In Genesis God tells Abraham and Sarah that they will finally have a child. Abraham will father a child at the ripe old age of 100 and Sarah will finally enter motherhood at 90.
Both respond to God’s pronouncement with laughter. Who wouldn’t at that age?
God also says that they will have a son who is to be named Isaac. Unless you are a Hebrew scholar you would not know that “Isaac” means “laughter.” Was God poking fun at Abraham and Sarah’s lack of faith and getting the “last laugh?”
Somehow, I don’t see the Creator of heaven and earth—a deity possessing infinite wisdom, love, and mercy—resorting to such silliness. After all, during this time God was in the serious business of making a new covenant with humankind through Abraham’s seed, which would bring forth generations of people who would gain the land of Canaan as an eternal possession.
Theologian Emanuel Swedenborg claimed that the name “Isaac” contained an even deeper meaning than mere human chuckling. This higher meaning requires a new spiritual interpretation of the literal words used in Holy Scripture. In other words, a higher meaning for the term “laughter” can be obtained by raising its literal and worldly meaning into its elevated psycho-spiritual equivalent. By this process, all the words in Scripture take on distinctly new qualities.
Swedenborg, a pioneer in this kind of biblical interpretation, stated that “laughter” is derived from a deeper spiritual essence, which he described as the affection of truth. All laughter is an affection or enjoyment. When we laugh at something we are actually acknowledging and recognizing some “truth” being communicated by the joke, gag, farce, witticism, or ridiculousness of the scenario. Slipping on a banana peel offers us a real lesson about life in a way that causes an emotional response expressing some enjoyment felt in one’s heart.
By Abraham and Sarah “laughing” at the news that they would bring forth a new child represents, on a deeper, spiritual level, an affection and enjoyment for God’s Truth.
Isaac means “laughter” because Abraham and Sarah would bring the affection and enjoyment of God’s Truth into the world. How else would one enter a special new territory prepared for you by God without a sincere affection for Truth?
Journeying to the “land of Canaan,” spiritually represents, obtaining God’s heavenly kingdom. The reason why this is so is that no other than a heavenly kingdom could become one’s eternal possession (Genesis 17:8).
The higher spiritual meanings contained in Scripture make every word of every narrative transcend historical inerrancy and become personally relevant to your own life story.
Without knowing that the literal sense of God’s Holy Word contains higher levels of meaning many of its stories will seem like mere comical material by the acumen of many post-modern thinkers.