The Life of Abraham, Part 9: The Visit of the Three Angels
In the last chapter the LORD promised Abraham what humans even today would consider impossible. Sarah was going to be a mother of a son named Isaac in twelve months. Abraham laughed at the idea, but the LORD told him it would be so. To remind Abraham that he laughed, the LORD said the boy's name would be Isaac, which means “laughter”. The LORD changed the name of Abram to Abraham to reflect that he would be the father of many nations of people. He also named Sarai “Sarah” which means princess. So in chapter 17, the LORD appears to Abraham by a new name of God Almighty (El-Shaddai), gives new names to Abram and Sarai to reflect the new reality as well as to give a name to the coming son of Sarah. The names reflect a new reality in the lives of Abraham and Sarah.
The LORD also made a second covenant with Abraham of circumcision which was to be done to every male as a sign of the covenant. We discussed at length the implications of this covenant. The rest of the chapter talks about the covenant marked by circumcision and the circumcision. But nowhere does Abraham break the good news to Sarah about being a mother. That situation is about to be remedied.
Exposition of the Text
Chapter 18 begins with another appearance of the LORD to Abraham while he was sitting in a tent, the reminder that he was a wandering nomad in a land that his descendants would eventually call their own and build houses. It says he was startled by the appearance of three men. It says that he rose and bowed before them. This could be taken as a form of hospitality which was the expectation in the Middle East. Abraham’s actions were similar to the saying “My house is your house”. But when the appearance of the three men is linked to an appearance of the LORD, more is suggested. These weren’t mere men. Whether Abraham knew this and bowed before the chief of them is debated, but Moses wants us to know from the start that it was the angel of the LORD and two other angels. Many see the chief angel as an Old Testament appearance of Christ. Many of the church fathers held to this view. Some even held to the idea that the three men were the Father. Son, and Holy Ghost. I would hold the idea of an Old Testament appearance of Christ to be a good possibility. But I do not think it was the Holy Trinity.
Abraham made haste to greet and show hospitality to the guests. For since the New Testament warns us to show hospitality to strangers because some entertained angels unawares hints that Abraham did not know at first who they were. Just like the Lord Jesus hid his identity from the Emmaus disciples, the LORD held his identity from Abraham. Abraham insisted that these three men get out of the heat, drink some water, and that he would straightway go and get them food. The Middle East can get unbearably hot at midday which could be life-threatening. If they would rest and refresh themselves, they could go on their way when it was a little cooler.
The hospitality offered was extravagant. Sarah was ordered to quickly prepare three loaves of bread for the guests and his servants were ordered to prepare the fatted calf reserved for the appearance of a special dignitary. He had it brought to the three men who were under the shade of a tree for them to eat, which they did.
In verse nine, Abraham should have become aware of the real identity of the visitors. They asked Abraham where Sarah was. Only the LORD and Abraham knew of the new name. So by hearing the name of Sarah, the LORD was revealed to Abraham. The chief of the three, the Angel of the LORD, spoke to Abraham and said that He would fulfill the promise that Abraham and Sarah would have a Son the next spring. It is a rather difficult statement in that is says the LORD would personally return to them as though He were a stork delivering a baby.
The LORD knew that Sarah was listening and was perfectly aware of her own situation. She was an old woman, far beyond menopause and the loss of libido. Here reaction was almost identical to the reaction of Abraham to the announcement. She laughed within herself and thought how impossible the situation. Abraham was too old to father a child and Sarah far too old to conceive one.
The LORD asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh?” He again said that this thing would happen the next spring. Sarah denied laughing, but the LORD who knows the heart told her different. So both Abraham and Sarah laughed at the news that they would be parents of a child. The gentle rebuke of Sarah by the LORD also was one of Abraham as well.
The LORD and the two angels had another purpose for the journey, a one of mourning and not laughter which we shall see in the next lesson.
What do we take away from this passage? I previously mentioned about Hebrews 13:2 about showing hospitality to strangers because that stranger might turn out to be an angel, or even the LORD. In the time the sermon to the Hebrews was written, many Christians had been evicted from their homes and had their name on the roll of citizens of the cities and towns they lived in removed. Anyone who received these people in their houses ran the risk of having the same thing happen if they were caught showing hospitality to them. These pilgrims and wanderers who no longer had any earthly city to belong to had to wander in the wilderness. Christians were to receive these refugees as if they were the Lord Jesus.
Jesus himself alludes to this in Matthew 25 when those who demonstrated their faith by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and prisoners, or even giving a cup of cold water would not lose their reward. The one who does this for the least of the Christians has done these things to the Lord Himself. So we cannot be sure that when someone comes knocking suddenly at the door that it isn’t the Lord asking in. Even if it isn’t, we show hospitality to the Lord by showing hospitality to others. Paul says that the one who refuses to help a fellow Christian brother or sister in genuine need is worse than an unbeliever. So the idea of showing hospitality is not an option.
When this hospitality is shown, it is demonstrated not only in grudgingly offering the least possible help. Instead, the hospitality is to be the most generous. When Abraham killed the fatted calf for the celebration, we are reminded of the reception the father gave for his unworthy prodigal son. This dirty broken young man was greeted by a father who ran to him and hugged his dirty ragged body in public. This would be considered as John MacArthur reminds us was a most shameful act on the part of the father. He ran to show hospitality just like Abraham ran to show hospitality. The killing of the calf was like inviting the Emperor to dinner. But it was his broken and totally underserving son.
There is quite a reversal in the New Testament in that the hospitality of Abraham to the LORD is reversed. Abraham was quite right, even if he acted better than he knew to give the very best to the LORD. But here, the Lord Himself prepares lavishly not for a great dignitary, but rather to publicans, sinners, prostitutes and other people considered the rabble of society. If you will notice in Luke, every time a sinner is received, a great banquet is thrown. There is more joy in Heaven over a repentant sinner.
We now know that the ultimate fulfillment of the LORD’s promise to Abraham and Sarah was not in Isaac but one of Isaac’s distant descendants, the Lord Jesus Christ. He would come to Jerusalem in the spring of the year and offer his life for the life of the world. The LORD told Abraham and Sarah that he would return in the spring with the gift of life, a son. As we noted, it is an odd statement. But it is nothing compared with Jesus, the Son of God laying his life down for us in a far off spring to the one the LORD told to Abraham and Sarah. This promise to us who were dead in trespasses and sins would be visited by the LORD of life who has raided us from spiritual death and will one day change or raise our mortal bodies.
For since we are called to be imitators of Christ as His dear children, let us follow Him in offering true hospitality and words of hope and life to a dying world. Christ has offered the very best to us. He did not offer the required staples of bread and wine, but His body and blood. Nothing gives Jesus more joy than to see his children walking in the truth.