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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Genesis 18

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XVIII.

The Lord appears again to Abraham, and renews the promise of a son by Sarah. The destruction of Sodom is revealed to Abraham: he intercedes for that city, which God promises to spare, if ten righteous should be found in it.


Verse 1

Genesis 18:1. And the Lord appeared unto him, &c.— We have here an account of another appearance of the Lord Jehovah to Abraham; who came attended, as it seems most probable, by two angels, and in a human form. That one of these three was the Lord, there can be no doubt; as the sacred historian introduces the appearance of the three, by telling us, that the Lord appeared to Abraham: and it seems that Abraham knew him to be the Lord, by whatever method he was distinguished; for he plainly pays a peculiar deference to one, whom he addresses in Genesis 18:3. And one manifestly speaks with superior dignity. See Genesis 18:10, &c. Christian interpreters seem generally agreed, that this Divine Person was God the Son, the promised Messiah. This appearance was made to Abraham in the plains, or at the oak of Mamre, see Genesis 18:4 under the tree. He was there sitting in the shade at his tent-door in the heat of the day, when travellers sought shelter and refreshment; to afford them which, perhaps, he took his watchful station here: And he lift up his eyes and looked, and lo, three men, three who had the external appearance of men, stood by him; or rather, were standing near him, at some small distance from him: עליו alav is rendered in many versions above him; and possibly, as Abraham was sitting in the plain, where there were many mountains around, he might see these three persons above him, as it were descending from the mountains; and to this the phrase, he lift up his eyes, may refer. But if we understand it, that he saw these persons standing near him, we must remember, that it was not the manner of strangers in ancient times to knock at the door, or make the first advances to those by whom they would be entertained; they only stood in the way, waiting till they were invited. According to this custom, the great heathen Poet Homer describes Minerva under the appearance of Mentor, standing in Ulysses's vestibule, till Telemachus seeing her, went to her in haste, and led her in, vexed that a stranger should have stood so long at his door. Odyss. I. 103, &c.


Verse 3

Genesis 18:3. My Lord, if now, &c.— It follows from the manner of Abraham's address, that one of these three persons appeared the principal; though it is probable that, at first sight, he took them for mere men only. See Hebrews 13:2. The good patriarch's forwardness to perform the benevolent offices of hospitality is manifest from the whole of his behaviour. The phrase, if now I have found favour in thy sight, is a Hebraism signifying, if I am acceptable to you; the Latins have the same way of speaking:

——Si gratia, dixit, Ulla mea est. OVID.

If I have ever favour found.


Verse 4

Genesis 18:4. Wash your feet It was a custom to wash the feet of guests, deduced from the earliest times to the apostles' days; see ch. Genesis 19:2. Genesis 24:32. Judges 19:21. Hence St. Paul appoints widows to be chosen, 1 Timothy 5:10 if they have lodged strangers, if they have washed the saints' feet. See Luke 7:44. John 13. This must have been a great refreshment in those hot countries, where men travelled barefooted or in sandals only. Rest yourselves under the tree, the oak, or shady grove of oaks, where Abraham's tent was fixed. The heat of the country here again must be considered, which rendered such a shady situation most delightful. Hence that phrase in Scripture, of every man's sitting under his own vine and his own fig-tree.


Verse 5

Genesis 18:5. A morsel of bread He promises little, and performs much; a true model of liberality. Under bread is comprehended here, as in many other places, food or eatables in general. For therefore are you come, i.e.. for the purpose of hospitable refreshment. See ch. Genesis 19:8. where the same phrase is used, and implies, "for the purpose of hospitable entertainment and security."


Verse 6

Genesis 18:6. And Abraham hastened, &c.— We cannot conceive a more beautiful picture of ancient and zealous hospitality, than these verses afford us. Surely those who are so forward to applaud the beauties of Heathen poets, cannot withhold their applause from so simple and fine a description as this! The word rendered measures, סאים saim, signifies the third part of an ephah, and, according to Cumberland's computation, is reckoned to weigh twelve or thirteen pounds; so that the quantity of bread ordered by the patriarch must have been upwards of thirty-six pounds. So great store, some think, might have been provided for the magnificence of the entertainment; while others imagine, that Abraham might intend to furnish his guests with some provisions for the rest of their journey, according to the manners of ancient times. Possibly the word saim might be here used in an indeterminate sense; though supposing the quantity to be equal to what is mentioned above, it is not out of proportion to the rest of the provisions. Let it be observed, the Arabians and other eastern nations, even to this day, prepare cakes, by laying them upon the hearth, or hot stones, and covering them with hot cinders.


Verse 8

Genesis 18:8. He stood by them under the tree, &c.— A token of greater respect could not be given, than for the hospitable master thus to minister to his celestial guests. The text says, they did eat, which must either imply that there were all the external appearances of eating, or rather, we may believe, that they who had assumed a human form, imitated also human actions. Calmet is of opinion, that the great heathen writers, who were continually borrowing ideas from the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, derived their celebrated fable of Orion from this part of sacred history. Three Gods, they suppose, visited Orion's father: they found him at the door of his hut: the old man (senex Hyreus, as he is called, like the old man of Ur) received them with the greatest hospitality: he was childless, and a son was promised him, in which part of the story some ridiculous fables are intermixed.

REFLECTIONS.—We have here Abraham's hospitality to three unknown strangers, though afterwards found to be celestial visitants in human forms.

1. His affectionate invitation of them. He sat in the tent-door, to welcome in the weary traveller: such labours of love became the father of the faithful. Note; A Christian's heart is generous and hospitable. No sooner does the opportunity offer, than with profound respect and urgent entreaty, he entertains them in the heat of the day under the shade of a tree. Observe, (1.) Religion never teaches rudeness, but civility. (2.) A good man thinks it a favour done him, that he has it in his power to relieve the destitute.

2. The hearty welcome given them. Luxury of diet yet unknown (and how much better were it still unknown!) and pride of equipage make no part of Abraham's entertainment. Himself and Sarah were not too great to serve: and one plain dish, beneath a tree, completes the banquet. Happy simplicity! where friendship unfeigned made hypocritical compliments useless, and plain abundance supplied those wants of hunger, which pampered appetite never knew. Note; (1.) True faith produces fervent charity: no fruits like those which grow on this tree. (2.) True nobility and greatness are ever most condescending.


Verse 10

Genesis 18:10. And he said, &c.— One only speaks, the superior person, when the Divine promise is renewed: and the authoritative manner in which he speaks, confirms our opinion on Genesis 18:1 and ch. Genesis 16:7. I will certainly return to thee, according to the time of life, or at this time in the next year. Some of the ancient versions perfectly agree with this interpretation, which I believe to be the best: and Genesis 16:14 seems to explain it in some measure.


Verse 12

Genesis 18:12. Sarah laughed, &c.— It is universally agreed, that Sarah's was not a laugh of joy arising from the Divine promise, but a laughing springing from incredulity, as we think it appears that Abraham's was also. See note on ch. Genesis 17:17. She, however, supposing herself concealed from her guests, as she stood in the tent-door, to which the backs of her guests were turned, was greatly terrified at finding her incredulity detected; and therefore denied it: but the Divine Visitant shewed his knowledge of her thoughts; and thereby proved himself to be, what he is called, the LORD, the JEHOVAH, Genesis 17:13. To demonstrate, in the fullest manner, the Divine interposition her incapability of conception in a natural way, is modestly expressed, Genesis 17:11.

REFLECTIONS.—Now Abraham begins to find he has lost nothing by his guests. He invited men, but he finds among them his Lord. Note; They who do good to the least of Christ's little ones, do it unto him. Observe,

1. Their inquiries after Sarah. The women, according to the eastern custom, sat not down with the men to meat. But the guests shewed by their inquiring, that they were no strangers to his family. Civil inquiries are kind.

2. Abraham's answer. She is where she should be, in the tent. The duty of a wife is to be a keeper at home; and when we are in the way of duty, we may expect to find a blessing.

3. The promise made to Sarah. Now the Lord begins to appear. He speaks more than man, who can say, "I will, Thou shalt." Blessed be his name! not only all his promises, but his commands run thus to the believer: he makes the believer what he wills him to be.

4. Sarah's unbelief. Though out of sight, not out of hearing: she laughed at an event so improbable. Note; (1.) Reason is a bad guide in matters of faith. (2.) The same appearances may arise from different causes: a smile may bespeak contemptuous unbelief, or satisfied confidence. (3.) If Sarah called her husband Lord, let her daughters remember and imitate her respect.

5. The rebuke given her. Why did Sarah laugh? Is any thing too hard for God? Learn, (1.) Suspicions of God's power or grace, or both, are very displeasing to him. (2.) Rebuke is one of the kindest instances of friendship, and one of the best returns for favours received. Let the righteous smite me friendly. (3.) Unwillingness to give, and backwardness to receive reproof, are sure signs of a perverse or cold heart.

6. Sarah's denial. To conceal one fault, she makes two. One sin seldom comes alone. Nothing leads us into a lie sooner than fear. Fools that we are, not to place that fear on the proper object. Can man's rebukes be equal to those which God hath appointed for lying lips? O that we feared him more, and man less! Yet this rebuke wrought good effects: though unbelief prevailed before, faith triumphs now: he that knew her heart, could give the son. Note; When we might expect chastisement for our sin, God oftentimes overwhelms us and humbles us with mercies.


Verse 16

Genesis 18:16. Rose up, and looked toward Sodom i.e.. shewed their intention of directing their course that way: though some conceive, that it implies their intention of setting their faces against or of destroying Sodom. Abraham, however, continuing his hospitable kindness, attended them on their way: when the Lord (He who had given the promise, Genesis 18:10, &c.) thought fit to reveal unto Abraham his designs concerning Sodom, in order, no doubt, to give the good man an opportunity to display his piety and love, as well as for the reasons assigned in the 18th and 19th verses.


Verse 20

Genesis 18:20. The cry of Sodom, &c.— The sin of cities is thus figuratively represented, calling aloud as it were to heaven for vengeance. See Isaiah 5:7. And for the phrase, I will go down and see, &c. see notes on ch. Genesis 11:4; Genesis 11:7. God is a just Judge, and will not punish without the strictest examination. Two of these three persons are deputed (Genesis 11:22 compared with ch. Genesis 19:1.) to go to Sodom, while the third, the superior Person, the Jehovah, continues with Abraham, and hears his intercession.

It must be pleasing to the learned, and may perhaps be considered as a collateral evidence of the truth of the sacred writings, to perceive the most celebrated of the classic writers continually borrowing their most brilliant ideas from the Oracles of God. Thus Ovid represents the Supreme as coming down to the earth in a human shape, to inquire into the state of a degenerate people:

"The clamours of this vile degenerate age Had reach'd the stars: I will descend, said I, In hope to prove this loud complaint a lie: Disguis'd in human shape I travell'd round The world, and more than what I heard I found." GARTH.

REFLECTIONS.—The visit over, the strangers depart. But Abraham had talked so much of the sweets of their company, he will not leave them thus, but brings them on their way. Note; We are loth to part with those, with whom we have enjoyed much of the presence of the Lord. And now Abraham's kindness is still additionally repaid: while two of his guests are sent before him, the third stays. His Lord not only gives him his company, but reveals to him his secret. Observe,

1. God's reasons for informing Abraham of his design. (1.) He will not hide his counsel from him; for he is a friend, for whom he had done much, and would do more. Note; God discovers more of his secret counsels to his servants, than to other men. An enlightened mind, thoroughly versed in God's word, attains a knowledge next to prophecy. (2.) Abraham will instruct his children and household. Whatever knowledge he hath, will be made useful to others as well as himself. Ye masters of families, behold in Abraham's practice your example and duty. [1.] Make it your care and business to instruct your children and servants in the way of the Lord. Remember, the lowest under your roof has an immortal soul, and it is entrusted to your care. [2.] Be yourselves examples of what you teach. [3.] Be constant with them at a throne of grace, both to shew them the way thither, and to obtain a blessing on your labours among them.

2. His discovery of the design of his visit to Sodom: their sins, which called for vengeance. And he is come to inquire: not that he wanted to be informed, but that he may appear both patient and just in all his judgments. Learn, (1.) Crying sins are heard in heaven, however unnoticed on earth. And Note; These sins were pride, luxury, and idleness, and their necessary consequences. Who need not hearken, whether some such cry go not up from him? (2.) Sinners say, "God will not see," but they are woefully mistaken. (3.) God never punishes by report: many are belied, whom God will acquit: but where he condemns, his judgment is ever according to truth.


Verse 23

Genesis 18:23. And Abraham drew near, &c.— As well by the external reverence of his body as the internal reverence of his mind: to draw near to God is often used for the internal application of the soul to him. Jeremiah 30:21. Hebrews 10:22. James 4:8.


Verse 25

Genesis 18:25. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right Always act consistently with the clemency as well as the justice, which may reasonably be expected from so great and good a Being. Calling this Lord, Judge of all the earth, proves him to have been more than an angel. See Job 34:10-12. It is impossible to read this fine intercession of the patriarch, without the highest estimation for his love, his philanthropy, and humility, see Job 34:27. Sodom, in this passage, seems to be spoken of as the chief city, the capital of the Pentapolis, or five cities, which were to be consumed.

REFLECTIONS.—Abraham no sooner hears the secret, than instantly his heart begins to plead, if there yet may be hope. We have here,

1. Abraham's prayer: and a most ardent, humble, believing, loving prayer it is. (1.) His approach: filled with the sense both of the greatness and goodness of his dear Lord, he dares approach with reverence and hope, drawn by that fervent charity, which would snatch the brand from the burning. (2.) His request for Sodom.

See how he pleads, [1.] for the righteous. Some he charitably hoped might be found: Lot, no doubt: and perhaps he had converts. Confident they should be spared, he pleads God's glorious perfections: his mercy and righteousness embolden his address. Note; First, it is a strong support in prayer, to plead God's perfections, as a ground to speak before him. Secondly, We must be confident the Judge of all will do right; nor shall any man have cause to find fault with his determinations. Thirdly, The righteous shall not be destroyed with the wicked. Though they be involved with them, they shall not be like them. They shall escape out of their trial, or their suffering shall be sanctified unto them. [2.] For the wicked: though we hate sin, we must pity and pray for the sinner. The worst must not be forgotten: while there is life, there is hope. Note; To be spared to repent, is a great mercy.

2. God's answer: free and gracious. Thus does prayer prevail. How ready he to hear, how willing to pardon? if fifty be found righteous, Sodom is spared. How should this encourage our applications to him?


Verse 27

Genesis 18:27, &c. Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak, &c.— While other givers expect we should be satisfied, God, when he gives, expects and is pleased that we ask for more. Behold,

1. Abraham's renewal of his requests. (1.) His preface: deeply humbled, he confesses himself dust and ashes, unworthy to speak before God. Let us ever remember this, when we appear before God. (2.) His prayers and answers. He fain would succeed, and therefore lessens the number. God grants his prayer. Once more he dares to speak. Importunately he asks for pardon in this boldness. O what a God have we, never weary of granting, never tired with importunity, and, glorious as he is, not angry to be thus besieged with ceaseless cries! Again, he succeeds. Again he cannot be silent; again is answered graciously. Yet once, and but once more, will he presume to speak: his last request reduced to ten! And sure, if five cities produce not ten righteous men, ruin must be near. Even hereunto God condescends to consent. Note; (1.) How good it is to pray, and never faint. (2.) When we have been disappointed of success, we shall not lose the blessing: if the mercy be not vouchsafed to others, it will return upon ourselves.

2. Their parting. God leaves him, but not till he has done asking: and Abraham returned to wait the issue; sure, however, not to be disappointed concerning God's promise, and looking if yet there may be hope. Note; We cannot expect too little from man, nor too much from God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Genesis 18:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/genesis-18.html. 1801-1803.

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Sunday, December 15th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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