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Deeper Commentary

18:1 Yahweh appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day- The surrounding religions understood oaks as religious places, where such Divine appearances might well occur. They were associated with idolatry (Ez. 6:13). We see therefore how God presents His truth in ways which can be understood by men and in terms which they can relate to, even if their worldviews are erroneous. This is not to say that the Bible doesn’t challenge paganism and wrong beliefs- it does. But God also realizes, if you like, that flatly presenting His truth with no regard to the pre-existing religious beliefs and psychological associations within people is not going to help them. And we can learn a lesson from that. We may also pick up yet another hint here that the 'holy family' of the times were not so holy; Jacob, Rachel and his sons were all involved with paganism and idolatry at times, and Abraham's association with "the oaks" doesn't sit completely well.

The Hebrew for ‘appeared’ is literally ‘to see’, and the same word is used of how man cannot see God (Ex. 33:20). But through manifestation of Himself to men, God allows Himself to be seen. Once this is appreciated, it becomes utterly facile to assume that the three Angels were the Trinity, God Himself. For God cannot be seen. And more practically, it provides comfort in our almost childish complaint that we cannot see God. We cannot directly, but He appears / is seen to us so that effectively we do see Him. This idea is behind the Lord’s teaching that through possession of the Comforter, it is as if we see Him personally, even though the disciples were to “see Him no more” in the flesh. This is at the root of our sense of God’s presence. We are not in heaven, not literally in His personal presence; but His presence can be experienced and lived in just as much as if we were actually in heaven. In this sense, God’s seeing of us becomes our experience of having seen Him- once we perceive it. Hagar grasped something of this: “She called the name of Yahweh who spoke to her, You, God, see me, for she said, Have I even stayed alive after seeing Him?” (Gen. 16:13). The same is recorded here with Abraham; God “appeared” or ‘saw Himself’ to Abraham, and then Gen. 18:2 twice emphasizes that Abraham “saw [“looked”]… and saw” the Angels. He saw God as God saw Him. To see is to perceive, to know; and thus Paul writes of how we are known by God and thereby know Him (1 Cor. 8:3; Gal. 4:9).

“Mamre” is to be understood as Hebron (Gen. 23:19; 35:27), and Gen. 35:27 notes that Abraham lived there as a stranger. Despite his great wealth, he still lived in his tent, just outside the city. It was whilst he was not working, “in the heat of the day” (2 Sam. 4:5), that the Lord appeared to him. Perhaps he was using the rest time for prayer and meditation, and his spirituality was rewarded by the Lord’s appearance to him- just as we can experience in essence. Or perhaps on the contrary he was doubting the promise of chapter 17, and the Angels appeared in order to strengthen his faith.

18:2 He lifted up his eyes and looked, and saw that three men stood opposite him. When he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself to the earth- The three Angels may each have had distinct roles. Perhaps one was concerned with giving the promise to Abraham about Isaac; another was dedicated to the destruction of Sodom, as “the destroyer” Angel of the Passover night which slew the firstborn in Egypt; and the other Angel may have been concerned with the salvation of Lot. Even if we are simply being shown Abraham's generosity and respect toward strangers (Heb. 13:2), his bowing reflects a humility. For in any primitive society, there is a pecking order; you don't bow to strangers in case they are beneath you in the social hierarchy. But Abraham did; he who was both wealthy in this world, and had been promised the eternal inheritance of the land. And this humility was doubtless part of his psychological response, the change of personality elicited, from having received the very same promises which we too have received in the Gospel of the Kingdom (Gal. 3:8). He is twice recorded as having bowed to God in chapter 17; his humility before God led to a humility before men. We note too his energy at 99 years old. "He ran... and bowed himself". We have an impression of energy and speed in this incident, characteristic of the Abraham family.

18:3 And said, My lord, if now I have found favour in your sight, please don’t go away from your servant- The desire for them to stay and not leave recalls the attitude of Manoah's wife to the Angelic 'stranger' who visited her. Although Abraham is presented as having entertained Angels unaware (Heb. 13:2 surely alludes here), it seems he subconsciously sensed they were Angels. For he bows to them (:2) as he does to God / an Angel in chapter 17; and the way he speaks to them here would suggest that he considers them his superiors; and see on :7. I think we have here far more than the exaggerated courtesy culture of the east. And the whole picture is [yet again, as with all the Biblical record] so psychologically credible. On one level he is "unaware" they are Angels; but he senses they are on a subconscious level. We will read the same kind of thing in the Joseph story, where on one level the brothers don't recognize Joseph when they meet him; and yet subconsciously they do, clearly enough.

18:4 Now let a little water be fetched, wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree- The Angels had an appearance of needing to rest. We see there God's willingness to engage with us in human terms. And this is going to set the scene for Abraham's bargaining with God which we encounter later.

18:5 I will get a morsel of bread so you can refresh your heart. After that you may go your way, for this is why you have come to your servant. They said, Very well, do as you have said- There are similarities with how the same Angels come to visit Lot, who likewise sees them and then urges hospitality upon them. Just as Abraham persuades the Angels to eat a large meal, so Lot urges them [against their initial will] to stay in his home. This is all part of the theme to be showcased in the dialogue between God and Abraham over Sodom- of how God is open to persuasion by men. 

18:6 Abraham ran into the tent to Sarah, and said, Quickly prepare three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes- The emphasis on running, receiving into the home and rejoicing at the good news of the promised salvation in Isaac is all strangely alluded to in the record of Zacchaeus (Lk. 19:4-9). This would explain the Lord’s otherwise strange comment that Zacchaeus was a “son of Abraham” (Lk. 19:9), meaning that he was similar to Abraham, bearing his characteristics. The amount of meal used here was huge, enough to make many kilograms of bread. The picture may simply be of the hospitality culture of that time, whereby vast amounts of food were prepared in order to demonstrate how welcome the guest was. Such hospitality is common in primitive societies. When the Czar visited rural Russia, there are stories of farmers slaying every animal they owned in order to provide just one meat meal for the revered visitor. But it may be that although Abraham did this 'entertaining Angels unawares', thinking they were merely "strangers", according to Heb. 13:2, it may be that he sensed something of the Divine in them. For they just appeared in front of him; and he lived as a foreigner in the area. Clearly they had come specifically to him.

18:7 Abraham ran to the herd, and fetched a tender and good calf, and gave it to the servant. He hurried to dress it- The impression is given that Abraham and Sarah personally did all these things. And yet Abraham was a chieftain ruling over a group which must have numbered a few thousand people (see on Gen. 14:14). I suggested on :3 that although Abraham was "unaware" these men were Angels, he sensed they were subconsciously. This would explain his desire to personally serve them.

18:8 He took butter, milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them. He stood by them under the tree, and they ate- As a chieftain over thousands of people (Gen. 14:14), we must note the more this extremely humble attitude, standing as a waiter to the visitors whom he assumes are far superior to him and demand his personal attention. As noted on :3 and :7, on one hand he was "unaware" they were Angels, but subconsciously he recognized them as Angels. This is a feature of being human; to know or recognize something on one level, but not on another. That may be a simple explanation as to how the Lord knew Judas was the betrayer, from the beginning; and yet He acted and felt the shock of being betrayed by his "own familiar friend in whom I trusted". And we think of the attitude of Samson to Delilah in the dramas with his hair. The psychological reality of the Biblical record gives it huge credibility as quite simply "true".

18:9 They asked him, Where is Sarah, your wife? He said, See, in the tent- The "visitors" used Sarah's new name, and clearly knew the name of his wife. This was surely done to encourage Abraham to join the dots and perceive that they were Angels. The Genesis record opens with God asking Adam where he is, and we noted there that the idea is really 'What are you doing?' or 'Why are you there?'. It was obvious that Sarah was in the tent, for she was not in sight, it was midday, and she was not standing by them under the tree as Abraham was. So the question was probing far further. Was she really just an elderly childless woman preparing for the final stage of her life? Was that how Abraham and Sarah were to perceive her? There may even be an implicit rebuke. They were not to consider her just shut up in the family tent / home, facing the inevitable end. This old lady was to have a significant baby.


18:10 He said, I will certainly return to you when the season comes round- The "certainly" and "I will" may hint that they had somewhat lost faith in the promise of a seed. It seems that great stress is placed in Scripture on the Angels physically moving through space, both on the earth and between Heaven and earth, in order to fulfill their tasks, rather than being static in Heaven or earth and bringing things about by just willing them to happen. Gen. 18:10 describes the Angel saying to Abraham "I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son". On that first visit, the Angel must have enabled Sarah to conceive, and then He physically returned nine months later. See on Gen. 24:40; 28:12,13-15; Ex. 3:8; 9:14; Mt. 2:13; 2 Kings 13:23; 1 Chron. 14:15; Mt. 22:30; Dt. 4:7; Ps. 57:3; 78:49; 144:7; Lk. 4:11; Dan. 3:28; 9:21; 10:13; Acts 10:5; Rev. 9:1; 1 Sam. 2:21; Is. 31:4; 1 Cor. 11:10.

Behold, Sarah your wife will have a son. Sarah heard in the tent door, which was behind him- The "will have a son", stressing the "will", speaks to their disbelief in the implications of the promises so far received, especially in chapter 17. It seems that Abraham, father of the faithful, was not that faithful. He had flashes of faith and spiritual brilliance, but the record seems to be full of his weakness. What faith he had was counted as righteousness to him; and he was saved because he held on to being in God's program, and because God by pure grace just wanted to save this man. And so it is with all his seed, who bear these same characteristics.

18:11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age. Sarah had passed the age of childbearing- Rom. 4:19 says that additionally, Abraham was impotent by this time.

18:12 Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I have grown old will I have pleasure, my lord being old also?-
For "pleasure" she uses the word ednah, related to the word Eden. Yet in the events of Gen. 19, she sees how the land around Sodom that was once "like the garden of Eden" (Gen. 13:10) is made barren and sowed with salt so that nothing could grow there (Gen. 19:25; Dt. 29:23). She was being taught that God can give and take away fertility on a huge scale.

Sarah is commended for calling Abraham her "Lord" (1 Pet. 3:6). She is recorded as doing this in one place only, and it's here. She doubted God's promise by laughing; she is rebuked for this by the Angel. Yet in doing so, when she came to think of Abraham, in her heart she called him "my lord". So in the midst of her lack of faith in one respect, she also had a commendable attitude to Abraham. And yet she seems to be employing sarcasm; Abraham was impotent (Rom. 4:19), and had additionally just cut off part of his reproductive organ. "My lord being old also" sounds as if she was mocking him as well as the promise. But the Spirit focuses upon the positive; she referred to him as "my Lord", however sarcastically. All this, don't forget, was going on "within herself". God searched her thoughts, He saw her wrong attitudes there deep in her heart, and He saw what was commendable there too; and through Peter He drags this out and reveals it to us all as an inspiration.

All this opens up a wider issue. There are many Bible characters who appear to behave wrongly, but are spoken of in later revelation as if they were righteous. Lot is a classic example. Why is this? Why, for example, is the Genesis record about Sarah so open about her weakness, but the New Testament commentary sifts through this and reveals the righteous aspect of her motives? Lot would be another example. Surely it's to show that God sees us very differently to how we appear on the surface, both to our brethren and even to ourselves. He knows every motive, He alone untangles our motives and thoughts; He sees what is truly behind our actions. It is not just that He has the power to do this if He wishes; He does it all the time. God is thinking of us and our inner thoughts and motives every moment. Every piece of body language reveals something, every thought. And yet as with Sarah, God imputes righteousness to His people.

It is easy to assume that people like Lot and Sarah repented of their weaknesses and came to stronger faith; although this is not recorded. So another angle on this is that indeed, the Old Testament record is negative about such people, whilst the New Testament praises their faith. But this is because God recognizes that faith is never total nor absolute. It is always a case of "I believe, but...". Our "unbelief" coexists with our faith; spirituality with unspirituality. This of course should not be the case, but the reality is, that this is how it is with all men apart from the Lord Jesus. But God sifts through it all, and focuses upon the faith, the spirituality, and accepts that. This is a huge inspiration to us, to do likewise with others; recognizing that this is how God analyzes and treats us. This is no mere naievity, no turning a blind eye to sin.

18:13 Yahweh said to Abraham, Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Will I really bear a child, seeing I am old?’- She laughed in her heart (:12). But Abraham is apparently held responsible for his wife's inner thoughts. Perhaps she had scoffed at the reported word of promise which Abraham had told her about three months previously (see on :14), and Abraham had not rebuked her as he ought to have done. The way Abraham is rebuked for Sarah's mocking disbelief is perhaps because he too had something of this, although at the time of the promise three months previously he had joyfully believed it.

18:14 Is anything too hard for Yahweh?- The Hebrew word translated "hard" is that usually translated "wonder". In our moments of wonder, and as the afterglow of them permeates our lives, it becomes easier to believe that nothing is too wonderful for our God of wonders to do for us. For He is the God who does wonders, He is wonderful and awesome. Jeremiah theoretically learnt the lesson from God's words to Abraham and Sarah; for he alludes to it in Jer. 32:17: "Ah Lord God! Behold, you have made the heaven and the earth by your great power and by your stretched out arm; there is nothing too hard [wonderful] for you". But God has to remind him soon afterwards in Jer. 32:26,27: "Then came the word of the Lord unto Jeremiah, saying, Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard [wonderful] for me?". We think we know all about wonder, when actually we don't. Our lack of total faith shows that we do indeed think God's wonder is limited. Because something is hard / marvellous in our eyes doesn't mean it is in God's eyes (Zech. 8:6). Again we are surely to realize that Abraham and Sarah considered the promise of a child too wonderful or "hard" of literal fulfilment.

At the set time I will return to you, when the season comes round, and Sarah will have a son- "The season" appears to refer to the nine month gestation period. Gen. 17:21 had stated that after a year, Sarah would have a child. So it seems that a three month period had elapsed. Things were structured like this so that they would have the chance to exhibit faith in the promise. Having been circumcised at 99 (Gen. 17:24), Abraham would not have been able to immediately have intercourse. But now after three months he was able to. Perhaps the question about Sarah being in the tent (:9) was a way of telling Abraham that he should now be attempting to get her pregnant.

18:15 Then Sarah denied, saying, I didn’t laugh, for she was afraid- Her fear was because she realized that these visitors were Angels. And yet she lies to them. Perhaps her lie was because she considered that she had only laughed in her heart (:12), and not out loud. The Angelic insistence that "You did laugh" was therefore teaching that the inner, concealed thought is indeed judged as the external action, just as the Lord was to later teach. This has huge implications. 

He said, No, but you did laugh- It’s been observed that Biblical Hebrew has no word for ‘yes’; instead, in order to show agreement, the preceding actions or words of the speaker are repeated. Another example is in Esther 5:7 Heb.. Seeing that Biblical Hebrew reflects to us something of the mind of God, it seems to me that we’re being taught by this to believe that what we ask for from God, we will receive; our request is the nature of the answer. Hence the need for care in formulating what we ask for, believing that God’s ‘yes’ will be effectively a repeating back of our words to us.

Heb. 11:11 says that at this time, Sarah had faith: "By faith even Sarah herself received power to conceive seed when she was past age, since she counted Him faithful who had made the promise". We would not perceive this from the Genesis narrative. That faith was not immediate; it was only after her desperate repentance at having lied to and laughed at the Angel who made the promise. Her failure and unrecorded begging for forgiveness were therefore used to deepen her faith. The destruction of Sodom was surely to further teach her that the prophetic word of Angels does come powerfully true. We marvel at God's positive attitude to Sarah, commending her for calling Abraham "lord" and discerning faith in her at this time. We too are to be positive about each other, and to believe how positively God looked at us, reflecting His pure love for us on account of His grace.

18:16 The men rose up from there, and looked toward Sodom. Abraham went with them to see them on their way- If Abraham had not personally escorted the guests further, up the ridge to where they could look toward Sodom, he would not have had the opportunity to plead with God for Lot's salvation. This is how spiritual life goes; effort to go with God in the way leads to more meetings and opportunities.

18:17 Yahweh said, Will I hide from Abraham what I do- When we read that “Surely the Lord does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (Am. 3:7), we might tend to take that as a statement of absolute principle that is obvious to all the Angels. But we find an Angel discussing with others: “Shall I hide from Abraham [who was a prophet] what I am about to do?” (Gen. 18:17). My point quite simply is that the Angels have more debate, expend more mental and physical energy than we surely realize, in order to operationalize things which we might consider to be standard and automatic in God’s work with men. In our context, what this means is that when men reject the machinations and schemings of God’s love, they reject an awful lot; and it grieves and disappoints Him, and appears tragic to those like the prophets who see things from His viewpoint. We make know our secrets and our plans to our friends (Jn. 15:15; Am. 3:7); and indeed, Abraham was the friend of God (Is. 41:8; James 2:23). The 'gap' between God stating His plan and its actual fulfillment is the opportunity for men and women to plead with Him, as Moses did, as Abraham did regarding Sodom (Gen. 18:17-22), as so many have done... and He is most definitely open to human persuasion.


The lack of ultimate Angelic knowledge results in the Angels taking time to think things out and discuss their action with  each other, which may result in an apparent delay to we humans. However, this same incident shows that there are varying degrees of knowledge amongst Angels or in the same Angel over time. The Angel who destroyed Sodom reasoned: "I know him (Abraham), that he will command his children and his household after him" (Gen. 18:19). Yet perhaps the same Angel, or the mighty Angel of Israel which made the promises to the patriarchs said to Abraham a few months later after his offering up of Isaac: "Now I know that thou fearest God" (Gen. 22:12), implying that he did not know whether Abraham's faith was genuine before that incident, and that the knowledge of Gen. 18:19 was merely that Abraham would 'teach his children the truth' and did not reflect any knowledge of Abraham's personal faith. In this case, Sodom might have been preserved by reason of Abraham's known willingness to teach others 'the truth' rather than because of any personal faith in God he may have had. Thus the  lesson  comes  home  that  a man's  zeal or  success in preaching can be unrelated to his personal faith or spirituality. The elohim "found" Abraham's heart to be faithful (Neh. 9:8). This was by a process of research and drawing of conclusions. And our Angels are in the process of doing the same with us this very day.

18:18 Since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed in him- We have a unique insight here into the internal discussion of God through the Angels concerning us.

The Lord's later command to preach to "all nations" would ring bells in Jewish minds with the promises to Abraham, concerning the blessing of forgiveness to come upon "all nations" through Messiah (Gen. 18:18; 22:18; 26:4). Therefore God's people are to preach the Gospel of forgiveness in Christ to "all nations". The offer of sharing in that blessing did not close at the end of the first century. Putting the "all nations" of the Abrahamic promises together with the Lord's preaching commission leads to a simple conclusion: The Hope of Israel now applies to all nations; so go and tell this good news to all nations. Perhaps this is why there appears to be an intended grammatical ambiguity in the 'promise' that Abraham and his seed would be a blessing for all nations. It's unclear, as we've commented elsewhere, whether "be a blessing" is purely a prophetic prediction or a command. The commentary upon the promises to David in Ps. 72:17 is similar: "May his name resound for ever... may men bless themselves by him, may all nations pronounce him blessed". It is for us to go forth and be a blessing, and to make His Name great to the ends of the earth.

18:19 For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of Yahweh, to do righteousness and justice; to the end that Yahweh may bring on Abraham that which He has spoken of him- At present it is the Angel-cherubim's job to "keep the way of the tree of life". They have been given this charge, and yet they chose men to fulfil it who will keep the way pure- thus the Angels decided concerning Abraham, "I know him, that he will command his children... and they shall keep the way of the Lord" (Gen. 18:19 AV). It will be our duty to take over as the way keepers from the Angels, although we should have had good practice in this life. Thus we will say to the mortal population "This is the way, walk ye in it" (Is. 30:21). There is an intended ambiguity as to whether we are to read as AV "I know him" or as NEV "I have known him, to the end that...". God's knowing of us, using the Hebraism whereby 'to know' means 'to have a relationship with', is so that we might share that relationship or knowledge with others, particularly our family. The knowledge of God was not so that he could enjoy it alone; it was given to him as it is given to us to the end that we might share it with others. God has trusted us with the job of preaching His Gospel. That He trusts us, believes in us, is a surpassing thought. If you trust someone completely with a task, to the point it is clear that now if they don’t do it, it won’t be done, they often respond with a maturity and zest which wouldn’t be seen if they merely were given partial responsibility [children are a good example of this]. And so God has done with us. 

We perceive here a conditional aspect to the Abrahamic promises. What God had promised Abraham and his seed would come true because they would respond to it by doing righteousness. Abraham had been "counted righteous" in Gen. 15:8, but we must try to live out in practice what we are counted as by status. Because of Sarah’s faith, “therefore sprang there... so many as the stars of the sky in multitude” (Heb. 11:11,12). Those promises to Abraham had their fulfillment, but conditional on Abraham and Sarah’s faith. Those promises / prophesies were “sure” in the sense that God’s side of it was. Rom. 4:18 likewise comments that Abraham becamethe father of many nations” precisely because he believed in this hope. Yet the promise / prophecy that he would be a father of many nations could sound as if it would have happened anyway, whatever. But it was actually conditional upon Abraham’s faith. And he is our great example exactly because he had the possibility and option of not believing in the hope he had been offered.

According to Gen. 18:17-19, the reason God told Abraham what He would do with Sodom was because Abraham would teach others, and his descendants would teach others. This implies that Sodom's destruction was to be a special lesson for all generations. And 2 Pet. 2:6 says the same- Sodom was to be a perpetual "example unto those that after should live ungodly"; in this sense Sodom was "set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire" (Jude 7). The fire was "eternal" in the sense that the example of destruction was to be to all generations. This paves the way for Sodom's destruction to be understood as a particularly significant type of the last days. Our Lord clearly understood the destruction of Sodom as being typical of the events of the second coming: "As it was in the days of Lot... the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven... even thus shall it be in the day when the son of man is revealed. In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away... remember Lot's wife... in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other left" (Lk.17:28-34). Not only is the city of Sodom representative of the world of the last days, but Lot's calling out of Sodom by the Angels is typical of our being 'taken' by Angels to meet the Lord.

18:20 Yahweh said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous- A close study of the record of Sodom's destruction will reveal that the 'Lord' spoken of there was one of the Angels who arranged the judgements on Sodom. "The Lord said, Because the cry (NIV 'Outcry') of Sodom... is great... I will go down now" (Gen. 18:20,21). Perhaps this outcry of Sodom was from the Angels who were shocked at its sinfulness, whose concern prompted the senior Angel into 'coming down' in judgement.

"Grievous" translates a Hebrew word meaning 'hardened' [it is the word used of Pharaoh's hardened heart] or 'honoured / glorified'. What was wrong with the Sodomites was that they were hardened in their sins, both sexual sins and the sins of pride and fullness of bread (Ez. 16:49), to the point that they glorified sin.

18:21 I will go down now, and see whether their deeds are as bad as the reports which have come to me- The Angel seems to recognize His own limited perceptions: “I will therefore go down and see, if they completely correspond with the cry which comes to me, and if not, that I may know” (LXX). And we shall be made like the Angels (Lk. 20:35,36).

If not, I will know- God's way of using the Angels to punish Sodom gives insight into the relationship between them and  God. God Himself knew exactly what He would do because of the wickedness He knew was in the city. The Angel who debated whether to reveal to Abraham His purpose with Sodom says "Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great... I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto Me". The  Angels responsible for Sodom had brought the "cry" or  news of Sodom's sins to the attention of this senior Angel, who then investigates it further to see whether or not their news was correct. "And if not, I will know"- the emphasis being on the "I"- i. e. 'whether their  news was correct or incorrect, I will know because I am blessed with greater powers than they'. This senior Angel seems to manifest God to a very great degree, as Gen. 19:13 describes the other two "men" (Angels) saying to Lot "we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the Lord (the third "man"- the senior Angel); and the Lord (senior Angel) hath sent us to destroy it". These two Angels sent to execute the judgments were under specific guidelines- v. 22 "I cannot do anything till thou be come thither". Thus these Angels were given power conditional on certain things happening. Perhaps this was part of the work of Palmoni, the "wonderful numberer" of Daniel, who is the Angel responsible for all timing;  maybe  He  decreed  that they could only have power once the condition of Lot leaving the city was fulfilled. Maybe this Angel co-ordinates all the huge number of timings which go to make up God's purpose? This would explain the passages which imply that a set time is allowed to some human beings to bring about repentance and response to God’s offers. Thus Pharaoh was condemned because he “let the appointed time pass by” (Jer. 46:17).

18:22 The men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, but Abraham stood yet before Yahweh- There are several examples where there is an ambiguity in the Hebrew text which reflects the suggestion of mutuality. "Abraham stood yet before Yahweh”. And yet, as witnessed by several translations, the text here can be read “The Lord stood yet before Abraham”, as if Abraham was being given the right to dominate God.  See on :33.

The record of Abraham reasoning with God about how many righteous people could save Sodom's destruction is a lesson powerful enough. But it becomes the more powerful when we realize that Gen. 18:22 originally read: "Yahweh stood before Abraham". Walter Brueggemann speaks of the image of "Abraham as Yahweh's theological instructor. It is as though Abraham were presiding over the meeting. But that bold image of Yahweh being accountable to Abraham... was judged by the early scribes as irreverent and unacceptable. Therefore, the text was changed to read as we have it" (Walter Brueggemann, Genesis (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982) p. 168). If this is so, and there is good textual reason to accept it, then we are left saying 'Wow!' not only to God's humility, but to the extreme willingness which He has to hear and go along with the prayers of men. And further; Ez. 14:12-20; 18:5 teach that there can be no 'acquittal by association'; if a righteous man stands before God and pleads for others, he can save only himself. Yet Abraham had the spiritual vision, driven by a pure love of others and God's glorification, which led him to go beyond this basic principle, and stand before God, or have God stand before Him, and plead for others- and be heard! God clearly is willing to change even the application of His basic principles in the light of intense prayers for others. It's all a huge challenge to us in our prayers for others. Indeed, Abraham's prayer seems to show that God can be 'persuaded' to see things from quite another perspective; see on :25.

18:23 Abraham drew near, and said, Will You consume the righteous with the wicked?- The drawing near could mean that Abraham literally came near to the Angel. But to draw near to God means to come close in relationship, in prayer or sacrifice (1 Sam. 14:36; Ps. 73:28; Is. 29:13; Heb. 10:22) and specifically in intercession (Jer. 30:21). It is used repeatedly of how Moses drew near to God in intercession for Israel (Ex. 24:2 etc.). In all this intercession, clearly Abraham has in view his relative Lot, "that righteous man" (2 Pet. 2:8). God will not destroy the righteous with the wicked, and so Lot was urged to flee Sodom lest he be consumed or destroyed in the destruction of the wicked (s.w. Gen. 19:15,17). In this sense, the essence of Abraham's prayer was heard. For Lot was saved from Sodom as a result of Abraham's prayer (Gen. 19:29). He didn't pray for it specifically, at least, not as recorded here. But the essential spirit of his requests was heard and understood. This is how God responds to our prayers. It is not the case that the person who can verbalize the best or the most accurately will have a better prayer experience than the one who is less gifted with verbalization. The essential spirit of our prayers is interpreted by the Lord the Spirit, and responded to- according to Rom. 8.

18:24 What if there are fifty righteous within the city? Will You consume and not spare the place for the fifty righteous who are in it?- Circumstances were overruled by God to teach Abraham that he really would be a blessing to others, as He had promised. Twice he intercedes for blessing upon Sodom (Gen. 14:14; 18:23-33); just as e.g. we may be called to care for a sick person, in order to teach us about how we really are to be a blessing to others. Perhaps the most telling example of the limitation of God's potential by men is in Abraham's request that God would spare Sodom for the sake of fifty righteous men there. He then lowers the number to 40, and then finally to ten, assuming that surely Lot's family were righteous and would comprise ten righteous. If Abraham had left off praying at, say, forty...then this would have been the limit God set. If there were ten righteous there, the city wouldn't have been saved. But Abraham went on to set the limit at ten. But we wonder, what would have happened if he had gone further and asked God to save Sodom for the sake of one righteous man, i.e. Lot? My sense is that the Father would have agreed. But the city wasn't saved for the sake of the one man Lot, because Abraham limited God's desire to save by the smallness of his vision. This principle can possibly be extended even wider. David asks: "Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in thee" (Ps. 33:22). And whoever prayed Ps. 132:10 asked to be heard "for thy servant David's sake" - he or she believed that God would remember David and for his sake respond favourably [and how much more powerful is prayer uttered for the sake of the Son of God!].

18:25 Be it far from You to do things like that, to kill the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be like the wicked. May that be far from You- Abraham reasons that God's Name will be profaned if the righteous perish with the wicked. "Be it far...." is the same Hebrew translated "profaned" in Ez. 20:9. Abraham is saying that God's Name will be profaned if his prayer isn't heard... and that prayer required God to abrogate, at least temporarily, the principle that a righteous man can only ultimately save himself. The whole record of the Yahweh-Abraham encounter in Gen. 18 is perhaps intentionally intended to echo the language of barter in a Middle Eastern bazaar- the 'price' moves from 50 down to ten. But in Middle Eastern culture, the buyer has more 'power' than the seller... and again, we see the almost disturbing message that we in our prayers for others can have some sort of 'power' over God when praying for others. It's like Jacob wrestling the Angel to a draw; through his prayers that night, he had power [Heb. 'power as a prince'] over the Angel and prevailed (Hos. 12:4). I say all this is "disturbing" because it demands such a huge amount of us in prayer, if these indeed are the possibilities. But shining through it all is God's grace. For the required ten righteous people weren't found; yet all the same, for Abraham's sake, Lot and his immediate family were not destroyed in Sodom (Gen. 19:29). And it could be argued that the whole theme of Isaiah 53, the innocent one saving the many, is somehow an allusion to Abraham's saving of Lot by intercession.

Shouldn’t the Judge of all the earth do right?- This could be seen as manipulative reasoning. But God goes along with it, leaving us for all time with an amazing example of how intimate a believer can get with God. "Right" or justice would be done, Abraham reasoned, by saving the sinners for the sake of the righteous. We would be inclined to reason that justice would be done by saving the righteous and destroying the sinners, i.e. making a distinction between them. But Abraham had learnt from his own personal experience that he a sinner had been counted right with God, by grace. And he considered that a righteous remnant could allow this to legitimately happen, according to God's principles. His problem was that he over-estimated the righteousness of Lot's family, and failed to rise up to the fact that he alone by his prayer could save the entire city. He failed to imagine the power of just one righteous person.

18:26 Yahweh said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sake- "Spare" is the same word translated "accepted" when we read that God "accepted" Lot's desire for Zoar to be spared when otherwise it would have been destroyed (Gen. 19:21). Perhaps we are intended to join the dots and conclude that Sodom could have been spared or even "accepted" if Abraham or Lot had simply asked for it. The faith of one righteous is enough, as we have learnt in our experience of the work of the Lord Jesus for us. The word is even translated "forgive" in Ex. 10:21. Acceptance, sparing and even forgiveness of sinners for the sake of a righteous one or minority is one of the most striking features of the Biblical record. We think of the emphasis upon how Noah saved those who were "with him", both people and animals. All this sets up the New Testament teaching of salvation on account of association with Abraham's seed, the Lord Jesus.

18:27 Abraham answered, See now, I have taken it on myself to speak to the Lord, who am but dust and ashes- Living broadly contemporary with Abraham, Job would have been aware of his description of himself as merely dust and ashes. Yet Job was brought to realize that “I am become like dust and ashes” (Job 30:19). He always had been; but now he realized the desperation inherent in his nature. He clothes himself in ashes to mourn his material losses at the beginning of the book; but at the end, he does this again, as a sign of his repentance for his general sinfulness and weakness (Job 42:6). Abraham's reference to "dust and ashes" may likewise indicate a sense of moral weakness, as well as referring to his mortality.

18:28 What if there will lack five of the fifty righteous? Will You destroy all the city for lack of five? He said, I will not destroy it, if I find forty-five there- If a person had been found who would have powerfully interceded for Jerusalem, 'stood in the gap' (Ez. 22:30), God wouldn't have destroyed Jerusalem - "that I should not destroy it" is an allusion to Abraham interceding for Sodom here in Gen. 18:28. There were simply so many possible scenarios! And this is what we must expect if even time periods can be shortened or extended in response to human behaviour. But if Sodom could have been saved for the sake of one man, the reason it wasn't was because Abraham lacked the faith and vision about it; he thought ten would be a respectable number. He over estimated the faith of Lot's family.

18:29 He spoke to Him yet again, and said, What if there are forty found there? He said, I will not do it for the forty’s sake- Perhaps the most telling example of the limitation of prayer is in Abraham’s request that God would spare Sodom for the sake of fifty righteous men there. He then lowers the number to 40, and then finally to ten, assuming that surely Lot’s family were righteous and would comprise ten righteous. If Abraham had left off praying at, say, forty...then this would have been the limit God set. If there were ten righteous there, the city wouldn’t have been saved. But Abraham went on to set the limit at ten. But we wonder, what would have happened if he had gone further and asked God to save Sodom for the sake of one righteous man, i.e. Lot? Or even just asked for the salvation of the city for his own sake? My sense is that the Father would have agreed. But the city wasn’t saved for the sake of the one man Lot, because Abraham limited God’s desire to save by the smallness of his vision. This principle can possibly be extended even wider. David asks: “Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in thee” (Ps. 33:22).

18:30 He said, Oh don’t let the Lord be angry, and I will speak. What if there are thirty found there? He said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there- Abraham becomes more confident in his vision of Divine possibilities, reducing by an increment of five and then by ten. But he didn't go down to where he was being led- to one. He stuck at ten.

18:31 He said, See now, I have taken it on myself to speak to the Lord. What if there are twenty found there? He said, I will not destroy it for the twenty’s sake- Abraham felt his own responsibility ever more intensely; he had taken it upon himself to speak to God for the sake of Lot and Sodom. The way God operates elicits from us the maximum initiative. He will work for others for our sakes; just as the paralyzed man was healed and forgiven for the sake of the faith of his friends (Mk. 2:5). This means that our lives are totally taken up with the possibilities of service.

Commentators have pointed out that the entire 'Dialogue with God' passage reads almost identically to descriptions of Middle Eastern market haggling; the price typically starts five times higher than the price that will be accepted. Phrases like "since I have undertaken to speak to my lord" and twice, "do not be angry [at my suggestion]" were stock phrases from the bazar. It is something of a formality to apparently 'knock down' the seller. And this is what we have here. 50 is knocked down to 10. As if God is that open to dialogue. And as if Abraham naively misperceives that this seller will in fact let him have what he wants just for the asking; not even for the sake of one, but for the sake of asking. The image of human haggling, when analyzed, gives way to the image of God's amazing grace, His willingness to give- but limited by man's failure to perceive it. Indeed, if Abraham was treating God as if in the market, then his reducing of the numbers is not to be seen as timorously begging Yahweh to be yet more merciful each time. Rather, Abraham has settled on the figure of "10", but he starts at 50 and reduces to 10 because that was the accepted way of doing things. In this, we see his failure to fully appreciate and perceive the God whom without doubt he did believe. Again, we see Abraham's weakness, coexisting with his faith. God agrees to every request of Abraham. That is the overall impression. That God is saying 'Yes' to whatever Abraham asks; saying 'yes' immediately and without condition. And surely He would have continued to do so. There is no haggling on God's side, no resistance, no attempt to claim that Abraham is getting something too cheap. He just agrees. The analogy with the market place haggling breaks down at this point- the element of unreality highlights God's eagerness to agree to intercession. He wants to save. It is God who has chosen to tell Abraham what He intends to do to Sodom; as if He actually wants to be talked down and out of it. But that doesn't happen, although it almost does.

Haggling in this way is done when there is a social distance between the buyer and seller; it was not done like this between close friends. If I want 1000 for my old car I will not tell you, as my friend, that I want 5000 and make you knock me down to 1000. I will tell you straight what I want for it and you will give that to me. And so it was then. Yet God has expressed His desire for intimacy and close family friendship with Abraham, as noted on Gen. 17. But still, Abraham doesn't get quite how intimate God wants to be with him; just as we don't.  But we can compare this incident with Ex. 32, where Moses also intercedes with God not to destroy Israel as planned. Moses learnt from Abraham's mistake, or, lack of vision. Amos did likewise in Am. 7:1-6. We are likewise to learn. But although Abraham failed to avert the destruction of Sodom, God saw to the essence of his request- which was to save Lot. And so Gen. 19:29 says that his intercession was heard: "when God destroyed the cities of the plain, God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities where Lot
lived".  Despite our lack of perception, God graciously sees the essence of our prayers, although unexpressed, and responds. This is grace upon grace. And it is the teaching of Romans 8, that our unexpressed, unarticulated, non verbalized "spirit" is what is presented to God by the intercession of the Lord Jesus.

18:32 He said, Oh don’t let the Lord be angry, and I will speak just once more. What if ten are found there? He said, I will not destroy it for the ten’s sake- We enquire why Abraham feared God's anger with him for asking for mercy. There is no reason God should as it were get mad at a man seeking to save sinners. We can take this as a window onto Abraham's spiritual immaturity. Or we can read the Lord's anger as being against Sodom, and Abraham is asking for it to subside. "Angry" is literally "to become hot", and is used of how God's anger "waxed hot" with Israel, and they were saved from it my the mediation of just one man, Moses (Ex. 32:10,11 s.w.). Moses learnt the lesson from Abraham's limited vision here. He realized that the Lord's hot anger with Sodom could have been ameliorated by the intercession of Abraham alone, or by the righteousness of just one man in Sodom, i.e. Lot. And so Moses alone was inspired to alone intercede for Israel, so that His anger no longer "waxed hot". We too are to be directly inspired by such Biblical examples and implications. The connection with Moses supports the idea that if Abraham had gone even lower, from ten down to one, his intercession would've been successful.

If 40 righteous had been found wouldn't have been destroyed, thanks to Abraham's prayer. And he reasons with God, down to 10 righteous. Now I ask...if Abraham had asked: " righteous man be found there...??" . Would God have said 'No'? We don't know, but the impression I have is He would have agreed. The salvation of Sodom depended upon Abraham’s breadth of vision. God's mercy is upon us, and upon others, according as we hope in Him. Abraham's amazing spiritual ambition in changing the mind of God and reasoning with Him is really intended to be our example. Gideon picked up almost the very words of Abraham in Gen. 18:32 when he asks God "Do not let your wrath blaze...let me speak just once more" (Jud. 6:39). And if Abraham's spirit in prayer could influence Gideon... it can echo down through a few more centuries to influence us too. We will now read in Gen. 19:21 that the intercession of one man saved Zoar; and this feeds back into this theme developed in commentary here on chapter 18, that the intercession of one man, Abraham, and the righteousness of one man, Lot, could have saved a whole city- but Abraham lacked the vision and faith to actualize it.

The calling of Lot out of Sodom is a type, on the Lord's authority, of our calling away to judgment. His position immediately prior to the Angels' coming must therefore connect with our situation now. We will see as this study continues that Lot was in no way as spiritually strong as he ought to have been, nor as enthusiastic for the Lord's coming as his complaining about the evils of the city recorded in 2 Pet. 2:7,8 might lead us to think. The very fact that he chose to live in the area whilst Abraham steered well clear of it is testimony enough to his worldliness (Gen. 13:10,11). The offering of his two daughters to the Sodomites also betrays a certain unspirituality (Gen. 19:8). The fact that Sodom's fate was revealed to Abraham rather than Lot may also be significant. Despite this, Abraham evidently rated Lot's spirituality- his conviction that Lot and his family must comprise at least 10 righteous people must have been the basis of his prayer for Sodom's destruction to be nullified (Gen. 18:32). And so in the sight of the ecclesia, the high spiritual status of latter day believers may not be questioned- and yet the Lord's coming may find us seriously unprepared, as it did for Lot. It seems Jeremiah and Ezekiel likewise, on the eve of the coming of the Lord's day in their times, had to be taught that  they had a far too exalted view of the state of the ecclesia. What latter day similarities with how the faithful remnant of today perceive things?  It is significant that a ten-man remnant would have saved Sodom, representative of Jerusalem in the last days? (Is. 1:10).

Abraham saved Lot out of Sodom by his earnest prayer for him; and there is ample reason to think from the Genesis record and his subsequent reaction to the Angel's invitation to leave that Lot of himself was simply not strong enough. Without those prayers and the concern of Abraham read by God as prayer, Lot may well have been left to suffer the condemnation of the world he preferred to live in. And yet Lot fleeing from Sodom is used in the NT as a type of our latter day exit from the world at the Lord's coming. Is this not to suggest that the latter day believers will be saved only by grace, they will not be strong and ready to leave; and their salvation will only be on account of the prayers of the faithful? Lot was not without spirituality; but he was simply swamped by the pull of the world in which he had become entangled, not to mention his unspiritual wife. He was the type on which one could have compassion, making a difference, and pull out of the fire. Indeed, it could even be that Jude's words about pulling a brother out of the fire may be a reference back to Lot being pulled out of the fire that came upon Sodom. Those in his position sin a sin which is not unto death only in the sense that we can pray for them, so that their sin will not lead them to condemnation. But only in this sense is sin not unto death; for the wages of sin, any sin, is death (Rom. 6:23). But in some cases this sentence can ultimately be changed on account of our effort for our brother.

18:33 Yahweh went His way, as soon as He had finished communing with Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place- Again we see mutuality between God and man (see on :22). God goes His way to His place, and Abraham goes his way, to his place. "As soon as He had finished" gives the impression that Abraham was as it were delaying the Angel, just as in chapter 19 we will read of the Angels being delayed in the destruction of Sodom by their dialogue and plea-bargaining with Lot. This explains some of the delays in the outworking of God's purpose, why time periods don't always fulfil exactly, and why it's impossible to compose a set in stone chronology of latter day events. God is so very sensitive to human prayer, positioning and repentance [or lack thereof] that His purpose can expand or contract in response.