Sacred Texts  Bible  Bible Commentary  Index 
Genesis Index
  Previous  Next 

Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, [1834], at

Genesis Chapter 18

- The Visit of the Lord to Abraham

2. השׂתחיה vayı̂śtachû "bow," or bend the body in token of respect to God or man. The attitude varies from a slight inclination of the body to entire prostration with the forehead touching the ground.

6. סאה se'ah a "seah," about an English peck, the third part of an ephah. The ephah contained ten omers. The omer held about five pints.

This chapter describes Abraham's fellowship with God. On the gracious assurance of the Redeemer and Vindicator, "Fear not, I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward," he ceased to fear, and believed. On the solemn announcement of the Conqueror of evil and the Quickener of the dead, "I am God Almighty; walk before me and be perfect," he began anew to walk with God in holiness and truth. The next step is, that God enters into communion with him as a man with his friend Isa 41:8; Joh 14:23. Hitherto he has appeared to him as God offering grace and inclining the will to receive it. Now, as God who has bestowed grace, he appears to him who has accepted it and is admitted into a covenant of peace. He visits him for the twofold purpose of drawing out and completing the faith of Sarah, and of communing with Abraham concerning the destruction of Sodom.

Gen 18:1-15

The Lord visits Abraham and assures Sarah of the birth of a son. Abraham is sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day, reposing. "Three men stood before him." Whenever visitants from the celestial world appear to men, they have the form of man. This is the only form of a rational being known to us. It is not the design of God in revealing his mercy to us to make us acquainted with the whole of the nature of things. The science of things visible or invisible he leaves to our natural faculties to explore, as far as occasion allows. Hence, we conclude that the celestial visitant is a real being, and that the form is a real form. But we are not entitled to infer that the human is the only or the proper form of such beings, or that they have any ordinary or constant form open to sense. We only discern that they are intelligent beings like ourselves, and, in order to manifest themselves to us as such, put on that form of intelligent creatures with which we are familiar, and in which they can intelligibly confer with us. For the same reason they speak the language of the party addressed, though, for ought we know, spiritual beings use none of the many languages of humanity, and have quite a different mode of communicating with one another. Other human acts follow on the occasion. They accept the hospitality of Abraham and partake of human food. This, also, was a real act. It does not imply, however, that food is necessary to spiritual beings. The whole is a typical act representing communion between God and Abraham. The giving and receiving of a meal was the ground of a perpetual or inviolable friendship.

He ran to meet him. - This indicates the genuine warmth of unsophisticated nature. "Bowed himself to the earth." This indicates a low bow, in which the body becomes horizontal, and the head droops. This gesture is employed both in worship and doing obeisance.

Gen 18:3-5

O Lord. - Abraham uses the word אדני 'adonāy denoting one having authority, whether divine or not. This the Masorites mark as sacred, and apply the vowel points proper to the word when it signifies God. These men in some way represent God; for "the Lord" on this occasion appeared unto Abraham Gen 18:1. The number is in this respect notable. Abraham addresses himself first to one person Gen 18:3, then to more than one Gen 18:4-5. It is stated that "'they' said, So do Gen 18:5, 'they' did eat Gen 18:8, ' they' said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife" Gen 18:9. Then the singular number is resumed in the phrase "'and he said'" Gen 18:10, and at length, "The Lord said unto Abraham" Gen 18:13, and then, "and he said" Gen 18:15. Then we are told "'the men' rose up, and Abraham went with them" Gen 18:16. Then we have "The Lord said" twice Gen 18:17, Gen 18:20. And lastly, it is said Gen 18:22 "'the men' turned their faces and went toward Sodom, and Abraham was yet standing before the Lord." From this it appears that of the three men one, at all events, was the Lord, who, when the other two went toward Sodom, remained with Abraham while he made his intercession for Sodom, and afterward he also went his way. The other two will come before us again in the next chapter. Meanwhile, we have here the first explicit instance of the Lord appearing as man to man, and holding familiar conversation with him.

The narrative affords a pleasing instance of the primitive manners of the East. The hospitality of the pastoral tribes was spontaneous and unreserved. The washing of the feet, which were partly at least uncovered in walking, the reclining under the tree, and the offer of refreshment, are indicative of an unchanging rural simplicity. The phrases "a little water, a morsel of bread," flow from a thoughtful courtesy. "Therefore are ye come." In the course of events it has so fallen out, in order that you might be refreshed. The brief reply is a frank and unaffected acceptance of the hospitable invitation.

Gen 18:6-8

Abraham hastened. - The unvarying customs of Eastern pastoral life here come up before us. There is plenty of flour and of live cattle. But the cakes have to be kneaded and baked on the hearth, and the calf has to be killed and dressed. Abraham personally gives directions, Sarah personally attends to the baking, and the boy or lad - that is, the domestic servant whose business it is - kills and dresses the meat. Abraham himself attends upon his guests. "Three seahs." About three pecks, and therefore a superabundant supply for three guests. An omer, or three tenths of a seah, was considered sufficient for one man for a day Exo 16:16. But Abraham had a numerous household, and plentifulness was the character of primitive hospitality. "Hearth cakes," baked among the coals. "Butter" - seemingly any preparation of milk, cream, curds, or butter, all of which are used in the East.

Gen 18:9-15

The promise to Sarah. The men now enter upon the business of their visit. "Where is Sarah thy wife?" The jealousy and seclusion of later times had not yet rendered such an inquiry uncourteous. Sarah is within hearing of the conversation. "I will certainly return unto thee." This is the language of self-determination, and therefore suitable to the sovereign, not to the ambassador. "At the time of life;" literally the living time, seemingly the time of birth, when the child comes to manifest life. "Sarah thy wife shall have a son." Sarah hears this with incredulous surprise, and laughs with mingled doubt and delight. She knows that in the nature of things she is past child-bearing. "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" Sarah laughed within herself, within the tent and behind the speaker; yet to her surprise her internal feelings are known to him. She finds there is One present who rises above the sphere of nature. In her confusion and terror she denies that she laughed. But he who sees what is within, insists that she did laugh, at least in the thought of her heart. There is a beautiful simplicity in the whole scene. Sarah now doubtless received faith and strength to conceive.

Verse 16-33

The conference concerning Sodom. The human manner of the interview is carried out to the end. Abraham convoys his departing guests. The Lord then speaks, apparently debating with himself whether he shall reveal his intentions to Abraham. The reasons for doing so are assigned. First. Abraham shall surely become a nation great and mighty, and therefore has the interest of humanity in this act of retribution on Sodom. All that concerns man concerns him. Second. Blessed in him shall be all the nations of the earth. Hence, he is personally and directly concerned with all the dealings of mercy and judgment among the inhabitants of the earth. Third. "I have known him." The Lord has made himself known to him, has manifested his love to him, has renewed him after his own image; and hence this judgment upon Sodom is to be explained to him, that he may train his household to avoid the sins of this doomed city, "to keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; and all this to the further intent that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what he hath spoken of him." The awful judgments of the Lord on Sodom, as before on the antediluvian world, are a warning example to all who are spared or hear of them. And those who, notwithstanding these monuments of the divine vengeance, will cease to do justice and judgment, may be certain that they will not continue to enjoy the benefits of the covenant of grace. For all these reasons it is meet that the secret of Lord be with him Psa 25:11.

Gen 18:20-22

The Lord now proceeds to unfold his design. There is justice in every step of the divine procedure. He comes down to inquire and act according to the merits of the case. The men now depart on their errand; but Abraham still stands before the Lord.

Gen 18:23-33

Abraham intercedes for Sodom. His spiritual character is unfolded and exalted more and more. He employs the language of a free-born son with his heavenly Father. He puts forward the plea of justice to the righteous in behalf of the city. He ventures to repeat his intervention six times, every time diminishing the number of the righteous whom he supposes to be in it. The patience of the Lord is no less remarkable than the perseverance of Abraham. In every case he grants his petition. "Dust and ashes." This may refer to the custom of burning the dead, as then coexistent with that of burying them. Abraham intimates by a homely figure the comparative insignificance of the petitioner. He is dust at first, and ashes at last.

This completes the full and free conversation of God with Abraham. He accepts his hospitable entertainment, renews his promise of a son by Sarah, communicates to him his counsel, and grants all his requests. It is evident that Abraham has now fully entered upon all the privileges of the sons of God. He has become the friend of God Jam 2:23.

Next: Genesis Chapter 19