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The Christadelphian | September 2012

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial Witnessing
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning “The persistent widow” | David M. Pearce
  • Book review: “A Time to …” (A Time to Hear, A Time to See, A Time to Speak) | Neville Moss
  • Preaching and welfare | Andrew J. Walker
  • The character of God 7 – Creator | Mark Buckler
  • “Lift up your heads” Australian Centenary Conference | Clive Wilson
  • Questions Jesus asks Questions of belief | Paul Aston
  • The Gospel of John & Psalm 119 | Nigel Bernard
  • “Sing forth the honour of His Name” Ten years of worship from the 2002 hymn book | John Botten
  • He who laughs last | Tom McCarthy
  • Signs of the times Britain and the Euro crisis
  • Israel and their land Romney’s support
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

He who laughs last

IT is an interesting and homely scene that comes to us from ancient times. A Philistine king looks out of a window and sees a man and a woman engaged in laughter-filled playfulness (Genesis 26:8). Without the scripture telling us this, we assume that they were in a garden. From the king’s point of view there is something wrong with what he has observed. The man and the woman are guests in his country and he has been told that they are brother and sister. But the happy intimacy that he is observing tells him that he has been lied to. They are not brother and sister: they are man and wife.

Reading of this many centuries later, we are privileged to discern in this something that was hidden from the eyes of Abimelech. When he looked through the window, he uncovered a lie. When we, as it were, join him at the window and observe the scene, we see something else. We see what perhaps is a prophecy of the kingdom, of Christ and his bride.

The records of the lives of the Patriarchs each have a key word. These key words relate to the experiences of these men, the significance of God’s dealings with them and His purpose for them. With Abraham it is seeing, with Jacob it is face, and with Joseph it is life. What of Isaac? What is the key word in his life? It is his name, Isaac, which means laughter. Isaac received his name as a result of the reaction of his father when he received in faith the things that his God told him:

“Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”(Genesis 15:5,6)

“As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be called Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee … and kings shall come out of thee.”(17:4-6)

The immensity of these promises is overwhelming. This is a new creation: “And I will make” is the promise. This is an act of God and Abraham’s new name is also his destiny. The uncountable seed that is yet to be born would consist of nations and kings. Not only so: of this multitude, many would acknowledge Abraham as father both in a natural and a spiritual sense. The ‘high father’ is going to be “Father of a multitude”. The eventual outcome of this can only mean one thing: Abraham would be an inheritor of the world (Romans 4:13).

How was it to be accomplished, this appointed destiny?

“And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her … and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her. Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?”(Genesis 17:15-17)

Deep within his being, Abraham considered all that he had been promised and the immensity of it:

“He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead because he was about a hundred years old, or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do as he had promised.” (Romans 4:19-21, RSV)

Imagine Abraham thinking all this through and believing it. He realised that in God’s hands time meant nothing, age meant nothing, disability was of no consequence, and the natural order of things could be altered in whatever way God wished. And the result of his conviction was that he laughed. And as he laughed, he fell on his face. What a marvellous scene: worshipping through laughter. This was no ordinary laughter; this was the highest and best kind of laughter, the laughter of the final triumph of faith. And as he laughs he says, “Shall Sarah that is ninety years old bear?” Already he is using her new name: Sarai, the highly regarded one has now become a princess – Sarah.

Initially Sarah laughed too. It was the laughter of incredulity, born possibly of womanly practicality when she considered her body, as good as dead (Genesis 18:12-15). But faith eventually entered the picture and with a conviction that matched her husband’s she joyously brought forth the promised seed (Hebrews 11:11):

“Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken unto him. And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare unto him, Isaac.”(Genesis 21:2,3)

She too used her new name in speaking of this miraculous and joyous event:

“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.” (verses 6,7; see Isaiah 54:1; Galatians 4:27)

We notice that she uses the plural “children” as the result of the birth of this one child. She now also believes the promise that from her and Abraham would come an untold multitude.

We return now to the scene in Genesis 26:

“Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife.” (verse 8)

The word translated “sporting” is the verbal form of Isaac’s name ‘laughter’. Most translations opt for giving a physical meaning to this word, but we wonder whether the NEB is not correct when it states that Abimelech saw Isaac and Rebekah laughing together. This is the essence of the matter. Whatever Abimelech observed from his window, the tender and intimate encounter that he observed had at its core the kind of laughter that can only occur between a man and his bride. From the depths of the internal reactions of Abraham and Sarah that produced laughter, we have moved to an historic, external public laughter from the one who is the fruit of their faith in God’s promise and ability to fulfil that promise. Because of their faith a man is laughing with his bride, and from this tender scene we may perhaps see a picture of Christ rejoicing with his bride. And if the suggestion is correct, that what Abimelech saw took place in a garden, then the picture becomes even more attractive.

All through the centuries the faithful who believe God’s promises have waited. Like their father Abraham, they have believed that what is impossible with men is always possible with God. The fruit of their faithfulness will be rewarded when they too join the child of promise in laughter-filled happiness.

But before that happens, there is pain to be endured. There is so much human laughter that is born of mockery, ridicule and hatred. In these days the Creator is ordered out of His universe and His word and those who believe in Him are ridiculed. Psalms 14 and 53 begin with the words, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God”. It is deeply significant that both psalms end with the words, “Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad”. Could there be any greater contrast in terms of destiny? The unbelieving fool has no future and his laughter will die with him. The laughter of Isaac and Rebekah sprang from adoring love, born of a promised destiny awaiting fulfilment. They and those who share their hope will indeed be the ones who laugh last.

“Blessed are ye that hunger now; for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.” (Luke 6:21)

“When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.” (Psalm 126:1,2)

Tom McCarthy

 

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