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Genesis 18

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Three Special Visitors

18:1 The Lord appeared to Abraham 1  by the oaks 2  of Mamre while 3  he was sitting at the entrance 4  to his tent during the hottest time of the day. 18:2 Abraham 5  looked up 6  and saw 7  three men standing across 8  from him. When he saw them 9  he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them and bowed low 10  to the ground. 11 

18:3 He said, “My lord, 12  if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by and leave your servant. 13  18:4 Let a little water be brought so that 14  you may all 15  wash your feet and rest under the tree. 18:5 And let me get 16  a bit of food 17  so that you may refresh yourselves 18  since you have passed by your servant’s home. After that you may be on your way.” 19  “All right,” they replied, “you may do as you say.”

18:6 So Abraham hurried into the tent and said to Sarah, “Quick! Take 20  three measures 21  of fine flour, knead it, and make bread.” 22  18:7 Then Abraham ran to the herd and chose a fine, tender calf, and gave it to a servant, 23  who quickly prepared it. 24  18:8 Abraham 25  then took some curds and milk, along with the calf that had been prepared, and placed the food 26  before them. They ate while 27  he was standing near them under a tree.

18:9 Then they asked him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” He replied, “There, 28  in the tent.” 18:10 One of them 29  said, “I will surely return 30  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  18:11 Abraham and Sarah were old and advancing in years; 34  Sarah had long since passed menopause.) 35  18:12 So Sarah laughed to herself, thinking, 36  “After I am worn out will I have pleasure, 37  especially when my husband is old too?” 38 

18:13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why 39  did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really 40  have a child when I am old?’ 18:14 Is anything impossible 41  for the Lord? I will return to you when the season comes round again and Sarah will have a son.” 42  18:15 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

18:16 When the men got up to leave, 44  they looked out over 45  Sodom. (Now 46  Abraham was walking with them to see them on their way.) 47  18:17 Then the Lord said, “Should I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? 48  18:18 After all, Abraham 49  will surely become 50  a great and powerful nation, and all the nations on the earth will pronounce blessings on one another 51  using his name. 18:19 I have chosen him 52  so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep 53  the way of the Lord by doing 54  what is right and just. Then the Lord will give 55  to Abraham what he promised 56  him.”

18:20 So the Lord said, “The outcry against 57  Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so blatant 58  18:21 that I must go down 59  and see if they are as wicked as the outcry suggests. 60  If not, 61  I want to know.”

18:22 The two men turned 62  and headed 63  toward Sodom, but Abraham was still standing before the Lord. 64  18:23 Abraham approached and said, “Will you sweep away the godly along with the wicked? 18:24 What if there are fifty godly people in the city? Will you really wipe it out and not spare 65  the place for the sake of the fifty godly people who are in it? 18:25 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 judge 66  of the whole earth do what is right?” 67 

18:26 So the Lord replied, “If I find in the city of Sodom fifty godly people, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

18:27 Then Abraham asked, “Since I have undertaken to speak to the Lord 68  (although I am but dust and ashes), 69  18:28 what if there are five less than the fifty godly people? Will you destroy 70  the whole city because five are lacking?” 71  He replied, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.”

18:29 Abraham 72  spoke to him again, 73  “What if forty are found there?” He replied, “I will not do it for the sake of the forty.”

18:30 Then Abraham 74  said, “May the Lord not be angry 75  so that I may speak! 76  What if thirty are found there?” He replied, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”

18:31 Abraham 77  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.”

18:32 Finally Abraham 78  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.”

18:33 The Lord went on his way 79  when he had finished speaking 80  to Abraham. Then Abraham returned home. 81 

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1 tn Heb “him”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

2 tn Or “terebinths.”

3 tn The disjunctive clause here is circumstantial to the main clause.

4 tn The Hebrew noun translated “entrance” is an adverbial accusative of place.

5 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

6 tn Heb “lifted up his eyes.”

7 tn 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.

8 tn The Hebrew preposition עַל (’al) indicates the three men were nearby, but not close by, for Abraham had to run to meet them.

9 tn The pronoun “them” has been supplied in the translation for clarification. In the Hebrew text the verb has no stated object.

10 tn 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).

11 sn 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.

12 tc 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”).

13 tn Heb “do not pass by from upon your servant.”

14 tn The imperative after the jussive indicates purpose here.

15 tn 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.

16 tn The Qal cohortative here probably has the nuance of polite request.

17 tn 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.

18 tn Heb “strengthen your heart.” The imperative after the cohortative indicates purpose here.

19 tn Heb “so that you may refresh yourselves, after [which] you may be on your way – for therefore you passed by near your servant.”

20 tn 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.

21 sn 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.

22 sn The bread was the simple, round bread made by bedouins that is normally prepared quickly for visitors.

23 tn Heb “the young man.”

24 tn The construction uses the Piel preterite, “he hurried,” followed by the infinitive construct; the two probably form a verbal hendiadys: “he quickly prepared.”

25 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

26 tn The words “the food” are supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons. In the Hebrew text the verb has no stated object.

27 tn The disjunctive clause is a temporal circumstantial clause subordinate to the main verb.

28 tn The particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) often accompanies a gesture of pointing or a focused gaze.

29 tn 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.

30 tn The Hebrew construction is emphatic, using the infinitive absolute with the imperfect tense.

sn 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?

31 tn Heb “as/when the time lives” or “revives,” possibly referring to the springtime.

32 tn Heb “and there will be (הִנֵּה, hinneh) a son for Sarah.”

33 tn This is the first of two disjunctive parenthetical clauses preparing the reader for Sarah’s response (see v. 12).

34 tn Heb “days.”

35 tn Heb “it had ceased to be for Sarah [after] a way like women.”

36 tn Heb “saying.”

37 tn 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.

38 tn The word “too” has been added in the translation for stylistic reasons.

39 tn Heb “Why, this?” The demonstrative pronoun following the interrogative pronoun is enclitic, emphasizing the Lord’s amazement: “Why on earth did Sarah laugh?”

40 tn The Hebrew construction uses both הַאַף (haaf) and אֻמְנָם (’umnam): “Indeed, truly, will I have a child?”

41 tn The Hebrew verb פָּלָא (pala’) means “to be wonderful, to be extraordinary, to be surpassing, to be amazing.”

42 sn 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.

43 tn Heb “And he said, ‘No, but you did laugh.’” The referent (the Lord) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

44 tn Heb “And the men arose from there.”

45 tn Heb “toward the face of.”

46 tn The disjunctive parenthetical clause sets the stage for the following speech.

47 tn 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.

48 tn The active participle here refers to an action that is imminent.

49 tn 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?”

50 tn The infinitive absolute lends emphasis to the finite verb that follows.

51 tn 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.

52 tn 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.

53 tn 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”).

54 tn The infinitive construct here indicates manner, explaining how Abraham’s children and his household will keep the way of the Lord.

55 tn Heb “bring on.” The infinitive after לְמַעַן (lÿmaan) indicates result here.

56 tn Heb “spoke to.”

57 tn Heb “the outcry of Sodom,” which apparently refers to the outcry for divine justice from those (unidentified persons) who observe its sinful ways.

58 tn Heb “heavy.”

59 tn The cohortative indicates the Lord’s resolve.

sn 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.

60 tn 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.

61 sn The short phrase if not provides a ray of hope and inspires Abraham’s intercession.

62 tn 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.

63 tn Heb “went.”

64 tc 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.

65 tn Heb “lift up,” perhaps in the sense of “bear with” (cf. NRSV “forgive”).

66 tn Or “ruler.”

67 sn 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.

68 tn The Hebrew term translated “Lord” here and in vv. 30, 31, 32 is אֲדֹנָי (’adonay).

69 tn The disjunctive clause is a concessive clause here, drawing out the humility as a contrast to the Lord.

70 tn The Hebrew verb שָׁחַת (shakhat, “to destroy”) was used earlier to describe the effect of the flood.

71 tn Heb “because of five.”

72 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

73 tn The construction is a verbal hendiadys – the preterite (“he added”) is combined with an adverb “yet” and an infinitive “to speak.”

74 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

75 tn Heb “let it not be hot to the Lord.” This is an idiom which means “may the Lord not be angry.”

76 tn After the jussive, the cohortative indicates purpose/result.

77 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

78 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

79 tn Heb “And the Lord went.”

80 tn The infinitive construct (“speaking”) serves as the direct object of the verb “finished.”

81 tn Heb “to his place.”



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