A Visit by Angels


VERSES 1-5  “And the Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;
“And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground,
“And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant:
“Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree:
“And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said.”

Mamre was a confederate of Abraham on the occasion when he rescued Lot. (Gen. 14:13) The expression, “plains of Mamre” evidently means the plains which belonged to Mamre, for Abraham was merely a sojourner in the land. However, he was on friendly terms with many of the Canaanites.

‘The Lord appeared’ unto Abraham, the text states, yet later this appearance turns out to be the visit of three ‘men’ who served as messengers of the Lord. This manner of expression is employed quite frequently in the Bible when it speaks of the Lord’s dealings with members of the human race. Actually no human being could see God and live. (Exod. 33:20) However, when he sends his messengers he expects those visited to treat them with dignity, and to give consideration to the message they deliver.

These ‘men’ who visited Abraham were actually angels; that is, spirit beings. They had materialized in order to be able to converse freely with the patriarch. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul refers to them as such, and tacitly cites Abraham’s hospitality as an example worthy of emulation: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers,” he writes, “for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”—Heb. 13:2

VERSES 6-8  “And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth.
“And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it.
“And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.”

It is necessary to put ourselves in Abraham’s position in order to understand his great desire to make his unexpected visitors ‘feel at home’. It was not as though he lived on a busy city thoroughfare where thousands of people would be passing every day. Instead he was living on the plains, and in a tent. It is quite possible that days might go by when not a single stranger passed his tent, and here were three of them who gave every indication that they were men of considerable importance.

As Abraham saw it, this was to be a special event and he was desirous of making as much as possible out of it. Abraham was an important man in that part of the world, and was accustomed to giving orders when he wanted things done. He did not ask Sarah if it would be convenient for her to help prepare a meal for these exceptional visitors. He simply gave directions that it should be done. The same is true with respect to the young man whom he directed to dress a young calf and prepare it for a meal.

Abraham revealed just a bit of excitement over the visit of the three men, for the account says that he “ran unto the herd” and made a personal selection of a calf which he knew would be tender for eating. Visits from the Lord through his accredited messengers were not new to Abraham. While the Apostle Paul explains that he entertained angels unawares, it is quite possible that he perceived that these three men were something more than they were disclosing. In any event, he proved himself to be a kind and gracious host; and Sarah seems to have cooperated very willingly with him.

VERSES 9-15  “And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent.
“And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him.
“Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.
“Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?
“And the Lord said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old?
“Is any thing too hard for the Lord? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.
“Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh.”

Abraham stood while his guests ate, thus assuming the role of a servant, and as they ate, they inquired concerning the whereabouts of Sarah. While Sarah had helped with the preparation of the meal, up to this point she had evidently kept herself out of sight. Then the spokesman for these visitors said to Abraham, ‘I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son’.

Evidently the tent was not very far from where the trio was eating, for Sarah heard this announcement and, like Abraham, she laughed—the text says, ‘within herself’, or we might say ‘laughed to herself’. But the angel knew it, and when he referred to it later Sarah denied that she had laughed, and the angel said, ‘Nay; but thou didst laugh’.

‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?’—this is the practical lesson in the account for us. This is of great importance with respect to the outworking of the plan of God. Perhaps one reason the Lord permitted Abraham and Sarah to get so old before Isaac was born was for the very purpose of demonstrating that he is responsible for the fulfillment of all his promises.

Many sincere Christians today, and for centuries past, have erroneously imagined that the success of God’s purposes in the earth depends upon the efforts of puny man. We should all be glad that this is not so, and that his plan to bless all the families of the earth through the seed of Abraham is sure to be accomplished—sure, despite all the circumstances which seem to be to the contrary.

VERSES 16-22  “And the men rose up from thence, and looked toward Sodom: and Abraham went with them to bring them on the way.
“And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do;
“Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?
“For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.
“And the Lord said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous;
“I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know.
“And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the Lord.”

The Lord takes his servants into his confidence in matters which pertain to them and to those in whom they are particularly interested. Broadly speaking, the truth—enlightened people of God should be interested in all mankind. They should have the spirit of Abraham and manifest enthusiasm for the plan of God which was revealed to him, the plan that through the seed of Abraham all the families of the earth are to be blessed.

The Lord had decided to destroy Sodom because of the gross wickedness of the city, but he used the occasion to test Abraham’s interest in the people of the city, and particularly his concern for his own kinsmen—Lot and his family, who dwelt there. ‘Shall I hide from Abraham’, the Lord inquired, ‘that thing which I do; seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?’

In this passage we are furnished with an interesting example of how God makes allowance for the mental limitations of his servants in order that they might understand his viewpoint. To paraphrase God’s statement to Abraham it implies that he had heard a report that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were very wicked, so he had come down to investigate, and if they were as wicked as the report indicated, he would surely destroy them. Actually, the Creator of the universe and God of heaven and earth did not need to visit the earth personally to obtain information he needed. This was his way of speaking on Abraham’s level of understanding.

VERSES 23-33  “And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?
“Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein?
“That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
“And the Lord said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.
“And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes:
“Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five? And he said, If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it.
“And he spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he said, I will not do it for forty’s sake.
“And he said unto him, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there.
“And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty’s sake.
“And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.
“And the Lord went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place.”

Abraham petitioned the Lord earnestly to save the city, especially if there proved to be a few righteous souls therein. Abraham at first asked whether the city would be spared if there were fifty souls found to be righteous. When he continued to lower the number it is possible that he had Lot and his family in mind.

The Lord displayed both his patience with Abraham and his willingness to show mercy by complying with his entreaty so many times, as he kept lowering the number. As it turned out, there were not even the required ten who were righteous; so the city was destroyed.

This raises an interesting question in view of God’s promise to bless all the nations of the earth, for Jesus indicates that no particular effort was put forth to bring about the repentance of Sodom and Gomorrah. If there had been, Jesus explained, they would have remained and not been destroyed. (Matt. 11:23,24) Jesus also explained, however that in the Judgment Day, they will be given an opportunity; so we see that, after all, they will be remembered, in keeping with the promise made to Abraham that through his seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

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