Genesis 18: Disbelief and Belief

This chapter follows the faithful actions of Abraham circumcising himself and all of his household as God commanded in chapter 17. Abraham was also told that he would have a son that would be born to he and his lawful wife Sarah.

Verses 1-15: Disbelief at a son

Like the previous chapter, this chapter also includes God talking with Abraham. Verse 1 tells us that God appears to Abraham, but the method of communication between God and Abraham is convoluted somewhat by three “men” that are described in verse 2. Here are verses 1-3:

“Then the Lord appears to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant.”

This passage raises a few questions. The text tells us that God appears to Abraham, but then describes three men meeting Abraham. So is God’s spirit in these three men or are these three men angels, representing God? Abraham seems to be under the impression that God is in the form of (at least one of) these men, as his speech and reverence show that he believes that God is present. It also makes us wonder how exactly God appeared to Abraham in previous meetings. Was it also in the form of a man or men, or was it in some other form? For now, this mystery will have to wait as the Holy Word only gives us so many details. The only things we can really be sure of based on the text are that:

  • God communicated with Abraham (and other patriarchs such as Noah) directly
  • God made it clear when He was communicating with man directly
  • Abraham knew it when he was communicating with God

Let us notice a few things about Abraham in this passage. His hospitality to these “men” is passionate, immediate and effusive. He falls at and washes their feet. He has Sarah prepare cakes, he has a “tender and good” calf prepared for them to eat, as well as butter and milk. Within Abraham’s substantial circumstance, these offerings to the weary travelers were the best on hand. Abraham, somehow knowing that it was divinity that he entertained, perfectly models human obeisance in the presence of God.

Speaking through these men, God tells Abraham that he would have a son with Sarah. This was not news for Abraham, as he found out in the previous chapter, but Sarah, overhearing, laughed. To her, it was preposterous to have a child at her age. Sarah denied her laughter. God however, calls her out, holding up that she did laugh. Earlier in verse 14, He asked, “Is there anything too hard for the Lord?” No, there is nothing that is too hard for the Lord. An older woman having a child presents Him with no trouble whatsoever.

Verses 16-33: Belief in righteousness

The chapter switches gears at this juncture and the men (through whom God is speaking), tell Abraham that the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will be inspected to see if the claims of their absolute depravity are true. Now, God’s omniscience would presumably have allowed Him to know this without visiting the city, but God was choosing to work through these men.

God’s decision to inform Abraham of this plan reveals how special their relationship was. God obviously highly valued and trusted Abraham. We see a great description of this in verses 17:19:

“And the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to Him.””

The reputation of these cities was one of vile wickedness and God seems to want to witness it firsthand to verify just how bad it really is. In verse 22, the men leave, yet Abraham is left still to converse with God. This raises more questions – did two men leave (angels) and one stay (God)? Or did all three men leave and Abraham is left in the presence of God after they depart? The details and logistics are unclear and increasingly unimportant as we follow through to the rest of the chapter.

Until the end of the chapter, we have Abraham asking God about the level of righteousness present, and how many righteous would disallow God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham’s attitude throughout is yet another great example for us; here it is on display in verse 27: “Indeed now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord.” Abraham asks God if He would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of 50 – 45 – 40 – 30 – 20 – 10 righteous…? God says that He would not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for each of these numbers of righteous. Abraham’s questions remind us of the sort of intercession that Christ does on our behalf under the new law. Here it is described in Hebrews 7:25: “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Christ’s intercession is both more meaningful and powerful than Abraham’s. This is one of the myriad reasons why God’s will is perfected in Jesus.

In Genesis 18, Abraham provides an absolutely excellent example of humility and obedience to God. Abraham is dedicated not only to God, but also to God’s right to punish and the sanctity of righteousness. Abraham knows the value of righteousness and not only makes sure that he is righteous himself, but also that the righteousness of others is recognized. In Abraham’s questions to God, we see an eye-opening mix of God’s attributes. God is dedicated to punishing wickedness, yet He is willing to employ the kindest mercy to forgive. What a God we have!

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