The Last Laugh
Genesis 15:5 (NIV)
He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars…so shall your offspring be.”
Excerpted from the heart of the story by randy frazee
God chose to do what we would consider impossible. He chose an old childless couple to be the parents of this new nation he envisioned. Where you or I might have picked out a young newlywed couple brimming with health and the energy to have lots of kids, God makes a dramatic point by picking Abram, age seventy-five, and his wife, Sarai, age sixty-five. The real kicker is that not only were they past their prime parenting years; they couldn’t even have children due to Sarai’s infertility. The lineage of Abram and Sarai was at its end when they died, at least from a Lower Story perspective. But this is where God intervenes with a dramatic Upper Story plot twist. Here’s how it happened.
God invited Abram to leave the comforts of his homeland, Harran (a city close to the border of modern-day Turkey and Syria), and go to a place that he would later show him. He also promised to give Abram and Sarai children and to make them into a great nation. Not only this, but this new nation would one day be a blessing to all peoples on earth. Abram did not likely comprehend what God was saying to him — “I am going to use you and this new nation as my plan to provide a way for all people to come back into the garden.”
The Bible simply says, “So Abram went . . .”1 In Hebrews 11 we are told, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” Now there is one thing I know about most senior citizens, holding in my possession my own AARP card: they don’t like change. (How many senior citizens does it take to change a lightbulb? “Change? Who said anything about change?”) But this older couple
— Abram and Sarai — dug down deep, got way out beyond their comfort zone, and did what God asked them to do.
Even after God had clearly intervened in their lives, their story didn’t unfold as smoothly as you might have thought it would. The first order of business was to have those long-awaited kids, right?
To start a nation you’ve got to have people.
Using our Lower Story logic, you have to have at least one! Yet ten years went by — and still no children. Abram was now eighty-five, and Sarai seventy-five. It wasn’t getting any easier for them. Thirteen more years went by, and still no child. Abram was now ninety-nine, and Sarai eighty-nine. Think about it — this couple was pushing one hundred! How in the world could they have a baby now? It just made no sense.
Even more confusing is that God came to them and changed their names. Abram’s name, which ironically means “exalted father” in Hebrew, was changed to Abraham, which means “father of many,” and Sarai’s name was changed to Sarah, “princess,” as a mark of something new to come. Ouch! It would seem cruel to be given new names that only emphasized what they didn’t have if this hadn’t been God telling them their new names. Again, from our Lower Story point of view, these are impossible names to live up to. But God also told them that they would have a son, exactly one year from then. Sarah burst out laughing! If you consider that this old woman was nearly a century old, wouldn’t you laugh too? It was either laugh at the absurdity of it or cry from the deep loss of an unfulfilled longing. At last, could they trust God to deliver, literally, what he had promised to them?
Absolutely. Exactly a year later, Sarah had a child named Isaac, meaning “he laughs.” When situations look impossible to us, God always gets the last laugh.