Genesis 18 “Introduction and the Three Visitors”

Posted on March 9, 2010. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Redeemer Church Sunday School- Genesis Class

Genesis 18 “Introduction and the Three Visitors”

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Bryan E. Walker


18:1 And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks  of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth 3 and said, “O Lord,  if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, 5 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.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” 6 And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs  of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” 7 And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.



Although technically I did not finish every verse of chapter 17, the remaining portion of that chapter consisted of Sarai getting her name changed to Sarah and then the actual obedience of Abraham by circumcising all the men in his camp along with Ishmael. It should be noted that Ishmael did not receive a new name, although it was the Angel of the Lord who gave Hagar the name for Ishmael back in ch.16. The main idea of the last portion of ch.17 is that Abraham’s faith was demonstrated by immediate action, sealing the covenant in circumcision.

This morning we are going to begin ch.18-19 which form a unit. We will cover the literary analysis of ch.18 this morning and focus on vss.1-8. The main idea is this: What do you do when God shows up? Here we will grasp at understanding how Abraham got the title “the friend of God”.

What does it mean to be somebody’s friend? What does it take to develop a friendship? I have heard it said that in order to have friends, you have to be a friend. I think of that in terms of serving others, listening, accepting, challenging, being there when needed. Three times in the Bible Abraham is called the “friend of God”. 2Chron.20:7; James 2:23; Isaiah 41:8. QQ: Why is Abraham called the friend of God? We know that God had a special relationship with several OT heroes. David was “a man after God’s own heart”, Enoch walked with God, and was not for God took him. Moses communed with God face to face. Can we be called friends of God? The main idea of the lesson this morning is to find out how Abraham was called the friend of God and then to look at what Jesus tells us about being his friends. When we walk by faith, and live in obedience to the Lord, we will be Jesus’ friends, friends of God.

  1. I.                   Literary Analysis
    1. A.       Outline
      1. 1.      Both Allen P. Ross and Bruce Waltke look at the text and break it up into two larger units, 1-15, and then 16-33. The first unit has 1-8 a covenant meal as its theme while vss. 9-15 is the annunciation of the birth of Isaac. The second major section has vss.16-21 as the LORD considering whether or not to tell Abraham about Sodom, and then vss.22-33 is Abraham interceding for Sodom.
      2. 2.      Kenneth A. Mathews points out (p. 211) that chapters 17 and 18-19 have many links to the story of Noah. Ch. 17 has the covenant that is very similar in ways to the covenant with Noah and 18-19 have identical language and similar plot with Noah and Lot portrayed as survivors of the Judgment.
      3. 3.      Mathews also demonstrates the very close similarities between chapters 18 and 19 (pp.212-213):
      4. a.      18:1 and 19:1 sitting in the tent/gate
      5. b.      18:2 and 19:1 When he saw them, he hurried/got up
      6. c.       18:2 and 19:1 and bowed low/and bowed down
      7. d.      18:3 and 19:2 please do not pass/please turn aside
      8. e.      18:9 and 19:5 Where is your wife/ where are the men?
      9. f.        18:12,13,15 Sarah laughed/ 19:14 his sons in law thought he was joking
      10. g.      18:20 the outcry against Sodom is so great/19:13 their outcry is so great.
      11. h.      18:23-24 sweep away/19:17 swept away.
      12. i.        18:26 I will spare/19:21 I will grant
      13. j.        18:10 the Lord promises a son/ 19:8 Lot offers his daughters.
      14. k.      Abraham will be the father of great nations in18:18 and Lot is asked about his sons in law.
      15. l.        Abraham pleads for the few righteous in Sodom 18:23-32 while Lot pleads for himself in 19:18-20.
      16. m.    Abraham and Sarah live in a tent, 18”1, 6, 9, 10 and Lot and his two daughters end up in a cave 19:30-38.
      17. n.      18:26-32 the Lord promises mercy to the few righteous; Lot receives mercy in 19:16, 21-23, 29.
      18. o.      The Lord will judge the guilty in 18:21, 26-32, and the Lord judges the cities of the plain and Lot’s wife in 19:24-26.


  1. II.                Honey…Guess Who Is Coming for Dinner? 18:1-8
    1. A.       When God Shows Up
      1. 1.      18:1 “And the LORD appeared to him…”- notice that this phrasing is very similar to 17:1 thus linking this story with what preceded it in 17:1 “the LORD appeared to Abram and said…”  Compare with 16:7 “The Angel of the LORD found her (Hagar), and 15:1 “”the Word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision…” 13:14 “The LORD said to Abram…” 12:7 “the LORD appeared to Abram…” 12:1 “Now the LORD said to Abram…” Notice that it says, “the LORD appeared to him” and did not mention Abraham by name. This links the present story to the previous story where Abraham was the subject. This information is from Moses, the narrator of the story. As we shall see shortly, Abraham was not immediately aware of who his guests were. Gordon Wenham (p.45) writes, “…reflects the narrator’s standpoint: the identity of his visitors was not immediately apparent to Abraham. As v.2 makes clear, he at first thought they were simply men. His warm welcome and alacrity in serving them was in no way promptd by his recognizing them.”
      2. 2.      vs.33 “And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking…” brings the section to a definite ending. Compare with 17:22When he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.”
      3. 3.      “by the oaks of Mamre…” see 14:13 “…Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre….” And 13:18 “So Abram moved his tent and…settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD.” Hebron is about 25-30 miles SSW of Jerusalem, in Judah.
      4. 4.      Application- While the LORD’s appearances are sovereign, that is, Abraham (nor anyone else) cannot “do something” that will automatically bring the LORD, it is worth noting that Abraham was at a place of worship where he had previously built an altar to the LORD. We regularly can hear from the Lord by attending to public worship where the Gospel is proclaimed and the ordinances are practiced. That being said, later Israelites relied on the Temple of the LORD in a false way and could never hear from the Lord for their ears were deafened and their eyes blinded because their hearts were far from the Lord.
      5. 5.      “as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day.” This verse links to 19:1 “…and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom…” The heat of the day would mean in the afternoon, the hottest time of day when people seek shade and rest.
      6. 6.      Vs.2 “He lifted up his eyes and looked…” see 19:1 “When Lot saw them…”
      7. 7.      “…and behold, three men were standing in front of him.” As the story unfolds we find out that one of the three was in fact the LORD and the other two were his angels. This lets us know that angels can have the physical appearance of human beings, men specifically (there are no female angelic appearances despite the TV series). This physical appearance of what are essentially spirit beings is intriguing. More on that in ch. 19, which will have an impact on how we interpret Gen. 6:1-4.
      8. 8.      But one of the three men is the LORD! James M. Boice does not hesitate to state that this is the pre-incarnate Jesus, p.147, “…two of the three (the two that went on to Sodom and rescued Lot) were literally angels and that only the third was Deity- Jesus…These and several other references suggest that Jesus here anticipated His incarnation and was found in fashion as a man even before His later birth in Bethlehem.”
      9. 9.      “When he saw them…” indicates a sudden, even mysterious appearance, although if Abraham was taking a siesta in the shade of his tent, he may have wakened to see them suddenly. But it is interesting that he did not see them approaching from afar.

10.  “…he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth…” compare with 19:1 “When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth…” Notice Abraham’s quickness to run and greet these three strangers, I can imagine that he rarely got company. Today, if someone knocks on our door, we look at them through the peephole and decide if we should open the door or not. We are taught to be wary of strangers. Hospitality is a major part of OT society, but NOT in America. We treat strangers with suspicion and fear.

11.  Now you can also imagine that Abraham likely received few visitors. While certainly he made the rounds with various kings and wealthy men as we can gather from chapter 12 and his dealings with Pharaoh, chs.20-21 and his dealings with Abimelech and even in ch.23 at Sarah’s death when he purchased the field of Ephron in Machpelah as the family tomb, nonetheless, when you are a herdsman like Abraham, you live far away from others where there is an abundance of pasture land, so visitors would be not a daily occurrence. Hence his eagerness, his willingness to serve them and be hospitable.

12.  and bowed himself to the earth…” While this would be a traditional greeting in the middle east, we must remember that Abraham is known as a warrior and Very Wealthy individual at this point. Yet he humbles himself by bowing low before these three men. Abraham, though successful and famous in his day, remained humble. He could have played the role of the rich sheik and received them in his tent, having servants go out in the heat to greet them. Instead, he himself Ran from his tent to greet them, and this at an advanced age.

13.  “Oh Lord, if I have found favor in your sight” the word used for Lord could be used as “Sir” or can be used of the LORD as well. It is in the singular, so Abraham is addressing the leader of the three, while later he addresses all three in the plural. But at this point there is no indication that Abraham knows this is The LORD. The phrasing, “found favor in your sight” has not been used since…When? Noah in chapter 6, thus linking this story and ch.19 back to Noah’s story begins.

14.  “Do not pass by your servant” Abraham does not want to miss an opportunity to serve. Again we see the humility and the eagerness to serve strangers in this great man of faith.

15.  Application- as we search for some more Elders in our congregation we would be wise to look at men with servant’s hearts and with humility.

16.  Heb.13:1-2 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

17.  Look at Jesus in Lk 19 with Zacchaeus.; Isaiah 57:15; Rev.3:20



James Montgomery Boice. Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, vol.2. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1985, (pp. 146-151).

F.B. Meyer. Abraham. Christian Literature Crusade: Fort Washington, PA. 1979 (originally late 1800’s) (pp. 92-97).

Warren W. Wiersbe. Be Obedient. Victor Books: Wheaton, Ill. 1991, (pp. 73-79).

Mathews, Kenneth A. Genesis 11:27-50:26, Volume 1B in The New American Commentary. Broadman&Holman: Nashville, TN. 2005.

Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis: A Commentary. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001.

Wenham, Gordon. Genesis 16-50, Word Biblical Commentary, vol.2. Word Books: Dallas, TX. 1994 .

Ross, Allen P. Creation & Blessing. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 1998.


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