Genesis 2011 - Lesson 18A

Chapter 18:1-15

Next lesson

  • Abraham and Sarah are now within a year of receiving their first child together

    • This son, Isaac, will become the first of an uncountable number of descendants because of God’s promise to Abraham

      • From Isaac, an entire nation will form

      • And out of that nation, God will bring His word, His tabernacle on Earth, and His Son

    • So obviously, it’s very important to God how this nation develops over time…

      • What it’s taught, how it is trained up

      • And what it understands about the God Who formed it

    • So today in Chapter 18 the Lord makes His sixth and most curious appearance to Abraham to prepare him better for his role as patriarch

      • And this appearance is but a few days after the previous one

Gen. 18:1  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. 
Gen. 18:2 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, 
Gen. 18:3 and said, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by. 
Gen. 18:4 “Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and  rest yourselves under the tree; 
Gen. 18:5 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.” And they said, “So do, as you have said.” 
Gen. 18:6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes.” 
Gen. 18:7 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. 
Gen. 18:8 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. 
  • Abraham is staying near the oaks of Mamre, which is in the wilderness south of Jerusalem

    • The time is the heat of the day, which corresponds to early afternoon

      • This is also the traditional time for the main meal of the day

      • Abraham is resting in the tent doorway, out of the sun and probably waiting for the midday meal to be ready

    • In v.1 Moses tells us that the Lord visited Abraham

      • Then immediately in the next verse we hear of three “men” visiting Abraham

        • The point of v.1 was to inform the reader of what was truly happening in this moment

          • The Lord was visiting Abraham

      • But in v.2 and later, Moses tells us the story from Abraham’s viewpoint

        • So we can understand the events from his perspective

    • In v.2 three men approach Abraham

      • I like to imagine him looking up to see three standing figures walking toward him

        • Their appearances in shadow as they are silhouetted by the noon-day sun behind them 

      • Abraham gets up and runs to greet them

        • This is a reflection of the importance of hospitality in that day

        • In this culture, it was a high honor to host a visitor – much less three visitors

      • And obviously, Abraham takes his responsibility seriously

        • So he makes haste to welcome them

  • As Abraham runs to meet them, He immediately bows down to the ground

    • The word for bowed is the Hebrew word for worshipped

      • As Abraham approached the men and saw them closely, he recognized that these visitors were not men at all

      • Abraham’s greeting in v.3 is “My Lords” in Hebrew

        • It’s the plural form of Adonai

        • Abraham recognized these visitors as spiritual beings, and he addresses them by the plural Adonai because he suspects one is the Lord

          • But perhaps he doesn’t know which one

        • But in that same verse, Abraham switches to the singular form of “your” to address only the Lord Himself

          • It seems he quickly came to understand which personage was the leader

    • Abraham asks to find favor in the Lord’s sight and that they would not pass Abraham by

      • The word for favor is chen, the word for grace

        • This statement is similar to one in the opening of the story of Noah, where Noah was said to find favor with God

      • In fact, there are many parallels between this story and the story of the Flood, which we will examine along the way

      • And the reason for the parallels is that both stories are a picture or example of the coming destruction of the world and the return of our Lord

  • Abraham offers to give the party water, to wash their feet, to rest under a tree out of the sun, and to provide bread

    • Abraham’s invitation is in keeping with the customs of the day

      • But Abraham’s actual efforts to care for the visitors goes well beyond even what he offered to do

    • The entire scene depicts Abraham moving quickly and with urgency, which is an indication of his desire to please his visitors

      • He tells Sarah to use three measures of flour to make the bread cakes, which is much more flour than would be needed to feed three men

      • He runs to the herd to select a calf to kill for the meat

        • Rather than assign the task to a servant, Abraham picks out the calf himself, making sure it was a choice animal

        • And then he instructs the servant to prepare it, but again with haste

      • Finally, after he gives them fresh dairy and the calf meat and the bread, he stands by like a servant to attend to his guests

        • This is still the style of hosting in the East

        • My recent trip to India allowed me to see the same kind of hospitality

  • Abraham’s extreme hospitality is the natural result of knowing who he was serving

    • Abraham gave the Lord his best, which is only to be expected

      • God was visiting Abraham that day, as He had done in the past

      • And Abraham understood how special and honoring it was for the Lord to grant Abraham this audience, now for the sixth time

    • But in all likelihood, this is the first time the Lord had appeared in  the form of a person

      • That is not to say that the Lord was actually flesh

      • He had not been born into human form yet, so this is a theophany

        • An appearance of God that takes physical form to our eyes, yet is not actually made of human flesh

      • Nevertheless, Abraham recognizes how special this moment is and that nothing but the best he has to offer would be acceptable

  • Abraham actually models two Biblical principles we would do well to remember

    • First, he models the Christian call to show hospitality and love to strangers

      • The writer of Hebrews makes a passing reference to this moment at the opening of his thirteenth chapter

Heb. 13:1 Let love of the brethren continue. 
Heb. 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. 
  • In v.1 the writer says the love of the church must continue (or in Greek: endure)

    • But in v.2 he adds that our hospitality cannot be limited to the church or just to people we know

      • The word for “entertain” in Greek is more nuanced than in English

      • It means to receive a surprise guest, to be caught off guard by an imposition and yet to respond with grace and gladness

  • In such moment, the writer says we should remember how Abraham found himself in a similar situation

    • When Abraham arose and ran to greet these visitors, he didn’t know he was receiving angels

      • Yet he responded with grace and hospitality nonetheless, receiving them joyfully

    • Likewise, as God’s people, we are expected to reflect the love of Christ in the way we show grace to the person who calls upon us for hospitality

      • It’s not merely that we’re willing to serve someone a meal or engage in fellowship

      • It’s what we’re communicating by our willingness

  • Look at all that Abraham communicated by his actions

    • He dropped everything, did everything he could to make them comfortable, made sacrifices and served his guests

    • He communicated love through sacrifice and service

    • In a sense, that’s the Gospel in action; the love of Christ working in us

  • This a part of our calling as Christians

    • Today, the practice of entertaining guests and opening our homes for others is a dying custom

    • So as Christians, we have the opportunity to stand out in the world as salt and light by showing hospitality to our neighbors

      • Invite to dinner a neighbor you’ve only waved at a few times

      • Bake bread and bring it to a widow

    • I knew a family who allowed a single mom and her son to move into their basement for over a year to help her get on her feet

    • And through those interactions, you can witness to the gospel in both words and actions – a powerful combination

  • The second Biblical principle Abraham demonstrates for us is how we are to serve the Lord

    • When the Lord came for this visit, Abraham had but a few things to offer, but he gave the Lord his best

      • All he could offer was refreshment, rest, shade, and his personal service

      • So he gave them generous portions: the ideal place to rest under the only tree, slaughtered the best of his herd and then he personally waited on them

        • Not even his servants were good enough

        • He insisted on becoming a slave of the Lord

      • In short, Abraham gave the Lord his best

    • Paul taught that in all we do, we should approach it with an attitude that we are serving the Lord directly

Eph. 6:5  Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; 
Eph. 6:6  not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 
Eph. 6:7 With good will  render service,  as to the Lord, and not to men, 
Eph. 6:8  knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. 
  • Abraham had the benefit of seeing the Lord sitting before him

    • So as he went about his preparations, he acted with urgency, with personal investment and with a desire to give his best

      • Nothing was held back, nothing was too valuable to sacrifice

      • He engaged his entire household, including his family

      • Everyone became focused on the work of serving the Lord

    • And he did it joyfully and gladly

  • What did Abraham expect to receive?

    • Nothing but the Lord’s pleasure

    • Notice that Paul says, don’t serve as men-pleasers giving eye service

      • Doing something kind merely to gain a reputation before me

      • But when those men aren’t watching, we stop our work

        • It’s a form of hypocrisy

    • Instead, do all our work knowing the Lord is watching us

      • We may not see the Lord visit us in person, as Abraham did, but the Lord is no less watching us

      • Work your best for Him and Paul says you will receive your reward from the Lord

  • After Abraham served the Lord and the two angels, a conversation ensues

Gen. 18:9  Then they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 
Gen. 18:10 He said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. 
Gen. 18:11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past  childbearing. 
Gen. 18:12 Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my  lord being old also?” 
Gen. 18:13 And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed  bear a child, when I am so old?’ 
Gen. 18:14 “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.” 
Gen. 18:15 Sarah denied it however, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh.” 
  • After the meal, the group inquires about Sarah

    • The pronoun is plural as reflected in the English translation, indicating they all asked this question

      • And they knew Sarah’s name though there is no indication her name had yet been spoken by Abraham

      • So in knowing her name, the Lord makes clear to Abraham his supernatural identity

        • Jesus did a similar thing when he was collecting His disciples as recorded in John’s Gospel

John 1:45  Philip found Nathanael and  said to him, “We have found Him of whom  Moses in the Law and also  the Prophets wrote — Jesus of Nazareth,  the son of Joseph.” 
John 1:46 Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”  Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 
John 1:47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”
John 1:48 Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before  Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
John 1:49 Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are  the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” 
  • By revealing His knowledge of secret things, Jesus demonstrated His divinity and Nathanael accepted it as evidence Jesus was Messiah

  • Likewise here, Abraham and Sarah have received evidence to confirm their suspicions concerning their visitor: He is the Lord

  • Abraham answers that Sarah is in the tent, but of course if they knew her name, then they also knew where she was already

    • So the point of the question was to confirm the Lord’s identity while drawing attention to Sarah and the promise

  • The Lord repeats the news that Sarah would give birth in a year

    • In the previous encounter with God Abraham had been told that the child would arrive in the same season in the next year

    • That means it was likely a little longer than a year, but now it is exactly a year away

  •   During this time, Sarah was listening at the tent door

    • It’s hard to know how much Sarah has heard from Abraham’s previous conversations, but it’s likely she has heard nothing from the Lord

      • She probably knows only what Abraham has chosen to share with her

        • She knows her name has been changed and the men were circumcised 

        • But does she know the full extent of the promise?

        • I wonder if Abraham might have hidden this detail from her not wanting to get her hopes up or cause her concern

      • But now the Lord Himself is determined to bring this knowledge to Sarah

    • And as she hears it through the tent, she laughs

      • The reason for her laughter is given in v.11

      • The test says they were both old and she was past childbearing

        • In Hebrew, the text literally reads “Sarah had ceased in the way of a woman”

        • This is a euphemism for a woman reaching menopause

      • So from a human perspective, it was literally impossible for her to bear a child

  • Sarah’s laughter was a silent laughter to herself

    • She reacted in a way similar to Abraham but different 

      • In v.12 she asks, now that I’m old, shall I have delight or pleasure; that is shall I have the child I’ve always wanted

      • Sarah’s thoughts go something like this: 

        • I’ve always wanted a child and we’ve been hoping for one all our marriage

        • If God wanted to give me a child, He certainly would have done so by now

        • If God didn’t see fit to give me a child when the timing would have been best, it’s laughable to think He would do it now that I’m past the age of childbearing

      • In other words, her laughter is an indication that she doesn’t yet believe God’s promises

        • We have confirmation that she hasn’t believed because of how the Lord responded to her

        • He corrects her and accuses her of laughing rather than accepting His word

    • How can it be that Sarah hasn’t believed the promises of God up to this point?

      • She followed Abraham from Ur

      • She has agreed to live as a nomad in the desert though it was not what she was accustomed to

      • She has gone into Egypt

      • She has heard secondhand about the promises and the covenant and seen her husband obey God’s commands

        • Yet she still doesn’t believe?

  • The faith of Abraham doesn’t substitute for the faith of Sarah

    • She was being blessed by God in the covenant He made with Abraham because of her association with Abraham

      • And this was part of the covenant God made

      • Those who bless Abraham would themselves be blessed

      • How did Sarah bless Abraham?

        • By being an obedient, supportive wife

        • Even when she was not herself believing in the promises of God, nevertheless she followed Abraham obediently

      • Notice in v12 she addresses Abraham as “lord”

        • This is a term of respect but it also implies obedience to authority

        • Sarah respected her husband so much that she followed his authority even though she herself lacked the faith to follow God in her own heart

      • This gives us the full understanding of Peter’s statement in his first letter concerning the purpose of submission

1Pet. 3:5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; 
1Pet. 3:6 just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right  without being frightened by any fear. 
  • Sarah’s willingness to call her husband lord led her into a relationship with the Lord

    • For had she not been obedient and trusting in following Abraham even as Abraham himself was following the Lord, then Sarah would never have been in this situation

    • She would never have had the opportunity to encounter the living God by way of her husband’s relationship

  • As the Lord revealed her thoughts back to her in v.12, He asks her if anything is too difficult for the Lord?

    • This is similar to the Lord’s comments in Matthew

Matt. 19:26 And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
  • The point of the Lord’s comment is that Sarah has been focused on the natural rather than trusting in God’s word

    • By the power of men and in the realm of the physical, Sarah could never have children

    • But by the power of God’s promise and through His faithfulness, He could make anything happen

  • He is calling her to believe

    • And the Lord delivers His promise to her personally, saying He will “visit” her this time next year

    • This statement has double meaning

      • Not only will the Lord visit Sarah in the sense of bringing His promise into reality

      • But since we know Isaac is a picture of Christ, the Lord is saying that He will come as a child to her

      • Not literally, but as a picture

  • Sarah, for her part, feels the fear of the Lord and shock of realizing He knew her thoughts

    • She initially denies her mistake

      • But the Lord persists and says, no you did laugh

      • He makes clear she must repent and accept the conviction of her unbelief

      • And then by that repentance, she might come to believe in the promise

    • Did Sarah ever come to accept and believe?  Scripture says she did

Heb. 11:11 By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.