This chapter is to be understood in its relation to ch 19, with which it has many points of comparison and contrast. The two chapters are very much a literary unity.
‘Lot and his family, as in chaps. 13–14, provide a contrast to Abraham that enhances his stature as the standard bearer for blessing. In chap. 13 Abraham was the generous kinsman and in chap. 14 the impressive warrior who rescues his nephew; here Abraham is the generous host (18:1–15) and the confidant of the Lord whose intercessory pleas (18:16–33) contribute to Lot’s rescue again. Lot cannot save his guests, not even himself (19:29); the Sodomites rebuff his feeble actions (cp. Judg 19:23–25). Ironically, it is his guests who must save themselves and deliver him from the city’s citizens (cp. Judg 19:25–26). The similarities between chaps. 18 and 19 (see above) point up the dissimilarities of the two men: Abraham hosts the visitors in safety at his tent (18:1), whereas Lot welcomes the angels to his house (19:1–2), who are put at jeopardy among the Sodomites; the visitors gladly comply with Abraham’s request to dine (18:5b), but the angels reluctantly agree to Lot’s histrionic insistence (19:2b–3a; cp. Judg 13:16); Abraham’s meal “in the heat of the day” (18:1) includes the delicacies of the fattened calf and curds, but the arrival of the angels “in the evening” (19:1) catches Lot unprepared, and he offers only a meal of unleavened bread (19:3); and Abraham and Sarah scurry about to serve the guests, with Abraham attending to the seated men (18:8c); but Lot is not prepared, and his wife is not mentioned (19:3). Another striking contrast is their respective roles as progenitors of new nations. Lot generates two nations (19:30–38) but ignorantly, whereas Abraham is deliberately and honorably the “father of many nations” (17:5). Chapters 18–19 depict Lot as less competent and virtuous than Abraham, who is the sagacious leader of his clan.’ (NAC)
Three Special Visitors
18:1 The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest time of the day. 18:2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing across from him. When he saw them he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
‘In verses 1-15 nothing is added to the promise of Gen 17:15ff. What is new is its setting, and the challenge to Sarah’s faith. – for she must be brought into believing participation. How necessary the challenge was, can be seen in Gen 18:12-15; how successful, in Heb 11:11.’ (Kidner)
The Lord appeared to Abraham – The visit of the three men, then, is to be regarded as an appearance of the Lord. In fact, Gen 18:33 acts as a kind of inclusio, referring as it does to the Lord’s departure, and defining the whole chapter as an account of the Lord’s appearance to Abraham.
The Heb. has, lit. ‘appeared to him’, but v6 clarifies that this was indeed Abraham.
There are, in fact, both similarities and differences, between this account involving Abraham and the account in the following chapter involving Lot. ‘There are close similarities between the account of Abraham’s visit by “three men” and Lot’s visit by the “two angels/men” (Gen 19:1–2). In ch. 18 Abraham is sitting “at the entrance to his tent,” whereas in ch. 19 Lot is “sitting in the gateway of [Sodom]” (v.1). Second, when Abraham “saw” the men, he ran “to meet them” and “bowed low to the ground” and said, “O Lord, if now” (see NIV note); so also Lot in ch. 19, when he “saw” the angels/men, he got up “to meet them” and “bowed down with his face to the ground” and said, “Behold now, my lords” (NIV, “My lord”). One primary difference between the two accounts is the way the visitors are greeted. Abraham addressed them as “Lord” and appropriately used the singular to address all three men in v.3 (see above). Lot, however, addressed the visitors as “lords” and thus used the plural to address the two angels/men. Abraham, who had just entered the covenant (ch. 17), recognized the Lord when he appeared to him, whereas Lot, who then lived in Sodom, did not recognize the Lord. Abraham knew God, but Lot did not.’ (EBC)[/su_spoiler]
He was sitting at the entrance to his tent – Having his siesta. ‘The goatskin tents of pastoral nomadic people were designed to hold in heat at night with the flaps down and to allow a breeze to pass through during the day, when the flaps were up. Sitting at the entrance during the heat of the day would provide needed shade while a person enjoyed the breeze and guarded the tent’s contents.’ (IVP Bible Background Commentary)
Three men – On the varied descriptions of these three visitors, Wenham comments: ‘Throughout these chapters, the relationships between “the LORD,” “the men,” and “the angels” are shrouded in mystery. Initially it is said that “The LORD appeared” (v 1), but Abraham sees three men (v 2); there is also the strange alternation between singular and plural address in vv 3–4, as though Abraham regarded one as the leader. The supernatural nature of the visitors becomes evident in their conversation, and the promise of a son seems to prove that at least one of them speaks for the LORD. Nevertheless, the exact relationship between them is again blurred in vv 16–17 when “the men stood up … But the LORD thought.” Here at last the identity of the visitors is clarified: one is or represents the LORD; the other two are angelic companions. When they arrive in Sodom, they are called angels (19:1). It is never explicitly said that the LORD entered Sodom; the underlying assumption is no doubt that he could not endure the presence of such sin. Even the angels are most reluctant to stay a night (19:2). Gunkel, Westermann, and Haag see the variation in description of the visitors and the alternation of singular and plural address as proof of the composite nature of the narrative. With Delitzsch, Dillmann, and Jacob, I see these confusions as deliberate: they express the difficulty of human comprehension of the divine world.’
The honour and lavishness extended to the three visitors is characteristic of bedouin hospitality, although here the guests turn out to be special indeed, cf Heb 13:2; Mt 25:35. Abraham’s response seems to offer extraordinary hospitality, even by the standards of the day. We must wonder if he perceived something extraordinary about his guests.
‘Hospitality customs required that all strangers who approached a dwelling were to be offered the opportunity to rest, refresh themselves and eat a meal. This was done to transform potential enemies into at least temporary friends. Protocol required that the meal served to the guest exceed what was first offered. Thus Abraham simply offers a meal, but what he orders prepared is freshly baked bread, a calf and a mixture of milk and yogurt. What is particularly generous here is the fresh meat, an item not usually found in their daily diet.’ (IVP Bible Background Commentary)
‘In what sense might we count Lot “righteous,” given the narrative’s generally negative portrayal when compared to Abraham? When Lot is compared to his Sodomite neighbors, he can be regarded a strikingly moral man. He followed rigorously the custom of hospitality toward strangers, despite the intense pressure of the threat of death. Moreover, although having committed incest, the passage makes it clear that he was a victim, which mitigates somewhat his culpability. Early Christian interpreters pointed to Lot’s generosity toward the angels and commended him for resisting the wickedness of his fellow citizens as features worthy of Christian imitation (e.g., Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 43.10–12; Ambrose, Flight from the World 9.55–56). Both Noah and Lot, whose lives ended disgracefully (drunkenness), nevertheless stood out as admirable people when set against the background of their wicked times. Commenting on Lot’s sin against his daughters, Calvin remarked, “Yet such are commonly the works of holy men: since nothing proceeds from them so excellent, as not to be in some respect defective.”’ (NAC)
18:3 He said, “My lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by and leave your servant. 18:4 Let a little water be brought so that you may all wash your feet and rest under the tree. 18:5 And let me get a bit of food so that you may refresh yourselves since you have passed by your servant’s home. After that you may be on your way.” “All right,” they replied, “you may do as you say.”
You may all wash your feet – Footwashing was standard hospitality in this dry, dusty climate.
Abraham is a perfect host. Although some discourage the drawing of exemplarist lessons from OT texts, Heb 13:2 urges us to do precisely that with regard to this account of Abraham’s hospitality.
‘In this day of convenient motels and hotels, we rarely think about what it means to entertain strangers (Heb. 13:1–2); but hospitality is an important part of Christian ministry (Rom. 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9). In fact, “given to hospitality” is one of the requirements for leadership in the local church (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8). By lovingly serving others, we serve Jesus Christ our Lord (Matt. 25:34–40), and we promote the spread of God’s truth (3 John 5–8).’ (Wiersbe)
18:6 So Abraham hurried into the tent and said to Sarah, “Quick! Take three measures of fine flour, knead it, and make bread.” 18:7 Then Abraham ran to the herd and chose a fine, tender calf, and gave it to a servant, who quickly prepared it. 18:8 Abraham then took some curds and milk, along with the calf that had been prepared, and placed the food before them. They ate while he was standing near them under a tree.
Three seahs – about 20 quarts.
Curds – yoghurt.
18:9 Then they asked him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” He replied, “There, in the tent.” 18:10 One of them said, “I will surely return to you when the season comes round again, and your wife Sarah will have a son!” (Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, not far behind him. 18:11 Abraham and Sarah were old and advancing in years; Sarah had long since passed menopause.) 18:12 So Sarah laughed to herself, thinking, “After I am worn out will I have pleasure, especially when my husband is old too?”
“Where is your wife Sarah?” – An indication of their miraculous knowledge.
It may have been customary for women not to eat with men.
‘The miraculous nature of the announcement is underscored by the Lord’s amazing discernment of Sarah’s private thoughts (vv. 12–15). Sarah’s position in the tent, “behind him” (v. 10b), and her internal monologue, “to herself” (v. 12a), indicate that by unusual means the visitor knew her heart, not having seen a facial expression or heard a chuckle. Such exceptional perception gave credibility to the visitor’s unlikely prediction of a child.’ (NAC)
Sarah laughed to herself – Either she did not know of the promise made to Abraham, or she was not convinced by it. Accordingly, her laughter was either that of astonishment or of derision. The latter fits the context better. She was incredulous.
‘Abraham’s laughter had been born out of joyful faith (17:17); but Sarah’s laughter was marked by unbelief, even though she tried to deny it.’ (Wiersbe)
18:13 The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child when I am old?’ 18:14 Is anything impossible for the LORD? I will return to you when the season comes round again and Sarah will have a son.” 18:15 Then Sarah lied, saying, “I did not laugh,” because she was afraid. But the LORD said, “No! You did laugh.”
Another indication of the supernatural knowledge of these visitors. They knew that Sarah had laughed, even though she had only done so inwardly, behind ‘the Lord’, v10.
Sarah’s incredulous laughter seems very natural. Here she is, of an angel when she might well be in an old people’s home, being told to put her name down for an antenatal class!
“Is anything too hard for the Lord?” – Compare the angel’s word to Elizabeth: “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Lk 1:37).
Abraham Pleads for Sodom
18:16 When the men got up to leave, they looked out over Sodom. (Now Abraham was walking with them to see them on their way.) 18:17 Then the LORD said, “Should I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? 18:18 After all, Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations on the earth will pronounce blessings on one another using his name. 18:19 I have chosen him so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just. Then the LORD will give to Abraham what he promised him.”
‘The contemplative character of vv. 17–19 indicates the divine deliberativeness of involving Abraham (e.g., 1:26; 2:18; 6:7; 11:6–7); his inclusion is reminiscent of the divine council (e.g., Job 1:6; Ps 89:7) and prophetic circle of the Lord (e.g., 1 Kgs 22:14–28; Isa 40:1–2). Revelation is God’s prerogative, which often occurred by dreams and visions (e.g., 15:1; 20:3; 28:12; 31:10–11, 24; 46:2; Num 12:6; 1 Sam 3:1; and the prophets). The “face to face” encounter Moses experienced was distinctive (Num 12:8; Deut 34:10), “as a man speaks with his friend” (Exod 33:11); with Moses there was no angelic intermediary (e.g., 16:7; 21:17; 22:15; 32:30; Judg 6:22). There is also no parallel for Abraham’s experience in which he repeatedly negotiates with the Lord, although human request and divine compliance was not unheard of (e.g., Exod 32:11–14; Amos 7:3, 6). Abraham encountered the Lord like a “friend” (2 Chr 20:7), and thus he was a fitting prototype for the prophet, Moses.’ (NAC)
‘The first reason for Abraham’s status as confidant is tied directly to the divine call and promise of 12:2–3 (22:18; 26:4; 27:29, 33; 28:14); the man will father “a great and powerful nation” (v. 18).’ (NAC)
“I have chosen him” – lit., ‘I knew him’. ‘Abraham was chosen to be a blessing to the whole earth, but his vocation was to begin to take effect in the simple”]st way. He was called to teach his own household, who again would hand down the truth to their households. His being a blessing to the world depended on his being a blessing to his own home.’ (James Strachan)
“Doing what is right and just” – ‘The moral standing of Abraham’s future covenant household (“right and just,” 18:19) versus the wickedness of Lot’s world (Sodom, 19:7, 9) and, concomitantly, the moral question of God’s justice (18:25; also 20:4) cooperate with the larger narrative theme of promise to hold the pericope together (13:13; 18:23, 25; 19:7)…Although we cannot date Job definitively, at least we know that the story’s setting is patriarchal, suggesting an acquaintance with such questions raised from earliest times.’ (NAC)
18:20 So the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so blatant 18:21 that I must go down and see if they are as wicked as the outcry suggests. If not, I want to know.”
As with the tower of Babel episode (Gen 11) God comes down to investigate human wickedness before taking action. He thus demonstrates his justice and fairness.
18:22 The two men turned and headed toward Sodom, but Abraham was still standing before the LORD. 18:23 Abraham approached and said, “Will you sweep away the godly along with the wicked? 18:24 What if there are fifty godly people in the city? Will you really wipe it out and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty godly people who are in it? 18:25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the godly with the wicked, treating the godly and the wicked alike! Far be it from you! Will not the judge of the whole earth do what is right?”
The men…the Lord – The identify of Abraham’s three visitors becomes clearer. Two are referred to as ‘men’ here (‘angels’ in Gen 19:1), and are distinguished from ‘the Lord.’
Standing before the Lord – as at the bar of justice.
‘Genesis 18:23–32 consists of a unique dialogue in Scripture between the Lord and a petitioner. Moses and Amos petitioned the Lord in behalf of Israel (Exod 32:11–14; Amos 7:1–6), but here the intercession is in behalf of the wicked foreigners. Abraham’s role as an intermediary of blessing for others (12:3) is illustrated here and by his prayer for Abimelech’s house (20:7, 17). Jonah, on the other hand, could not abide the sufferance of God toward Nineveh. Abraham shows remarkable compassion, for in Jonah’s case the Ninevites repented, but there is no repentance demanded of the cities of the plain.’ (NAC)
‘Although Abraham launches into a lengthy disputation (vv. 22–25) and sustains his intercession for five more speeches, there is no feverish haggling here; the deference Abraham shows and the Lord’s amicable agreement hardly make for a torrid debate. The passage ends with the Lord literally having the last word (v. 32), and the diminishing length of Abraham’s speeches suggests that he is wearing down. One might think of the same trend observed among Job’s friends who finally run out of words. Abraham is vigilant, perhaps reminding Christian readers of Jesus’ parable of the friend in need (Luke 11:5–8). But the parable depends on the friend’s genuine perseverance in the face of refusal; in Abraham’s experience, however, the Lord’s response is always compliance.. (NAC)
‘God is far from being a tribal God; He is “the Judge of all the earth.” The critics have failed to evaluate this fact properly.’ (Leopold)
‘Haggling is a part of all Middle Eastern business transactions. In this case, however, Abraham’s determination of the exact number of righteous persons needed to prevent the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah provides a repeated demonstration of God’s just actions. A just God will not destroy the righteous without warning or investigation. Even the unrighteous, in this early period, can be spared for the sake of the righteous. On the other hand, however, justice is not served by overlooking wickedness. The discussion of the number of righteous people may concern not whether they can balance the wickedness of the rest but whether, given time, they might be able to exert a reforming influence.’ (IVP Bible Background Commentary)
‘Did Abraham change God’s mind? Of course not. The more likely answer is that God changed Abraham’s mind. Abraham knew that God is just and that he punishes sin, but he may have wondered about God’s mercy. Abraham seemed to be probing God’s mind to see how merciful he really was. He left his conversation with God convinced that God was both kind and fair. Our prayers won’t change God’s mind, but they may change ours just as Abraham’s prayer changed his. Prayer helps us better understand the mind of God.’ (HBA)
v25 As Calvin remarks, Abraham does not here presume to teach God his duty. But he is perplexed as to how a righteous God can destroy righteous people along with the unrighteous. ‘He desires, however, to be relieved from this difficulty with which he is perplexed. So, whenever different temptations contend within our minds, and some appearance of contradiction presents itself in the works of God, only let our persuasion of His justice remain fixed, and we shall be permitted to pour into His bosom the difficulties which torment us, in order that He may loosen the knots which we cannot untie. Paul seems to have taken from this place the answer with which he represses the blasphemy of those who charge God with unrighteousness.’
‘Justice is rooted in the very nature of God (Isa 40:14). He evenhandedly rewards good, and he does not ignore the sins of any (Psalm 33:5; 37:6, 28; 97:2; 99:4). Human judges do well to remember God in their courts. God does not take bribes (Deut 10:17) or pervert justice in any way (Gen 18:25; 2 Chron 19:7).’ (EDBT)
‘He “fills his mouth with arguments”. (Job 23:4) Let us also: this will increase faith and fervency.’ (Trapp)
‘Note, [1.] God is the Judge of all the earth; he gives charge to all, takes cognizance of all, and will pass sentence upon all. [2.] That God Almighty never did nor ever will do any wrong to any of the creatures, either by withholding that which is right or by exacting more than is right, Job 34:10, 11.’ (MHC)
‘Abraham does not ask God to save Lot: he asks God to act righteously.’ (Williams, The Bible Application Handbook)
18:26 So the LORD replied, “If I find in the city of Sodom fifty godly people, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
‘He rested his argument upon the twin pillars of divine justice and divine mercy. Abraham was at a moral impasse: if the cities are destroyed, the innocent suffer, in which case the justice of God becomes suspect; or if the cities are spared, the guilty escape their just deserts, again impugning the integrity of God. His prayer, therefore, was that the mercy of God would deliver the city, to which God agrees “for the sake” of the righteous (v. 26).’ (NAC)
18:27 Then Abraham asked, “Since I have undertaken to speak to the Lord (although I am but dust and ashes), 18:28 what if there are five less than the fifty godly people? Will you destroy the whole city because five are lacking?” He replied, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.”
18:29 Abraham spoke to him again, “What if forty are found there?” He replied, “I will not do it for the sake of the forty.”
18:30 Then Abraham said, “May the Lord not be angry so that I may speak! What if thirty are found there?” He replied, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”
18:31 Abraham said, “Since I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty are found there?” He replied, “I will not destroy it for the sake of the twenty.”
18:32 Finally Abraham said, “May the Lord not be angry so that I may speak just once more. What if ten are found there?” He replied, “I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten.”
18:33 The LORD went on his way when he had finished speaking to Abraham. Then Abraham returned home.
‘The most striking feature of the moral enigma the story presents is the unexpected outcome in chap. 19; neither one of the two reasoned scenarios described above comes to pass. The innocent is spared, and the guilty appear consumed. Yet Lot’s request for the exemption of Zoar from destruction (Gen 19:21) is answered, showing that God does preserve the guilty on the account of the innocent Lot (Gen 18:26). The outcome shows that the Lord’s actions cannot be reduced to a simple juridical formula or precedent or that the Lord simply agreed to the patriarch’s intercessions. Both patriarchal figures, Abraham and Job, reflected openly on the justice of the Lord (as well as the psalmist) but ceased after hearing from the Lord (in each one’s own way), recognizing that they had no legitimate vantage point from which to govern the moral universe (e.g., Job 40:8; 42:1–7; Ps 73). Chapters 18–19 show that the Lord is truly free in his judgment and that his judgment is inscrutable. If Abraham is to father a heritage that adheres to the “way of the Lord by doing what is right and just” (v. 19), the question of the righteousness of God’s conduct is fundamental. The dialogue says more about the nature of God’s justice than the intercessory character of Abraham.’ (NAC)
‘Since Abraham’s initial plea (vv. 23–25), the Lord had responded six times (vv. 26, 28b, 29b, 30b, 31b, 32b), but then he ceased (cp. 17:22). By the abrupt end, the narrative tension is retained, but more importantly the matter remains solely in the mysterious will of the “Judge of all the earth” (v. 25).’ (NAC)