Welcome back to another week in Breaking Through the White Noise podcast, where we are beginning in episode five. Here are some things we need to retrace, quickly, before we move on to the text for the week. Remember, the author is Moses. We are still in a historical narrative for the genre. Genesis was written sometime after the Exodus from Egypt. The audience, most likely, are those in the generation of the 40 years wandering (possibly, originally, the descendants of the ones wandering for 40 years). Lastly, lets review, or better, restate, some of the theme(s): Blessing and cursing; good and evil (Ross 2008 25-26). We can also look at three other possible themes, which are very theological in their nature, are God, man, and salvation (Kidner 1967, 32-41). According to the intro of the Book of Genesis in the Faithlife Study Bible, Genesis’ themes are promise and blessing. However, the patriarchs’ failures do not show that God’s promises are due to their righteousness, but more to His desire to make His creation whole and complete, so they can return to a right relationship with Him.
Now, let’s look a bit closer at some of the themes in chapter 18 that are observable. The first one is that God reaffirms His promise with Abraham and the second is this— God brings about His justice. We will look a bit closer at these two themes. To touch on here, first, is that the promise is contrasted with the detestableness of Sodom and Gomorrah. Hence, God’s need to bring forth His justice. These two micro-themes fit right in with the major themes, as discussed already. God’s reaffirmation of the promise, which is contrasted with God’s judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah. The judgment fits in with the theme of God and man, as well as with salvation. For our time this week, we are merely looking at one aspect of the story because, technically, we cannot learn the full lesson just from chapter 18 (we must look at 18 and 19 together). We are going to dive in and see what this story tells us about the differences between Abraham and Sarah, the human aspect, and then we are going to look at what Moses is telling us about God, the actual main character of the Bible! When we begin looking at Chapter 19, however, we will start to see how 18 and 19 go together, how this current chapter flows into the next.
Let’s briefly summarize chapter 18, of Genesis, while you are grabbing your preferred translation of the Bible. God visits Abraham and reaffirms, once more, that He will give Abraham and Sarah their child, as He promised he would. Sarah’s turn to react as Abraham did in Chapter 17. Abraham shows hospitality to God. God tells Abraham about the justice He is about to dispense. Abraham attempts to intercede with God on Sodom and Gomorrah’s behalf. Now, open up your Bible’s to Genesis 18 and let’s begin reading from verse one.
The Lord appeared to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent during the heat of the day. He looked up, and he saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them, bowed to the ground, and said, “My lord, if I have found favor with you, please do not go on past your servant. Let a little water be brought, that you may wash your feet and rest yourselves under the tree. I will bring a bit of bread so that you may strengthen yourselves. This is why you have passed your servant’s way. Later, you can continue on.” “Yes,” they replied, “do as you have said.” So Abraham hurried into the tent and said to Sarah, “Quick! Knead three measures of fine flour and make bread.” Abraham ran to the herd and got a tender, choice calf. He gave it to a young man, who hurried to prepare it. Then Abraham took curds and milk, as well as the calf that he had prepared, and set them before the men. He served them as they ate under the tree.
When Moses introduces God in the first line of the text, for the reader to know and understand who this is, he uses the official name of God—YHWH. However, when Abraham sees the three men, runs out and calls one of them lord—adona. Curious, why is this? I want to clarify something first, because some people may not know or understand this. In our English translations, the Hebrew word used for either God’s personal name, YHWH, or as the title, Adonai, which also replaces His name in most cases in the OT, is the word, LORD. When you see it, in the English with, with all caps, then it is referencing, specifically, God. However, when it is in all lowers, or just a single capital, then it is referencing a human. As I just stated, Moses introduced God into this micro-narrative, by using his personal name, YHWH. This is so the audience understands who Abraham is talking to because it seems, possibly, that we don’t know if Abraham knows who he talking to, just yet, (Heiser 2015, 131). This is because Abraham addresses the three men, one in specific, as just lord, lowercase. Simply put, adona, just means lord or master (Vine 1996, LORD). As I mentioned, earlier, this word is also used for replacing God’s personal name with His title. To understand if Abraham knew just who he was talking to, let’s look at the various translations in English for some help. In the CSB; LEB; and NJB the words used in English are lowercase lord. However, in the NKJV and in the ESV, it’s a capital, Lord. Also, in the GNT, they used the English, capital, Sirs (they pluralized it). We can see, that even the translators of the various English Bibles seem to be mixed on which it is. I would venture to say that Abraham knew who he was talking to from the get-go (Heiser 2015, n. 132). Looking at the evidence before us, Abraham, without breaking a sweat, address his Guest in vs. 25 as “Judge of the whole earth” which shows just who it is that Abraham has been speaking with. We tend to get a bit confused, at first, because as stated, Moses introduces God right off with His personal name, and then Abraham addresses Him simply as a meager lord, on a human level. This isn’t to be taken, however, as Abraham either not knowing who he is talking to, he is simply being a good host and showing hospitality to strangers. Neither does this need to be taken to show Abraham is insulting God by not using His personal name or addressing Him with the proper Hebrew title for God. We can basically state, as Michael Heiser (2015, 132), in his book Unseen Realm, states Abraham might have known it was God who he was talking to due to “[t]he chronology of his encounters in Genesis [which] tell us that he had heard Yahweh’s voice before. This aural recognition is present in other passages involving Abraham…[he also may have] visually recognized his visitor from those previous encounters” (emphasis his). Also, we can see that these visitors are also physical in nature, which is due to verse eight where we see them eating.
Hospitality was vitally important in the ancient Mesopotamia. We can see, here, when compared to the next chapter 19, a contrast happening. Abraham welcomes the Lord and His two angels, while in Sodom they are treated as sex items (Ngan 2003, “Hospitality” HIBD). According to Lai Ling Elizabeth Ngan (Ibid.) in her article on hospitality in the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, the act of hospitality was “[t]o entertain or receive a stranger (sojourner) into one’s home as an honored guest and to provide the guest with food, shelter, and protection.” For the ancient Hebrew, this wasn’t just any norm, nor even a more, it was a religious duty one had to perform (Ibid.). It most likely stemmed from the fact that there were nomadic tribes wandering the area in Canaan, not many towns or inns available, so the reliance upon a stranger to accommodate you was expected, maybe even seen as a right (Ibid.). This passage gives us an excellent example of how one would/should provide hospitality. As Douglas K. Wilson (2016, “Hospitality” LBD), shows, there was a typical pattern: “a greeting with bow or kiss (Gen 18:2; 19:1); a welcome for the guest to come in (Gen 24:31); an invitation to rest (Gen 18:4; Judg 4:19); an opportunity to wash (Gen 18:4; 19:2; 24:32); a provision of food and drink (Judg 4:19; 19:5); an invitation to converse (Gen 24:33); a provision of security (Gen 19:8).”
Let’s move on to the next portion of the text.
“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent,” he answered. The Lord said, “I will certainly come back to you in about a year’s time, and your wife Sarah will have a son!” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance of the tent behind him. Abraham and Sarah were old and getting on in years. Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. So she laughed to herself: “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I have delight?” But the Lord asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Can I really have a baby when I’m old?’ Is anything impossible for the Lord? At the appointed time I will come back to you, and in about a year she will have a son.” Sarah denied it. “I did not laugh,” she said, because she was afraid. But he replied, “No, you did laugh.”
Now we move from the introduction of this shortened story to God making a re-affirmation with Abraham, and this time with Sarah being present to hear it.
This is the critical portion of the text, here before moving on to the judgment portion. It is here that doubting God and His promises and abilities, comes out. Sarah overhears the discussion happening. Sarah, Moses tells us, laughed to herself and then placed her old age before Abraham’s. This is important. First let’s look at women’s roles and why she wouldn’t have been present with them and why she was eavesdropping on the conversation, behind them. Married women were expected to complete various domestic activities, ie., baking, sewing, fetching water, looking after the sheep, and providing the hospitality towards the guest and the rest of the family (Silva 2011, 16). We saw this example earlier in the text, right before this, where Abraham requested Sarah start making bread.
This portion of the chapter is very intriguing. Again, God makes His promise to Abraham, except this time, just like in the previous chapter, He promises that in a year’s time, Sarah is going to give birth to Isaac. Part of what makes this interesting is that God asks Abraham where his wife was. Obviously, God knew where she was, He wasn’t asking for knowledge’s sake. So, why ask, and why does Sarah not believe Him as Abraham has?
There is a small debate among some scholars on whether Abraham even told Sarah about the Covenantal promise made by God or whether she knew it, yet did not believe it, at all. This is a useless argument to have because this is not the main point of the text. The main point of the text, here, is that God will do as He says He will do. For us to understand this, then, we have to understand, a little bit more about God and this passage is going to give us some heavy info on who God is.
To start with, I want to point out, firstly, that Abraham never once actually introduced himself in this story and did not mention his wife’s name either. Again, this shows that I believe Abraham knew who the strangers were. Look, again, at verse nine. The three visitors, together, ask Abraham where Sarah is. They don’t just ask where his wife is, they used her name! Sarah, following the customs of the time, as mentioned earlier, was out of sight. In those days, as well as it is in most Muslim countries, women were not permitted to speak to men in the open public (Hartley 2000, 178). This shows that these men knew who they were talking to (Ibid.). This begins to lead into the meat of this story, informing us of who these men are. God tells Abraham that they are going to have a child in a year’s time—which would have definitely rung in the ears of Abraham (though I am sure, again, that he knows who this) since God said this to him in the last chapter. Now, Sarah gets to hear the promise proclaimed. However, something seems to go wrong. Moses wants to remind his audience of the current situation (Sitz Im Leben-setting in life). Sarah and Abraham are old in age, passed the stage of having children, and apparently have not been having sex for quite some time.
In verse 12, Sarah responds to herself with a laugh, which is out of the range of the visitors to hear. Sarah, also, shows her skepticism by stating, again to herself, that she is “worn out”, Abraham, her “lord is old,” and that now she’s going to have “delight?” Most people understand, at a surface level the meaning in English of all these statements. Sarah is tired and old, Abraham is too old, and they won’t have the delight of having and raising a child. However, this is not exactly what Sarah is saying, here. The first two are correctly understood, the Hebrew behind them can be used to show old age for a woman, hence “worn out,” and old for Abraham.
We must remember that Moses’ audience, as well as Abraham and Sarah (who were living through this situation historically), were from the ancient near east. That being said, old age was something that was meant to be very respected. People of Abraham’s day believed that reaching old age was a sign of favor from God (Silva 2011, 19). This favor though was due to their being godly and faithful to His commandments (Ibid.). We see this, best shown back in Genesis 15:15 where God promises Abraham he will be “buried at a good old age.” Growing old in the Ancient Near East was not easy, though. You had to survive famines, wars, raiders, disease. Therefore, reaching old age was seen as a divine blessing. In Ecc 12:1-5 the not so fun description of old is given. This was why grey hair and beards (Prov 20:29) was seen as a sign of glory. If one was not to honor the elderly they would bring trouble to the country (Isa 3:5; Lam 5:12; Silva 2011, 19). Now, moving on to the last thing Sarah mentioned—having delight.
The word for delight, in Hebrew, does not mean delight in rearing a child or giving birth to a child. The word is ednah and it means to have sexual pleasure (Matthews 2005, 218; Kidner 1967, 132; and Ross 2008, 123). For Abraham, with the promise, he never once, doubted, he just didn’t know how it would happen. It seems that Abraham continued to trust in God, not looking inward. Paul tells the Roman church, in Romans 4:19, that Abraham never lost his faith, even though he was close to death and he knew that Sarah wasn’t capable of bearing any children. However, for Sarah, whether she knew of the promise or not, she did not believe and she only thought of herself. At her age, she was only thinking about the impossibility of having children for several things, which are normal for all humans, lack of sex, old age, and the deficiency of the human body after a certain age. This is the problem that is being brought up, throughout this smaller narrative (though it is in the whole of the Abrahamic storyline). Can Abraham and Sarah truly believe and trust God in what He says He will and can do? Who, listening to this (or reading this, whichever), can say that they have never once doubted God and His promises? I have, I do it, probably, all the time. That’s the point of this story, of this narrative. There is an extreme impossibility, God says not to worry about it, and yet, here is Abraham and Sarah, who the later is doubting God. This is where we will see just who God is.
We see God points out the fact that Sarah laughed, showing that He is all-knowing (omniscient in big boy tweed suits and bow ties language). God was able to know Sarah’s heart and thoughts. God calls Sarah out on the carpet for it. We have to remember, however, that Sarah is still out of sight and sound of the actual conversation. This makes the situation all that more amazing. God is technically talking to Sarah, but He is actually conversing with Abraham, following the customs. God not only knows her thoughts, He knows her heart, as mentioned. He tells her, she laughed at the fact that she is going to have a baby in her and Abraham’s old age. Sarah, in response (again, remember, she is not visibly present in front of the men), denies that she laughed. God’s response, again, is yes you did. God leaves Sarah there, with the information that He will return and they will have a child in a year’s time. This is our God, patient, pointed, powerful, and all-knowing. We will see, later, that God is faithful with His promises because Abraham and Sarah give birth to Isaac (which means to laugh).
For now, we can say with some certainty that there is a definite difference in this story, along with the whole story of Abraham and Sarah, thus far, between Abraham and Sarah. Both can be considered round characters, yet it is obvious that Abraham is growing more in righteousness than Sarah is. We will see this in the next section of chapter 18 and then, again, in chapter 19. Granted, Sarah has not, even in this story, technically, come face to face with God as Abraham has. Nonetheless, Abraham has shown his belief and trust in God with his promise, which he gets more faithful in as the story goes on, than Sarah has. We can see, from this small story that Abraham recognizes God, shows true hospitality toward Him, accepts His promise and re-affirmation, where Sarah doubts and acts, inwardly, selfish. God corrects Sarah, yet we will see that Sarah seems to never really get it. We can see that God is the most powerful being in the story, He is able to know the future, and, at the same time, know Sarah’s thoughts and heart. God is still patient with both Sarah and Abraham. Next time, we will see God’s grace and patience tested by Abraham and then we will see God as Judge over the whole of the earth! Stay tuned, return for the rest of this amazing story. For now, go with the knowledge that we will doubt God, at times, however, it’s more important whether we can fully trust Him, change from His rebukes in our lives, and grow in His righteousness. Until next time. If you like this show, then, please do me a huge solid and share it with your family and friends. I would like to see this show begin to grow and become one of the most popular on Spotify, Google Podcasts, Breaker, and Radio Public. Thanks, guys, have a great week!
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