Halloween candy has quickly made its way to the clearance bin and for just one reason: the Christmas candy has come. There are the bags of red and green M & M’s; there are the bags of red and green wrapped miniature Reese cups; and then there are the bags of candy cane Hershey Kisses, all in abundant supply. All of this means that the best time of the year is almost here. And the best time of the year is marked with Christmas music. And the best Christmas music are Christmas hymns, such as Joy to the World.
Yet, Joy to the World is not about Christmas. It is not about Christ’s birth, his first coming. Joy to the World is about his second coming. Joy to the world, the Lord is come! We sing it at Christmas so as to look forward to his coming again. As a new believer a young woman, a mother, was listening intently in the morning service as the pastor shared that Jesus is indeed coming again. Much to her surprise, she blurted out, “He is coming again?!” Everyone turned in their seats, looked at her and laughed. They all laughed at her.
Looking for Laughter
The word laugh is rather important to Genesis 21. I want us to look for it. Look to Genesis 21:3. “Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac.” Look to Genesis 21:4. “And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac…” Look to Genesis 21:5. “Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.” Look to Genesis 21:6. “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” Look to Genesis 21:8. “Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.” Look to Genesis 21:9. “But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing.” Look to Genesis 21:10. “…the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” Look to Genesis 21:12. “…for through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”
In Genesis 21:1-21, the word laugh is found nine times. It is found either as the name Isaac which means “he laughs,” or as simply as the word laugh, nine times in just the first twelve verses. In the remaining verses, Genesis 21:13-21, the word is never found. But…it is there, laughter is found there. Laughter is the big idea of Genesis 21:1-21. And it begins with an old woman, a mother. Her name was Sarah. She was ninety-years old.
All Who Hear Will Laugh with Me
This old woman, a year earlier, was eavesdropping. When she was eavesdropping she heard God himself tell her husband, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son” (Genesis 18:10). Sarah had but one reaction. She laughed. “So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’” (Genesis 18:12). And God had but one response. “Why did Sarah laugh?” (Genesis 18:13).
This old woman was married to an even older man, Abraham. When God had spoken earlier with Abraham about being a dad at one hundred years old and Sarah being a mom at ninety years old, Abraham had but one reaction. He laughed. He laughed so hard that he threw himself to the ground laughing (Genesis 17:17). And God had just one response. “And you shall call his name Isaac,” which we know means “he laughs” (17:19).
This old woman, a year later, gave birth to a son. When she saw her baby boy and heard his name for the first time, she had but one reaction. She laughed. It was not like the year before. No, this year it was different. Why was it different? Why did Sarah laugh, again?
The answer lies in the first two verses of Genesis 21. “The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.” A year later, why did Sarah laugh, again? It is because God did what he had said he would do. A year later, why did Sarah laugh, again? It is because God did what he had promised. A year later, why did Sarah laugh, again? It is because God did it when he said he would do it.
Listen to Genesis 21:6. “And Sarah said, ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.’” All who hear will laugh with me! Notice the word hear. It is often translated as listen; to listen attentively, to listen carefully, to listen closely or to listen obediently. And it can mean to listen and understand. All who listen and understand will laugh with me! Hear what? Listen to and understand what? Is it that at ninety she gave birth to a son? Or is there more? There is more. God did what he had said he would do. God did what he had promised. And God did it when he said he would do it.
Sarah is telling us that at ninety is when she finally and really laughed differently. It was joy; and it was so much more than the joy of motherhood. It was God doing what he had said he would do. It was God doing what he had promised. It was God doing it when he said he would do it. And she is telling us that when we get this – God does what he says he will do; God does what he promises; and God does it in his perfect timing – there is laughter for us too. We will laugh with her. This, in these first seven verses, is really important to the rest of the passage.
But Sarah Saw the Son of Hagar
And it starts with Genesis 21:9. “But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian.” Who is Hagar? She was a mom just like Sarah. And she was a mom of a son just like Sarah. Who is the son of Hagar? His name was Ishmael. He is the son of Abraham. And when Sarah saw Ishmael he was laughing. There are two questions. When was Ishmael laughing and why was Ishmael laughing?
Notice verse eight. When Isaac was about two or three years old, which would make Ishmael fifteen to sixteen years old (cf. 17:25), Abraham put on a celebration. In Abraham’s day, infant mortality was so high that to reach the age of two or three was quite an achievement. And as they were celebrating, Sarah saw Ishmael laughing. Why was he laughing?
The word laughing here is grammatically constructed in such a way so as to indicate mocking (cf. Genesis 18:14). Would Ishmael be mocking this celebration? If so, why? It seems cruel, mean and wrong. But the word laughing is also grammatically constructed in such a way so as to indicate “to play with.” Who would Ishmael be playing with? It would seem that he would be playing with his little brother Isaac. And if so, what does it matter?
Listen to verse ten. “So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son.’” And pay attention to Sarah’s reasoning. “For the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” There is something about this laughing that Sarah did not like. Could it be as innocent as Ishmael was playing with his little brother? Maybe. These are the two sons of Abraham. And God has made promises to and about both sons (cf. Genesis 17:20). Yet, only one is the son of the promise (cf. Genesis 17:1-21). Only one son is the heir – Isaac. So as to make and keep this abundantly clear, Sarah demands “cast out this slave woman with her son.”
I like how the NIV translates it: Get rid of them! This captures the intense harshness of this word. And Abraham thought it was intensely harsh. “And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son” (Genesis 21:11). Abraham found this to be cruel, mean and wrong. But listen to verse twelve. It begins with two of the most important words in the Bible. “But God said to Abraham, ‘Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you.’” Listen to what God is saying. Do not think this cruel, mean and wrong. Instead, do it. God is telling him to banish his son and Hagar. Why God?
So, Abraham gave Hagar bread and a big jug of water and sent her and Ishmael away.
And God Heard the Son of Hagar
I want us to remember that the following verses involve a mom, Hagar, and her son Ishmael…just like the previous verses. Genesis 21:1-12 involved a mom, Sarah, and her son Isaac. And in those verses, there was laughter. We want to ask, where is the laughter in the following verses? Sarah told us that when we get that God does what he says he will do; that God does what he promises; and that God does it in his perfect timing – there will be laughter. So, where is it in the following verses?
Listen to the end of Genesis 21:14. “she departed and wandered in the wilderness.” Hagar and Ishmael were lost. They were wandering in the wilderness! And not only were Hagar and Ishmael lost, but all seemed lost. The water was gone! Listen to Genesis 21:15b-16. “She put [to throw or fling] the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, ‘Let me not look on the death of the child.’ And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.” Hagar and Ishmael sat on the edge of despair. And who ultimately told Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away? God did. Why?
Genesis 21:17 is my favorite verse. In these twenty-one verses Ishmael’s name is never mentioned. No one ever calls him by name. He is either called son or child or boy, but never just Ishmael until verse seventeen. Remember, Ishmael’s name means “God hears.” And verse seventeen reads, “And God heard the voice of the boy.” This verse contains the two Hebrew words used to spell Ishmael’s name.
And God sent an angel in his perfect timing to say to Hagar, “What troubles you, Hagar?” Remember, Hagar and Ishmael were lost, all seemed lost, there was no water and they sat on the edge of despair. And God asked, “What troubles you?” I wonder where Hagar could begin. How about here: “We are lost. All seems lost. There is no water. And we are sitting on the edge of despair.” Why would God ask such a question?
God Has Prepared Laughter for Me
Listen to verse eighteen. “Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him a great nation.” I just love that picture of a mom holding her boy fast with her hand. And listen to verse nineteen. “The God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. And God was with the boy.”
In verse six, when Sarah realized that God does what he says he will do; he does what he promises he will do; and he will do it in his perfect timing, she then said, “God has made laughter for me.” The illustration of this is first with a mother and her son (Genesis 21:1-7) and then again with a mother and her son (Genesis 21:13-21). God has prepared laughter for me when all seems impossible – that is Sarah. God has prepared laughter for me when all seems lost and even when left sitting on the edge of despair – that is Hagar. God is in charge of the impossible. God is in charge even on the edge of despair. And God has prepared laughter for me! And where do we find it? God does what he says he will do; God does what he promises he will do; and God will do it in his perfect timing.
 Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, volume 2, page 81.