GENESIS - CHAPTER 18
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
18:1. “And the Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;”
In chapter 16 the Holy Spirit has led us beside the troubled waters of fleshly activity, showing us, strewn on the shore, the wreckage resulting from that activity; and in chapter 17 He has led us into the shadows of the valley of death, showing us the death of Abraham’s hopes as far as the flesh could be looked to for the fulfillment of those hopes. There we have been shown that the flesh must die. Only when man has learned his own helplessness does God come in and display His power in resurrection, bringing life out of death. But in chapter 18 we emerge from the shadows having learnt that, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Ps 30:5). Beyond the shadows lies a day that is lustered with the glory of God’s omnipotence working all things together for our eternal good.
After the fruitless activity of the flesh in chapter 16, and after receiving the assurance of blessing in chapter 17, Abraham is now found, “...in the plains of Mamre causing fatness,” sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day.
Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth....” (Heb 12:6). “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb 12:11). Abraham had had to learn the hard lesson that the flesh could contribute absolutely nothing to the accomplishment of the divine purposes. In fact he had to learn that the flesh must be “cut off” before God could begin to work. But now, having learnt the lesson, and having learned that God will do everything for him, he enjoys the peaceable fruits of his chastisement: he sits (symbolic of rest), in the plains of Mamre causing fatness, symbolic of his spiritual state. He is the representative of all who reap the peaceable fruits of God’s chastisement. He has learned to sit and let God work for him. This is not the apathy of hopelessness: it is the peaceful rest born of the knowledge that since God has undertaken our cause, we need “be careful for nothing” (Php 4:6). “He that hath entered into His (God’s) rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (Heb 4:10).
The time when he enjoyed this rest is also instructive. It was “in the heat of the day.” This is a term frequently used in Scripture to describe the toil and care of daily living, e.g., Mt 20:12, “... thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.” God’s peace is the believer’s portion even in the midst of earthly care, for it is independent of earthly circumstances.
His sitting in the tent door is illustrative of the ideal spiritual attitude of every believer. As the tent is the dwelling place for the believer’s body, the body itself is but the earthly dwelling place of his soul. Abraham’s seat in the tent door bespeaks an attitude of willingness to leave the tent at any time God might require. It was the attitude of Peter, “Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me” (2 Pe 1:13-14). And it was also the attitude of Paul, “... whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord ... we are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Co 5:6-8).
The man who sits spiritually “in the tent door in the heat of the day” is the man who has learned to hold lightly the things of earth. He lives in the expectation of being transported in a moment from earth to heaven, and he is ready to go.
18:2. “And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground,”
If chapter 17 is occupied with the death of the flesh, and the necessity to renounce all trust in it, chapter 18 is occupied with the God of resurrection Who comes in when the flesh is “cut off,” and manifests Himself as the One Who has power over death. The heavenly visitors (One of Whom is the Lord Himself) are accordingly, three in number.
The eagerness with which Abraham welcomed God is indicated in the words, “he ran to meet them.” The spiritual man always enjoys God’s company, his enjoyment being demonstrated by the eagerness with which he studies the written Word. Distaste for the study of Scripture is nothing less than distaste for communion with God.
”... and bowed himself toward the ground.” The utmost reverence marked his approach into the divine presence. The presumption that would approach Him with common familiarity has no place in man’s relationship with God. Reverence becomes us in His presence, as does also reverent and dignified language. There is a rapidly growing tendency among Christians to bring God down to the level of a mere earthly father or older brother. We should never forget that He is the One before Whom angels veil their faces. Abraham “bowed himself toward the ground.”
18:3. “And said, My Lord, if now I have found favor in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant:”
Reverence and humility marked both his attitude and his speech. He valued the honor bestowed upon him in God’s drawing near to him, and confessed his unworthiness of that honor. Among the men of Canaan, Abraham was “a mighty prince” (Ge 23:6), but in God’s presence he was “Thy servant.” His attitude is conspicuously absent among professing Christians today. He ran from the tent door to meet God, yet there are professing Christians who make God wait their time as they habitually straggle in late to every scheduled meeting of the assembly, and then continue to display their lack of reverence by their conduct when they do arrive. It is becoming disturbingly common to see, even at the Lord’s supper, adults and children wandering in and out to the bathroom, not only to the distraction of those who are trying to worship, but what is worse, to the dishonor of God. Surely a little reflection should remind us that we wouldn’t display such disrespect for even the local mayor, as to go to the bathroom in the middle of an interview with him, yet I’ve seen people go to, or return from the bathroom even while a brother was praying.
Abraham’s earnest desire to have God visit him, would rebuke the impatient haste that leads us to assign God a few quick moments in which to speak to us from His Word, and which limits to an equally brief period, our conversation with Him in prayer.
18:4. “Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.”
The place where Abraham entertained his heavenly guests was “under the tree.” It is a picture of Calvary, for it is only under that tree that God finds refreshment and rest, and it is only there that He can meet with man. It is only because Christ hung on Calvary’s tree that there is a feast, the Lord’s supper, where God and man can meet together and share their delight in that obedient Son. It is only because of that sacrifice that man has anything to set before God, for not only is that sacrifice the ground of his acceptance before God, but the One Who offered it is also the essence of his worship, there being nothing else man can offer God except the adoration of a heart occupied with Christ, and overflowing with appreciation of His worth. That is why the natural man can’t worship: he has nothing to offer God, for in his heart he cares nothing about Christ, and Christ is the only thing God will accept from man. As a sinner I must first present Christ as my Trespass and Sin Offering. Then as a saint I present Him as my Peace and Meal Offering, and finally, as my Burnt Offering.
It is significant that water was the first thing used in Abraham’s entertainment of his guests. It is a symbol of the Word as ministered by the Holy Spirit. But to the natural man the Word is a sealed book, “For the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Co 2:14). However, if the natural man’s inability to worship springs from not knowing the Scriptures because he doesn’t know Christ, and having therefore, nothing to offer God, the very opposite is true of the new man. It is from the well of the Word that he has come to know Christ as his Savior, and it is from that same Word that he continues to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pe 3:18). It is from that “well” that the Holy spirit takes the things of Christ and reveals them unto us. Without the knowledge of Christ there can be no worship, for worship is nothing less than the presentation of Christ to God.
The water was to wash the visitors’ feet. Typologically foot washing speaks of the application of the Word for our daily cleansing, but since these visitors are heavenly there can be no thought of cleansing. The picture is of the refreshment which God finds in the believer’s presentation to Him of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“... and rest yourselves under the tree.” It is not just man who finds rest at Calvary: God also finds His rest there, for it was on that tree that Christ finished the work His Father had given Him to do. It was there that God’s righteous claims were fully satisfied, the price of our redemption fully paid. God and man together rest under Calvary’s tree.
18:5. “And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said.”
Abraham modestly described his feast as “a morsel of bread.” It is by means of a simple loaf of bread that God would remind us week by week of the broken body of His Son. To the world it is only a “morsel of bread,” but to God and the believer it is a richer feast than any that has ever graced an earthly table. In that simple loaf, God and the believer see Christ; and at the Lord’s supper “under the tree (the cross), they both feed on (find satisfaction in) the true Bread Who came down from heaven.
“... and comfort ye your hearts,” reminds us of the pleasure and satisfaction God finds when believers assemble “upon the first day of the week ... to break bread” in remembrance of the Lord’s death, and present to Him their worship for the Lord Jesus Christ.
”... after that ye shall pass on,” reminds us that this weekly foretaste of heaven at the Lord’s table is not permanent. We too, must pass on, each week’s journey, marked by the milestone of the Lord’s supper, bringing us one step nearer home. We keep the feast only “till He come,” and we shall see Him face to face, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Co 11:26).
The importance of the Lord’s supper, foreshadowed in the feast prepared by Abraham, is revealed in the words, “for therefore are ye come to your servant.” If God came down to earth for the sole purpose of keeping a feast that was only a type of the Lord’s supper, who can measure the value to Him of the reality! We should value it accordingly, absenting ourselves only when attendance is impossible.
God’s perfect satisfaction with Abraham’s every suggestion is expressed in the words “so do, as thou hast said.” What peace there is in the life where everything is in harmony with God! The restless troubled activity of the flesh not under God’s control, chapter sixteen, is in direct contrast with the peace and happiness presented to our view in this chapter.
Before continuing with our study it might be well to note that the worship which is here symbolically portrayed is that form which was committed to the early Church, and which has been superseded throughout much of Christendom by a humanly-ordained system that has robbed worship of its meaning. The simple order observed by the primitive Church in its keeping of this feast is still followed by some companies of God’s people today, and stands in complete contrast to the structured, restrictive forms with which man has replaced the divine pattern. It was recognized by the early believers that the risen Christ presided at the table as the great High Priest Who would present the worship of the assembled company to the Father. The appointment of a human leader was therefore, not only unnecessary, but wrong, for it usurped the place that belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Nor was it necessary to prepare in advance what form the worship would take, since it was, and still is, the Holy Spirit’s prerogative to indite the worship, and to have it expressed, not just by one, but several of the assembled worshippers, those men, speaking only at the impulse of the Holy Spirit, giving expression to the worship in the hearts of the assembled company.
As therefore, the Holy Spirit leads them, several brethren, one at a time, might pray, each prayer being the audible expression of what is in the hearts of the assembled worshippers; several others might, in turn, read from the Scriptures; all might join together to express their worship in psalms or hymns. Sisters, who are commanded to be silent in the Church (1 Co 14:34-35; 1 Tim 2:11-15), and brethren whom the Holy Spirit may not choose for audible participation on any particular Lord’s day, present their worship silently. All of the worship therefore, some audible, some silent, but all of it equally acceptable and precious to God, rises up to Him as a spiritual fragrance which is the antitype of the incense that was offered on the Golden Altar under the Old Testament order.
Since this communion feast is the remembrance of the Lord’s death, in which He offered Himself as a sacrifice to God on our behalf, the prayers, hymns and Scripture readings should center on Him - His birth, life, death, and resurrection. Prayers, hymns or Scriptures relating to our own or other’s needs or service, or to teaching, etc., have no place at this unique church gathering.
It might be supposed that without a visible leader, or at least a prearrangement of the worship in regard to what will be offered, and by whom, there would be complete confusion. On the contrary, these worship meetings are usually characterized by such harmonious blending of elements that it is impossible for an observer to believe that there has not been human prearrangement. The total worship resulting from the Spirit’s blending of the individual parts is the spiritual counterpart of the fragrant incense that resulted from the blending of the spices mentioned in Ex 30:34-37. Each one of those spices portrayed a characteristic of Christ, and, when blended together, presented a symbolic picture of Him.
In regard to worship after this pattern, the question arises, Should we individually prepare in advance, something to offer when we assemble to eat the Lord’s supper and present our worship? Our present chapter sheds considerable light on the question, but before continuing our study, we should note the obvious. If, during the week, there has been no thought of the Lord’s birth, perfect life, death, resurrection, and second coming, etc., it is very unlikely that such thoughts will fill the mind or employ the lips when we sit at His table on the first day of the week. The Holy Spirit’s use of an individual to participate audibly in worship does not consist of a miraculous revelation of things to which the individual has given no thought during the week. It does consist of His bringing those things to remembrance, and selecting from them such items as He may wish to employ in the total worship of the congregation. Spiritual believers easily detect the difference between what is of the flesh and what is of the Spirit, no matter how eloquent the speech. That which is the grateful expression of a mind and heart continually occupied with Christ, cannot be duplicated by the flesh.
The Church, having rejected for the most part, the divine pattern for her worship, has substituted a human formula having in it very little in regard to which God can say, as He did of Abraham’s arrangements, “so do as thou hast said.”
18:6. “And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth.”
In Abraham’s hastening into the tent, and in his command to Sarah to make ready quickly the three measures of fine meal, God would impress upon us that the Lord’s supper is not something to be taken lightly. As the believer keeps that feast, he exercises his highest privilege: he is permitted to give something to God.
When we remember that Abraham represents faith, and Sarah, grace, the lesson we learn from their combined work in preparing the feast is that worship is the presentation to God of that which grace and faith combine to produce in the believer’s life, i.e., the love and gratitude of a redeemed heart.
Sarah’s work in the tent would remind us that the work of grace is in the inward life, in the heart, and is discerned only by the eye of God. Her work would emphasize what we have already considered: worship is not the performance of an elaborate ritual: it is what results from the activity of grace in the inward life, not just on the Lord’s day, but every day.
Fine meal was the principle ingredient of the Meal offering, and it represents the Lord’s perfect humanity. His human life was the demonstration of the fact that He was the only Man in Whom no virtue was lacking, in Whom no attribute exceeded another. The perfect balance of His life was beautifully portrayed in the smooth, even texture of the fine meal.
The three measures would remind us that the perfect life He laid down as an offering to God, was a life He had the power to take up again, for three is the number of resurrection. “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.... No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (Jn 10:17-18).
”Knead” means “to work into a uniform mixture by pressing, folding and stretching.” The kneading finds its spiritual counterpart in our daily searching of the Scriptures, and as He thus becomes better known to us, we should have more to present to God in worship, since worship is the presentation of Christ to God. But what is presented to the Father on the first day of each week by believers meeting together to remember the Lords’ death, is only one aspect of worship. As we grow in our knowledge of Him, we should become more like Him, and another way in which we present our worship is in the daily offering of a Christlike life. That Christlikeness can only be produced as our study of the written Word produces in us a continually increasing conformity to His image.
The meal was to be baked into cakes. In Abraham’s offering of these cakes we have a picture of faith presenting God with the result of its occupation with Christ. But it is faith as represented in a company of believers met together for worship. The cakes into which the three measures of meal (Christ’s perfect humanity) were baked, represent the individual elements that make up the total worship of the assembled company.
The place where the cakes were prepared has also something to teach us. It was “upon the hearth,” where the fire was burning. That fire was essential to the preparation of the cakes, just as the Holy Spirit (of Whom the fire is a type or symbol) is essential in worship. A mere intellectual knowledge of Christ isn’t enough. Worship is produced only when the Holy Spirit works upon that knowledge and transforms it into Christlikeness in the heart and life.
And the fire was burning on the hearth, i.e., on the ground. This speaks of humility, reminding us that the Holy Spirit will not teach the man who refuses to take a low place before God. Pride is the first of the seven things which God hates, Pr 6:17.
18:7. “And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it.”
Occupation with the Lord’s perfect life, however, is only one part of worship. That life was lived with Calvary in view, for that perfect life must be given up to make atonement for sin, before God could bestow His pardon upon sinners. Atonement wasn’t made by His perfect life, but by His death. The perfection of His life simply revealed His fitness to present Himself to God as the unblemished Sacrifice which alone could make atonement for sin. The same lesson is taught in Exodus chapter 12 in connection with the passover lamb: it was to be kept from the tenth till the fourteenth day to reveal its unblemished condition, its physical perfection foreshadowing the Lord’s moral flawlessness. It was the blood of the lamb that was placed on the door posts, and that guaranteed the safety of the firstborn. The lamb had to die.
As well as the three measures of fine meal, there was also the calf “tender and good.” That slain calf represents Christ in His death. Tender here is not to be understood as the opposite of tough, but rather, as young, weak, incapable of resistance. It points to the Lord’s willingness to be “brought as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isa 53:7).
While it lived, that calf could do no more than reveal its suitability to be the main course of the feast: to provide that course it must be slain. And so with Christ: His perfect life revealed His suitability to be the one and only Sacrifice that could meet both the claims of a holy God, and the need of sinful men. To meet those claims, that need, He must die.
But Christ meets the need of God and man in a two-fold way. Relative to the relationship that exists between God and the sinner, Christ is what the sinner needs to present to God as his Trespass and Sin offering; and He meets God’s need in that He satisfies the claims of divine holiness by providing in His death the life which that holiness must have if God’s righteousness is to be maintained. God had declared, “... in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Ge 2:17). Adam did eat, and as a representative man, the federal head of the human race, thereby forfeited man’s life. For God to accept less would have been to make Himself a liar. At Calvary Christ yielded up that life, and thereby preserved the moral integrity of God.
In the relationship existing between God and the saint, however, there is also a need. God seeks worship (Jn 4:23) for worship is the highest expression of love, and it is only Christ Who can beget love for God in the human heart. Redeemed man desires to have something he can give to God as the expression of his love and gratitude. Christ meets that need, for it is what he thinks of Christ that constitutes man’s worship.
The Amplified rendering of this verse is, “And Abraham ... gave it to the young man (to butcher); then (Abraham) hastened to prepare it.” We may learn the significance of the young man from Pr 20:29, “The glory of young men is their strength.” Romans, chapter 12, and 1 Corinthians chapter 8, make it very clear that there are some believers who are weak, and some who are strong. The lesson therefore, of the young man’s butchering the calf would seem to be that while every believer is a worshiper, not every believer is qualified to present worship audibly when the assembly is gathered together to eat the Lord’s supper. When the Holy Spirit impels audible participation, it is not surely just for the presentation of that one individual’s worship, but rather, that that man may give expression to the worship of the whole congregation. Would spiritual intelligence not teach us that the carnal, and the immature, for example, are unlikely candidates for this solemn responsibility? This does not imply in any way that the worship of one believer is of more value to God than that of another. Fitness, or lack of fitness, to present worship audibly, is not to be confused with the value of the worship itself in God’s eyes. All that is the genuine expression of a heart occupied with Christ, and overflowing with love to Him, is precious in the Father’s sight, whether audibly or silently expressed. It does not exclude the worship of any believer. A child may delight his father’s heart without being able to assist him in the operation of his business.
In regard to the matter of spiritual strength and weakness, it is scarcely necessary to say that the new convert is “weak” simply because of his immaturity, while the carnal is weak because he has little interest in spiritual things. It is not God’s desire, however, for any believer to remain weak. He commands us, “Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pe 3:18). Spiritual strength and spiritual diet are closely related. One cause of spiritual weakness is that some believers subsist on a diet so frugal that death would result were it duplicated in the physical realm.
Obviously not all men have the qualification to publicly present worship audibly. The Holy Spirit is the One Who alone has the right to make choice of whom He will. Some men clearly lack, not only the spiritual, but also the physical ability to be the Spirit’s spokesmen. For example, in one local church some years ago, a brother with a very severe speech impediment habitually participated audibly during the Lord’s Supper, and succeeded only in embarrassing the believers, because no one could understand what he was trying to say. Others have been guilty of frustrating the assembled believers by speaking in a tone so low that the majority couldn’t hear what the speaker was saying. God, the Author of order, not confusion, commands, “Let all things be done unto edifying,” and again, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Co 14:26,40).
Physical ability alone, however, is not in itself qualification. A man may be articulate without being spiritual, and his participation will be equally fruitless in accomplishing the Spirit’s work of presenting worship to the Father.
A very legitimate question therefore is, How may I know when the Spirit is leading me to participate audibly when the assembly is met together to worship?
The leading of the Holy Spirit is a very delicate, fragile thing that transcends any system of rules: if it were otherwise, God would have given us those rules. There are, however, principles that will guide the man who would approach the Father with a sincere desire to “worship Him in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:24).
1. Have I been walking obediently during the preceding week, and as I sit at the Lord’s table is my conscience clear that there is no sin which has not been confessed, repented of, and forsaken?
2. Will my prayer be likely to express what may be in the hearts of my brethren and sisters?
3. Will the Scriptures I read (and perhaps expound) present some thought of Christ?
4. Will my hymn direct attention to the Lord, and magnify Him?
5. Will what I say be in harmony with the worship that has already been offered?
6. Can I honestly say that my participation is for Christ’s glory alone, and not for my own?
If the answer to these questions is YES, then there is at least reasonable assurance that my audible participation is the result of the Holy Spirit’s leading.
The fact that there was work involved in the preparation of both the calf and the cakes answers our first question, Should we prepare in advance what we may offer in worship when we sit at the Lord’s table?
It is not that we should prepare: we must, and our worship will be rich and full only in direct proportion to the preparation made during the preceding week. But - and this but is imperative - the preparation must be a filling of the mind and heart with thoughts of Christ, so that when we assemble to worship, there will be material available for the Holy Spirit’s use. Preparation must never be made in the attitude of self-willed determination which says in effect, Since I’ve taken the time to prepare this, I’m going to present it. This is not the attitude of worship. This is the attitude that governed Cain, and resulted in the rejection, first of his offering, and then of himself.
An analogy may be drawn from life. When a guest comes to our table we set a variety of food before him, leaving him to choose what he may wish to eat. We don’t compel him to eat what he doesn’t want. The same principle should govern us at the Lord’s table. It is His prerogative to accept such items of worship as He may choose. There is more involved than just the suitability of a hymn or a portion of Scripture: there is also the matter of the time when it is right to present that hymn, etc. Sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading will indicate that time. Just because something appropriate has been revealed to me during this week doesn’t mean that the next Lord’s day is the time to present it. It happens not infrequently in fact that the Holy Spirit postpones the time of presentation. This may be a testing of our submission to His will. Failure to yield that submission results in His being grieved, and in addition, introduces discord into the worship He has planned for each Lord’s supper.
18:8. “And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.”
Butter and milk were also a part of the feast. Milk is connected with spiritual immaturity, “As new born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (2 Pe 2:2). “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe” (Heb 5:12-13).
In recording that Abraham also set milk and butter before his guests, God would show us that the worship of the spiritual “babe” is no less acceptable than that of the most mature believer. What has been discussed in verse seven has to do, not with the question of whether he may worship, but of his fitness to be presenting that worship audibly.
Since milk is a type of the Word, it is therefore, also a type of Christ. In Pr 30:33 it is written, “The churning of milk bringeth forth butter.” In this God would teach us that it is the continual “churning” (reading and searching of the written Word, and meditation upon it) that brings forth what the butter represents - all the richness of Christ. Our appreciation of those perfections may be presented to God in worship. The butter and milk were as much a part of the feast as were the meal and the calf.
He “set it before them.” They were free to choose what they would eat. It should be the same with the presentation of our worship. The Holy Spirit should be allowed to select from what we have prepared during the week. To insist upon offering it just because we prepared it is to ignore the leading of the Spirit, and to introduce confusion into the worship of the assembled company. Such self-willed worship is an abomination to God.
”He stood by them ... and they did eat.” It is emphasized that they ate, while Abraham stood by them, ready to bring what they might desire. At the Lord’s supper we do not come to get, but to give. It is there that we have the privilege of “standing by” while the heart of God is refreshed and satisfied by what we set before Him. Everything Abraham set before his heavenly visitors was a type of Christ, teaching us that as we meet God “under the tree,” and “stand by” Him, it should be to present Him with Christ. This clearly precludes such things as the presentation of requests for our own needs, even those needs that are related to our service. The throne of grace (Heb 4:16), not the Lord’s table, is the proper place to present our requests.
Occasionally the comment is heard regarding the Lord’s supper, “I get nothing out of it.” This is to declare total ignorance of the nature of that feast. It is God, not we, who is to “get” something at the Lord’s supper; and a far more appropriate question would be, “What did God get out of it?” It is to be feared that all too often it is He Whose complaint must be, “I got nothing out of it.”
18:9. “And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent.”
As has been noted in previous studies, Sarah represents grace; and the tent, the believer’s body. The repeated designation of Sarah as “thy wife” emphasizes the union of faith and grace in the believer. Since God certainly knew where she was, His reason for asking Abraham may have been to emphasize that the divine promises belong only to those in whose lives grace dwells; and God requires that that fact be declared, not only in righteous deeds, but also in the confession of the lips (Ro 10:9).
18:10. “And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life: and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him.”
Having refreshed the heart of God by the presentation of that which represented Christ, Abraham then received that which delighted his own heart. The promise was literally, “About this time next year I shall return and Sarah shall have a son.” The long period of waiting for the promised seed was almost over. In a year that son would be given.
“And Sarah heard it....” After all the disappointment and misery that had followed her abortive scheme to produce the promised son by human means, she too, heard the joyful news that it was she, and she alone, who was to be the mother of that son. In this we read God’s assurance to those who have His grace dwelling in them, that it is through His power alone every promise will be made good.
It is scarcely necessary to note that in the birth of Isaac we have an OT foreshadowing of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Both births were miraculous - humanly speaking, impossible.
Incidentally, the fact that Abraham and Sarah were both old when Isaac was born, may be the symbolic declaration of the sad truth that many of us are also old before Christ is seen in us, that is, in our thoughts, words, and deeds.
18:11. “Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.”
Nature could have no part in begetting this son. As far as Abraham and Sarah were concerned their bodies were “dead,” but He Who had promised was the God of resurrection. He would fulfill His promise and demonstrate His power by bringing that son out of two dead bodies. The flesh has nothing to do with the outworking of the divine purposes. True life comes only when the flesh is dead. It is only after they see themselves as “crucified with Christ” that men become the possessors of eternal life. God’s objective is to reproduce Christ in every believer, and it is He, not we, Who will accomplish that purpose. We are responsible to conform our lives to the pattern of Christ’s; but the new man, born the moment we trusted Christ, is already perfectly conformed to His image, God alone being responsible for that work, the perfection of the image to be displayed on that day when these mortal bodies become immortal.
18:12. “Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”
Sarah’s skeptical laughter demonstrates the truth that many of God’s promises to His own are of such magnitude as to seem impossible of fulfillment. We are slow to learn that nothing is impossible to God.
The “therefore” takes us back to the previous verse, in which it is recorded that they “were both old and well stricken in age.” It was this that evoked her unbelieving laughter. Her eye was upon herself and her husband; and if this were her only hope, well might she laugh. But God would have her, as he would also have us, focus her eyes upon Him, and “be not faithless, but believing” (Jn 20:27).
18:13. “And the Lord said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old?”
God’s question was not to elicit information (He is omniscient), but to bring confession. He would have Abraham and Sarah recognize that even unknown to themselves, there was still something lacking in their faith, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin,” and unbelief, however small, must, like all sin, be confessed and put away before God can work for us.
It was Sarah who laughed, but it was to Abraham that the Lord directed his question. Sarah represents, not only grace, but also the inward life of the believer, and in God’s questioning Abraham concerning what would seem to relate only to Sarah, we may learn that there may lurk within us, unknown to us, unbelief that must be exposed and put away. It may have been awareness of this possibility that led David to exclaim, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps 139:23-24). “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer 17:9). None, not even the man himself, can properly know his own heart. It is God alone Who can plumb those depths, as is declared in Jer 17:10, “I the Lord search the heart (mind), I try the reins (the heart, the emotions).”
18:14. “Is anything 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.”
In verse 12 Sarah said, “I am waxed old,” and based on only that fact, the birth of the promised son was impossible. But here it is the eternal I AM Who speaks. He is the One of Whom it is written in Heb 1:10-12, “And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: they shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.” Well might He ask, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” He, Who by a word, produced the universe, is the same God Who gave the assurance, “I will return ... and Sarah shall have a son.”
18:15. “Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh.”
Fear is the parent of cowardice; and we fear to have our lack of faith exposed. Why? Is it because we fear that our faithlessness will prevent the performance of God’s promises? God would teach us that the fulfillment of His promises is independent of anything in us. Though He must admonish Sarah, He didn’t withdraw His promise, “Sarah shall have a son.”
In spite of everything in us that would seem to exclude the possibility of its fulfillment, we shall stand in heaven perfectly conformed to the image of His Son. The promised Seed, Christ, will be produced in us, just as Isaac (the type of the true Seed) was produced in Sarah. And He will be produced by the same miraculous Power, the Holy Spirit Who produced Isaac.
It is to be noted that we are talking here about God’s promises, which are not to be confused with His blessings. Lack of faith may diminish the extent of our blessings, see e.g., Mt 6:30; 9:29: nothing can prevent the fulfillment of His promises.
18:16. “And the men rose up from thence, and looked toward Sodom: and Abraham went with them to bring them on the way.”
Having dined (type of communion) with His servant, and having rejoiced that servant’s heart with the assurance that the promised son would be given in the next year, God then rose “and looked toward Sodom.” Sodom was about to be destroyed by the judgment of that same God Who had just blessed faithful Abraham, and we should note the order of God’s operation. Before that judgment was poured out, faith was assured of blessing. The divine pattern has always been the same. Judgment is His strange work: He would rather bless than punish. When the world (represented by Sodom) is finally judged, it will be because that world has chosen to reject grace, preferring to live in sin rather than righteousness. The world that receives judgment is the world for which the Lord Jesus Christ first died.
Abraham’s going with them “to bring them on the way,” would remind us that it is the privilege of every believer to do the same. We too, can walk with God (an obedient life) on the way toward that day when a guilty world will be judged in preparation for the inauguration of Christ’s millennial kingdom. His going with them reminds us also that the obedient believer enjoys God’s company. The communion he enjoys through reading and prayer is no dull, compelled, ritualistic thing: it is an experience to be enjoyed.
18:17. “And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do;”
Faith that has just received the assurance of blessing, enjoys the additional privilege of being taken into God’s confidence, and is permitted to enjoy His counsels. But Abraham is the representative of the obedient believer: what he enjoyed we too may enjoy, and our appreciation of our privilege is easily measured. God today does not come down to walk visibly with His own, but His presence (the indwelling Holy Spirit) is no less real; and because His assurances and confidences are now given in the written Word, they are not thereby diminished in value. Whether He chooses to communicate with His own through the lips of a man, as He did with Abraham, or through a pen in the hand of a man whom He had chosen to be His amanuensis, it is still God Who speaks.
How much do we value His communications? It is measured by the time we spend in those Scriptures, and by the pleasure we find in them. They are God’s voice.
All too often we rise from the Lord’s table and return to the world as though communion with God was something to be enjoyed only for an hour on the Lord’s day. Not so with Abraham: he “went with them.” The man who would enjoy the divine counsels, must enjoy God’s company, for God will force Himself on no one. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Re 3:20). Abraham’s life was such that he was happy in God’s presence. As God drew near, this man of obedient faith “ran to meet” Him, and he implored Him to remain, “pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant”; and as God prepared to leave, Abraham “went with them (Him).” Would we enjoy what Abraham enjoyed? Then God must be as welcome to share our lives as He was to share Abraham’s. Happiness and peace will be ours only when we are happy to have God share our thoughts, our words and our deeds - our whole lives.
18:18. “Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?”
Linked with God’s assurances and disclosures, is Abraham’s future greatness; and his position is simply a picture of our own. We too, in a day that is very near, will also be great and mighty, for we shall reign with Christ. But linked with Abraham’s future might and greatness, is the blessing of the nations. That blessing, however, becomes the possession of only the obedient nations; and until they become aware of God’s requirements, they cannot yield that necessary obedience. Abraham was a testimony for God to the nations around him. We have a similar responsibility. Without that testimony, there is no hope for them. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Ro 10:13-15).
18:19. “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.”
It was a very great honor to have been taken into God’s confidence, but honoring him wasn’t God’s only purpose in revealing His plans to Abraham. In first foretelling, and then displaying that judgment (as He was about to in the destruction of Sodom), God was equipping Abraham to be a more effective witness.
Others, beholding the destruction of the cities of the plain, might conclude that it was simply the result of a natural disaster, but Abraham, forewarned of God, would make no such wrong deduction. He would know that it was from the hand of Him Who is “of purer eyes than to behold evil” (Hab 1:13). Abraham’s testimony would be from the sure foundation of certainty rather than the flimsy platform of conjecture.
The honor conferred upon Abraham was based on God’s foreknowledge, “I know him ... he will command his children ... and they shall keep the way of the Lord....” Through Abraham’s testimony, his children would know that God had brought upon the cities of the plain, “that which he had spoken.” They would know that God never fails to bring to pass, “that which He hath spoken.” Judgment follows disobedience, just as surely as blessing follows obedience. We too, have as the basis of our testimony, the evidence of judgment foretold and executed. The judgment foretold, and borne by Christ at Calvary on man’s behalf, is the foundation of our witness for God. A question worth pondering, however, is whether God can have the same confidence in us with regard to our children and our households. And what is true of our literal children and households, is true also of their spiritual counterparts. Our responsibility doesn’t end when we have led someone to Christ (begotten a spiritual son or daughter): that “child” is to be instructed in the knowledge of God.
“... that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” God’s blessings are conferred only upon the obedient.
18:20. “And the Lord said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous;”
18:21. “I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not I will know.”
It is surely not without significance that the very sin to which Sodom has given its name is being brazenly practiced everywhere, while its votaries clamor for society’s acceptance of it as a normal way of life. The Lord Himself has declared that the widespread practice of this very sin would be one of the signs of the end of this age of grace, and the approach of the age of judgment, the Tribulation, “As it was in the days of Lot ... it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed” (Lk 17:28-30).
That this sin is particularly heinous in God’s sight is clear from the fact that it is singled out for special mention both in the OT where it was a capital offense (Le 20:13), and in the NT where it is also declared to be worthy of death (Ro 1:32).
The divine principle never changes: Abraham’s obedience brought blessing; the sin of the Sodomites, judgment. The principle still operates: the believer is an heir of eternal blessing; and a world that is quickly filling its cup of iniquity to the brim, is making itself heir of eternal judgment.
The words “I will go down now, and see whether they have done ... and if not I will know,” mean nothing more, of course, than that this is what would be done to enable man to judge. God is not bound by the limitations of humanity, however: nothing is hidden from Him Who is omnipresent and omniscient.
18:22. “And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the Lord.”
Commentators are generally agreed that two of the men were angels, and that the one who remained with Abraham was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
The very fact of His lingering with Abraham reveals that God is never anxious to execute judgment, but would in patient grace afford the rebel opportunity for repentance and salvation. And in Abraham’s continuing to stand yet before the Lord, we learn that the sympathy which filled the heart of the Master, filled also the heart of the servant. Both desired the salvation of the Sodomites.
There is a fine line separating condemnation of sin, from condemnation of the sinner. We should be careful not to cross it.
18:23. “And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?”
Abraham had enjoyed the privilege of communion with God, and also the privilege of being taken into God’s confidence. Now he is to enjoy a third honor: he is allowed to present intersession on behalf of those who have made themselves the heirs of judgment. The same privilege belongs to us. Do we use it?
18:24. “Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein?”
The factors of fifty are 2 x 5 x 5, and two is the number of witness or testimony, while five is the number of responsibility. The fact that there weren’t fifty righteous within the city points to the fact that neither in Sodom, nor anywhere else, has man fulfilled his responsibility either to God or to his fellow man.
18:25. “That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: shall not the judge of all the earth do right?”
First, Abraham declares that God is a God of justice Who will not indiscriminately slay wicked and righteous alike. The destruction of the wicked comes only when judgment has established their guilt. He does discriminate between the righteous and the wicked. And He is an impartial Judge Whose integrity is beyond question. He cannot be bought. This is the believer’s consolation. The Judge of all the earth will avenge His own. We have no need to attempt to vindicate ourselves here on earth.
18:26. “And the Lord said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.”
Man will live only as his responsibility before God is fully met. Fallen man, however, fails to understand that his responsibility is not to attempt to keep God’s law, but to put his trust in the One Who alone has kept it, and Who, in addition, has died to make atonement for man’s failure.
18:27. “And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes,”
His reverential fear of God is here declared, and in the description of himself as being “but dust and ashes,” he is declaring more fully than is generally recognized, man’s true state. Dust and ashes are not the same thing. Ashes are what remain when the fire has done its work. As to his body, man is indeed but dust. The ashes portray that man is not only a creature of the dust, but that when subjected to the fire of divine testing he must perish, the ashes alone remaining to certify his destruction. Realizing this, the wise man hides himself in Christ, his Substitute upon Whom that fire has burned itself out.
18:28. “Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: Wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five? And he said, If I find there forty and five I will not destroy it.”
The factors of forty-five are 3 x 3 x 5, and in agreeing to spare Sodom if forty-five righteous are found within it, God is declaring what has already been indicated: man will live when he meets his responsibility before God by agreeing with the divine judgment that condemns him to death, but who sees in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ that sentence carried out in One with Whom he, the sinner, associates himself through faith. His responsibility is fully met when he steps by faith on to resurrection ground (symbolized in the number three), having first been associated with Christ in death, and then associated in resurrection with the Christ Who emerged from death, declaring, “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Re 1:18). This is the truth declared by Paul in Ga 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Forty-five is the number in which this truth is symbolized.
18:29. “And he spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he said, I will not do it for forty’s sake.”
As has been noted already in our study of Biblical numerology, forty is the number which is invariably connected with testing, and under the terms of the test proposed by Abraham, Sodom must be destroyed. There weren’t even forty righteous men within its walls.
The factors of forty are 2 x 2 x 2 x 5. They repeat the truth already revealed: man’s failure to meet his responsibility is three fold: the witness (number two) to his failure being, that whether viewed by God, by his fellows, or by his own conscience, man must be condemned on the basis of responsibility (five) unfulfilled.
18:30. “And he said unto him, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there.”
He continues to plead, reducing the number to thirty, the factors of which are 2 x 3 x 5, i.e., witness, resurrection, responsibility. This continues to emphasize man’s failure to meet the divine standard, for it is the witness to the fact that man’s responsibility is met only on resurrection ground: by faith he must see himself as having died in the person of his perfect Substitute, and then as a new creature brought out of the death of the old, living eternally in union with the resurrected Christ.
18:31. “And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty’s sake.”
The reduced number (2 x 2 x 5) continues the same sad testimony to responsibility unfulfilled. Man is guilty. He must die.
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.”
In presenting his final appeal, Abraham reduced the number to that which represents God in government. But since that government is characterized by absolute justice, it can offer no hope to the guilty rebel.
This last appeal is the sixth, the number of man, of weakness, of imperfection, and the lesson it teaches is that man cannot provide his own ransom.
We may learn something also from the fact that Abraham’s intersession stopped with his presentation of the sixth plea, the number that falls one short of seven, the number of perfection or completeness. In response to each of the six appeals, God’s answer had been the same, “I will not destroy it....” We cannot but wonder what the result would have been had Abraham presented one more appeal, the seventh, and reduced the number to just one righteous man. After all, it is for the sake of the one righteous Man (the Lord Jesus Christ) that God delivers the believing sinner from eternal destruction.
The Bible abounds with examples of answers given to continued, persistent prayer; and the possibilities inherent in a seventh plea for Sodom’s deliverance, should encourage us to persist in prayer. It is God Himself Who assures us, “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (Jas 5:16). The Amplified New Testament rendering of this verse is interesting, “The earnest, heartfelt, continued prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available - dynamic in its working.”
Nor is the need for prayerful persistence the only lesson to be learnt from this chapter. As God disclosed to Abraham His plans for the wicked cities of the plain, so has He also disclosed to us His plans for this wicked world. Abraham’s intercessory response to that disclosure presents the pattern for our own in regard to the world we live in.
The disclosure of God’s plans, however, revealed more than the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah: it revealed the condition of Abraham’s heart. The compassion that was there moved him to plead that the wicked cities might be spared. He who was heir to God’s blessings had a tender compassionate heart for those whose sins had made them heirs of wrath. The study of prophecy reveals more than God’s plans for the world: it reveals the heart of the man who studies prophecy. The word of God is for the heart as well as the mind. That man’s heart is right who reads of the judgment coming upon the world, and turns to God to plead that many might find refuge in Christ before that judgment falls.
The necessity of continued prayer is surely impressed upon us by the consideration of what might have been had Abraham prayed just one more time.
18:33. “And the Lord went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place.”
It was undoubtedly with disappointment that Abraham ceased interceding and returned to Mamre, while the Lord went His way to execute judgment on the cities of the plain. But as the sequel reveals (chapter 19), Abraham need have had no fear that his prayer had been unheeded. The one he cared about most was his nephew Lot, and God delivered Lot out of the destruction.God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we think He should, but He does answer; and even when that answer is No, it is always for our ultimate good.