In this chapter, Abraham experiences what appears to be a visitation of three men. It is obvious there are two reasons for their coming to Abraham: 1) tell Sarah and Abraham of their upcoming pregnancy and birth of a child, and 2) take actions against Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham recognizes them as very special persons. Abraham hastens to feed them. Sarah and Abraham are told they will have a baby. Sarah laughed; although, she denied it later. Why did she laugh? Abraham also laughed previously (Gen. 17:17) of the new birth. The three men and Abraham look to Sodom and Gomorrah to determine if it is worthy of remaining on earth. Abraham now starts an unusual plea to save Sodom. Abraham asks God if righteous persons were found, would God save Sodom.
The Lord appears to Abraham in the form of a man accompanied by two other men. The KJV says "three men stood by him". This is probably better explained in the words "near him" or "opposite him". Abraham had no reason to run to them if they were "by him". Abraham immediately recognizes them as special persons. He bows to the earth (in deep worship and obedience) before them. Abraham was sitting in the tent door which is still a tradition to get a breeze in the heat of the day.
Tthe word used for "lord" is capitalized in KJV and some versions and is not capitalized in other versions. This could be significant in determining who the men were. It would appear logically that Abraham did not know exactly who these men are. The KJV assumes he DOES know. Because the word for "Lord" is adonay which is the word used in the O.T. by the Hebrews to refer to God. They feel they cannot say God in reverence to Him. The other word used is adon which refers to special people or can be Lord. It usually is used to designate a person of stature such as a master.
Because Abraham feels these men are special, he says that if he has been shown favor by God, please do not pass him by.
Most believe one of the men was the Lord, a Christophany. A Christophany is a happening where Jesus comes to earth before the New Testament. A Theophany is the showing of God. The other two men were most likely angels. It is not uncommon in the Bible to have angels come down as humans (Heb. 13:2). So we should all watch who we turn away from ourselves.
Abraham gets water to wash the feet of the travelers. This was also a custom. Whenever people came to the house, a servant was usually assigned to take a bowl of water and wash the feet of the visitors. It was very dirty to walk in sandals in the land of sand, dirt, and rocks.
Abraham hastens into the tent to Sarah to have her make some wheat cakes (i.e. bread) to feed them. In addition, Abraham goes into his herd and kills the best calf he has to prepare it to eat. He took curds (milk products to make cheese) and milk to them, also. He then presented his visitors with this refreshment feast under the cooling shadow of a tree.
It does not appear that Sarah had the strength of faith that Abraham had. So, the men are going to deal with Sarah directly. The men ask for Sarah; Abraham says she is in the tent. They said they would return in a year and Sarah would have given birth to a baby boy. Sarah was listening in the tent and laughed to herself. Why did she laugh? The same reason Abraham did earlier (Gen. 17:17). They were both old. Sarah was past the normal pregnancy period of her life. Some say that she laughed because she was saying "yea, right; I'm going to have a baby at this time in my life". Others say she was laughing because it was improbable to occur and was too good to believe. The men ask why Sarah was laughing. Is there anything God cannot do? So, since nothing is impossible, it could happen. Sarah said she did not laugh. But, the men knew better. Is this a point where trust should have taken over? Not necessarily. After all, she was not pregnant. The laughter was probably nerves because the Bible she had fear. She would have the baby at 90 years old, past normal birthing years, and Abraham would be 100 years old.
The men get up to leave. They appear to be going toward Sodom. Abraham is going with them to see them off. The Lord seems to ask whether He should tell Abraham what He is doing and going to do. One reason why Abraham should know is that he has an interest in it. He will be a great and mighty nation. God, Himself, had chosen Abraham. His responsibility will be to command his children and household to keep the way of the Lord. So, this is also to be a lesson for the coming nations: i.e. obey God or be destroyed in some way.
There have been lamentations and outcries from Sodom. Now the men will go to determine the future of Sodom. So God is going to Sodom to make the final decision. He will know the answer when He gets there.
Abraham must at this time been terribly bothered by the thought that something terrible could happen to Sodom. We all know that Lot decided to take the land associated with Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot lived in Sodom. So Abraham questions the Lord to find out whether He would actually "clean house" by destroying righteous people in Sodom. Abraham was classifying Lot as righteous even though Lot lived in Sodom. So, Abraham tries to negotiate with God the destroying the righteous. He asks, if there were 50 righeous people in Sodom, would He then destroy Sodom. Abraham tries to say that surely God would not treat the righteous and the non-righteous the same. "Far be it from Thee to do such a thing", Abraham says. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" Actually, that is not putting God on the line; but, it is rather presumptuous of Abraham. God with His everlasting grace said He would NOT destroy Sodom if He found there were 50 righteous people in Sodom. Abraham said that he has "ventured to speak to the Lord" although he is the lowest of low being of dust and ashes. Dust is some of the lightest particles of earth. Ashes is the residual of fire consumed substances. By using these words, he shows how deeply his soul was humbled in the presence of God.
Adam Clarke in his Commentary on the Old Testament says very well what Abraham was showing should be done:
Abraham may feel as if he is on a roll. He now asks to save Sodom for 40 righteous people. God again in His mercy says He will NOT destroy the city for the sake of the 40 people.
Can you imagine Abraham asking the next questions: how about 30 righteous people. God again says He will NOT destroy Sodom if He finds 30 righteous people.
Imagine Abraham with the next request: "H H H Ho Ho How about 20 righteous people???" God said OK. Twenty is OK to save Sodom.
Now the last straw: How about 10 righteous people. God says HE WOULD NOT DESTROY SODOM FOR THE SAKE OF 10 RIGHTEOUS PEOPLE. At that statement, the Lord leaves and Abraham returns to his tent. Abraham has effectively been told God could and would save Lot and his family if Lot obeys in the next coming days.
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