Genesis 18:13 Commentary - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
SARAH REPROVED FOR HER UNBELIEF
Gen 18:13-14. And the Lord said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? Is any thing too hard for the Lord? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.
THERE is no time, no situation, no circumstance wherein We are not in danger of falling into sin. Whether we be in good company or in bad, we have need to be on our guard against the influence of our indwelling corruption. We may be engaged in the most sacred duties, and yet be assaulted by the most horrible temptations: we may be performing the kindest offices to others, or be receiving the most important instructions from them; and the things which in their own nature tended only to good, may through the depravity of our hearts become occasions of sin.
Abraham and Sarah were occupied in a way truly pleasing to God. The aged Patriarch, seeing three strangers at a distance, ran and invited them to his tent; and having brought them thither, gave immediate directions for their hospitable entertainment. He desired his wife to make ready some cakes; and ran himself and fetched a young calf from the herd; and, when it was dressed, he set it with butter and milk before them. In this he is proposed as a pattern to us; and we are told for our encouragement that “he entertained angels unawares.” No doubt, Sarah also performed her part with as much alacrity as Abraham himself: yet behold, the very kindness with which her hospitality was rewarded, called forth the latent evil of her heart; and occasioned her to commit a sin, which brought down upon her a severe rebuke.
We propose to consider,
The reproof given to Sarah—
Sarah, occupied in her domestic engagements, was not present while these illustrious strangers partook of the refreshment provided for them: but, being close at hand, she overheard the inquiries made after her, and the assurance given to Abraham that she should bear him a son. Not able to credit these tidings, she “laughed within herself.” But the Lord (for he was one of the guests in human shape) knew what passed in her heart, and testified his displeasure on account of it. In his reproof, we notice,
A just expostulation—
[Sin of every kind is unreasonable; but unbelief in particular: because it questions every perfection of the Deity, and contradicts all the records both of his providence and grace. However secret may be its actings, or however specious its appearances, God will not fail to notice and reprove it. Sarah might have said, that she had done nothing but what Abraham himself had done, the very last time that the divine purpose respecting a son had been announced to him [Note: Gen 17:17.]: but though the external act of laughing was the same both in her and in him, the principle from which it sprang was widely different: Abraham’s was a laugh of admiration and joy; Sarah’s was a laugh of unbelief and distrust. But instead of attempting to extenuate her fault, she denied the fact altogether. Alas! how awfully prolific is sin! it never comes alone: it generally brings a multitude of others to justify or conceal it. But it is in vain to cover our iniquities: God sees through the cobweb veil, and will charge upon us the aggravated guilt which we thus foolishly contract. And sooner or later he will call every one of us to account, ‘Wherefore we did so or so?’ and especially, ‘Wherefore we disbelieved his word?’]
A convincing interrogatory—
[Unbelief has not respect so much to the veracity, as to the power of God. “He has given water indeed, but can he give bread also; can he provide flesh for his people?” Even Moses doubted how God could supply the Israelites with flesh in the wilderness, since it would require all the flocks and herds that they possessed, to feed them one single month [Note: Num 11:22.]. But God has given abundant evidence of his power, so that no apparent impossibilities ought at all to shake the steadfastness of our faith. Did he not form the universe out of nothing, by a simple act of his will? Did he not give laws to all the heavenly bodies; and does he not still preserve them in their orbits? Does he not also supply the wants of every living creature upon earth? Is he not moreover the true and proper Father of all who are born into the world, and especially “the Father of their spirits?” How absurd then was it to suppose, that her age, together with that of her husband, was any effectual obstacle to the accomplishment of God’s word? “Can any thing be too hard for the Lord?” One moment’s reflection on his omnipotence should banish unbelief from the heart for ever.]
A reiterated assurance—
[It is most humiliating to think what a necessity our unbelief imposes upon God to repeat and renew his promises to us: and the earnestness with which the promise so often given, is here repeated, shews the just displeasure which Sarah’s unbelief had excited in the bosom of her God. We cannot indeed but be filled with amazement that he did not rather say, ‘Since you treat my promises with profane derision, you shall never be made a partaker of them.’ But God well knows the weakness of the human heart; and therefore, in condescension to it, he has confirmed his promise with an oath, that we might have the fuller assurance, and the stronger consolation [Note: Heb 6:17-18.]. It is thus that he tenderly reproved the church of old; “Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, saying, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding [Note: Isa 40:27-28. Then see the additional promises, 29–31. See also Isa 49:13-16.].” Were he to suffer our unbelief to make void His truth, no one of his promises would ever be fulfilled. But he has assured us that this shall not be the case [Note: Rom 3:3-4 with 2Ti 2:13.]. If any thing will put to shame our unbelief, surely this must. Such tenderness cannot but prevail upon us more forcibly than ten thousand menaces.]
While we contemplate the reproof so long since administered, let us consider,
The instruction to be gathered from it—
In truth, it sets before us many an instructive lesson. Amongst many others, it teaches us,
What need we have to guard against the workings of unbelief—
[Sarah, fifteen years before, had betrayed her unbelief, in giving her servant Hagar into Abraham’s bosom, in order that she might obtain through her the child which she despaired of obtaining in her own person. She had waited ten years, and began to think, that the promise would fail, if she did not resort to such an expedient as this [Note: Similar to this was Rebekah’s policy, Gen 27:6-10.]. And though she had been deservedly punished for her unbelief by the petulance and contempt of Hagar, and by the workings of envy and wrath in her own heart, yet she still yielded to the same evil principle as soon as a fresh occasion for its exercise arose. It is astonishing what deep root this malignant principle has taken in our fallen nature. From the moment that our first parents questioned the fulfilment of that word, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” man has been prone to doubt the veracity of God. There is not a promise or a threatening, to which we do not find some objections, and some fancied ground for doubting its accomplishment. If we do not directly contradict the declarations of God, we still entertain a secret suspicion, that they will not be verified. But let us be on our guard: for though the sin of unbelief is but small in human estimation, it is exceedingly offensive to God, and will, if allowed to gain an entire ascendency over us, assuredly exclude us from his heavenly kingdom [Note: Heb 3:19; Heb 4:11.].]
How ready God is to mark the good that is in our actions, while he casts a veil over the evil with which it is accompanied—
[At the very time that Sarah yielded to unbelief, she exercised a reverential regard for her husband: and though our duty to man is certainly inferior to our duty to God, God has passed over in silence the unbelief she betrayed, and recorded with peculiar approbation the terms in which she spake of Abraham: “After I am waxed old, shall I have pleasure, my Lord being old also?” St. Peter, I say, records this, and proposes her as a pattern to all married women; saying, “In this manner in the old time the holy women who trusted in God adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands; even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him Lord.” We see in the Scriptures many instances wherein God has manifested the same condescension to his frail and sinful creatures. In the reproof which our blessed Lord gave to Peter, he acknowledged that he had a little faith, at the very time that he had been yielding to unbelieving fears. And because there was some good thing towards the Lord God of Israel in the heart of young Abijah, God was pleased to distinguish him from all the family of Jeroboam by giving to him a peaceful death, and an honourable interment [Note: 1Ki 14:13.]. This is a great encouragement to us amidst all the weakness that we feel: and we may be assured that if, on the one hand, the evils of our heart will be disclosed, so, on the other hand, there is not a good purpose or inclination that shall not be made manifest, in order that every one may have his due proportion of praise from God [Note: 1Co 4:5.].]
What a mercy it is to have our secret sins detected and reproved—
[From this time we hear no more of Sarah’s unbelief: on the contrary, the reproof given her on this occasion was effectual for the confirming and establishing her faith. In the account given of the most eminent Saints who were distinguished for their faith, Sarah herself is mentioned; and her faith is said to have been instrumental to the accomplishment of that very promise, which in the first instance she had disbelieved [Note: Heb 11:11-12.]. And how many have found similar reason to bless God for the fidelity of their friends, or for the inward rebukes of their own conscience! Had their sin passed without notice, they had lived and died under its dominion: but by a timely discovery of it they have been led to repentance, and stirred up to the exercise of the virtue they had overlooked. Let us then “in any wise rebuke our brother, and not suffer sin upon him.” And let us be studious to improve the instructions we receive, that we may be radically amended by them, and “make our profiting appear unto all.”]
How essential to our best interests is a right knowledge of God—
[Had Sarah duly adverted to the omnipotence of God, she had escaped the shame and the reproof which her unbelief drew down upon her. And what is it that is really at the root of all our sin? Is it not an ignorance of God? If we duly considered how great he is, should we not be afraid to provoke his displeasure? If we reflected properly on his goodness, should we not be shamed into a sense of our duty? If we were mindful of his truth and faithfulness, should we not expect the certain completion of every word that he has ever spoken? We are told, that the Jews “would not have crucified the Lord of Glory if they had really known him:” in like manner we may say of every sin we commit, We should not have committed it, if we had known what a God we sinned against. Let us then endeavour to obtain just views of God, and of all his perfections. Let us not limit either his power or his grace: but knowing him to be “God Almighty, let us walk before him, and be perfect [Note: Gen 17:1.].”]
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Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
Charles Simeon (1759 - 1836) was an English evangelical Anglican cleric.
Horae Homileticae reflects the rich source of Biblical understanding of Simeon, a towering figure in the history of evangelical theology.