No Laughing Matter

Laughing Statues

Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom” (James 4:9).

In the verse above, James contrasted two different attitudes that people have toward God – one of careless joy, the other of sober humility. The inspired writer was clear in showing which attitude we are to have before God. We are not to take something lightly when the Lord wants us to consider it soberly.

We sometimes label a condition, situation, or event as being “no laughing matter” when someone is taking a light-hearted approach to a serious matter. There are a few occasions in the Bible when this reminder would have been helpful as there were those who took lightly the promises, instructions, or warnings of God. In this article, we are going to consider five of these examples and notice what all of them have in common.

Sarah Laughed at the Promise of a Son

Then they said to him, ‘Where is Sarah your wife?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ He said, ‘I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?’ And the Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, saying, “Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?” Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.’ Sarah denied it however, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. And He said, ‘No, but you did laugh’” (Genesis 18:9-15).

Sarah laughed when she heard that she would have a son. Her skepticism was understandable. After all, both Sarah and Abraham were “old, advanced in age” and she “was past childbearing” (Genesis 18:11). In fact, earlier when Abraham was first told the promise of Sarah having a son, he “fell on his face and laughed” (Genesis 17:17). It is reasonable to assume that Sarah could have heard of the promise from Abraham after that.

When we get to Genesis 18, Abraham and Sarah had two different reactions. “Sarah laughed to herself” (Genesis 18:12), but Abraham did not. So while Abraham’s initial shock at the news turned into belief in God’s promise, Sarah still reacted with laughter, indicating disbelief in the promise. This seems to be the reason why, when confronted about laughing, she “denied it” and was ashamed of her reaction (Genesis 18:15).

Lot’s Sons-in-Law Thought He Was Jesting about the City’s Destruction

Then the two men said to Lot, ‘Whom else have you here? A son-in-law, and your sons, and your daughters, and whomever you have in the city, bring them out of the place; for we are about to destroy this place, because their outcry has become so great before the Lord that the Lord has sent us to destroy it.’ Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, and said, ‘Up, get out of this place, for the Lord will destroy the city.’ But he appeared to his sons-in-law to be jesting” (Genesis 19:12-14).

On one hand, if we think about this from the perspective of the sons-in-law, it may have seemed unbelievable that Sodom was going to be destroyed. However, there was more to this than just the warning that Lot gave them. There had just been an attack on Lot’s house which led to the men of the city being stricken blind (Genesis 19:4-11). The text indicates that Lot “went out” to them (Genesis 19:14), implying that they may have been part of the mob or at least outside to witness all of this. However, despite what they had witnessed and their relationship with Lot’s daughters, they were unwilling to side with him, choosing instead to believe he was merely joking.

The Tribes Mocked the Thought of Re-instituting the Passover

Now Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the Lord at Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover to the Lord God of Israel. […] So they established a decree to circulate a proclamation throughout all Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, that they should come to celebrate the Passover to the Lord God of Israel at Jerusalem. For they had not celebrated it in great numbers as it was prescribed. […] So the couriers passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them” (2 Chronicles 30:1, 5, 10).

By this time, the observance of the Passover had been neglected by the Israelites: “They had not celebrated it in great numbers as it was prescribed” (2 Chronicles 30:5). Yet this was part of God’s law (Deuteronomy 16:1-3) and should have been observed. The messengers from Hezekiah declared that this was to be done so that they could enjoy God’s favor: “For if you return to the Lord, your brothers and your sons will find compassion before those who led them captive and will return to this land. For the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate, and will not turn His face away from you if you return to Him” (2 Chronicles 30:9).

However, even though the Law of Moses instructed them to observe the Passover and there was a promise of God’s blessings if they did, the majority rejected the invitation: “So the couriers passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them” (2 Chronicles 30:10). Though there were some who “humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 30:11), most disregarded the call to re-institute the Passover as if it were some kind of joke.

The People Mocked the Warning about Captivity

The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, until there was no remedy” (2 Chronicles 36:15-16).

The Jews were God’s people (Deuteronomy 7:6) and Jerusalem was His city (Deuteronomy 12:5); however, that did not mean that the people could not go into captivity and the city be destroyed. The sequence of events that would lead to the captivity of God’s people had already started (2 Chronicles 36:5-7, 9-10).

Yet God, in His compassion, warned about the Babylonians coming: “The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place” (2 Chronicles 30:15). Yet they had already rejected God, being “very unfaithful and following all the abominations of the nations” (2 Chronicles 30:14). Therefore, they would not listen, choosing instead to make fun of the prophets who warned them from God.

The People Laughed at Jesus for Saying Jairus’ Daughter Was Only Asleep

And there came a man named Jairus, and he was an official of the synagogue; and he fell at Jesus’ feet, and began to implore Him to come to his house; for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, and she was dying. But as He went, the crowds were pressing against Him. […] While He was still speaking, someone came from the house of the synagogue official, saying, ‘Your daughter has died; do not trouble the Teacher anymore.’ But when Jesus heard this, He answered him, ‘Do not be afraid any longer; only believe, and she will be made well.’ When He came to the house, He did not allow anyone to enter with Him, except Peter and John and James, and the girl’s father and mother. Now they were all weeping and lamenting for her; but He said, ‘Stop weeping, for she has not died, but is asleep.’ And they began laughing at Him, knowing that she had died” (Luke 8:41-42, 49-53).

The condition of this man’s daughter may have seemed hopeless as “she was dying” (Luke 8:42). However, Jesus had shown the ability to perform miracles (Luke 8:39-40; cf. John 5:36; Acts 2:22). Because of this, Jairus came to Jesus in the hopes that He could make her well.

When Jesus came to this man’s house, Jesus said, “Stop weeping, for she has not died, but is asleep” (Luke 8:52), suggesting that she would awaken (or be awakened). There were also other times in which Jesus spoke of death as temporary (John 5:28-29; 11:11, 13). However, the mourners who were present did not have this concept. So they laughed at Jesus.

Everything That Was Laughed at Came to Pass

Interestingly, in each of these examples, the promise, warning, or instruction that was mocked, ridiculed, or flippantly dismissed came to pass.

  • Sarah had a son – “Then the Lord took note of Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had promised. So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac” (Genesis 21:1-3).
  • Sodom was destroyed – “The sun had risen over the earth when Lot came to Zoar. Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground” (Genesis 19:23-25).
  • The Passover was re-instituted – “Now many people were gathered at Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the second month, a very large assembly. […] Then they slaughtered the Passover lambs on the fourteenth of the second month. And the priests and Levites were ashamed of themselves, and consecrated themselves and brought burnt offerings to the house of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 30:13, 15).
  • Jerusalem was conquered – “Therefore He brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or infirm; He gave them all into his hand. All the articles of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his officers, he brought them all to Babylon. Then they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burned all its fortified buildings with fire and destroyed all its valuable articles. Those who had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and to his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it kept sabbath until seventy years were complete” (2 Chronicles 36:17-21).
  • Jairus’ daughter was raised from the dead – “He, however, took her by the hand and called, saying, ‘Child, arise!’ And her spirit returned, and she got up immediately; and He gave orders for something to be given her to eat” (Luke 8:54-55).

Even though all of these would have seemed unbelievable before they happened, they each occurred as God said they would.

What These Examples Have in Common

All of these examples were of people who lacked faith in God and His word. In each of the examples, they did not believe what God revealed to them – either to embrace the promise, to heed the warning, or to obey the command. Each time, God showed that He keeps His promises, punishes those who are disobedient, and rewards those who are faithful.

Paul wrote, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). These examples are in the Bible for our benefit. We should learn from the sins and shortcomings of those we have considered and have faith in God. Let us believe God’s promises, heed His warnings, and obey His word.

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  1. Very good lessons drawn from these examples, Andy. Men today continue to do what men have done down through the centuries; they do not believe God when He has spoken and they “laugh” at His word in disobedience. Thanks for a thought provoking article.

  2. Great article! (I only laughed once, and that was at the picture at the top, so that doesn’t count — grin)