Thursday, August 11, 2011

Genesis Chapter 18 ~ A Hearing God Who Is Just in His Judgment

Genesis Chapter 18

The Lord appeared to Abraham here for the third time (first in Gen. 12:7; then 17:1; and now 18:1), and this time it was by the Oaks of Mamre (or “terebinths”). Abraham was sitting in the heat of the day just outside his door when men were standing right in front of him as he looked up. When he saw them he ran to them and bowed before them. They must have seemed to be worthy of reverence, but this also shows how hospitable God’s chosen should be as they serve the LORD. Abraham spoke to them and said:
“O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” (Gen. 18:3-5)
The LORD seems to have been one of the three men in the form of the Angel of the Lord (Gen. 19:1 makes it clear the other two men were “angels”), which was referred to in Genesis chapter 16 (specifically verses 7, 9, 10, and 11). This is a little confusing because it appears that the three told Abraham to go right ahead, as if the plural, three angels, were answering in the singular on behalf of God. It’s less confusing after we see that one of the three was the LORD and the other two were angels. It appears that the LORD was speaking on behalf of the three. The LORD told Abraham that he could get water, and food to let them rest and wash up. He summoned his household to make a fine meal and then he gave it to them and stood by them under a tree while they ate. You can’t help but think that this might be a passage that the author of Hebrews had in mind when writing about Christian hospitality to believers and believers in prison, “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Heb. 13:1-2)

He asked Abraham where his wife Sarah was, and told him that the same time next year she would have a son. Sarah was eavesdropping at the door. Abraham and Sarah were old and the passage says that, “the way of women had ceased to be with Sarah.” (Gen. 18:11) This basically means she was beyond the years that women have a menstrual cycle. By all natural indicators she was beyond childbearing years. She laughed, and said, “After I am worn out, and my lord [i.e. her husband, Abraham] is old, shall I have pleasure?” (Gen. 18:12) Namely, the pleasure of having and enjoying children. This is not unlike Abraham’s first response of falling over in laughter (Gen. 17:17). Sarah’s response of laughter elicits a response from God as if something is too hard for the LORD (probably the combination of Abraham and Sarah’s laughter elicits God’s response), and then God reaffirms that she will have a child by this time next year. After all of this she denies that she laughed. This is just like something we would do. Our sinful hearts are prone to doubt the LORD’s wisdom, and even though He knows all things we still lie to His face like Sarah did about her laughter. God corrected her and said, “No, but you did laugh.” (Gen. 18:16) God will correct His us in the midst of our sin.

Then the men (actually only two of them as we see in Gen. 19:1) left toward Sodom where Lot was living, and as they left, Abraham still stood there before the LORD (Gen. 18:22). This chapter makes it sound like the three men are speaking with the same voice of the singular LORD at times, but in verse 22 it seems that the LORD is actually only one of the men/angels among them. Verses 17 through 21 seem to be an inner-dialogue in the LORD’s mind, not between the three men/angels. It is tempting to look for the Trinity in this passage, but it’s not clear that this passage is alluding to the Trinity. This dialogue between the LORD (Gen. 18:17) and the LORD (Gen. 18:20) could be between the persons of the Trinity (not the three men/angels but the triune One who stays behind with Abraham), but it could also be the LORD expressing this thought process out loud for Abraham to hear so that Abraham knows how to advocate wisely or justly for or against Sodom in the debate that follows (I lean toward this second interpretation). However we read this it doesn’t seem that this is being expressed by the three men as a group because of the distinction between them and the LORD seen in verse 22 (although verse 22 doesn’t specify that only two went down toward Sodom so this passage is a little vague at times).

God is revealing this inner conversation, not because He cannot decide what to do, but in order that Abraham might step into the role as a prophet with wisdom in what follows. By God’s grace Abraham is listening in on God’s thought process, which only underscores the veracity and trustworthiness of the covenant promise He made back in Genesis 12. What would transpire next would show how Abraham’s doing of righteousness and justice might bless the nations in fulfillment of God’s promise. God is helping Abraham see the thought process behind justice and righteousness. God intends for Abraham to learn what righteousness and justice is by letting him hear this soliloquy.

So in verse 21 the LORD goes to Sodom to see if what He has heard about their injustice and wickedness was true. If the outcry against Sodom is untrue the LORD will know (Gen. 18:21).

The two men/angels then went to Sodom as Abraham stayed and stood before the LORD. Somehow, Abraham knew that the LORD would destroy Sodom and his heart and mind seems to conclude that God’s judgment on the people would be unjust if all are judged on account of the wickedness of a few. So Abraham actually speaks with God, almost bartering and debating with Him. He asks God if He would destroy Sodom if there were fifty, then forty-five, then thirty, then twenty, and lastly ten righteous people. Five times God says that He will relent from destroying Sodom, first (1) for the sake of the fifty, (2) then the forty-five, (3) then the thirty, (4) then the twenty, and (5) then the ten righteous people. It’s almost as if Abraham knows that when the two men/angels reach Sodom God’s judgment will fall, so he asks if He will relent for the sake of the fifty, and God says He will. But Abraham is uneasy because the men/angels keep approaching the city, and Abraham says, “No, no, Lord stop...what about forty-five.” The Lord promises, “No, for the sake of the forty-five.” But then the men/angels keep moving toward the city, and they do this all the way down to ten people. Then they departed company and the LORD went His way when the LORD was finished talking with Abraham, and Abraham went back home.

Abraham is assuming the role of a prophet/priest by interceding with God on behalf of the people in Sodom, specifically for the righteous people. Notice here that Abraham is not asking God to relent from meting out judgment on those who deserve it, but for the sake of those who bear the righteousness of God, those who are chosen of God. Abraham knows that if God destroys those whom the LORD has set His name upon it doesn’t speak well of the LORD’s name, and it seems to say that God is inconsistent in His own nature. The amazing thing here is that God seems to hear Abraham again, not unlike how He heard Abraham when he was begging for God to bless Ishmael. God is responsive to the prayers and requests of His chosen ones (see Gen. 17:20 “I have heard you”). It must be noted though that while God heard Abraham regarding Ishmael, he didn’t grant Abraham’s desire to include Ishmael in the covenant, but chose to give a four-fold blessing (see the post from yesterday). Similarly here, God hears and interacts with Abraham regarding Sodom, but that doesn’t mean that God will relent (as we will see there were less than 10 who were righteous there). We don’t always get what we ask for, but we can know that God hears and will take the pleas of His covenant children into account. In the end He will do what is right, good, just, and best.

Further, God is omniscient. In other words, He knows everything in the past, present and future (Isa. 46:10; 1 John 3:20; Heb. 4:13). When the text says He will, “go down to see whether [Sodom has] done altogether according to the outcry that has come to [Him]. And if not, [He] will know,” (Gen. 18:21) that doesn’t mean that He doesn’t know what’s going on in Sodom prior to going there. He’s going to examine the evidence of what He knows to be true of Sodom. He’s showing that He doesn’t judge and destroy without full knowledge of the offense. He is in essence showing that He is just in His investigation and judgment. The LORD is being kind to let Abraham, and us as readers, see that God is indeed just and righteous. The Lord would not be guilty of injustice if He gave no reason for destroying Sodom. However, if the LORD destroyed Sodom without going there first we would not come to see the wickedness of Sodom that will be displayed in the coming chapter. Further, if the LORD destroyed Sodom without going there first we might be sinfully inclined not to trust Him because we don’t have evidence of His just consideration and investigation of every crime with perceptible first hand knowledge. We can be assured in the knowledge that God will right every wrong and judge every sin partly because of His kindness to show us precedence for this aspect of His character in here Scripture. God doesn’t need to show precedence. He has authority to do what He wants when He wants, here and now, yet he is kind to cater to our fallen doubts by giving us examples of His past faithfulness to His covenant people and how He is perfectly just in His judgments. This passage isn’t showing a limitation on God’s knowledge, it is showing His condescension to show us more of what wickedness is, that He is just and righteous, that He will in fact judge the wicked according to what they deserve. He’s doing all of this in a way that we can understand so that we can trust Him and know even a little more about Him.

I’ve alluded to the answer already (and in fact Moses gave us a footnote in Genesis 13:10 that Sodom would be destroyed, so we know what’s coming), but we are left at the end of this chapter thinking, “What’s going to happen? Will God relent because of ten righteous people? What about Lot, doesn’t he live in Sodom? (Gen. 13:12) In light of the fact that Moses told us Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed, is this the time that it will be destroyed? How is God going to do this?” We’re left hanging in the air. We’ll have to see what happens tomorrow.

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