Biblical Portraits: The Victorious Laughter

Ishmael – Son of Promise?

We have seen so much pain of this woman already – but think about this long-dreaded day when Hagar’s baby was born. Of course, Abraham’s joy knew no bounds. Of course, Hagar was extremely happy, as well. Clearly, only Sarah did not share in this joy. At that point, she must have felt “left behind” completely, excluded from everything. Even though we don’t know much about the 13 years that passed between the last verse of chapter 16 and the first verse of chapter 17, we do know that for all those years, Abraham had passionately believed that Ishmael was the son of promise. He believed it until that very moment when the Lord announced to him that he would have another son—from Sarah. All those years, he had been absolutely confident that Ishmael was the son of the covenant, and that all the promises and plans of God would rest on him.

I can’t begin to think about the consequences of this situation. If Abraham believed that the covenant and the promises of God would be based on Ishmael, Sarah would have felt excluded, not only from motherhood, not only from the joy of parenting—the joy that her husband was experiencing every single moment now —but from the everlasting covenant as well, from everything that God had promised to Abraham, his family, and his descendants. This feeling must have been absolutely devastating for her. And if in the beginning she had kept hoping that the Lord Himself would intercede for her somehow, the way He did in Egypt, her hopes faded as Ishmael grew. Scripture doesn’t tell us what went on in Sarah’s heart during those years; we don’t know anything about her relationship with Ishmael when he was Abraham’s only son. Yet, we know that she wanted to get rid of him when he was still in his mother’s womb and that she eventually succeeded in banishing him from the family when he was a teenager, and we can safely guess that she didn’t have particularly tender feelings for him. As Ishmael grew, Sarah saw how strong the bond was that connected him to his father, and how great the love was that Abraham held for his only son. She must have felt betrayed by everyone: by her maid, by her husband, and most painfully, by her God. I believe that those first years after Ishmael’s birth were the most difficult years of Sarah’s life.

And yet, this story had to be a story of healing: Sarai would not be able to become Sarah, if her heart wasn’t healed, if she did not eventually reach peace, if she didn’t become reconciled to her circumstances and her life. Yes, those thirteen years were years of continuous humbling and pain for Sarah; but obviously, through this pain, God had been dealing with her, and healing her.  His healing.  H  Once again, we know almost nothing about those years: They are like a tunnel, and we can’t see what is going on inside. A sad and bitter woman entered this 13-year-long tunnel, and we don’t see her there inside it. We don’t know how many tears she shed or how many hours she spent crying desperately before the Lord, asking Him to cleanse her heart from envy and jealousy, to strengthen her, and to give her peace. However, the old woman who emerged from that tunnel after all those years, after all those tears and prayers, was not only completely healed, but for the first time ever, was full of peace and dignity – she actually became that Matriarch Sarah, whom we honor and revere. That’s why, in Genesis 17, God changes her name from Sarai (שרי) to Sarah (שרה). Rashi, a renowned medieval commentator, explains: “Sarai” means “my princess” – but Sarah means “a princess over all”. As in the case of Abram-Abraham, the change still seems minor, it’s still the same letter ה, but the significance of this change can’t be overestimated: from now on the names of Abraham and Sarah indicate that God’s plan covers the multitudes. The direction of this change is the same in both cases: from one particular family – to the nations.


Isaac – Son of  Promise!

And only then, when Sarah had been completely changed inwardly, does chapter 18 come, bringing into her life an amazing, incredible, inconceivable outward change! We all know that in Genesis 18, when Sarah heard the Lord promising Abraham: I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son,” [1] she laughed with that famous laughter within herself.” Naturally, it was a laughter of disbelief: After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”[2] I believe, however, that there was much more to that laughter than just disbelief and doubt. Once again, God didn’t fail her; once again, He intervened and didn’t let her down; once again, He Himself saved and protected her from her shame and pain; once again, He completely justified and restored her. After long years of feeling humiliated, ashamed, and excluded –and after long years of learning to be reconciled to this feeling – Sarah was celebrating her vindication! She was no longer excluded—she belonged! He grants the barren woman a home, like a joyful mother of children.[3] It was a laughter of victorious faith!


The Scriptures say nothing about Sarah’s pregnancy. Was the situation completely reversed now? Did her maid become despised in her eyes? Was Sarah happy and triumphant? Was she shining with the joy of victory, darkening only during those brief moments when the son of Hagar caught her eye?

This would be a very natural way to behave, however I don’t think Sarah actually acted that way. She loved God and was a woman of God; she had learned so much during those 13 years; she had experienced His love and mercy so many times. I believe that especially during those nine months, as she was carrying the greatest testimony of His love and mercy in her womb, she wanted to be a testimony of His love and mercy as well. She was willing to be generous and merciful even to those who had not been generous and merciful to her. That is why I don’t imagine there were any hassles between Sarah and Hagar or between Sarah and Ishmael during Sarah’s pregnancy.


Then, the baby was born. And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him—whom Sarah bore to him—Isaac.[4] While Isaac was a tiny baby in his cradle, everything still seemed relatively quiet in the family. But then, he became a toddler—a cute toddler, full of energy and very curious and impressionable, as most toddlers are—and the family storms began.


[1] Genesis 18:10

[2] Genesis 18:12

[3] Psalms 113:9

[4] Genesis 21:2,3


Excerpts from my  book “Abraham had two sons”  are included in this  series, you  can get  this book and my other books from  my page on this blog:   . Also,  my new book “Unlocking the Scriptures”   is available on Amazon:

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About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Brien Doyle

    The Bible is a compendium of folk tales and fables
    recounted orally for generations by primitive tribes from the stone age.
    This is the Old Testament.
    The new Testes is hearsay since these gospels were written by the faithful
    not by objective historians at that particular time.

    There are no gods!


    ”…exposure to religious ideas has a powerful impact on children’s differentiation between reality and fiction, not just for religious stories but also for fantastical stories.”

    Keep the Lies about gods away from children!

  2. Gladys Fox

    I am wondering if Hagar was truly happy about having a baby . Is it possible that she actually despised her own son ? Not all mothers love their own children. Perhaps she had dreams of her own. Maybe she dreamed of being free and returning to her people, finding love and raising a family there. Now her dream could never come true . Maybe she came to hate Sarah because she didn’t want to have a baby by a man old enough to be her grandfather.
    Poor Ishmael. Perhaps Abraham was the only one who loved him. and he banished him when he was still very young .His mother abandoned him when he lay dying because she didn’t want to watch him die. What kind of a mother would do that! A good mother would want to be near her child to give them as much comfort as possible and to let them know how much they are loved. No wonder Ishmael grew up to be a wild ass of a man with his hand raised against everyone. See Gen: 16:12.