[The Lord said] “Where is Sarah your wife?” So he [Abraham] said, “Here, in the tent.” And He said, “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.” (Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him.) Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh!” (Gen.18:9-15)
Abraham had been promised a son through his wife Sarah, and he also laughed.
Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Gen.17:17)
A fascinating snatch of ancient history, recorded for us due to its importance. But compare this with the following, from Heb.11:11
Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.
Why is Sarah picked out here? Abraham laughed with joy, but Sarah laughed in incredulity. Did she judge God faithful who had promised? There is no problem here, as long as we look into the Greek of the word “conceive”. It is KATABALLO, a most inappropriate word for “conceive”. It means “throwing down”. The proper word for conceive is found in Matthew 1:20, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit,” where it is GENNAO.
So why do the translators, almost without exception, decide upon KATABALLO to mean conceive? It’s a pity because they lost the whole point of what the writer was saying. Sarah never had faith to receive strength to conceive. In fact she laughed in unbelief. But AFTER she found herself pregnant, her whole outlook changed. It was then that she needed faith to receive STRENGTH. What for? To DELIVER THE CHILD. That is exactly what is being stated here. This 90 year old woman needed God’s help at the time of delivery, and the word KATABALLO is exactly suited. Hebrew women gave birth in a standing or squatting position, above a hole hollowed out of the ground. On either side of the hole were bricks or stones for the woman to stand on. She was supported at her back and under her arms by other women, either midwives or family members. In this way, helped by gravity, the child would be expelled, “thrown down”, and caught by one of the attendant midwives. Hence the verb KATABALLO.
It is strange that the custom for modern western women became that of lying on a bed, whereby no such help comes either from the use of abdominal muscles, or from gravity. In Australia, as I understand, women prefer the standing or kneeling position. Typical of Aussies, they refer to it as “Stand and deliver!”
And so Abraham and Sarah had the promised son at last, and almost humorously named him Isaac (Yitzak) meaning “laughter” !
As a footnote here, in Isa.26:18 the prophet says, We have been with child, we have been in pain; We have, as it were, brought forth wind; We have not accomplished any deliverance in the earth, Nor have the inhabitants of the world fallen. The expositor MAURER explains “fallen,” according to Arabic idiom, of the birth of a child, which is said to fall when being born.
Another example is found in 1Sa 4:19 at the birth of Ichabod. Now his daughter-in-law, Phinehas’ wife, was with child, due to be delivered; and when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and gave birth, for her labor pains came upon her. The words “bowed herself” refer to the position she took for parturition.
In this number, I have tried to emulate the style of “Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes”, by Kenneth Bailey.SPCK. 2008. A book so full of local tradition and practice that I cannot do without it.