This article is part of a series of articles that resulted from my time preaching through the book of Genesis. The commentary on the passage is my own, resulting from hours of research and exegetical study. It is my intent to draw a biblical theology chapter by chapter through the book of Genesis that places the events of the narratives into the broad picture of the entire Bible, demonstrating the progressiveness of theology and the sufficiency of every Word of Scripture. It is my prayer that these articles are helpful to those seeking a better understanding of the book of Genesis and of the Bible as a whole. The sermon series and other resources can be found at www.fbcroxana.com.
God chose Abraham to give him a son through whom would come innumerable offspring who would be given the land of Canaan as an eternal possession. The wait for the promised son was excruciating. To everyone who had heard about the covenant promises God made to Abraham, it must have seemed as though God had failed. However, Abraham and Sarah continued in faith. They knew that God’s word would not fail, having been assured of the promises many times by God. Though the time had not yet come, the birth of the promised son was drawing near.
1 Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day.
This appearance of the LORD to Abraham is unique. He appears as a traveler in the company of two other men who are identified later as angels. It is not stated how Abraham knew that these visitors were not ordinary travelers, but it seems that he understands from the beginning that the LORD has come to visit him.
2 When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, 3 and said, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by. 4 Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; 5 and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant.”
Abraham rushed to meet the trio in order to bring them in and show them hospitality. This was typical courtesy in the Ancient Near East, however Abraham performed it with vigor due to the exalted status of his guests. He did not call his servants to care for the details while he entertained his guests, but hurried to take care of it himself.
And they said, “So do, as you have said.” 6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes.” 7 Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf and gave it to the servant, and he hurried to prepare it. 8 He took curds and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed it before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate.
Sarah and a servant were tasked with preparations while Abraham served the men. He chose the best and choicest items for food, and after he had served them, he stood at the ready should they need anything else. Here is a picture of humble service unto the LORD. Abraham did not exalt himself by reclining with the LORD and his angels, but stood in attendance as a lowly servant.
After the meal had been eaten, the LORD turned to the reason of His visit.
9 Then they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 10 He said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.”
The birth of a son was the event that Abraham and Sarah had been awaiting for decades. The LORD had called Abraham out of the country of his birth in order to sojourn in the land of Canaan. The LORD had promised that He would give Abraham a kingdom: descendants, land, and kings. This kingdom and its people would be the LORD’s people, and He would be their God. Up to this point, Abraham and Sarah believed, despite their age and Sarah’s barrenness; however they had not yet had even one child. However, now the birth of the promised son was nigh, and the LORD Himself had come to deliver the news.
And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. 12 Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”
Like Abraham before her, Sarah laughed in astonishment at the thought of having a child after her cycle had stopped. From a human standpoint it was unthinkable. But the LORD is capable of doing the unthinkable.
13 And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ 14 Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” 15 Sarah denied it however, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh.”
Nothing is hidden from God. He knew Sarah’s reaction before she even heard His words. He wanted them to trust Him that He was able to do what He said. He wanted them to know that He had not forgotten them, even when it may have seemed like it. he wanted them to see that He would never go back on any of His promises. He had made a covenant with Abraham which was dependent only on Himself (not Abraham or his descendants).
There was one other reason that the LORD had visited:
16 Then the men rose up from there, and looked down toward Sodom; and Abraham was walking with them to send them off.
Hebron was elevated over the valleys to the east. Hebron and Sodom were separated by less than a day’s journey. Sodom was the city where Abraham’s nephew Lot had moved to. “The men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the LORD” (Gen 13:13). The coming judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah is an example of what happens to a nation when its iniquity is complete (cf. Gen 15:16).
17 The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? 19 For 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 righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”
The inter-Trinitarian conversation clues the reader in that something drastic is about to happen to Sodom. God determined to tell Abraham what He was going to do to Sodom, because He had chosen Abraham to become a great nation through whom all the nations would be blessed as they walked in righteousness and justice before the LORD according to all that God spoke. This is the first time that God gave direct revelation to Abraham (later it would be to the nation of Israel) about the oncoming judgment of another nation because of their wickedness. This helps us to
understand Israel’s role among the nations of the world.
20 And the LORD said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. 21 I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”
The LORD purposed to go down to Sodom, just as He went down to the people of the earth in Genesis 6 and to the people of Babel in Genesis 11. He knew already their sin. He knew what He was going to do. Yet He went down in a special way to observe the city and its wickedness. But first, He sent the angels away while He allowed Abraham to approach Him and intercede.
22 Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the LORD. 23 Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?
God the just judge of all people must be just. Now Abraham will learn what this looks like:
24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” 26 So the LORD said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.”
The LORD told Abraham that the entire city would be spared if there were fifty righteous people within it. Such is the kindness and mercy of God. In this way, the righteous have stayed the judgment of God despite terrible wickedness. It is only when the light is gone from a place that the LORD sends judgment.
27 And Abraham replied, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the LORD, although I am but dust and ashes. 28 Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, will You destroy the whole city because of five?” And He said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 He spoke to Him yet again and said, “Suppose forty are found there?” And He said, “I will not do it on account of the forty.” 30 Then he said, “Oh may the LORD not be angry, and I shall speak; suppose thirty are found there?” And He said, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” 31 And he said, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the LORD; suppose twenty are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the twenty.” 32 Then he said, “Oh may the LORD not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the ten.”
How gracious of God to allow Abraham such a bold prayer. This is the kind of bold prayer that is needed among God’s people today. What an understanding of God’s righteousness and His patience is granted to us here. Yet we know from the ensuing narrative that there were not ten righteous found among Sodom. Only three would be rescued from that city unscathed.
Note that Abraham did not intercede for the wicked people of Sodom. He knew that God was just in punishing them for their rebellion and transgressions. Instead, he pled for the righteous. In effect, he was asking if God would sweep away even a few righteous with the many wicked. God confirmed that He would not judge the city if there were just ten righteous people out of thousands of wicked people. In this way, we see one way in which God’s people are the salt of the earth, preserving even the wicked from their due punishment until the time that God has ordained.
In Abraham’s prayer, we also have a picture of Jesus interceding for His saints. His prayers are more bold than Abraham’s, for Jesus knows the mind of God in all things. Jesus’ prayers for His people never go unanswered.
33 As soon as He had finished speaking to Abraham the LORD departed, and Abraham returned to his place.
God departed to go on His way to Sodom to do all that He intended to do.
The LORD chose Abraham to be the father of a nation that He would designate as His own people. Through this people, He would bring about the birth of another promised Son, the Seed of the woman prophesied all the way back in the Garden of Eden. This Son, Jesus Christ, would be born of the royal lineage within the nation, being also the Son of God. He died for the sins of all in the world who believe so that they might have eternal life and entrance into His coming kingdom. He will return to judge the world and establish this kingdom where He will reign forever.
All one must do in order to inherit this kingdom is believe in His name and that He is the Savior of the world. In Him is complete forgiveness of sins so that the one who believes will not be condemned, for He took the condemnation upon Himself of all who believe. He is the great Savior that all the Scriptures point to, the one awaited by all the faithful saints in the Old Testament and believed upon by all the saints in the New Testament church. There is no other savior from sin.
Read Chapter 17