Genesis 19:29–38

1929 When God destroyed the cities of the plain, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot away from the disaster that overtook each town in which Lot settled. 30 Lot headed up from Zoar and settled with his two daughters in the high country. Lot and his two daughters dwelt in a cave. 31 The firstborn daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there are no men in the land to come to bed as befits the way of all the earth! 32 Come, let us give our father wine to drink and lie with him, so we may keep our father’s seed alive.” 33 That night they gave their father wine, and the older daughter went in and lay with her father, and he knew not when she lay down or arose. 34 The next day the firstborn said to the younger, “Last night I lay with my father. Let’s serve him wine tonight too, and you go in and lie with him so that we will both keep our father’s seed alive.” 35 They served their father wine that night as well, and the younger daughter lay with him, and he knew not when she lay down or arose. 36 Both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. 37 The firstborn daughter gave birth to a son and named him Moab; he is the tribal-father of today’s Moabites. 38 The younger daughter also bore a son and named him Ben-Ammi; he is the tribal-father of today’s Ammonites.

It is now confirmed that YHWH’s concern for Lot was based less on Lot’s basic hospitality than on Abraham’s hospitality of abundance. It is suggested, in elliptical fashion, that Lot moved from small town to small town as they fell apart following a deluge of stinking fire. Eventually, Lot and his daughters ended up where the messengers had first directed him—the high wilderness away from cities. Lot now returns from whence he came, but without all the resources he initially took to the Plain.

From working his way into the city and culture of Sodom, Lot finds himself living in a cave. This man of the city has lost his drive. He no longer flourished off the land but has retreated beneath it—already dead while still breathing.

If Lot has lost his will, his daughter take matters in their own hands. They need more bodies for the basics of living in a wilderness. Being away from others, the only practical avenue open is that of incest. Though readers may come up with other options, the daughters do not. They speak of their actions as a keeping Lot alive (perpetuating his “seed”), not of lust.

The plan to “lie” with Lot comes close, here, to the act of rape. The actual intercourse is phrased in asexual terms, befitting an unconscious Lot.

The daughters’ plan worked. They become pregnant. The subsequent children were named Moab and Ben-Ammi. Over time they develop into nations—the Moabites and the Ammonites.

The people in Abraham’s line will find their relations with Moab will wax and wane. Moab will be the place where Moses looked at a Canaan he did not enter and Ruth, a Moabite, is an ancestress of king David. The Ammonites lived north of the Moabites and Edom (later from Esau, lived south of the Moabites. These are the highlands east of the Jordan River (reminiscent of being east of Eden). Canaan/Israel lies west of the Jordan. There are a variety of connections and relations through the generations. Readers could spend hours investigating the various branches of the extended family tree and their interactions.

Genesis 19:23–28

1923 As the sun rose over the earth, Lot arrived in Zoar; 24 and the YHWH rained brimstone and fire from the skies upon Sodom and Gomorrah. 25 YHWH destroyed these cities, all the plain, everyone who settled in the cities, and all that came from the soil. 26 Lot’s wife looked back; she became a pillar of salt.
     27 Soon after sunrise, Abraham came to the place where he had stood with YHWH,28 and looked out over Sodom and Gomorrah and over all the land of the plain. He saw dense-smoke rise from the land like the dense-smoke from a kiln.

Lot and what was left of his family arrive in Zoar at a time of sunrise. Barring a miraculous conveyance, this is chronologically a day or two later. There was time to wonder if it has been wise to depart so hurriedly and to leave so much substance behind.

When Lot and family finally arrived in Zoar, YHWH looses fire and brimstone from the heavens through a break in the latest vault protecting the order of our experienced world from the waste of nothingness. A rain of burning stones reverses and buries all that had arisen from the soil—creation reversed. Image here a saltshaker transformed into a volcano and vigorously applied to the area. Burning sulfur all around—no exceptions, no escape.

This is a second deluge, not wiping out the entirety of the world, but a part of it. First a flood of water; second a rain of fire. Since “a fire next time” has arrived it now leaves open any next reversal of life. Readers will vary in their response from any of the Left-Behind books, to weather-caused world-wide famine, to the return of Jesus to save us from a next destruction. A few readers may even reject any further troubles and tootle merrily along.

It should be noted that Lot’s wife was in Zoar when she “looked back.” Popular depictions of this scene have her still on the way to Zoar. This can be used as a folk-explanation of rock formations in that area that resemble a female form, but the storyline better connects this regret of a loss of a past to the next verses of Abraham looking out over this scene.

Abraham, coming at sunrise to the same place he has bargained with YHWH, brings this episode to a first conclusion. Abraham is safe on the highland of Canaan and Lot is momentarily safe in little Zoar. Readers may pause here to imagine what Abraham might have learned about mercy and justice, about political decision-making, and what Lot was experiencing with the loss of his place, property, and wife and married daughters (and grandchildren?). What has been resolved?

Genesis 19:10–22

1910 The messengers put out their hand and brought Lot into the house with them and shut the door. 11 Those near the entrance of the house, from the smallest to the largest, were struck with blinding light and unable to find the entrance.
     12 The men said to Lot, “Who’s still with you here—sons, daughters? Take anyone else you have in the city out of this place. 13 We are about to destroy this place because the cry to YHWH has been confirmed and we are sent to destroy it.”
     14 Lot went out to speak to his sons-in-law who had married his daughters and said, “Rise; get out of this place, for YHWH is about to destroy this city.” But they saw this as a joke.
     15 When dawn rose, the messengers urged Lot, “Rise, take your wife and your two daughters who remain with you, so you are not swept away in the punishment of this city.” 16 Lot lingered, and, with YHWH’s compassion, the men seized his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters and took him out, and brought him outside the city.
     17 When they brought them out, the men said, “Escape for your lives! Don’t look back! And don’t stop anywhere on the plain. Escape to the mountains so that you are not swept away.”
     18 Lot said to them, “No, please, my lords. 19 I’ve found favor in your eyes and you have shown kindness in saving my life, but I can’t escape to the mountains in case the wickedness here might cling to me there, and I die. 20 That town is close enough to escape to, and it’s small. It’s small, right? Let me escape to that small place, and I will live.”
     21 He said to Lot, “I’ll do this favor for you as well; I won’t overthrow the town you have described. 22 Hurry! Escape to it! I can’t do anything until you arrive there.” That is why the name of the city is Zoar/Small.

Modern military technology uses blinding light as a non-lethal weapon. Shock grenades are a local expression of disorienting the senses of sight and hearing, incapacitating opponents.

The particular mechanism used by the information-seeking travelers to produce a blinding light is not known. The result of a moment of defensive force is information sharing (we will report the cries heard are real and not addressable by any means other than destruction) and planning (take those close to you away, now!, lest you be caught in the destruction).

Apparently, Lot was given sunglasses so he could see in the blinding light and he went out to his sons-in-law in the gathered crowd (apparently Lot had other daughters than the two still at home), rather than to his daughters. This may be a question of time and distance or a recognition of patriarchal dominance—that wives are only an extension of and property of the man-of-the-house and they are not capable of independent choice.

With the rejection from his sons-in-law, Lot yet delayed his leaving. It took active intervention by his guests to move Lot and his un-named wife and daughters beyond the city gate. This is claimed to be an act of compassion toward Lot. Such passivity on Lot’s part is more worthy of pity than compassion and may have elements of concern left from Abraham’s bargaining on behalf of Sodom.

Lot has his own bargaining that limits the field of destruction. Rather than flee to the hills, into wilderness, which is discomforting for the city dweller he has become, Lot bargains for a “small” nearby town that shouldn’t take too much on YHWH’s part to exempt from a larger destruction. This small Zoar was last heard of as one of the sacked cities rescued by Abram.

This proposal was granted, and the four refugees headed for Zoar, some 20–40 miles hence. Their arrival there was to be a trigger for the destruction of the Valley of Jordan (including Sodom and Gomorrah) that once was seen as green and productive. Short-term profit can blind us to how it is gained—upon the cries of people.

Genesis 19:4–9

194 They had not lain down when the men of the city, of Sodom,—from lads to elders—encamped around the house. 5 They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we may know them!”
     6 Lot went out to them at the entrance and closed the door behind him. 7 Lot said, “My brothers, don’t do harm. 8 Look, I’ve got two daughters who have never known a man. Let me bring them out and you do to them whatever you wish. Only, don’t do anything to these men for they have come under the shadow of my roof-beam!”
     9 They said, “Step aside!” And they said, “This one came as a sojourner and wants to play-the-judge with us. Now we will do worse to you than to them!” They pressed against Lot and moved to break down the door.

Between the evening meal and bed, in the quiet of one’s castle, all hell breaks loose. A lynch mob surrounds the house. How they mobilized and focused on these particular visitors is not known. It may have been a nightly ritual and tonight it was Lot’s turn? One of his business dealings may have made an enemy? Did the strangers’ desire to see manifest the underlying cause of outcry?

It is claimed that all the males of the city were outside. That left Lot—only one of a minimum of ten needed to save Sodom from destruction. [Note: The bargaining between Abraham and YHWH implied ten males—this is a patriarchy.]

The demand is for Lot to go back on his hospitality to strangers and turn them over to be raped, demeaned, debased, abused, to cry.

A tent entrance, a city gate, a house door all are a transition place between the known and the unknown. Here, we can slam them shut on everything “other” or fling them open. Here, we can deal with projections of ourself or enter into a transformative encounter.

Here, Lot values the host-guest relationship. Here, Lot enters the lust for power, control, continuation by attempting to shift the focus to his virgin daughters in a proposed trade, offering them as a substitute to be raped.

There is no satisfactory way of understanding this scene. The very offer of his daughters removes Lot from his status as a good guy. The needed ten merciful/just people, those not causing others to cry, is now back to zero. YHWH has all the evidence needed to rain destruction on Sodom and its environs.

It is of interest to note that the citizens of Sodom recognize the purpose of the strangers—to see, to gather evidence, for a judgment on them. Their best response is not that of a later Ninevah, but to subdue or destroy the seekers of information. This is similar to responses today to investigative journalists. And so they surge forward, threatening to do worse to Lot than to his guests. 

For those of a certain age: Were Pauline present, this would be the next peril to be faced. Stay tuned.

Genesis 19:1–3

191 The two messengers entered Sodom at sunset, while Lot was sitting at the gate of Sodom. Lot saw them, rose to greet them, and bowed low, brow to the ground. 2 He said, “Please, my lords, turn aside and come to your servant’s house to spend the night and bathe your feet. Then, you can get up early and continue on your way.”
     The two said, “No, we will spend the night in the city square.” 3 Lot pressed them hard, until they turned aside and entered his house. He prepared a meal-with-drink and baked unleavened bread. They ate.

YHWH has left the Terebinths of Mamre. Two messengers, who had earlier left the Terebinths, have arrived in Sodom. It is evening after a geographically long journey. Lot is sitting in the public space at Sodom’s gate.

The public space is a place to gather for news of the city, including gossip, the doing of business, and application of justice. Lot began his time outside of Sodom with substantial substance, flocks and household. When he and it were taken as a spoil of war, Abraham rescued Lot and his property. News and trade are sufficient reasons to be present in this public space, and it doesn’t hurt to have the honor of being the nephew of a war hero who returned Sodom’s fortunes to it.

Lot rises, like Abraham, to come forward and greet these two travelers. No mirage here—two.

Lot also acts hospitably, inviting these two to stay with him—to spend the night and be refreshed before continuing on their way.

For whatever reason, a humble response that triggers increased invitation or a desire to see Sodom at its darkest, the messengers declined Lot’s offer. He importuned the two into coming with him. The two turned aside from their first response and had a meal with unleavened bread. Lot’s feast seems meager compared with Abraham’s. There is no mention here of a fatted calf (it is the city, after all—not as easy to get fresh food in the evening, after the market stalls were bare from the day’s trading). In a comparison of bread, Lot’s everyday fare comes up short of Sarah’s fresh bread of the finest flour. Sodom is not quite as hospitable as Abraham’s tent. As a test of the quality of life in Sodom, the two messengers might well have an initial positive response. Their notes could indicate a generous welcome, above and beyond what strangers might expect in a city from which had arisen cries of injustice and hostility. There is no reason to suspect that a minyan of ten righteous folks is not present, that Sodom is not guilty of causing an outcry.

Genesis 18:16–33

     16 The men rose from there and went over to look out over Sodom. Abraham went as an escort to send them off 17 when YHWH thought, “Shall I conceal from Abraham what I’m about to do? 18 Abraham will certainly become a great nation, mighty in numbers and all the earth’s nations will be blessed through him. 19 I have known him so that he will instruct his children and his household to keep the way of YHWH—to do what is right and just—so that YHWH shall do for Abraham everything spoken concerning him.” 20 Then YHWH said, “The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and their offense is grave! 21 Now let me go down and see. If they have caused the cry that has come—destruction! If not…. I shall know.”
     22 The men turned from there and walked toward Sodom, but Abraham stood in front of YHWH. 23 Abraham stepped forward and said, “Will you really wipe out the innocent with the guilty? 24 Perhaps there are fifty innocent in the city? Will you really wipe out the place and not save it for the sake of fifty innocent people in it? 25 May you have a curse if you do this. Will not the judge of all earth do justice?”
     26 YHWH said, “Should I find fifty innocent people in the city of Sodom, I will forgive all for their sake.”
     27 Abraham spoke up, “Since I’ve already ventured to speak to my Lord, even though I’m just dirt and ash, 28 what if the fifty innocent lack five people? Will you destroy the whole city for the five?”
     The Lord said, “I will not bring ruin, if I find forty-five.”
     29 Once again Abraham spoke, “Perhaps there will only be forty.”
     The Lord said, “For the sake of forty, I will do nothing.”
     30 He said, “May you not be angry with me and let me speak. Perhaps there will be thirty there.”
     The Lord said, “I won’t do it if I find thirty there.”
     31 Abraham said, “Since I’ve presumed to speak, my Lord, what if twenty are there?”
     The Lord said, “I shall not destroy, for the sake of twenty.”
     32 Abraham said, “Be not incensed with me, my Lord, as I speak just one time more. What if ten shall be found?”
     And the Lord said, “I will not destroy for the sake of the ten.” 
     33 YHWH went off after speaking with Abraham and Abraham returned to his place.

The mirage shifting between Abraham’s hosting one or three persons continues in this section. There is also a shift from an internal conversation within the three or the one to an exclamation.

Returning to the place where Lot chose the Valley of Jordan, where Sodom is located, Abraham and guest(s) look out over the Valley.

Thinking to YHWH’s self, an important question of transparency is considered. With an already formed picture of destruction, the question is about sharing such a decision and its implied consequence to a covenant partner.

A key question for a hearer of this tale is whether this is an internal moral dilemma being worked out about the worth of a partner who does not reflect the fullness of the agreement or is it a teaching opportunity to further instruct Abraham regarding his role in a larger communal setting. How is Abraham to deal with a kingdom like Sodom represented by their king and his backroom bargaining with Abraham about the commodification of people? Does the sign of the rainbow extend to this particular? How are mercy and justice to be lived in what we know of a real world and the variety of people within it?

The context of a direct comment about the offense of Sodom is parallel to Babel—in both, G*D says, “Let me go down and see.”

The back and forth dialogue or bargaining is not a typical narrative style for the bible. Moses will have a similar interaction on behalf of the Israelites as Abraham is having about the people of Sodom.

“Innocence” is not only a moral quality but a legal judgment about guilt. Finding a line of distinction between the two is important. In some sense, Abraham argues morality/righteousness while G*D is working on a legal sentence.

In the end the legal judgment comes down to sentencing guidelines. If X number of citizens are found to act morally, all will be reprieved. If less than X, then destruction for all.

At this point readers are asked to consider midrash stories such as the legend of the lamedvavniks (36 unknown people who do mercy and justice in unnoticeably small ways, as well as large, and for whom the world continues).

Genesis 18:9–15

189 They said to him, “Where is Sarah, your wife?”
     And Abraham said, “There; in the tent.”
     10 Then he said, “I will surely return to you at this season next year and Sarah, your wife, will have a son!” Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 
     11 Now Abraham and Sarah were both old, advanced in years. Sarah no longer had her woman’s flow. 12 So, Sarah laughed to herself, thinking, “I’ve become worn; is pleasure still available to me? My husband is old.”
     13 YHWH said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I really give birth in my old age?’ 14 Is anything impossible for YHWH? I will return to you. At this same season, and Sarah will have a son.”
     15 Sarah was not honest and said, “I did not laugh!” for she was frightened.
     But he said, “Yes, you laughed.”

Having completed the dance of host and guest, we come to the purpose of this gathering—Sarah. This is a first encounter with the newly renamed Sarah. The story is finding traction.

Abraham’s first act after receiving his new name is circumcision. Sarah’s will be birth. Both of these will take us back to Eden. Circumcision will be an unclothing, a return to nakedness. Birth hearkens back to fruitfulness and multiplying. Before birth, there is here a similar word to Eden that suggests sexual pleasure, including sexual moistness. Naked pleasure is prologue to fruitful multiplication.

The storyteller begins with a question of Sarah’s whereabouts. She is in the tent (a Red Tent? at her age?).

One of the differences between a typical narrative sequence of barrenness, annunciation, and birth is that this announcement comes to Abraham, with Sarah overhearing it from within the tent.

For Abraham, this moves the long-promised promise of a son into a manageable timeframe—less than a year. This is the second time he has heard about this timeframe (see 17:21). It may have passed by him the first time while he had his laughing fit. Now it begins to sink in. It is time to uncover his potency.

For Sarah, this is sheer lunacy. She knows how long it has been since her monthly flow shriveled to a stop, how dry her body is, and Abraham—talk about shriveled! This is the stuff of fall-down laughter.

When the guest (now one; not three) reports Sarah’s response to their host Abraham, only the first part of her self-thought is reported—the realities of old age and physical pleasure. The part about Abraham’s lack of virility was not mentioned, lest he not even try.

There is a return to a focus on laughter and how its dismissive quality need not be a last laugh.

This annunciation has been a long time coming. Perhaps it is wise not to expect a speedy denouement as a lot can happen in 9 months.

Genesis 18:1–8

181 YHWH appeared to Abraham at the Terebinths of Mamre while he sat in the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2He raised his eyes and, behold, he saw three men standing before him. As soon as Abraham saw them, he ran toward them from his tent entrance to greet them and bowed to the earth. 3He said, “My lord, if I have found favor in your eyes, pray don’t go past your servant. 4Let a little water be fetched so you may wash your feet and recline under the tree. 5Let me fetch you a bit of bread so you will be refreshed. Then you may travel after visiting your servant.”
     They said, “Do as you have spoken.”
      6So Abraham hurried into his tent, to Sarah, and said, “Hurry! Knead three measures of the finest semolina flour and make some loaves!” 7Abraham also ran to the herd, brought a tender calf, and gave it to a young servant, to hurry and prepare it. Then Abraham fetched curds and milk and the prepared calf and set the food in front of them, and stood over them under the tree while they ate.

The author gives the reader information the character doesn’t know. It will be just a bit before this becomes clear. In the meantime, this unbalanced knowledge becomes a test of Abraham in his newly circumcised state. Can Abraham look past the mirage of life to glimpse its background state and participate in its generosity?

The setting is once again at the Terebinths of Mamre where, as Abram, he heard of Lot’s capture and the need to rescue him. Now, as Abraham, he looks out through the shimmering waves of heat to see three persons. This number is as suspect as any mirage. He begins in the singular and progresses to plural references to the visitor(s).

In a seeming moment, they stand before Abraham. Like a later prodigal father, Abraham runs to meet them. Again a mirage-like moment as this run didn’t take long because they were right there. The enthusiasm suggested by the speed of his welcome continues with importuning that the stranger(s) tarry. The offer is for water in a weary land, rest and refreshment, and nourishment on which to travel further.

Such an offer is both too good to turn down and an invitation that cannot be avoided without dishonoring the host.

In typical patriarchal fashion, Abraham’s generosity requires Sarah’s time and energy to provide a sizeable amount of bread. Abraham did select the fatted calf, but the actual slaughtering was delegated.

It takes some time to move from a little refreshment to a grand feast. There was time for the stranger(s) to have an extended siesta. So it was, Abraham welcomed strangers, unaware of their messenger (angelic) function. He attended to their eating with a solicitous urging to have more.

Abraham’s hospitality is a model of “premeditated mercy” that will later be codified. It is also a standard against which other opportunities for hospitality will be measured.

Genesis 17:18–27

1718 Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live in your presence!”
     19 God said, “Sarah, your wife, will bear a son for you, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him and with his seed as a covenant for the ages. 20 As for Ishmael, I’ve heard you. I will bless him and make him fruitful and abundantly multiply him. He will beget twelve tribal leaders, and I shall make a great nation of him. 21 But my covenant will be established with Isaac, who will be born to Sarah by this season next year.” 22 When God finished speaking to him, God ascended from beside Abraham.
     23 Abraham took Ishmael, his son, and all those born in his household, and all those purchased with silver—every male in Abraham’s household—and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins on that very day, just as God had spoken to him. 24 Abraham was 99 years old when the flesh of his foreskin was circumcised. 25 Ishmael, his son, was 13 years old when the flesh of his foreskin was circumcised. 26 On that same day, Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised. 27 All the males of his household, whether house-born or money-bought with silver from foreigners, were circumcised with him.

Having heard of a son coming from Sarah, Abraham not only laughs but raises a request regarding Ishmael, his son from Hagar.

G*D first confirms a next son, who is to be called Isaac (“Laughter”). The Hebrew word for “laughter,” here, carries with it multiple valences, “joyous laughter, bitter laughter, mockery, and sexual dalliance.” [Alter, p. 55]

Then G*D, like Isaac later, pronounces a blessing for the first born when it is clear that the second born has carried away the birthright. Fruitfulness and multiplication to the point of nationhood are continued for Ishmael, though they contain conflict and defiance. Ishmael has his blessing but without a promise of a continued preference or presence of G*D. If it becomes a choice, G*D will favor Isaac, his laughing boy.

With a reference to G*D leaving by ascending, it is important to ask if this is a deus ex machina lowered on ropes to appear and disappear. Is this G*D’s story or our attempt to make sense of an impossible adventure we are on to wrestle meaning from happenstance and reactive responses to previous reactions to particular circumstances?

As abruptly as Abram left Haran, so Abraham, following Noah, sets to enacting the latest vision—off with foreskins! A circumcision line is set up for all the males in Abraham’s household (Welcome Back, Ishmael!). Abraham is included in the lineup. The cadence of the passage suggests that Abraham may have led the way in this first call for circumcision. Age (Abraham, 99) before Beauty (Ishmael, 13).

Note that even though Ishmael was circumcised, he was conceived before Abraham was circumcised. If this is a new requirement, Isaac is the first sired by a circumcised parent and also circumcised on his 8thday—True lineage, favored son.

Genesis 17:9-17

17God said to Abraham, “As for you, you are to keep my covenant, you and your seed through every generation. 10 This is my covenant you shall keep between me and you and your seed: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between us. 12 On the eighth day after birth, every male among you must be circumcised, even slaves born in the household and those bought with money from foreigners. 13 Those born in your house and those purchased with your silver shall be circumcised, so my covenant may be in your flesh for all time. Your flesh will embody my covenant as an enduring covenant. 14 Any male not circumcised, that person shall be exiled. He has violated my covenant.”
     15 God said to Abraham, “Sarai, your wife, will no longer be called Sarai. Sarah is her name! 16 I will bless her and I will give you a son from her, and I will bless him. I will bless her so that she will become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
     17 Abraham fell on his face, and he laughed, saying to himself, “To a 100-year-old man a child shall be born! Sarah, a 90-year-old woman, shall have a child!”

The covenant relationship runs from G*D to, now, Abraham. A repetition of its details adds in circumcision—not a medical benefit, not a rite of passage, but a sign of being yoked to a G*D, a tribe, a nation, a people, a culture. Circumcision is a physical Shibboleth. Circumcision is not just for Abraham’s lineage but their human property (slaves) as well—a branding.

We have just experienced a covenant binding ritual that cut or divided animals. Now we shift that one-time event to an every generation act of cutting. In sales, this is an undocumented “feature” only discovered after a purchase is completed.

There are later stories that will use circumcision as a charm to ward off evil, but here it is simply requirement.

If a male sports the communal sign of circumcision, they meet the lowest bar of community. Without it they are exiled and, in tribal culture, this is a capital act—death.

The intensity of the significance of circumcision is that G*D will take any exception as a breaking of covenant. With this break comes the loss of possessions and land—the loss of power.

As the shift from Abram to Abraham didn’t change the meaning of his name, only its form, so, too, with a change from Sarai to Sarah (even less of an orthographic change).

Now we receive confirmation that it is specifically Sarah who is to be noted in this line of Abraham. The whole Hagar/Ishmael line will continue, but not as a “chosen” or preferred line.

With the specificity that it is Sarah who will bear a son (and at her age of 90, even one seems a bit much), Abraham finally gets the joke about impossibility as the likeliest route forward and falls down laughing.

Readers will need to decide if this laughter is of absurdity or is a confirmation of everything after a first vision in Haran.