Genesis 18 – The Promise of Isaac Confirmed
A. Abraham welcomes important visitors.
1. (1-5) Abraham invites the LORD and two others to a meal.
Then the LORD appeared 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, and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant.” They said, “Do as you have said.”
a. Then the LORD appeared: Apparently, this happened a short time after the events of Genesis 17. In Genesis 17:21, God said Sarah would give birth one year later, and at this time she was not yet pregnant; so this couldn’t be more than three months after the events in Genesis 17.
b. Then the LORD appeared to him by the terebinth trees: Here again, the LORD came to Abraham in human appearance. This is another presentation of Jesus in human form before His incarnation, here among the three men visiting Abraham.
i. We can assume that this was God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, appearing to Abraham before His incarnation and birth at Bethlehem. We assume this because of God the Father it says, No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him (John 1:18), and no man has ever seen God in the Person of the Father (1 Timothy 6:16). Therefore, if God appeared to someone in human appearance in the Old Testament (and no one has seen God the Father) it makes sense the appearance is of the eternal Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, before His incarnation in Bethlehem.
c. The terebinth trees of Mamre: This was a significant place in Abraham’s life. Abraham moved to Mamre when he came back into the promised land from Egypt and built an altar there (Genesis 13:18), and apparently stayed there some time (Genesis 14:13). Abraham purchased a field and cave at Mamre, using it for Sarah’s burial (Genesis 23:17-19). Abraham himself was buried there (Genesis 25:9), and his son Isaac was also buried there (Genesis 49:30, 50:13).
d. Behold, three men were standing by him: Though we don’t know if Abraham immediately understood the identity of his visitors, he did honor the leader of these three as his superior (bowed himself to the ground).
i. Though the LORD (in the Person of Jesus Christ) appeared to Abraham twice before (Genesis 12:7, 17:1), we don’t know if Jesus looked the same each time, or if Abraham simply knew who it was by some sort of intuition or spiritual knowledge.
e. He ran from the tent door to meet them: According to his godliness and the customs of that culture, Abraham enthusiastically offered the hospitality of his house to these travelers.
2. (6-8) Sarah and Abraham prepare a meal for their visitors.
So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd, took a tender and good calf, gave it to a young man, and he hastened to prepare it. So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate.
a. Abraham hurried into the tent: Abraham’s urgency seems to go beyond the great sense of hospitality that was common in his time. Abraham understood there was something special about these three visitors.
b. Abraham ran to the herd: Though Abraham and Sarah hurried to prepare this meal for their visitors, it still took considerable time to make and serve the food. The sense is that Abraham and Sarah themselves did this work, instead of commanding servants to do it for them.
3. (9-10) God reconfirms His promise of a son.
Then they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” So he said, “Here, in the tent.” And He said, “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.” (Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him.)
a. Where is Sarah your wife: They called her according to her new name, given just a few weeks before (Genesis 17:15-16).
b. I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son: This promise of regeneration (return to you according to the time of life) was specifically made to Abraham. Sarah also was miraculously regenerated, but this promise was to Abraham.
c. Sarah your wife shall have a son: It seems that God dramatically repeated this promise to Abraham in a relatively short time (previously in Genesis 17:17-22). Like Abraham, we need to hear God’s promises over and over again. It is a way God uses to encourage and develop our faith: So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).
4. (11-12) Sarah’s reaction to God’s promise.
Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”
a. Sarah had passed the age of childbearing: By all outward circumstance, there was good reason for Sarah to laugh at the literal fulfillment of this promise. She had passed the age of childbearing, which literally seems to mean, “the manner of women had ceased to be with Sarah.” She had stopped menstruating and had gone through menopause.
i. Even accounting for their long lives (Abraham lived to be 175 and Sarah 127), they were both well past middle age. It would take a miracle of God for them to have literal children through normal means.
b. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself: Significantly, this is what Sarah (and Abraham) most wanted all their lives – to have a child of their own. Yet they found it hard to believe God’s promise when He said He would grant it to them.
i. It is strangely characteristic of us to believe God’s promise for a long, long, time, enduring through much discouragement along the way, until the promise is almost there, and then we find doubt. We are grateful that He is greater than our doubts.
c. After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure: Sarah laughed within herself at this promise. She could not believe God would literally grant this child as the result of normal sexual relations.
i. Leupold translates Genesis 18:12, “After I have become worn out, have I enjoyed sexual delight and my lord too is an old man?” Leupold then observed, “The matter is not put very delicately by Sarah.”
ii. It may be, even after the dramatic promises of Genesis 17, Abraham and Sarah found some way to spiritualize God’s promise, making it mean something other than what God intended. Here, God made it plain: Abraham and Sarah would have normal sexual relations and produce a baby.
5. (13-15) God answers Sarah’s laugh.
And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh!”
a. Why did Sarah laugh: God heard Sarah’s laugh even though she laughed within herself. The sense was, her laugh could not be heard normally, but God heard it nevertheless. There was nothing hidden before the LORD.
i. We might live very differently if we remembered that God hears and knows everything we think and say.
b. At the appointed time I will return to you: When Sarah laughed at God’s twice-given promise, we might think God would take the promise away. Instead, God responded by dealing with her sin of unbelief, not by taking away the promise.
i. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13).
c. Is there anything too hard for the LORD: God would demonstrate through Abraham and Sarah that there is nothing too hard for the LORD, and that God can even triumph over the weak faith of His people.
i. Hard is the same Hebrew word for wonderful in Isaiah 9:6: For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given… And His name will be called Wonderful. Jesus is our “wonderful” One, and He isn’t too hard or wonderful for God to give unto us.
d. The LORD said to Abraham: Significantly, God dealt with Abraham about this, not Sarah herself, because Abraham was the head of his home. God promised that it would happen, and at the appointed time.
B. Abraham intercedes for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
1. (16-19) God decides to reveal to Abraham the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Then the men rose from there and looked toward Sodom, and Abraham went with them to send them on the way. And the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall 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.”
a. Abraham went with them to send them on the way: In that day, it was customary for a hospitable host to accompany his guests on their journey for a while as they departed.
b. And the LORD said: God asked Himself a question. He didn’t do this because He didn’t know what to do or needed to process His thinking. God asked Himself this question to reveal His thinking to us, the readers of Genesis.
c. Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing: Because of what God would bring from Abraham (a great and mighty nation), and because Abraham had to be a great leader (that he may command his children and his household after him), God determined to reveal to Abraham what He would soon do with Sodom and Gomorrah.
i. The reasons stated in this passage are important. God’s purpose in revealing this to Abraham was not just to share interesting or shocking information, and it wasn’t to simply satisfy Abraham’s curiosity. God wanted to do something in Abraham’s life through what He would reveal to him.
2. (20-21) God tells Abraham He will see if Sodom and Gomorrah are worthy of judgment.
And the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”
a. Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great: The offense of these cities was great, their sin was very grave, and we may suppose that this outcry came from many sources.
· God and His holy justice cried out against Sodom and Gomorrah.
· On-looking angelic beings cried out against Sodom and Gomorrah.
· The multitude of victims of Sodom and Gomorrah’s depravity cried out against those cities.
· Creation itself was affected by their unnatural transgression, and cried out against them.
b. I will go down now and see: Because the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous (Psalm 19:9, Revelation 16:7), God would only judge Sodom and Gomorrah on direct, accurate knowledge. We are not told this because God did not know, but to demonstrate to us the thorough character of God’s knowledge and integrity.
3. (22-26) Abraham asks an important question: Will God destroy the righteous with the wicked?
Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. And Abraham came near and said, “Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” So the LORD said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.”
a. The men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD: We see the two men were actually the angels who visited Sodom in Genesis 19. The third person in the party was actually the LORD Himself.
b. And Abraham came near: Abraham came near to the LORD. Effective intercession is a matter of drawing near to God so we can pray with His heart.
c. Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked: In discussing this question, in a sense, Abraham reminded the LORD of His own nature and principles (shall not the Judge of all the earth do right). Abraham thought that God, as a righteous Judge, could not and would not punish the innocent in the same way as the guilty.
i. Effective prayer speaks knowing who God is, and how God works in a particular situation. Effective prayer doesn’t see itself as a passive spectator in what God does, but effective prayer acts as if it must actually remind God in prayer.
ii. We might find it remarkable Abraham even cared about the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. He might have just prayed, “LORD, get my nephew Lot out of there first,” but he didn’t. Abraham’s heart was full of sorrow and compassion, even for the wicked of Sodom and Gomorrah.
d. If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes: God said this because Abraham asked. When Abraham drew near to the LORD and prayed according to God’s revealed nature and will, God agreed. The LORD said that He would spare the city if there were 50 righteous there.
4. (27-33) Abraham bargains with God for Sodom and Gomorrah.
Then Abraham answered and said, “Indeed now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord: Suppose there were five less than the fifty righteous; would You destroy all of the city for lack of five?” So He said, “If I find there forty-five, I will not destroy it.” And he spoke to Him yet again and said, “Suppose there should be forty found there?” So He said, “I will not do it for the sake of forty.” Then he said, “Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Suppose thirty should be found there?” So He said, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” And he said, “Indeed now, I have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord: Suppose twenty should be found there?” So He said, “I will not destroy it for the sake of twenty.” Then he said, “Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak but once more: Suppose ten should be found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it for the sake of ten.” So the LORD went His way as soon as He had finished speaking with Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place.
a. Suppose there were five less than the fifty righteous: In his first exchange with God, Abraham established a principle – that God would not destroy the righteous with the wicked. With that principle established, it was then just a matter of numbers. How many righteous people would God spare the city for?
i. Abraham’s intercession was effective because it was specific. He talked about specific numbers with God, and not only in broad, general terms. Often our prayers are ineffective because we really don’t ask the LORD to do anything. Instead, we often just toss wishes up to heaven.
b. Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Abraham continued his intercession with a bold humility. He was not proud or arrogant before the Lord, yet he still continued to ask.
i. Abraham’s humility was demonstrated in that nowhere in his prayer did he ask why or did he demand that God explain Himself and His actions.
c. Suppose ten should be found there: Abraham was a skilled negotiator and he prevailed upon God to lower the number of righteous required to spare the city. First by units of five, then by units of ten, until the number settled at ten.
i. It is impossible to miss the persistence of Abraham in intercession. Abraham did not stop asking at 40 or 50 and say simply, “Now it’s in the LORD’s hands” or “The LORD will do what the LORD will do.” Abraham shows us that there are times when an intercessor must feel that the eternal destiny of men and women depends on the intercessor’s prayer.
ii. This is the kind of heart God wanted to draw out of Abraham; a heart that cared so much for people made in the image of God that he worked hard to intercede on behalf of a city that deserved judgment. This was the heart a great leader of a large and mighty nation needed to have.
iii. Remember, there is a sense in which all this negotiation was in vain, because Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. There were not ten righteous people in the city, only four; and surely God knew how many righteous people there actually were in the cities. Yet God specifically revealed the fate of these cities to Abraham to draw out of him an intercessor’s heart of love, so even before the time of Jesus, Abraham could be conformed into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29), who is Himself an intercessor (Hebrews 7:25).
d. Abraham returned to his place: We wonder if Abraham should not have continued the negotiations because there were only four righteous in the city. Would God have spared the city for four if Abraham had asked? Perhaps Abraham felt Lot would surely have brought six people beyond his own family to God in his time in Sodom.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission