The Laughter of Isaac
Isaac is one of the most engaging figures in Holy Scripture, probably because he is the most associated with the exuberance of laughter. Isaac was named for laughter, in fact, because that name, formed from the verbal root shq, literally means “he will laugh.” It is ever a marvel and a grace, for sure, to hear a little infant laugh, and I confess, for my part, a preference for the view that babies, when they come to earth, bring along with them the laughter of the angels.
In the birth of Isaac, however, the circumstances attendant on his unexpected appearance in this world afforded an even ampler ground for mirth. No one felt this better than his mother, Sarah, who conceived him at the age of 89, and the happy laconism that she delivered, right after delivering her son, was smartly to the point: “God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me” (Genesis 21:6).
Truth to tell, the laughter had begun already, a year and more before. Abraham, when first he heard the tidings, bent himself upon the earth, prostrate in a solemn posture of devotion. The gravity of his reverence, however, and the deep mood indicated by his downward frame, were more than faintly muted by the smile that formed around his mouth. How should a 99-year-old man respond, after all, on being told, with respect to his 89-year-old wife, “I will bless her and also give you a son by her” (17:16)? Unfamiliar with a better rule for how to receive this sort of information, “Abraham fell on his face and laughed” (17:17).
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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