Genesis 18 A Son Is Promised to Sarah
The LORD appeared again to Abraham near the oak grove belonging to Mamre.
This location is in the hills west of the Dead Sea. It is about a third of the way down from the northern point of the Dead Sea. It is close to Hebron. Abraham seemed to be attracted to the hill country. He seems to be on the ridge between the Mediterranean and the Jordan valley when he camps.
One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. 2 He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.
Abraham is 99 years old and still running around! Bowing low to the ground is not for the fragile and feeble.
3 “My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. 4 Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. 5 And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.” “All right,” they said. “Do as you have said.”
Foot washing is a cultural sign of hospitality in Abraham’s world and will be 2000 years later when Jesus comes to live with us. Did one of these men stand out that Abraham speaks in the singular even though there are three men.
6 So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry! Get three large measures of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread.” 7 Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it.
Apparently, Abraham is hyperactive as he runs everywhere he goes, The hospitality offered is impressive since Abraham does not yet know these strangers. He is the head of his group of people, a man of stature and respect but he is a servant to these strangers.
8 When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees. 9 “Where is Sarah, your wife?” the visitors asked. “She’s inside the tent,” Abraham replied. 10 Then one of them said, “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will havea son!” Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent.
11 Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children.
Jews do not mix dairy and meat. This meal must have predated the tradition of not mixing dairy and flesh. The only biblical command to substantiate this practice is found in Exodus 23:19 “You shall not cook akid in its mother’s milk.” The reason could be that this was a pagan practice or it was to indicate compassion for animals.
The statement of Sarah’s imminent pregnancy and birth is the central point of the above verses and it forms the background to the next statement.
12 So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?”
13 Then the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’
The identity of one of the strangers is now revealed without comment. Perhaps since only the LORD could know that Sarah had laughed silently was evidence of his divinity. One year because Abraham needed to heal from circumcision.
14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” 15 Sarah was afraid, so she denied it, saying, “I didn’t laugh.” But the LORD said, “No, you did laugh.”
What is this dialogue about? Why is it inserted in the narrative? Is it to reveal our difficulty in believing the Word of the LORD? The LORD’s promises come true in spite of our unbelief. Understand the situation Abraham and Sarah were in. After 13 years they both accepted Ishmael was their heir. There are many miracles which are required to make this birth possible. Conception at 90, carrying to term, giving to birth, breast feeding the child are all miracles for a 90-year-old woman. Sarah and Abraham both ;laughed in disbelief but when Isaac is born they will laugh with joy. Isaac means “laughter.”
This event is a good rebuttal to those who question the miracle birth of Jesus. Most of the infertility was blamed on the women but there are impotent men in the story. Ruth’s sons were infertile in the book of Judges.
The miracle birth of Isaac resulted in Judaism. The miracle birth of Jesus resulted in Christianity.
Abraham Intercedes for Sodom
16 Then the men got up from their meal and looked out toward Sodom.
From the hill country it was possible to look down on the Rift Valley which contained the Dead Sea and the cities of the plain around this sea.
As they left, Abraham went with them to send them on their way. This is further evidence of the hospitality of Abraham.
17 “Should I hide my plan from Abraham?” the LORD asked.
God is talking out loud, or is the writer adding some surmising’s of his own?18 “For Abraham will certainly become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. 19 I have singled him out so that he will direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just. Then I will do for Abraham all that I have promised.”
Is the LORD talking to his two companions or to himself? In either event how did this part of the narrative come to be known? Was this information part of the inspiration that we accord to the bible writers. The challenge then is why they sometimes get their cosmology wrong. The earth cannot be moved (Psalm 104:5; 96:10; 93:1; 1 Chronicles 16:30). The story tellers could have supplied this information. Moses could supplied this detail of what God said to himself.
20 So the LORD told Abraham, “I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant. 21 I am going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I have heard. If not, I want to know.”
The LORD knew the situation in Sodom. How shall we explain the apparent lie by the omniscient LORD? Because motive is the deciding factor is situations like this. The LORD is opening up dialogue with Abraham about Sodom which concerns Abraham’s nephew, Lot. When we ask a child what they think it is not to gain understanding about the subject of the conversation but hear the heart of the child. We feign ignorance to promote the dialogue. Counselors will often not reveal what they already know to
enable the necessary dialogue. Discussion on Open Theism including John Wenham and Richard Rice.
22 The other men turned and headed toward Sodom, but the LORD remained with Abraham. 23 Abraham approached him and said, “Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked? 24 Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? 25 Surely you wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, you would
be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely you wouldn’t do that!
Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?”
Abraham is confronting the LORD on a moral basis. I am sure the LORD was enjoying this dialogue because I would have. There are questions that need to be settled between you and the LORD. General questions such as: Since I did not ask to be born on this planet why am I punished for not reaching your standard? If you love me, why did I have a miscarriage? If you protect the weak, why was I abused? This is what it means to have an authentic dialogue (prayer) with the LORD. David excels at dialogue with the
LORD in the psalms he composed. Read Psalm 58 as an example of his authentic transparency of how he feels. Also Psalms 32, 44:17-23, 51 and 139.
26 And the LORD replied, “If I find fifty righteous people in Sodom, I will spare the entire city for their sake.” 27 Then Abraham spoke again. “Since I have begun, let me speak further to my Lord, even though I am but dust and ashes. 28 Suppose there are only forty-five righteous people rather than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?”
And the LORD said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five righteous people there.”
The LORD is encouraging Abraham in his mission of mercy for his nephew Lot. He is happy for Abraham’s concern. Abram appears to be kinder than the LORD in this dialogue (prayer).
29 Then Abraham pressed his request further. “Suppose there are only forty?” And the LORD replied, “I will not destroy it for the sake of the forty.”
30 “Please don’t be angry, my Lord,” Abraham pleaded. “Let me speak—suppose only thirty righteous people are found?”
And the LORD replied, “I will not destroy it if I find thirty.”
31 Then Abraham said, “Since I have dared to speak to the Lord, let me continue—suppose there are only twenty?”
And the LORD replied, “Then I will not destroy it for the sake of the twenty.”
32 Finally, Abraham said, “Lord, please don’t be angry with me if I speak one more time. Suppose only ten are found there?”
And the LORD replied, “Then I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten.”
The LORD has exhausted the mercy of Abraham. They have matched mercy and the LORD has shown that he is more merciful that his kind 99-year-old saint, Abraham. Our prayers often make it appear that we are more merciful than the LORD. When we ask the LORD to remember someone in hospital the hidden agenda is that the LORD may not know or may have forgotten about them or may not be as concerned as we are about them. When we cry for mercy, we mean that we need mercy more than the LORD would give mercy if we did not ask him. We are actually implying that we are morally superior to
God when we ask for his mercy or help for others. There is an alternative way to talking to God. Abraham knew this way and demonstrated in this situation.
Abraham could have responded: “I know that you love Lot and care for him. You are wonderful my LORD.”
By-the-way the above dialogue (prayer) between Abraham and the LORD is a great example of the patience of the LORD with our prayers. This is why the Spirit needs to rephrase our prayers (Romans 8:26-27).
33 When the LORD had finished his conversation with Abraham, he went on his way, and Abraham returned to his tent.
They were both satisfied with their conversation.
Ian Hartley, April 2023