The reason God, upset by Sarah’s laughter when she learned that she
would have a baby boy when she like Abraham was old, asked him why Sarah
had laughed, although when Abraham had laughed, that He did not seem to be
upset, should not suggest God’s attitude to females is than that to men unfairer.
The actual reason God asked Abraham why Sarah laughed, is that He wondered
why he had not told Sarah she would bear his second son, communicating badly.
Such bad communication between some Bible’s spouses was perhaps why many blundered,
like us when we fail to communicate with spouses, just like Abraham, double dadly.
Gen. 18:12-13 states:
יב וַתִּצְחַק שָׂרָה, בְּקִרְבָּהּ לֵאמֹר: אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי הָיְתָה-לִּי עֶדְנָה, וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן. 12 And Sarah laughed within herself, saying: ‘After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?’
יג וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, אֶל-אַבְרָהָם: לָמָּה זֶּה צָחֲקָה שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר, הַאַף אֻמְנָם אֵלֵד–וַאֲנִי זָקַנְתִּי. 13 And the LORD said unto Abraham: ‘Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying: Shall I of a surety bear a child, who am old?
The reason God asks this question is because He is asking Abraham why he did not communicate the laughter-inducing news to Sarah. Gen. 17:17 states:
יז וַיִּפֹּל אַבְרָהָם עַל-פָּנָיו, וַיִּצְחָק; וַיֹּאמֶר בְּלִבּוֹ, הַלְּבֶן מֵאָה-שָׁנָה יִוָּלֵד, וְאִם-שָׂרָה, הֲבַת-תִּשְׁעִים שָׁנָה תֵּלֵד. 17 Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart: ‘Shall a child be born unto him that is a hundred years old? And shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, deliver a child?
My explanation suggests that God was angry with Abraham when Sarah laughed, providing a new gloss on Rashi’s explanation of Gen. 17:17. Rashi explains that God is angry with Sarah because her laughter was based on lack of faith in God, whereas Abraham’s laughter was based on the joy that the good news inspired. I suggest however that God indeed does become angry with Abraham when Sarah laughs, because her laughter implies that he had not shared the good news with her, an omission mentioned by both Nahmanides and Rabbenu Bahya ben Asher (see “Sarah, Afraid of Abraham, Denies Laughing,” thetorah.com, by Tammi J. Schneider). This foreshadows Abraham’s failure to share with her his intention to sacrifice their son at the aqedah, a grim realization that may have caused her death, by grieving not just for the loss of Isaac’s life – which finally never occurred – but also due to Abraham’s failure to communicate with her, his wife and mother of his son.
Rashi in fact may have wanted to point out that the biblical text makes this ominous hint to the potentiality of the premature death of Sarah’s son at the same time that God records the prediction of his birth in Gen. 17:19. After God tells Abraham that Sarah will have a son, and he laughs, God uses an ambivalent word, aval, to him:
יט וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, אֲבָל שָׂרָה אִשְׁתְּךָ יֹלֶדֶת לְךָ בֵּן, וְקָרָאתָ אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, יִצְחָק; וַהֲקִמֹתִי אֶת-בְּרִיתִי אִתּוֹ לִבְרִית עוֹלָם, לְזַרְעוֹ אַחֲרָיו. 19 And God said: Aval, verily, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son; and thou shalt call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his seed after him.
The word אֲבָל, aval, not only means “verily,” but can also be read as evel, mourning, implying that God is telling Abraham that he will have a son whose life will end before his own, making him a mourner. Rashi explains:
אבל. לְשׁוֹן אֲמִתַּת דְּבָרִים, וְכֵן אֲבָל אֲשֵׁמִים אֲנַחְנוּ (בראשית מ”ב), אֲבָל בֵּן אֵין לָהּ (מלכים ב ד’):
אבל Verily — This word implies confirmation of a statement, just as (Genesis 42:21) “Verily (אבל) we are guilty”, and (2 Kings 4:14) “Verily (אבל) she has no son”.
The second verse that Rashi quotes to explain this verse supports the link—-one that I point out in my book Legal Friction—– between the prediction of the birth of Isaac, whose near-death in the aqedah is prevented by God after having been pronounced by angels, and the prediction by Elisha to the ‘old’ Shunammite woman of the birth of a son. The two stories line up: angels had also predicted the birth of Sarah’ son, and both would be resurrected as if from death.. 2 Kings 4:14 states:
יד וַיֹּאמֶר, וּמֶה לַעֲשׂוֹת לָהּ; וַיֹּאמֶר גֵּיחֲזִי, אֲבָל בֵּן אֵין-לָהּ–וְאִישָׁהּ זָקֵן. 14 And he said: ‘What then is to be done for her?’ And Gehazi answered: ‘“Verily she hath no son, and her husband is old.”
Indeed, it is possible that Ps. 2:4-7 alludes to the laughter of both Abraham and Sarah when they were informed by God and by angels that Sarah would deliver a son to Abaham, and that verse 7 links the Psalmist, David, to Isaac, יצחק, the prediction of whose birth provoked the laughter of both Abraham and Sarah — who were ancestors of David — to whom verse 4 alludes by name with the word יִשְׂחָק, yishaq, meaning “will laugh.”
Ps. 2:4-7 states:
ד יוֹשֵׁב בַּשָּׁמַיִם יִשְׂחָק: אֲדֹנָי, יִלְעַג-לָמוֹ. 4 He that sitteth in heaven yishaq, will laugh, the Lord will hold them in derision.
ה אָז יְדַבֵּר אֵלֵימוֹ בְאַפּוֹ; וּבַחֲרוֹנוֹ יְבַהֲלֵמוֹ. 5 Then will He speak unto them in His wrath, and affright them in His sore displeasure:
ו וַאֲנִי, נָסַכְתִּי מַלְכִּי: עַל-צִיּוֹן, הַר-קָדְשִׁי. 6 ‘Truly it is I that have established My king upon Zion, My holy mountain.’
ז אֲסַפְּרָה, אֶל-חֹק: יְהוָה, אָמַר אֵלַי בְּנִי אַתָּה–אֲנִי, הַיּוֹם יְלִדְתִּיךָ. 7 I will tell of the decree: the LORD said unto me: ‘Thou art My son, this day have I begotten thee.
God’s laughter expressed in verse 4 suggests that the Psalmist, King David, claims that God derides people who laugh about His predictions, as in verse 7 of the rebirth of the Davidic dynasty, implying that this skepticism echoes that of Sarah when she laughed about the prediction of the birth of Isaac.