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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Genesis 18

 

 

Verse 1

And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;

The Lord appeared. This chapter records another manifestation of the divine presence more familiar than any yet narrated, and more like that in the fullness of time, when the Word was made flesh. The Divine Being had condescended to give several special revelations of His will to Abraham. But having taken him into a covenant relation, God was pleased to treat him as a friend, whose house He would visit; and accordingly the peculiarly gracious manner in which the next communication was made, corresponded with the domestic character of the event to which his hopes had been so long directed. Abraham had been recently apprised of the approaching fulfilment of that promise, and, by his faith in the divine communication made to him, new physical energy had been imparted to his aged frame. But Sarah had not been favoured with the same or any similar revelation. Though Abraham had, doubtless, imparted to her the wondrous intelligence he had received, she seems to have remained sceptical to the possibility of an event so unprecedented as that a wife at her advanced age should become a mother; and so obdurate was her incredulity that a direct assurance from the Divine Promiser was necessary to convince her of the truth. 'Some writers maintain that this chapter contains only a repetition of the announcement made to Abraham a few days previously; and in support of this view they appeal to the coincidence of the two versions as to the circumstance of time (cf. Genesis 18:10 with Genesis 17:21). But a careful examination of this chapter will show that the primary design of this interview was to remove the doubts of Sarah, the promise being renewed to Abraham in her hearing, and to bring her into the same confiding state of mind with Abraham, that 'through faith she might receive strength to conceive seed.'

The opening words of the chapter must be considered as a historical preface, intimating, in general terms, the fact of a new and important revelation; because it is evident that Abraham did not at first know the character or the rank of his visitors. But supposing them to be bonafide travelers, he hastened to offer them the customary rites of oriental hospitality; and we may conclude that he regarded them as personages of high, though unknown dignity, from the unusually large scale of liberality on which his hospitalities were provided.

Plains of Mamre - rather, terebinth or oak of Mamre-a tall spreading tree, or grove of trees. Mature is synonymous with Hebron (Genesis 23:19; Genesis 35:27). But the grove of Abraham was at a little distance, according to Josephus ('Jewish Wars,' b. 4:, ch. 9, sec. 7), six stadia from Hebron (see the note at Genesis 13:18; Genesis 14:13), on the way between Jerusalem and Gaza (Robinson's 'Biblical Researches,' 1:, p. 318; 2:, p. 254). On the supposed spot where Abraham's tent and grove stood, the Jewish kings erected a sanctuary, the massive ruins of which are still standing. The Jews call it the House of Abraham, and the Arabs Rƒmet-el-Kh-lil (the Height of the Friend).

Sat in the tent door. The tent itself being too close and sultry at noon, the shaded open front is usually resorted to for any air that may be stirring.


Verse 2

And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, 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,

Lift up his eyes ... and, lo, three men. Travelers in that quarter start at sunrise, and continue until midday, when they look out for some resting-place.

Stood by him , [Hebrew, `aalaayw (Hebrew #5921)] - above him; i:e., on the heights that encircled the plain on which his tent was pitched.

Ran to meet them. When the visitor is an ordinary person the host merely rises; but if of superior rank, the custom is to advance a little toward the stranger, and after a very low bow, turn and lead him to the tent, putting an arm round his waist, or tapping him on the shoulder as they go, to assure him of welcome.


Verse 3

And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant:

My Lord. The person addressed by Abraham was pitched upon, as it would seem, from some apparent superiority of person or of mien. [It is true that the text has 'Adonaay (Hebrew #136) (not '


Verse 4

Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree:

And rest yourselves under the tree , [Hebrew, w


Verse 5

And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said.

For therefore are ye come. No questions were asked. But Abraham knew their object by the course they took-approaching directly in front of the chief sheikh's tent, which is always distinguishable from the rest, and thus showing their wish to be his guests. The tents of a nomadic tribe are pitched sometimes in a straight line; more frequently in a semicircular form, so as to leave an open space in the center for baggage, and small cattle to be kept at night. A tent is called by the Arabs 'Beit-sha'ar', or 'the hair-house,' as it consists of a covering of goat's haircloth, either black, tawny, or dark brown, woven by the women. The piece of cloth used for this purpose is usually about fifty yards long, and from ten to twenty broad; and being divided into three portions of equal length, it is extended upon high poles perpendicularly stuck into the ground, so that two inner compartments are formed by each of the extremities falling to the ground, to which they are fastened by tent pins. The opposite sides are enclosed in the same way. An open space, formed by a part in one of the sides being allowed to hang loose and unattached to the ground, is left in front for the door or entrance. The inner, or enclosed division-the harem, appropriated to the wife and family-is accessible either through the cloth partition or from an opening behind; while in the open front space of the tent the host enjoys a cool retreat in the heat of the day, and receives his guests.


Verse 6

And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth.

Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal - [Hebrew, c


Verse 7

And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it.

Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetched a calf. Animal food is seldom indulged in by the wealthiest pastoral chiefs, and is never provided except for visitors of a superior rank, when a kid or lamb is killed. A calf is a still higher stretch of hospitality (1 Samuel 28:24; Luke 15:23), and it would probably be cooked, as is usually done when haste is required, either by roasting it whole, or by cutting it up into small pieces and broiling these on skewers over the fire. The heat of the climate rendering it impossible to preserve meat for any length of time, it is eaten as soon as cooked; and habit has adapted the oriental taste to prefer it when recently killed. It is always eaten along with burghul-boiled grain, swimming in butter or melted fat, into which every morsel of meat, laid upon a piece of bread, is dipped before being conveyed by the fingers to the mouth.


Verse 8

And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.

Milk [Hebrew, chem'aah (Hebrew #2529), curdled or sour milk, called by the Arabs leban] - a common refreshment in the tents of nomadic people. The butter is churned by a very singular process-namely, a skin of milk, tied to a tent pole, is swung backwards and forwards by a female, who holds it by a long cord until the butter is thrown off. A bowl of camel's milk ends the repast.

He stood by them under the tree. The host himself, even though he has a number of servants, deems it a necessary act of politeness to stand while his guests are at their food; and Abraham evidently did this before he was aware of the real character of his visitors.

And they did eat. Josephus ('Antiquities,' b. 1:, 11, sec. 2) says, 'they made a show of eating;' and many Jewish, as well as Christian writers, deeming it absurd to suppose that spiritual beings could take material food, have adopted the same view-that Abraham's three guests ate in appearance only, and not in reality. It is certainly a very useless enquiry, how far it was necessary, and whether it could contribute, to the nourishment and support of their bodies. But since they showed themselves to be not mere phantoms, but possessed of real solid organized bodies, in various ways-as by speaking, seeing, hearing, walking-we are warranted in believing they also did actually participate in the feast provided for them. 'Man eats, that he may live; an angel eats, to be like a man. Thus did Christ eat after his resurrection, not to supply a need of His flesh, but to convince His disciples of the reality of His body' (Augustine, quoted by Gerlach).


Verses 9-15

And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent.

An enquiry about his wife, so surprising in strangers, the subject of conversation, and the announced fulfillment of the fondly cherished promise at a specified time, showed Abraham that he had been entertaining more than ordinary travelers (Hebrews 13:2).

Verse 10 I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life [Hebre k ` t (Hebrew #6256) Verse 10. I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life , [Hebrew, kaa`eet (Hebrew #6256) chayaah (Hebrew #2416); with the reviving year] - i:e., the coming spring, when the winter shall be past and nature revives (Gesenius). [Septuagint, kata ton kairon touton eis hooras (cf. 2 Kings 4:16-17).]

Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him. The women's apartment is in the back of the tent, divided by a thin partition from the men's. [The Septuagint has: ousa opisthen autos-she being behind him.]

Verse 12. Laughed within herself. Long delay seems to have weakened her faith. Sarah treated the announcement as incredible, and, when taxed with the silent sneer, added falsehood to distrust. It was an aggravated offence (Acts 5:4), and nothing but grace saved her (Romans 9:18). She had not that faith which was accounted to Abraham for righteousness; because in the circumstance of her incredulous smile, she was following the dictates of her natural reason only, not the word of God, whose power she limited by the results of her own observation and experience. It was important that she should be brought to believe everything He promised, without reasoning concerning its apparent impossibility, from a full conviction of His ability to perform it, because He is God; and our keeping this in view will help us to understand the way in which she was dealt with. Being behind him, she thought that her private manifestation of incredulity would not be known; because she was not yet cognizant of the fact that the speaker was the Lord. But it was necessary that her unbelieving sneer should be exposed by Omniscience, in order that she might be brought to a full conviction of the divine character of the Visitor, and thereby be led to the exercise of a believing trust in the fulfillment of the promise. Hence, the speaker repeated that she did laugh; thus leading her, as our Lord did Nathanael (John 1:48), to perceive that He was a Divine Person. The first part of their business being executed, the men rose to leave. The supernatural birth of Isaac was intended as a typical preparation-to present one prominent aspect of the many-sided mystery of the incarnation.


Verse 16

And the men rose up from thence, and looked toward Sodom: and Abraham went with them to bring them on the way.

Men rose ... Abraham went with them. It is customary for a host to escort his guests a little way [Hebrew, l


Verse 17

And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do;

The Lord said - the chief stranger. No other than the Lord disclosed to Abraham the awful doom about to be inflicted on Sodom and the cities of the plain for their enormous wickedness.

Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do? [Septuagint, ou mee krupsoo egoo apo Abraam tou paidos mou] - I shall not conceal from Abraham my son (cf. Amos 3:7, where it is said, "Surely the Lord will do nothing but he revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets"). The similarity of this remark of Amos to the patriarchal instance before us is the more striking, as Hengstenberg has remarked, that the general sentiment expressed by that prophet stands also in special reference to a threatening judgment. But there is a more remarkable instance in point furnished in the New Testament-as God was here making known to Abraham, as to an intimate friend, an important purpose of His providence, so Christ said to His disciples, "I have called you friends; because all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you" (John 15:15).

Thus, God, having taken Abraham into a special covenant, admits him into a more intimate communion with Himself, as the man of His counsel (cf. Psalms 25:14; Proverbs 3:32). Of course, those who "walk with God," living by faith a life of habitual communion with Him, will acquire a larger measure of practical knowledge than others-a clearer insight into passing events, as well as a better foresight of what is future, so far as bears upon their conduct and happiness. And this was precisely the knowledge which was here given to Abraham-namely, of that principle of the divine government according to which, although God is long-suffering and patient, and "sentence against an evil work is not speedily executed" - for "judgment is His strange work" - yet "He is a God to whom vengeance belongeth."

Some Jewish writers, followed by Kurtz and others, think that the reason of this premonitory communication being made to Abraham was, that in consequence of the covenanted grant of Canaan having been made to Abraham and his posterity, God would not destroy cities which occupied an important part of that land without his knowledge and assent. This opinion they ground upon the first clause of Genesis 18:18, omitting entirely to take notice of the second; whereas a conjunct view of both shows, that not only were the Hebrew people destined to "become a great and mighty nation," preparatory to an ultimate good to be enjoyed by "all the nations of the earth," but that Abraham, their founder, was chosen by God as an instrument for preserving the principles of pure and undefiled religion-for transmitting through his descendants a knowledge of God's hatred of sin and love of righteousness in the world. His sincerity and earnest zeal in co-operating with God in this holy and gracious purpose had already been demonstrated by the course of his personal history; and it was in furtherance of the great scheme of grace commenced with him, that he was now made aware of the awful doom of the cities of the plain, whose judicial extermination, on account of their enormous wickedness, was to be held up, not to Israel only, but to all future ages of the Church, as "an ensample to those that after should live ungodly" (2 Peter 2:6).


Verse 18

Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 19

For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.

For I know him, that he will command. Kennicott renders it, 'I know him, that, he constantly commands;' Genenius, "I have chosen him, that he may command' (taking the verb 'know' in the sense in which it is used in Amos 3:2, as = regarded, loved).

Keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment - i:e. to be sincerely pious toward God, and upright in all their social intercourse and transactions with the world. All the dependents and servants of Abraham's household being introduced into the privileges, were taught also the duties, of God's people; and if the simple genuine piety of the oldest servant be taken as a sample of the rest in that large establishment, we may perceive what a mighty moral influence must have been diffused by this family, which was destined to be the preserving salt of the earth-the little leaven that was to leaven the universal mass of corrupt humanity.

That the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him. His habitual attention to, and faithful performance of, these duties, was a compliance with the conditions on which the divine promises had been made to him.


Verse 20

And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous;

Because the cry of Sodom ... is great , [Hebrew, za`


Verse 21

I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know.

I will go down ... and see. The meaning of the passage, which is elliptical, is this:-I shall examine fully whether the corruption of the people is as universal and hopeless as rumour says: in that case they must be exterminated; otherwise, I shall inflict a mitigated punishment. This language is used not in reference to a topographical descent from the Hebron hills to the cities of the plain, in the valley of the Jordan, but in the anthropomorphic style-after the manner of men. These cities were to be made ensamples to all future ages of God's severity, and therefore ample proof given that the judgment was neither rash nor excessive (Ezekiel 18:23; Jeremiah 18:7). The language seems framed to demonstrate the unchallengeable equity of the divine procedure, and the deliberate result of wise and impartial counsel. Notwithstanding the report flagrantissimi delicti, there would be no sudden or precipitate resolve; the Sodomites would be placed on their trial, and a solemn judgment pronounced upon evidence. The impression thus conveyed, that the divine purpose was conditional, and suspended on the repentance of the Sodomites and their neighbours, encouraged Abraham to make the earnest intercession that followed.


Verse 22

And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the LORD.

The men ... went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the Lord. The two who departed are generally supposed to be the angels whose arrival in Sodom is described, Genesis 19:1. But it has become a subject of much discussion whether the third was the Lord before whom Abraham stood, or whether the third had separated from the two messengers on the way to Sodom, and the Lord denotes the altar where the patriarch usually worshipped.


Verse 23

And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?

And Abraham drew near. The traditional spot where this memorable intercession was made is called Caphar barucha, whence, through a ravine, a distant view of the Dead Sea and its environs is to be obtained (see further the note at Genesis 19:27). The scene described is full of interest and instruction-showing in an unmistakeable manner the efficacy of prayer and intercession. (See also Proverbs 15:8; James 5:16.) Abraham reasoned justly as to the rectitude of the divine procedure (Romans 3:5-6); and many guilty cities and nations have been spared on account of God's people (Matthew 5:13; Matthew 24:22). The continued and increased urgency of Abraham's pleading with God, which almost rises into [anaaideia (Luke 11:5-8)] shamelessness, assumes an entirely different character, from the consideration that he is not a suppliant for any benefit to himself, nor even to his nephew Lot, but an intercessor for the people of Sodom generally. 'His importunity was prompted by the love which springs from the consciousness that one's own preservation and rescue are due to compassionate grace alone; love, too, which cannot conceive of the guilt of others as too great for salvation to be possible. This sympathetic love, springing from the faith which was counted for righteousness, impelled him to the intercession which Luther thus describes: -`He prayed six times, and with so much ardour and depth of emotion that, in gradually lessening the numbers, in order to ensure the preservation of the wretched cities, he seems to speak almost foolishly. This seemingly commercial kind of entreaty is the essence of true prayer, which bridges over the infinite distance of the creature from the Creator, appeals with importunity to the heart of God, and ceases not until its point is gained' (Keil and Delitzsch).


Verses 24-32

Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein?

No JFB commentary on these verses.


Verse 33

And the LORD went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place.

The Lord ... left communing ... and Abraham returned unto his place. Why did Abraham cease to carry his intercessions further? Either because he fondly thought that he was now sure of the cities being preserved (Luke 13:9), or because the Lord restrained his mind from further intercession (Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 11:14). But there were not ten 'righteous persons.' There was only one; and he might, without injustice, have perished in the general overthrow (Ecclesiastes 9:2). But a difference is sometimes made; and on this occasion the grace of God was manifested in a signal manner for the sake of Abraham. What a blessing to be connected with a saint of God!

With reference to the three persons who figure so prominently in the details of this narrative, two opposite views have been advanced. Some have held that these were the three Persons in the Trinity who manifested themselves in a visible incarnate form. But this is an hypothesis which not only implies a development of doctrinal mysteries beyond what was made in the patriarchal age, but it is at variance with Scripture (John 1:18; Colossians 1:15). Others, such as Kurtz, Delitzsch, Hofmann, maintain that they were all three created angels, who came on the business, and spoke in the name of their Divine Master, founding this opinion on the fact, as Kurtz expresses it, that their mission was not merely to promise, but to punish as well as to deliver. Others maintain that it was the Lord who appeared, speaking through the medium of his messengers. But this view is open to many and strong objections:

(1) Because the superiority of the one whom Abraham addresses is acknowledged through the whole interview, whilst his two attendants, as his inferiors, observe a respectful silence.

(2) Because he speaks and undertakes to act as a Divine Person, whilst the other two claim only to be messengers (Genesis 19:13).

(3) Because Scripture does not give any instance of an address being presented to God as represented by a created angel.

(4) Because, not to mention the name Adonai, which is used six times, that of Yahweh is applied eight times to him in this passage. (5) Because he ascribes to himself the right and power of independent judgment in the case of Sodom.

(6) Because, on the hypothesis that they were all three created angels, it is impossible to account for the third not taking part in the judicial work at Sodom; whereas the cause of his absence, if he was the angel of the Covenant, is perfectly explicable.

(7) And because this view only affords a satisfactory explanation of the circumstance that throughout this chapter the three are called men, while in the next chapter, the two are designated angels-namely, to prevent a confounding the Lord with the angels who attended Him.

The condescending familiarity of this visit accords with the simplicity of the early patriarchal age, and with the initial education of Abraham in religious knowledge. It is probable that in some of the past revelations with which Abraham was favoured, a visible appearance had been vouchsafed: and that he who must have been incapable of rising to the conception of a spiritual Being would become familiar with the idea of an all-powerful mysterious man, who both in Chaldea and Canaan had repeatedly manifested himself, promising, guiding, protecting, and blessing him as a constant and faithful Friend. Accordingly, this last manifestation, on the occasion of which he became a guest of Abraham was not an isolated event in the patriarch's experience, but one of a series, in which the Divine Mediator appeared, spoke, and acted, in condescending accommodation to the simple and childlike feelings of Abraham, and as a preluding of the incarnation, when 'God manifest in the flesh' would 'tabernacle with man.' But such a mode of communication was not adapted to the legal dispensation; and hence, in the revelation which God made of Himself to Moses, when the Old Covenant history had attained a more advanced stage, the announcement, "Draw not nigh hither

... for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground," inspired profound humility and holy awe.

Again, in the analogous case of Manoah (Judges 13:15-16), where the angel refused to accept of the proffered hospitality, a course so different from that which was adopted toward Abraham is to be accounted for by the different circumstances of the persons and the times. 'In Abraham's case, so intimate a relation subsists between him and his God that he obtains a distinction which, in accordance with his exalted vocation, he only could obtain. But another relation comes before us, where the standing point of the theocratic law had revealed the alienation between God and man, and the majesty of God is there, even as on mount Sinai, a majesty fenced round with bounds that may not be passed.

There is no inconsistency between the two cases. The later theocratic history, by its peculiarity, affords a remarkable confirmation of the earlier life of primitive times, which diverges from it; and thence it appears, at the same time, that from that later standpoint, it was really impossible for a writer to transfer himself by the mere force of induction into a state of things that existed earlier, but had now given way to an entirely different one' (Hengstenberg's 'Christology,' p. 160).

The idea, therefore, of this narrative being a myth, invented by some Jewish writer for the gratification of national pride, is utterly groundless: for, once admit the special relation in which Abraham stood to God, and this visit is in perfect accordance with his position. As little ground is there for putting this narrative in the same category as the pagan fable of Philemon and Baucis; for, though many of the details in that mythological fable are similar to those of the Scripture narrative, it wants the covenant relations-the grand peculiarity of the patriarchal story-which no poetic imagination could have invented.

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Genesis 18:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/genesis-18.html. 1871-8.

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