They named him laughter... kinda

Abraham and Sarah waited a long time for a child of their own. When the little guy finally became part of their family, Abraham was at least 100 years old and Sarah was more than 90 years old. So of course, they named him Isaac. Isaac means "he laughs," and to be fair, it is kind of funny.

They'd been laughing about it for a while. Abraham laughed first, in Genesis 17:17, when God told him that his 90 year old wife was going to have a baby. It says he fell on his face and laughed. Duh. If I was Abraham, I'd laugh just to keep from crying. He's 100 years old for goodness sake.

Just the thought of it. So weird.

A chapter later, in Genesis 18:12, Sarah laughed when she heard the news. Again, I don't blame her. The whole thing is terrifying.

I love the Internet.

When Isaac is born, Sarah says in Genesis 21:6, "God has made laughter for me. Anyone who hears will laugh over me." This word will follow Isaac around for the rest of his life, and not just because it's his name.

Later, after Isaac has married, he travels to the land of the Philistines (Genesis 26). He's worried that some of the local boys will take a liking to his wife Rebekah and kill him, so he claims she's his sister. His dad also tried this a couple of times in Genesis 12 and Genesis 20. Isaac is found out, though, in Genesis 26:8 when the king of the land looks out his window and sees Isaac and Rebekah, well... acting in a manner not appropriate for brothers and sisters. A lot of translations say he saw Isaac fondling Rebekah, or maybe caressing Rebekah. My favorite is the King James Version, which says he saw Isaac sporting with Rebekah. Like shirts and skins, I guess?

What's interesting about this verse is that the verb is actually from the same word on which Isaac's name is based. The verb "to laugh." The king caught Isaac Isaac-ing Rebekah. You see, the word can mean something more than laugh. It can also mean to joke, amuse, or play, and even, dare I say it, to play around with, i.e., fondle. That seems to be what's going on here. The English Standard Version sticks with laughing in this passage, which seems a poor choice. In the very next verse the king confronts Isaac and says, "She is your wife!" I'm not convinced that laughing with her would have given this away. Whatever they were doing, it convinced the king that Isaac and Rebekah were certainly not brother and sister.

Remember when you found out they were brother and sister? Icky.

The word shows up again in Isaac's story, but we have to go back to when he was a child. On the day Isaac was weaned, Genesis 21:9 says that Sarah saw Ishmael playing with Isaac. Wait. We haven't talked about Ishmael. Let me back up. When Abraham and Sarah didn't have any kids yet, Sarah thought it would be a good idea for Abraham to have a baby with her servant woman. That way there would be offspring. Abraham and the servant woman, Hagar, were the parents of Ishmael.

So back to the story. Sarah saw Ishmael playing with her son Isaac and she didn't like that one bit. She asked Abraham to give Ishmael and his mom the boot. The important word here is "playing." In Hebrew, as you may have guessed, it's that same word again. Some translations say making fun or poking fun. Others say mocking. The ESV sticks with laughing again (they're nothing if not consistent). So Ishmael was being mean to Isaac? Maybe. The slave boy was playing with the master's child and Sarah didn't like it? Could be. But are either of those actions punishable by exile? I guess Abraham and Sarah make the rules, but it seems a little harsh.

What if Sarah saw Ishmael Isaac-ing Isaac? The same way the king saw Isaac Isaac-ing Rebekah? That might explain why Sarah wanted them both gone.

It's really difficult to say what is going on in this verse. There are other issues with the Hebrew of Genesis 21:9 we haven't discussed, but that's for another day. I just think it's important to acknowledge something so easily missed in our translations. After all, the Bible wasn't written in English.

Comments

  1. Oh my WG! Like I wasn't confused enough about "contradictions" in the bible. Your posts make me want to get ANOTHER degree. I want one in theology. This is so interesting to me, but as a literature minor, I have my doubts about the written word. The good thing is, I have faith in the Lord. I trust Him. Otherwise, if I only depended on the bible, I would be LOST. Clear as mud?

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    1. Thanks for reading. As far as this post, I don't really see any "contradictions," just some translation issues with which I think we should be familiar.

      Bibliolotry is a word being thrown around a lot these days. Still not sure how I feel about the concept, but it's important to be aware of how people are using this word these days.

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  2. I kind of felt like Harry in dumb and dumber just staring stupidly into the screen like what. First I was like alright I am so isaac-ing Beau later but then I was like maybe isaac-ing isn't actually a good thing and well his brothers name is Isaac so that would make for some awkward times. By the way Genesis was like a total soap opera. Raunchy prime time tv

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    1. When your late to the party, and you realize what's so funny...

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    2. Thanks for reading and commenting. Always helpful to see what people think of this stuff.

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