Part I. Abraham under the Covenant (17:1—21:34)
I2. Divine judgment and mercy (18:1—19:38)
· God appeared again to Abraham at Hebron-Mamre, repeating the promise of a son. At the announcement, Sarah laughed just as Abraham did when he first heard the promise. Both of them shared the same response at the thought of a child born in their old age.
· The annunciation of Isaac was followed by a very different announcement: the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham dialogued with God regarding the just treatment of the innocent, begging God to spare the cities for the sake of the righteous.
· The end result was not one of the 2 scenarios described in the negotiation (no destruction or total destruction). Instead, the guilty were consumed and the innocent was spared. Even Lot’s request for the exemption of Zoar from destruction (Gen 19:21) was answered, showing that God did preserve the guilty on the account of the innocent Lot. The story clearly showed that God is sovereign.
· The visit by divine messengers to Sodom was followed by the salvation of the Lot’s family. After the destruction, the story concludes with the births of Lot’s sons by incest—the fathers of the future Moabites and Ammonites. The whole narrative is therefore enclosed by stories describing the birth of future heirs of nations, yet contrasting the moral heritage of their beginnings.
· The visits by divine messengers to Abraham (Ab) and to Lot (L) have many parallels, though some are contrasts:
o Ab was sitting at the entrance to his tent (18:1)—L was sitting in the gateway of the city (19:1)
o When Ab saw them, he hurried toward them (18:2)—When L saw them, he got up to meet them (19:1)
o Ab bowed low to the ground (18:2)—L bowed down with his face to the ground (19:1)
o Ab: please do not pass your servant by (18:3)—L: please turn aside to your sercvant’s house (19:2)
o Where is your wife, Sarah? (18:9)—Where are the men…? (19:5)
o Sarah laughed (sahaq, 18:12,13,15)—his sons-in-law thought he was joking (sahaq, 19:14)
o the outcry against Sodom/Gomorrah is so great (18:20)—their outcry…is so great (19:13)
o sweep away (18:23–24)—swept away (19:17)
o I will spare (nasa) the whole place (18:26)—I will grant (nasa) this request (19:21)
o the Lord promises a son (18:10)—L offers his daughters (19:8)
o Ab will be the father of great nations (18:18)—L is asked if he has sons-in-law, sons, and daughters (19:12)
o Ab pleads for the few righteous (18:23–32)—L pleads for himself (19:18–20)
o Ab and Sarah live in tent (18:6,9,10)—L and his daughters dwell in cave (19:30–38)
o The Lord promises mercy to the few righteous (18:26–32)—L receives mercy (19:16,21–23,29)
o The Lord will judge the guilty (18:21,26–32)—The Lord destroys the cities and Lot’s wife (19:24–26)
· Abraham’s stature was raised again in this story. In ch.13, he was the generous kinsman; in ch.14, he was the impressive warrior who rescued his nephew; here, in ch.18, he was the God’s confidant whose intercessory pleas contributed to God’s rescue of Lot. In contrast, Lot could not save his guests, not even himself. Ironically, it was his guests who delivered Lot from destruction.
· The dissimilarities of the 2 men were great:
o Abraham hosted the visitors in safety at his tent—Lot welcomed the angels to his house but were put into jeopardy.
o The angels gladly complied with Abraham’s request to dine—but the angels reluctantly agreed to Lot’s insistence.
o Abraham’s meal “in the heat of the day” included the delicacies of the fattened calf and curds—but the arrival of the angels “in the evening” caught Lot unprepared, and he offered only meal of unleavened bread.
o Abraham and Sarah scurried about to serve the guests—but Lot was not prepared, and his wife was not mentioned.
o Abraham was deliberately and honourably the “father of many nations”—but Lot generated two nations but ignorantly.
· Both Noah and Lot ended their lives disgracefully due to drunkenness, but they were still righteous people against the background of their wicked times.
18:2 Abraham looked up and saw: This phrase often signals an important imminent event in the Bible.
three men standing nearby: They included God (v.22) and 2 angels. Their sudden appearance suggested to Abraham that these people were extraordinary.
he hurried: again showing Abraham’s generous spirit.
18:3 If I have found favor in your eyes: a request made by a subordinate person.
my lord: Abraham respectfully (“please” occrring twice in Hebrew) addressed one of the 3 men (singular) who must have stood out from among the others.
18:4 you may all wash: Abraham now addressed all 3, using plural verbs.
· Hospitality is regarded as an important virtue both in OT and NT (Ro 15:7; 1Ti 3:2; 2Jn 2:9; 3:9; Heb 13:2). A good host provides food and protection for the guests, including care of their animals, water for refreshment and washing the soiled feet, followed by a meal and sometimes overnight accommodation.
18:5 Very well: The visitors willingly accepted the offer.
18:6-8 Abraham hurried: Abraham busily set his house in action, asking Sarah and a servant to prepare a lavish meal of bread, meat, curds, and milk. While the visitors ate, Abraham waited on them. All these showed his extraordinary generosity.
18:10 I will surely return: It is in emphatic Hebrew. The certainty was doubtless because a time (this time next year) was fixed.
18:11 already old and well advanced in years: The impossibility of Sarah’s pregnancy is stressed in 3 descriptions: (1) already old—89 years old, (2) well advanced in years—“coming with days” in Hebrew, passing the prime of life, (3) past the age of childbearing—past menopause.
18:12 Sarah laughed to herself: Sarah felt it was a joke.
this pleasure: The word is “enjoyment”, possibly referring to sexual delight. Apparently, the couple had no sexual relations for a long time.
18:13 Why did Sarah laugh: God asked 2 rhetorical questions, not expecting any answers.
18:14 too hard: The Hebrew means “wonderful” in the sense of extraordinary. God’s works are exceptional by human standards, evoking amazement. God’s knowledge of the future as well as human inner thoughts was too wonderful to comprehend.
18:15 Sarah was afraid: Sarah lied out of fear of the visitor’s unusual knowledge.
18:16 Abraham walked along with them: The visitors left after the meal and Abraham accompanied them for a short distance.
18:17 the LORD said: The passage is God’s contemplation. God asked Himself whether Abraham should become His confidant. His answer was a positive one for two reasons:
18:18 surely become a great and powerful nation: (1) Abraham would fulfil God’s own promise and (2) he would be blessing for the whole world.
18:19 I have chosen him: Abraham had been chosen. The result would be a people characterized by righteousness and justice; this would in turn fulfil His promise of worldwide blessing.
the way of the LORD: It is a lifestyle or a pilgrimage that conforms to God’s prescription. It is characterized by what is “right and just”. Right (Heb. sedaqa) means upright behaviour of not committing sin. Just (Heb. umispat) means social equity—treating those without power and wealth with fairness. Yet, Sodom committed just the opposite.
18:20 the LORD said: God’s revelation often occurred by dreams and visions. The face-to-face encounter and negotiation with God was unique. God spoke to Abraham like a friend (2Ch 20:7; see the example of Moses in Ex 33:11).
outcry: (Heb. seaqa) the woeful cry of victims who suffer sins and injustice; contrasting the “right” (Heb. sedaqa) of Abraham. If the outcry reached heaven, surely the magnitude of their sinfulness must be known to the whole region including Abraham.
18:21 I will go down: It is an anthropomorphical expression (using human way to express divine truth) about the divine inquiry, similar to the one at the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:5,7). It shows that God does not impose judgment on man capriciously.
18:22 The men turned away: Two of 3 men went to Sodom while God in the form of a man was left with Abraham.
Abraham remained standing: standing in waiting at the presence of a superior; at a bar of justice for the judicial appeal that followed.
18:23 Abraham approached him: The negotiation was no feverish haggling as shown by Abraham’s deference and God’s amicable agreement.
Will you sweep away the righteous: Abraham’s argument was founded on the pillars of divine justice and divine mercy. “Righteous” means conformity to God’s moral law.
18:25 Far be it from you: It indicated Abraham’s negotiation skill of raising God’s character. His assumption was that God was indeed righteous and could be counted on accordingly. Abraham did not reject God’s judgment of destruction for the wicked; rather, he contended that God must discriminate the righteous and the wicked.
18:26 I will spare the whole place: God’s acceptance of Abraham’s changing conditions showed His grace.
18:32 For the sake of ten: Some wonder why Abraham stopped his plea at 10. Some suggest that 10 is the smallest natural limit or social entity (Ru 4:2). Perhaps Abraham was assured that God was merciful and would discriminate between the wicked and the righteous. The tragedy of the story is that Sodom did not have even 10 righteous people.
19:1 The two angels arrived at Sodom: The two came from Abraham’s tent. They were strangers and aliens in Sodom.
There is a special place for the alien in Biblical law. The alien, widow, and orphan constituted the disadvantaged in society; Israelite law provided special protections for these people by promoting generous treatment (Lev 19:10; Nu 9:14; Dt 1:16). The rationale for benevolent treatment was historical and theological; at one time Israel was a stranger in Egypt, and God takes special inventory of the state of the disadvantaged. Thus right treatment of the disadvantaged was a badge of righteousness.
Lot was sitting in the gateway: The city gate was the traditional location for civil decisions, thus indicating that Lot was perhaps influential in the community. However, he was later spurned as an alien (v.9).
19:2 My lords… your servant's house: Lot showed proper deference to his guests.
No: The angels’ refusal was worded strongly, literally “no, indeed.” Normally, the house would be safer than the square. Perhaps the angels knew that Lot would jeopardize his own family if they followed him to his house. Lot possibly knew the danger and wanted to protect them. However, his decision was a mistake.
19:3 baking bread without yeast: Lot was unprepared and could only provide an inferior meal.
19:4 all the men from every part: involving men from every sector of the city and each age group.
young and old: literally “both young and son” showing that their homosexual practices had become cross-generational.
we can have sex with them: They made no pretense about their intention of assualting the visitors sexually—showing Sodomites’ blatant shamelessness.
19:7–8 Lot tried to dissuade the intruders by 3 tactics: (1) making an urgent plea—that what they intended was wicked, (2) offering his virgin daughters as a substitute, (3) explaining that their behaviour would be an appalling breach of hospitality. That Lot sanctioned the rape of his daughters indicated his loss of moral compass under the influence of the Sodomites.
19:9 as an alien: Although Lot was living in the city, he was still regarded as an outsider. They rejected Lot’s judgment that their behaviour was wicked.
19:10–11 the men inside: The angels had heard and seen enough. They struck the people outside with blindness, perhaps only temporarily, giving Lot sufficient time to escape.
19:13 to destroy this place: referring to Sodom and its allied cities.
19:14 his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters: They were probably Sodomites. Even though the marriage might not have taken place, those who made the pledge to marry were regarded as already in the family. Lot went out and found them but they did not believe Lot and thought Lot was joking.
19:15–17 Flee for your lives: The angels twice exhorted Lot to flee but he was uncooperative. First, he hesitated but the angels forced them out of the city. Second, he stopped and bargained to divert to Zoar, one of the cities scheduled for annihilation. The word “flee” occurred 5 times in the story.
19:21–22 Zoar: When Lot was afraid that he could not reach the mountains before destruction occurred, he asked the angels to spare Zoar (the name was derived from “small”, referring to the smallness of the city). The angels conceded to Lot’s plea. They were indirectly conceding to Abraham’s plea. The divine timetable for destruction was temporarily suspended for the outworking of divine grace.
19:24 rained down burning sulfur: The phrases “rained down” and “from the heavens” repeat the language of the Flood account (Gen 7:2; 8:2). The twin calamities of Noah and Lot illustrate Jesus’ teaching on the suddenness of the Second Coming of Christ. “Sulfur” represents divine judgment against the wicked in OT.
19:26 she became a pillar of salt: Lot’s family was warned not to look back (v.17). Lot’s wife looked back and became salt (perhaps a coating of salt), probably showing her affections for her life at Sodom. Her tragic end became a dreaded lesson (Lk 17:32) for attachment to the world and for disobedience.
19:28 like smoke from a furnace: intense concentration of the smoke, burning smoke shows divine anger and judgment.
19:29 he remembered Abraham: reminding how “God remembered Noah” (Gen 8:1).
brought Lot out of the catastrophe: God saved Lot because of Abraham, not because of Lot’s righteousness.
19:30 settled in the mountains: Lot’s age and reclusive life meant the end of the family line without male heirs. The daughters’ intent to “preserve our family line” (v.32,34) was honourable, but the means of incest was deplorable.
19:33 to drink wine: Lot got drunk and committed incest; Noah got drunk and disgraced himself. Drunkenness is a sin and could lead to many dangers.
19:37 Moab: meaning “from [my] father”.
19:38 Ben-Ammi: meaning “son of my [paternal] kinsman”. The descendants of Lot were later granted special concessions by the invading Israelites and Moses was forbidden to attack them (Dt 2:9,19; Ps 83:8). However, they were involved in hostilities against the Israelites even down to the time of the Maccabees. Historically, the union of Ruth the Moabitess and Judah’s descendant Boaz reconciled the alienated families of Lot and Abraham, providing for Israel’s greatest king David.
· Abraham was hospitable and well-prepared when entertaining the angels. Heb 13:2 suggests that we, like Abraham, migh actually entertain angels. This should be in our mind the next time we have the opportunity to meet a stranger’s needs.
· “Is there anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen 18:14) is a question that we should ask ourselves when we pray.
· God knew the Sodomites’ sins before sending the angels but He gave them a last chance to repent. God is still waiting, giving people the opportunity to turn to Him (2Pe 3:9).
· Even in grave danger, Lot hesitated about leaving. He probably did not want to abandon wealth and comfort he enjoyed in Sodom. Do wealth and comfort bury our heart toward God today?