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Genesis 18:1. In the plains of Mamre.] Heb. In the oaks, or in the oak-grove of Mamre. “Mamre was an ally of Abram, and under the shade of his oak-grove the patriarch dwelt in the interval between his residence at Bethel and at Beersheba” (ch. Genesis 13:18; Genesis 18:1). (Jacobus.) Sat in the tent-door.] The Orientals are in the habit of sitting at the open door of their tents in order to catch the cooling air in the heat of the day. The chief of the family occupies this prominent position, and keeps himself in readiness to go forth and greet the passing traveller. In the heat of the day.] “The dinner-hour, when they took their principal meal and their accustomed rest (ch. Genesis 43:16; Genesis 43:25; 1 Kings 20:16; 2 Samuel 4:5). The Arab, when he takes his meal, sits at the door of his tent, in order to observe and invite those who are passing. It is a custom in the East to eat before the door, and to invite to a share in the meal every passing stranger of respectable appearance.” (Knobel.)
Genesis 18:2. Three men.] Angels, though men in outward appearance. In ch. Genesis 19:1, they are expressly called angels. Hebrews 13:1 plainly refers to this. One of the three is recognised as Jehovah. Ran to meet them.] “This is the habit in the East when it is some superior personage who appears. The sheikh comes out from the door of his tent and makes a low bow quite towards the ground, and sometimes conducts the stranger to his tent with every token of welcome.” (Jacobus.) Bowed himself.] Probably nothing more than civil homage is intended, as he was then ignorant of the true character of his guests.
Genesis 18:3. My Lord.] One of the three is addressed as a superior personage. The name is used chiefly and specially of God, but often applied to men of high distinction and authority. It is stated (Genesis 18:1) that Jehovah appeared to Abraham.
Genesis 18:4. Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet.] The Easterns walk in sandals with bare feet. The heat, with the irritation of the particles of sand, makes long journeys exceedingly painful. Therefore the first act of hospitality is to order servants to wash the feet of travellers. Rest yourselves.] Heb. Lean ye down and recline,—after the manner of the Easterns taking meals. Under the tree.] Collective singular for “trees,” as his tent stood in a grove (Genesis 18:1).
Genesis 18:5. Comfort ye your hearts.] Heb. Sustain—strengthen your hearts. Thus—Judges 9:5—“Comfort (Heb. ‘stay’) your hearts with a morsel of bread.” Hence bread is termed the staff of life (Isaiah 3:1).
Genesis 18:6. Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal.] Heb. Make ready three seahs of meal. A seah contained the third part of an ephah—a little over an English peck. Make cakes upon the hearth. The cakes were round and flat, and were baked upon the hot stones of the hearth (1 Kings 17:13).
Genesis 18:7. A young man.] Heb. The young man, i.e., the servant.
Genesis 18:8. Butter. “The word, as used in the Bible, implies butter and cream in various states of consistence.” (Bush.) Most commonly made from the milk of the goat. He stood by them.] He is emphatic in Heb. It is intended to mark the fact that he—the master—stood in the attitude of serving.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 18:1-8
THE DUTY OF HOSPITALITY
This incident in Abraham’s life was intended to show how God still further revealed Himself, but at the same time it affords us an example of the duty of entertaining strangers, of showing hospitality towards those who stand in need of such offices. Allowances must, of course, be made for the varying conditions of age, and country, and customs, but the principle of the duty itself is clear. Hospitality is represented here as a duty which may be regarded in three aspects—
I. As a common duty. Hospitality may be considered as one of the common duties of humanity as such—a duty which may be considered apart from all religious sanctions. It may spring merely from a natural feeling of kindness, from the instinct of compassion, and may look no higher than the interests of this present world. There are duties which men owe to one another, and which may be considered with reference to society alone. Offices of kindness promote the welfare of society, and increase the sum of human happiness. They make the ills of life more tolerable. If this world were all, men might be kind to one another from considerations of utility alone. The rigid adherence to what mere justice demands between man and man is not sufficient for human happiness. There is a higher law of love by which we are as much bound to do good to others as not to injure them, to supply their wants as not to rob them, to bind up their wounds as not to smite them with the fist of wickedness. There are duties which are due to humanity as such. Hence, when anyone refuses to save the life of a fellow creature, or to render help in some sudden and extraordinary necessity, we say that his conduct is inhuman. The cold sentiment of justice cannot compel a man to such deeds of kindness. These must be left to the common instincts of the human heart. But though such works of love are beautiful in themselves, and useful, still they may be done quite regardless of any relations in which we stand to God and the future. We may show kindness to a man from the impulse of a feeling exactly alike to that which prompts us to show kindness to a hound or a horse. There is a human charity which rises no higher than human and present interests. It is a loving-kindness which is not better than life.
II. As a duty of piety. In the case of a religious man there can be no duties which are contained in themselves, and having no reference to anything beyond them. With such, all duties have regard to the pleasure and will of God. Therefore they look beyond human interests and this transitory world. They are duties towards God at the same time that they are duties towards man. With the religious man no real separation can be made between these. You cannot isolate any particle of matter in the universe so that it shall not be influenced by any other. In like manner, you cannot isolate the duties of a believer in God, for they are all influenced by a constant force and tendency. Hence the morality taught to the Jews in their sacred books was superior, in this regard, to that of the nations around, for they inculcated duties for the reason that such were well-pleasing to God. Man should love his fellow-man, not merely as a human being having certain relations to society, but as one who stands also in certain relations to God, and one who is therefore to be loved for God’s sake. Abraham was the type of the believer, and his hospitality was therefore rendered in the spirit of religion. This view of the subject ennobles all duties—
1. In their form. They take a wider range, and regard higher and nobler issues. Virtues become transfigured into graces, and doing good into blessing.
2. In their motive. They have continual reference to the will and good pleasure of God. They approve themselves to the highest personal Will and Presence in the universe. Thus all duty becomes the loving service of the good God, who wills nothing but what is best.
3. The best qualities of the soul are developed. Abraham’s conduct here was marked by love, humility, and reverence. He received the strangers graciously, and spread his best stores before them. He was courteous in his behaviour, and lowly in his bearing towards those whose superiority evidently impressed him. These are the choice graces of the human soul, and train a man for the service and adoration of God. To do our duty upon the highest principle of all is to work in the very light of God’s countenance, where the noblest things of the soul revive and flourish.
III. As a duty which is prophetic of something beyond itself. The fact that God holds an eternal relation to the souls of believers imparts a solemn grandeur and significance to all their actions. The smallest deeds done for God’s sake acquire a boundless importance. Mary’s deed, which is commended in the Gospel, was simple enough. She brake a box of costly ointment, and poured it on the head of Jesus. But He attributed a far-reaching purpose to that action of which she had no suspicion. “She is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying” (Mark 14:8). Thus there is a prophecy of greater things in actions which are done through faith and love to God. The loving heart has infinite depths in it all unknown to itself until the light of God enables us to see further down into them. As genius does not always know all it utters, so the faithful and loving heart cannot always relate what it holds. Such was the case with Abraham in this history. His duty rapidly rises in the form and meaning of it.
1. He entertains men on the principles of common hospitality (Genesis 18:2). He saw three men, and paid them that respect which was due to their style and appearance. He treats them at first as visitors of distinction, but still as men (Genesis 18:3-8).
2. He entertains angels. After a while the truth dawns upon him that they are heavenly beings. He has really, in the language of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, “entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2.) His action thus extends to heaven.
3. He entertains God (Genesis 18:1). With the strangers he receives the Lord Himself. His duty thus reaches to the Most Highest. He has literally done all for God. The service of every believer, in whatsoever duty, must come to this at last. Abraham’s case was peculiar as to the form of this visitation; still, the same thing really occurs to every spiritual man. His actions ultimately touch God. Jesus says of little acts of kindness done for the needy in His name, “Ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40.) Everything that is like God leads at length to Him. The deeds of love, though they may be done for the good of men, are really rendered to God. With the believer every duty becomes a personal service to the Lord.
A PRELUDE TO THE INCARNATION
It has ever been God’s method to prepare mankind, in various ways, for the subsequent revelations of His will. The whole of the Divine dealings with the Jewish nation had reference to something beyond themselves. They were a long and careful education for the times in which God would show His full purpose of love in Christ Jesus. In this appearance of God to Abraham we have a prelude to the Incarnation.
I. God appears as man. One of the three visitors is Jehovah, for it is expressly said that “the Lord (Jehovah) appeared unto him” (Genesis 18:1). In Genesis 18:10, this heavenly visitant makes a promise whose conditions God alone could perform. Jehovah is represented as clothed in human flesh, as under human limitations; yet Abraham learns to distinguish Him as above mortal, and at length knows that God has visited him. Since then God has come to dwell in this world in the tabernacle of flesh, and became as man among men. This miracle of God’s appearance to the patriarch was but foredating the grand miracle of the Incarnation.
II. God passes through the same experience as man. This was something more than a passing appearance. The angel Jehovah performs human actions, and passes through human conditions.
1. He both speaks and listens to human words. This Divine visitor converses freely with Abraham, and listens to his offer of hospitality. So God manifest in our nature spoke with human lips, and heard through ears of flesh the voices of men.
2. He shares the common necessities of man. This Divine visitor had no real need for food and refreshment, and yet He partakes of them. Jesus, though He had no need of us in the greatness and independence of His majesty, yet took our infirmities and necessities upon Him. He lived amongst men, eating and drinking with them, and partaking of the shelter they offered.
3. As man he receives services from man. Jehovah, under the appearance of a man, partook of the food and of the hospitable services which Abraham offered. So Christ, in the days of His flesh, received the attentions of human kindness, shelter, food, comfort. He had special friends, such as those of the household of Bethany, which He loved so well. He was grateful for every act of kindness done to Him. Though He came here in great humility, He was pleased to receive the reverential regard and homage of men; for this was but the tribute justly due to His glorious Majesty hidden beneath the veil of flesh. The reverence at first shown by Abraham would improve into adoration and worship; so beneath the human in Christ we come to perceive the Divine, and to worship Him as Lord of all.
III. God manifest is recognised only by the spiritual mind. Such appearances as this were not vouchsafed to the men of the world. He who was called “the friend of God” was alone thus privileged. The world around was ignorant of the true nature of this transaction. They knew not of any manifestation of God. So to unspiritual men Christ was not truly known as to what He really was. He could only be recognised by an eye favoured with spiritual vision. “The world knew Him not.” Men may hold, as a doctrine, that Christ has come in the flesh, and that He was truly God; and yet, without a living faith, they do not really know Him and feel His power. Abraham had that eye of faith which could discern God.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
This manifestation of God to Abraham was vouchsafed after his ready and faithful obedience to the command regarding circumcision. The obedience of faith brings a more intimate knowledge and recognition of God.
His own tent occupies a distinguished place among those of his household and attendants, standing near the path by which the casual wayfarer may be expected to pass. It is the hour of noon, and Abraham is on the watch for any weary pilgrim, to whom its sultry and scorching heat may make rest and refreshment welcome. The hour of noon, in that burning clime, suspends all labour, and compels the exhausted frame to seek repose. Abraham and his people repair severally to their tents, and make ready the homely meal. But first the patriarch takes his place at the tent-door, where usually is his seat of authority. And there he waits to see if any stranger is coming whom it may be his duty and privilege to entertain. Perhaps some of the remnant of the godly, still holding fast their faith amidst the abounding iniquity and universal idolatry of the land—not protected and blessed, as Abraham once was himself, by any pious Melchisedec, but persecuted and cast out by those among whom they dwelt—may be going about without a home, and may be glad of a day’s shelter and a day’s food. These the patriarch will delight to honour; and the recollection of his own early wanderings, as well as his love to them as brethren in the Lord, will open his heart towards them. Thus he sits for a little in the heat of the day, in his tent door, not idle, but intent on hospitable thoughts—“not forgetful to entertain strangers.” On this day he is well rewarded for his hospitality. According to the saying of the apostle (Hebrews 13:2), “he entertains angels unawares.” And not all of them created angels, even of the highest order. One, in the progress of this interview, discovers Himself to be the Angel of the Covenant—the Lord Himself.—(Candlish).
Times of leisure and repose specially fit us to receive Divine communications. The quietness which reigns around is well suited to the “still small voice.”
God appeared, not solely for Abraham’s sake, but in order to show that “His delights were with the sons of men” (Proverbs 8:31).
Genesis 18:2. Whenever visitants from the celestial world appear to men, they have the form of man. This is the only form of a rational being known to us. It is not the design of God in revealing His mercy to us to make us acquainted with the whole nature of things. The science of things visible or invisible He leaves to our natural faculties to explore, as far as occasion allows. Hence we conclude that the celestial visitant is a real being, and that the form is a real form. But we are not entitled to infer that the human is the only or the proper form of such beings, or that they have any ordinary or constant form open to sense. We only discern that they are intelligent beings like ourselves, and, in order to manifest themselves to us as such, put on that form of intelligent creatures with which we are familiar, and in which they can intelligibly confer with us. For the same reason they speak the language of the party addressed, though, for ought we know, spiritual beings use none of the many languages of humanity, and have quite a different mode of communicating with one another.—(Murphy.)
The fact that God appeared as man is a proof to us that man is of a Divine race. Man does not begin from the fall, from the corruption of human nature, but a step higher up where he appears in the true image and glory of God. To think lightly of man is to think lightly of the Incarnation. There is some kind of fitness in man, as the image of God, of man’s organs, his affections, and his life, to be the utterers and exponents of the life, yea, of all the heart of God.
The persons that now appeared at the tent-door of Abraham were certainly unknown to him. He was ignorant of their quality, their country, and their destination; yet his behaviour to them was as respectful as if they had been attended by a pompous retinue, or had sent a messenger to him beforehand announcing their names, and their intention of paying him a visit. With how much propriety the apostle inculcates the duty of hospitality from this incident will be obvious at once, and we may remark, in addition, that those who hold themselves in readiness to show kindness to the stranger and the traveller, may chance sometimes to be favoured with the presence of guests who will have it in their power and in their hearts to bless them as long as they live.—(Bush.)
He ran to meet them.
1. An instance of unsophisticated heartiness of nature.
2. An instance of a disposition to give and to bless.
Godliness does not place us above the necessity of observing the courtesies of human life, but even obliges us to practise them. The believer does that from principle and from love of God, which in the man of the world is the result of good breeding. The one is marked by simplicity and the absence of guile; the other scruples not to follow the arts of hypocrisy, and to disguise the worst feelings under the hollow forms of politeness.
Reverence towards man—towards all that is noble and godlike in man—prepares the soul for that supreme adoration which is due only to God.
Genesis 18:3-4. Abraham uses the word Adoni, denoting one having authority, whether Divine or not. This the Masorites mark as sacred, and apply the vowel-points proper to the word when it signifies God. These men in some way represent God. The Lord on this occasion appeared unto Abraham (Genesis 18:1). The number is in this respect notable. Abraham addresses himself first to one person (Genesis 18:3), then to more than one (Genesis 18:4-5). It is stated that “they said, So do (Genesis 18:5), they did eat (Genesis 18:8), they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife?” (Genesis 18:9). Then the singular number is resumed in the phrase, “And he said” (Genesis 18:10), and at length, “The Lord said unto Abraham” (Genesis 18:13), and then, “And he said” (Genesis 18:15). Then, we are told, “the men rose up, and Abraham went with them” (Genesis 18:16). Then we have, “the Lord said” twice (Genesis 18:17; Genesis 18:20). And lastly it is said (Genesis 18:22) “the men turned their faces and went towards Sodom, and Abraham was yet standing before the Lord.” From this it appears that, of the three men, one at all events was the Lord, who, when the other two went towards Sodom, remained with Abraham while He made his intercession for Sodom, and afterwards He also went His way. We have here the first explicit instance of the Lord appearing as man to man, and holding familiar intercourse with him.—(Murphy.)
If now I have found favour in thy sight. Such was the Oriental form of salutation. The difficulty of the first address, on any new occasion, is felt by every man in his intercourse with the world; hence all languages have their regular forms of salutation.
We read of another heavenly visitant whose manner and speech possessed an indescribable charm, and who was urged to stay, in words similar to these.—(Luke 24:29.)
Let a little water be fetched, and wash your feet. That is, have them washed, for this was performed by the servants, and not by the guests themselves. Water for the feet is a necessary and most grateful part of hospitality in the East. Where the people only wear sandals, which are intended only to protect the soles, the feet soon become foul and parched; and to have the feet and ankles bathed is the most gratifying of refreshments after that of quenching thirst. In passing through Hindoo villages, it is common to see this office performed for the weary traveller. In the sandy deserts of Arabia and the bordering countries, no covering for the feet can prevent the necessity for this refreshment at the end of a day’s journey. The fine, impalpable dust penetrates all things, and, with the perspiration, produces an itching and feverish irritation, which, next to the quenching of his thirst, it is the first wish of a traveller to allay; and to uncover his feet, and to get water to wash them, is a prime object of attention. If sandals only are used, or the feet are entirely without defence, it becomes still more necessary to wash them after a journey.—(Bush.)
Genesis 18:5. The courtesy of a godly man.
1. In his refined humility he diminishes the merit of every office he proposes to perform. If they are to be refreshed with water he calls it “a little water;” and if with food, he calls it “a morsel of bread.”
2. He relieves the anxiety which his guests might have lest they should encroach upon his liberality. He says nothing regarding the best of the entertainments which he intends to provide for them.
3. He ascribes the opportunity for his benevolence to the Providence of God. “For therefore are ye come to your servant.” God had so ordered things that these men should come to him at that time, and he was therefore bound to regard and treat them as if sent with that special purpose. He claimed no merit for this act of kindness. He was but the Lord’s instrument. The piety of Abraham shines forth here. He habitually recognised a superintending and directing Providence. To an ordinary mind it was a thing of chance that a few strangers should pass by the door of a tent, but Abraham instinctively refers it to the ordering of heaven, and therefore he feels that he is only discharging a duty which God has laid upon him.
We should regard every opportunity of befriending our fellow-creatures as ordered by Divine Providence. The circumstances which call for benevolence, as well as the impulse of the feeling itself, come from Him.
Every occasion of doing good must be recognised as a call from God to do it.
Can finer or truer delicacy in the conferring of a benefit be imagined? Ah! it is godliness after all that is the best politeness. It is the saint who knows best how to be courteous. Other benefactors may be liberal, condescending, familiar. They may try to put the objects of their charity at their ease. Still there is ever something in their bountifulness which pains and depresses, and if it does not offend or degrade, at least inspires a certain sense of humiliation. But the servant of God has the real tact and taste which the work of doing good requires. And the secret is, that he does good as the servant of God. Like Abraham he feels himself, and he makes those whom he obliges feel that it is truly not a transaction between man and man, implying that greatness or grandeur on the one side, of which the want may be painfully realised on the other, but that all is of God, to whom giver and receiver are equally subject, and in whom both are one. Think of this, ye who complain of the ingratitude of the poor; and be not in haste to reckon your gifts unvalued and unrepaid. Be assured it is a bitter thing for man to be obliged to his fellow-man, unless the obligation be hallowed and sweetened by a sense of the part which God has in the transaction. Take Abraham’s method if ye can. Imbibe Abraham’s spirit: say, It is the Lord; my entertaining you is nothing; my serving you is nothing; “for therefore are ye come to your servant.”—(Candlish.)
So do as thou hast said. Here is no empty form or idle ceremony; no affected disinclination to receive what is so frankly offered; no unmeaning compliments or apologies; no exaggerated professions of humility or gratitude. All is the simplicity of a generous heart and of sound sense.
It was the custom of St. Gregory, when he became Pope, to entertain every evening at his own table twelve poor men, in remembrance of the number of our Lord’s apostles. One night, as he sat at supper with his guests, he saw, to his surprise, not twelve but thirteen seated at his table; and he called to his steward, and said to him, “Did not I command thee to invite twelve? and, behold! there are thirteen.” And the steward told them over, and replied, “Holy Father, there are surely twelve only.” And Gregory held his peace; and, after the meal, he called forth the unbidden guest, and asked him, “Who art thou?” And he replied: “I am the poor man whom thou didst formerly relieve; but my name is ‘The Wonderful,’ and through me thou shalt obtain whatever thou shalt ask of God.” Then Gregory knew that he had entertained an angel, even the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Genesis 18:6. Abraham performs more than he had promised—causes preparations for his guests to be made, surpassing the simple offer of a “morsel of bread” and “a little water.” There is a temperance and modesty in speech which is observed by every man of true nobility of mind and feeling.
The hasty preparation which follows is exactly after the Oriental fashion. The repast provided for the family will not suffice for these new guests. But the requisite addition is easily and quickly made. In the true primitive style, all in the house—the heads as well as the servants of the household—bestir themselves. Sarah prepares cakes. Abraham himself fetches a calf, which the young man hastens to dress. Butter and milk complete the entertainment, to which the three seeming travellers sit down; Abraham, meanwhile, doing the part of an attentive host, and courteously standing by them, while they eat under the tree. And yet, probably, he knows not who they are whom he is entertaining. But be they who they may, can we doubt that, in showing them this kindness, a glow of satisfaction fills his soul? And can Abraham long fail to detect, under their homely appearance, some traces of their heavenly character? They are not of the common class whom business or pleasure brings across his path. They are not like the ordinary inhabitants of the land. Their holy air and holy demeanour cannot be mistaken.—(Candlish.)
Abraham was a man of noble views, and a large heart; but he was not above attending to the little things of life. While he acted the part of a generous host, he knew what details were necessary to be carried out in order to entertain his guests. All the efficient characters in history, while they have been men of comprehension, have also been men of detail. Great generals not only conceive plans of vast extent, but the most minute particulars, which are to fill up those plans, are each and every one distinct to their mind’s eye. In another way, St. Paul is an example of this faculty. There are great principles laid down in his epistles; and, at the same time, we observe a most circumstantial attention to the common affairs of life. No man can become great who is not a master of detail.
It seems very strange to us that in such an establishment as that of the patriarch there was not ready baked bread for the strangers. But the fact is, that in the East to this day, so much bread, and no more than will suffice for the household, is baked daily, as the common bread will not keep longer than a day in a warm climate. In villages and camps every family bakes it own bread; and while journeying in the East, we always found that the women of the families which entertained us always went to work immediately after our arrival, kneading the dough, and baking “cakes,” generally on spacious round or oblong plates, of thin and soft bread, which were ready in an astonishingly short time. It may seem extraordinary to see a lady of such distinction as Sarah, the wife of a powerful chief, occupied in this menial service. But even now this duty devolves on the women of every household; and among those who dwell in tents, the wife of the proudest chief is not above superintending the preparation of the bread, or even kneading and baking it with her own hands. Tamar, the daughter of a king, seems to have acquired distinction as a good baker of bread (2 Samuel 13:5-10); and there are few of the heavy duties which fall upon the women of the East, which they are more anxious to do well and get credit for, than this. It is among the first of an Eastern female’s accomplishments.—(Pictorial Bible.)
Genesis 18:7. Here was a well-ordered family; everyone knew his office, and did it. In every society, say the politicians, as in a well-tuned harp, the several strings must concur to make a harmony.—(Trapp.)
Here, again, the European reader is struck no less at the want of preparation than by the apparent rapidity with which the materials of a good feast were supplied. The dough was to be kneaded and the bread baked; and the meat had not only to be dressed, but killed. The fact is, the Orientals consume a very small quantity of animal food. In our own journeys, meat was never found ready killed, except in the large towns. There was, probably, not a morsel of meat in Abraham’s camp in any shape whatever. Amongst the Arabs, and indeed other Eastern people, it is not unusual at their entertainments to serve up a lamb, or kid, that has been baked whole in a hole in the ground, which, after being heated and having received the carcass, is covered over with stones. It is less usual now in the East to kill a calf than it seems to have been in the times of the Bible. The Arabs, Turks, and others think it monstrous extravagance to kill an animal which becomes so large and valuable when full grown. This consideration seems to magnify Abraham’s liberality in being so ready to kill a calf for strangers.—(Bush.)
Abraham, though an old man, ran to his herd to fetch his choice calf. True generosity is not content with easy sacrifices, and shrinks not from personal trouble and inconvenience.
Abraham entertained his guests—one of them being Divine—with a “fatted calf.” So God entertains man with the choicest provision of His household (Luke 15:23).
Genesis 18:8. Abraham attended upon his guests. God is the guest of Abraham here. Abraham is His guest now and for ever (Matthew 8:11).—(Jacobus.)
God, manifested through man’s nature and form, becomes known to Abraham “in the breaking of bread” (Luke 24:30-31.)
God will prepare the best things for His people in the feast of glory.
It is a singular instance of condecension—the only recorded instance of the kind before the Incarnation. On other occasions this same illustrious Being appeared to the fathers, and conversed with them. And meat and drink were brought out to Him. But in these cases He turned the offered banquet into a sacrifice, in the smoke of which He ascended heavenward (Judges 6:18-24; Judges 13:15-21). Here He personally accepts the patriarch’s hospitality, and partakes of his fare—a greater miracle still than the other, implying more intimate and gracious friendship, more unreserved familiarity. He sits under his tree, and shares his common meal. “Behold,” says the same Lord to every believing child of Abraham, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” etc. (Revelation 3:20). But above all, “If a man love me, he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23). “Be not,” then, “forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). They have entertained the messenger of the Covenant, the Lord Himself. But how may you have any chance of falling into this blessed mistake, and unawares entertaining Christ and His angels? Does He, or do they go about now in the guise of weary and wayworn pilgrims? What says the Lord Himself? “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me.” “Whosoever shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.” Yes, every service performed to one of the Lord’s little ones in a spirit like that of Abraham; every kindness shown to one who is, or who may be, a disciple of the Lord, is a service performed and a kindness shown to the Lord Himself. The Lord accepts it as such. What a thought is this! That in all your acts of courtesy and friendship,—of hospitality, of charity, of goodwill,—you may consider that it is the Lord Himself you are obliging? What a motive “to do good unto all men, especially those that are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). And think not that your thus entertaining Christ is a mere pleasing notion,—a fiction or a theory. Think not that it is to be practically realised only in the judgment of the great day as the principle upon which its final rewards are to be dispensed. Even now your thus entertaining Christ unawares may be matter of blessed experience. He manifests Himself to you on every occasion, however trifling, on which, in doing the least good to the very least of His brethren, you do it in faith as unto Himself. For such brotherly kindness opens your heart. It is the very best reply to His knocking. It brings near to you that Lord whom, in the person of one of His little ones, you have been honouring. You thus realise the fact of His entering in that “He may sup with you and you with Him.” For at the supper you provide for any one of His little ones—He will not Himself be absent. Multiply, therefore, these offices of Christian love. Devise liberal things. Do good and communicate. Give as unto the Lord—that thus you may have more of His presence with you, and more of His love shed abroad in your hearts.—(Candlish.)
This Divine visitant condescends to feast with Abraham. Surely Abraham has now become the friend of God (James 2:23). This feasting of God with man appears again in the progress of the dispensations of His grace—in the Shew-bread in the Temple, the Lord’s Supper in the New Covenant, and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in the new world.
Genesis 18:9. In the tent.] In the women’s apartments.
Genesis 18:10. I will certainly return unto thee.] Heb. Returning I will return. An emphatic form of affirmation. According to the time of life.] Heb. According to the living time. “A singularly ambiguous phrase, upon which a great variety of interpretations has been grafted. The most probable of these is that of the Persic version,—“According to the time of that which is born, or the birth, i.e., according to the time necessary for the production of the living child, or at the end of nine months. This is, perhaps, confirmed by ch. Genesis 21:2.” (Bush.) Generally understood to mean, when the year, now passing away, again revives, i.e., during the next year. Sarah heard it in the tent-door, which was behind him.] Heb. In the entrance of the tent, and it was behind him. “The notice is apparently inserted to signify that the opening of the tent was behind the speaker, and consequently unseen by him.” (Alford.)
Genesis 18:12. My lord.] A title of honour applied to her husband. Referred to in N.T. as an example to married women (1 Peter 3:6).
Genesis 18:13. The Lord.] One of the three is Jehovah, who had appeared to Abraham.
Genesis 18:14. Is anything too hard for the Lord?] Heb. Is any word too wonderful for Jehovah? The very words used by the LXX. here are quoted by St. Luke in the speech of the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:37).
Genesis 18:15. She was afraid.] With amazement St. Peter indirectly reflects upon her conduct (1 Peter 3:6). To bring them on the way.] The two-fold idea is involved of dismissing and accompanying.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 18:9-15
THE CONFLICT BETWEEN FEAR AND FAITH
God had, hitherto, dealt with Abraham alone; now he deals with Sarah, as one of the parties to the Covenant. Abraham’s faith was marked by some infirmity; and so is Sarah’s in the present instance, but arising from a different cause. Her faith betrayed that weakness which comes of fear. The conflict between faith and fear, and the reasons of it are illustrated here.
I. The things promised to faith are difficult of belief. The Lord promised that Sarah herself should have a son. She received that announcement with mirthful incredulity. The thing was not to be thought of. How could the impossibilities of nature be overcome? (Genesis 18:11-12). That she should become a mother, was like calling the dead back to life. She was not really indisposed to believe what God had promised, still her thought was entirely directed to natural means. She was not ready to resign herself to a miracle. The world was old enough, and her experience was long enough to produce in her a fixed belief in the constancy of the course of nature. Faith in a course of things above and beyond nature, she had not yet fully realised. The things promised seemed too good to be true, and even impossible of accomplishment.
1. It is necessary that faith should be thus tried by difficulty. If all is clear, and obvious, and easy, and present, it is quite impossible to exercise faith. In our present condition, we cannot walk by sight, for our knowledge is imperfect. If, therefore, we are to have an aim or a purpose beyond this present life, we must trust where we cannot see, and believe where we cannot demonstrate. The things God promises to faith are contrary to our present experience. We have no proof of them which commends itself to our ordinary reason. Faith stands to us instead of verification, and is its own proof.
2. We must be cast entirely upon the word of God. Nature may seem to be against us—and the possibilities of things, and human hopes—but our faith must surmount all.
II. Faith may, for awhile, be quite paralysed by fear. In a sincere mind, this very difficulty of belief may produce a fear which may perplex and trouble us. This was Sarah’s case. Sudden fear tempted her to dissemble. She lost her presence of mind, and her guileless simplicity, and integrity (Genesis 18:15). St. Peter, who holds her up as an example to godly matrons, hints at her infirmity, and suggests that she was “afraid with amazement” (1 Peter 3:6).
1. In sincere souls this condition is only momentary. For a brief space faith endures a kind of suspended animation, but it has strength enough to recover. Fear is salutary when it is the instrument of caution, the guide of circumspection; but when it produces paleness and dread, it may serve for the time to overwhelm every other feeling. But if there is a real and loving desire towards God, the soul returns to sobriety, and faith lays hold on God.
2. To accept God at His word would save us from all foolish wonder. That which God promises may be amazing in itself, but if we accept His word simply, we are saved from that kind of wonder in which the mind loses itself, and by which effort is rendered impossible. True faith readily fastens upon the ultimate mystery, and therefore is amazed at nothing else. In this regard, “All things are possible to him that believeth.”
III. God graciously grants power to overcome the fear. There is much forgiven to faith, if it is only real, at bottom, and in any way lays hold upon God. He will pardon its infirmities and repair its weaknesses. This he did in Sarah’s case.
1. By mild reproof. “And the Lord said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old?” (Genesis 18:13). This reproof is mixed with that tenderness which, while it chides, at the same time has a loving purpose, and raises up them that fall. God’s reproofs to His children are but loving corrections.
2. By recognising the good which is mixed up with our infirmity. Sarah is commended for “doing well,” and is held up as a model of matronly simplicity and subjection. She found favour in the sight of Him who is not easily provoked, and “who knoweth our frame, and remembereth that we are dust.”
3. By repeating His promises. The promise made in Genesis 18:10 is repeated in Genesis 18:14. It was doubted, and therefore is now renewed with additional force. After faith has triumphed, over doubt, it is as if the word of God was again spoken to us. His promises have, as it were, the freshness of a new creation.
4. By casting us upon His own omnipotence. “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14). This is the great refuge of faith when perplexed by apparent impossibilities. The thought of God’s infinite power should put all our doubt to flight. Unbelief loses sight of the Divine omnipotence. True faith is supported by a power which cannot be baffled, or turned aside from its gracious purpose.
“The voice that rolls the stars along,
Speaks all the promises.”
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 18:9. It is now the question, not of the chief personage, but of the group of guests—a question which, in the East, from a stranger, would be regarded as impertinent, if not insulting, in our time; but in that day there was altogether more of dignified freedom and ease among the women, and such an inquiry would not be so regarded. Abraham must have been greatly surprised at this mention of his wife’s name, with an inquiry after her, if he had not already recognised the Angel of the Covenant as one of strangers. Sarah was inside the tent, but near the entrance or doorway, where she could hear.—(Jacobus.)
When God inquires of us, the intent is to summon our attention and not to inform Himself. We cannot instruct Omniscience.
Behold, in the tent. David compares a good woman to the vines upon the walls of the house, because she cleaveth to her house. Others to a snail, that carrieth her house on her back. St Paul reckons it for a virtue in a woman to “keep at home” (Titus 2:5); and Solomon, for a sign of a lewd housewife, that “her feet abide not in her house” (Proverbs 7:11). Among the Grecians, the bride was carried through the streets in a chariot, the axletree was burnt, to signify that she must keep home.—(Trapp.)
Genesis 18:10. In the former verses the speaker did not make Himself known, but now there can be no doubt as to who He really is. The very nature of the communication now made implies self-determination and supreme authority. They are surely not the words of an ambassador, but of a sovereign. The personal God stands revealed in His word; and if we are faithful we shall at length know Himself by its means.
God’s communications to man are marked—
1. By positiveness and self-assertion. He speaks as the fountain of authority—as one who is able to accomplish His will against all difficulties. “I will certainly return unto thee.”
2. By that Sovereignty which commands all time and events. God is not bound by the conditions of time as we are, but stands above and beyond it. He speaks of things that are not as though they were. In the eye of faith His word is equal to the event—the thing promised.
Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him. He probably sat in such a manner relatively to the door of Sarah’s tent that His back was turned towards it, so that if He had been a mere man He could not have noticed the fact of her laughing. That He was aware of it showed His Omniscience.
“The form of Abraham’s tent, as thus described, seems to have been exactly like the one in which we sat; for in both there was a shaded open front, in which he could sit in the heat of the day, and yet be seen from afar off; and the apartment of the females, where Sarah was when he stated her to be within the tent, was immediately behind this, wherein she prepared the meal for the guests, and from whence she listened to their prophetic declaration.”—(Buckingham—Bush.)
That discovery of ourselves—of what is in our inmost souls, which we find in the word of God, is one of the indications of its heavenly origin. The claim of Jesus to Divinity is in no small degree attested by the fact that He knew what was in man” (John 2:25).
Genesis 18:11. This statement is made to call attention to the miraculous nature of the promise. There is a Living Will above and beyond this present and visible course of things. Without faith in this, the outward universe is but a mere machine.
It should not be thought a thing incredible for God to bring new life to those who were as good as dead. Such a miracle is witnessed now when souls are born again. It is when we are literally “without strength” that God’s grace is omnipotent to help and save (Romans 5:6).
There must be a complete wreck of all human hopes before we are willing to cast ourselves entirely upon God. We must be taught that God is all in all. In the Divine education of humanity men have been made to feel the necessity for God’s interference. Before Christ came some of the great nations of antiquity had perished, and even Rome itself was fast hastening to decay, The world had outlived all its hopes. Then the Saviour appeared, and his fulness answered to man’s emptiness.
Genesis 18:12. God’s promises seem absurd and ridiculous, many of them, to human reason, which therefore must be silenced and shut out, as Hagar was; for it will argue carnally as that unbelieving lord (2 Kings 7:2) storms at God’s offers; as Naaman at the message (2 Kings 5:11) looks upon God’s Jordan with Syrian eyes, as he, and after all, cries out with Nicodemus, “How can these things be (John 3:4)? measuring God by its own model, and casting Him into its own mould.—(Trapp.)
Sarah’s laughter was that of incredulity. She had human reason on her side. It was the laughter of rationalism, declaring that impossible which it is unwilling to believe.
Sarah’s laughter was yet but a momentary feeling, not indicative of a habit of life. Hence it fell short of the impious and profane. She laid too much stress upon the necessity of natural means, and failed to give God His true glory.
Abraham and Sarah did not more agree in their desire than differ in their affection. Abraham laughed becaused he believed it would be so, Sarah because she believed it could not be so.—(Bishop Hall.)
My lord being old also. This passage, taken in connection with another which contains an allusion to it, affords a striking proof how ready God is to mark whatever is good in our actions, while He casts a veil over the evil with which it is accompanied. At the very time that Sarah yielded to unbelief she exercised a reverential regard for her husband, and this fact is recorded to her honour by the Apostle Peter, and proposed as an example to all married women, while the infirmity that she betrayed on the same occasion is passed over in silence (1 Peter 3:5-6). The Scriptures afford numerous instances in which God has manifested the same condescension to His frail and sinful creatures. The existence of “some good thing towards the Lord” even avails, as in the case of young Abijah (1 Kings 14:13), to turn away the eye of Jehovah from manifold imperfections in other respects. This is a great encouragement to us amidst all the weakness that we feel; and we may be assured that if, on the one hand, the evils of our hearts will be disclosed, so, on the other, there is not a good purpose or inclination that shall not be made manifest and abundantly rewarded in the great day.—(Bush.)
Genesis 18:13. The speaker is here disclosed as “Jehovah—the Lord” who had appeared unto Abraham (Genesis 18:1).
It would serve to bring home the reproof to Sarah’s mind to find that her husband was called to account for her fault.
The wife’s sin reflects upon the husband. But Solomon shows that some wives are so intemperate and wilful that a man may as well hide the wind in his fist or oil in his hand as restrain them from ill-doing (Proverbs 27:15-16).—(Trapp.)
We have to bear the burdens and infirmities of those who are partakers with us of the same promises.
Genesis 18:14. Sarah laughed within herself, within the tent and behind the speaker; yet to her surprise her internal feelings are known to Him. She finds there is One present who rises above the sphere of nature.—(Murphy.)
The thought of God’s power ought to silence every objection arising from apparent impossibilities. We have sufficient examples of His power to encourage us to hope in His Word. He formed the universe out of nothing by a simple act of His will. He still preserves the whole course of nature. He supplies the wants of every living creature upon earth. Did we but reflect upon the miracle of creation alone, we could never indulge in that unbelief which calls the power of God in question.
When all human hope is lost, and nature seems to bind us fast as with an iron destiny, we may well comfort ourselves with the thought: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
At the time appointed I will return. It is humiliating to think what a necessity our unbelief imposes upon God to impart and renew His promises to us; and the earnestness with which the promise so often given is here repeated, shows the just displeasure which Sarah’s incredulity had excited in the bosom of God. We cannot, indeed, but be filled with amazement that He did not rather say, “Since you treat My promises with secret derision, you shall never be made partaker of them.” But God well knows the weakness of the human heart, and therefore deals tenderly with offenders. Were He to suffer our unbelief to make void His truth, no one of His promises would ever be fulfilled. But He has assured us that this shall not be the case; and if anything will put to shame our unbelief, surely this will. Such condescension and compassion cannot but prevail upon us more forcibly than a thousand menaces.—(Bush.)
The repeated lessons of instruction and words of promise which are found in Scripture bear witness to human infirmity—to our slowness of heart to believe and receive what God has spoken.
Genesis 18:15. In her confusion and terror she denies that she laughed. But He who sees what is within insists that she did laugh, at least in the thought of her heart. There is a beautiful simplicity in the whole scene. Sarah now doubtless received faith and strength to conceive.—(Murphy).
Fear perverts the moral perceptions, and tempts us to shelter ourselves under unworthy subterfuges.
Sarah had not laughed outwardly, with visible contempt and derision, but she could not cover up her sin from God. He can detect what is evil in us, however it may be disguised by outward propriety.
This brief and sharp reproof was yet like the wound of a friend, which is faithful. It was in mercy, not in anger, that her secret sin was detected and reproved. We hear no more of her unbelief after this reproof. Her faith was hereby confirmed and established, and became the very instrument for the accomplishing of that promise which she once disbelieved (Hebrews 11:11).
We ought to be grateful for the fidelity of those friends who reprove us, and for the rebukes of our own conscience. We should accept these, as if the Lord had spoken.
If we only consider what is that perfect knowledge which God has of us, all unworthy fear would be driven from our hearts. We should then have only one object of amazement and wonder. Nothing else could make us afraid.
Let us be careful that God never sees in our countenance the smile of distrust, the sneer of derision at His promises, His precepts, His people. The profane joke, the contemptuous epithet, the supercilious sneer, the open ridicule, the downright mockery of the saints, are all registered. “Nay, but thou didst laugh,” will continue to awaken new pains of remorse in the soul of the scorner when he and laughter shall have long been strangers, and when tears, and sighing, and mourning shall have become his portion; for of laughter such as this the word of God has pronounced: “The end of that mirth is heaviness;” “Woe unto you that laugh now, for ye shall mourn and weep.”—(Bush.)
She was afraid. And well she might; for as every body hath its shadow, so hath every sin its fear. She laughed, but within herself, but as good she might have laughed out aloud; for God searcheth the heart. “I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying when I was in my country?”
(Jonah 4:2). No, Jonah, it was not thy saying, it was only thy thinking; but that is all one before Him who “understandeth thy thoughts afar off” (Psalms 139:2).—(Trapp.)
Genesis 18:17. That thing which I do.] Which I purpose doing, or am about to do.
Genesis 18:19. For I know him.] Heb. For I have known him. “It is God’s purpose with regard to Abraham, not His knowledge of the character of Abraham, that is here spoken of.” (Alford.)
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 18:16-19
THE SECRET OF THE LORD WITH ABRAHAM
We are told that “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him” (Psalms 25:14). God communicates Himself, and the knowledge of His ways and designs, to His faithful ones. There was a special propriety for this mode of dealing with His servant Abraham. Consider this—
I. As one of the privileges of God’s friendship with him. Communication of secrets is one of the special privileges of friendship. The secret of a man is not with strangers, or enemies, or indifferent persons, but with those who respect and love him. Where we trust our secrets the intimacy must be very close, and the confidence of love very great. God had made Abraham His friend, and in doing so had yielded to him certain rights. He who is the sovereign Lord of all put Himself under obligations. He imparted to His friend a two-fold secret.
1. The secret of loving intercourse. He had already condescended to visit Abraham, and to partake of his hospitality. He conversed freely with the patriarch as a man with his friend. Though He discovered Himself to be what He really was, the human manner of the interview is carried out to the end. This is the only instance in the Old Testament of such intimate and palpable communion with God. Abraham’s case was only peculiar in its outward form, for it is the privilege of all God’s saints to “enter into the secret place of the Most High, and to abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”
2. The secret of His purposes. The Lord had already told Abraham of His loving purpose concerning himself, and the nation of which he was to be the founder. Now the Lord reveals His purposes of judgment upon the wicked. The sin of Sodom had become great. The Divine forbearance was exhausted. The time of judgment had come. In adaptation to our human mode of thought and speech, God is represented as taking counsel with Himself as to what He shall purpose. “Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?” (Genesis 18:17). It seems as if the very thought would be unworthy, that He should conceal His design from His friend. “Strangers and enemies—the world at large—know Me not; and therefore they know not what I do. They know merely what is outwardly presented to their eye, on the stage of public and social life. But they see not behind the scenes. They are not acquainted with the hidden springs, and inmost reasons of My conduct. Hence, it is not wonderful that they should misunderstand Me; that they should put a wrong construction on many of My actions; that many things in My dealings should seem anomalous or even criminal, of which, had they been better acquainted with Me, they might easily have got an explanation. But my friends stand in My counsel. They are familiar with Me, and their fullest sympathy is Mine. They can therefore understand what I do. What may seem strange and startling to others, excites no surprise, and breeds no suspicion, in them; and where the world is loud in its premature criticisms and cavils—My friends, doing Me justice, and reposing in Me an honourable confidence, can intelligently acquit or approve; or at least can patiently wait for further light and information—fearless, as regards My character, of the issue.—(Candlish.)
II. As depending upon his destiny and character. Abraham was not only a saint, but also a representative man, through whom God intended to convey great blessings to mankind. He was the human foundation upon which God’s most gracious purposes concerning the race were to be erected. The friendship of God with him, therefore, is to be considered—
1. With regard to his destiny. God had known him, that is, determined him for a purpose.
(1.) Political. He was to “become a great and mighty nation” (Genesis 18:18). The founding of a great nation is an act of God’s Providence, and not an accident of human history. Abraham has, therefore, an interest in humanity considered as such. Therefore this act of retribution on Sodom must not be regarded as a matter of indifference to him. In the thought and purpose of God he has a sublime relation to a noble race, and the knowledge of the Divine purposes concerning that race was, in a measure, due to him. Of such a character as Abraham it was true in a most special and eminent sense, that all that concerned man concerned him.
(2.) Religious. Abraham was to be the founder not only of a great, but also of a holy nation—of a people elect of God. They were chosen to illustrate His Providence, to have the custody of His oracles. The awful scroll of prophecy was in their keeping. God’s salvation was to spring from them. They stood at one end of the ladder along which communications passed from heaven to earth, and blessings came down. “All the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him” (Genesis 18:18). Hence he is personally and directly concerned with all God’s dealings of mercy and judgment. As a member of the Covenant, these privileges were due to Abraham.
2. With regard to his personal character. God knew that Abraham was a righteous man, and that he would be just and upright in the government of his family, bringing them up in the fear and love of Himself. So would they enjoy the benefits of the Covenant of grace, and avoid the doom of the wicked. “For the transmission from generation to generation of the true knowledge and worship of God, it is essential that they who are to command and teach their children after them should themselves understand the scheme of God’s providence, so as to be well acquainted with what He has done, and is yet to do, on the earth. Abraham is highly commended by God, as one who will assuredly be faithful in this work of the godly training and godly discipline of his household. As the head of a family—as a witness for God to the generation to come—as a teacher of righteousness, he is entrusted with a most important office, and he will not betray his trust.”—(Candlish.)
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 18:16. The courteous dismissal of friends and brethren who have been entertained as guests, by accompanying them some distance on their way, is a duty frequently enjoined in the New Testament. Thus, 3 John 1:6 : “Whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well. (See also Romans 15:24; 1 Corinthians 16:11; Acts 20:38.) From Genesis 18:22, it would appear that it was only the two angels who now took their leave. He who is called “Jehovah” seems to have remained, and Abraham, after conducting the two some little distance, probably returned into the presence of his Divine guest, when the circumstances afterwards mentioned occurred.—(Bush.)
There is a gracious side to the Divine character, in which appear the purposes of His love and mercy; but there is also a side of it in which we see only His judgments towards the impenitent. Towards Abraham, the look of kindness and love; towards Sodom, the look of fearful indignation and purpose of retribution. The right hand of the Judge implies His left.
Genesis 18:17. He is in a position to be trusted. He is not a stranger or an enemy who must be kept at a distance and treated with stern and suspicious reserve. He stands high in the favour and fellowship of God, and it is not unreasonable that God should impart to him an intimate knowledge of His works and ways. (Psalms 25:14.) Hence the Lord speaks of His prophets as those who should stand in His counsel, or secret. (Jeremiah 23:18-22; Amos 3:7.) And it is especially with reference to His judgments to be executed on the earth that the Lord thus speaks. To the friend of God, these visitations of vengeance are not, as they appear to other men, mere accidents of fortune, or sudden outbreaks of capricious wrath. To him they have a clear meaning—a distinct and well-defined end. And hence, while others are distracted and overwhelmed, he stands fearless amid the ruin.—(Candlish.)
If we are the friends of God through Christ we are admitted into His confidence. Jesus calls us His friends (St. John 15:15.)
1. We are delivered from all slavish fear.
2. We have no longer any suspicion of God. All cold reserve and distrust are gone, and we enter into all the plans and purposes of His grace.
3. We have full confidence in God’s righteousness. The difficulties in the ways and dealings of Providence, which perplex others, all become intelligible to the friend of God. He reveals to His friends what shall be in the end, when a perfect adjustment of these shall be made.
The secret of the Lord concerning judgment is also intended for our admonition. The judgments of the Lord “warn” His servants. (Psalms 19:11.)
Genesis 18:18. We have in this and the following verse the reasons assigned for the decision to which He comes. The first is, the dignity and importance of His character, and the great things which He had purposed to do for him. It is a reason à fortiori; as if He had said, “Seeing I have determined to bestow upon Abraham the greater favour of making him a great nation, and of blessing in him all other nations, surely I may confer upon him the less, of making him acquainted with My present purpose of destroying Sodom.” Where God has begun to do good to His servants He follows them with still accumulating mercies. The past is a pledge for the future, and they may, like Rachel, name their blessings “Joseph,” saying, “The Lord will yet add another.—(Bush.)
The revelation to Abraham of the Divine purposes of judgment would serve:
1. As a vindication of God’s character in the matter of punishment. God had made known unto him His purposes of grace, and He will now vindicate Himself in regard to His judgments upon the wicked.
2. As a motive to increase the sense of covenant obligation. Abraham would now have stronger reason for fidelity in his household, for he was to be the source of blessing to all mankind. His family was to be the home of salvation where men would find shelter from the terrible judgments of God.
FAMILY RELIGION.—Genesis 18:19
I. The light in which Abraham appears in this passage; and how he was qualified for the duty here ascribed to him. He appears a man of knowledge; not, perhaps, in the jargon of language, the refinements of science, or the subtleties of speculation, but in matters of the greatest moment to his own present and everlasting salvation, and that of others, namely, in religion and morality, here termed the “way of the Lord,” “justice and judgment.”—A man of piety. He not only understood the way of the Lord, but he loved, experienced, and practised it. Hence his concern and endeavour to impress it upon others. Without personal religion in the heads of families, we cannot expect they will sincerely and perseveringly endeavour to promote it in their children or servants.—A man of virtue. Justice and judgment were as dear to him, and as much practised by him, as “the way of the Lord.” He did not make his doing his duty to God a reason for neglecting his duty to his neighbour; nor what God had joined together did he put asunder.—A man of authority. “He will command his children and his household after him.” Observe the respect and obedience he enforced, and his great influence over his family. This was owing to his station. They were taught to acknowledge him as appointed by God at the head of the family—to his knowledge and wisdom—his known and approved piety. They knew God was on his side, and if they opposed him, God would resent it.—A man of fidelity. Whatever knowledge, piety, or authority he had, he faithfully employed for His glory who entrusted him with them, and to the end intended—the good of others, and especially of his own family.—A man of diligence. He appears evidently to have been laborious in this duty.
II. The nature of this duty; or his endeavours for the good of his family. He not only prayed with and before his family, but interceded for them as a priest. This the ancient patriarchs and holy men of old did. They were priests in their own houses (Job 1:5). So should every master of a Christian family be. Indeed, every private Christian is a priest unto God. He was a prophet in his family. He instructed them, not in matters of mere speculation, nor doubtful disputation—this were foolish and unprofitable—but in matters of experimental and practical religion and virtue. He taught his family not barely to know these things, but to do them. Now, upon whom must this be inculcated? Upon children (Deuteronomy 4:9). If our children be the Lord’s, they must be educated for Him. If they wear His livery, and be called by His name, they must do His work. What hypocrisy is it to dedicate our children to God in baptism, and Promise they shall “renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, and all covetous desires of the same, so that they shall not follow nor be led by them,” and afterwards to take no care that they may fulfil it!—Upon servants. Abraham had born in his house three hundred and eighteen servants (ch. Genesis 14:14), “trained,” or, as the Hebrew word means, catechised. Our servants are entrusted to our care, and should be taught and directed by us while in our family. But how must our children and servants be instructed? (Deuteronomy 6:6, etc.). By conversation, advice, exhortation, reading, hearing, catechising, etc., and especially by teaching them to “know the Scriptures” (2 Timothy 3:15.) He was a king in his house, and used authority. He not only recommended these things, and advised and set before them the advantages on the one hand, and the miseries on the other, or the conduct which they might pursue, but he solemnly enjoined and insisted on these things, on pain of incurring his displeasure, as well as that of God. He not only used doctrine, but discipline (Ephesians 6:4). He not only informed the understanding of his children and domestics by doctrine, and reminded and admonished them, but he persuaded, turned, and subdued the will to God and man, as far as possible, by discipline, rewards, punishments, or corrections, especially with regard to his children.
III. How pleasing it was to God, and the blessed consequences thereof to Abraham and his family. Observe:—The reason why God would hide nothing from Abraham. “For I know him,” etc. Abraham was communicative of his knowledge, and improved it to the good of those under his care, and therefore God resolved to make communications to him. The way to the accomplishment of God’s promises: “That the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him.” Family blessings arise from family religion;—temperance, frugality, industry, discretion—peace, quietness, love, harmony—the favour, protection, and care of God; His direction and aid—all necessaries (Psalms 37:25; Matthew 6:33)—prosperity, as far as will be good for us, and our families. Our prayers are heard—afflictions are sanctified to us, and we are supported under them—we make a comfortable progress together in the ways of God, and receive many spiritual blessings—we shall meet in His presence and kingdom hereafter, and spend an eternity together. The sad reverse when this course is not taken. Hence arise family curses;—intemperance, prodigality, idleness, imprudence—strife, contention, hatred, disturbance—the displeasure of God, and His curse on all we do—not even necessaries, perhaps, but beggary and want—nothing prospers—our prayers are rejected—we are abandoned of God in our afflictions, and hardened by them—we go forward miserably in the ways of the devil—we shall meet at the left hand of the Judge in the great day.—(Rev. J. Benson’s Sermons and Plans.)
Genesis 18:21. Whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it.] Heb. Whether they have made completeness, or filled up the measure of their sins. And if not, I will know.] Onk. “But if they repent I will not take vengeance.”
Genesis 18:22. Stood yet.] Heb. And LXX. have, Was standing yet. Onk. “Stood in prayer before the Lord.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 18:20-22
GOD’S JUDGMENTS ON NATIONS
Though every man must give an account for himself to God at the last day, yet Providence does visit judgment upon nations, as such, in this world. Nations have no existence in the future life, and therefore must be punished in this life. Hence religious minds read some awful lessons in human history. They see the punishments of Divine justice visited upon communities of sinners. We have here God’s threatening of judgment upon a wicked nation; a threatening which was as sure as doom; for they had exhausted the Divine forbearance, and there was no more space for repentance. God’s judgments upon nations have the same general characteristics as this one upon Sodom and Gomorrah.
I. They are preceded by a long history of wickedness. God’s retribution does not fall until the harvest of sin is ripe. The wickedness of this people had grown so great as to become proverbial. (Isaiah 1:9.) A community must have existed for some time before it can give rise to proverbs. This way of referring to a nation’s moral character shows that it has been long established in evil ways. These cities were notorious for sins of the worst type. These are mentioned in the Bible as sins which bring down the judgments of God upon nations.
1. The shedding of innocent blood. (Genesis 4:10; Job 16:18.) This is the highest crime against man. The blood of the innocent appeals to heaven for vengeance. God hears their cry, and by terrible judgments requires their blood of guilty nations.
2. The peculiar sin of Sodom. The vilest form of sensuality derives its name from this wicked city. There are sins of the flesh so heinous that they degrade men below the level of the brute.
3. The oppression of the people of God. (Exodus 3:7.) God regards this sin as specially directed against Himself. To fail in duty, or to go wrong, are sins against God; but to afflict His people is directly to affront the Majesty of God. The same principle is to be observed in the case of those who, by the calamities of human life, are in an especial manner thrown upon the care and kindness of God. The oppression of widows and orphans is regarded in Scripture as a crime which calls for immediate judgment, the very tenderness of God urging Him to inflict it.
4. Withholding the hire of the labourer. (James 5:4.) Sins committed against society differ much in their consequences to individual men. The labourer who works for day wages suffers a grievous wrong when these are withheld. To rob him of the means by which he lives lies very near to crimes directed against his life. The judgments of God, sooner or later, overtake nations who have a bad eminence in such sins as these.
II. They are manifestly righteous. The judgments of God upon sinful communities of men are so conducted that the justice of them may appear.
1. They proceed slowly. The feet of vengeance travel with slow and measured steps. Though the punishment may be just in itself, and the sinful deserve no more time, yet it is delayed in order that God’s ways with men might appear to be right. When we intend acts of love and kindness, there is a propriety in our haste to do them. But in acts of punishment—of righteous judgment—all haste is unseemly. Mercy will rejoice over judgment as long as it possibly can. God is slow to punish. Judgment is His strange work. He endures even the vessels of wrath with much long-suffering. Men have time to see that the signal examples of Divine retribution which history furnishes are just and right.
2. They are only inflicted when the reasons of them have been made evident. God is represented as making careful inquiry. (Genesis 18:21.) Such language is evidently accommodated to our human weakness, but the intent of it is to impress the thought upon our minds, that God will not visit iniquity until it is fully proven.
3. They are self-vindicating. Sodom and Gomorrah are represented as crying to God for vengeance. (Genesis 18:20.) There are some sins which more than others loudly call to Heaven for punishment. Their just recompense thus approves itself to the conscience of humanity.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 18:20. God regards the sins of nations as such, and bears with them until they cry out for vengeance. They put a strain upon the Divine endurance until they become “very grievous,” and sparing mercy can hold out no longer.
The sins which destroy nations are those which strike at the very foundations of social order, purity, and safety—lawlessness, corruption in family life, general insecurity amidst the wreck of just institutions. Such sins are among those which “are open beforehand, going before to judgment.”
History reads us this awful lesson, that the fall of great nations has been brought about by their own corruptions.
Every sin makes a moral demand for punishment, and has a voice of crimination against the sinner. Sins, however, are more especially said to cry when they are peculiarly heinous, flagrant, aggravated, and calculated to provoke the wrath of God; and such were now the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, which two cities are doubtless mentioned for their pre-eminence in crime, though it is clear from Deuteronomy 29:22-24 that several other cities in the immediate vicinity were involved in the same destruction.—(Bush.)
Because their sin is very grievous. Or, very heavy; such as the very ground groans under; the axle-tree of the earth is ready to break under it. Sin is a burden to God. (Amos 2:13.) It was so to Christ; He fell to the ground when He was in His agony. It was so to the angels who sank into hell under it. It was so to Korah and his company—the earth could not bear them. It was so to the Sodomites—they were so clogged with this superfluity of naughtiness, as St. James calleth it (Genesis 1:21), that God came from heaven to give their land a vomit.—(Trapp.)
“Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous.” The ways of God are not governed by caprice—the result of mere will. They approve themselves to the reason of mankind.
Genesis 18:21. Every great judgment upon wicked nations is a special visitation of God.
There is a certain measure of sins—a capacity of iniquity—which wicked nations must fill before God’s great judgments come upon them.
God is represented as a just judge who has no prepossessions in regard to the case, but is determined to make an exact and careful scrutiny.
The sins of nations require time to develop into a full-grown body, but it is a body prepared for death (James 1:15).
These verses (20, 21), probably, are to be taken as retrospective; as being a parenthetical explanation of the whole scene, which might have been given at the outset, but is now incidentally thrown in: “The Lord had said, I will go down now and see”—speaking after the manner of men, to mark the perfect equity of His procedure, as not condemning hastily, or without inquiry. This had been His purpose in coming down to earth at all on this occasion. In the execution of this purpose, He had visited Abraham. And now, sending on to Sodom the angels who accompanied Him, and who were appointed to save Lot, He Himself remains behind.—(Candlish.)
God keeps open the door of repentance to the very last, so that the worst of characters may have no cause to complain of injustice.
Descent here is, of course, but figuratively ascribed to God. There could be no change of place with Him who is everywhere present; nor can examination be necessary to the eye of Omniscience. The language merely represents God as employing those means of investigation which are necessary to man to declare that all the acts of His vengeance are in perfect conformity to justice, and that He never punishes without the clearest reason. And surely, if anything can show unwillingness to punish, or a desire to see everything in the most favourable light, or an anxiety like that of a tender parent to cleave to the last hope that his child is not irrecoverably lost, we have it in these words. It is speaking of God, indeed, according to the manner of men, but it implies that He would look into the whole case; that He would be slow before He came to the resolution to inflict vengeance to the uttermost; that He would institute a careful inquiry, to see whether what He knew to be bad was incurably bad. In a word, it implies that if there was any possibility, consistently with justice, of sparing that devoted city, He stood ready, in heart and mind, to do it. If we rightly apprehend the drift of the whole narrative, Genesis 18:20-21 are inserted by way of parenthesis, in order to acquaint the reader with the main design for which the Lord, with His two accompanying angels, had descended and made this visit to Abraham. On any other interpretation it is not easy to understand the propriety of the expression, Genesis 18:21, “I will go down,” when He had actually “come down” already.—(Bush.)
God’s actions, both of mercy and judgment, are proofs of His complete knowledge of men. It is not a blind or irresponsible, but an all-seeing and rational Power that governs the world of nature and of man.
Genesis 18:22. Angels are God’s ministers for mercy and for judgment. They are sent forth to deliver the righteous, and to visit judgment upon the wicked.
Abraham stood yet before the Lord. And without such to stand and pray, the world could not stand: they bear up the pillars of it. Oh, the price with God, and profit to men, of praying persons! God will yield something to such when most of all enraged or resolved (Matthew 24:20). Lot was saved for Abraham’s sake when all the rest perished.—(Trapp.)
Genesis 18:23. The righteous with the wicked.] Heb. A righteous man with a wicked one (Numbers 16:19-22; Psalms 11:4-7).
Genesis 18:25. That be far from Thee.] The Heb. term expresses detestation of a thing as profane, abominable, and consequently that which was forbidden to be done. In all the parallel N.T. texts the Gr. is uniformly μη γενοιτο, and the A.V. “God forbid.”
Genesis 18:27. Dust and Ashes.] In the Heb., which loves alliteration, gaphar va-aipher: dust in my origin, and ashes in my end. (Alford.)
Genesis 18:33. And the Lord went His way.] Heb. Jehovah departed. “Went His way” is too colloquial an expression to use in such an instance. Abraham returned unto his place.] To the grove of Mamre, where he was now residing.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 18:23-33
When the angels had departed to go towards Sodom, Abraham was left standing before God (Genesis 18:22). He remained to pour forth his soul in prayer for that wicked city whose cry had brought the Lord down from heaven to visit it in judgment. It would have been an example of confidence and courage had he ventured to plead for himself, or for his house; but to plead where he had no personal interest at stake, and where he had no title to interfere—to attempt to stay the uplifted arm of vengeance, this was surely to take an extraordinary liberty, to use the privileges of friendship to the utmost. Abraham will speak out all that is in his soul to God, though he pleads in a desperate cause. Such is the fearlessness of true faith, which is not dismayed even where the aspect is darkest. This prayer of Abraham is the first long prayer recorded in Scripture, and the first example of intercessory prayer. It is the most remarkable human intercession to be found in the pages of the Bible.
I. The right to utter it presupposes a life of godliness. It was a bold stand which Abraham took when he appeared to be more merciful than God Himself, and attempted to arrest a judgment which was so well deserved. This confidence of faith, which speaks out even in the face of all that is discouraging, tells of long friendship with God. The power to prevail much in prayer for others is only the slow growth of time. We cannot ask great favours from God unless we have made sure of our ground by long trial of His goodness in the past. Thus our hope in His mercy to do great things is born of experience. When we have known God long enough there are no favours too large for us to ask. We attain to a faith which even seems to be shameless in its extravagant requests. Abraham was urged to this boldness by long acquaintance with God, who had communicated to him the secrets of His goodness, and now of His judgments. He will take the liberty of fully unburdening his soul to the God of his life, speaking out fearlessly his longing desires, undeterred by any reasons why he should not do so. This is the privilege of a matured piety, to utter our whole desires to God, to fully relieve our souls, to venture the largest hopes in his mercy. The unselfish character of intercessory prayer tells us, also, that an advanced stage of the spiritual life has been reached. When a man first believes in God he thinks mostly of himself—of the salvation of his own soul. But when he has known God long, his heart enlarges, and he is concerned for the spiritual interests of others, for the welfare of God’s kingdom. Thus the position which Abraham took up as an intercessor was the result, not of a single pious impulse, but rather of a whole life of godliness.
II. It is supported by the thought of the Divine justice. It was justice that the wicked should be visited with punishment—that the penalties of sin should be allowed to take their natural course and fall upon those who commit it. But the justice which Abraham regards was that which would not confound the distinctions between moral good and evil by involving the righteous and the wicked in one common doom. (Genesis 18:23.) He believes that there is an eternal righteousness behind all God’s ways which will ultimately appear and manifest itself. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25.) We can intercede for others with the confident assurance that, however God may deal with them, yet in the end His ways shall be seen to be just and equal. When all human affairs are summed up, and the portions of all men assigned, God’s righteousness shall be seen in a clear light. There is a seeming confusion between good and evil in this world: the ways of Providence in their distribution are perplexing; still our heart finds refuge in the sure belief that God will do what shall be seen, in the end, to be right. The end to which all things are working is right and good. It is our deep belief in this ultimate fact that consoles us amidst all the apparent discrepancies of Providence. The thought of a sure righteousness yet to be revealed gives us confidence in prayer for others. We know that the righteous cannot suffer any real harm.
III. It is marked by the spirit of boldness. Abraham’s faith was such as could be daunted by no difficulties, and was not afraid to ask great favours. It was a faith which could make large ventures. He pleads for the doomed city with a remarkable boldness of faith. He begins with the supposition that fifty righteous might be found in the city, for whose sake all the guilty inhabitants might be spared. Then he reduces that number, in successive appeals, until he has brought it down to ten. Prudence forbids him to urge his prayer further, and he is content to leave the result with God.
1. This boldness was based upon the conviction that God would stay judgment upon wicked communities for the sake of the righteous few among them. Upon each successive petition for the guilty people, God concedes to Abraham the principle that He is ready, in His temporal judgments, to spare the wicked for the sake of the righteous. Abraham knew that the righteous were the salt of the earth. From what we know of the character of God, we are safe in supposing that He sets a high value upon righteousness, and will do much for the sake of those in whom it is manifested. He will favour the good, even though He should have to withhold His hand from inflicting deserved judgment. The thought that God, in the end, will do right, and will not allow goodness to remain under any disadvantage, gives us a warrant for all such intercessory prayers.
2. This boldness was based upon a sense of the Fatherhood of God. Abraham uses the language of a freeborn son with his Heavenly Father. Without a sense of this filial relationship with God no man could presume so much. Were God only a king, His subjects would be under the obligation to render unquestioning obedience. They would have the right of petition, but could only employ it in servile fear, or with a cold reverence. Everything like affectionate and confident pleading would be impossible. But Abraham feels that he is a son at home with his Father, and can say all that is in his heart. Without this feeling of sonship there cannot be this confidence of love in pleading with God. God has a Son who can approach Him intimately and with all-prevailing power, and He has now the same privileges for all His brethren. The prayer of the righteous is an appeal to a Father’s heart.
3. This boldness is tempered by humility. Abraham speaks as one who can hardly realise his right to speak at all. (Genesis 18:27.) He remembers what he is in the sight of his Creator. He does not forget what is due to the greatness and majesty of God. Our high privilege does not destroy the reasons for awe and reverence.
IV. We must recognise the fact that it has proper limits. Abraham commenced his prayer by pleading for fifty righteous who might possibly be found in the city. He still continues to plead, until he has reduced the number to ten, and still has a favourable response. Why should he not continue to urge his prayer, and make bold enough to ask God to spare the guilty people for the sake of five righteous. But he is satisfied with the tokens of God’s favour already granted. He feels that Sodom will be spared unless that exercise of the Divine clemency should be a moral impossibility. He will not press God to a denial by using the liberty of petition to the utmost. He is now willing to leave the result with God. Thus even our benevolent feelings must not carry us so far as to violate the proprieties of our relations with God. There is a proper limit to intercessory prayer.
1. The moral limits of the Divine clemency. The long-suffering and forbearance of God may be tempted too far.
2. By a sense of what is due to the Divine honour. The dignity of God’s character and government must be upheld.
3. By our recognition of the Divine sovereignty. God rules all things supremely by a righteous will. We must not attempt to dictate ultimate courses to Him, but learn to trust His righteousness. It is not given to us to adjust the exact proportions of justice and mercy in God’s dealings with mankind. To attempt this would be presumption.
4. By the confidence which we ought to have in the Divine character. Abraham felt that he had no need to go further. He had seen enough already of God’s favour and willingness to save. Therefore he might hope and trust for the future. We have sufficient experience of God’s goodness in the past to teach us that we should leave all results with Him. As the children of God we are allowed an affectionate liberty in prayer; but though our Heavenly Father yields us the privileges of sons, yet as Lord of all He retains a majesty. Though encouraged by His love we must ever remember what is due to His greatness.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 18:23. Prayer implies:
1. Drawing near unto God. (Hebrews 10:22, James 4:8.)
2. A holy fervency of soul, that feeling which arises from the thought that God is near.
3. Importunity. While we have an audience with God, and the time is favourable, we must not allow the opportunity to slip, but urge our request until we prevail.
4. Strong desires which impel us to utter them before God. Abraham spoke to God.
It is the privilege only of those who have a knowledge of God’s ways to draw nigh unto Him. “The hypocrite shalt not come before Him” (Job 13:16.)
Prayer should not be a mere wish, but should be urged upon a reasonable ground. God graciously allows men to reason with Him concerning His judgments. (Jeremiah 12:1.)
The question here proposed is not to be understood as implying any settled doubt in the mind of Abraham whether the righteous might not be in danger of being destroyed with the wicked. His previous knowledge of the true attributes of Jehovah would have precluded any apprehension on this score; and yet there might have been a momentary inward misgiving which was sufficient to prompt the humble and reverential inquiry of the text. As a general principle, we run no hazard in maintaining that in the distribution of rewards and punishments the Judge of all the earth will do right. At the same time it cannot be questioned that in those judgments which befall communities in the ordinary course of God’s providence the good and the bad are often alike involved. Thus the calamities of war, earthquake, fire, etc., fall upon the righteous as well as the wicked. In such cases we are to look forward to the retributions of another world for a complete vindication of the ways of Providence. But we may suppose that Abraham here speaks rather of such miraculous and extraordinary judgments as are immediately inflicted by the hand of God for the punishment of some crying sins, and as a warning to a needless world to avoid the like provocations. Such was the awful visitation which God now intended to bring upon Sodom, and to which Abraham refers. In this case it might reasonably be expected from the justice of God that He would put a difference between the righteous and the wicked. Similar to this was the prayer of Moses and Aaron. (Numbers 16:19-22.) And on this occasion an exemption was granted to all such as would avail themselves of it. (Genesis 18:26.) Compare 2 Samuel 24:17; Psalms 11:4-7.—(Bush.)
Saints may be charitable to sinners whom God threatens with His judgments.
The righteous, after all, whatever may come upon the wicked, and however they may suffer along with them for a season, are safe in the end. It is not for their sakes chiefly, that delay of the threatened doom, and a lengthened season of forbearance, are chiefly to be sought. At any rate, Abraham’s petition goes far beyond the mere exemption of the righteous from temporary suffering and trial. This might have been accomplished in another way than that which he points out—as ultimately it was accomplished by the deliverance of Lot. Such a manner, however, of saving the righteous from the evil to come, does not occur to Abraham. Not even when, in the progress of his singular expostulation, he assumes, at every stage, a more desperate case—not even then does this enter into his mind as a last resource—a final alternative. He does not so much as put it forward as a forlorn hope. To the last, he is bent upon the intercepting of the judgment altogether—the sparing of the guilty thousands, in consideration of the ten righteous men who may be found among them.—(Candlish.)
Genesis 18:24. God’s own servants, even, cannot reckon up the righteous and mark them definitely. Prayer cannot always be urged upon a certain knowledge of facts as to the objects of it, but must be uttered in the spirit of a broad charity.
In the midst of the worst appearances, it is safe to indulge a hope that some truth and righteousness may be found.
He who observes the world of mankind must see the tremendous power of evil; but he is happy if this does not lead him to lose faith in the great power of goodness.
It is possible that righteousness may thrive, even under the greatest disadvantages.
Charity presumes the best, hopes the best. The disciples could not imagine that Judas was so very a traitor: each one suspects himself sooner than him. And when our Saviour said, “What thou doest, do quickly,” they thought He had meant of making provision, or giving something to the poor (St. John 13:27-29).—Trapp.
Abraham has got hold of that grand principle of the moral administration of God as applicable to this fallen, but not irrecoverably fallen world, that the righteous “are the salt of the earth”—that “the kingdom of heaven is like to a little leaven which a woman hid in a bushel of meal till the whole was leavened”—“that it is like a grain of mustard seed, which grows till it becomes the greatest of trees.” He has learned the lesson which the parable of the tares was intended to teach. So long as God may have a single stalk of wheat in the field, which might be lost and confounded among the tares in their premature destruction—so long as He may have a single little one not yet gathered unto Himself from among the crowd of the ungodly—so long as the mass is not so hopelessly corrupt and putrid but that the savour of one man’s holy zeal and love may yet keep some portion of it from decay—so long God will spare the most abandoned city, and will not sweep the earth with His besom of destruction.—(Candlish.)
Genesis 18:25. In the great moral perplexities of Providence it is right for us to fall back upon those qualities in God which are His very nature and essence.
We may be sure that in the government of the world God will do nothing that will confound the distinctions of moral good and evil. The righteous, in the long run, shall not lie under any disadvantage, and the wicked shall not go unpunished.
It is our greatest consolation, amidst all perplexities in the ways of God, that right will be done at last to all interests and to all persons. There will be a final adjustment of all discrepancies, so that all who are just and true shall be satisfied.
Genesis 18:26. God concedes to Abraham the principle of his petition—grants the prayer on the grounds on which it was presented, even to the full measure of the desire of His servant.
God’s encouragements to our prayers lead us to ask for more.
God is willing to spare the worst communities for the sake of the few righteous therein.
1. This truth is humiliating to the enemies of religion. They may think themselves secure and happy while they have outward prosperity, when the real truth is that they have been spared beyond their time and the good things of Providence continued to them, only because of the few righteous among them, whom they despise. This thought must be humiliating when it is brought home to them, as it must be.
2. This truth is encouraging to the friends of religion. They have the pleasing reflection that the power and advantage of their righteousness extends beyond themselves, and mitigates the evils of the world.
3. This truth furnishes an important lesson to civil governments. Let them have respect to those who live soberly, righteously, and godly in the world. Let them beware of persecuting the people of God. All nations who have done so have come to nought. History shows that God is on the side of righteousness.
How many can say, on behalf of a wicked nation, Except the Lord of Hosts had left us a remnant of righteous men, we might long ago have been as Sodom, and made like unto Gomorrah! The influence of righteousness to stay the consequences of sin upon a guilty world is one reason why the good are not taken from this scene of trial when their title to heaven is clear.
Genesis 18:27. They who stand nearest to God are the most humble. The angels which the prophet saw in the Temple covered their faces with two wings. (Isaiah 6:2.)
The boldness of prayer must ever be tempered with humility. We must remember where we are, on what ground we stand, and with whom we have to do.
The very liberty of an audience with God in prayer is a matter for wondering gratitude.
The origin and destiny of our material frame is a thought that should make us humble, but still one which should not overcome us altogether. That, too, is the work of God, and He has respect unto it. He will not forsake the work of His own hands.
Genesis 18:28-29. He will name five less than the requisite number; fearing that possibly the salvation might fail by the number falling short of fifty. How he puts the plea! For lack of five! Not naming forty-five, but making it as though when God had conceded so much, that now to refuse for lack of five, would be quite inconceivable. The answer is equally favourable.—(Jacobus.)
Gracious answers to our prayers encourage us to ask for more.
Genesis 18:30. He takes a bolder step, reducing the number by ten instead of by five. He enlarges his petition, and yet he proceeds with a wholesome fear. The greater the privilege to which we are admitted the more should we learn to rejoice with trembling.
Even the boldness permitted in prayer should be tempered by a fear lest we should incur God’s anger for our rash and inconsiderate demands.
It is a noble zeal by which Abraham runs the risk of offending God for the sake of others. This is like St. Paul’s wish that he might be “anathema” for the sake of his brethren.
Genesis 18:31. In the greatest encouragements to prayer, the thought who we are, and who God is, should ever be present with us.
Genesis 18:32. He makes another and final advance in his plea. It is now for ten’s sake. And he receives the same prompt and favouring response. Why should not the successful pleader—the friend of God, who had not yet been at all denied—go on and still further plead for five’s sake? He is satisfied to rest his petition there. He is satisfied with this exhibition of the Divine favour, and is willing to trust the result with God, who has clearly shown His willingness to save, so that now he cannot doubt that Sodom will be spared if it be possible. Peradventure, also, the case may be such as to forbid the Divine clemency to go further (Ezekiel 14:14; Jeremiah 15:1). He will not press God to a denial, nor limit His sovereignty, nor press Him thus to the smallest figure. Here he can rest the cause and trust. “This seemingly commercial kind of entreaty,” says Delitzsch, “is the essence of true prayer. It is the shamelessness of faith which bridges over the infinite distance of the creature from the Creator, and appeals with importunity to the heart of God, not ceasing till the point is gained.” Yet we may go beyond all proper bound to require a positive limitation of God’s freedom, or to demand that He commit Himself to the smallest possible figure in such cases, as if we could not rest the issue in His hands even for the last fraction, but must bind Him to us else we cannot rest.—(Jacobus.)
When we have pleaded with God for others, to the furthest limits of intercession, though our request may not be granted in the form which we desired, we still have satisfactions.
1. That God’s ways are righteous. We may be sure that He will do what is best and most fitted to secure the universal good.
2. That our request shall be granted, even to our utmost wish, if it is within the limits of moral possibility.
3. That we have discharged our own conscience and unburdened our soul. We have the satisfaction that we have performed a duty which lay heavy on our hearts.
4. That even if we have erred in our too great boldness, we may hope that the promptings of a benevolent heart will be graciously forgiven.
Our prayers ultimately bring our souls to the true position of repose, in which we are resigned to the will of God. And there every child of God should leave the whole matter. The Head of our race has herein left us an example and a doctrine. “Father, if it be possible, let the cup pass. Nevertheless, Father, not my will, but Thine be done.”
Genesis 18:33. We leave off asking before God leaves off granting.
Sodom was not spared in answer to Abraham’s prayers, yet the principle upon which he urged his petition was granted. It is comforting to know that our prayer has been presented upon proper grounds, and that we have done according to truth, even when the thing prayed for is denied.
God listens to us when we pray in faith, and graciously leans towards us; but still He will take His way. He will go on to work out His vast designs.
God granted Abraham’s prayer so far as he ventured to extend it. “All the way from fifty to ten?” He answered, “Yes; I will spare for the number that you name.” We know not what would have been the answer had he gone further. He may have had some intimation that he should proceed no further (Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 11:14), or by the Covenant Angel going his way. But
(1) we have here the highest encouragement for intercessory prayer—to plead with God for wicked men, for communities and nations that are far gone in sin. Guilty cities and nations have been spared on account of God’s people (Matthew 5:13; Matthew 24:22). Abraham received no denial. So far as we can see, it was he who left off, and not God. Yet
(2) we are to rest humbly and trustfully upon God’s good pleasure after all our prayer. It would seem that there were not even so many as ten righteous in Sodom. And yet God went even further than His promise, and saved Lot’s family, which contained, doubtless, all the righteous who were there. Thus He granted Abraham’s prayer. He would not destroy the righteous with the wicked.
(3) God loves to be pleaded with and importuned in prayer.
(4) The righteous are the salt of the earth. The world is preserved in being for the Church’s sake. The history of the world is the history of redemption.
(5) We have still higher encouragement to pray and plead for the ONE RIGHTEOUS’ sake—JESUS. Six times he, Abraham, urged his prayer, with a steady advance, and each time made God’s gracious answer the encouragement to ask yet more. And there he rested in a serene, Sabbatic confidence in God, that He would do all things right and well. “Not my will, but Thine be done.”
(6) What a blessing to have the prayers of a saint for us.—(Jacobus.)
It is well that this renowned example of faith should also be equally remarkable for his power in intercessory prayer. His was not that narrow piety by which a man only seeks the salvation of his own soul, and cares little for aught else so long as he himself is safe. But it was that devotion to the good of others, that broad charity which every soul must have who has tasted of the loving kindness of God.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 18". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
Eve of Ascension