The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD appeared to Abraham beside Mamre’s oak grove as he was sitting at his tent entrance on a hot day. This is how it happened: 2He looked up to see three men standing nearby. He ran to meet them and bowed down to them. 3“My Lord,” he said, “If you will, please don’t hurry on. 4Let me have a little water brought to wash your feet while you rest in the shade, 5and while you are here let me bring some bread for you to enjoy, and then you can continue your journey.”
They accepted his offer 6and Abraham hurried to the tent to Sarah. “Hurry! measure three servings of the best flour, knead it and make bread.” 7Then he ran to the herd and found a good young calf that would have tender meat. He gave it to a servant who hurried to prepare it. 8Then he took curds and milk and the beef when it was done and set it before the three visitors, and then stood nearby while they ate it.
9They asked, “Where is Sarah, your wife?”
“Over there in the tent,” he told them.
10Then one of them said, “When I return to you here next season, Sarah your wife will have a son.”
Sarah was listening in the tent. 11She and Abraham were both very old and it was long after she had gone through menopause. 12When she overheard them she laughed. “I’m an old woman, and my husband is an old man. Are we going to have the pleasure of making a baby?”
13The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘am I really going to have a baby at my age?’ 14Is anything impossible for the LORD? At the time I told you I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”
15Sarah was afraid, then, and denied having laughed, but the LORD said, “Yes, you did laugh.”
16The men left, headed toward Sodom, and Abraham walked a distance with them. 17The LORD said, “Should I hide what I’m planning to do from Abraham, 18since he is going to be the ancestor of a great nation and all the nations on the earth will one day be blessed because of him? 19No. I have chosen him to pass on to his children and his family that they must obey the LORD by living right and being just so the LORD can make happen what he has promised Abraham.”
20Then the LORD said to Abraham, “A great outcry has come to me against Sodom and Gomorrah because of the depth of their sinfulness. 21I’m going down there to investigate and see if the reports are true. If they are not, I will know.”
22The men turned, then, and headed toward Sodom, leaving Abraham standing before the LORD. 23He approached the LORD and said, “Would you really wipe out the good people along with the bad? 24What if there are fifty good people there? Would you not forgive the place for the sake of the fifty?” 25Surely you wouldn’t kill the good along with the evil. You can’t let the good people suffer the same fate as the bad ones! You are the Judge of the whole world; surely you will do what is fair.”
26The LORD said, “If I find fifty good people in Sodom. I will spare the whole city for their sake.”
27“I’m nothing but dust and ashes, but I must speak to the LORD. 28Suppose there are five less than the fifty? Would you destroy the city for the lack of five?”
The LORD said, “I won’t destroy it if there are forty-five there.”
29Abraham spoke up again: “Suppose only forty are found there?”
The LORD said, “If there are forty, I won’t destroy it.”
30Abraham said, “Please don’t get mad if I ask, but suppose you find thirty there?”
The LORD said, “I won’t destroy it if I find thirty there.”
31Abraham said, “I have to risk speaking up again. Suppose twenty are found there?”
The LORD answered, “If there are twenty, I won’t destroy it.”
32Then Abraham said, “Please don’t be mad if I speak once more. What if you only find ten good people there?”
The LORD answered, “For the sake of ten good people I will spare the city.”
33Then the LORD was finished speaking with Abraham and walked on, and Abraham went back home.
1-8: Three men appear outside Abraham’s tent. He exercises the rules of oriental hospitality and offers them rest and food. “A little bread,” he says, and proceeds to butcher a calf and prepare a feast. Then he tells Sarah to bake bread.
9-15: One of the men tells Abraham that Sarah will have a son “in due season.” Sarah laughs, and the text specifies that the LORD says, “Why did Sarah laugh?” So, we learn that at least one of the men is God.
16-21: As they leave, Abraham, ever the good host, walks with them some distance to send them on their way and God debates whether to tell Abraham what is about to happen. But who exactly is debating? Many Christian commentators believe the three men are representations of the three persons of God in the Christian understanding of God’s Trinitarian nature. However, the text will identify in the next chapter that the two who set off toward Sodom while Abraham argues with God are angels. Still, the other two persons of the Trinity might certainly take on other guises, as the resurrected Jesus did on the road to Emmaus.
22-33: So, the two “angels” set off toward Sodom, while Abraham engages God in an argument over what will happen. Remember that Abraham’s nephew, Lot, is in Sodom, and Abraham would naturally be concerned with his welfare. The conversation recorded here is usually presented as Abraham persuading God to change his mind, but that is not the only interpretation possible. God may well have already decided not to destroy the whole city if 10 righteous people are found there; it just takes Abraham a while to get down to that number. In other words, God was willing to be more forgiving than Abraham dared think. I certainly hope that is true of us as well.
God will allow sinfulness to progress only so far.