Bible Commentary: Genesis 18

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Genesis 18

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A Lesson in Service

The sins of Sodom, Gomorrah and the other cities of the plain were great, and the cry against them had come to the ears of God. Now God “comes down” to deal with the matter. The story of God’s visit to Abraham also reveals much about the character of Abraham.

While Abraham sat in the shade of his tent, he saw three men approaching. Subsequent events show them to be the preincarnate Christ and two angels. It was the custom in those days that one had an obligation to treat well any visitor who happened upon one’s camp. Indeed, this custom prevails to this day among the nomadic Bedouin of the Middle East and was much in evidence in the early decades of the 20th century. To neglect to welcome and provide for a visitor was esteemed a great insult and a mark of a man of worthless character. So when Abraham, a 99-year old man, saw the men, “he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground” (verse 2).

In the opinion of one source: “The writer of Hebrews used this account to encourage hospitality to strangers, ‘for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels’ (Hebrew 13:2). Abraham’s words My Lord suggest that he suspected the identity of the visitors, but perhaps he was not sure until later of the full significance of the event” (Nelson Study Bible, note on Genesis 18:2-3 Genesis 18:2-3 [2] And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, see, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, [3] And said, My LORD, if now I have found favor in your sight, pass not away, I pray you, from your servant:
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).

In fulfilling his social duty, though he may have been going above and beyond if he recognized his guests, it is, in any case, interesting to note what Abraham said as compared to what he actually provided. He said: “Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring [you] a morsel of bread” (verses 4-5). But notice what Abraham actually told Sarah to prepare: not just a little water and a morsel of bread but three measures of fine meal kneaded into dough and baked into cakes, a dressed young calf, butter and milk. That was a very sizable quantity of food—indeed, a veritable feast! From this the rabbis derive a simple lesson: promise little but deliver much.

Abraham Reasons with God

The account of Abraham reasoning with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah reveals much about both God and Abraham. As mentioned before, the phrase “come down” often indicates the serious nature of a personal intervention by God, usually in judgment. That God Himself would leave heaven and personally come to make an inspection shows His diligence in administering justice, as well as His close involvement with the affairs of man. And the fact that He was ready to repeal the sentence if He found only 10 righteous inhabitants shows His great mercy. Furthermore, that God would reveal His intentions to Abraham demonstrates that God desires interaction with His people. God is interested in our opinions and He is willing to reason with us. We too can talk to God in prayer. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7 Matthew 7:7Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you:
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). God hears and answers our prayers. He even changes His plans at times in response to our prayers. Interestingly, God disclosing His business to Abraham, who will later be called a prophet (Genesis 20:7 Genesis 20:7Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for you, and you shall live: and if you restore her not, know you that you shall surely die, you, and all that are yours.
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), brings to mind Amos 3:7 Amos 3:7Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he reveals his secret to his servants the prophets.
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, which states, “Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servant the prophets.”

We also see reflected in the account something of the nature and character of Abraham—that he could be bold toward God, generous to his guests and merciful toward even the sinful inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah.

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