A famous Torah and Bible story describes how three angels visit the prophets Abraham and Sarah to announce that God will give them an incredible blessing: a biological child, despite the fact that both are elderly. The idea of giving birth as a senior citizen is so funny to Sarah that she laughs at the angels' news. But an angel assures her that, miraculously, she will indeed have a son within a year.
In Genesis chapter 18 of the Bible and the Torah, the story begins with Abraham noticing the arrival of three angels (one of which is the Angel of the Lord) and offering them hospitality: "The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
He said, 'If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord,do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way -- now that you have come to your servant.'
'Very well,' they answered, 'do as you say.'
So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. 'Quick,' he said, 'get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.'
Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree" (verses 1 through 8).
It's interesting to note that this is one of the few times that major religious texts mention angels eating. Since they're purely spiritual beings, angels don't need to eat physical food, but they do so here to accept Abraham's hospitality.
Who are the visitors? C. Fred Dickason writes in his book Angels: Elect and Evil: "The story of Abraham entertaining three strangers seems to identify these three in the appearance of men as really angels, though one may have been an appearance of Jehovah Himself."
Announcing a Miracle
The story continues in verses 9 and 10, as the angel who some believers say is Barachiel announces the miraculous blessing that God will bring to the couple: "'Where is your wife Sarah?' they asked him.
'There, in the tent,' he said.
Then one of them said, 'I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.'
Laughing at the News
Then the Bible and the Torah describe Sarah's reaction to the news, which she has overheard: "Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, 'After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?'
Then the LORD said to Abraham, 'Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Will I really have a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.'
Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, 'I did not laugh.'
But he said, 'Yes, you did laugh.'
When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. Then the LORD said, 'Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? 18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him" (Genesis 18:10-18).
The Angel of the Lord is clearly leading the trio of angels in the passage, scholars say, and one of the other two angels is likely archangel Barachiel, because the mission involves announcing a blessing.
In his book The Blessed Sacrament: The Works and Ways of God, Frederick William Faber writes that "Barachiel, the Helper, [is] said to be the angel who spoke to Abraham and rebuked Sara when she laughed."
Henry Augustus Rawes writes in his book Sursum or Sparks Flying Upward that "Barachiel was probably the angel who stood alone with Abraham, representing God, when the other two angels went on to Sodom."
Laughing with God
Sarah's laughter in this passage recalls Abraham's laughter earlier in the Book of Genesis when he God first made him aware of this same blessing that the angels are now confirming will occur. Genesis 17:17 records: "Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, 'Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?'"
Max Lucado writes in The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible: Inspirational Applications for Living Your Faith the both Abraham and Sarah "have the same response: laughter. They laugh partly because it was too good to happen and partly because it might. They laugh because they have given up hope, and hope born anew is always funny before it is real. They laugh because that is what you do when someone says he can do the impossible. They laugh a little at God, and a lot with God – for God is laughing, too. Then, with the smile still on his face, he gets busy doing what he does best -- the 'unbelievable.' He changes their faith. He changes the number of their tax deductions. He changes the way they define the word 'impossible.' But most of all, he changes Sarah's attitude about trusting God."