Three Unusual Guests

Genesis 18

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
May 2015

We have been studying the life of Abraham.  We come to two of the craziest chapters in the Bible.  They go together.  These chapters are fascinating.  We will only look at one of them today.  The one next week deals with Sodom and Gomorrah.  You do not want to miss that.  There are some strange things in these chapters.  These chapters are very interesting.  Today, we will be looking at Genesis 18.

Abraham plays four important roles in this chapter.  I want you to see his four roles here.  First, he plays the role of a HOST.  He invites complete strangers into his home and takes very good care of them.  He welcomes them in and treats them like honored guests.  He brought them in.  He let them rest.  He fed them.

Second, he also plays the role of a WAITER.  He serves food.  Abraham waits on these three men and personally serves them.  He does NOT eat with them and have his servants serve them.  He serves them himself. “He ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree” (18:7-8).

Third, he also plays the role of a FRIEND later on in the chapter.  God says, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him” (18:17-18).  God talks to himself and under inspiration we get to see what God is thinking.  What do we learn from this?  Abraham is the friend of God.

Abraham is called “the friend of God” three times in the Bible.  He is called “the friend of God” two times in the OT (II Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8) and one time in the NT (James 2:23). Psalm 25:14 says, “The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him and he will show them his covenant” (KJV).  He confides in them.  The NLT reads, “The LORD is a friend to those who fear him.”  

Friends spend a lot of time together.  They talk a lot.  They share secrets with each other. There is an intimacy here. God shares some secrets with Abraham.  God is getting ready to wipe a few cities off of the map, because of extreme wickedness.

Abraham is told some things because of his close relationship with God that other people in his day did not know.  He received a special revelation from God.  Abraham was given inside information about the future.  He found out about the destruction of Sodom BEFORE it happened.  They found out about it when it was happening when the fire and brimstone began to fall from heaven.  We also have inside information because we have God’s Word.  It predicts future events.

Fourth, he plays the role of an INTERCESSOR.  He interceded for Sodom.  We have the first example of intercession in this chapter, the first intercessory prayer in the Bible.  We will see later if he was successful in this role.

Last week, we looked at Genesis 17.  God showed up.  Abraham got a fresh revelation of God after thirteen years of complete silence after the Hagar Affair.  In Genesis 18, Abraham gets another revelation of God.  God shows up again.  If you counter them all, this is the sixth time that God appeared to Abraham.  Most of us have never had a visible appearance of God.  Abraham has had six of these appearances so far.

The first time He appeared to Abraham was when he told him Ur of the Chaldees.  When he arrived in Canaan, he appeared to Abraham again and Abraham built God an altar.  When a famine broke out in the land, he left and went to Egypt but when Pharaoh kicked him out of Egypt, he went back to Canaan and God appeared to him a third time.

Abraham went to war.  When he returned, God appeared to him a fourth time and officially ratified the Abrahamic Covenant with a strange ritual which involved slicing animals in half.  Then Abraham had an affair with Hagar.  Thirteen years later, God appeared to Abraham a fifth time and told him to walk before Him and be blameless.

Now we come to the sixth appearance of God to Abraham in Genesis 18.  It happened very soon after the last appearance.  Genesis 17 & 18 happened close together.  How do I know?  Both chapters happened about a year before Isaac was born.  Both Genesis 17:21 and 18:10 predict that he would be born in about a year.  God gives Abraham two revelations in this chapter which we will look at.

There is one very important difference between this appearance and all of the other appearances of God to Abraham.  This appearance involved a disguise.  What is the setting of this story?  It is the hottest time of the day.  It is too hot to do any work. Abraham was sitting in his tent under the shade of the trees and suddenly he saw three men from a distance (18:2).

Abraham has three mysterious visitors.  They looked like ordinary travelers.  They look weary, tired and hungry.  On the outside, they looked human but they were not human.  They were supernatural beings.  They were heavenly visitors.  Who were they?

Were These Three the Trinity?

The three men here are not the three persons of the Trinity (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit).  The Trinity is a biblical doctrine but Genesis 18 is not teaching the Trinity.  That is preaching the right thing with the wrong text.  How do we know that these three men not the three persons of the Trinity?

Two of these men are explicitly identified as angels.  Two of them were angels in human form.  How do we know?  After dinner, these three men separated from one another.  Two of the men “turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord” (18:22).

The one who stayed behind and talked to Abraham was called “the Lord.” The other two walked to Sodom and when they got there, they were called angels.  Genesis 19:1 says, “The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city.

That would make this both an angelophany (an appearance of angels in human form) and a theophany (an appearance of God in human form).   A theophany is different from a vision.  God manifested himself to Abraham in human form.

Genesis 18:1 says, “The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre.” Genesis 18:13 says “Then the Lord said to Abraham.” This was clearly the Pre-incarnate Christ, accompanied by two angels.

The million dollar question is this: Did Abraham know who these three men were? Some believe that he did know who they were right away. I do not believe that he knew who they were at first.

Abraham said, ‘If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant” (18:3-5)

Notice what the text says.  Three men were traveling.  Abraham saw them.  He offered to give them food and have them rest before they continued traveling.  He said to them, “Let me give you food and then you can go on your way.”  He did not say “before you go back to Heaven.”  If he knew who they were, they would not need food.

Neither God, nor angels need food to live.  Abraham did not do these things because these men were important.  he would have done this for anyone.  That is the point of the passage.  It is eastern hospitality that he was showing and the NT says that he did not know who they were at first. Eventually Abraham found out who they were.

Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (NIV).  All biblical scholars believe that this is a clear reference to Genesis 18. Why should you show hospitality to strangers?

One of the guests you entertain might be an angel.  Every time you see a stranger, you might be seeing an angel.  How would you like to have a knock at the door, only to have two angels standing outside?  That is what happened to Lot.  Abraham had two angels and God at his door.

How would you like to have God at the door of your house?  That is what Jesus said, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20).  One pastor preached a sermon on Genesis 18 entitled, “When God comes to dinner.”

How did Abraham show hospitality?  This is perhaps the greatest example of hospitality in the Bible.  Abraham is a great example here to us today. Abraham invited these three strangers in out of the hot sun.  He offered to wash their feet and gave them water because they looked hot and thirsty (18:4).  He also gave them some food to eat but not just any food.  He gave them a gourmet meal.  He cooked them a feast. His wife did the cooking.  She must have been a good cook.

He fed them quickly (18:6-7).  He did not take his time to get this meal together for his hungry guests.  He ran to the herd.  Here you have a man who is about a hundred years old year old man running to get things ready quickly to entertain guests.  He did not skimp on the meal either.  He used “the finest flower” (18:6) and selected “a choice tender calf” (18:7) and not just any animal.

We wouldn’t do that today.  Strangers to us represent danger.  We tell our children to beware of strangers.  We might think that these men might try to rob us but Abraham lived in a different world.  People showed hospitality to strangers.  Hospitality in that day and in that part of the world was considered very important.

We need to show hospitality today.  I Peter 4:9 says, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”  Some of us do it but we hate to do it because it is a pain.  It means we have to clean up.  Some of the best ministry my wife and I had with people took place over a meal. You don’t have to live in big house to show hospitality.  Abraham lived in a tent.  He is perfect role model here of good hospitality.

When the meal was over, Abraham received two revelations from these divine visitors.  They told Abraham two things.  One of these revelations was good news and one was bad news.  One involved a blessing and one involved a curse.  One involved a birth announcement and one involved a message of doom on the city of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The First Revelation

Then one of them said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son‘” (18:10).

The Lord says that Abraham’s wife will have a son.  He did not say that she might have a son.  He said, “She will have a son” (18:10).  There’s no doubt about it.  It is certain to take place.  It will happen.  God is very specific here, so there is no misunderstanding.  The Lord told Abraham WHAT will happen (a baby will be born and it will be a boy, because he said that “Sarah will have a son”).  He told Abraham TO WHOM it will happen (Sarah your wife, your ninety year old wife).  He also told Abraham WHEN it will happen (sometime next year).

Now God already told Abraham that in the last chapter.  Why is he telling him again?  It is not just that men are dull and need to be told things more than once?  This time they said this more for Sarah’s benefit than for Abraham’s benefit.  Sarah was in another tent but she was listening to their conversation (18:10). What was her response to this prediction?  She laughed (18:12).  She didn’t laugh out loud.  She laughed to herself.  She laughed secretly.  Abraham did not hear her laugh.

Sarah said, “After I am worn out, and MY LORD is old, shall I have pleasure?” (18:12).  The NT praises Sarah for what she calls her husband here.  I Peter 3:6 says, “like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”  This is the place where Sarah calls Abraham “lord”.  It is the only place in the Bible where she calls Abraham “lord” or “master”.  She is used as an example of a submissive wife.

We also usually think of Sarah as a great woman of faith but here we see her as a woman of unbelief.  She is not just laughing, she is laughing at God.  She may not have known that this was God.  She didn’t know she was cooking a meal for God but she was and she was laughing at God. God made a promise and she laughed at it.  That is serious, because it basically is calling God a liar.

Why did she laugh?  It was not only difficult for Sarah to have a child at her age, it was physically impossible.  It was physically impossible but, as God said,  “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (18:14).  He spoke the universe into existence.  Nothing is too difficult for God.

The interesting thing is that when God told Abraham that his wife would have a son in the last chapter, he laughed (17:17).  Abraham was the first one to laugh in the Bible.  In fact, God told Abraham, since you laughed, your son is going to be named “laughter.”  That is what Isaac means.  Now Sarah is given the same promise and she has the exact response.  She also laughed.  Apparently, Abraham didn’t tell Sarah what God said in the last chapter.

Even though she was in another tent, God heard her.  He knew her thoughts.  He read her mind and confronted her sin.  That must have been embarrassing.  God knows our thoughts as well.  He knows everything we thing and everything we say.  Psalm 139:4 says, “Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely.”

The Second Revelation

What was the second revelation?  Sodom would be destroyed.  It is going to be burned to a crisp.  Now God did not come out and say this directly.  What did He say?  “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know” (18:20-21)

Now God is omniscient.  He knows everything and he is omnipresent.  He does not have to go to Sodom to find out what is really going on there.  This is anthropomorphic language.  God says the prayers from Sodom are reaching heaven.  The report is that the city is so wicked.  People are being abused and mistreated in that city.  Their loud cries reached God’s ears, so God said, “I am going to go down to the city and do an investigation.”

What is the point here?  God’s judgment it is not arbitrary. It is not subjective.  It is not based on rumor.  It is based on facts.  Of course, Abraham already knows that the report is true.  He was not naive about Sodom.  The city’s reputation was so bad, he was aware how wicked it was.  He knew that if God investigated the situation, the city would be destroyed.

Genesis 13:13 says, “the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly“.  They were not just wicked, they were extremely wicked and that was twenty years earlier.  So what does Abraham do?  He prays.  He doesn’t pray for himself.  He prays for Sodom.

This is one of the great biblical passages on prayer.  There are different aspects of prayer (confession, thanksgiving, adoration).  This is intercession (praying for others).  It is the first intercession recorded in the Bible.  Abraham intercedes for Sodom.  This is intercessory prayer at its best.

There were several characteristics of this prayer.  It was a specific prayer.  It mentions exact numbers of righteous people.  It is persistent prayer.  Abraham prays six times.  It was a bold prayer to dare even ask what he asks.  It was a humble prayer.

Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes” (18:27).  He did not demand from God things.  He asked God for things.  Abraham is not only a role model in hospitality for us today, he is a role model on prayer for us today.

This prayer also raises some questions.  I think that it is also misunderstood.  It raises some questions.

Is Abraham Defending the Guilty?

Many view this passage this way.  Why would Abraham want God to spare these wicked people?  Why is he defending the guilty here?  Many picture Abraham here as a liberal defense attorney who is defending the guilty here. He actually took the side of Sodom and acts as Sodom’s advocate, not it’s accuser.

That would be to completely misunderstand what is going on here. What is going on?  Abraham knows that Sodom is an extremely wicked city.  Everyone in his day knew that.  It had a reputation for blatant sin.  He also knew that God has to judge sin.

He did not have a problem with that.  He did not think that God was unjust to judge sin.  He would not think that it was a problem for God to send sinners to Hell.  What was the problem? The problem that that there was some righteous people who lived in the same city.  What would happen to them?

His nephew lived there with his wife and their two daughters.  Would God wipe them out as well?  That is the problem.  It is not the wicked would be judged.  Abraham was worried that the righteous would be judged along with them.  Abraham said, “Will you destroy the righteous along with the wicked?” (18:23)

Was Abraham’s Prayer Effective?

It also looks like Abraham argues with God but loses in the end.  He haggles so that God won’t destroy the city but the city gets destroyed anyway.  Did Abraham waste his time?  Was his intercessory prayer worthless?  No.  His prayer was effective.

Abraham saw only two possibilities.  The whole city could be spared because of the righteous or the righteous could be destroyed along with the wicked Sodomites.  If there were only ten righteous people in the city, God would have spared destroying the city.  That is amazing.  It shows the incredible effect that even a small group of believers can have on a city.  The problem is that there were NOT ten righteous people in the city.

God did not do either one of those things. God answered Abraham’s prayer but not as he asked. The Bible says that we do not how to pray many timers.  “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26).  The Holy Spirit has to enable us to even prayer correctly.  Our prayers need to be directed by the Holy Spirit.

Abraham only saw two options.  There was a third option.  God did not spare the whole city because of the righteous or destroy the righteous with the wicked. God destroyed the whole city but took out the few righteous people out of the city first.  We will see that next week.  Why is that important?  It shows that Abraham’s prayer was not a waste of time.  God spared Lot and his family because of Abraham’s prayers.

“So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived” (19:29)Abraham’s prayer was not a waste of time.  It was his prayer that saved Lot.  Abraham’s prayer activated some guardian angels.  His prayer sent angels into the city to deliver him.  We will look at that next week.

 

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