Adam Clarke Commentary
The Lord appears unto Abraham in Mamre, Genesis 18:1. Three angels, in human appearance, come towards his tent, Genesis 18:2. He invites them in to wash and refresh themselves, Genesis 18:3-5; prepares a calf, bread, butter, and milk, for their entertainment; and himself serves them, Genesis 18:6-8. They promise that within a year Sarah shall have a son, Genesis 18:9, Genesis 18:10. Sarah, knowing herself and husband to be superannuated, smiles at the promise, Genesis 18:11, Genesis 18:12. One of the three, who is called the Lord or Jehovah, chides her, and asserts the sufficiency of the Divine power to accomplish the promise, Genesis 18:13, Genesis 18:14. Sarah, through fear, denies that she had laughed or showed signs of unbelief, Genesis 18:15. Abraham accompanies these Divine persons on their way to Sodom, Genesis 18:16; and that one who is called Jehovah informs him of his purpose to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, because of their great wickedness, Genesis 18:17-21. The two former proceed toward Sodom, while the latter (Jehovah) remains with Abraham, Genesis 18:22. Abraham intercedes for the inhabitants of those cities, entreating the Lord to spare them provided fifty righteous persons should be found in them, Genesis 18:23-25. The Lord grants this request, Genesis 18:26. He pleads for the same mercy should only forty-five be found there; which is also granted, Genesis 18:27, Genesis 18:28. He pleads the same for forty, which is also granted, Genesis 18:29; for thirty, with the same success, Genesis 18:30; for twenty, and receives the some gracious answer, Genesis 18:31; for ten, and the Lord assures him that should ten righteous persons be found there, he will not destroy the place, Genesis 18:32. Jehovah then departs, and Abraham returns to his tent, Genesis 18:33.
And the Lord appeared - See note on Genesis 15:1.
Sat in the tent door - For the purpose of enjoying the refreshing air in the heat of the day, when the sun had most power. A custom still frequent among the Asiatics.
Three men stood by him - נצבים עליו (nitstsabim alaiv), were standing over against him; for if they had been standing by him, as our translation says, he needed not to have “run from the tent door to meet them.” To Abraham these appeared at first as men; but he entertained angels unawares, see Hebrews 13:2.
And said, My Lord, etc. - The word is אדני (Adonai), not יהוה (Yehovah), for as yet Abraham did not know the quality of his guests. For an explanation of this word, See note on Genesis 15:8.
Let a little water - be fetched, and wash your feet, etc. - In these verses we find a delightful picture of primitive hospitality. In those ancient times shoes such as ours were not in use; and the foot was protected only by sandals or soles, which fastened round the foot with straps. It was therefore a great refreshment in so hot a country to get the feet washed at the end of a day‘s journey; and this is the first thing that Abraham proposes.
Rest yourselves under the tree - We have already heard of the oak grove of Mamre, Genesis 12:6, and this was the second requisite for the refreshment of a weary traveler, viz., rest in the shade.
I will fetch a morsel of bread - This was the third requisite, and is introduced in its proper order; as eating immediately after exertion or fatigue is very unwholesome. The strong action of the lungs and heart should have time to diminish before any food is received into the stomach, as otherwise concoction is prevented, and fever in a less or greater degree produced.
For therefore are ye come - In those ancient days every traveler conceived he had a right to refreshment, when he needed it, at the first tent he met with on his journey.
So do as thou hast said - How exceedingly simple was all this! On neither side is there any compliment but such as a generous heart and sound sense dictate.
Three measures of fine meal - The סאה (seah), which is here translated measure, contained, according to Bishop Cumberland, about two gallons and a half; and Mr. Ainsworth translates the word peck. On this circumstance the following observations of the judicious and pious Abbe Fleury cannot fail to be acceptable to the reader. Speaking of the frugality of the patriarchs he says: “We have an instance of a splendid entertainment in that which Abraham made for the three angels. He set a whole calf before them, new bread, but baked on the hearth, together with butter and milk. Three measures of meal were baked into bread on this occasion, which come to more than two of our bushels, and nearly to fifty-six pounds of our weight; hence we may conclude that men were great eaters in those days, used much exercise, were probably of a much larger stature as well as longer lives than we. Homer (Odyss. lib. xiv., ver. 74, etc). makes his heroes great eaters. When Eumaeus entertained Ulysses, he dressed two pigs for himself and his guest.
On another occasion a hog of five years old was slaughtered and served up for five persons: -
Homer‘s heroes wait upon themselves and guests in the common occasions of life; the patriarchs do the same. Abraham, who had so many servants, and was nearly a hundred years old, brought the water himself to wash the feet of his guests, ordered his wife to make the bread quickly, went himself to choose the calf from the herd, and came again to serve them standing. I will allow that he was animated on this occasion with a desire of showing hospitality, but the lives of all the rest of the patriarchs were similar to this.”
Make cakes upon the hearth - Or under the ashes. This mode is used in the east to the present day. When the hearth is strongly heated with the fire that has been kindled on it, they remove the coals, sweep off the ashes, lay on the bread, and then cover it with the hot cinders.
And he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat - Nothing is more common in Hindostan than to see travelers and guests eating under the shade of trees. Feasts are scarcely ever held in houses. The house of a Hindoo serves for sleeping and cooking, and for shutting up the women; but is never considered as a sitting or dining room - Ward.
I will certainly return - Abraham was now ninety-nine years of age, and this promise was fulfilled when he was a hundred; so that the phrase according to the time of life must mean either a complete year, or nine months from the present time, the ordinary time of pregnancy. Taken in this latter sense, Abraham was now in the ninety-ninth year of his age, and Isaac was born when he was in his hundredth year.
It ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women - And consequently, naturally speaking, conception could not take place; therefore if she have a son it must be in a supernatural or miraculous way.
Sarah laughed - Partly through pleasure at the bare idea of the possibility of the thing, and partly from a conviction that it was extremely improbable. She appears to have been in the same spirit, and to have had the same feelings of those who, unexpectedly hearing of something of great consequence to themselves, smile and say, “The news is too good to be true;”, see Genesis 21:6. There is a case very similar to this mentioned Psalm 126:1, Psalm 126:2. On Abraham‘s laughing, See note on Genesis 17:17.
And the Lord (Jehovah) said, etc. - So it appears that one of those three persons was Jehovah, and as this name is never given to any created being, consequently the ever-blessed God is intended; and as he was never seen in any bodily shape, consequently the great Angel of the covenant, Jesus Christ, must be meant. See note on Genesis 16:7.
Is any thing too hard for the Lord? - היפלא מיהוה דבר (hayippale meihovah dabar), shall a word (or thing) be wonderful from the Lord? i.e., Can any thing be too great a miracle for him to effect? The Septuagint translate the passage, Μη αδυνατησει παρα τῳ Θεῳ ῥημα ; which St. Luke adopts almost literatim, only making it an affirmative position instead of a question: Ουκ αδυνατησει παρα τῳ Θεῳ παν ῥημα , which we translate, “With God nothing shall be impossible,” Luke 1:37. Many copies of the Septuagint insert the word παν before ῥημα , as in St. Luke; but it makes little difference in the sense. It was to correct Sarah‘s unbelief, and to strengthen her faith, that God spoke these most important words; words which state that where human wisdom, prudence, and energy fall, and where nature herself ceases to be an agent, through lack of energy to act, or laws to direct and regulate energy, there also God has full sway, and by his own omnific power works all things after the counsel of his own will. Is there an effect to be produced? God can produce it as well without as with means. He produced nature, the whole system of causes and effects, when in the whole compass of his own eternity there was neither means nor being. He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. How great and wonderful is God!
Abraham went with them to bring them on the way - This was another piece of primitive hospitality - to direct strangers in the way. Public roads did not then exist and guides were essentially necessary in countries where villages were seldom to be met with, and where solitary dwellings did not exist.
Shall I hide from Abraham - That is, I will not hide. A common mode of speech in Scripture - a question asked when an affirmative is designed. Do men gather grapes of thorns? Men do not gather grapes of thorns, etc.
Shall surely become a great and mighty nation - The revelation that I make to him shall be preserved among his posterity; and the exact fulfillment of my promises, made so long before, shall lead them to believe in my name and trust in my goodness.
And they shall keep the way of the Lord - The true religion; God‘s way; that in which God walks himself, and in which, of course, his followers walk also; to do justice and judgment; not only to preserve the truth in their creed, but maintain it in their practice.
Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah - See note on Genesis 13:13.
I will go down now, etc. - A lesson to magistrates, teaching them not to judge according to report, but accurately to inquire into the facts themselves - Jarchi.
And the men turned their faces - That is, the two angels who accompanied Jehovah were now sent towards Sodom; while the third, who is called the Lord or Jehovah, remained with Abraham for the purpose of teaching him the great usefulness and importance of faith and prayer.
Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? - A form of speech similar to that in Genesis 18:17, an invariable principle of justice, that the righteous shall not be punished for the crimes of the impious. And this Abraham lays down as the foundation of his supplications. Who can pray with any hope of success who cannot assign a reason to God and his conscience for the petitions he offers? The great sacrifice offered by Christ is an infinite reason why a penitent sinner should expect to find the mercy for which he pleads.
Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? - God alone is the Judge of all men. Abraham, in thus addressing himself to the person in the text, considers him either as the Supreme Being or his representative.
Which am but dust and ashes - עפר ואפר (aphar vaepher), words very similar in sound, as they refer to matters which so much resemble each other. Dust - the lightest particles of earth. Ashes - the residuum of consumed substances. By these expressions he shows how deeply his soul was humbled in the presence of God. He who has high thoughts of himself must have low thoughts of the dignity of the Divine nature, of the majesty of God, and the sinfulness of sin.
Peradventure ten shall be found there - Knowing that in the family of his nephew the true religion was professed and practiced, he could not suppose there could be less than ten righteous persons in the city, he did not think it necessary to urge his supplication farther; he therefore left off his entreaties, and the Lord departed from him. It is highly worthy of observation, that while he continued to pray the presence of God was continued; and when Abraham ended, “the glory of the Lord was lifted up,” as the Targum expresses it.
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