Sunday, March 05, 2006


Genesis 18:1-15

GENESIS 18:1-15

October 9, 2005

Good morning! The last time we studied Genesis we covered God’s renewing of his promise to Abraham that he would have a son with Sarah and that while Ishmael, his offspring with Hagar would also become a great nation, it was to be this new son through whom the promised Messiah would come. Abraham and Sarah both have their God-given names now and the sign of circumcision has been established. This week we will see the promise move closer to fulfillment and also gain some insight into the culture of the times. In verse 21 of chapter 17, the Lord promised a son would be born a year from that time and chapter 18 opens with that child not yet conceived, so we know that less than three months have passed

Genesis 18:1-16. Read:

So this intriguing story begins. We’re left with a lot of questions here. Why was it OK for Abraham to laugh when told about his son in Chapter 17, but not for Sarah here? Who are this 3 people anyway? And why are they here? Let’s begin to sort through and see if we can find some answers.

Genesis 18: 1. Read.

The translation we have here, “plains” is more specifically “grove of oaks” or “great trees”. So Abraham and Sarah and Hagar and all the rest of their servants are camped in the woods by Mamre. We know that it was the hot part of the day with the sun right overhead and Abraham was sitting in the tent door. The tents used by nomads of that time were divided into the front, or open part where the sides could be rolled up and the back, or inner tent. The front part was like an awning or porch when the sides were rolled up and made a shaded place to sit and catch the breeze. Thus we see the source of our idea of a “sitting room” in a house. When Phylliss and I were camping in the deep desert in August we found the importance of shade. It was indeed the only thing that made the hot sun survivable. We would rig up an awning using an old sheet and our walking sticks. The relief was immediate and refreshing.

Also we see here that the Lord or Jehovah appeared to him.

Genesis 18:2. Read.

So, while it was Jehovah God who was appearing. Abraham SAW three men. This is what is called in theology, a Theophany… the appearance of God in the form of a man. We will see it other times through scripture as Jacob wrestles and Joshua meets the mighty warrior, for instance. But Abraham does not yet know that his visitors are any more than ordinary travelers. So he greets them in the typical fashion of the middle east, where hospitality is considered vitally important.

Genesis 18:3. Read.

The word “Lord” in this verse is not “Jehovah” as in verse 1, but “master” or “sir”. So he still has not had his eyes opened. We have further evidence of this in…

Hebrews 13:2. Read.

He calls himself their servant after the fashion of courtesy, as in our culture of a hundred years ago when it was common to close letters with, “your humble servant”.

Genesis 18:4. Read.

Remember that the footgear of the time was sandals. Traveler’s feet became dusty and grit and pebbles worked under the feet and into the straps irritating the toes. So it was common to wash the feet of visitors. We see here Abraham following the example that would still be practiced 2000 years later when Jesus would wash his disciple’s feet. He offers them also a place to rest in the shade.

Genesis 18:5. Read.

Notice the significance of the fact they are to rest under a tree. He does not offer them sanctuary, or the protection of his tents. And he even emphasizes that they will pass on. And the visitors agree.

Genesis 18:6. Read

Sarah was in the back half of the tent, not resting under the canopy or “sitting room”. She is not being asked to make a small meal here. Three measures of flour are about 20 quarts, that is a five-gallon bucket of flour! From that amount I believe we can assume Abraham expected them to have bread to take along on their journey.

A book that will give you real insight into the culture of the area we are describing. Is Revolt In The Desert by T.S. Lawrence, that is: Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence lived for over 10 years among the nomadic Arabs and describes in great detail their hospitality and practices. From his descriptions, little had changed by the early part of the 20th century. He mentions Arab travelers stopping to feast on bread and being fed huge meals of meat by their hosts.

Genesis 18:7. Read.

He is feeding his visitors veal.

Genesis 18:8. Read.

So with fresh milk to drink and butter to put on the cakes Sarah cooked and fresh veal, the visitors feasted. The practice in the east is to sit in a circle around the platter and all eat from it. Abraham did not eat with them. Again, he was expecting them to leave and he stayed on his feet ready to go get anything else they wanted and watching them closely as the custom is to make sure they are enjoying the food. It’s customary for the guests to belch now and then to let the hovering host know how good the meal is. One of the skills you have to develop to be polite in that society is to belch on demand when you see your host carefully scrutinizing you. As in the east, politeness precludes idle talk during the meal. You are there to eat. Making conversation is considered an insult to the quality of the food. Having met the requirements of politeness, they now speak.

Genesis 18:9. Read.

So these strangers knew his wife’s name. The word “behold” shows us that Abraham was gesturing toward the tent. Modern English translators use the word “there”, as in “she’s right there, in the tent.”

Genesis 18:10. Read.

Now the narrative moves from the group as a whole to just the Lord speaking. He tells them that he will return the next year, at least after about 9 months have passed and that Sarah will have a son. Apparently when the men had asked where she was Sarah had moved up to the tent door as Abraham had pointed out to them and she was still standing there and his back was toward her.

Genesis 18:11. Read.

So Sarah had gone through menopause. She was no longer fertile and age lay heavy on both her and Abraham.

Genesis 18:12. Read.

In her heart Sarah is saying, “there’s no way!” Apparently Abraham had also ceased to function in that manner. Let me emphasize that Sarah has not sinned yet. And also remember that she is still seeing these visitors as mere travelers, not angels. Up to this point the visit has gone as a normal one would. Let me try to picture this for you.

Let’s say it is 35 years ago and you and I are in south east Asia travelling through that dangerous, war-torn land. We walk down the trail and come up to a small patch of forest in which Montangyards, the indigenous people of Vietnam, the equivalent of our American Indians have erected a temporary village of bamboo huts. In the shade of the doorway squats the old chieftain of the tribe. He jumps to his feet and rushes forward and bows down and welcomes us. He offers us a shady place to sit and a meal, but he does not invite us into his hut. As Abraham was, he is in a country occupied by foreign forces. Remember the battle where Lot was taken prisoner? Spies are everywhere. He must show us hospitality but he wants us to move along quickly. He hurries to have his wife make us rice and has a young man quickly butcher a piglet and prepare it and brings it to us to eat. There is enough food left over so that we will be able to journey on out of his territory and not return hungry and want a place to stay for the night. He doesn’t sit down with us, but remains on his feet, both to quickly fetch us more refreshment and to provide a gentle hint that we too shall soon be on our feet and moving on.

Following custom, after we’ve eaten I belch politely and ask where his wife is, acknowledging her as the real source of the fine cooking we’ve just enjoyed. He sweeps his hand toward where she is peering anxiously out at us from the door of the hut. Using the exaggerated politeness of the east, I comment on how young and beautiful she is and that I’m sure she will soon bear him a fine son. Never mind that he is old and balding and stooped with a wispy white goatee and she grins toothless from the doorway, her stumps of teeth reddish black with the beetle nut juice that dribbles from the corners of her mouth. Such is the way of the orient and such was Sarah’s assumption of the situation. So she had not as yet sinned.

Now the Lord will begin to reveal that he is more than a mere man.

Genesis 18:13,14. Read.

Sarah had laughed in her heart, so the Lord is revealing supernatural knowledge. He also is chiding her for attempting to say there are limits on what he can do. He repeats the prophecy.

Genesis 18:15. Read.

Now Sarah has sinned. It was not wrong for her to laugh in her heart. Her sin is the lie. She was afraid. Do you remember Adam and Eve? They were afraid when they heard God speaking, knowing that they were naked, so they hid. Sarah, suddenly aware of the nakedness of her thoughts before God lies. But Jehovah will not let her get away with her denial. “No”, he says, you DID laugh.

We foolish, foolish people. We have this silly idea that the God who states “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked”, can’t see into ours! Our minds are not hidden from God. Over and over in scripture we have evidence of it. In the New Testament Jesus always knew what was in the hearts of both his disciples and the Pharisees. And he can see into ours. The real sin we commit is often not just what is done in our actions, but in our hearts. That’s why Jesus said that for a man to look on a woman with lust is to commit the sin of adultery in his heart. There is a step by step process where the sinner sees something attractive, then pictures in his mind having it or doing it, then fantasizes about it, then turns the fantasy in real plans and finally acts on those plans. But the sin began in the heart and he saw it from the beginning. That is why each of us needs to bring his or her thoughts into submission and break the chain before the behavior occurs.

The real bondage of besetting sin is that the thoughts and fantasies and plans intertwine in the mind like the twisted roots of a jungle tree. The reason that addictions, whether to alcohol, drugs, or behaviors such as gambling or overeating or lust are so difficult to break is that the actual behaviors are the smallest part of what is happening in the life of the sinner. The years of planning and scheming create their own bondage. Soon there is no room for God in a mind so obsessed with the continuation of the behavior.

Let each of us make it our prayer today that our hearts would be tender before Almighty God, that as he did with Sarah he will show us the lies we’re telling him and ourselves in our own hearts. Let each of us determine to bring into the submission the thoughts that draw us away to sin and that we will fill our minds with his presence and his love and ultimately, his holiness.

Let’s pray.
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