Thank you for checking out the podcast, I am your host Randy Duncan, and we are making our way through the book of Genesis, verse by verse.
In the last episode, we completed chapter 17, which saw God re-confirm his covenant promise to Abraham. God also changed Abram and Sarai names to Abraham and Sarah, and introduced the law of circumcision. And that brings us now to chapter 18.
I am excited to reach this point, because here in chapter 18 is where things begin to change a bit. This is where the story of Abraham begins to unfold at a faster pace, and there is more action than what we have seen over the previous few chapters.
Now here in chapter 18, we will see that this chapter is divided into two distinct parts. The first 15 verses involve the appearance to Abraham of three angelic visitors, and then verses 17-33 deal with God revealing to Abraham the plans for divine visitation and potential judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah.
And although these two halves may seem unconnected, they are actually connected, but in opposite ways. And what I mean by that is that, the first 15 verses carry a message of life and prosperity, while the second half of the chapter involves death and everlasting destruction.
Verse 1 begins, “And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth 3 and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, 5 while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”
So notice right off the bat, who is it that is visiting Abraham? It says “The Lord appeared to Abraham”. But, it also says there are “three men standing in front of him”. So from an appearance standpoint, there doesn’t seem to be anything unusual or superhuman about these men. But Abraham recognizes something right away. Why do I say that? Because it says he ran from the tent door, bowed himself, and said “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant”.
For starters, remember who Abraham is. He is very wealthy. He earlier led a successful military campaign against other powerful kings in the region. He has had dealings with Pharoh of Egypt. In other words, Abraham is nobody’s servant. And yet, here we see him run out of his tent, and humbly bow down and call one of these visitors Lord. Also keep in mind that Abraham has had an ongoing relationship with God. It is not surprising that he would recognize his presence. So these three visitors are actually the Lord and two angels.
I have actually wondered before myself if Christ showed up on my front door, or made an appearance to me, if I would recognize him or not. Is my relationship with him intimate enough that I would immediately recognize him? What about you? Would you recognize Jesus if he appeared to you? And I don’t mean, would you recognize him if he showed up because he looked like the picture of Jesus your grandmother had hanging in the living room! To begin with, that picture of Jesus is probably not accurate anyway. But I am asking, is yor relationship with Christ intimate enough that even though you have never seen him, you would still recognize him?
Well, Abraham did. And he bows before him, and calls him Lord. If he were not God, and merely an angel, the angel would have immediately rebuked Abraham, and told him to get up and not to be worshipping him, as we have seen before, and like there are other examples throughout scripture. Only God is to be worshipped.
Notice also, the angels appear to be human, they appear in human form. They are described as men because that is how they appear. Later on, we will see that the men of Sodom perceive them to be human. Which tells us, along with several other examples, that angels have the ability to assume human form.
Hebrews 13:2 tell us 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”. You never know when you might interact with an angel in human form.
6 And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs (say-uhs) of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” 7 And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
Abraham tells Sarah to get three seahs (say-ah) of flour. A seah (say-ah) is about two gallons of grain.
In verse 5, Abraham tells his visitors to rest while he brings them a “morsel of bread’. But his morsel of bread turns into a feast, complete with choice flour, meat, milk, and yogurt. Abraham then serves his guests himself, and then stands by, ready to serve, as they ate.
And now, as they are eating, they get to the first of two reasons why they are there, which is the announcement about Sarah
9 They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” 10 The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15 But Sarah denied it saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”
So they begin this conversation by asking Abraham where Sarah is. Understand, they are not asking because they don’t know where Sarah is. This is a rhetorical question, They know very well where Sarah is. The Lord is asking in order to grab Sarah’s attention, to make sure she overheard the announcement to Abraham.
Don’t let one obvious thing here go unnoticed…Abraham doesn’t even ask them how they know the name of his wife! If they were strangers, how would they know Sarah was his wife’s name? They wouldn’t, and Abraham already knows that, as he recognizes the Lord.
Then the Lord tells Abraham that he will return again next year, and that Sarah will have a son. Now the text also reminds us that Abraham and Sarah were both old. Remember, at this point, Abraham is 99, and Sarah is 89. And it also tells us that the way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. The Hebrew actually reads “Sarah no longer experienced the cycle of women”, meaning, Sarah no longer experienced her menstrual cycle. Her body is procreatively dead. This is mentioned once again to emphasize the fact that it was no longer naturally possible for Sarah to have children. God is making a promise here that requires faith in order to believe. In order to believe, they had to trust in God, that he would do exactly as He promised.
So any child she gave birth to at this point would be supernatural, a result of divine intervention. And you consider this too, since Abraham was called by God to be the birth of a people, a nation, this means that the Jewish people were not naturally conceived. The birth of the Jewish people was through divine intervention. And it is through the Jews that the world would be introduced to the real and living God. It was no accident. It was supernaturally engineered by God.
And this all culminates in the birth of Jesus 2000 years ago. Just as the birth of Isaac required supernatural intervention by God, so the birth of Jesus was brought about by another supernatural act, the virgin birth. The birth of Isaac was a foreshadowing of the supernatural birth of Christ.
So upon hearing the announcement, what was Sarah’s reaction? She laughed. Just like Abraham did before. She laughed to herself.
And what is the Lord’s response to her laughter? He calls them out on it, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say “shall I indeed bear a child now that I am old?” Interesting, because Sarah did not laugh out loud. It says she laughed to herself. Which means the Lord knew her thoughts. Jer 17:10 says “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind…”. Don’t think for a minute that God doesn’t know your thoughts.
But then the Lord takes it a step further, and says “is anything too hard for the Lord”? Of course, that is a rhetorical question, because nothing is too difficult for God. A God who created the universe out of nothing, who created all space and time, all matter, all energy, who created life from non-life, who created us in his own image, who governs the universe and upholds it by the power of his word. No, nothing is too hard for the Lord.
And then Sarah is apparently afraid, because the Lord has just read her innermost thoughts. So what does she do, she tries to cover it up by lying and denying that she laughed!
I love how the Lord responds to Sarah. He simply is honest and blunt with her, saying, “ No, but you did laugh”. The Lord again calls her out. First he calls her out on laughing at the announcement, and then he calls her out on lying. It is really comical, thinking she could lie to God and get away with it. But honestly, don’t we do the same thing? We rationalize, and justify ourselves, lie to ourselves, lie to God, all the while trying to convince ourselves that it is ok, but all the while deep down, knowing there is no lying to God and getting away with it. That’s just foolish to think. There are many things in this world you can get away with, but trust me, lying to God is not one of them!
But another point to make here is that the Bible does not try to make it’s heroes something they are not. It presents them as they are, including their flaws. It doesn’t just gloss over their failings and shortcomings. Which actually gives credibility to the Bible.
Last comment on this section, the Lord’s rebuke of Sarah has two purposes. One, to simply rebuke her for lying. But secondly, so that Sarah could now realize that the one who could read her thoughts could also deliver on his promise of giving her a son. So the Lord’s response is both a rebuke, and a sign of assurance.
But we now enter into the second part of this chapter, as the visitors now turn their attention to the second objective, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah! Remember, I said earlier that this chapter has two themes, one of blessing, life, and hope to Abraham and Sarah. But also one of death and destruction for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. And it is to the second that we now turn our attention.
16 Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way. 17 The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” 20 Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”
So God includes Abraham in on his plans, which is to go down and check out Sodom and Gomorrah, to see if it is as bad as the outcry which God hears. Now of course, this again, is a rhetorical device utilized by God for Abraham’s sake. God certainly doesn’t need to go down and check it out. God is omnipresent. He is everywhere. He already knows what’s going on and how bad it is. This entire conversation is for Abraham’s sake. It is also a figurative way to say that God always investigates before passing judgment, and that God doesn’t do anything arbitrarily.
God esteems his prophets, and does nothing that he doesn’t reveal to them. Amos 3:7 tells us “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets”. The Lord told Noah about the flood, he told Jonah about Ninevah, and so on and so on, and here, he is telling Abraham about Sodom and Gomorrah.
And in the rest of the verses of this chapter, we begin to see why God chose Abraham. We don’t know why God chose Abraham. We have seen him make some poor decisions along the way. But we have also seen him grow in his faith and trust in God. We have seen his bravery and courage in his successful military campaign. We have seen his humility and gracious nature in the way he handled Lot, and the way he has treated these three strangers. And now we are going to see Abraham have the courage and fortitude to argue with God himself.
22 So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” 26 And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
This is truly an amazing conversation that we will see here between Abraham and the Lord. First of all, it says the two men, the two angels, headed toward Sodom. Interesting that later on, in the Mosaic Law that God gives, two witnesses are required for capital punishment.
So the two angels went ahead, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. It’s as if Abraham is standing there, struggling to decide whether to say something or not on behalf of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. When God informs Noah of the flood, the Bible does not record any conversation that Noah had with God, no mention of Noah asking God for mercy on the people, no arguing, no pleading. Nothing. But not so with Abraham.
To this point, God has had three conversations with Abraham. But each of those times was dealing with Abraham himslef. He was the subject. But this is different. This time it is dealing with other people. This time God involves concern for the welfare of other people. And now, Abraham once again displays his awareness of the suffering of other people, and an ability to think beyond his own personal interests. And it’s not like he didn’t know how the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were, he didn’t live that far away. But he shows himself to be a moral man.
And so, as Bible scholar Nahum Sarna said, “Abraham now stands before God to plead for the lives of depraved pagans”
And Abraham draws near to the Lord and asks, “will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? This is an amazing exchange we are about to go through here. First of all, consider the courage it took on Abraham’s part to question the Lord.
Abraham here proposes that the future of everyone in the city should not be determined by the wicked people of the city. His concern here is about justice. Abraham continues to ask God, “What if there are 50 righteous people in the city, would you not spare the city for their sake?
But he then takes it a step further. Abraham says to the Lord, “Far be it from you to do such a thing! To put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” In a sense here, Abraham is challenging God. He is challenging him on the subject of justice. What does Abraham think would be just? I mean, it is his faith in God’s justice that causes him to raise this issue in the first place. And so he protests that God would not do that, he is saying “surely, God, you would not do that! Being a just God, you would never destroy the innocent along with the guilty! Far be it from you!
Incidentally, Abraham’s argument, his point of contention, is still argued in our legal system today, that it is better that 10 guilty people escape than one innocent person suffer. This is sort of the same reason some people don’t believe in capital punishment today. They realize how corrupt some of our courts can be, and they would rather see a guilty person not receive the death penalty than an innocent person put to death.
But after Abraham makes his point, how does the Lord respond? Well first, notice that he isn’t angry with Abraham for challenging his plan, with questioning or arguing with him. God simply responds to Abraham’s moral argument by saying “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”, which I’m sure was His plan all along. So don’t think that Abraham changes God’s mind. God is teaching Abraham here a lesson in justice.
Abraham must have been emboldened by his little victory here, because he begins to press his luck.
27 Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28 Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 30 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” 31 He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” 32 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” 33 And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.
So, what are we to make of this conversation? Abraham begins to sort of barter with God, slowly bringing the number from 50, all the way down to 10.
But before that, notice what Abraham says before he begins bargaining. He says, ‘I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.” Abraham humbles himself first, realizing who he is, and who he is speaking with.
And then notice how he begins. His first move is to ask if there were only 45 righteous people if God would still destroy the city. But that is not how he asks the question. Notice, he says, what if 5 of the 50 righteous were lacking”. This is asking the question in a way that makes it seem like, look, what if the number was only 5 less. He didn’t say 45. He is emphasizing the number 5, hoping that God would not destroy the city because only 5 fewer people were righteous! We could all learn a few bargaining and negotiating tips from Abraham! That was brilliant! And God simply says, if I find 45, I will not destroy it.
Abraham is gaining momentum now, and asks, “what if there were only 40”? Again, God’s response is the same, “For the sake of the 40 I will not do it”
Abraham probaby begins to realize he is starting to push it now, so he says “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak”. Suppose thirty are found there.” God answers “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.”
Abraham begins to push it now, Suppose twenty are found there.” And again, God answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it”
But Abraham decides to push it one last time, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” And again, God answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”
And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.
The obvious question is, what if Abraham would have gone all the way to 1 righteous person. What do you think God’s answer would have been? Well, we will find out in the next episode, because the angels cannot do their job until Lot and his family are removed from the city first.
One thing that we learn about Abraham here is that he demonstrates a concern for justice, a concern for humanity. As Dennis Prager wrote, “The people of Sodom are not his family, not his people, not his ethnicity, or his religion, yet their fate weighed on him”. Again, there is another lesson for all of us here. Justice, compassion, concern for humanity in general, is a character trait we should all display and practice.
Just because people look different than we do, or speak differently, or have lighter or darker skin, or have a different culture, should not impact our concern for them. Jesus taught us in Matthew 5 – 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
Consider the words of Jesus when he was asked “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, in Matthew 12 verse 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And like Abraham, we need to put this into practice.
I will end this episode by focusing on Abraham’s concern for God’s justice, and righteousness. Remember, God is an infinite being, perfectly holy and perfectly righteous, and perfectly just. His nature requires Him to punish evil and wickedness. The Bible tells us in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Abraham asks God if he will indeed punish the righteous along with the wicked. And the answer is no, he won’t. It is a picture of the end of times, when this era comes to an end. The righteous will not suffer the same fate as the wicked.
So the question is how do you become a righteous person? The answer is, through your own efforts you don’t! You can’t! You don’t have the ability within yourself to reconcile yourself to an infinite Holy God whom you have offended by your sin and wickedness.
So if there is going to be any reconciliation at all, into a right relationship with God, it has to be initiated by the offended party, God himself. And that is exactly what God did. He came in the person of Jesus, and lived a perfectly sinless life, and so fulfilled the requirements of the law perfectly, so that his sacrifice for you was acceptable to pay the price for your sin. 2 Cor 5:21 tells us that “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Anyone outside of the righteousness of Jesus Christ is like a prisoner on death row, condemned to death, with no way to escape their punishment, unless they receive a pardon. We all have been condemned due to our sin against God, but Jesus Christ has provided a pardon for you. All you have to do is reach out and accept the pardon. And like Romans 10:13 tells us, For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”