Chapter xviii
8. The Manifestation of Yahweh at Mamre (18:1-33)

The time of the birth of the promised son has drawn very near and may definitely be revealed. Besides, Sarah, whose share in the experience should be more than a purely natural and physical one, needs to be so directed that her faith may enable her to take her part in a manner truly worthy of the event. In addition, the faith of Abraham is to be given an opportunity to express its unselfishness, that a clear revelation of the nature of the faith of a true saint of God may be offered. When God manifests Himself to Abraham at Mamre, the first two of these issues are disposed of in connection with His promise concerning the early birth of the son, and the third, in connection with the revelation of His purpose to take the case of wicked Sodom in hand.

Criticism feels that the entire chapter should be assigned to J. One argument in support of the contention is the use of the divine name Yahweh. However, the suitability of this name for this chapter and the next is immediately apparent. It is Yahweh, the faithful covenant God, who is concerned about the matter of having the child of promise come in due season to believing parents. But at the same time, it is a part of the faithful care of Yahweh for the covenant people that leads Him to resort to acts of retributive and punitive justice in order to clear the path for the normal development of His people.

Some critics still prefer to follow Wellhausen's lead in making v. Ge 18:17-19, 22, 23-33 editorial insertions. Dillmann, however, claims that neither language, nor material arguments justify such a contention. Any man reading along naturally will see that the verdicts which decree that certain verses are later insertions are highly subjective opinions, which no amount of learning can prove.

If the story of the visit of the Almighty with Abraham is seen to have striking parallels in heathen mythology, we naturally explain this coincidence by the simple observation that the truth of this experience penetrated far into other nations and there indication of their authority by making the inquiry. Besides, their coming is concerned vitally with a most remarkable experience that is about to befall Sarah. Then, too, Sarah's faith needs to be raised to the proper level to do justice to the experience. Abraham must have sensed the note of authority in what the speakers said. Still this statement must be correct: "they said." Either all spoke or else they displayed such interest in the question that it was as thought all had spoken. Now Sarah was where wives were usually found when guests were outside the tent -- in the tent. The "behold" in this case amounts to little more than, "Inside the tent there"( Meek). Without circumlocution the visitor, the outstanding one among the three, assumes sole control of the conversation and delivers the promise He has come to give. This promise conveys the definite assurance, "Sarah shall have a son." The time for this event is fixed -- "after a year." For ka'eth chayyah -- "according to this time when it revives" -- "when this time of the year returns" -- "after a year." This is still a satisfactory translation and one that is quite unforced. "According to the time of a pregnant woman" is hardly to be extracted from the passage. "So ich lebe," (Luther), i. e., "as I live," is still more impossible. Then, also, the word definitely indicates that God alone will bring this miracle to pass: "I will certainly return," i. e., it shall not come to pass of itself but through my intervention. Since this returning of the Lord is nowhere recorded, it appears most suitable to regard the event as such as the manner in which God came to Abraham and to Sarah. The article in ka'eth is the article of familiar things, Artikel der Connexitaet (K. S.387 e): "As the familiar time revives."

Now Sarah did not merely "hear" this (A. V.) as she stood behind the door, for skomß'ath is feminine participle, "she was hearing," i. e., "she was listening." Nor could Yahweh see her or any trace of her, for "this door was behind Him." This is plainly stated here so that what He next says may be seen to be the evidence of His omniscience not of His observation.

The points over 'elayw in v.9 have not been explained satisfactorily.

11, 12. Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well along in years, and it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself and said: After I have become worn out, have I enjoyed sexual delight and my lord too is an old man?

The seemingly insurmountable physical obstacle in the way of the fulfilment of this divine promise is now drawn to our attention. Capacity for procreation and conception was extinct. Sarah's case at least must have seemed irremediable. The woman's periods had ceased with the so-called change of life and with them the capacity to conceive. The promise seems laughable to the carnal thoughts of Sarah, and she actually laughs "to herself," i. e., "within her midst" -- Hebrew idiom for the reflexive pronoun. In a question without an interrogative particle Sarah expresses her wonder at the thought: she is worn out, so is Abraham. Viewing the matter from the angle of a thing already accomplished, though she does not believe that it will transpire, she says: "Have I enjoyed sexual delight?" The matter is not put very delicately by Sarah.1Pe 3:6 rightly deduces from her address ("lord") that she respected her husband.

This laughter on Sarah's part was the laughter of incredulity and so a form of unbelief. It bore no trace of scoffing. Jamieson ought not to have spoken of a "silent sneer."

13-15. And Yahweh said unto Abraham: Why then did Sarah laugh saying: Shall I really bear a child seeing I have grown old? Is anything too difficult for Yahweh? At the appointed time after a year I will return to thee and Sarah shall have a son. But Sarah denied, saying: I did not laugh -- for she was afraid. But He said: No, but thou didst laugh.

Here the chief of the visitors displays His character by revealing His omniscience. He is therefore very appropriately called "Yahweh" at this point, the author taking up the clue which he offered in v.1. He addresses the rebuke to Abraham, for there would have been a mild impropriety about calling out to the woman in the other compartment of the tent. Yahweh specifically tells Sarah through this address to Abraham what she did. Imagine the astounding nature of this revelation to Sarah: her secret thoughts have been correctly read; the very motive she had referred to, namely that she had grown old, is also displayed to her. This attitude is rebuked by Yahweh as being the equivalent of saying that something is "too difficult for Yahweh." Such an opinion, of course, is patent unbelief. Yippale' does originally signify, "to be wonderful." Here it must bear the derived meaning "too difficult." The preposition min following the verb makes a comparative whose original form would have been: "anything more difficult than Yahweh could perform." As it now stands, miyyahweh is the equivalent of a negative result clause (K. S.406 l; cf. also 308 b; G: K.133 c; 102 m). Dabhar here is the equivalent of an indefinite pronoun: "thing" -- "anything." (K. S.80 c). We still cannot fathom how anyone should ever have ventured to say, "As the narrative stands, the sentence does not imply identity between the speaker and Yahweh" (Skinner). Verse 14 alone might have left the question open, but v.13 had identified the speaker beforehand.

Yahweh simply reiterates His promise. Above (v.10) the time within which the son was to be born had been appointed; and so it is now referred to as "the appointed time" (mô'edh), and the limit of a year is repeated -- "when this time revives" -- "after a year," as in v.10 above.

15. In fear at so remarkable a visitor Sarah attempts self-defense, which under the circumstances can take only one form -- a lie, a downright lie: "I did not laugh." The brief reply of the Almighty stamps her defense as unworthy of further consideration. She is rebuked and dismissed with an authoritative: "No, but thou didst lie." The usual negative lo' here amounts to "no." The kî is adversative, "but."

The second half of the chapter begins at this point -- what transpired near Mamre after the guests had been escorted along the road for a short distance.

16. And the men rose up from thence and directed their gaze in the direction of Sodom and Abraham went with them to escort them (for a part of the way).

The first part of their mission being disposed of, the "men ('anashîm) arise" from the meal and make preparations to depart from that place (mish-sham). The Hebrew expression is very concise: "they rose up from thence." They give indication of being on the way to Sodom, because they direct their gaze in the direction of "Sodom." Originally in the Hifil shaqaph means "to look out and down," also with 'al peney, i. e., "upon the faces of." This is a very appropriate verb in this instance, because from the region of Hebron one would "look out and down" toward Sodom. The sincere courtesy of Abraham prompts him besides to "escort them" -- shallecham -- "to send them along."Tradition has it that he went several miles (ca. three) to a place called by Jerome Caphar Barucha, but now known as Janum or Beni Naim, at which point the Dead Sea comes into view and perhaps also the site of Sodom. The expression 'al-peney can hardly mean "toward the plain of" (Keil). It means "toward" or "in the direction of."

17-19. And Yahweh said: Am I going to hide from Abraham what I purpose to do, seeing that Abraham is surely going to become a great and strong nation, and in him all the nations of the earth are going, to be blessed? For I acknowledge him to be my intimate friend to the end that he may enjoin upon his children and his household after him to keep the way of Yahweh to do what is just and right, in order that Yahweh may bring upon Abraham that which he promised him.

It seems best to assume that this soliloquy of Yahweh was spoken softly yet audibly. It was truly a soliloquy. It was just as certainly intended for Abraham's ears. Here, certainly, in a most definite sense Abraham is treated as a trusted friend and initiated into the counsels of God. From a passage such as this can grow the Scriptural designation of Abraham as "friend of God"; cf. Isa 41:8; 2Ch 20:7; Ja 2:23. Even the Arabs know and use this title of Abraham. It would be unseemly to explain this revelation on the score that since Abraham is heir to this land, God will do nothing involving one of the cities without informing Abraham of His purpose. The words here spoken indicate a twofold reason for making the revelation. First, Abraham is Yahweh's intimate friend. Secondly, this notable destruction, which is about to transpire, should be faithfully transmitted to Abraham's posterity as a warning example for all times to come. The second of these reasons is the major; the-first is auxiliary to the second.

Of course, Yahweh's deliberations about making this revelation to Abraham are not recorded to convey the impression that Yahweh was momentarily in a quandary, but to give us an insight into Yahweh's reasons for making this revelation and also to reveal drastically the intimacy of the relation between God and His saints.

The participle mekhasseh, "am I hiding?" must mean: "Am I going to hide?" The following participle is distinctly future progressive, i. e., 'oseh -- "what I purpose to do." Yahweh makes His revelation in conformity with Abraham's destiny, which is "to become a great and strong nation" and to have "all the nations of the earth blessed in him." This unmistakably refers to the Messianic blessing to be realized in the seed of Abraham. On nibhrekhû -- "be blessed" -- see Ge 12:3; it does not mean "feel blessed" (Strack).

19. The yadha' here regularly comes in for its share of discussion. The root does primarily mean "know." But a bare "know" will hardly meet the needs of the case here. This fact has driven some to the extreme position of rendering "I have chosen" (Strack). But allusion to the Scriptures Ho 13:5; Am 3:2; Ps 1:6 will hardly establish such a use. In cases such as these the meaning prevails "to acknowledge one as an intimate friend" -- als guten Bekannten anerkennen (K. W.). "To enter into personal relations with" (Skinner) amounts to about the same thing.

Now God did thus acknowledge Abraham as His intimate friend, not for Abraham's sake only but, as He specifically says, that what is thus conveyed to him might be passed on to posterity. In fact, it was to be delivered as a solemn injunction (yetsawweh -- "he may enjoin") to his own children as well as to the entire household. For though no specific ordinance is involved, nevertheless, the dreadful fate of wicked Sodom is in itself a solemn reminder to shun Sodom's wicked ways and "to keep the way of Yahweh." The expression "way of Yahweh" (dérekh yahweh) requires "Yahweh" to be construed as a subjective genitive: "the way which Yahweh desires." This is further defined as involving "to do what is just (tsedhaqah) and right" (mishpat). Procksch nicely distinguishes between these two terms, making the former signify inner, the latter outer righteousness. So Yahweh describes a salutary effect as going out from the correct knowledge of the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their iniquity. The blasted site and the true story of how divine justice blasted it constituted a lasting memorial of solemn import to Israel. To give heed to this divine lesson was essential, for only then would Yahweh "bring upon Abraham that which He promised him." Though Yahweh speaks, He says "that Yahweh may bring," referring to Himself by His proper title to make the assurance more solemn (K. S.5). Weshamerû -- "and they shall keep" -- here must be construed as a consecutive final clause, "that they may keep" or "to keep."

It will be observed that neither here nor in v. Ge 18: 20, 21 does God directly say that He will destroy these wicked cities. But from what He does say and from what Abraham knew about them, it was possible for Abraham to arrive at but one conclusion and that was: Yahweh is come to destroy these cities.

20, 21. And Yahweh said: The outcry over Sodom and Gomorrah -- surely it is great, and their sin -- surely it is exceedingly grievous. I am going down now to see whether they have done altogether according to the cry over it which has come unto me; and if not, I will know.

This is all that Yahweh reveals about His purpose. There is an "outcry (forward for emphasis) over Sodom and Gomorrah" (objective genitive). Kî does mean "that." Here the thought implied is: "it is a fact that." That certainly allows for the meaning "surely." Then we have two very emphatic statements about the extreme wickedness of the cities. When sins are said to cry out to heaven, that surely is a drastic way of saying that they call for divine interference. On kî see K. S.351 c.

21. "I am going down" in this case involves a mere descent from the higher spot where these words were spoken to the low-lying cities. In reality only the two angels (Ge 19:1) go directly to the city. The statements of the verse in no wise imply that God's omniscience is curtailed and that so He is under necessity of securing information as men might. God chooses this mode of procedure to make apparent the fact that He, as Just Judge of all the earth, does nothing without first being in full possession of all facts. The subsequent experience of the angels in Sodom displays the moral state of Sodom far more effectually than could many an explanation besides. God practically claims that the facts of the case have come up before Him already. But He does nothing until facts warrant interference. "The cry over it" is again an objective genitive (K. S.37). 'Er'eh as imperfect takes the place of the voluntative (G. K.75 1). Kalah, a noun, "completion," here appears to be used as an adverbial accusative, "altogether."

22. And the men turned from thence and went toward Sodom, but Abraham was still standing before Yahweh.

Here already those who specifically count as men ('anashîm) or later more specifically as angels (Ge 19:1) separate themselves from the group, and the one remaining behind is described very plainly as Yahweh. In the light of this clear analysis of the case we reject all statements that claim: "In what way the narrator conceived that Yahweh was present in the three men, we can hardly tell" (Skinner). An opportunity is to be given to Abraham for a free unforced expression of his broader sympathies. Intercession, if it is to have any value, surely must come unsolicited. But Abraham will emerge from the test with a rare revelation of his deep unselfishness.

23-25. And Abraham drew near and said: Wilt Thou indeed snatch away the righteous, with the wicked? Perchance there may be fifty righteous men within the city. Wilt Thou indeed snatch away and not grant pardon to the place for the sake of the fifty righteous which are in the midst of it? Far be it from Thee to do such a thing, to kill the righteous man together with the wicked, and so righteous and wicked be treated alike; far be it from Thee; shall not the Judge of all the earth deal righteously?

Abraham, well informed as to Sodom's extreme wickedness, has no doubt what God must purpose to do. So he "draws near." Though in specific connections this expression (naghash) means prayer, in this case it describes only the act preparatory to prayer, for it does not even say: he drew near to God.

The boldness of faith betrayed by this intercession may well astound us. It surely is not based on the assumption that God might deal unjustly. Nor would it ever have occurred to Abraham that he himself might be more compassionate than Yahweh. But Abraham recognized that there was a possibility of the perishing of righteous men in this impending catastrophe, even his own relatives also. Much as he hopes that Lot and his family might be rescued, he is not so narrow or selfish as to think only of these. One might almost say that with a heart kindled by the love that God imparts to faith Abraham ventures to plead the case of God's love over against God's righteousness. We may never know how these attributes of God are reconciled to one another, except in so far as they blend in Christ. But the boldness of this act of faith is acceptable with God inasmuch as it is really born out of God's heart. This attitude is the "importunity" Christ refers to in the parable of Lu 11:8.

But who would "righteous men" -- tsaddiqîm -- be in this instance? We should say, such who have made the proper use of the truth they have, whether it be much or little, and have let it have its work on their heart, yielding to it not by their own powers but under the influence of this truth. On the level of the truth on which they stand they would have dealt fairly and honestly. Apparently for the whole complex of five cities the sum "fifty" is assigned. "Place" (maqôm) above apparently means as much as region.

When the opening question is addressed to God: "Wilt thou snatch away (saphah -- 'cut off,' break off') the righteous with the wicked?" Abraham, no doubt, recalls that in major calamities this sometimes happens. But whatever may be pleaded for the righteous, that plea he wishes to make. So his prayer constitutes a kind of wrestling with God. A man who has himself received mercy seeks to secure mercy for others.

Another fact appears in this connection, namely, that the ungodly are frequently spared for the sake of the righteous, though, of course, there is a limit to what they may thus achieve for others.

In v.23 the singular tsaddiq is a case of the use of a singular noun in place of the more regular plural (K. S.256 d). In v.24 saphah is used without an object, though it is a transitive verb usually appearing with an object (K. S.209 b). The article with tsaddiqîm is occasioned by the earlier use of the word; these "righteous" are relatively familiar (relative Bekanntheit, K. S.298 b).

25) Most amazing is the free address of faith at this point. Yet, though it strikes a responsive chord in every heart, hardly anyone would be capable of venturing to address God thus. Behind it lies absolute confidence in God's fairness. Besides, that grand and correct conception of God that was characteristic of the patriarchs appears very definitely here. God is far from being a tribal God; He is "the Judge of all the earth." The critics have failed to evaluate this fact properly.

Chalilah, really a noun, an adverbial accusative here, ad profanum, we can render only by some such phrase as "far be it." With Wehayah the construction passes over from the infinitive to the use of the finite verb (G. K.114 r; K. S.413 a; 367 u).

26. And Yahweh said: If I find in Sodom fifty righteous men within the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.

Yahweh cannot be displeased with what Abraham said. He grants Abraham's petition. Everything for the present is cast into the anthropomorphic mold of thought. God knows how many righteous are in the city. It will not be requisite for Him first to make an extended investigation. We still believe that "Sodom" is mentioned by synecdoche for all the places to be destroyed. The two separate phrases "in Sodom" and "within the city" simply hold apart what we usually would combine in the phrase "with the city of Sodom" (Meek). The apodosis is introduced emphatically by waw ("and") (K. S.415 v). The word for "guilt" ('awôn) usually used after nasa', in the phrase "to pardon the guilt" is here missing.

27, 28. And Abraham answered and said: Behold, now, I have begun to speak unto Adonay (the Lord) and I but dust and ashes. Perhaps five may be wanting of the fifty righteous; wilt thou destroy all the city on account of the five? And He said: I will not destroy it if I find there forty and five.

Abraham speaks with a due sense, of his unworthiness and is fully aware of the boldness of his act. He recognizes that God is 'Adonay, Lord of all, and that he on his part is but "dust and ashes" -- "dust in origin, ashes in the end." Respectfully Abraham also substitutes the majestic title 'Adonay for the familiar "Thou." Also very cautiously he drops but "five" from the first stipulated "fifty." Interceding love is ingenious: surely, the lack of five could hardly constitute a ground for destroying the city. God acknowledges the validity of the plea. Yachserûn has the old ending ûn for û (G. K.47 m).

29-32. And he again proceeded to speak to Him and said: Perhaps there will be found there forty? And He replied: Not will I do it for the sake of the forty. And he said: I pray, let not Adonay be angry if I speak -- perhaps there will be found there thirty. And He replied: Not will I do it if I find thirty there. And he said: Behold, now, I have begun to speak unto Adonay, perhaps there will be found there twenty. And He replied: I will not destroy it, for the sake of the twenty. And he said: I pray, let not Adonay be angry if I speak only this once -- perhaps there will be found there ten. And He replied: I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten.

Before our astounded gaze are unfolded the details of a plea that stands without parallel in the annals of history. Never mortal prayed as this mortal. At the same time the writer relates the story with consummate skill, letting the tension grow with each successive plea. Never does Abraham wax presumptuous. Well aware of his unworthiness, he pleads his case carefully. But with the wisdom born of faith he discerns that by asking more than his last plea did he would no longer be pleading according to the will of God. Besides, any lower number would have degraded a worthy intercession into a narrow plea for one's relatives only.

30. Yi'char, masculine, is used for the neuter. In happß'am the article is used with the old demonstrative force, or (according to K. S.299 a) it is the Artikel der Connexitaet. Wa'adhabberah is the emphatic cohortative, "would that I might," called also the yaqtul gravatum (K. S.198 b).

33. And Yahweh went away after He had finished speaking with Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.

The scene closes abruptly: Yahweh goes away (wayyélekh), and Abraham returns home. There is no need of saying where Yahweh went. Everyone knows that. Also in Abraham's case a very general expression is used: "to his place." This brief closing remark serves to mark a lull in the action of the story. Some calamity is impending, and the thread of the narrative is about to resume with the unfinished part.


A chapter with a wealth of human interest for the preacher! Two distinct episodes stand out: v.1-15 and v.16-33. In treating the former several points of view are permissible. The more general thought of "God's Loving-kindness toward His Children" may come to the forefront when we observe the paternal friendly approach of the Lord. When the faith-difficulty of Sarah is taken in hand, then the point of view of v.14 may predominate, suggesting the theme: "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" Then there is the further possibility of regarding what we see of Abraham as a manifestation of faith from still a different angle. Then we might treat of the "True Courtesy of True Faith" -- a subject which we personally regard as by no means trivial. The second half of the chapter, v.16-33, can be treated under heads such as "The Boldness of Faith," or "Intercessory Prayer at its Best." We also deem that approach appropriate which views this portion from the point of view of "Ye are my Friends." Then v.19 suggests still another approach along the line: "The Memory of God's Judgment is to be Kept Alive."

chapter xvii
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