Three Special Visitors

1 The Lord appeared to Abraham1 by the oaks2 of Mamre while3 he was sitting at the entrance4 to his tent during the hottest time of the day. 2 Abraham5 looked up6 and saw7 three men standing across8 from him. When he saw them9 he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them and bowed low10 to the ground.11

3 He said, “My lord,12 if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by and leave your servant.13 4 Let a little water be brought so that14 you may all15 wash your feet and rest under the tree. 5 And let me get16 a bit of food17 so that you may refresh yourselves18 since you have passed by your servant’s home. After that you may be on your way.”19All right,” they replied, “you may do as you say.”

6 So Abraham hurried into the tent and said to Sarah, “Quick! Take20 three measures21 of fine flour, knead it, and make bread.”22 7 Then Abraham ran to the herd and chose a fine, tender calf, and gave it to a servant,23 who quickly prepared it.24 8 Abraham25 then took some curds and milk, along with the calf that had been prepared, and placed the food26 before them. They ate while27 he was standing near them under a tree.

9 Then they asked him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” He replied, “There,28 in the tent.” 10 One of them29 said, “I will surely return30 to you when the season comes round again,31 and your wife Sarah will have a son!”32 (Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, not far behind him.33 11 Abraham and Sarah were old and advancing in years;34 Sarah had long since passed menopause.)35 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, thinking,36After I am worn out will I have pleasure,37 especially when my husband is old too?38

13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why39 did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really40 have a child when I am old?’ 14 Is anything impossible41 for the Lord? I will return to you when the season comes round again and Sarah will have a son.”42 15 Then Sarah lied, saying, “I did not laugh,” because she was afraid. But the Lord said, “No! You did laugh.”43

Abraham Pleads for Sodom

16 When the men got up to leave,44 they looked out over45 Sodom. (Now46 Abraham was walking with them to see them on their way.)47 17 Then the Lord said, “Should I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?48 18 After all, Abraham49 will surely become50 a great and powerful nation, and all the nations on the earth will pronounce blessings on one another51 using his name. 19 I have chosen him52 so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep53 the way of the Lord by doing54 what is right and just. Then the Lord will give55 to Abraham what he promised56 him.”

20 So the Lord said, “The outcry against57 Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so blatant58 21 that I must go down59 and see if they are as wicked as the outcry suggests.60 If not,61 I want to know.”

22 The two men turned62 and headed63 toward Sodom, but Abraham was still standing before the Lord.64 23 Abraham approached and said, “Will you sweep away the godly along with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty godly people in the city? Will you really wipe it out and not spare65 the place for the sake of the fifty godly people who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing – to kill the godly with the wicked, treating the godly and the wicked alike! Far be it from you! Will not the judge66 of the whole earth do what is right?67

26 So the Lord replied, “If I find in the city of Sodom fifty godly people, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

27 Then Abraham asked, “Since I have undertaken to speak to the Lord68 (although I am but dust and ashes),69 28 what if there are five less than the fifty godly people? Will you destroy70 the whole city because five are lacking?”71 He replied, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.”

29 Abraham72 spoke to him again,73What if forty are found there?” He replied, “I will not do it for the sake of the forty.”

30 Then Abraham74 said, “May the Lord not be angry75 so that I may speak!76 What if thirty are found there?” He replied, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”

31 Abraham77 said, “Since I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty are found there?” He replied, “I will not destroy it for the sake of the twenty.”

32 Finally Abraham78 said, “May the Lord not be angry so that I may speak just once more. What if ten are found there?” He replied, “I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten.”

33 The Lord went on his way79 when he had finished speaking80 to Abraham. Then Abraham returned home.81

118:1tn Heb “him”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity. 218:1tn Or “terebinths.” 318:1tn The disjunctive clause here is circumstantial to the main clause. 418:1tn The Hebrew noun translated “entrance” is an adverbial accusative of place. 518:2tn Heb “he”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity. 618:2tn Heb “lifted up his eyes.” 718:2tn Heb “and saw, and look.” The particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) draws attention to what he saw. The drawn-out description focuses the reader’s attention on Abraham’s deliberate, fixed gaze and indicates that what he is seeing is significant. 818:2tn The Hebrew preposition עַל (’al) indicates the three men were nearby, but not close by, for Abraham had to run to meet them. 918:2tn The pronoun “them” has been supplied in the translation for clarification. In the Hebrew text the verb has no stated object. 1018:2tn The form וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ (vayyishtakhu, “and bowed low”) is from the verb הִשְׁתַּחֲוָה (hishtakhavah, “to worship, bow low to the ground”). It is probably from a root חָוָה (khavah), though some derive it from שָׁחָה (shakhah). 1118:2sn The reader knows this is a theophany. The three visitors are probably the Lord and two angels (see Gen 19:1). It is not certain how soon Abraham recognized the true identity of the visitors. His actions suggest he suspected this was something out of the ordinary, though it is possible that his lavish treatment of the visitors was done quite unwittingly. Bowing down to the ground would be reserved for obeisance of kings or worship of the Lord. Whether he was aware of it or not, Abraham’s action was most appropriate. 1218:3tc The MT has the form אֲדֹנָי (’adonay, “Master”) which is reserved for God. This may reflect later scribal activity. The scribes, knowing it was the Lord, may have put the proper pointing with the word instead of the more common אֲדֹנִי (’adoni, “my master”). 1318:3tn Heb “do not pass by from upon your servant.” 1418:4tn The imperative after the jussive indicates purpose here. 1518:4tn The word “all” has been supplied in the translation because the Hebrew verb translated “wash” and the pronominal suffix on the word “feet” are plural, referring to all three of the visitors. 1618:5tn The Qal cohortative here probably has the nuance of polite request. 1718:5tn Heb “a piece of bread.” The Hebrew word לֶחֶם (lekhem) can refer either to bread specifically or to food in general. Based on Abraham’s directions to Sarah in v. 6, bread was certainly involved, but v. 7 indicates that Abraham had a more elaborate meal in mind. 1818:5tn Heb “strengthen your heart.” The imperative after the cohortative indicates purpose here. 1918:5tn Heb “so that you may refresh yourselves, after [which] you may be on your way – for therefore you passed by near your servant.” 2018:6tn The word “take” is supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons. In the Hebrew text the sentence lacks a verb other than the imperative “hurry.” The elliptical structure of the language reflects Abraham’s haste to get things ready quickly. 2118:6sn Three measures (Heb “three seahs”) was equivalent to about twenty quarts (twenty-two liters) of flour, which would make a lot of bread. The animal prepared for the meal was far more than the three visitors needed. This was a banquet for royalty. Either it had been a lonely time for Abraham and the presence of visitors made him very happy, or he sensed this was a momentous visit. 2218:6sn The bread was the simple, round bread made by bedouins that is normally prepared quickly for visitors. 2318:7tn Heb “the young man.” 2418:7tn The construction uses the Piel preterite, “he hurried,” followed by the infinitive construct; the two probably form a verbal hendiadys: “he quickly prepared.” 2518:8tn Heb “he”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity. 2618:8tn The words “the food” are supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons. In the Hebrew text the verb has no stated object. 2718:8tn The disjunctive clause is a temporal circumstantial clause subordinate to the main verb. 2818:9tn The particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) often accompanies a gesture of pointing or a focused gaze. 2918:10tn Heb “he”; the referent (one of the three men introduced in v. 2) has been specified in the translation for clarity. Some English translations have specified the referent as the Lord (cf. RSV, NIV) based on vv. 1, 13, but the Hebrew text merely has “he said” at this point, referring to one of the three visitors. Aside from the introductory statement in v. 1, the incident is narrated from Abraham’s point of view, and the suspense is built up for the reader as Abraham’s elaborate banquet preparations in the preceding verses suggest he suspects these are important guests. But not until the promise of a son later in this verse does it become clear who is speaking. In v. 13 the Hebrew text explicitly mentions the Lord. 3018:10tn The Hebrew construction is emphatic, using the infinitive absolute with the imperfect I will surely return. If Abraham had not yet figured out who this was, this interchange would have made it clear. Otherwise, how would a return visit from this man mean Sarah would have a son? 3118:10tn Heb “as/when the time lives” or “revives,” possibly referring to the springtime. 3218:10tn Heb “and there will be (הִנֵּה, hinneh) a son for Sarah.” 3318:10tn This is the first of two disjunctive parenthetical clauses preparing the reader for Sarah’s response (see v. 12). 3418:11tn Heb “days.” 3518:11tn Heb “it had ceased to be for Sarah [after] a way like women.” 3618:12tn Heb “saying.” 3718:12tn It has been suggested that this word should be translated “conception,” not “pleasure.” See A. A. McIntosh, “A Third Root ‘adah in Biblical Hebrew,” VT 24 (1974): 454-73. 3818:12tn The word “too” has been added in the translation for stylistic reasons. 3918:13tn Heb “Why, this?” The demonstrative pronoun following the interrogative pronoun is enclitic, emphasizing the Lord’s amazement: “Why on earth did Sarah laugh?” 4018:13tn The Hebrew construction uses both הַאַף (haaf) and אֻמְנָם (’umnam): “Indeed, truly, will I have a child?” 4118:14tn The Hebrew verb פָּלָא (pala’) means “to be wonderful, to be extraordinary, to be surpassing, to be amazing.” 4218:14sn Sarah will have a son. The passage brings God’s promise into clear focus. As long as it was a promise for the future, it really could be believed without much involvement. But now, when it seemed so impossible from the human standpoint, when the Lord fixed an exact date for the birth of the child, the promise became rather overwhelming to Abraham and Sarah. But then this was the Lord of creation, the one they had come to trust. The point of these narratives is that the creation of Abraham’s offspring, which eventually became Israel, is no less a miraculous work of creation than the creation of the world itself. 4318:15tn Heb “And he said, ‘No, but you did laugh.’” The referent (the Lord) has been specified in the translation for clarity. 4418:16tn Heb “And the men arose from there.” 4518:16tn Heb “toward the face of.” 4618:16tn The disjunctive parenthetical clause sets the stage for the following speech. 4718:16tn The Piel of שָׁלַח (shalakh) means “to lead out, to send out, to expel”; here it is used in the friendly sense of seeing the visitors on their way. 4818:17tn The active participle here refers to an action that is imminent. 4918:18tn Heb “And Abraham.” The disjunctive clause is probably causal, giving a reason why God should not hide his intentions from Abraham. One could translate, “Should I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation?” 5018:18tn The infinitive absolute lends emphasis to the finite verb that follows. 5118:18tn Theoretically the Niphal can be translated either as passive or reflexive/reciprocal. (The Niphal of “bless” is only used in formulations of the Abrahamic covenant. See Gen 12:2; 18:18; 28:14.) Traditionally the verb is taken as passive here, as if Abram were going to be a channel or source of blessing. But in later formulations of the Abrahamic covenant (see Gen 22:18; 26:4) the Hitpael replaces this Niphal form, suggesting a translation “will bless [i.e., “pronounce blessings upon”] themselves [or “one another”].” The Hitpael of “bless” is used with a reflexive/reciprocal sense in Deut 29:18; Ps 72:17; Isa 65:16; Jer 4:2. Gen 18:18 (like 12:2) predicts that Abraham will be held up as a paradigm of divine blessing and that people will use his name in their blessing formulae. For examples of blessing formulae utilizing an individual as an example of blessing see Gen 48:20 and Ruth 4:11. 5218:19tn Heb “For I have known him.” The verb יָדַע (yada’) here means “to recognize and treat in a special manner, to choose” (see Amos 3:2). It indicates that Abraham stood in a special covenantal relationship with the Lord. 5318:19tn Heb “and they will keep.” The perfect verbal form with vav consecutive carries on the subjective nuance of the preceding imperfect verbal form (translated “so that he may command”). 5418:19tn The infinitive construct here indicates manner, explaining how Abraham’s children and his household will keep the way of the Lord. 5518:19tn Heb “bring on.” The infinitive after לְמַעַן (lÿmaan) indicates result here. 5618:19tn Heb “spoke to.” 5718:20tn Heb “the outcry of Sodom,” which apparently refers to the outcry for divine justice from those (unidentified persons) who observe its sinful ways. 5818:20tn Heb “heavy.” 5918:21tn The cohortative indicates the Lord’s I must go down. The descent to “see” Sodom is a bold anthropomorphism, stressing the careful judgment of God. The language is reminiscent of the Lord going down to see the Tower of Babel in Gen 11:1-9. 6018:21tn Heb “[if] according to the outcry that has come to me they have done completely.” Even the Lord, who is well aware of the human capacity to sin, finds it hard to believe that anyone could be as bad as the “outcry” against Sodom and Gomorrah suggests. 6118:21sn The short phrase if not provides a ray of hope and inspires Abraham’s intercession. 6218:22tn Heb “And the men turned from there.” The word “two” is not in the Hebrew text, but is supplied here for clarity. Gen 19:1 mentions only two individuals (described as “angels”), while Abraham had entertained three visitors (18:2). The implication is that the Lord was the third visitor, who remained behind with Abraham here. The words “from there” are not included in the translation for stylistic reasons. 6318:22tn Heb “went.” 6418:22tc An ancient Hebrew scribal tradition reads “but the Lord remained standing before Abraham.” This reading is problematic because the phrase “standing before” typically indicates intercession, but the Lord would certainly not be interceding before Abraham. 6518:24tn Heb “lift up,” perhaps in the sense of “bear with” (cf. NRSV “forgive”). 6618:25tn Or “ruler.” 6718:25sn Will not the judge of the whole earth do what is right? For discussion of this text see J. L. Crenshaw, “Popular Questioning of the Justice of God in Ancient Israel,” ZAW 82 (1970): 380-95, and C. S. Rodd, “Shall Not the Judge of All the Earth Do What Is Just?” ExpTim 83 (1972): 137-39. 6818:27tn The Hebrew term translated “Lord” here and in vv. 30, 31, 32 is אֲדֹנָי (’adonay). 6918:27tn The disjunctive clause is a concessive clause here, drawing out the humility as a contrast to the Lord. 7018:28tn The Hebrew verb שָׁחַת (shakhat, “to destroy”) was used earlier to describe the effect of the flood. 7118:28tn Heb “because of five.” 7218:29tn Heb “he”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity. 7318:29tn The construction is a verbal hendiadys – the preterite (“he added”) is combined with an adverb “yet” and an infinitive “to speak.” 7418:30tn Heb “he”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity. 7518:30tn Heb “let it not be hot to the Lord.” This is an idiom which means “may the Lord not be angry.” 7618:30tn After the jussive, the cohortative indicates purpose/result. 7718:31tn Heb “he”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity. 7818:32tn Heb “he”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity. 7918:33tn Heb “And the Lord went.” 8018:33tn The infinitive construct (“speaking”) serves as the direct object of the verb “finished.” 8118:33tn Heb “to his place.”