When we were younger, my wife and I would regularly and purposefully invite friends and other acquaintances over for dinner. After we ate, we’d gather around the table to play cards, dominoes, or some other party game. We’d spend the entire evening talking, laughing, and sometimes even crying together. It was a great way to build and deepen relationships with the people in our lives. I’m certain that our world would be a lot better off if we spent more time doing things like this.
Anyway, in this morning’s message we will read about “A Heavenly Visit” that took place many years ago. It involves our hero Abraham, who we’ve been discussing now for the past 2 months. He will play the host for a trio of divine guests...
I. WELCOMED GUESTS (v1-8)
As He had on several previous occasions, the LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre near the city of Hebron where his family had resided for the past 25 years (Genesis 13:18). On this particular day the LORD was accompanied by 2 others. When Abraham saw these 3 “men” approaching, he rushed out of his tent to greet them. He bowed himself before the Lord, and humbly invited them all to stay and rest for a moment rather than merely passing by. The men agreed.
So, Abraham brought a little water for the men to wash their dirty feet. He hurriedly informed Sarah that guests had arrived and asked her to prepare some bread for them. He instructed one of his servants to select and prepare a “tender and choice calf” for his visitors to eat. When everything was ready to serve, all of the food was placed before them including “curds and milk”. Abraham stood beside them, under a tree, as they ate.
These 3 guests were not ordinary men. The fact that Abraham bowed before them indicates that he knew these men were divine. The text makes it clear that one of them was the LORD. He may have been God the Father physically manifest in human form or perhaps a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. Similar episodes had already taken place in Abraham’s life, such as his encounter with Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20) and when the LORD visibly passed through the divided animals to declare His solemn covenant (Genesis 15:17-21). The other 2 men were angels.
II. AN UNLIKELY PROMISE (v9-15)
Sarah remained inside the tent, near the entrance, while Abraham and his visitors talked outside. She could hear speaking them to one another. One of the men, probably the LORD, told Abraham that He’d return again in about a year by which time Sarah would have a son. When she heard this, Sarah laughed to herself in utter disbelief. How would she, a barren old woman, give birth to a newborn child?
The LORD is omniscient, and therefore knew that Sarah had laughed even though He didn’t actually see her doing so. He asked Abraham why she had reacted in this way. Was anything too difficult for the LORD? He then repeated His intention to return in a year and again promised that Sarah would have a son. Perhaps a bit embarrassed, Sarah initially denied laughing, but the LORD knew that she had.
God had already promised to give Abraham a son by Sarah. Like she did, he too had laughed upon receiving the news (Genesis 17:16-17). Apparently, however, this was the first that Sarah had heard about this. Why hadn’t Abraham told her? Could it be that Abraham was struggling to believe it himself and was therefore hesitant to tell his wife? It’s hard to say for sure, but obviously both of them had their doubts.
III. LOOMING JUDGMENT (v16-21)
After they’d eaten, the 3 men turned to depart toward Sodom. Abraham walked with them for a stint as they were leaving. As they went the LORD turned to His 2 companions and asked them if He should reveal His intentions to Abraham. After all, Abraham was to be the patriarch of His chosen nation Israel through whom the entire world would be blessed. Surely Abraham, of all people, was privy to this information.
Determining to do so, the LORD began to share his plan with Abraham. He had heard a great outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah because their sin was exceedingly grave. It is uncertain who was making this outcry, but the Bible suggests that it may have been Abraham’s nephew Lot (2 Peter 2:6-8). In light of these serious charges, the LORD and His counterparts were on their way to personally visit the cities in order to evaluate their moral condition. If the cities were found to be entirely corrupt, the implication is that God would destroy them.
IV. A PASSIONATE PLEA (v22-23)
Having revealed His intentions, the LORD stopped to speak further with Abraham while the other 2 men continued toward Sodom. Abraham asked if God planned to destroy the righteous residents of the city along with the unrighteous. Of course, Abraham was genuinely concerned about his nephew Lot who lived in Sodom. Therefore, Abraham began to plead with the LORD to show mercy on the cities for the sake of the righteous people who might be living there.
Abraham began by asking God to spare the city if 50 righteous citizens could be found there. The LORD agreed to this request. Encouraged by the LORD’s response, Abraham asked God to spare the city for the sake of 45 righteous citizens. Again God agreed. Feeling emboldened, Abraham lowered his request to 40, then 30, then 20 - and each time God consented. Abraham then offered a final appeal, and pleaded with the LORD to withhold judgment on the city even if only 10 righteous people could be found living there. The LORD agreed to do so, and then He departed. Abraham returned to his tent.
Some readers have interpreted this story as Abraham successfully negotiating with God. They propose that God actually changed His mind when confronted with Abraham’s impassioned pleas. However, I disagree with this premise. Abraham wasn’t bargaining with God, but rather was discovering the extent of His mercy. God was willing to spare the city for the sake of 10 from the outset, but Abraham didn’t realize this so he started at 50 and worked his way down. In so doing, he came to realize that God was more merciful than he’d first imagined. It is important to understand that God’s plans and actions are not altered by the demands of men. On the contrary, it is our understanding of God that changes and, hopefully, becomes more full.
In this passage, we see Abraham go out of his way to demonstrate hospitality to his heavenly guests. In the New Testament, hospitality is listed among the several spiritual gifts. We as Christians are instructed to show hospitality to others. We should strive to make guests feel welcomed in our homes. We should always be kind and friendly to new students at school or new employees at work. Our churches should be warm, inviting places where visitors feel wanted and loved. Hospitality is a godly characteristic.
Finally, it is noteworthy that the LORD was travelling to Sodom and Gomorrah to personally evaluate its moral decline before casting judgment against it. I believe that God already knew what He’d find when He got there, nevertheless the lesson still remains. Whenever we hear accusations and allegations of sinful behavior and misconduct, it is important not to jump to conclusions and immediately condemn without taking time to verify the truthfulness of the charges. This is a basic tenet of righteous judgment.