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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 18

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-15


Genesis 18:1

And the LordJehovah, the Divine name employed throughout the present and succeeding chapters, which are accordingly assigned to the Jehovist (Tuch, Bleek, Davidson, Colenso), with the exception of Genesis 19:29, which is commonly regarded as a fragment of the original Elohist's narration (vide infra)appeared unto him. The absence of Abraham's name has been thought to favor the idea that the present chapter should have begun at Genesis 17:23 (Quarry). That the time of this renewed Divine manifestation was shortly after the incidents recorded in the preceding chapter is apparent, as also that its object was the reassurance of the patriarch concerning the birth of Isaac. In the plains of Mamre. Literally, in the oaks of Mature (vide Genesis 13:18). And he sat in the tent door. Literally, in the opening of the tent, a fold of which was fastened to a post near by to admit any air that might be stirring. In the heat of the day, i.e. noontide (cf. 1 Samuel 11:11), as the cool of the day, or the wind of the day (Genesis 3:8), means eventide. "The usual term for noon is Tsoharim (Genesis 43:16), that is, the time of ' double or greatest light,' while a more poetical expression is 'the height of the day' (Proverbs 4:18), either because then the sun has reached its most exalted position, or because it appears to stand still in the zenith" (Kalisch). Among the Orientals the hour of noon is the time of rest (cf. So Genesis 1:7) and the time of dinner (Genesis 43:16, Genesis 43:25). In this case the patriarch had probably dined and was resting after dinner, sines, on the arrival of his visitors, preparations had to be commenced for their entertainment.

Genesis 18:2

And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him. Not in addition to (Kalisch), but including (Keil), Jehovah, whose appearance to the patriarch, having in the previous verse been first generally stated, is now minutely described. That these three men were not manifestations of the three persons of the Godhead, but Jehovah accompanied by two created angels, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground. The expression denotes the complete prostration of the body by first falling on the knees, and then inclining the head forwards till it touches the ground. As this was a mode of salutation practiced by Orientals towards superiors generally, such as kings and princes (2 Samuel 9:8), but also towards equals (Genesis 23:7; Genesis 33:6, Genesis 33:7; Genesis 42:6; Genesis 43:26), as well as towards the Deity (Genesis 22:5; 1 Samuel 1:3), it is impossible to affirm with certainty (Keil, Lunge) that an act of worship was intended by the patriarch, and not simply the presentation of human and civil honor (Calvin). If Hebrews 13:2 inclines to countenance the latter interpretation, the language in which Abraham immediately addresses one of the three men almost leads to the conclusion that already the patriarch had recognized Jehovah.

Genesis 18:3

And said, My Lord—Adonai, literally, Lord, as in Genesis 15:2, q.v. (LXX; κύριε; Vulgate, Domine; Syriac, Onkelos, Kalisch, Alford, Lange), though the term may have indicated nothing more than-Abraham's recognition of the superior authority of the Being addressed (Murphy). The readings Adoni, my Lord (A.V; Dathius, Rosenmüller), and Aden, my lords (Gesenius), are incorrect—if now I have found favor in thy sight—not implying dubiety on Abraham's part as to his acceptance before God (Knobel), but rather postulating his already conscious enjoyment of the Divine favor as the ground of the request about to be preferred (Delitzsch, Lange). Those who regard Abraham as unconscious of the Divinity of him to whom he spake see in his language nothing but the customary formula of Oriental address (Rosenmüller; cf. Genesis 30:27; 1 Samuel 20:29; Esther 7:3)—put not away, I pray thee, from thy servant. The hospitality of the Eastern, and even of the Arab, has been frequently remarked by travelers. Volney describes the Arab as dining at his tent door in order to invite passers-by. "The virtue of hospitality is one of the great redeeming virtues in the character of the Bedouins (Kalisch). "Whenever our path led us near an encampment, as was frequently the case, we always found some active sheikh or venerable patriarch sitting 'in his tent door,' and as soon as we were within haft we heard the earnest words of welcome and invitation which the Old Testament Scriptures had rendered long ago familiar to us: Stay, my lord, stay. Pass not on till thou hast eaten bread, and rested under thy servant's tent. Alight and remain until thy servant kills a kid and prepares, a feast'".

Genesis 18:4

Let a little water, I pray yon, be fetched, and wash your feet. Feet washing was a necessary part of Oriental hospitality (cf. Genesis 19:2; Genesis 24:32; Genesis 43:24). "Among the ancient Egyptians the basins kept in the houses of the rich for this purpose were sometimes of gold". "In India it is considered a necessary part of hospitality to wash the feet and ankles of the weary traveler, and even in Palestine this interesting custom is not extinct. Dr. Robinson and party on arriving at Ramleh repaired to the abode of a wealthy Arab, where the ceremony was performed in the genuine style of ancient Oriental hospitality. And rest yourselves (literally, recline by resting on the elbow) under the tree.

Genesis 18:5

And I will fetch a morsel of bread,—a modest description of what proved a sumptuous repast (vide Genesis 18:6, Genesis 18:8)—and comfort ye your hearts;—literally, strengthen or support them, i.e. by eating and drinking (Judges 19:5; 1 Kings 21:7)—after that ye shall pass on: for therefore—כִּי־עַל־כֵּן introduces the ground of what has already been stated, something like quando quidem, forasmuch as, since, or because (Kalisch), and not = עַל־כֵּש־כִּי, for this cause that, or "because for this purpose" (Keil)—are ye come to (literally, have ye passed before) thy servant. The patriarch's meaning is not that they had come with the design of receiving his gifts (LXX; A.V.), but either that, unconsciously to them, God had ordered their journey so as to give him this opportunity (Calvin, Bush, Wordsworth, 'Speaker's Commentary,' Keil), or perhaps simply that since they had passed by his tent they should suffer him to accord them entertainment (Kalisch, Rosenmüller). And they said, So do, as thou but said. Therefore we must believe that Abraham washed the men's feet, and they did eat (Genesis 18:8). Here is a mystery (Wordsworth).

Genesis 18:6

And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures. Hebrew, three seahs, a seah being a third of an ephah, and containing 374 cubic inches each (Keil); a third of a bushel (Kalisch)—of fine meal,—literally, of flour, fine flour; σεμίδαλις (LXX.); the first term when alone denoting flour of ordinary quality (cf. Le Genesis 2:1; Genesis 5:11; Numbers 7:13)—knead it, and make cakes upon the hearthi.e. "round unleavened cakes baked upon hot stones" (Keil).

Genesis 18:7

And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good,—the greatness of the honor done to the strangers was evinced by the personal activity of the patriarch, and the offering of animal food, which was not a common article of consumption among Orientals—and gave it unto a young man;—i.e. the servant in attendance (cf. Genesis 14:24)—and he hasted to dress it.

Genesis 18:8

And he took butter,—חֶמְאָה, from the root חמא, to curdle or become thick, signifies curdled milk, not butter (βούτυτρον, LXX.; butyrum, Vulgate), which was not used among Orientals except medicinally. The word occurs seven times in Scripture with four letters (Deuteronomy 32:14; Judges 5:25; 2 Samuel 17:29; Isaiah 7:15, Isaiah 7:22; Proverbs 30:33; Job 20:17), and once without א—and milk,—חָלָב, milk whilst still fresh, or containing its fatness, from a root signifying to be fat (cf. Genesis 49:12; Proverbs 27:27)—and the calf which hei.e. the young man—had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree,—a custom still observed among the Arabs, who honor their guests not by sitting to eat with, but by standing to wait upon, them—and they did eat. Not seemed to eat (Josephus, Philo, Jonathan), nor simply ate after an allegorical fashion, as fire consumes the materials put into it, but did so in reality (Tertullian, Delitzsch, Keil, Kurtz, Lange). Though the angel who appeared to Manoah (Judges 13:16) refused to partake of food, the risen Savior ate with his disciples (Luke 24:43). Physiologically inexplicable, this latter action on the part of Christ was not a mere φαινόμενον or simulation, but a veritable manducation of material food, to which Christ appealed in confirmation of the reality of his resurrection; and the acceptance of Abraham's hospitality on the part of Jehovah and his angels may in like manner have been designed to prove that their visit to his tent at Mamre was not a dream or a vision, but a genuine external manifestation.

Genesis 18:9

And they said unto him (i.e. the Principal One of the three, speaking for the others, interrogated Abraham during the progress, or perhaps at the close of, the meal saying), Where is Sarah thy wife? (thus indicating that their visit had a special reference to her). And he said, Behold, in the tent. It is obvious that if at first Abraham regarded his visitors only as men, by this time a suspicion of their true character must have begun to dawn upon his mind. How should ordinary travelers be aware of his wife's name? and why should they do so unusual a thing, according to Oriental manners, as to inquire after her? If thus far their behavior could not fail to surprise the patriarch, what must have been his astonishment at the subsequent communication?

Genesis 18:10

And he said (the Principal Guest, as above, who, by the very nature and terms of his announcement, identifies himself with Jehovah), I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life. Literally, at the time reviving; i.e. when the year shall have been renewed, in the next year, or rather spring; though other interpretations of the phrase have been suggested, as, e.g; "according to the time of that which is born," i.e. at the end of nine months (Willet, Calvin, Bush, Murphy). And, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. I.e. at the time specified. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him.

Genesis 18:11

Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age. Literally, gone into days, i.e. into years. This was the first natural impediment to the accomplishment of Jehovah's premise; the second was peculiar to Sarah. And it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women (vide Le Genesis 15:19, 25).

Genesis 18:12

Therefore (literally, and) Sarah laughed within herself—Abraham had laughed in joyful amazement, (Genesis 18:17) at the first mention of Sarah's son; Sarah laughs, if not in unbelief (Calvin, Keil, 'Speaker's Commentary,' Wordsworth), at least with a mingled feeling of doubt and delight (Lange, Murphy) at the announcement of her approaching maternity—saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?—literally, and my lord, i.e. my husband, is old. The reverential submission to Abraham which Sarah here displays is in the New Testament commended as a pattern to Christian wives (1 Peter 3:6).

Genesis 18:13

And the Lord said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh,—a question which must have convinced Abraham of the Speaker's omniscience. Not only had he heard the silent, inaudible, inward cachinnation of Sarah's spirit, but he knew the tenor of her thoughts, and the purport of her dubitations—saying, Shall I of a surely bear a child, whilst (literally, and I) am old? Sarah's mental cogitations clearly showed that the temporary obscuration of her faith proceeded from a strong realization of the weakness of nature, which made conception and pregnancy impossible to one like her, who was advanced in years; and accordingly her attention, as well as that of her husband, was directed to the Divine omnipotence as the all-sufficient guarantee for the accomplishment of the promise.

Genesis 18:14

Is any thing too hard for the Lord? Literally, Is any word too wonderful, i.e. impossible, for Jehovah μὴ ἀδυνατήσει παρὰ τῷ θεῷ ῥῆμα (LXX.), with which may be compared Luke 1:37. At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life (vide supra, Luke 1:10), and Sarah shall have a son.

Genesis 18:15

Then Sarah (who had overheard the conversation, and the charge preferred against her, and who probably now appeared before the stranger) denied, saying, I laughed not. Sarah's conduct will admit of no other explanation than that which the sacred narrative itself gives. For she was afraid. The knowledge that her secret thoughts had been deciphered must have kindled in her breast the suspicion that her visitor was none other than Jehovah. With this a sense of guilt would immediately assail her conscience for having cherished even a moment any doubt of the Divine word. In the consequent confusion of soul she tries what ever seems to be the first impulse of detected transgressions, viz; deception (cf. Genesis 3:12, Genesis 3:13). And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh. With a directness similar to that which he employed in dealing with the first culprits in the garden, not contending in a multiplicity of words, but solemnly announcing that what she said was false. The silence of Sarah was an evidence of her conviction; her subsequent conception was a proof of her repentance anti forgiveness.


Genesis 18:1-15

Noontide at, Mamre, or angels' visits.


1. The appearance they presented. Seemingly three men, they were in reality three angels, or, more correctly, Jehovah accompanied by two celestial attend ants, who, at an unexpected moment, were making for Abraham's tent. So are the homes of saints ofttimes visited by angels unawares (Hebrews 1:14), and, greater honor still, by him who claims the angels as his ministers (Psalms 8:4; Isaiah 57:17).

2. The reception they obtained. Immediately that Abraham discerned their approach, he hastened to accord them most respectful and courteous salutation, in true Oriental fashion, falling on his knees and bowing till his head touched the ground; an illustration of that beautiful politeness towards one's fellow-men (if as yet he only regarded his visitors as men), or of that reverential self-abasement before God (if already he had recognized the superior dignity of the principal figure of the three) which ought especially to characterize God's believing and covenanted people (see Psalms 95:6; 1 Peter 3:8).

3. The invitation they received. Probably oppressed by the sultry beams of the noonday sun, if not otherwise travel-stained and weary, they were, with genuine Arab-like hospitality, entreated by the patriarch to avail themselves of such refreshment and repose as his cool-shaded, well-furnished tent might be able to afford. And this invitation of the patriarch was—

(1) Humbly proffered, as if their acceptance of it would be more an act of grace conferred on him than a benefit enjoyed by themselves.

(2) Modestly described, as if it were only a trifle after all that he was asking them to accept, while all the time his liberal heart was devising liberal things.

(3) Piously enforced, by the consideration that he recognized in their arrival at his tent a special call to the discharge of the duty of hospitality.

(4) Promptly accepted, without apologies or deprecations of any sort, but with the same generous simplicity as it was offered. "So do as thou hast said."

II. THE ENTERTAINMENT OF THE STRANGERS. In the banquet which Abraham extemporized for his celestial guests beneath the umbrageous oak at Mamre were three things which should be studied by all who would use hospitality.

1. Joyous alacrity. That the patriarch's invitation was no mere conventional remark which was meant to pass unheeded by those to whom it was addressed was proved by the expeditious cordiality with which he set about the preparations needed for the proffered repast,—enlisting Sarah's practiced hands in baking cakes, and commissioning a trusty servant of the house to kill and dress a young and tender calf selected by himself from the flocks. Here was no reluctance or half-heartedness with Abraham in the work of kindness to which Providence had called him. So ought Christians to manifest a spirit of cheerfulness and a habit of promptitude in doing good (Romans 12:8, Romans 12:13; 2 Corinthians 9:7).

2. Unstinted liberality. Modestly characterized as a little repast, it was in reality a sumptuous banquet which was set before the strangers. Abraham entertained his guests with princely munificence. The modern virtue of stinginess, or niggardliness, supposed by many to be a Christian grace, had not been acquired by the patriarch, and should with as much speed as possible be unlearned by Christ's disciples. Hospitality towards the saints and beneficence towards all men, but especially towards the poor, should be practiced with diligence, and even with a holy prodigality, by all who are of Abraham's seed (Luke 14:12-14; Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 3:2; Hebrews 13:2).

3. Personal activity. Though the master of a large household, with 300 trained domestics, and the noble Eliezer at their head, the patriarch does not think of relegating the important work of preparing the entertainment to his subordinates, but himself attends to its immediate execution. Indeed, in all the bustling activity which forthwith pervades the tent his figure is always and everywhere conspicuous. And when the meal is ready he reverently serves it with his own hand; again a true pattern of humility, as if he had caught up by anticipation the spirit of our Savior's words (Matthew 20:26); and a true preacher of Christian duty, saying that in God's work personal service is ever better than laboring by proxy.

III. THE COMMUNICATION OF THE STRANGERS. The noonday meal over, or perhaps while it was advancing, the principal of the three guests, who certainly by this time was recognized as Jehovah, made an important announcement to the patriarch, which, however, was specially intended for Sarah, who was listening behind the dark fold of the camel's-hair tent, viz; that next year the promised seed should be born. That announcement was—

1. Authoritatively made. It was made by him who is the faithful and true Witness, with whom it is impossible to lie, and who is able also to perform that Which he has promised.

2. Unbelievingly received. The laugh of Sarah was altogether different from that of Abraham (Genesis 17:17). While Abraham's was the outcome of faith, hers was the fruit of latent doubt and incredulity. There are always two ways of receiving God's promises; the one of which secures, but the other of which imperils, their fulfillment.

3. Solemnly confirmed.

(1) By an appeal to the Divine omnipotence. The thing promised was not beyond the resources of Jehovah to accomplish.

(2) By a further certification of the event. As it were a second time the Divine faithfulness was pledged for its fulfillment

(3) By an impressive display of miraculous power, first in searching Sarah's heart, and second in arresting Sarah's conscience. The result was that Sarah's unbelief was transformed into faith.


1. The duty and profit of entertaining strangers (Hebrews 13:2).

2. The beauty and nobility of Christian hospitality (Romans 12:13).

3. The excellence and acceptability of personal service in God's work.

4. The condescension and kindness of God in visiting She sons of men.

5. The admirable grace of Jehovah in repeating and confirming his promises to man.

6. The right way and the wrong way of listening to God's words of grace and truth.


Genesis 18:1-15

The theophany at Mamre.


1. A remarkable proof of the Divine condescension.

2. A striking adumbration of the incarnation of Christ.

3. An instructive emblem of God's gracious visits to his saints.


1. The courteous invitation.

2. The sumptuous provision.

3. The ready attention.


1. Its delivery to Abraham.

2. Its reception by Sarah.

3. Its authentication by Jehovah.—W.


Genesis 18:1-15

The theophany at Mamre.

"The Lord appeared unto him" (Genesis 18:1).


1. Abraham stands on a higher plane of spiritual life. He is endeavoring to fulfill the commandment given (Genesis 17:1): "Walk before me," &c. The appearances and communications are more frequent and more full.

2. The concentration of the believer's thought at a particular crisis. His place at the tent door, looking forth over the plains of Mature, representing his mental attitude, as he dwelt on the promises and gazed into the future.

3. There was a coincidence between the conjuncture in the history of the neighboring cities and the crisis in the history of the individual believer. So in the purposes of God there is preparation for his manifestation both in external providence and in the events of the world on the one hand, and on the other in the more personal and private history of his people.


1. It was very gracious and condescending. The angels did not appear in angelic glory, but in human likeness. They came as guests, and, in the fragrant atmosphere of a genial hospitality, at once quickened confidence and led forward the mind to expect a higher communication. The household activity of Abraham and Sarah on behalf of the three visitors, while it calmed and strengthened, did also give time for thought and observation of the signs of approaching opportunity.

2. There was from the first an appeal to faith. Three persons, yet one having the pre-eminence. The reverential feeling of the patriarch called out at the manner of their approach to his tent The coincidence possibly between the work of the Spirit in the mind of the believer and the bestowment of outward opportunity.

3. The communication of the Divine promise in immediate connection with the facts of human life. The great trial of faith is not the appeal to accept the word of God in its larger aspect as his truth, but the application of it to our own case. We may believe that the promise will be fulfilled, and yet we may not take it to heart, "I will return unto thee." "Sarah shall have a son." The strength made perfect in weakness, not merely for weakness. The Divine in the Scripture revelation does not overwhelm and absorb the human; the human is taken up into the Divine and glorified. Taking the narrative as a whole, it may be treated—

(1) Historically—as it holds a place in the history of the man Abraham and in the progressive development of revelation.

(2) Morally—suggesting lessons of patience, reverence, humility, truthfulness, faith.

(3) Spiritually—as pointing to the Messiah, intimating the incarnation, the atonement, the prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices of the promised Redeemer; the freedom and simplicity of the fellowship of God with man; the great Christian entertainment—man spreading the meal before God, God accepting it, uniting with man in its participation, elevating it into that which is heavenly by his manifested presence.—R.

Genesis 18:12

"Sarah laughed within herself."

1. The incongruity between a Divine promise and the sphere of its fulfillment is temptation to unbelief.

2. A disposition to measure the reality and certainty of the Divine by a human or earthly standard is sure to lead us to irreverence and sinful doubt.

3. There may be an inward and concealed working, known to God though not outwardly expressed. Which is still both an insult to him a d an injury to us.

4. The root of unbelief is in the ground of the soul. Sarah laughed because she was not prepared for the gracious promise. She was afraid of her own thoughts because they were not such as became her, and did dishonor to God's sufficiency and love. "She denied, saying, I laughed not." A more receptive and spiritual mind would have both risen above the incongruity and been incapable of the dissimulation.—R.

Genesis 18:14

"Is anything too hard for the Lord?"


1. Remonstrance. The history of Divine manifestations proves that nothing is demanded of faith which is not justified by the bestowments of the past.

2. Invitation. We connect the question with the promise. He opens the gate of life; is it too hard for him to give us the victory? "At the time appointed" his word will be fulfilled. He would have us rest on himself. "Believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder," &c. What he is, what he says, are blended into one in the true faith of his waiting children.


1. When they set forth the goodness of Divine truth. The possibility of miracles. The hardness of the world's problems no justification of unbelief.

2. When they proclaim a gospel of supernatural gifts, a salvation not of man, but of God. Why should we doubt conversion? Why should a regenerated, renewed nature be so often mocked at?

3. When they would encourage one another to persevere in Christian enterprise. The methods may be old, but the grace is ever new. The world may laugh, but the true believer should see all things possible. The times are cur measures. Eternity is God's.—R.

Verses 16-22


Genesis 18:16

And the men rose up from thence,—Mamre (vide supra, Genesis 18:1)—and looked towards Sodom. Literally, toward the face (Rosenmüller), or towards the plain (Keil), of Sodom, as if intending to proceed thither. And Abraham went with them—across the mountains on the east of Hebron, as far as Caphar-barucha, according to tradition, whence a view can be obtained of the Dead Sea—solitudinem ac terras Sodomae (vide Keil, in loco)to bring them on the way. Literally, to send them away, or accord them a friendly convoy over a portion of their journey.

Genesis 18:17

And the Lord said (to himself), Shall I hide from Abraham—the LXX. interpolate, τοῦ παιδός μου; but, as Philo observes, τοῦ φιλοῦ μου would have been a more appropriate designation for the patriarch (cf. 2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23) that thing which I do. I.e. propose to do, the present being used for the future, where, as m the utterances of God, whose will is equivalent to his deed, the action is regarded by the Speaker as being already as good as finished.

Genesis 18:18

Seeing that Abraham shall surely become (literally, becoming shall become) a great and mighty nation (cf. Genesis 12:2; Genesis 17:4-6), and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? The import of Jehovah's self-interrogation was, that since Abraham had already been promoted to so distinguished a position, not only was there no sufficient reason why the Divine purpose concerning Sodom should be concealed from him, but, on the contrary, the gracious footing of intimacy which subsisted between himself and his humble friend almost necessitated some sort of friendly communication on the subject, and all the more for the reason next appended.

Genesis 18:19

For I know him, that—literally, for I have known (or chosen, יָדַע being—dilexi, as in Amos 3:2) him to the end that, the language expressing the idea that Abraham had been the object of Divine foreknowledge and election (Gesenius, Rosenmüller, Delitzsch, Keil, Oehler, Kalisch, Lange), although the reading of the text is substantially adopted by many (LXX; Vulgate, Targums, Luther, Calvin, Dathe, et alii). The latter interpretation assigns as the reason of the Divine communication the knowledge which Jehovah then possessed of Abraham's piety; the former grounds the Divine resolution on the prior fact that Divine grace had elected him to the high destiny described in the language following. It is generally agreed that this clause connects with Genesis 18:17; Bush regards it as exhibiting the means by which the future promised to Abraham in Genesis 18:18 should be realized—he will command his children and his household after him (by parental authority as well as by personal example), and they shall keep the way of the Lord,—i.e. the religion of Jehovah (cf. Judges 2:22; 2 Kings 21:22; Psalms 119:1; Acts 18:25), of which the practical outcome is—to do justice and judgment;—or righteousness and judgment, that which accords with right or the sense of oughtness in intelligent and moral beings, and that which harmonizes with the Divine law (cf. Ezekiel 18:5)—that (literally, to the end that, in order that, לְמַעַן, ut supra) the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.

Genesis 18:20

And the Lord said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great. Literally, the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Genesis 4:10), because it is (not, it is indeed, Baumgarten, Keil) multiplied; the place of emphasis being conceded to the subject of discourse, viz; the cry of Sodom's wickedness. And because their sin is very great. Literally, and their sin, because it is heavy, i.e. abundant and heinous.

Genesis 18:21

I will go down now (cf. Genesis 11:5), and see (judicial investigation ever precedes judicial infliction at the Divine tribunal) whether they have done altogether—literally, whether they have made cow, piousness, i.e. carried their iniquity to perfection, to the highest pitch of wickedness (Calvin, Delitzsch, Keil); or consummated their wickedness, by carrying it to that pitch of fullness which works death (Ainsworth, Kalisch, Rosenmüller). The received rendering, which regards כלה as an adverb, has the authority of Luther and Gesenius—according to the cry of it, which has come unto me; and if not, I will know. The LXX. render ἵνα γνῶ, meaning, "should it not be so, I will still go down, that I may ascertain the exact truth;" the Chaldee paraphrases, "and if they repent, I will not exact punishment." The entire verse is anthropomorphic, and designed to express the Divine solicitude that the strictest justice should characterize all his dealings both with men and nations.

Genesis 18:22

And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom (i.e. two of the three proceeded on their way towards the Jordan valley, while the third was detained by the patriarch, probably on the heights overlooking the plain, for a sublime act of intercession which is thus briefly but suggestively described): but Abraham stood yet before the Lord. According to the Masorites the text originally read, "And the Lord stood before Abraham, and was changed because it did not seem becoming to speak of God standing in the presence of a creature. This, however, is a mere Rabbinical conceit. As Abraham is not said to hays stood before the three men, the expression points to spiritual rather than to local contiguity.


Genesis 18:17

Sodom's doom revealed.


1. Abraham's new position. Having been lately taken into covenant with God, allied by the holy tie of a celestial friendship to Jehovah, the patriarch seemed in the Lord's eyes to occupy a footing of intimacy before him that demanded the disclosure of Sodom's impending doom. That footing the patriarch no doubt owed to Divine grace—sovereign, unmerited, free; but still, having been accorded to him, it is, by a further act of grace, represented, as laying God himself under certain' obligations towards his servant. So the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show them his covenant" (Psalms 25:14).

2. Abraham's new prospects. About to become the head of a great nation, it was natural to suppose that Abraham would be profoundly interested in all that concerned mankind. As the head of the Old Testament Church too, which had just been constituted (Genesis 17:1-27.), there existed a special reason for his being properly instructed as to the impending judgment of Sodom. Upon him would devolve the interpretation to the men of his day of the significance of that event. Rightly viewed, this is one of the proper functions of the Church on earth—to explain God's judgments to the unbelieving world. Hence "the Lord God doeth nothing but he revealeth his secret unto Ms servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7).

3. Abraham's new responsibilities. These were the cultivation of personal and family religion, which devolved upon him with a new force and a heavier degree of obligation than they did before in consequence of his new standing as a Church member. God having graciously assigned this position within the Church in order that he might command his children and his household after him, by means of religious instruction as well as through the influence of personal example, to fear God, it was needful that he should be informed as to the ground, at least, of the coming judgment on the cities of the plain.

II. THE REASON OF THE RETRIBUTION. This was the wickedness of Sodom, which was—

1. Exceedingly heinous as to its character. Minutely detailed in the ensuing chapter, it is here only indirectly mentioned as something grievous in the sight of God. All sin is inherently offensive in the eyes of the Almighty; but some forms of wickedness are more presumptuously daring or more intrinsically loathsome than others, and of such sort were the sins of Sodom (Genesis 19:1).

2. Exceedingly abundant as to its measure. It was "multiplied" iniquity of which the Sodomites were guilty; and this not simply in the sense in which the sins of all may be characterized as beyond computation (Psalms 19:12; Psalms 40:12), but in the sense that their hearts were set in them to do evil (Ecclesiastes 8:11), so that they worked all manner of uncleanness with greediness (Ephesians 4:19).

3. Exceedingly clear as to its commission. Though God speaks of making investigation into the sins of Sodom, this was really unnecessary. The moral degeneracy of the inhabitants of the Jordan valley was one of the "all things" that are ever "naked and manifest" unto his eye. So nothing can hide sin from God (2 Chronicles 16:9; Proverbs 15:3; Amos 9:8).

4. Exceedingly patent as to its ill desert. This was the reason why God employed the language of Genesis 18:21. He meant that though the guilt of Sodom was great, he would not let loose his vengeance until it should be seen to be perfectly just. Nothing would be done in haste, but all with judicial calmness.


1. The impotence of anything but true religion to purify the heart or refine a people.

2. God is specially observant of the wickedness of great cities.

3. When great cities sink to a certain depth in their wickedness they are doomed to perish.

4. When God's judgments overtake a nation they are ever characterized by justice.


Genesis 18:16-33

Abraham's intercession for Sodom.

The whole wonderful scene springs out of the theophany. Abraham's faith has given him a special position with the Lord. "Shall I hide from Abraham that thug which I do?" &c. The true priesthood and mediatorship is friendship with God. The grace of God first gives the likeness and then exalts it. The Lord knew Abraham because Abraham knew the Lord. The superior angel, the Lord, remains behind his companions that Abraham might have the opportunity of intercession; so the Lord lingers in his providence that he may reveal his righteousness and mercy. As to the pleading of the patriarch and the answers of the Lord to it, we may take it—

I. As it bears on the CHARACTER OF GOD.

1. He is open to entreaty.

2. He is unwilling to destroy.

3. He spares for the sake of righteousness.

4. He "does right" as "Judge of the earth," even though to the eyes of the best men there is awful mystery in his doings.


1. It was bold with the boldness of simplicity and faith.

2. It was full of true humanity while deeply reverential towards God. Abraham was no fanatic.

3. It waited for and humbly accepted Divine judgments and appointments not without reason, not without the exercise of thought and feeling, but all the more so as it prayed and talked with God.

4. The one living principle of the patriarchal religion was that entire confidence in God's righteousness and love, in separating the wicked and the good, in both his judgments and his mercy, which is the essence of Christianity as well. "The right" which the Judge of all the earth will do is not the right of mere blind law, or rough human administration of law, but the right of him who discerneth between the evil and the good, "too wise to err, too good to be unkind."—R.


Genesis 18:19

God's rule in the family.

"For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord." The promise to Abraham included—

(1) understanding of God's acts;

(2) that he should become a mighty nation;

(3) that he should be ancestor of the promised Seed;

(4) that he himself should be a blessing to others.

Of these points two at least are not confined to him personally, but belong to all who will. To know what God doeth a man must be taught of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14; cf. Isaiah 7:12). There is a wide difference between seeing an event, or even foreseeing it, and understanding God's lessons therein. To be able in everything to mark the love, and care, and wisdom of God; to walk with him as a child, accepting what he sends not merely as inevitable, but as loving; to learn lessons from all that happens, and through the works of his hands to see our Father's face—this is peace, and this is what the wisdom of this world cannot teach (Mat 11:25; 1 Corinthians 1:20, 1 Corinthians 1:21). Again, Abraham was to be not merely the ancestor of a nation, but the father of a spiritual family by influence and example (Matthew 3:9; Galatians 3:7). In this his calling is that of every Christian (Daniel 12:3; Matthew 5:13, Matthew 5:14). Text connects the godly rule of a family with both these blessings. Christianity is not to be a selfish, but a diffusive thing (Matthew 5:15; Mat 13:1-58 :83); and the influence must needs begin at home (cf. Numbers 10:29; Acts 1:8), among those whom God has placed with us.


1. Care for his own soul. If that is not cared for a man cannot desire the spiritual good of others. He may desire and try to train his children and household in honesty and prudence; to make them good members of society, successful, respected; and may cultivate all kindly feelings; but not till he realizes eternity will he really aim at training others for eternity. Might say that only one who has found peace can fully perform this work. A man aroused with desire that his family should be saved. But he cannot press the full truth as it is in Jesus.

2. Love for the souls of others. Christians are sometimes so wrapped up in care for their own souls as to have few thoughts for the state of others. Perhaps from a lengthened conflict the mind has been too much turned upon its own state. But this is not the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:24). It is not a close following of him. It tells of a halting in the "work of faith" (2Co 5:13, 2 Corinthians 5:14; cf. Romans 10:1).

3. Desire to advance the kingdom of Christ. When a man has this he sees in every one a soul for which Christ died (cf. John 4:35), and those with whom he is closely connected must chiefly call forth this feeling.

II. THE MANNER OF THE WORK. Family worship; acknowledgment of God as ruling in the household; his will a regulating principle and bond of union. Let this be a reality, not a form. Let the sacrificial work of Christ be ever put forward in instruction and in prayer. Personal example—constantly aiming at a holy life. To pray in the family and yet to be evidently making no effort to live in the spirit of the prayer is to do positive evil; encouraging the belief that God may be worshipped with words, without deeds; and tending to separate religion from daily life. Prayer in private for each member—children, servants, &c.; and watchfulness to deal with each as God shall give opportunity (Proverbs 15:23). Let prayer always accompany such efforts.—M.


Genesis 18:19

Abraham and family training.

"For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him," &c. Under the shady terebinth celestial visitants partake, or appear to do so, of a meal hastily provided by the patriarch. The whole narrative is given in such a way that,—after the manner of the time,—to God are ascribed human passions, desires, hesitancy, and resolve. Hence God is described as resolving, on two grounds, to reveal to Abraham that which he is about to do in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah:

(1) that he would become a great and mighty nation;

(2) that he would direct his household to follow in the ways of righteousness and truth. Notice—

I. THE VALUE GOD PLACES ON EARLY SPIRITUAL TRAINING. Children and servants are both to be brought under spiritual influence. The heart will not become pure naturally, any more than the boat left to itself would make headway against a strong current. The set of the world-tide is in an evil direction. Abraham had no written book to aid him in his work. His unwritten Bible was the tradition of God's dealings with the race and with himself. He could tell of the promises of God and of the way of approach to him by sacrifice. Evidently there had been careful training in this respect; for when Isaac was going with his father to the mount of sacrifice he noticed that, although the fire and wood were carried, they had no lamb for a burnt offering.

II. GOD NOTICES HOW SPIRITUAL TRAINING IS CARRIED ON. "I know him." He could trust Abraham, for he would "command," &c; not in the dictatorial tones of a tyrant, but by the power of a consistent life. Many children of religious parents go back to the world because of the imperious style of training they have received. In training, every word, look, and act tells. In many homes there is, alas, no training given and no holy example set. Parents are held accountable for failure, and should therefore be firm and loving in training. They should not readily delegate to others the work of training, either in secular or religions knowledge. Sunday-school teaching should supplement, not supplant, home training.

III. GOD MADE THE BESTOWMENT OF INTENDED BLESSINGS CONTINGENT ON THE FAITHFUL DISCHARGE OF DUTY. "That the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him." If Abraham had not been faithful his name would have died out, and there would have been no handing on of the narrative of his devoted life and tenacious hold of the Divine promises. Isaac followed in his father's steps and was a meditative man. Jacob cherished the promises and handed them on to his sons. The Jews preserved a knowledge of God when all other races were sunk in polytheism. From them came the One who was the Savior of the world. All, however, depended on the right training of Isaac. The rill flowed to the streamlet, the streamlet to the creek, the creek to the river, the river to the ocean. Influence ever widened, and God's aim with respect to Abraham was carried out. Let all strive so to act that the character of the life may not undo the teachings of the lip.—H.

Verses 23-33


Genesis 18:23

And Abraham drew near. I.e. to Jehovah; not simply locally, but also spiritually. The religious use of יִגַּשּׁ as a performing religious services to God, or a pious turning of the mind to God, is found in Exodus 30:20; Isaiah 29:13; Jeremiah 30:21; and in a similar sense ἐγγίζω is employed in the New Testament (cf. Hebrews 4:16; Hebrews 10:22; James 4:8). The Jonathan Targum explains, "and Abraham prayed." And said. Commencing the sublimest act of human intercession of which Scripture preserves a record, being moved thereto, if not by an immediate regard for Lot (Lange), at least by a sense of compassion towards the inhabitants of Sodom, "communis erga quinque populos misericordia" (Calvin), which was heightened and intensified by his own previous experience of forgiving grace (Keil). Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? The question presupposes that God had, according to the resolution of Jeremiah 30:17, explained to the patriarch his intention to destroy the cities of the plain. The object the patriarch contemplated in his intercession was not simply the preservation of any godly remnant that might be found within the doomed towns, but the rescue of their entire populations from the impending judgment,—only he does not at first discover his complete design, perhaps regarding such an absolute reversal of the Divine purpose as exceeding the legitimate bounds of creature supplication; but with what might be characterized as holy adroitness he veils his ulterior aim, and commences his petition at a Point somewhat removed from that to which he hopes to come. Assuming it as settled that the fair Pentapolis is to be destroyed, he practically asks, with a strange mixture of humility and boldness, if Jehovah has considered that this will involve a sad commingling in one gigantic overthrow of both the righteous and the wicked.

Genesis 18:24

Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city. A charitable supposition, as the event showed, though at first sight it might not appear so to Abraham; and the bare Possibility of Sodom's—not Sodom alone (Kalisch), but the Pentapolis—containing so many good men was enough to afford a basis for the argument which followed. Wilt thou also destroy and not spare—literally, take away (sc. the iniquity) i.e. remove the punishment from—the place (not the godly portion of the city merely, but the entire population; a complete discovery of Abraham's design) for the fifty righteous that are therein?

Genesis 18:25

That be far from thee—literally to profane things (be it) to thee—nefas sit tibi == absit a te! an exclamation of abhorrence, too feebly rendered by μηδαμῶς (LXX.)—to do after this manner (literally, according to this word), to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked (literally, and that it should be—as the righteous, so the wicked), that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? The patriarch appeals not to Jehovah's covenant grace (Kurtz), but to his absolute judicial equity (Keil). It does not, however, follow that the Divine righteousness would have been compromised by consigning pious and wicked to the same temporal destruction. This must have been a spectacle not infrequently observed in Abraham's day as well as ours. Yet the mind of Abraham appears to have been perplexed, as men's minds often are still, by the magnitude of the proposed illustration of a common principle in Providence. Though prepared to admit the principle when its application is confined to solitary cases, or cases of no great amplitude, yet instinctively the human mind feels that there must be a limit to the commingling of the righteous and the wicked in calamity, though it should be only of a temporal description. That limit Abraham conceived, or perhaps feared that others might conceive, would be passed if good and bad in Sodom should be overwhelmed in a common ruin; and in this spirit the closing utterance of his first supplication may be regarded as giving expression to the hope that Jehovah would do nothing that would even seem to tarnish his Divine righteousness. Abraham of course regarded this as impossible, consequently he believed that Sodom might be spared.

Genesis 18:26

And the Lord said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city (thus accepting the test proposed by Abraham, but not necessarily thereby acquiescing in the absolute soundness of his logic), then I will spare (not as an act of justice, but as an exercise of mercy, and not because of any suspicions that might otherwise attach to my rectitude, but solely in vindication of my clemency) all the place (not the righteous merely, which was all that justice could have legitimately demanded) for their sakes, i.e. because of the claims upon my mercy which grace admits the righteous to prefer.

Genesis 18:27

And Abraham answered and said (being emboldened by the success of his first petition), Behold now, I have taken upon me, literally, I have begun, though here perhaps used in a more emphatic sense: I have undertaken or ventured—to speak unto the Lord—Adonai (Genesis 15:2)—which am but dust and ashes. "Dust in his origin and ashes in his end" (Delitzsch; vide Genesis 3:19).

Genesis 18:28

Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five? Literally, on account of five, i.e. because they are wanting. A rare example of holy ingenuity in prayer. Abraham, instead of pleading for the city's safety on account of forty-five, deprecates its destruction on account of five. And its said, If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it.

Genesis 18:29

And he spoke unto him yet again—literally, and he added yet to speak to him (cf. Genesis 4:2; Genesis 8:10, Genesis 8:12; Genesis 25:1) and said (increasing in his boldness as God abounded in his grace), Peradventure there shall be forty found there. Does Abraham hesitate to add the query, "Wilt thou also?" &c; as if fearing he had at last touched the limit of the Divine condescension. If so, he must have been surprised by the continued gracious response which his supplication received. And he said, I will not do it for forty's sake.

Genesis 18:30

And he said unto him, Oh let not the Lord he angry,—literally, let there not be burning with anger to the Lord (Adonai)—and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there.

Genesis 18:31

And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me (vide Genesis 18:27) to speak unto the Lord (Adonai): Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty's sake.

Genesis 18:32

And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry (vide supra), and I will speak but this once (literally, only this time more, as in Exodus 10:17): Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten's sake.

Genesis 18:33

And the Lord (Jehovah) went his way,—i.e. vanished (Keil); not to avoid further entreaties on the part of Abraham (Delitzsch), but for the reason specified in the next words—as soon as he had left communing with Abraham (because Abraham's supplications were ended): and Abraham returned unto his place (viz; Mature near Hebron).


Genesis 18:23-33

Abraham's intercession.

I. THE OBJECT OF HIS INTERCESSION. Not simply the rescue of Lot from the doomed cities, but the salvation of the cities themselves, with their miserable inhabitants. A request evincing—

1. Tender sympathy. Though doubtless the righteous character of the impending retribution had been explained to him, its appalling severity was such as to thrill his feeling heart with anguish, which would certainly not be lessened, but intensified, if he allowed his thoughts to dwell upon the future into which that overwhelming calamity would forthwith launch its unhappy victims.

2. Unselfish charity. Not blindly shutting his eyes to the miseries of the Sodomites, as many would have done, on the plea that they were richly merited, or that they were no concern of his, or that it was little he could do to avert them, he actively bestirs himself, if possible, to prevent them. Nor does he say that, having delivered them once from the devouring sword of war, without their having profited by either the judgment or the mercy that had then been measured out to them, he will now leave them to be engulfed by the approaching storm of Almighty wrath; but, on the contrary, he rather seeks a second time to effect their rescue.

3. Amazing catholicity. Not content with asking Lot's deliverance, or the rescue of the righteous, he aims at nothing short of the complete preservation of the cities. He solicits not a few of their inhabitants only, but their entire population. One wonders whether to admire most the greatness of the love or the grandeur of the faith herein displayed.


1. Holy boldness. Abraham "drew near." The expression intimates confidential familiarity, earnestness of entreaty, unrestrained freedom of discourse, almost venturesome audacity in prayer; all of which characteristics should be found in a believer's prayers, especially when interceding in behalf of others (Hebrews 10:22).

2. Reverent humility. Three times he deprecates Jehovah's anger, and acknowledges personal unworthiness; and that this self-abasement was not affected, but real, is apparent from the circumstance that the more his supplication prospers, the deeper does he sink in self-prostration. Gracious souls are ever humble under a sense of God's mercies: Jacob (Genesis 32:10), David (2 Samuel 7:18; cf. Luke 7:6).

3. Fervent importunity. With a sanctified dexterity he, as it were, endeavors to shut up the heart of God to grant the deliverance he solicits. Nor does he rest contented with the first response to his entreaty, but with greater vehemence returns to the charge, increasing his demands as God enlarges his concessions (cf. Matthew 15:22).


1. The argument. The principle on which the patriarch stands is not the grace of the covenant, but the righteousness of the Judge. His meaning is that in moral goodness there is a certain dynamic force which operates towards the preservation of the wicked, and which the Divine righteousness itself is bound to take into its calculations. Where this force reaches a certain limit in intensity, a regard to judicial equity seems to require that it shall be allowed to exercise its legitimate sway—a principle which God admitted to the patriarch when he said that the Amorites were spared because their iniquity was not full (Genesis 15:16), and which he here endorses by consenting to spare Sodom if even ten righteous men can be found within its gates.

2. The application. The patriarch conducts his case with singular directness, going straight to the logical issues of the principle with which he starts; with marvelous ingenuity pitching the hypothetical number of pious Sodomites so high as to insure a favorable response, and gradually diminishing as grace enlarges, and with unwearied assiduity refusing to discontinue his holy argument so long as a chance remains of saving Sodom.


1. He got all he asked. He did not crave the unconditional sparing of the city, but only its preservation on certain suggested conditions. Those conditions too were of his own framing; and yet against them not so much as one single caveat-was entered by God.

2. He ceased asking before God stopped giving, It may be rash to speculate as to what would have happened had Abraham continued to reduce the number on which he periled the salvation of Sodom; but for God's glory it is only just to observe that it was not he who discontinued answering the patriarch's petitions, so much as the patriarch himself, who felt that he had reached the limit of that liberty which God accords to believing suppliants at his throne.


1. The liberty which saints have to approach God in prayer.

2. The Divinely-taught art of wrestling with God in prayer.

3. The great encouragement which saints have to pray without ceasing.

4. The profound interest which saints should ever take in the welfare of their fellow-men.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Genesis 18". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/genesis-18.html. 1897.
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