Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Visit of Jehovah, With Two Angels, to Abraham's Tent - Genesis 18
Having been received into the covenant with God through the rite of circumcision, Abraham was shortly afterwards honoured by being allowed to receive and entertain the Lord and two angels in his tent. This fresh manifestation of God had a double purpose, viz., to establish Sarah's faith in the promise that she should bear a son in her old age (Gen 18:1-15), and to announce the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah (vv. 16-33).
When sitting, about mid-day, in the grove of Mamre, in front of his tent, Abraham looked up and unexpectedly saw three men standing at some distance from him (עליו above him, looking down upon him as he sat), viz., Jehovah (Gen 18:13) and two angels (Gen 19:1); all three in human form. Perceiving at once that one of them was the Lord (אדני, i.e., God), he prostrated himself reverentially before them, and entreated them not to pass him by, but to suffer him to entertain them as his guests: "Let a little water be fetched, and wash your feet, and recline yourselves (השּׁען( sevle to recline, leaning upon the arm) under the tree." - "Comfort your hearts:" lit., "strengthen the heart," i.e., refresh yourselves by eating and drinking (Jdg 19:5; Kg1 21:7). "For therefore (sc., to give me an opportunity to entertain you hospitably) have ye come over to your servant:" כּן על כּי does not stand for כּי כּן על (Ges. thes. p. 682), but means "because for this purpose" (vid., Ewald, 353).
When the three men had accepted the hospitable invitation, Abraham, just like a Bedouin sheikh of the present day, directed his wife to take three seahs (374 cubic inches each) of fine meal, and back cakes of it as quickly as possible (עגּות round unleavened cakes baked upon hot stones); he also had a tender calf killed, and sent for milk and butter, or curdled milk, and thus prepared a bountiful and savoury meal, of which the guests partook. The eating of material food on the part of these heavenly beings was not in appearance only, but was really eating; an act which may be attributed to the corporeality assumed, and is to be regarded as analogous to the eating on the part of the risen and glorified Christ (Luk 24:41.), although the miracle still remains physiologically incomprehensible.
During the meal, at which Abraham stood, and waited upon them as the host, they asked for Sarah, for whom the visit was chiefly intended. On being told that she was in the tent, where she could hear, therefore, all that passed under the tree in front of the tent, the one whom Abraham addressed as Adonai (my Lord), and who is called Jehovah in Gen 18:13, said, "I will return to thee (חיּה כּעת) at this time, when it lives again" (חיּה, reviviscens, without the article, Ges. 111, 2b), i.e., at this time next year; "and, behold, Sarah, thy wife, will (then) have a son." Sarah heard this at the door of the tent; "and it was behind Him" (Jehovah), so that she could not be seen by Him as she stood at the door. But as the fulfilment of this promise seemed impossible to her, on account of Abraham's extreme age, and the fact that her own womb had lost the power of conception, she laughed within herself, thinking that she was not observed. But that she might know that the promise was made by the omniscient and omnipotent God, He reproved her for laughing, saying, "Is anything too wonderful (i.e., impossible) for Jehovah? at the time appointed I will return unto thee," etc.; and when her perplexity led her to deny it, He convicted her of falsehood. Abraham also had laughed at this promise (Gen 17:17), and without receiving any reproof. For his laughing was the joyous outburst of astonishment; Sarah's, on the contrary, the result of doubt and unbelief, which had to be broken down by reproof, and, as the result showed, really was broken down, inasmuch as she conceived and bore a son, whom she could only have conceived in faith (Heb 11:11).
After this conversation with Sarah, the heavenly guests rose up and turned their faces towards the plain of Sodom (פּני על, as in Gen 19:28; Num 21:20; Num 23:28). Abraham accompanied them some distance on the road; according to tradition, he went as far as the site of the later Caphar barucha, from which you can see the Dead Sea through a ravine, - solitudinem ac terras Sodomae. And Jehovah said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I propose to do? Abraham is destined to be a great nation and a blessing to all nations (Gen 12:2-3); for I have known, i.e., acknowledged him (chosen him in anticipative love, ידע as in Amo 3:2; Hos 13:4), that he may command his whole posterity to keep the way of Jehovah, to practise justice and righteousness, that all the promises may be fulfilled in them." God then disclosed to Abraham what he was about to do to Sodom and Gomorrah, not, as Kurtz supposes, because Abraham had been constituted the hereditary possessor of the land, and Jehovah, being mindful of His covenant, would not do anything to it without his knowledge and assent (a thought quite foreign to the context), but because Jehovah had chosen him to be the father of the people of God, in order that, by instructing his descendants in the fear of God, he might lead them in the paths of righteousness, so that they might become partakers of the promised salvation, and not be overtaken by judgment. The destruction of Sodom and the surrounding cities was to be a permanent memorial of the punitive righteousness of God, and to keep the fate of the ungodly constantly before the mind of Israel. To this end Jehovah explained to Abraham the cause of their destruction in the clearest manner possible, that he might not only be convinced of the justice of the divine government, but might learn that when the measure of iniquity was full, no intercession could avert the judgment-a lesson and a warning to his descendants also.
"The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah, yea it is great; and their sin, yea it is very grievous." The cry is the appeal for vengeance or punishment, which ascends to heaven (Gen 4:10). The כּי serves to give emphasis to the assertion, and is placed in the middle of the sentence to give the greater prominence to the leading thought (cf. Ewald, 330).
God was about to go down, and convince Himself whether they had done entirely according to the cry which had reached Him, or not. כלה עשׂה, lit., to make completeness, here referring to the extremity of iniquity, generally to the extremity of punishment (Nah 1:8-9; Jer 4:27; Jer 5:10): כּלה is a noun, as Isa 10:23 shows, not an adverb, as in Exo 11:1. After this explanation, the men (according to Gen 19:1, the two angels) turned from thence to go to Sodom (Gen 18:22); but Abraham continued standing before Jehovah, who had been talking with him, and approached Him with earnestness and boldness of faith to intercede for Sodom. He was urged to this, not by any special interest in Lot, for in that case he would have prayed for his deliverance; nor by the circumstance that, as he had just before felt himself called upon to become the protector, avenger, and deliverer of the land from its foes, so he now thought himself called upon to act as mediator, and to appeal from Jehovah's judicial wrath to Jehovah's covenant grace (Kurtz), for he had not delivered the land from the foe, but merely rescued his nephew Lot and all the booty that remained after the enemy had withdrawn; nor did he appeal to the covenant grace of Jehovah, but to His justice alone; and on the principle that the Judge of all the earth could not possibly destroy the righteous with the wicked, he founded his entreaty that God would forgive the city if there were but fifty righteous in it, or even if there were only ten. He was led to intercede in this way, not by "communis erga quinque populos misericordia" (Calvin), but by the love which springs from the consciousness that one's own preservation and rescue are due to compassionate grace alone; love, too, which cannot conceive of the guilt of others as too great for salvation to be possible. This sympathetic love, springing from the faith which was counted for righteousness, impelled him to the intercession which Luther thus describes: "sexies petiit, et cum tanto ardore ac affectu sic urgente, ut prae nimia angustia, qua cupit consultum miseris civitatibus, videatur quasi stulte loqui." There may be apparent folly in the words, "Wilt Thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?" but they were only "violenta oratio et impetuosa, quasi cogens Deum ad ignoscendum." For Abraham added, "peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city; wilt Thou also destroy and not forgive (נשׁא, to take away and bear the guilt, i.e., forgive) the place for the fifty righteous that are therein?" and described the slaying of the righteous with the wicked as irreconcilable with the justice of God. He knew that he was speaking to the Judge of all the earth, and that before Him he was "but dust and ashes" - "dust in his origin, and ashes in the end;" and yet he made bold to appeal still further, and even as low as ten righteous, to pray that for their sake He would spare the city. - הפּעם אך (Gen 18:32) signifies "only this (one) time more," as in Exo 10:17. This "seemingly commercial kind of entreaty is," as Delitzsch observes, "the essence of true prayer. It is the holy ἀναίδεια, of which our Lord speaks in Luk 11:8, the shamelessness of faith, which bridges over the infinite distance of the creature from the Creator, appeals with importunity to the heart of God, and ceases not till its point is gained. This would indeed be neither permissible nor possible, had not God, by virtue of the mysterious interlacing of necessity and freedom in His nature and operations, granted a power to the prayer of faith, to which He consents to yield; had He not, by virtue of His absoluteness, which is anything but blind necessity, placed Himself in such a relation to men, that He not merely works upon them by means of His grace, but allows them to work upon Him by means of their faith; had He not interwoven the life of the free creature into His own absolute life, and accorded to a created personality the right to assert itself in faith, in distinction from His own." With the promise, that even for the sake of ten righteous He would not destroy the city, Jehovah "went His way," that is to say, vanished; and Abraham returned to his place, viz., to the grove of Mamre. The judgment which fell upon the wicked cities immediately afterwards, proves that there were not ten "righteous persons" in Sodom; by which we understand, not merely ten sinless or holy men, but ten who through the fear of God and conscientiousness had kept themselves free from the prevailing sin and iniquity of these cities.