18 September 2015

Genesis 18:1-15

“The Lord appeared to Abraham ...” (v. 1)

Psalm: Psalm 92


Today's passage comes again from the Yahwist tradition* in Genesis. It tells of Abraham's hospitality to three men, although it would seem from verse one that in Abraham's eyes it is God he meets with in the encounter. The true subjects of this visitation are however firmly stated as being three men who arrive at the tent door in Mamre. It is at the heat of the day which is surprising in itself as it would normally be the time when people would be expected to rest. As the biblical scholar Von Rad puts it "in a single sentence, the Yahwist has given us a vivid picture of place and time".

The other unusual thing about this encounter is that the men seem suddenly to appear, Abraham doesn't see them coming. He greets them when it is clear that they intend to stay for a while and offers refreshment - according to the text just water for their feet and a little bread to alleviate their hunger (verses 4-5), but it seems the whole household is brought into play. Abraham runs to the herd for meat to be prepared, and to his wife to begin to bake and prepare other food. When it is ready the meal is set before the men and Abraham watches whilst they eat. Clearly there is something special about these visitors who have appeared from nowhere.

Then strangely these men ask about Sarah and her childlessness, and one of them gives a promise that he will return and that Sarah will have a child (verse 10). Sarah's not unexpected response on overhearing the conversation is to laugh and spell out clearly why she sees this as being impossible, but we are returned to that first verse, where it is not one of the three anonymous men but the Lord who rebukes her for laughing (verse 13), and it is he who has been there amongst them as one of the men.

* The Yahwist tradtion in Genesis tells the story of increasing disobedience, violence and corruption. This is in contrast to the priestly writer's strand which views the world's beginnings and people's encounters with God as a confirmation of the goodness of God and the goodness of the people God created. Originally the two accounts formed separate texts, but the texts gradually were brought together by the scribes until we have the account before us today.

To Ponder

  • Who do you think the three men were? Was it a physical appearance by God and two attendants or is the voice of God at the beginning and end of the narrative a separate visitation?
  • Did Abraham recognise God immediately the men appeared or did realisation slowly dawn on him? What parallels are there in your own life?
  • Do we sometimes recognise God in the most unexpected people as he interacts with us in our lives? Give thanks to God for this, and pray for those through whom you recognise God.

Bible notes author

The Revd Pat Billsborrow

Pat Billsborrow is a supernumerary minister in the Northwich and Winsford Circuit, and is at present part of a district ministry team working within that circuit with pastoral care of four churches. She is ecumenical officer in the Cheshire part of the Chester and Stoke on Trent Methodist District.