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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Genesis 18

 

 

Verse 13-14

DISCOURSE: 28

SARAH REPROVED FOR HER UNBELIEF

Genesis 18:13-14. And the Lord said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? Is any thing too hard for the Lord? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.

THERE is no time, no situation, no circumstance wherein We are not in danger of falling into sin. Whether we be in good company or in bad, we have need to be on our guard against the influence of our indwelling corruption. We may be engaged in the most sacred duties, and yet be assaulted by the most horrible temptations: we may be performing the kindest offices to others, or be receiving the most important instructions from them; and the things which in their own nature tended only to good, may through the depravity of our hearts become occasions of sin.

Abraham and Sarah were occupied in a way truly pleasing to God. The aged Patriarch, seeing three strangers at a distance, ran and invited them to his tent; and having brought them thither, gave immediate directions for their hospitable entertainment. He desired his wife to make ready some cakes; and ran himself and fetched a young calf from the herd; and, when it was dressed, he set it with butter and milk before them. In this he is proposed as a pattern to us; and we are told for our encouragement that “he entertained angels unawares.” No doubt, Sarah also performed her part with as much alacrity as Abraham himself: yet behold, the very kindness with which her hospitality was rewarded, called forth the latent evil of her heart; and occasioned her to commit a sin, which brought down upon her a severe rebuke.

We propose to consider,

I. The reproof given to Sarah—

Sarah, occupied in her domestic engagements, was not present while these illustrious strangers partook of the refreshment provided for them: but, being close at hand, she overheard the inquiries made after her, and the assurance given to Abraham that she should bear him a son. Not able to credit these tidings, she “laughed within herself.” But the Lord (for he was one of the guests in human shape) knew what passed in her heart, and testified his displeasure on account of it. In his reproof, we notice,

1. A just expostulation—

[Sin of every kind is unreasonable; but unbelief in particular: because it questions every perfection of the Deity, and contradicts all the records both of his providence and grace. However secret may be its actings, or however specious its appearances, God will not fail to notice and reprove it. Sarah might have said, that she had done nothing but what Abraham himself had done, the very last time that the divine purpose respecting a son had been announced to him [Note: Genesis 17:17.]: but though the external act of laughing was the same both in her and in him, the principle from which it sprang was widely different: Abraham’s was a laugh of admiration and joy; Sarah’s was a laugh of unbelief and distrust. But instead of attempting to extenuate her fault, she denied the fact altogether. Alas! how awfully prolific is sin! it never comes alone: it generally brings a multitude of others to justify or conceal it. But it is in vain to cover our iniquities: God sees through the cobweb veil, and will charge upon us the aggravated guilt which we thus foolishly contract. And sooner or later he will call every one of us to account, ‘Wherefore we did so or so?’ and especially, ‘Wherefore we disbelieved his word?’]

2. A convincing interrogatory—

[Unbelief has not respect so much to the veracity, as to the power of God. “He has given water indeed, but can he give bread also; can he provide flesh for his people?” Even Moses doubted how God could supply the Israelites with flesh in the wilderness, since it would require all the flocks and herds that they possessed, to feed them one single month [Note: Numbers 11:22.]. But God has given abundant evidence of his power, so that no apparent impossibilities ought at all to shake the steadfastness of our faith. Did he not form the universe out of nothing, by a simple act of his will? Did he not give laws to all the heavenly bodies; and does he not still preserve them in their orbits? Does he not also supply the wants of every living creature upon earth? Is he not moreover the true and proper Father of all who are born into the world, and especially “the Father of their spirits?” How absurd then was it to suppose, that her age, together with that of her husband, was any effectual obstacle to the accomplishment of God’s word? “Can any thing be too hard for the Lord?” One moment’s reflection on his omnipotence should banish unbelief from the heart for ever.]

3. A reiterated assurance—

[It is most humiliating to think what a necessity our unbelief imposes upon God to repeat and renew his promises to us: and the earnestness with which the promise so often given, is here repeated, shews the just displeasure which Sarah’s unbelief had excited in the bosom of her God. We cannot indeed but be filled with amazement that he did not rather say, ‘Since you treat my promises with profane derision, you shall never be made a partaker of them.’ But God well knows the weakness of the human heart; and therefore, in condescension to it, he has confirmed his promise with an oath, that we might have the fuller assurance, and the stronger consolation [Note: Hebrews 6:17-18.]. It is thus that he tenderly reproved the church of old; “Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, saying, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding [Note: Isaiah 40:27-28. Then see the additional promises, 29–31. See also Isaiah 49:13-16.].” Were he to suffer our unbelief to make void His truth, no one of his promises would ever be fulfilled. But he has assured us that this shall not be the case [Note: Romans 3:3-4 with 2 Timothy 2:13.]. If any thing will put to shame our unbelief, surely this must. Such tenderness cannot but prevail upon us more forcibly than ten thousand menaces.]

While we contemplate the reproof so long since administered, let us consider,

II. The instruction to be gathered from it—

In truth, it sets before us many an instructive lesson. Amongst many others, it teaches us,

1. What need we have to guard against the workings of unbelief—

[Sarah, fifteen years before, had betrayed her unbelief, in giving her servant Hagar into Abraham’s bosom, in order that she might obtain through her the child which she despaired of obtaining in her own person. She had waited ten years, and began to think, that the promise would fail, if she did not resort to such an expedient as this [Note: Similar to this was Rebekah’s policy, Genesis 27:6-10.]. And though she had been deservedly punished for her unbelief by the petulance and contempt of Hagar, and by the workings of envy and wrath in her own heart, yet she still yielded to the same evil principle as soon as a fresh occasion for its exercise arose. It is astonishing what deep root this malignant principle has taken in our fallen nature. From the moment that our first parents questioned the fulfilment of that word, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” man has been prone to doubt the veracity of God. There is not a promise or a threatening, to which we do not find some objections, and some fancied ground for doubting its accomplishment. If we do not directly contradict the declarations of God, we still entertain a secret suspicion, that they will not be verified. But let us be on our guard: for though the sin of unbelief is but small in human estimation, it is exceedingly offensive to God, and will, if allowed to gain an entire ascendency over us, assuredly exclude us from his heavenly kingdom [Note: Hebrews 3:19; Hebrews 4:11.].]

2. How ready God is to mark the good that is in our actions, while he casts a veil over the evil with which it is accompanied—

[At the very time that Sarah yielded to unbelief, she exercised a reverential regard for her husband: and though our duty to man is certainly inferior to our duty to God, God has passed over in silence the unbelief she betrayed, and recorded with peculiar approbation the terms in which she spake of Abraham: “After I am waxed old, shall I have pleasure, my Lord being old also?” St. Peter, I say, records this, and proposes her as a pattern to all married women; saying, “In this manner in the old time the holy women who trusted in God adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands; even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him Lord.” We see in the Scriptures many instances wherein God has manifested the same condescension to his frail and sinful creatures. In the reproof which our blessed Lord gave to Peter, he acknowledged that he had a little faith, at the very time that he had been yielding to unbelieving fears. And because there was some good thing towards the Lord God of Israel in the heart of young Abijah, God was pleased to distinguish him from all the family of Jeroboam by giving to him a peaceful death, and an honourable interment [Note: 1 Kings 14:13.]. This is a great encouragement to us amidst all the weakness that we feel: and we may be assured that if, on the one hand, the evils of our heart will be disclosed, so, on the other hand, there is not a good purpose or inclination that shall not be made manifest, in order that every one may have his due proportion of praise from God [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:5.].]

3. What a mercy it is to have our secret sins detected and reproved—

[From this time we hear no more of Sarah’s unbelief: on the contrary, the reproof given her on this occasion was effectual for the confirming and establishing her faith. In the account given of the most eminent Saints who were distinguished for their faith, Sarah herself is mentioned; and her faith is said to have been instrumental to the accomplishment of that very promise, which in the first instance she had disbelieved [Note: Hebrews 11:11-12.]. And how many have found similar reason to bless God for the fidelity of their friends, or for the inward rebukes of their own conscience! Had their sin passed without notice, they had lived and died under its dominion: but by a timely discovery of it they have been led to repentance, and stirred up to the exercise of the virtue they had overlooked. Let us then “in any wise rebuke our brother, and not suffer sin upon him.” And let us be studious to improve the instructions we receive, that we may be radically amended by them, and “make our profiting appear unto all.”]

4. How essential to our best interests is a right knowledge of God—

[Had Sarah duly adverted to the omnipotence of God, she had escaped the shame and the reproof which her unbelief drew down upon her. And what is it that is really at the root of all our sin? Is it not an ignorance of God? If we duly considered how great he is, should we not be afraid to provoke his displeasure? If we reflected properly on his goodness, should we not be shamed into a sense of our duty? If we were mindful of his truth and faithfulness, should we not expect the certain completion of every word that he has ever spoken? We are told, that the Jews “would not have crucified the Lord of Glory if they had really known him:” in like manner we may say of every sin we commit, We should not have committed it, if we had known what a God we sinned against. Let us then endeavour to obtain just views of God, and of all his perfections. Let us not limit either his power or his grace: but knowing him to be “God Almighty, let us walk before him, and be perfect [Note: Genesis 17:1.].”]


Verse 19

DISCOURSE: 29

ABRAHAM’S CARE OF HIS FAMILY

Genesis 18:19. I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord.

WONDERFUL is the condescension of Almighty God. His attention to his own peculiar people surpasses almost the bounds of credibility. Who would think that He “whose ways are in the great deep” should yet so far humble himself as to “do nothing without first revealing his secret unto his servants the prophets [Note: Amos 3:7.] !” He had in his righteous judgment determined to take signal vengeance on Sodom and Gomorrha for their horrible iniquities. But he had a favoured servant who was particularly interested in the fate of those cities; and he knew not how to proceed in the work of destruction until he had apprised him of his intention, and given him an opportunity of interceding for them: “The Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?” No; I will not: “for I know him,” how faithful he is in the discharge of all his duties to me: and since he so delights to honour me, I also will delight to honour him.

The duties, for the performance of which Abraham was so highly commended, were of a domestic nature: “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord.” He eminently excelled in the observance of what may be called, family religion. And this being of such incalculable importance to the maintenance of piety in the world, I will propose him as an example to you; and with that view will shew,

I. The use we should make of influence—

Influence, of whatever kind it be, should be diligently improved;

1. To enforce the commands of God—

[Nothing should be of importance in our eyes in comparison of the honour of God. To uphold it should be our chief aim. The power given us, of whatever kind it be, is bestowed for this end. It is, in fact, God’s own power, delegated to us; and, so far as we possess it, we are responsible to him for the use of it. Magistrates are invested with it by him, and are therefore called “his Ministers” and Vicegerents upon earth [Note: Romans 13:1-6.]. Masters in like manner bear his authority, and are his Representatives in the exercise of it [Note: Colossians 3:24.]. To encourage virtue, to repress vice, to enforce the observance of “justice and judgment,” and to make men “keep the way of the Lord,” this, I say, is the true end of authority, whether it be official or personal, civil or religious. In particular, every thing that dishonours God, no less than that which is injurious to society, must be opposed with determined vigour. The violation of the Sabbath, and all kinds of profaneness, must be discountenanced to the utmost: and all the maxims and habits of the world, as far as they are contrary to the commands of God, must be held up to decided reprehension. The Gospel too, which above all things most exalts the honour of God, must be patronized, inculcated, enforced. The utmost possible exertion should be made to diffuse the knowledge of a crucified Saviour, “in whom all the fulness of the Godhead dwells,” and “in whose face all the glory of the Godhead shines.” In a word, the legitimate use of power is, so to exercise it “that God in all things may be glorified through Christ Jesus [Note: 1 Peter 4:11.].”]

2. To promote the best interests of men—

[Were this world our only state of existence, it would be sufficient so to use our authority as most to subserve the present happiness of mankind. But men are immortal beings; and their chief concern in this life is to prepare for a better. In this work then we should aid them to the utmost of our power. To this should all our instructions and exhortations tend. We should, as far as we are able, make known to them “the way of the Lord,” and especially the way in which they may find acceptance with Him in the last day. With this view we should enable, and indeed require, them to attend upon the ordinances of religion. We should inquire from time to time into their proficiency in divine knowledge, and their progress in the heavenly road. This is not the duty of Ministers only, but of all, according to their ability, and to the measure of influence which they possess. Parents should pay this attention to their children; and Masters to their servants, and apprentices. They should not be content to see those whom God has committed to their care prospering in a worldly view, but should be anxious for the good of their souls, praying for them, and praying with them, and using every effort for their eternal welfare. St. Paul speaks of his “power as given to him for edification [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:8.]:” and the same may be said of all influence whatever: it is a talent committed to us for the benefit of others: and we are not to hide it in a napkin, but to improve it for the good of all around us. Of course, the nearer any are to us, the stronger claim they have upon us for our exertions in their behalf: and hence our domestic duties are of primary obligation. But we are not to say in reference to any man, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” but to do him good in every way that we can, and to the utmost extent of our ability. As our blessed Lord did all imaginable good to the bodies of men, yet did not neglect their souls, so in relation to these more important duties we must say, “These ought we to do, and not to leave the other undone.”]

That we may be stirred up to exert our influence in this way, let us consider,

II. The benefit of using it aright—

This is great,

1. To those who exercise it—

[So Abraham found it: he was approved of his God, and had the most astonishing testimonies of Divine approbation given to him. ‘I know him,’ says God; ‘and he shall know that I know him. Go, ye my angels, and make known to him my purposes respecting Sodom and Gomorrha. He has a zeal for my honour, and a love for his fellow-creatures: go, give him an opportunity of exercising both. He has Relations too in Sodom: go and deliver them. This holy man shall never want a testimony of my love: I will fulfil to him in their utmost extent all the promises of my covenant [Note: 0.].’

And shall any other person “give unto the Lord, and not be recompensed again [Note: Romans 11:35.] ?” The ungodly have indeed said, “What profit is there that we should serve him [Note: Malachi 3:14.] ?” but he never gave occasion for such an impious charge. Say, ye who have endeavoured to live for His glory, has he not favoured you with his visits, and “lifted up upon you the light of his countenance?” Has he not shed abroad his love in your hearts, and “by the witness of his Spirit enabled you to cry, Abba, Father?” Yes, his promise to you is this; “Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble: I will deliver him, and honour him. With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation [Note: Psalms 91:14-16.].” This, I say, is his promise to his faithful servants; and the whole of it shall be fulfilled to you in its season. “Faithful is He that hath called you; who also will do it [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:24.].”]

2. To those over whom it is exercised—

[It is said, “Train up a child in the way he shall go, and when he is old he will not depart from it [Note: Proverbs 22:6.].” This is not to be understood as an universal truth: for it is in many instances contradicted by experience: but it is a general truth: and there is ample ground to hope for its accomplishment. At all events some benefit must accrue to those who are brought up in the fear of God. Innumerable evils, which under a different education would have been committed, are prevented; and good habits are, for a time at least, induced. And though afterwards the force of temptation may prevail to draw them aside from the good way, yet in a season of trouble they may be brought to reflection, and the seed long buried in the earth may spring up, and bring forth fruit to their eternal welfare. The prodigal son is no uncommon character. The advantages of a father’s house may be forgotten for a season; but in a day of adversity may be remembered, and be realized to an extent greater perhaps in proportion as they were before neglected and despised.]

That this subject may be more deeply impressed on our minds, let us pursue it,

1. In a way of inquiry—

[Are we, Brethren, “walking in the steps of our father Abraham?” Can God say respecting each of us, “I know him:” ‘I know his principle: he regards all that he possesses, his wisdom, his power, his wealth, his influence altogether, as a talent committed to him by me, to be improved for the good of others, and the glory of my name. I know his inclination: he has a zeal for my honour, and longs to be an instrument of exalting and magnifying my name: he has also a love to his fellow-creatures, and desires to benefit them in every possible way to the utmost of his power. I know his practice too: he calls his family together from day to day, to unite in worshipping and serving me. He catechises his children; he instructs his servants; he labours steadily and affectionately to guide them all into the way of peace. His heart is set upon these things: he enters into them as one who feels his responsibility, and has no wish but to approve himself to me, and to give up a good account of his stewardship at last.’

Say, Brethren, whether the heart-searching God can testify these things respecting you? Must he not rather, respecting many of you say, “I know him,” that he cares no more for the souls committed to him than he does for his flocks and herds, or for the cattle which are employed in his service? If only they are well, and subserve his interest, and do his work, it is all he is concerned about. Even his very children are not regarded by him as immortal beings: if they do but get forward in their respective callings, and prosper in relation to the present world, he is satisfied, and leaves all the rest to “time and chance.” Alas! alas! what an account will such persons have to give at the judgment-seat of Christ, when the Lord Jesus shall say to them, ‘Is this the way in which you dealt with the souls committed to you, the souls which I purchased with my own blood?’ Beloved, brethren, if ye are so unlike to Abraham in this world, do you think that you can be numbered amongst his children in the world to come? O judge yourselves, that ye may not be judged of the Lord in that great and fearful day.]

2. In a way of reproof—

[Surely this subject administers a severe reproof not only to those who never employ their influence at all for God, but those also who exert it only in a tame and timid ineffectual way.

Think, ye who have children, servants, apprentices, have ye no responsibility on their account? Has not God constituted you watchmen to give them warning of their subtle enemy, and to shew them how they are to escape from his assaults? And, if they perish through your neglect, shall not their blood be required at your hands? Did God intrust them to you for your comfort and advancement only, and not at all for their benefit? And the many Sabbaths which he has given you to be improved for them, shall not a fearful account be given of them also? Is it pleasing to Him, think you, that you suffer the ordinances of divine worship to be neglected by them, and the Sabbaths to be wasted in idle vanities, instead of being employed by them and you for their welfare?

But perhaps you will say, ‘I do occasionally give them good advice.’ What is that? Abraham did not satisfy himself with giving good advice to his children and his household, but “commanded them:” he maintained authority in his family, and exercised that authority for God. And thus should you do also. Eli could say to his sons, “Nay, my sons, this is no good report that I hear of you: ye make the Lord’s people to transgress.” He even went further, and reminded them of the day of judgment: “If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall entreat for him?” But was this all that his situation called for? No: he should have “commanded them,” and have thrust them out from the priestly office, if they did not obey his injunctions: and because he neglected to do this, God sent him a message that “made the ears of all that heard it to tingle.” And some awful message shall you also have, if you neglect to employ for God the authority you have received from God: for “them that honour him he will honour; and those who despise him shall be lightly esteemed [Note: 1 Samuel 2:22-23.].”]

3. In a way of encouragement—

[True it is, that though you may command, you cannot ensure obedience to your commands: and notwithstanding your utmost care, there may be much amiss among those who are under your control. In Abraham’s family there was a mocking Ishmael, in Isaac’s a profane Esau, and in Jacob’s many a sinful character. But still, if you fail in many instances, and succeed in only one, will not one soul repay you for all your trouble? — — — The testimony of your own conscience too, confirmed by the witness of God’s Spirit—is this no recompence? Will not this amply repay every effort you can make, even though you should never succeed in one single instance? Reflect too on the testimony which God himself will give you in the last day: “I know him:” I know how he persevered under the most discouraging circumstances: I know the battles he fought for me: I know the contempt he endured for me: but he was determined to persevere: and “he was faithful unto death: and therefore I award to him a crown of life.” Say, Brethren, is there not enough in such a prospect as this to carry you forward, though your difficulties were ten thousand times greater than they are? Say not, ‘I am not able to conduct family worship, and to instruct my family.’ If this be the case, as doubtless in many instances it is, are there not helps sufficient to be obtained from books of instruction and from forms of prayer? Do your best; and beg of God to bless your endeavours: and you shall not labour in vain nor run in vain: for “out of the mouth of babes and sucklings God will ordain strength, and perfect praise.”]


Verse 32

DISCOURSE: 30

ABRAHAM’S INTERCESSION FOR SODOM

Genesis 18:32. And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.

THE selection of this chapter as one of the Lessons for this day [Note: Trinity Sunday.] intimates, that the doctrine of a Trinity of persons in the Godhead derives some confirmation from it. That one of these strangers who visited Abraham in the likeness of men, was God, cannot admit of any doubt: for He is called The LORD, that is Jehovah, above ten times in this and the following chapter; and Abraham’s address to him clearly shews, that he knew him to be God. Moreover there is reason to think that it was the Second Person in the Trinity, who thus conversed with Abraham; because Abraham calls him “the Judge of all the earth.” Now “the Father judgeth no man; but hath committed all judgment to the Son [Note: John 5:22.]:” and therefore we conclude, that this was not God the Father, but God the Son. But it is by no means clear that the other two strangers were the other Persons in the Trinity. Many of the ancients indeed thought they were so; and there is some foundation for their opinion: for Lot addressed them in terms which seem more properly applicable to God than to angels; “Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me in saving my life [Note: Genesis 19:18-19.].” And one of the angels (for so those two are called [Note: Genesis 19:1.] ) answered him in language almost too exalted for a creature to use, “See, I have accepted thee concerning this thing [Note: Genesis 19:21.].” But if we consider the peculiar nature and extent of their commission, we may account for the use of this language without supposing either of them to be God. And indeed there is clear evidence that they were only angels, attendant on the Son of God, and sent by him; for they themselves say, “The Lord hath sent us to destroy Sodom [Note: Genesis 19:13.].” Nevertheless, if we admit, as we must, that the person who is here so frequently called Jehovah, was God the Son (for no man hath seen the Father at any time [Note: John 1:18.] ), the chapter clearly marks a plurality of persons in the Godhead; and therefore is properly read on this day, when the Trinity in Unity is the peculiar subject to which our attention is called.

To Him, even to our adorable Emmanuel, did Abraham address his intercession on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrha: an intercession the most instructive of all that are recorded in the sacred volume. When Abraham understood that this divine Person with his attendant angels was come to destroy those wicked cities, he entreated that, if fifty righteous persons could be found in them, the wicked might be spared for their sake. Having prevailed thus far, he in five successive petitions reduced the number to ten, and obtained a promise that if only ten could be found, the rest should be spared for their sake. What an astonishing idea does this give us of God’s regard for his people!

Let us observe,

I. How dear to Him are their persons!

We forbear to notice the honourable appellations which he gives them (as his jewels, his peculiar treasure, &c.) or the great and precious promises made to them, or the blessings of grace bestowed upon them: we shall confine our attention solely to the interpositions of his providence in their behalf: because it is in that view only that they are noticed in the text. But in marking God’s kindness to them, we shall notice it as manifested,

1. To them personally—

[We cannot conceive any thing so great, but God has actually done it for his people.

He has controlled the elements. The earth has opened at his command to maintain the authority of his chosen prophet, and to swallow up his insolent competitors [Note: Numbers 16:32.]. The air has raised itself into tempests, and shot forth its lightnings, and shaken the foundations of the earth, with its thunders, in order to punish the enemies of his people [Note: Exodus 9:23-25.], or vindicate their injured honour [Note: 1 Samuel 12:16-18.]. Fire also has suspended its destructive energies, in order to defeat the persecuting rage of a tyrant, and rescue from his hands the children of oppression [Note: Daniel 3:27.]. Nor has the water been backward to obey his will, when any signal benefit was to be conveyed to his favourite people. It has repeatedly stood as a wall, to open an avenue for them through the rivers [Note: Joshua 3:15-16; 2 Kings 2:8; 2 Kings 2:14.], and through the sea [Note: Exodus 14:21-22.].

God has compelled all classes of the brute creation also to consult their benefit. The birds, though of the most voracious kind, have served up the stated meals of bread and meat to his prophet in a time of dearth and necessity [Note: 1 Kings 17:6.]. The beasts, though fierce and hunger-bitten, have shut their mouths before the saint, whom they were invited to destroy [Note: Daniel 6:22.]. The fishes have swallowed up a drowning prophet, to discharge him again in safety upon the dry land [Note: Jonah 2:10; Jonah 3:10.] ; or taken into their mouth a bait unsuited to their appetite, that the Saviour in his humiliation might be enabled to pay his tax [Note: Matthew 17:27.]. The insects too have united their irresistible efforts to punish a proud and cruel nation, and to assert the liberties of God’s oppressed people [Note: Exodus 8:17; Exodus 8:24.].

We may add also, that even the heavenly bodies have been overruled by God for the purpose of aiding, or comforting, or honouring those who were dear to him. The sun and moon stood still for the space of a whole day, to witness the triumphs of his chosen servants [Note: Joshua 10:13.]. “The stars in their courses fought against Sisera [Note: Judges 5:20.].” And the shadow on the sun-dial of Ahaz returned ten degrees, that a pious and afflicted monarch might be assured of the deliverance which his soul desired [Note: Isaiah 38:6-8.].

How dear to God must they be to whom the whole creation is thus made subservient, and for whose benefit the government of the universe is administered!]

2. To others for their sake—

[For their sakes blessings have been imparted to the undeserving, and judgments averted from the wicked. For Jacob’s sake God multiplied the flocks of Laban [Note: Genesis 30:27.] ; and from respect to Joseph he prospered the house of Potiphar [Note: Genesis 39:5.]. If ten righteous could have been found in Sodom, the impending destruction would have been turned from all the cities of the plain [Note: The text.]: and notwithstanding the extreme wickedness of its inhabitants, the city of Zoar was exempted from the common fate, at the intercession of Lot [Note: Genesis 19:21.] ; nor could the storm be poured out upon Sodom, till Lot was placed beyond its reach [Note: Genesis 19:22.]. The mercy shewn to a whole ship’s company on account of Paul, deserves peculiar notice. There were 276 souls on board: the storm was so violent that there was no hope left for their preservation; they were just ready to be swallowed up in the tempestuous waves. But there was one saint on board; a saint, hated of men, but beloved of God: and for his sake the whole were preserved from death, and not a hair of their heads suffered to perish [Note: Acts 27:24; Acts 27:34.]. When God was about to send the Jews into captivity, he told them, that if they could find one righteous man in Jerusalem, he would spare them all [Note: Jeremiah 5:1.]: and after he had inflicted his judgments upon them, he assigned as his reason for it, that not one had been found to stand in the gap, and to intercede for them [Note: Ezekiel 22:30-31.]. After the murder of the Messiah, the Jewish nation was devoted to utter destruction: but when the days of vengeance came, “they were shortened for the elect’s sake;” yea, it was out of respect to them alone that there was not an utter excision of the whole human race [Note: Matthew 24:22.].

What stronger proofs can be given of God’s love to his chosen people?]

But we shall have a further insight into this subject, if we consider,

I. How acceptable are their prayers!

Who can contemplate one single individual interceding, as Abraham did, for all the cities of the plain, and not admire the condescension of God to his praying people? He has heard and answered them, for whomsoever they made their supplications; whether,

1. For themselves—

[No limits whatever, except those which were necessarily fixed by a concern for his own honour, have been assigned by God to the exercise of his own grace in answer to his people’s prayers. God has said to them, “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it:” “Ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” Agreeably to these promises he has done for them not only what they have asked, but exceeding abundantly above their most sanguine hopes. The prayer of Jonah ascended up even from the bottom of the sea, and brought him a deliverance unprecedented in the annals of the world. The situation of the Canaanitish woman may be considered in some respects still more desperate, because her request had been repeatedly refused: but by persisting in her supplications she obtained the desire of her heart [Note: Matthew 15:22-28.]. No kind of blessing has ever been denied to the prayer of faith. David sought information whether the men of Keliah would betray him; and God told him that they would [Note: 1 Samuel 23:11-12.]. He desired direction, when and in what manner he should attack the Philistine armies: and God pointed out to him the precise time and place for making his attack successfully [Note: 2 Samuel 5:19; 2 Samuel 5:23-24.]. Thus also when they have implored mercy after the most heinous transgressions, God has shewn the same readiness to hear and answer their requests [Note: Psalms 32:5; 2 Chronicles 33:12-13.]. “He has never said to any of them, Seek ye my face in vain.”

2. For each other—

[Mutual intercession is a duty which has been expressly enjoined, and to which we have been encouraged by the most signal tokens of God’s acceptance. The deliverance vouchsafed to Peter deserves particular attention. He was secured in prison with all the care that human foresight could devise.

He was chained between two soldiers, and guarded by many others. Prayer was made for him by the church; but apparently to no purpose. The day appointed for his execution was almost arrived. But at midnight God returned an answer; an answer which as much surprised the suppliants, as it confounded their enemies: his chains fell off, the iron gates opened to him of their own accord, and his adversaries were put to shame [Note: Acts 12:4-19.]. It was from a full persuasion of the efficacy of intercession, that St. Paul was so earnest in requesting the prayers of others for him [Note: Romans 15:30.], and that he was so unwearied in his prayers for them [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:10; Philippians 1:4; Colossians 4:12.]. And it is particularly in reference to intercession for the saints, that St. James says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much [Note: James 5:16.].”]

3. For the ungodly—

[The iniquities of a nation may indeed arrive at such a height, that if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, those holy men should not prevail, except for the preservation of themselves [Note: Ezekiel 14:14.]. But the instances wherein God has heard prayer on behalf of the ungodly are very numerous, and very encouraging. How speedily did the supplications of Amos remove the threatened judgment from his country [Note: Amos 7:1-6.] ! And how irresistible, if we may so speak, were the intercessions of Moses! God had determined to execute vengeance on his people for making and worshipping the golden calf. He therefore, fearing, as it were, that Moses would interpose in their behalf, and prevent the execution of his purpose, said to him, “Let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them;” that is, ‘If thou intercedest for them, thou wilt bind my hands; therefore let me alone, that I may inflict upon them the judgments they have deserved.’ But Moses would not “let him alone:” he instantly “besought the Lord,” and, as it were, prevailed against him: for “the Lord repented of the evil which he had thought to do unto his people [Note: Exodus 32:10-11; Exodus 32:14.].”

While in such instances as these we contemplate the condescension of our God, we cannot fail to notice the love which he bears to his chosen people, and the peculiar delight which he feels in hearing and answering their prayers.]

Observe,

1. What blessings are God’s people in the places where they live!

[Our blessed Lord represents them as “the lights of the world,” and “the salt of the earth;” because, without them, the world would be immersed in total darkness, and speedily become one mass of corruption. Little do the world think how much they are indebted to the saints. They are ready to traduce the characters of God’s people, and to represent them as “the troublers of Israel:” but, were they viewed aright, they would be considered rather as “the shields of the earth,” who ward off from it the judgments of the Almighty. Only let us duly notice the tokens which God has given them of his regard, and the mercy he has shewn to others for their sake, and we shall know how to appreciate their value, and ardently pray for their increase in the earth.]

2. What encouragement have the ungodly to pray for themselves!

[Has God shewn himself so willing to hear the prayers of a single individual in the behalf of populous cities, and will he not hear the prayers of individuals for themselves? Never from the foundation of the world has he rejected the petitions of a real penitent: nor, as we have before observed, has he prescribed any limits to our petitions for spiritual blessings. “The Lord will not be angry,” however frequently we renew, or however largely we extend, our supplications: “If we ask, we shall have; if we seek, we shall find;” yea, if we ask for all the glory of heaven, it shall be given to us. O that men were duly sensible of the privilege of prayer! and that they would plead for mercy while yet a throne of grace is open to them!]

3. How diligently should the godly improve their interest in the behalf of others!

[We can scarcely conceive a person so obdurate, but that if, by speaking to another, he could obtain health for the sick, and relief for the indigent, he would avail himself of such an opportunity to benefit his fellow-creatures. Yet is there amongst us a lamentable backwardness to the work of intercession, notwithstanding our almighty Friend is at all times accessible, and the blessings which he will bestow are infinitely greater than words can express. O let all of us stir up ourselves to this blessed work! Let us consider how much we ourselves need the prayers of others; and let a sense of our own necessities stimulate us to “labour fervently in prayer” for others. We are sure at least that, if we prevail not for them, we shall bring down a blessing upon our souls, and “our prayer shall return into our own bosoms.” Let us consider also that to neglect to pray for others, is to sin against our God [Note: 1 Samuel 12:23.] ; and that, if we have no heart to sigh and cry for the abominations or the miseries of others, we have great reason to fear and tremble for ourselves [Note: Ezekiel 9:4 with Amos 6:6-7.].]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Genesis 18:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/genesis-18.html. 1832.

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