Did God Lie to Abraham?
And Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my master being old too?” And Yehovah said to Avraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I truly have a child, since I am old?’ Gen 18:12-13
וַתִּצְחַ֥ק and mocked שָׂרָ֖ה Sarah בְּקִרְבָּ֣הּ within herself לֵאמֹ֑ר saying
אַחֲרֵ֤יAfter בְלֹתִי֙I am worn out הָֽיְתָהshall exist לִּ֣יfor me עֶדְנָ֔הpleasure וַֽאדֹנִ֖יand my lord זָקֵֽן[being] old
צָחַק tsah-khak’ to poke, mock
אָמַר ah-mar’ to say
אַחַר akh-ar’ after, afterwards
בָּלָה bah-lah’ to wear out
עֶדְנָה ed-nah’ pleasure
זָקֵן zah-kain’ to be old
We may not realize but we have a problem here. In verse 12 the phrase grown old is the Hebrew word balah and means to “wear out” or in the context to “wither away.” The word “old” in verses 12 and 13 is zaqen meaning “old”.
We now see that Sarah laughed, but literally mocked, because she admitted she was “worn out” and her husband was “old”. Also, Sarah said in herself that because Avraham was old she could not have a [sexual] pleasure.
But YHVH said to Avraham that she said she could not have a child because she was worn out or barren. Was that what Sarah said to herself the same as what YHVH told Abraham that Sarah said? Not at all. Sarah never said she was “old” but worn out.
Did the Righteous One lie in this case? It looks so, but this would contradict what we are told in Num 23:19, “El is not a man, to lie (kazav).
The problem is not with the text but with our concept of a lie. In the western mind to say truth, we need to repeat the exact words; anything else would be a lie. The Hebrew word for “lie” in Numbers 23:19 is kazav. By looking at another verse using this same word we will see that this word does not literally mean “lie”. Isaiah 58:11 says;
you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail (kazav).
So, we came to the point to define “lie.” The Hebrew word for “lie” is the verb bzk kazav which means something that causes failure or disappointment, or in the context of Isa 58:11, what does not function as it is supposed to. A spring of water that does not flow is no a “lying” spring but it simply does not do what it is meant to.
Or, going back to Num 23:19, the verse says from a Hebraic point of view:
El is not a man and to cause failure.
In order to understand what “lie” is, we need to go to the ninth commandment in Exo 20:16,
לא You do not תענה bear ברעך against your fellow עד witness שׁקר false
or the common paraphrase: You shall not lie. So, we see that “to lie” is always associated with against and never in behalf of somebody.
Therefore we see that Elohim righteously answered to His friend Avraham, who marveled in himself how he could have a child at his age; YHVH did not bear or bring the untruth that Sarah could not have a sexual desire and a child, because the Creator was the only one who could know that.
If YHVH had told Avraham exactly what Sarah said, He would have brought pain in the heart of the poor Avraham and caused a possible failure in the family.
No, the Righteous One does not lie. He showed discretion and sense of humor. Imagine how the Almighty felt when he heard Sarah’s statement and how He solved the problem.