Let me do a quick summary of chapters 12-17 of Genesis before we look at today’s reading. I will extend today’s reading to Genesis 18:18.
In chapter 12, God first speaks with Abram, go where I lead you, and Abram goes with his family. He arrives in what we now know was the Promised Land in time for a great famine, so runs on to Egypt. Once God helps him out of trouble there, he and his nephew Lot establish themselves at Bethel.
It was then in chapter 13 that God speaks to Abram. “Raise your eyes and look out from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west, for I give all the land that you see to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the land through its length and its breadth, for I give it to you.” JSB
In chapter 14, Abram rescues Lot from the king Chedorlaomer.
In chapter 15, God speaks again. “Fear not, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what can you give me, seeing that I shall die childless, and the one in charge of my household is Bammesek Eliezer!” … The word of the Lord came to him in reply, “That one shall not be your heir; none but your very own issue shall be your heir.” JSB
In chapter 16, Hagar has a son by Abram called Ishmael.
In chapter 17, God speaks again to Abram. “I am El Shaddai. Walk in My ways and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will make you exceedingly numerous. … As for Me, this is My covenant with you; You shall be the father of a multitude of nations. And you shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I make you the father of a multitude of nations. JSB
Now, here we are in chapter 18 with a message that Abraham will father a nation. How many times does the man need to hear the news? Of course, he is a hundred years old, so he probably needed another reminder.
It is important to note the opening verse of this reading. And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. ESV Or; The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. NIV Either reading of the Hebrew Allown is correct. We should note that the name used in the Hebrew for God is Yahweh, translated as Lord in both NIV & ESV. Adonai is the most common Jewish substitute for the Yahweh, the name that is not to be spoken.
The most important detail is that the Lord appeared. Yet, Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. JSB As we read all 18 verses the connection between God and the three men is vague. It is probably easiest to call the men angels, but they don’t act like other messenger angels in the Bible. Since they are God’s messengers, we assume God can use them as He sees fit. If He wants to break in and deliver part of the message Himself, so be it.
Back to verse 2. On seeing them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, prostrated himself on the ground, and said, “My lord, if I have found favor in your sight, please don’t leave your servant. CJB This is a great picture of Abraham. He knows at once who is standing before him. Bowing his head to the dirt was the move of a slave before the master. Abraham did not see three men; he saw God.
The Hebrew translated, My Lord, is Adonay from which Adonai comes. It’s a less formal name. Why does Abraham beg the men to stay? His heart is troubled with his understanding of his and Sarah’s aging conditions in connection with the promise of God. It is not possible for a 90-year-old woman to have a baby, let alone for a 100-year-old man to have any seed left.
But note, Abraham has not given up. He runs—wouldn’t you like to see that old man run?—and begs the men to stay. Let a little water be brought; bathe your feet and recline under the tree. And let me fetch a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves; then go on. JSB
He runs around like a man possessed lining up a banquet of roasted calf freshly killed—a sacrifice to God?—and then personally attends their every need under the great oaks. A little water and a morsel of bread, indeed.
One of the men asked—while eating; like Jesus with the Twelve—“Where is Sarah?” “In the tent.” Assuming God sends these men, I think we can assume God knows where Sarah is.
Here is where it gets a bit strange again. In verse 10, the ESV reads, The Lord said. This may be overstepping the bounds of translation. The Hebrew word is amar, meaning to say and variations of that. It is better translated here as he said, or something like it. Of the Bibles on my list, only the ESV, the Living Bible, and the RSV added Lord. I am guessing they added Lord because in verse 13, Yahweh Himself does speak.
What he said in verse 10 was; “I shall come back to you next year, and then your wife Sarah will have a son.” NJB Sarah overheard this and laughed. Here is the literal translation of the Hebrew. Now Abraham and Sarah old advancing in days; it had ceased to be to Sarah the custom as to women. And laughed Sarah within herself, saying, After my being old, shall there be to me pleasure, my lord also being old? Hendrickson Interlinear Bible
After tap dancing with ministration, the Hebrew writer used the word pleasure regarding the sexual act. I think it deserves notice that the (presumably) male writers were willing to say that a woman could take pleasure in the act, and even think of it at the age of 90. And we think nursing homes are dull.
On another matter, Genesis 17:17; Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” ESV This exchange occurred on the occasion when God instituted circumcision as a sign of His Covenant. Abraham asked about Ishmael carrying out the Covenant, but God said no, it will be Isaac.
This single verse is at the center of the Jewish/Islam split. Mohammad taught that Ishmael was the true child of the Covenant and that his descendants included Mohammad, the greatest of all the prophets. Mohammad did accept most of the Jewish prophets and Jesus as well, but only as a prophet.
Yes, the Bible records the message of greatness to Abraham several times. Early on, the message was generalized—sometime in the future. But in chapter 18, the time is given—one year. It is no accident that Abraham and Sarah were too old to have sex, let alone children. The message here is that not even the impossible is impossible for God.
The other important point is that Abraham and Sarah did act on the Word of God. They got themselves into the tent and took pleasure in God’s Promise.
Read my earlier comments on this theme here.
Be righteous and do good.