Where the world comes to study the Bible

Genesis 18


Birth of Isaac Promised The Son of Promise The Lord's Visit to Abraham and Sarah A Son Is Promised to Abraham The Apparition at Mamre
18:1-8 18:1-8 18:1-8 18:1-5a 18:1-5
      18:6-8 18:6-8
18:9-15 18:9-15 18:9-15 18:9a 18:9-15
  Abraham Intercedes for Sodom Abraham's Intercession for Sodom and Gomorrah Abraham Pleads for Sodom Abram Intercedes for Sodom
18:16-21 18:16-21 18:16-21 18:16-19 18:16-21
18:22-33 18:22-33 18:22-33 18:22-25 18:22-26
      18:27-28a 18:27-29
      18:30a 18:30-32
      18:31 b  



This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. This is a very anthropomorphic section (speaking of God in human terms). This type of literary form has always made Jewish commentators very nervous. However, to many of us in the Church, this is the pre-incarnate Christ who physically manifests the very presence of God (cf. "The Angel of the Lord" at 12:7).


B. Genesis 18-19 bring into vivid reality both sides of God's nature: love and judgment. These characteristics are not only seen in God, but can be transferred (1) to His people who reflect His love and (2) to the people of Sodom who reflect the character of the Evil one and, therefore, experience God's wrath.


C. It is uncertain at what point in chapter 18 that Abraham recognized the three visitors as being supernatural. Much of what is recorded is simply Oriental custom.

1. he bowed himself to the earth (cf. Gen. 23:7; 33:6-7; 42:6; 43:26)

2. he washed their feet (cf. Gen. 19:2; 24:32; 43:24)

3. he offered a meal (cf. v. 5)

4. he stood while they ate (cf. v. 8)

5. he called them Adonai, but in the sense of "Sir" (cf. v. 3)

On the other side of the coin there seems to be some indication that he understood very early that they were of supernatural origin.

1. he hurried and ran (cf. vv. 2,6, and 7), which was an unusual act for the Patriarch in the heat of the day

2. the meal he prepared was very large in quantity (cf. v. 6)

3. he even prepared an animal from his flock, which was unusual (cf. v.7)

It is obvious from v. 9 on that he recognizes the Lord as being personified in one of these visitors.



1Now the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. 2When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, 3and said, "My lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please do not pass your servant by. 4Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; 5and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant." And they said, "So do, as you have said." 6So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes." 7Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf and gave it to the servant, and he hurried to prepare it. 8He took curds and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed it before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate.

18:1 "Now the Lord appeared to him" The verb "appeared" (BDB 906, KB 1157, Niphal imperfect) is used several times in Genesis (cf. 12:7 [twice]; 17:1; 18:1; 26:2,24; 35:1,9). It denotes a personal physical manifestation. Since YHWH is an eternal spirit, this physicalness is hard to explain.

It is interesting to me that the rabbis say that chapter 18 is directly connected to chapter 17 and the reason for the visit from the Lord was to see if Abraham had recovered from his circumcision. As a matter of fact, the rabbis understand all three of these visitors to be angels who simply represented the Lord. They assert that (1) one angel came to help Sarah conceive; (2) one came to heal Abraham; and (3) one came to destroy Sodom.


▣ "by the oaks of Mamre" The same place is mentioned in 13:18 and 14:13. It is very important for us to recognize the significance of trees in semi-arid areas. They were almost seen as having a holy sense because they represented the presence of underground water. Also they provided shade which, in this area of the world, can mean a 60 degree difference in temperature. In reality it was probably not an oak, but a terebinth (cf. UBS, Helps For Translators, Fauna and Flora of the Bible, pp. 154-155). The rabbis say that it was not a single tree but an orchard, which may be true.

▣ "he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day" This is so realistic to the culture of that day, for the tent flap would have been open during the hot time of the day. The people would have been relaxing quietly at this time of day in order to avoid heat stroke.

18:2 "behold, three men were standing opposite him" We learn from 19:1 that two of the men were angels (cf. Heb. 13:2).

▣ "bowed himself to the earth" This can be seen as

1. an Oriental custom of greeting (i.e., 23:7; 33:6-7; 43:28)

2. an act of reverence (divine visitors, i.e., 19:1; or YHWH Himself, 24:26,48,52)

3. an act of fear (Abraham was a sojourner in a foreign land, See Textual Insights, C)


18:3 "My lord" These are the consonants for the word Adonai (ינדא, BDB 10). The pointing of the term tells us what the Masoretic scholars believed these names to represent (i.e., #3 below). The title is pointed in three different ways: (1) the first as "Sir" or "Mister"; (2) the second is the plural of this form, usually kings or lords; and (3) the third way is to signify Deity (i.e., here), נידאה. See Special Topic at 12:1.

▣ "if now I have found favor in your sight" This is a common Oriental greeting (cf. 30:27).

Verses 3-5 are a series of polite but urgent requests.

1. entreaty to stay and rest a while (BDB 716, KB 778, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense), v. 3

2. entreaty to let water be brought (BDB 542, KB 534, Hophal imperfect used in a jussive sense) to wash (BDB 934, KB 1220, Qal imperative) their feet, v. 4

3. entreaty to relax against the large tree in the honored place ("lean," BDB 1043, KB 1612, Niphal imperative), v. 4

4. entreaty to allow Abraham to prepare and bring food (BDB 542, KB 534, Qal cohortative),  v. 5

5. entreaty to refresh/sustain themselves (BDB 703, KB 761, Qal imperative), v. 5


18:4 "rest yourselves under the tree" In this day the term "rest" meant to prepare to eat. Usually a fellowship time centered around meals. Meals were a way to seal friendships and agreements.

18:5 "I will bring a piece of bread" This was an understatement when one compares the size of the loaf which Sarah made in v. 6, which must have contained 33 quarts.

"since you have visited your servant" This is a Hebrew idiomatic phrase that seems to imply that even at this point, Abraham seems to understand that this visit was not an accident, or to no purpose. From v. 9 I believe the purpose was to increase Sarah's faith and also to help Abraham understand his place of intercession as a ministry, which will be significant for all the Patriarchs.

18:6 Abraham rushes (verb used three times in vv. 6, 7) to command his wife to prepare a meal for the guests. This would take some significant time.

1. quickly prepare, BDB 554, KB 553, Piel imperative

2. knead it, BDB 534, KB 525, Qal imperative

3. make bread cakes, BDB 793, KB 889, Qal imperative


"three measures" This is the term "se'ah" (BDB 684), which equaled about 1/3 ephah.


18:7-8 Verses 6-8 describe an expensive and elaborate meal. Abraham was offering these guests the very best he had! These were important visitors!

18:8 "he was standing by them under the tree as they ate" Philo, Josephus, and the Targums of Jonathan translate this as "they seemed to eat," but those of us who accept further NT revelation see that even Jesus ate (cf. Luke 24:41-43) after His glorification, which makes the eating of food by Deity not an impossibility. Jewish writers are very uncomfortable with these anthropomorphic statements.

9Then they said to him, "Where is Sarah your wife?" And he said, "There, in the tent." 10He said, "I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. 11Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. 12Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?" 13And the Lord said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, saying, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?' 14Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son." 15Sarah denied it however, saying, "I did not laugh"; for she was afraid. And He said, "No, but you did laugh."

18:9 "Where is Sarah your wife" They knew her name! To ask a man about his wife would have been a very unusual question in this culture. It shows the intimacy that these visitors felt toward Abraham.

18:10 "I will surely return to you" This is an infinitive absolute and an imperfect of the same Hebrew word (BDB 996, KB 1427), which intensifies the force of the verb, "I will surely return."

▣ "at this time next year; and behold Sarah your wife shall have a son" This is exactly the word that God had given to Abraham in 17:15-21, but in this context it is also a word to Sarah.

The NASB's "at this time next year," is not a literal reading of the MT, which has "at the time of reviving" (BDB 311 I, 3, i.e., spring). This is repeated in v. 14, but with an added phrase, "at the appointed time" (BDB 417). This is added to clarify that the time period will be nine months, not a full year (cf. II Kgs. 4:16-17).

18:11 This is a comment from the narrator (i.e., author) or a later inspired editor. Inspiration is a faith issue. Believers are convinced that the true author of all canonical Scripture was the Holy Spirit. The exact procedures and timing of the final versions of Scripture are unknown.

18:12 "Sarah laughed to herself, saying" Abraham had laughed in 17:17. Sarah laughs because she thinks it is incredulous that she and Abraham, both being old, could possibly have a child. Her words here are used by the author of I Pet. 3:6 to show her reverence to Abraham. Apparently she had passed the time of menopause and their sexual life had been non-existent for some time. As we learn, by God's empowering, not only is Sarah able to conceive, but Abraham is able to have many other children as well.

18:13 "and the Lord said to Abraham 'Why did Sarah laugh'" One of the three guests is identified as YHWH Himself. The Lord addresses Abraham because in that day it would have been improper to address Sarah directly. The truth of God's dealing with Sarah's faith can be seen in Hebrews 11:11. We see somewhat of the humanity of Sarah in her denial of her laughter (cf. v. 15). Later on, God will name the promised child by a form of the word "laughter," as we see in 21:3, 6, 7. Notice that it has been twenty-five years since God's initial promise to Abraham in chapter 12.

▣ "saying" YHWH quotes Sarah's very thoughts showing His omniscience and giving credence to His promise.

18:14 "Is anything too difficult for the Lord" YHWH's omniscience is matched to His omnipotence (cf. Jer. 32:17,27; Matt. 19:26). YHWH is attempting to build and confirm Abraham and Sarah's faith/trust in Himself! YHWH is true to His word. They must obey His word! He is the God who speaks and acts!

The term here translated "difficult" (BDB 810, KB 928) means "extraordinary," "wonderful act of God." Note its usage in Exod. 15:11; Ps. 77:14; 78:12; 88:10; 119:129; 139:6; and Isa. 9:6; 25:1; 29:14; Dan. 12:6.

It is interesting how the primary wives of the Patriarchs were all unable to have children without the help of the Lord. It was one way He showed His power, purpose, and eternal plan. It points toward the virgin birth of the Davidic Messiah. YHWH has an eternal redemptive plan, person, and lineage which He will develop and protect!

▣ "at the appointed time" See note at v. 10.

18:15 Abraham and Sarah are not perfect people. There are no perfect people! They both show the signs of the Fall (i.e., Genesis 3). They both are mixtures of faith and doubt!

16Then the men rose up from there, and looked down toward Sodom; and Abraham was walking with them to send them off. 17The Lord said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? 19For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him." 20And the Lord said, "The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. 21I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know."

18:16 "the men rose up from there, and looked down toward Sodom" Jerome tells us that there was a site not far from Hebron where one could see the area of the Dead Sea, possibly as far as the cities of the plain. Most modern archeologists assume that the cities of the plain were at the southern end of the Dead Sea.

18:17-19 This seems to be a soliloquy on the part of YHWH or maybe He said it softly in order for Abraham to hear so he would realize his unique relationship to the Lord. This is the source of Abraham being called, "God's friend" (cf. II Chr. 20:7; Isa. 41:8; James 2:23). This same kind of truth is revealed by Jesus to His disciples in John 15:15.

YHWH reveals His immediate future actions (i.e., judgment of the cities on the plain, cf. chapter 19) to encourage Abraham about His promise of a son through Sarah. Abraham's line would be YHWH's instrument of bringing the nations to Himself and restoring the intimate fellowship of Eden.

Abraham is shown to be a prophet (cf. 20:7). YHWH reveals Himself in unique and predictive ways to prophets (i.e., Amos 3:7), which shows He is in control of time and events and also who is His true spokesperson.

Verse 18 is an obvious reference to the initial promises beginning in 12:1-3.

18:18 "since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation" The verb is an infinitive absolute and an imperfect verb from the same root (BDB 224, KB 243) which denotes intensity or here, a sure promise.

▣ "in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed" There is some discussion whether to translate this in the passive or reflexive form (i.e., Niphal stem). It seems to be that it occurs in both forms in this section of Genesis. However, it also assures us of the universal nature of God's love. Whether we will bless ourselves by calling on Abraham's God, or whether Abraham's God will bless us directly through Abraham (i.e., line of the Messiah and concept of justification by grace through faith, cf. 15:6) is not really the issue (cf. 12:3; 22:18; 28:14; Acts 3:25; Gal. 3:8).

Notice the universal implication of this verse and v. 25. Abraham knew YHWH was not a local, tribal, family god, but the God of all the earth. One wonders when this theological concept dawned on Abraham. At first (i.e., chapter 13) the full implications of the vision would not have been realized, but at some point they were (i.e., incipient monotheism).

18:19 "For I have chosen him" This is the Hebrew term "know" (BDB 393, KB 390, Qal perfect), which is used in Gen. 4:1; 19:5,8; Num. 31:18 to show "intimate personal relationship." It can also be understood in the sense of predestination, but probably better here, "cared for" (cf. Exod. 2:25; Deut. 2:7; 33:9; Hosea 13:5).


▣ "that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord" Notice the inference that Abraham will have a child and will pass on his faith to his seed (cf. Deut. 4:9; 6:7). Also notice the condition of obedience, which is certainly part of the covenant obligations (cf. 17:1), not only on the part of Abraham, but for all the generations of faith to follow. The Lord wants a people to reflect His character to the nations. The term "the way of the Lord" is interesting because it speaks of lifestyle faith (cf. Jdgs. 2:22; Ps. 119:1). It is the first title of the early church (cf. Acts 9:2; 18:25-26; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14,22; John 14:6).

"by doing righteousness and justice" These two words (BDB 842 and 1048) are often used together. They describe a life of love for God, neighbor, and the community, which is clearly stated in the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Notice the implied condition of lifestyle in line with the revealed character of God (cf. 17:1).

18:20 "And the Lord said, 'The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great'" The term "outcry" (BDB 277) is a play on a very similar Hebrew word that means "outrage" (BDB 277). This same account of the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah is recorded in Genesis 19 and Jude verse 7.

Notice how Sodom's sin is characterized.

1. great - BDB 912 I, KB 1174, Qal perfect

2. exceedingly (BDB 547) grave - BDB 457, KB 455, Qal perfect

Their sins "shouted" at YHWH for judgment! It is possible that Lot and his family were the ones praying (cf. v. 23) or watcher angels, or even a metaphor for the sins themselves.

YHWH knows the depth of human sin (cf. 6:5-6,11-12,13b; 15:16; Ps. 14:1-3).

18:21 "I will go down" This anthropomorphic phrase speaks of YHWH's personal presence for

1. judgment, here and Gen. 11:5,7

2. aid, Exod. 3:8

It must not be used to conflict with YHWH's knowledge of current and future events (i.e., "Open Theism"). This is eastern metaphorical language.

Also notice the way that YHWH is personally present with the two angels ("men"). He knows what is true because of (1) who He is and (2) what the angels encounter. There is a fluidity between the singular and plural of these three "men" (cf. 18:1-2).

This is a significant phrase which shows that the just God, although He is all knowing, still examines personally before making judgment. It was used by the rabbis to say that this was to be a characteristic of the judges in Israel (cf. Gen. 11:5; Exod. 3:8).

▣ "if not I will know" This is another anthropomorphic phrase to describe God's justice (cf. Exod. 2:25).

There are several cohortatives relating to YHWH in this verse.

1. I will go down - BDB 432, KB 434, Qal cohortative

2. I will see - BDB 906, KB 1157, Qal imperfect used in a cohortative sense

3. I will know - BDB 393, KB 390, Qal cohortative


22Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the Lord. 23Abraham came near and said, "Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? 25Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" 26So the Lord said, "If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account." 27And Abraham replied, "Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes. 28Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, will You destroy the whole city because of five?" And He said, "I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there." 29He spoke to Him yet again and said, "Suppose forty are found there?" And He said, "I will not do it on account of the forty." 30Then he said, "Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak; suppose thirty are found there?" And He said, "I will not do it if I find thirty there." 31And he said, "Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord; suppose twenty are found there?" And He said, "I will not destroy it on account of the twenty." 32Then he said, "Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?" And He said, "I will not destroy it on account of the ten." 33As soon as He had finished speaking to Abraham the Lord departed, and Abraham returned to his place.

18:22 "the men" There were three guests who turned out to be physical representatives of the spiritual realm: (1) two angels mentioned here (cf. 19:1) and (2) YHWH who remained with Abraham.

▣ "while Abraham was still standing before the Lord" This is one of the few places that the Masorete scholars changed the Hebrew text because they thought it was inappropriate in its current state. Originally it was "that YHWH stood before Abraham." The Septuagint reflects the MT.

18:23 "Abraham came near and said" This was usually used of prayer and sacrifice. The Targum of Jonathan translates this as "and Abraham prayed," which may be accurate. The phrase (and context) does show a wonderful fellowship between Abraham and YHWH.

▣ "Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked" This shows Abraham's understanding of the nature and character of YHWH (i.e., "Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" v. 25). YHWH certainly had knowledge of the situation, but He wanted Abraham to understand his unique relationship with Him, and the necessity for intercessory prayer on the behalf of others, which he will certainly use with Abimelech as can be seen in 20:7, 17. I think Abraham must have been thinking about Lot and his family in Sodom at this point, but also of v. 18!

18:26 This verse is an example of the corporate nature of the Hebrew culture.

1. negatively

a. Adam and Eve sinned and all creation suffered the consequences.

b. Achan sinned (cf. Joshua 7) and the army of Israel lost a battle (some died).

2. positively

a. Righteous people affect the actions of God toward the whole city of Sodom (and the cities of the plain).

b. One righteous man could divert God's judgment on Jerusalem (cf. Jer. 5:1).

c. Adam's sin affected all creation. Jesus' life and death affect all creation (cf. Rom. 5:12-21).

This concept is the theological basis for the vicarious, substitutionary atonement of Isaiah 53. One innocent One's death can bring forgiveness (cf. Leviticus 1-7; John 1:29; II Cor. 5:21).

18:27 "the Lord" This is the term for Adonai, pointed in such a way as to speak of Deity. See Special Topic at 12:1.

▣ "I am but dust and ashes" This is obviously an allusion to Genesis 3 where humans come from dust and return to dust. Abraham knew the traditions about creation! However, it is also possible that this phrase was a Semitic idiom of the day (i.e., Job, a contemporary of Abraham uses the same phrase in Job 30:19; 42:6).

18:32 "suppose ten are found there?" The exact reason for Abraham stopping at the number 10 is uncertain. It may refer to either (1) Lot and his family or (2) the fact that Abraham did not want to restrict the judgment based solely on Lot and his family.

Related Topics: Theology Proper (God)

Report Inappropriate Ad