Sermon preached on Genesis 18 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 09/24/2023 in Petaluma, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
We continue our study today of the life of Abraham and Sarah with this most interesting visit that they had in this passage. In this visit, they were able to witness how God is involved in the affairs of this world, and also in their very own family. These are lessons for us to learn as well as we study Genesis 18.
Let us begin by considering verses 1-8 which describes these three men who visit Abraham and Sarah. The setting is at their encampment at Mamre. It’s the afternoon when Abraham sees the men and runs to them. So, who are these three mysterious men who show up at their home? Well, the text helps us to see that one of them is none other than the LORD God himself. Verse 1 tells us to expect that from the very start, because it opens the chapter with a summary about the LORD appearing to Abraham. Then, when we read on and see the conversation unfold between Abraham and these three men, we see that the main speaker of the three is repeatedly referred to as the LORD. Verses 10, 13, 17, and 20, clearly demonstrate this. Verse 22 also has the narrator identify one of the men as the LORD, while the other two head off to Sodom. Then, in verses 22-33, we see that Abraham addresses the LORD as not only “Lord”, but also as the “Judge of all the earth”. So then, one of these men is a theophany, a manifestation of God, and this time in some human form. Let me note that it is unclear when Abraham himself realized that this was the LORD who was visiting him. Quite possibly he knew from the start, maybe based on past experience that he had with the LORD. But either way, it is clear by the end that he knew he who he was talking to.
As for the other two men, we will get more clarity next chapter. These two men who went on to Sodom are there described in Genesis 19:1 as two angels. Interestingly, they are again described later in chapter 19 as both men and angels. So, they too, take on some physical manifestation as humans. Angels are spirit creatures and do not have a body like we do. So, this was some work of power for them to appear in some kind of human form.
What an amazing setting then, Abraham and Sarah have the LORD and two angels pay them a visit! What do you do when that happens? Well, Abraham says you show them proper hospitality. Hospitality is how you show love and reception to those guests who come to your home. Notice what that hospitality entails. He runs to them to welcome them. He has their water brought out so their feet can be washed. He feeds them. We see that he respected their time by making haste to feed them. And we also see that he is very generous with the food, as it seems like enough food to feed a small army. We might also note that he doesn’t eat with them, but rather stands by them, presumably so that he can serve them and attend to their needs, verse 8.
As some practical application, the Bible teaches that hospitality is something God commands us to do. It is part of our positive duties in living godly lives. Abraham here models some textbook hospitality. We might think of Hebrews 13:2 which says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” As I mentioned, Abraham may not have been unaware of their status, but he does model godliness with his hospitality here. And while we note that Abraham’s hospitality was not to any ordinary visitors, but to God himself, let us remember that our hearts have now had God the Holy Spirit pay us a visit to even take up residence within us. Let us also be good hosts to such a divine guest!
Returning to the passage, let me also note that Abraham’s hospitality included conversing with his three guests. I think of how when Mary and Martha hosted Jesus that one time, Mary especially recognized the importance of that. Just as Jesus came to visit with them, so too, these three men came to visit with Abraham and so he spends time in conversation with them. That then leads us to our second and third points for today, to consider what they talked about.
In our second point, we’ll look at verses 9-15 and see their conversation about and with Sarah. After God asks Abraham about the location of his wife Sarah, he then gives a prophecy that he, the LORD, will return in a year, and Sarah will then give birth to a son. This reaffirms the same promise God to Abraham in last chapter, which resulted in Abraham’s laughter given the thought of how old they both were. But I love how it connects that birth with the return visit of the Lord. They can look forward to God’s return when he will then bring the long-awaited fulfillment to this covenant promise.
So then, Sarah was in the tent but listening in on the conversation. God surely knew this, and surely got Sarah’s attention by asking about her whereabouts. Notice her response. She too laughs at this prophecy, verse 12. She then says how old she and her lord Abraham are. By the way, this is the verse that 1 Peter 3:6 references to when it commends Sarah’s godly respect to her husband when she calls him lord, but I digress. But I think we can appreciate to a degree that this was a rather natural response. Besides her history of barrenness, verse 11 tells us that she had already entered menopause, which is something we could have assumed by her age, but the text confirms it. There is no natural way this could happen for her.
But we see that God rebuffs her response of laughter and doubt. Verse 14 records the key question. Is anything too hard for the LORD? This is similar to how the angel Gabriel later would explain the miracle of the virgin birth to Mary, mother of Jesus, saying, “For nothing will be impossible with God,” Luke 1:37. In fact, the LORD shows that power right here as proof of his ability to accomplish all his holy will. What I mean, is that the LORD knew about Sarah’s laughter and thinking even though she was in the tent and as verse 12 says that she laughed and spoke to herself. Surely, this is why it says in verse 15 that Sarah was then afraid, explaining why she initially denied laughing. If you said something to yourself and someone then calls you on it, that would indeed be a scary thing. But we cannot hide anything from the LORD, a lesson that Sarah learns right here. But it does simultaneously encourage. If God can open the inner recesses of her mind to know her very thoughts, then God can also enliven and open her womb to bear a child. Indeed, for God nothing is too hard. In other words, it would only be a miracle of God that Sarah would have this baby, but that is exactly what God is promising here.
Let us joyfully note that Sarah did ultimately believe that God would do this. Heb. 11:11 would later write, saying, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.” So then, last chapter Abraham laughed at the thought. Here, Sarah, laughed too. But God ultimately worked faith in their hearts and in the appointed time he would return to visit them and see that Sarah gave birth to Isaac.
We have the application then to also trust in God’s promises. He reveals himself again here as El Shaddai, God Almighty. He worked miraculously to bring Jesus into this world. God worked miraculously to raise Jesus from the dead after he bore our sins on the cross. He has worked miraculously in our hearts to make us born again and to put his Spirit within us. And he will work miraculously again to come to us once more at Jesus’ second coming, at just the appointed time, to usher us into the glorious age to come.
Let us now turn to our third point for today and consider verses 16-21 and see how the conversation turns to talk about Abraham and as well about Sodom and Gomorrah. Verse 16 begins by narrating that the three visitors set out from Abraham’s house on the way toward Sodom. It tells us that Abraham went with them to set them on their way. In other words, like a good host, Abraham is basically walking them out to say goodbye. That is when we are included on a conversation that the LORD has with the other two angels about whether or not he should hide from Abraham his future plans concerning Sodom. Before I get into the reasoning for why God considers revealing these things to Abraham, just stop and appreciate what it would mean for God to reveal such plans to Abraham. It would mean that God is treating Abraham as a prophet. That is one of the common things about a prophet, that God reveals to them certain plans that he has. Indeed, in just two chapters, God will refer to Abraham as a prophet, so what we see here is confirmed then.
So then, look at the details of why God wants to share these details with Abraham. These details start in verse 18 and they are all God’s plans and promises for Abraham. God is going to be making Abraham’s seed into a great and might nation, and in that seed all the nations on the earth shall be blessed. That’s just another summary of God’s covenant with Abraham. But, then, in verse 19 it goes on to explain that Abraham’s seed will need his instruction about how to live in the ways of the LORD. That is why God wants to tell Abraham about Sodom. Connect the dots. God thinks Abraham will need to know about the potential judgment on Sodom so he can warn his own offspring not to follow in their paths of godlessness.
Again, do you see how Abraham will serve as a prophet for his family? He will need to train up his children in the way that they should go. In turn, the next generation will need to do the same to their children. And so on and so on. God’s people were to be a people of prophets who train one another on how to live in righteousness and justice. This will be good for them. It will glorify God. And the alternative is to know the terrible judgment of God like he would soon be pouring out upon Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighboring cities. To be sure, this is not saying that Abraham’s descendants will have to be saved by their works. They are indeed saved by grace through faith, even as we’ve seen that with Abraham. But there is a heart of godlessness that rejects the LORD and lives without concern of righteousness or justice. That is what Sodom had become. Even after God had so mercifully delivered them from the foreign kings of the east back in chapter 14, they still here are being reported for their sin and wickedness.
Again, let us make sure we understand more fully what God is revealing to Abraham here. God is revealing to Abraham the impending judgment and destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah due to their great sin. Think about this in contrast to the Noahic Covenant. God had destroyed the old world of Noah’s day because of how completely sinful and wicked people had become. God had only saved a small remnant by rescuing them from that flood destruction. But then God promised in the Noahic Covenant that God would never use a worldwide flood again to destroy the earth and to wipe out humanity. Even when big rains and floods come, we can trust that promise. But here, in continuing revelation, God is revealing to Abraham that the Noahic Covenant does not mean God will not judge wickedness. Indeed, God is revealing to Abraham that he will. And when he ultimately does, Sodom and Gomorrah become for us a warning of an even greater judgment to come. They are to us a type of the Final Day of Judgment when God will destroy this world not by water but by fire.
Notice then that the conversation then turns to address the justice of such a judgment. Isn’t that the question people have today when we start talking about God’s judgment upon sinners. People want to ask if it is fair and just of God. But that is the main point of discussion at this point. We begin to see this in verses 20-21 when God informs Abraham about the outcry that has come to him about Sodom and that he is coming down to inspect things to see if the reports are true. Now, that is clearly accommodated revelation. God did not need to somehow physically come down in some theophanic manifestation to see the state of Sodom. God knows all things. But this is accommodated revelation for Abraham’s sake. He is teaching Abraham something very clearly. God shows that he will not punish people who don’t deserve it. He won’t bring down the terrible wrath of his judgment, unless he righteously judges the recipients to deserve it. Indeed, as the righteous and just judge, if he determines they are owed punishment, then his righteousness and justice really demand for him to give it.
This same point of justice is what is behind verses 22-33 when Abraham is appealing back and forth with God about how many righteous people would have to be in Sodom for God to spare it. These verses are often described by people as Abraham interceding for Sodom since his nephew Lot lives there. Well, yes there is an element of intercession here as it concerns Lot, yet notice the concern as Abraham repeatedly states it. Abraham is inquiring of God’s justice and how he handles a situation where there is a city with both righteous and wicked people in it. Abraham’s primary question is there in verse 23, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” Abraham goes on to affirm that is surely not something God would do, saying in verse 25, “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked!” Again, he ends verse 25 asking rhetorically, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” So you see, this conversation with Abraham is about the justice of God. Will he judge and destroy both godly and wicked people together, as if they were all to be counted the same? Abraham asserts that such would not be just. And God repeatedly agrees. While Abraham is so bold to repeatedly narrow the number of righteous down less and less, God continues time and again affirm his justice.
As proof of that justice, consider this. Abraham stopped asking God when he got down to if there were just ten righteous left in the city. Apparently, Abraham was not bold enough to go less than that. Yet, what we’ll see next chapter is that the two angels will not destroy the city until they get Lot and family out. They don’t destroy the city until they evacuate Lot, and his wife, and their two daughters. So, even less than 10, and God would not destroy the city. But he did evacuate them, and then bring the threatened judgment. That is an example that we see through the ages, that God saves a remnant out the midst of a larger group who have rejected the Lord. That is what God will ultimately do for all of us too who are in Christ, when Jesus comes again to bring in the Final Day of Judgment.
So then, this is all part of this lesson that Abraham needed to learn here. While this passage is full of all the grace and mercy God will be showing Abraham and his seed, there is also a sober warning against apostasy. While, we along with Abraham are not saved by works, we should not think we are saved if we reject our God and turn to the way of Sodom and Gomorrah. God wants Abraham to learn all this. He wants Abraham to learn of his grace and mercy. But he also wants us to learn of his justice and righteousness. Abraham was to take these cornerstones of true religion and teach his descendants so they could pass that on as well.
Indeed, this is part of how Abraham’s seed would bring blessing to all the nations. If this revelation was not preserved and passed on, the nations would simply be in the darkness of sin and with the sentence of an impending judgment upon them. But in Abraham’s seed, in Christ Jesus, grace and righteousness, mercy and judgment, all come together. What Abraham learned here today and passed on is part of how God would bring about his good promises to Abraham. And that means it is part of how we are blessed in Jesus, son of Abraham. Let us receive this prophetic word then again today in faith. Let us not laugh off these things, but be encouraged today in the almighty power of God for whom nothing is too hard. Let us instead, in faith, trust him and eagerly await his return.
Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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