I mentioned in a sermon recently a time when one of our kids kept making “stupid denials”. The evidence might be incontrovertible, the wrong-doing even observed by a parent, and yet the denials came. Teaching on honesty and humility seemed to have no effect.
Finally, I concluded that it was a reflexive habit, and used a different approach. I required a handwriting assignment: “I will not make stupid denials, lest I have to write this 25 times,” written ten times. The next time, of course, it was 25 copies, modified to say “lest I have to write this 50 times.” The stupid denials stopped before we got to 100.
Yesterday, reading in Genesis 18, I remembered this again because it records Sarah making a stupid denial. She knew it was a stupid denial. She knew that God knew it, and that He knew that she knew it, but she denied anyway — because she was afraid. She didn’t think about the fact that she was accusing God of lying, or about the fact that no one would believe her, or that she was making herself look like a fool. She was just afraid, so she made a stupid denial.
10 And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?
13 And the LORD said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? 14 Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son. 15 Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh. 16 And the men rose up from thence, and looked toward Sodom: and Abraham went with them to bring them on the way.
The Lord had told Abraham before that Sarah was going to have a son. He had even told him the son would be named Isaac, which means laughter.
It struck me that God knew what was in Sarah’s heart. He knew her fear and her lack of faith. Knowing all that, He told Abraham again about the son who would be born, knowing that Sarah would laugh and knowing she would then make a stupid denial.
God doesn’t cover up our sin. In fact, sometimes He works to bring our sinful attitudes right out in the open to be corrected.
Something else struck me about this. God could have preached a really good sermon here. As far as some preachers are concerned, God dropped the ball. He could have explained all the horrible heart issues that were behind Sarah’s laughter, and her stupid denial. He could have explained the ramifications of what she did, and how she was influencing Abraham and the servants badly. He could have gone on at length about all that was wrong with her, and He would have been right, too. He could have let her have it with all three barrels of His double-barrel shotgun (yes, a double-barrel shotgun only has two barrels, but some preachers, once they start firing their sermons, fire a lot more barrels than they actually have). For that matter, He could have made her write 10,000 times, “I will not make stupid denials.”
The Lord didn’t do that. He identified what she had done, and He refuted her stupid denial, but He didn’t belabour the point. God knew who was going to win this argument, and it wasn’t Sarah.
The Lord is gracious. He won the “argument” graciously — He gave Sarah a son, just as He had promised. If you find yourself doubting God’s gracious promises, you’re going to lose that argument, and you’ll rejoice when you do. This “argument” ended in Genesis 21:5-7:
And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him. And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me. And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age.
Indeed, who would have said that, Sarah? God did, of course, and so we all laugh, laughing with Sarah at how God turned her laughter of unbelief into the laughter of joy. The Lord is gracious, isn’t He?
God didn’t make excuses for Sarah, but He didn’t blast her with judgment — He blasted her with joy, blowing away her faithlessness and dishonesty with His own faithfulness and goodness. Truly, we have a gracious God!
Of course, God wasn’t done, not even yet, with Sarah. Her denials are gone as she embraces joyous laughter in remembering her unbelieving laughter. God has “won” the argument, and Sarah has acknowledged His faithfulness and goodness. It’s done, right? But if we fast forward two millenia, we see that God, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has something more to say about Sarah and this incident. We turn to I Peter 3:5-6:
For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.
Where did Sarah call Abraham “lord”? It only happens once in the Scriptural record, in Genesis 18:12:
Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?
God takes a horrible statement of unbelief, one for which He rebuked Sarah at the time, pulls out of it the one commendable word (the one showing a pattern of respect for her husband), and uses that single word as an example to be followed.
If I were preaching on that word, I would make disclaimers. “Now, don’t be unbelieving like Sarah was. Don’t be dishonest like Sarah was. Don’t call God a liar like Sarah did.” God doesn’t bother. In the last Scriptural word on this event, God grabs the good in Sarah’s statement and pays no notice at all to the rest of it. It’s as if the bad didn’t even happen.
I Corinthians 3 talks about our labours for the Lord being either gold, silver, and precious stones, or wood, hay, and stubble. Sometimes we focus too much on the wood, hay, and stubble burning up. Guess what? We aren’t going to be left grubbing around in a pile of ashes for all eternity.
Our God is a gracious God. He’s going to take the gold, even if it is just one little word in the middle of a wrong statement, one small nugget, and polish and fashion it. We’re going to spend eternity laughing for joy, laughing at the destruction of all of our stupid denials of His truth and mercy, at the joyful blasting away of all our sin by His grace and goodness, and at the way He has drawn gold and precious jewels out of the fire. Those treasures, small and too few though they may be, in His hand will become a beautiful masterpiece for His praise and glory. It isn’t redundant to say it again — our God is a gracious God!