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:
American King James Version×
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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.

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