had never heard G-d speak to her before, she had just heard what seemed an impossible and potentially scary prophecy - that her old and withered body, long past the age of childbearing, would revive to bear a child - she had then laughed in incredulity at the enormity of the promise and finally, she was called on her lack of faith in a way that showed that G-d knew exactly what she was thinking. In sheer panic then, she attempted to deny the laughter; after all, either the coveted promise of a son might be withdrawn or worse things might befall Avraham and herself for laughing at G-d's words.
In any event, HaShem quietly points out what they all knew: she had laughed, and without saying anything else, walks away with Avraham and the other men (angels) with Him. In time, G-d's words are borne out: Sarah does indeed conceive and bear a son, Yitz'chak, the only one of the three patriarchs to be born, live and die entirely in Eretz Yisrael without ever leaving the Land that G-d promised to give to Avraham and his descendants for ever.
Further Study: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Luke 1:8-20
Application: How do we react when G-d speaks to us or lays His hand on our lives in a way that we don't expect ? Do we respond in faith or is our first thought that we couldn't possibly have heard correctly, to laugh at ourselves for imagining things, or simply ignore the whole thing ?
© Jonathan Allen, 2004
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