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Here, we continue our study in the life of Abraham.
1The 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. 2Abraham 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.
3He said, "If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. 4Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5Let 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."
6So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. "Quick," he said, "get three seahs of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread."
7Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. 8He 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.
"The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre." So begins this chapter of Genesis, in which the Lord appears yet again to Abraham. There are two reasons for His visit (as we shall see): to deliver the promise of an offspring personally to Sarah, and to inform Abraham of the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. "Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby." The Lord appeared in the form of a man this time, accompanied by two angels who also were in the appearance of men. Many commentators think that it was Christ Himself who appeared as "the LORD", since Christ is the mediator between God and man.
Abraham greeted his visitors by hurrying to them and "bow[ing] low to the ground." He showed this respect, not because he knew that it was the Lord and two angels, but because Abraham routinely practiced hospitality. Hospitality is a godly virtue, and we are encouraged to be hospitable numerous times in the Bible: "Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality" (Rom. 12:13); "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling" (I Pet. 4:9); "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it" (Heb. 13:2); etc. In fact, this last verse from Hebrews is most likely an indirect reference to this episode in Abraham's life, where he not only entertains angels "without knowing it", but also entertains the Lord Himself!
Abraham in this passage demonstrates many elements of hospitality that are worthy of our imitation. Abraham shows courtesy and reverence when he hurries to meet his guests and bows "low to the ground". He expresses a true desire to open his home to them when he says: "If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by." He encourages his guests to comfort and peace: "Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree." His hospitality is active, working for the comfort and refreshment of his guests: "Let me get you something to eat. . .Quick. . .get three seahs of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread." He shares his own, by selecting "a choice, tender calf". Finally, he serves his guests: "He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them;" and he maintains an attitude of service: "While they ate, he stood near them under a tree."
9"Where is your wife Sarah?" they asked him.
"There, in the tent," he said.
10Then the LORD said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son."
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, "After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?"
13Then the LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, `Will I really have a child, now that I am old?' 14Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son."
15Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, "I did not laugh."
But he said, "Yes, you did laugh."
After dining with Abraham, the Lord reveals Himself and commences to fulfill one of His objectives for visiting Abraham. He wants to personally deliver His promise of an offspring to Sarah, presumably to strengthen her faith. Sarah's faith was (clearly) crucial to the fulfillment of the promise because her participation in its fulfillment was absolutely necessary! However, her faith, at this time, was weak, as we saw in chapter 16, when she encouraged Abraham to take Hagar as a wife. So, Sarah needed this personal visit from the Lord to spur her faith to obedience. God is gracious. He desires to give us great gifts through our faith, and he even helps us in receiving these gifts by strengthening our faith.
This visitation of the Lord to Abraham must have been shortly after the one in chapter 17, for He says here: "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son"; whereas, in chapter 17, God promised that Sarah would bear Isaac "by this time next year" (Gen. 17:21). As the time for the fulfillment of the promised neared, and as the "impossibility" of the fulfillment of the promise increased, it seems that Abraham and Sarah needed to be reminded of the promise often. Now, you might say, "Boy, after God visited me, I certainly would not forget His promise." Ah, but how often do we forget the promises of God, which we have read dozens of times in the clearly revealed Word of God.
Before she was summoned, Sarah overheard the promise while "listening at the entrance to the tent". Sarah's response to the promise was similar to Abraham's in the previous chapter: she laughed. Although their responses outwardly were similar, they were motivated by different emotions. Abraham's was a laugh of joy at the greatness of the promise; Sarah's was a laugh of disbelief at the impossibility of the promise. Sarah thought, as she laughed: "After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?" We can understand her laughter. She was told she would have a son, yet she was a barren woman, past menopause, the wife of an impotent husband.
We know that Sarah's motivation for her laughter was different than Abraham's because the Lord mildly rebukes Sarah for her laughter. God sees not only our outward actions, but the attitudes of our hearts. Though Sarah was behind the Lord, and kept the reason for her laughter in her thoughts, He nevertheless said: "Why did Sarah laugh and say, `Will I really have a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too hard for the LORD?" Sarah's lack of faith in the power of the Lord was shown in two ways: she disbelieved the promise of God; she did not realize that the Lord would detect her disbelief in the promise. We constantly forget that the Lord sees all. We forget that the Lord sees as we complain about what God has given us, or as we complain about what God has withheld from us. We forget that He sees when we doubt His promises, when we doubt His providence, or when we doubt His power. We need to ask forgiveness for these things.
Sarah's disbelief in the promise stemmed from her lack of faith in the power of God to fulfill His promise. This distinguishes Sarah from Abraham. As Paul informs us: "[Abraham] did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He promised" (Rom. 4:20-21). Sarah considered only the natural world, and ignored the power of God, who made the natural world. How small is your God? Has God grown old, such that He no longer has complete power over the universe that He created? Be careful not to forget the power of God. And God especially has the power to fulfill His own promises.
The fact that the Lord knew her heart scared Sarah: "Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, `I did not laugh.'" Rather than admit her disbelief (as the Lord would have liked her to do), she compounded her error by lying to the Lord. Lying was, unfortunately, common in Abraham's family, and one of his great weaknesses. Sadly, he passed this vice on to his family. We saw Abraham lie to Pharoah in Egypt, putting Sarah in danger (Gen. 12:12-13); we will see him lie in a similar way to Abimelech in chapter 20; we will see Isaac follow in his father's footsteps in chapter 26; Jacob also lies a number of times; etc. The sins of parents are often passed on to their children, and so, we who are parents must be careful to live upright lives. We have no idea of the lasting effect that our sin has through our offspring.
The way in which the Lord rebuked Sarah must have spurred her faith. The Lord displayed some of His power in this episode, showing Sarah that He supernaturally knows her thoughts. In the end, obviously, Sarah believed God, because she did bear Isaac, just as God said she would.
The Lord Reveals His Impending Judgment
16When the men got up to leave, they looked down towards Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. 17Then the LORD said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? 18Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. 19For 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."
20Then the LORD said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know."
22The men turned away and went towards Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. 23Then Abraham approached Him and said: "Will You sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will You really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25Far be it from You to do such a thing--to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from You! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
26The LORD said, "If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake."
27Then Abraham spoke up again: "Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will You destroy the whole city because of five people?"
"If I find forty-five there," He said, "I will not destroy it."
29Once again he spoke to Him, "What if only forty are found there?"
He said, "For the sake of forty, I will not do it."
30Then he said, "May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?"
He answered, "I will not do it if I find thirty there."
31Abraham said, "Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?"
He said, "For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it."
32Then he said, "May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?"
He answered, "For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it."
33When the LORD had finished speaking with Abraham, He left, and Abraham returned home.
Abraham has the distinction of being named specifically throughout the Bible as a friend of God (cf. II Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8; James 2:23). In this chapter, we see a demonstration of the friendship between the Lord and Abraham. First, the Lord personally visits Abraham. Then, Abraham shows extreme hospitality to the Lord. Now here, the Lord confides in Abraham concerning the impending judgment of Sodom. God reveals Himself to his friends. As Christ said to His disciples: "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15). And so, the Lord will reveal Himself and His plan to us, if we are His friends. As David tells us: "The Lord confides in those who fear Him" (Ps. 25:14). This makes sense. Certainly, those who walk with God more closely will know more of His ways.
In an anthropomorphic style, Moses relates God's "thought process" (so to speak) in deciding to reveal His judgment to Abraham before He executes it. The Lord reveals His judgment to Abraham so that Abraham, in turn, would "direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD." This is especially important because "Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation." In general, this is an important concept: God reveals Himself to us so that we would in turn testify about God to others.
Thus, it is not only important for us to tell of God's mercy, but also of His judgment. As David says: "I will sing of mercy and judgment" (Ps. 101:1; KJV). We must not only proclaim the love of God, but also encourage the fear of God. Those who know nothing of the judgment of God cannot know how much God hates sin. Those who know nothing of the judgment of God may be able to convince themselves that their sin may go unpunished. Those who know nothing of the judgment of God cannot fully appreciate the gift to us of the sacrifice of God's Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we escape judgment.
Since God revealed His plan to Abraham beforehand, Abraham knew without a doubt that what happened to Sodom was the specific judgment of God for their sin. No one would be able to convince Abraham that the destruction of Sodom was merely a natural disaster. God's revelation must have certainly put zeal behind Abraham's testimony to others concerning the judgment of God.
Note, the Lord does not initially tell Abraham that He will judge Sodom. He merely says: "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know" (Genesis 18:20-21). But Abraham, as God's friend, knew what was unspoken, that God was long overdue to judge the wickedness of Sodom.
The Lord Himself here, clothed as a man, speaks anthropomorphically about Himself, as if He needed to actually go down to Sodom as a man and investigate the sin there. I think the point that He is trying to get across here is that He does not enter into judgment rashly, but with great patience and serious consideration. Judgment is God's "strange work" and "alien task" (Isa. 28:21). He does not enter into judgment, except as a last resort. Certainly, Sodom was given every chance to repent. The Sodomites had no excuse to be evil. First, they were blessed providentially by God with fertile soil (cf. Gen. 13:10), demonstrating that financial blessing is not necessarily a sign of God's approval, but it does leave one without excuse for not praising Him. Second, they were recently miraculously delivered by God (using Abraham) from captivity by marauding kings (cf. Gen. 14). Third, God waited a long time to judge, until (as we shall see) there was but one righteous family in the entire city. So, for all of these reasons, there was no excuse for the sin and depravity of Sodom.
Despite the fact that the Lord never mentioned that He was to judge Sodom, Abraham (who undoubtedly knew of its depravity) inferred that the Lord was about to judge. So, interestingly, Abraham sets to pleading the case on Sodom's behalf.[Footnote #1] We have here the first example of intercessory prayer in the Bible. As such, there is much that we can learn from it concerning intercessory prayer: Abraham intercedes for people he does not know personally, people from a different culture and nation; he prays to God boldly, yet reverently; in his prayer, he is seeking that God's will be done, for he is seeking justice; he leaves the final outcome to the will of God.
The basis for Abraham's objection of God judging Sodom is this question: "Will You sweep away the righteous with the wicked?" Abraham appeals to an attribute of God, that is, His justice. Abraham does not wish that the righteous "swept away" in the judgment of the wicked. Certainly, the fact that Abraham's nephew Lot dwelt in Sodom influenced Abraham to make this intercessory prayer. But Abraham does not only pray for Lot, but for all the righteous in Sodom, those whom he does not even know, those who are not even part of his culture or religion. Also, Abraham indirectly also prays for the wicked of Sodom, for Abraham prays that the entire place be spared if there are fifty righteous. Though they were wicked, Abraham did not desire their destruction, but their salvation. We should have the same attitude. We should pray more for salvation than for judgment; our hearts (like God's) should lean more toward mercy than wrath.
Abraham appeals to the Lord fervently and boldly, almost presumptuously: "Far be it from You to do such a thing--to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from You! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Abraham's boldness is all the more surprising since he is speaking to the Lord face to face! Abraham here, at first glance, sounds so correct, so right. But we must consider carefully: would it have been wrong for God to destroy the "righteous" in Sodom along with the wicked? Would it have been wrong for God even to destroy Lot, the only righteous man in Sodom, along with the wicked? Did not Lot choose to live in Sodom? Did not Lot choose to accept the abundant provision of Sodom's fertile soil, rather than spurn its evil and live somewhere less fertile? Did not Lot place his family in great danger by choosing to live in such a wicked place? When one associates with the wicked, he endangers himself in two ways: he can very easily be drawn into their sin; he can possibly be included in their judgment. Moreover, we each have a responsibility to make wise decisions in our lives. If a man chooses to walk across the freeway, would anyone blame God from taking his life, no matter how righteous he may be? I maintain that God would not have been wrong in judging all of the inhabitants of Sodom, including Lot. But God is merciful. God chose in His mercy to spare Lot, the only righteous man in Sodom.
The Lord listens with patience to Abraham's prayer, as He does with our prayers. God has chosen to work through prayer. He has chosen to allow prayers of faith to be effective, in order to strengthen our relationship with Him. We, knowing that our prayers are heard, often run to God in prayer; and this, He encourages. Abraham's boldness in prayer would not have been permissible had not God, "by virtue of the mysterious interlacing of necessity and freedom in His nature and operations, granted a power to the prayer of faith, to which He consents to yield; had He not, by virtue of His absoluteness, which is anything but blind necessity, placed Himself in such a relation to men, that He not merely works upon them by means of His grace, but allows them to work upon Him by means of their faith; had He not interwoven the life of the free creature into His own absolute life, and accorded to a created personality the right to assert itself in faith, in distinction from His own."[Footnote #2]
Abraham prays boldly, but he also remembers reverence and humility: "Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes..." Abraham never forgets that the Lord is the Lord, and deserves a great deal of respect. Yet, at the same time, as with a friend, Abraham shows persistence, whittling the number of the required righteous in Sodom down to a mere ten people. And to this, the Lord answers: "For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it."
But why did Abraham stop at ten? He probably was certain (yet mistaken) that there were ten who were righteous. Having received this promise from God, Abraham was most likely very surprised to see fire and brimstone rain down upon Sodom. If you recall, Abraham and his army rescued the people of Sodom from marauding kings (see Gen. 14). Quite possibly, Abraham knew ten people who (at that time) seemed righteous. But Abraham underestimated the contagion of sin. Sin spreads faster, wreaks more destruction than the worst of contagious diseases. Lot alone was left unstained by the sin of Sodom.
It turns out that God had no intention of destroying the righteous with the wicked in Sodom. It was God's plan all along that the righteous be spared. His plan was to remove the righteous from Sodom before the judgment. Now, Sodom is depicted in the Bible as typical of the final judgment of God--Christ Himself depicts it this way: "It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulphur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed" (Luke 17:28-30). Moreover, Peter says: "...and if [God] rescued Lot, a righteous man...then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials" (II Pet. 2:7,9). Because of this, many see the removal of the righteous (namely, Lot and his family) from Sodom before its judgment as typical of the rapture of the church before the final judgment of the world. An interesting thought...
Lord, we praise You for Your protection of Your people. We praise for Your mercy upon us, which is shown by Your protection of us, even when we do not deserve it. We especially praise You that You listen to our prayers, that we can communicate with the God of all creation, one on one. What a blessing! Forgive us for our disbelief of Your promises. Strengthen our faith, by Your Spirit. We ask these things in the name of Christ, through whom we can call You friend, Amen.
1. I think that it is interesting to note that before Abraham pleaded Sodom's case, the two angels who had accompanied the Lord "turned away and went towards Sodom." These angels would work to get Lot out of Sodom, and would eventually bring on the judgment. So, the preparation for judgment by the angels in Sodom was occurring at the same time Abraham was interceding for Sodom.
2. Keil & Delitzsch, A Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. I; pg. 232.
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