Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4 – KJV).” I like the way the Message puts it:
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” (Matthew 5:4 MSG)
What I see in Genesis 21:8 is the fulfillment of the promise of God. Although it was a long time in coming, it was finally realized. It is difficult to put into words the thrill that was apprehended at last, so it was expressed in laughter. Laughter is the expression of the heart when words simply fail. Sometimes even tears accompany laughter, as though the eyes must join in the pleasure of the moment by anointing the cheeks that stretch themselves to acknowledge the long awaited blessing of God.
Suddenly, however, the thrill of the moment gives way to the laughter of mockery and judgment (Genesis 21:9-10). What has happened, and how does it all fit together? The account of Abraham’s and Sarah’s lives is very brief, and so much is left out that we might like to know. How we would like to fill in the gaps and understand what really went on, but it simply isn’t there. However, if we consider the lives of others in the Bible who endured in similar circumstances, perhaps we could fill in the gaps this way.
What we do know is that when Hagar became pregnant, she began to despise Sarah. This caught Sarah by surprise and she blamed Abraham (Genesis 16:4-5). Why would she blame Abraham? Wasn’t it Sarah’s suggestion in the first place that Hagar should be taken as his wife? Sarah could have a child by Hagar according to the law at that time (Genesis 16:2-3). Wasn’t this behind Sarah’s proposition? One might think it was Sarah’s idea, if all we are interested in is the plain reading of the text, but could there be more than what meets the eye?
The word used for Hagar’s despising Sarah is used so only in Genesis 16. It is usually translated curse and is so translated 40 out of 88 times that it appears in the Old Testament. Leviticus 19:14 says one shouldn’t curse the deaf nor put a stumbling block before the blind. I wonder if it wasn’t first Hagar’s suggestion to Sarah to approach Abraham about producing a child for Sarah through her. Was Sarah blind to what may have been behind such a suggestion? Was she deaf to the evil intent her mind simply didn’t understand? Moses says in Deuteronomy 23:4 that Balaam was hired to curse Israel. In the end Israel was brought into temporary displeasure with God because of Balaam. Was this what occurred between Abraham and Sarah that Sarah accused Abraham of wrongdoing? Had Hagar somehow brought Sarah into Abraham’s displeasure? I have to wonder what could have occurred behind the rivalry between Hagar and Sarah.
Nothing much is said about Hagar except that she seems to be the recipient of Sarah’s great displeasure in Genesis 16 and 21. Under the first circumstance Hagar ran away, but in the second she was driven away. One is almost sympathetic towards her, and if God didn’t approve of Sarah’s choice, one might indeed take Hagar’s part. However, if one takes the time to look a little deeper than what is available in a cursory read, one would be surprised with the possibilities that may have occurred in Sarah’s life. God took her part in the end. We must not forget that. Why did he approve of what she wanted—in effect answered her prayer by telling Abraham to do as she desired? If Sarah was wrong, why would God do what he did? Something is there that is hidden in the text. While it may not be exactly as I see it, it is there, nonetheless.
I wonder if part of Sarah’s story isn’t written in the life of Hannah in 1Samuel 1:1-10. Certainly there are at least some similarities. Nevertheless, nothing is mentioned in Genesis about how Sarah may have suffered, while waiting for the promise of God to be fulfilled in her. It came finally when all hope was lost (Genesis 18:12). Had she been laughed at so often that she began to believe the mockery and left off believing the promise? That had to be corrected, and it was, because the promise of God could be received only through faith (Hebrews 11:11).
Sarah was patient unto the coming of the Lord (James 5:7), and we count her happy because she endured (James 5:11). She was blessed, because, although she was made to feel she had lost what was most dear to her, she received strength to be embraced by the One who was most dear to her (cp. Matthew 5:4), and she laughed.