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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 18

 

 

Verse 1

ENTERTAINING ANGELS, Genesis 18:1-15.

1. The Lord appeared — This is the sixth revelation of promise to Abraham. 1) The call and promise while yet in his father’s house.

Genesis 12:1 to Genesis 3:2) At the oak of Moreh. Genesis 12:7. 3) After his separation from Lot. Genesis 13:14 to Genesis 17:4) The covenant of the Word and vision of chap. 15. 5) The covenant of circumcision, in chap. 17. And after this sixth revelation, and after Isaac’s birth, when God will test the patriarch once more, we have the seventh revelation in connexion with the offering of Isaac in the land of Moriah. Genesis 22:1-18. Thus the father of the faithful has a sevenfold revelation of promise and of prophecy.

Plains of Mamre — Or, oaks of Mamre. See on Genesis 13:18.

Sat in the tent door in the heat of the day — A truly Oriental picture. Travellers at the present day often observe the like; the sheik sitting under an awning or in the shade of a tree or grove, and ready to repeat the ancient style of hospitality to the passing traveller.


Verse 2

2. Three men — An angelophany, in which the celestial messengers took on the form and habits of ordinary men. It appears from what follows that one of these was the Angel of Jehovah, (see note on Genesis 16:7.) who speaks in the Divine name and represents Deity himself. Comp. Genesis 18:13; Genesis 18:17; Genesis 18:20; Genesis 18:22; Genesis 18:26; Genesis 18:33. But such a manifestation of Jehovah in human form appears extraordinary, and has been made the subject of ridicule by unbelievers. What! they say, God eating veal along with Abraham! Abraham washing God’s feet, and feeding him with cakes! That is worse than heathen idolatry. But the same difficulty holds with the theory that the three men were angels. Did Abraham wash the feet of angels and feed them with veal and cakes? That seems clearly to be the purport of the narrative; and before we hasten to pronounce it absurd or heathenish, let us calmly consider why such a theophany and such an angelophany should be thought incredible? It will not be denied that God has the power thus to manifest himself. He could have assumed a human form, and done all that is here recorded. But it is assumed that such action is incompatible with the divine majesty and the spiritual nature of God. But who knows this? Or who is competent to say that it was improper, and unworthy of Jehovah to reveal himself thus in human form to the father of the faithful?

It would, indeed, be unseemly and idolatrous for us to represent God under a human or any other form. This is expressly forbidden. Exodus 20:45. But if God may reveal himself in a pillar of cloud, or a pillar of fire, or a burning bush, why not also in a human form?

The Christian who believes that God was “manifest in the flesh” in the person of Jesus Christ, will not regard this theophany with strange wonder, or incredulity. When we consider the special purpose of this appearance of Jehovah to Abraham, namely, to bring Sarah to a belief in the promise, we may well suppose that the human form would have been the most suitable semblance under which Jehovah could appear. Such a theophany would adumbrate the future seed, the Christ of God, born of a woman, yet declared to be the Son of God, with power; who would eat and drink with men, and wash the feet of his disciples, that he might teach them the same lesson of humble service. He was seen and ministered unto by angels. He, even after his resurrection, ate before his disciples, to convince them that he was no unsubstantial spectre. Luke 24:43. So the God of Abraham makes this revelation a most intense reality to him, and through him to Sarah, that she may become partaker of his faith, and a proper mother of the chosen seed.


Verse 3

3. My Lord אדני, Adonai, not Jehovah, as the Targum of Onkelos here reads. The patriarch thus seems to address himself to one of the three messengers, as if in him he recognised at once the Angel who had visited him before. But we may translate it as plural, my lords. Comp. Genesis 19:2; Genesis 19:18. The passage in Hebrews 13:1, “Some have entertained angels unawares,” is generally supposed to refer to this event and that of Genesis 19:2. We may believe that, at the first, Abraham was not aware that his guests were angels, but that gradually the fact became known to him; or he may have been impressed at once with the feeling that the one was Jehovah’s Angel, while he did not perceive that the others were angels also.

If now I have found favour — Abraham’s language throughout is a genuine and lifelike example of the manner of a hospitable and generous Oriental chief.


Verse 4

4. Wash your feet — Ablutions of all kinds are very common in the East, and considered essential as safeguards against the leprosy. But feet washing was among the most common rites of hospitality. Comp. Genesis 19:2; Genesis 24:32; Judges 19:21. The foot was usually protected only by a sandal, and after a journey over the heated roads or fields, the washing of the feet was peculiarly gratifying to the traveller.


Verse 5

5. For therefore are ye come to your servant — Or, for therefore have ye passed over to your servant. That is, Abraham recognises a divine providence in their having passed over to him that they might be comforted in their hearts and refreshed by him.


Verse 6

6. Abraham hastened — The haste or rapidity with which a hospitable feast is prepared by an Oriental for his guest is notable. See on 1 Samuel 28:24. The words make ready quickly are, in the Hebrew, but the same word מהר, hasten.

Three measures of fine meal — The measure, or seah, is supposed to have been about one peck, and accordingly the large quantity of flour taken shows the bounty of Abraham’s hospitality. He would prepare a royal feast.

Cakes upon the hearth — Such were usually baked among the coals.


Verse 7

7. A calf tender and good — He selects the choicest of his young cattle, “the fatted calf,” (Luke 15:23; Luke 15:30,) the greatest luxury of the kind at his command.


Verse 8

8. Butter — “This is commonly clotted cream. The milk is chiefly that of the goat, which is very rich and sweet, rather sickening to an unpracticed taste. This kind of milk we found abundant in Palestine, and no other.” — Jacobus.

Stood by them — As a reverent attendant and waiter, fully appreciating the honour of the occasion.

They did eat — As truly as did the risen Lord. Luke 24:43. It was not because they needed food, but as, in our Lord’s case, to convince Abraham and Sarah of the reality of this divine visitation. See on Genesis 18:2. “If the angels had assumed human bodies, though but for a time, there would have been nothing strange in their eating. In any case the food may have been consumed, miraculously or not; and the eating of it was a proof that the visit of the angels to Abraham was no mere vision, but a true manifestation of heavenly beings.” — Speaker’s Com.


Verse 9

9. Where is Sarah — Here comes out the main purpose of their visit. Sarah’s lack of faith must be overcome by a divinely inspired confidence that will put all doubt and trifling aside.


Verse 10

10. He said — The question of Genesis 18:9 was common to the three — “they said.” Now HE, the prominent One, whom Abraham, in Genesis 18:3, called “My Lord,” speaks in the person of the Almighty, assuming power to accomplish what he promises.

I will certainly return — He speaks as if about departing. Like a passing traveller, he will now depart, but he will return again.

According to the time of life — Reference to what he had previously promised, in a very recent revelation, “at this set time next year.” Genesis 17:21.


Verse 12

12. Sarah laughed — The context here shows that Sarah’s laugh was that of incredulity, as the context of Genesis 17:17, shows that Abraham’s laughing was that of joyful wonder. Sarah laughed within herself, not aloud, nor with prostration, as yielding confidently to the joy of the promise, but with secret incredulity. My lord — See 1 Peter 3:5-6.


Verse 13

13. The Lord said — Here the speaker is expressly called Jehovah. He also shows his knowledge of the thoughts of Sarah, and in the next verse identifies himself with Jehovah, saying: “Is any thing too hard for Jehovah? At the time appointed I will return,” etc. All this is incompatible with the idea that the speaker merely personates Jehovah.


Verse 15

15. She was afraid — The direct response to her thoughts, the searching words, the implied rebuke, the evidence from the words that the speaker was Jehovah, all this filled her with a sudden amazement and terror, and under the fear of the moment she denied, saying, I laughed not — The denial was immediately silenced by the answer, Nay, but thou didst laugh; and we may well believe that doubt was changed to faith, and Sarah also believed the promise, and, as Kurtz observes, was “thus rendered capable to become the mother of the promised seed.”


Verse 16

ABRAHAM’S INTERCESSION FOR SODOM, Genesis 18:16-33.

16. Rose up — As travellers about to depart.

Looked toward Sodom — Hebrews, looked on the face of Sodom. Turned their faces in that direction. The promise has been confirmed to Sarah, and now, in Abraham’s future, all is hopeful and bright. But from this message of grace the angels turn to a work of judgment. Their look toward Sodom was the beginning of the working of wrath.

Abraham went with them — Thus showing the courtesy and care of a true host, to see his guests off safely on their way.


Verse 17

17. Shall I hide… which I do — Here, again, Jehovah speaks in his own name and person, and the style of the narrative gives a lifelike reality to every circumstance. How like a bosom friend he speaks! The Septuagint reads: “By no means will I hide from Abraham, my child, what I do.” From such companionship Abraham was truly called “the friend of God.”

2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23.


Verse 19

19. For I know him — Rather, I have known him, in order that he may command, etc. The words I have known refer to the divine choice or election of Abraham. I have known, loved, favoured, called, Abraham for the purposes here named.

Command his children — One of the most noticeable and beautiful things in the history of God’s chosen people is the family government and religious instruction maintained in the home and household. The parental authority was duly exercised, not in harsh, tyrannical, or provoking ways, but in godly discipline and order. The principles of justice and righteous judgment — that is, rectitude in thought and action — were instilled into all their hearts. To observe and practise these is to keep the way of the Lord; that is, God’s way for man to live and act. The parental and family discipline here extolled presents the following: 1) It is grounded in the divine favour. 2) It is authoritative and firm. 3) It affects the servants and dependents of the household as well as the children. 4) It is imbued with religious life and principle. 5) It exalts justice and righteous judgment. 6) It is perpetuated after the patriarch passes away, and it lives in his posterity. 7) It insures the fulfilment of the promises.


Verse 20

20. The cry of Sodom — The cry of the sins and abominations of Sodom, which went up to God, like the voice of Abel’s blood (Genesis 4:10) demanding punishment.


Verse 21

21. I will go down — From the high lands of Hebron to the vale of Siddim. This manner of speaking is every way appropriate to the form in which the Lord revealed himself on this occasion. The incarnation itself was but an accommodation on the part of God to the conditions of man’s life, and all such modes of speech as this are an accommodation to human thought. Jehovah thus declares that he will not move in judgment on a wicked city without longsuffering, care, and personal knowledge of all things.


Verse 22

22. The men turned… and went — Two of them thus turned away to Sodom, as we gather from Genesis 19:1, and the added statement that Abraham stood yet before the Lord. Jehovah, who has all along been presented as one of the three, remains to speak further with Abraham, but silently dismisses his attendants, who understand their further mission, and go about it.


Verse 23

23. Abraham drew near — He perceived the purpose of wrath, and was moved with the thought of a whole city, or group of cities, perishing, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? He does not plead for the wicked, but for the righteous; not for mercy, but for what seems to him as justice. He, doubtless, also, felt for his nephew Lot, and in general for all those whom he had, by his military prowess, rescued from the eastern invaders.


Verse 24

24. Peradventure there be fifty — He begins his intercession with this moderate number. Surely if half a hundred righteous people are living in the city, for their sake it should be spared.


Verse 25

25. That be far from thee — An exclamation of indignant aversion; חללה לךְ; abominable to thee! Shocking to thee would be an act like that!


Verse 28

28. There shall lack five — First he drops to forty-five; then to forty; then to thirty; then to twenty; and finally to ten. Conant observes on this whole passage that it has “no parallel, even in sacred history. With earnestness, but with unaffected humility, devout courtesy, and a reverent freedom, the patriarch presses his suit on behalf of the few righteous men in Sodom. On the other hand, Jehovah receives the intercession of his servant graciously, and admits the reasonableness of his plea by granting all that he desires. There is a beautiful aptness in the turn given to the first plea for a slight abatement of this number; ‘Wilt thou for five destroy the whole city?’ The whole passage is singularly felicitous and beautiful, in conception and expression.”


Verse 33

33. Went his way — Abraham ceased to intercede and Jehovah ceased to answer. Other works and plans engage Jehovah, and he passes from one scene to another. Lo, all we see and know “are but parts of his ways.” “My father worketh hitherto, and I work.” John 5:17. The Theophanies of the Old Testament furnish not only profound revelations of Deity, but inspiration to holy activity.

In Abraham’s intercession we do well to note: 1) How the righteous may be the salt of the earth. 2) The long-suffering and the righteousness of God. 3) The humility and boldness with which we should plead before God. 4) The efficacy of prayer.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 18:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/genesis-18.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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