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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 18

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verse 1

Abraham was living near Hebron at this time (cf. Genesis 13:18).

Verses 1-15

8. Yahweh’s visit to Abraham 18:1-15

Chapters 18 and 19 constitute one integrated story, but we shall consider this episode in the Abraham narrative section by section. Like the Flood story, it has a chiastic structure, this time focusing on the announcement of the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 19:12-13). [Note: See Wenham, Genesis 16-50, p. 41, for the chiasm.] Again there is a mass destruction with only one man and his family escaping. Both stories end with intoxication and shameful treatment by children that have consequences for future generations. [Note: See ibid., pp. 43-44; and Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, pp. 212-13; for more parallels.]

We perceive the Lord’s gracious initiative toward Abraham in His visit to eat with the patriarch in his tent. This was a sign of intimate fellowship in Abraham’s culture. On the basis of that close relationship God guaranteed the soon arrival of the promised heir. In response to Sarah’s laugh of unbelief the Lord declared that nothing would be too difficult for Him.

This chapter and the next may seem at first reading to be extraneous to the purpose of the Abraham narrative, which is to demonstrate God’s faithfulness to His promises to the patriarch, but they are not. Chapter 18 contributes the following.

1. It records another revelation (the sixth) in which God identified for the first time when the heir would appear (Genesis 18:10; Genesis 18:14). With this revelation God strengthened Abraham’s, and especially Sarah’s, faith.

2. It fortifies Moses’ emphasis on God’s supernatural power at work to fulfill His divine promises in spite of apparently impossible circumstances (Genesis 18:9-15).

3. As a literary device it provides an interlude in the story line and heightens suspense by prolonging the climax. We anticipate the arrival of the heir with mounting interest.

4. It presents Abraham as an intercessor, one of the roles of the prophets of whom Abraham was one of the first (cf. Genesis 20:7).

5. It records God’s announcement of judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16-33), which follows in chapter 19.

"The noon encounter in this chapter and the night scene at Sodom in the next are in every sense a contrast of light and darkness. The former, quietly intimate and full of promise, is crowned by the intercession in which Abraham’s faith and love show a new breadth of concern. The second scene is all confusion and ruin, moral and physical, ending in a loveless squalor which is even uglier than the great overthrow of the cities." [Note: Kidner, p. 131.]

"There is also a blatant contrast between how Abraham hosted his visitors (ch. 18) and how the Sodomites hosted the same delegation (ch. 19)." [Note: Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50, p. 5.]

Verse 2

The "three men" were "the LORD" (the Angel of Yahweh, Genesis 18:13; Genesis 18:17; Genesis 18:20; Genesis 18:33) and "two angels" (Genesis 19:1; Genesis 18:22) who later visited Lot. If Abraham had previously met the Angel of the Lord it seems likely that he would have recognized Him at once (cf. Genesis 17:1; Genesis 17:22). If he had not, Abraham became aware of who this Angel was during this interview (cf. Genesis 18:25).

Verses 3-11

Abraham’s hospitality reflects oriental custom as practiced in his day and, in some respects, even today in the Middle East. He was behaving more wisely than he realized since he did not yet know that his guests were divine visitors (Genesis 18:8). "Where is Sarah?" (Genesis 18:9) recalls God’s earlier questions about Adam (Genesis 3:9) and Abel (Genesis 4:9).

Verse 12

Sarah’s laugh sprang from a spirit of unbelief due to long disappointment, as is clear from the Lord’s response to it (Genesis 18:14). Abraham’s laugh (Genesis 17:17) did not draw such a response.

Verse 13

The fact that the Lord knew Sarah had laughed and knew her thoughts demonstrated his supernatural knowledge to Abraham and Sarah. This would have strengthened their faith in what He told them.

Verse 14

The Lord’s rhetorical question, one of the great statements of Scripture, reminded the elderly couple of His supernatural power and fortified their faith further (cf. Jeremiah 32:17; Jeremiah 32:27).

Verse 15

Sarah evidently denied that she had laughed from fear of the Lord’s powers or from fear of offending Him. Again, God built confidence in His word. If the Lord could read Sarah’s thoughts, could He not also open her womb?

Believers should never doubt God’s promises because nothing is impossible for Him.

Verses 16-21

God chose to reveal His intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah to Abraham. He did so because of His plans for Abraham. He wanted to challenge Abraham to act wisely and nobly for justice.

"In this section [Genesis 18:1-21] we have an illustration of fellowship with God and some of its essential features. Fellowship is the crowning purpose of God’s revelation (1 John 1:3). There is nothing higher than this, for man’s life finds its complete fulfillment in union and communion with God. Notice the following elements:

"1. Sacred Intimacy. . . .

"2. Genuine Humility. . . .

"3. Special Revelation. - Fellowship with God is always associated with the knowledge of His will. Servants do not know their master’s purposes, but friends and intimates do. . . .

"4. Unique Association. - The man who is in fellowship with God does not merely know the Divine will, but becomes associated with God in the carrying out of that will. . . ." [Note: Thomas, pp. 161-62.]

God always thoroughly investigates a situation before passing judgment and sending calamity (Genesis 18:21).

"The Lord would not arbitrarily destroy them [the people of Sodom and Gomorah]. As a fair and just judge, He would examine the evidence and then reward their deeds appropriately. The anthropomorphic language veils the ontological reality of God’s omniscience, but the Lord seems to have been more concerned in this context with revealing Himself as a fair judge, emphasizing the importance of human responsibility and inviting Abraham to assume the role of an intercessor." [Note: Robert B. Chisholm Jr., "Anatomy of an Anthropomorphism: Does God Discover Facts?" Bibliotheca Sacra 164:653 (January-March 2007):9.]

Verses 16-33

9. Abraham’s intercession for Lot 18:16-33

After God reviewed the reasons for sharing His plans for the destruction of Sodom with Abraham, He told the patriarch that He was about to investigate the wicked condition of that city. This news moved Abraham to ask God to be just in His dealings with the righteous there.

"A rhetorical question in each section-’Is anything too demanding for Yahweh?’ [Genesis 18:14]; ’Shall not he who judges all the earth give right judgment?" [Genesis 18:25]-sounds the major motif of each unit [Genesis 18:1-15 and Genesis 18:16-33]. . . . In both units it is some kind of noise that provokes Yahweh-Sarah’s laugh and Sodom’s groans." [Note: Hamilton, The Book . . . Chapters 18-50, pp. 16-17.]

Verses 22-33

This is the first time in Scripture that a man initiated a conversation with God. He prayed for the people of Sodom, not just Lot. Abraham’s intercession raises several questions in the minds of thoughtful Bible students. Did Abraham succeed in his intercession since God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah? Some interpreters believe he did not because he quit too soon.

". . . Abraham ceased asking before God ceased giving." [Note: Ibid., p. 116. See also Chris Wright, "Intercession or Irritation?" Third Way 29 (February 1983):18-19.]

This conclusion assumes that Abraham’s primary purpose was to get God to demonstrate mercy and to spare the cities for the sake of their few righteous inhabitants (Genesis 18:24). While this idea was obviously in Abraham’s mind, his primary purpose seems rather to have been to secure justice (i.e., deliverance) for the righteous minority in their wicked cities (Genesis 18:23-24). Secondarily, he wanted God to spare the cities. This interpretation finds support in Abraham’s appeal to the justice of God rather than to His mercy (Genesis 18:25). This appeal was the basis of his intercession. Abraham was jealous for the reputation of Yahweh among his neighbors. If this was indeed his primary purpose, Abraham succeeded in obtaining justice for the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah.

A second question arises from Abraham’s method of interceding. Is his haggling with God an example we should follow? Evidently Abraham was not trying to wear God down by pressuring Him. Instead he was seeking clarification from God as to the extent of His mercy. He wanted to find out how merciful God would be in judging these cities.

Why did Abraham stop with 10 righteous people (Genesis 18:32)? Perhaps he had learned that the Lord would be merciful regardless of the number. [Note: Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, p. 230.] Perhaps he thought there would be at least 10 righteous in those two cities. If so, he underestimated the wickedness of the Sodomites, and, perhaps, he overestimated righteous Lot’s influence over his neighbors.

Will God spare a city or nation today because of the Christians in it? This passage is helpful in answering this question because in it we can see that a godly minority does play a role in influencing God’s judgment. It can delay judgment by promoting godliness. However a godly minority may not prevent God’s judgment if "sin is exceedingly grave" (Genesis 18:20). God does not always choose to remove the righteous from the wicked before He judges the wicked, as He did in Lot’s case. Nevertheless the Judge of all the earth does deal justly. We can see this when we take the long view. People alive now have yet to receive their final judgment from the divine Judge.

Abraham’s shameless, bold persistence with God illustrates what Jesus had in mind when he taught the importance of these qualities in prayer (e.g., Luke 11:5-10; Luke 18:1-8). Threefold repetition is common in Scripture, but Abraham’s doubling of it gives his request even more solemnity and weight.

This chapter illustrates a progression in Abraham’s relationship with God that is normal for those who have a relationship with Him.

1. God revealed Himself to Abraham (Genesis 18:1).

2. Abraham welcomed God’s revelation (Genesis 18:2-3).

3. Fellowship resulted (Genesis 18:4-8). They ate together.

4. This fellowship led to further revelation and greater understanding of God’s will (Genesis 18:9-22).

5. Having learned of God’s purpose to judge the sinners, Abraham’s response was to intercede for those under God’s judgment (Genesis 18:23-33).

"It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to pray effectively for lost souls if one is not convinced that lostness will ultimately result in literal, eternal punishment." [Note: Davis, p. 199.]

The outstanding lesson of this section is probably that since God is a righteous Judge He will not destroy the righteous with the wicked. [Note: See Joseph Blenkinsopp, "Abraham and the Righteous of Sodom," Journal of Jewish Studies 33:1-2 (Spring-Autumn 1982):119-32; and T. J. Mafico, "The Crucial Question Concerning the Justice of God," Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 42 (March 1983):11-16.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 18". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/genesis-18.html. 2012.
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