Three Visitors and a Promise
With Questions and Proposed Answers
Background and Printed Text: Genesis 18:1-16
Sarah’s name is Princess. I will call her that. Avraham’s name is Father-Of-A-Crowd, but I will call him Avraham. I use the Hebrew word ‘na’ because it is a softener in spoken Hebrew. I want you to feel the Hebrew language. This means that some of the English will sound strange. You will also find it familiar! You will have new words to learn!
Genesis 18:1 And Yehovah appeared unto him in the oaks of Mamre. And he sat the opening of the tent as the heat of the day. 2And he lifted his eyes. And he saw. And behold, three men are positioning by him! And he saw. And he ran to meet them from the opening of the tent. And he prostrated landward.
3And he said, “My lords, if, na, I found favour in thine eyes, do not cross-over, na, from by thy slave. 4A little of water shall be taken, na. And wash your feet. And lean ye under the tree. 5And I have taken a morsel of bread. And sustain-ye your heart. After, ye shall cross-over. For therefore ye have crossed-over by your slave.” And they said, “So thou shalt do just-as thou hast spoken.”
6And Abraham hurried to the tent unto Princess. And he said, “Hurry! Knead three measures of fine-meal flour! And make pitas!”
7And Abraham ran unto the herd. And he took the son of the herd, tender and good. And he gave unto the youth. And he hurried to make him.
8And he took butter and milk and the son of the herd that he made. And he gave to their faces. And he sat beside them under the tree. And they ate.
9And they said unto him, “Where is Princess thy woman?”
And he said, “Behold in the tent.”
10And He said, “Returning, I will return unto thee as the time of an animal. And behold a son is to Princess thy woman.”
And Princess heard, the opening of the tent. And he is after him.
11And Abraham and Princess are elders, coming into days. The path as women ceased to be to Princess.
12And Princess laughed inside herself to say, “After I have atrophied, there was to me pleasure, and my lord is old?”
13And Yehovah said unto Avraham, “Why is this? Princess laughed to say, ‘Even faithfully I will bear, and I, I was old?’ 14 Will the thing be-more-miraculous-than Yehovah? At the appointment I will return unto thee as the time of an animal. And to Princess is a son.”
15And Princess lied to say, “I did not laugh!” For, she feared.
And He said, “No, for thou didst laugh!”
I. The Greeting (verses 1-5)
The text starts by informing the readers that Yehovah appeared unto Avraham in the oaks of Mamre and in the early afternoon: as the heat of the day. Shade is so important in a very dry location. Avraham, his cowhands and their families found these oaks a very pleasant place to set their tents. Avraham was “sitting the opening,” sitting in the opening of the tent.
Avraham may have been daydreaming. When he lifted his eyes, he saw three men positioning by him. They were not yet next to him. So, he ran to meet them. He then prostrated landward in front of them: he set himself face down and flat in front of them. (Do this on the floor to see how it appears. You may get your clothes a little dirty.) This act is always what the Bible means by worship. No person can Biblically worship without doing this simple act. To lay prostrate is to lay face down and flat. It is not the same as bowing. (When one bows, his knees are on the ground and his head goes down, but his middle does not.) Worshipping indicates either surrender, willingness to serve, or having an urgent request, the same as supplicating. It is also acknowledging (admitting) another’s superior rank and position.
Avraham requested that they would “not cross over” yet. These men were on a journey. Avraham’s campsite was in the line of that journey. They could “cross over” later—they could continue on their way, later. He said, “If I found favour in thine eyes, do not cross-over from by thy slave.” (This is good Hebrew, but it would be bad English to use “from” and “by” next to each other.) Avraham desired that they stay for a while.
He then expressed what he knew they needed: a little water for their feet. Walking in a sandy place on a hot day results in most uncomfortable dirt between the toes and under the feet, as well as in all areas of sandals. Washing feet feels so good! (If visitors were too tired, sometimes hosts washed their feet.)
The shade of the tree was so pleasant. The men could lean under it (we might say, “could lay under it”). Avraham volunteered that he has taken a morsel (piece) of bread (for them). It will be much more than just a piece of bread!
He then said, “And sustain-ye your heart.” The heart in the Bible is usually the mind. Folks think with their heart, according to the Bible. Sustaining is holding up, keeping it from falling or becoming depressed. This weary group of travelers (or so they seemed) needed to have their mind sustained! They had much more of a journey ahead.
Avraham was convinced that they had crossed over this area near him in order to find shelter, water and food. He was glad to provide these things. They agreed that Avraham would do as he said; he had to know if they would stay for a while in order to fix food for them.
1. Why did Avraham prostrate himself in front of these men? This showed that he was very willing to serve these men in any way that he could (and that was right to do). To prostrate is to lay flat, face down before another or others.
2. Why did he run to meet these men? Did he know them? He didn’t know them. He ran to meet them because they walked into the camp, and visitors who walk into the camp are considered very important. They are sojourners—folks who are on a journey. Treating sojourners well is a very important part of doing what is right.
3. What does lord mean? It means sir, and it indicates a willingness to serve one who is of higher rank.
4. What does find favor in someone’s eyes mean? It means that the person (with the eyes) is pleased to see the other person, and is willing to be kind and beneficial to that person.
5. Why did Avraham treat these travelers so well? He treated them well because treating travelers (sojourners) well is right! Mistreating travelers is sin!
6. Was Avraham in danger? Explain. The sojourners came on foot. Avraham was not in danger; he was surrounded by very tough cowboys who were battle-ready.
7. What did Avraham mean by, “do not cross-over, na, from by thy slave”? Avraham was asking them to temporary stop going on their journey (and thus, to not cross over the fields from where Avraham is) so that Avraham can serve them.
8. What did he mean by, “A little of water shall be taken, na”? Avraham asked them to take water from him so that they could wash their feet!
9. Why did Avraham even suggest that they wash their feet? Did their feet smell? The shoes of the day were sandals. Walking across the fields caused sandy dust to get on the walking traveler’s feet. Perspiration mixed with the sandy dust to form a gritty mud that hurt the feet. When the person came to rest, the grit between the toes hurt; washing the feet felt very good, and made it so that the person could rest.
10. Why did Avraham say, “And lean ye under the tree”? The tree was cool and shady. Leaning under it, or even sleeping under it was very pleasant after the former parts of the journey. This leaning (I am thinking) included sitting and resting against the tree trunk.
11. What did Avraham mean by, “And I have taken a morsel of bread”? Avraham (or someone in his camp) will take flour and water, mix them, and heat them on a stone, making flat bread. Avraham will take this to the visitors.
12. What does “sustain-ye your heart” mean? In nearly all cases, the heart is the mind in the Bible. Travelers could find journeys very long, and they could find them mentally very hard (not knowing if dangers from evil men lay ahead). Being treated well at a camp like this would give travelers courage as they continued on their journeys. That would sustain—that is, hold up and keep firm their minds to continue on the journey.
13. What did Avraham mean by, “For therefore ye have crossed-over by your slave”? Avraham figured that these men came into the camp just for these purposes: to get water for their feet, to rest, to obtain some food, and to be mentally strengthened to continue on their journey. Avraham was quite willing to serve them in these ways.
14. The men responded, “So thou shalt do just-as thou hast spoken.” Wasn’t this just a little ungrateful? It might appear that way; only, these men are unusual, as the text will show. Also, in the culture of the day, what they said wasn’t ungrateful; they were accepting Avraham’s hospitality.
II. The Fixings (verses 6-8)
While Avraham offered a morsel of bread, he did according to Middle Eastern traditions and hospitality, and set about to have an entire meal fixed for the guests. He told Sarah to make some bread. She showed no objections even though that would be much work. (She did have a slave woman who could help with the work.) Making pitas would probably take about twenty minutes, assuming that a fire was already burning. It would take much longer if the wheat needed to be ground to powder.
Avraham ran to the cattle herd. He took “the son of the herd, tender and good.” That was a calf. He gave the calf to a youth to slaughter and fix. This was much work, but there is no indication that the young man was unhappy. He hurried to make the calf ready. That included slaughtering the calf, butchering it, removing its intestines, separating it into pieces, cutting the pieces, removing the soft hide, preparing the fire, seasoning the calf, setting the calf over the fire, and waiting while the various parts cooked. The whole process would take hours, since nothing was wasted. (Some parts could be cooking while he was preparing the other parts.)
When the calf steaks were cooked, Avraham took butter and milk and the calf meat, and he “gave to their faces:” he set it in front of them. He sat beside them while they ate under the tree.
1. Why did Avraham hand-fix such a spectacular meal? If he were a sojourner, that is what would be a delight to him. He did for them as he would desire for others to do for him.
2. Would you like to have a meal like this? (Students must give their own answers.)
3. What does fresh, warm milk taste like? (You will have to describe this.)
4. Why did Avraham sit beside them while they ate? He was being a true waiter! He desired to see what else they might need or desire.
5. Did Avraham and Sarah (Princess) also eat with the travelers? Why, or why not? He didn’t! If he were eating, he couldn’t be waiting on them!
6. Who is this youth (verse 7), and what did this youth do? This is one of the slave youths of Avraham. He took the son of the herd (referring to a calf), and he butchered, skinned, cut up, and cooked the calf! This would have taken quite a few hours!
7. Where did they get butter? How is this made? After a cow is milked, the cream of the milk rises to the top. If that cream is churned (using what looks like a giant match) inside of a tube with a bottom so that air is forced into it, after a while, the cream turns to butter. If salt is added, it is salted butter. If they had butter, it was because it was freshly made; they had no means of refrigeration.
III. The Inquiry and the Identification (verses 9-10)
The travelers (also called sojourners in the Bible, since they are on a journey) asked to know where Princess was. She was right there—in the tent. She had not joined her husband, but she was within hearing.
Then one of the three spoke up: “Returning, I will return unto thee as the time of an animal.” Avraham had cattle and sheep. What was the time of an animal? Sheep lamb (birth baby sheep) at a particular time of the year, and cows calf (birth baby cows and bulls) at a particular time of the year. I have supposed that one of these two times (or maybe they are at the same time—ask a farmer who works with both) refers to “the time of an animal.”
This speaker said that he will return unto Avraham “as the time of an animal.” He also stated, “And behold a son is to Princess thy woman.” No person except Yehovah could say this with such certainty. He didn’t just say that she would be pregnant, but that she would birth a son. Avraham now knew to whom he had served a meal. Princess listened at the tent’s opening.
The text says, “And he is after him.” The reader must think this through. Recall that the Bible will refer to a woman as he if a person is being considered as an offspring of Adam, whether male or female. If this is the case, he refers to Princess, and him refers to the guest who said he will return. “He is after him” then means that Princess is behind this guest inside the tent.
1. Why did the travelers ask where Princess was? They were about to speak about Princess and what was going to happen to her. This was also to alert her to be listening to this part of the conversation!
2. Why will this guest return? While the text doesn’t say why, it is to cause Princess to be able to have children!
3. Is Princess already pregnant? No!
4. Why did the Bible point out that Princess was behind the guest? This tells the reader that she heard what was being said!
5. The speaker said, “Returning, I will return unto thee as the time of an animal.” What is the time of an animal? I propose that this refers to the lambing season (when lambs are born). There is one time of the year when lambs are normally born.
6. What does “behold a son is to Princess thy woman” mean? This means that at the time of an animal, Princess will be pregnant with a boy child!
7. Where was Princess located when she heard this? She was located in the opening of the tent!
IV. The Laughter and the Rebuttal (verses 11-15)
Avraham and Princess are elders. They are “coming into days,” meaning that they keep coming into more and more days! They are quite old! “The path as women ceased to be to Princess.” She no longer had menstrual cycles. She no longer had fertile eggs that could be joined to sperm in order to get pregnant.
Princess laughed “inside herself.” She didn’t laugh out loud. No one heard her laugh. She said, “After I have atrophied, there was to me pleasure?” To atrophy is to shrivel or shrink from disuse. Her internal organs that might have produced pregnancy years ago were now unusable. She did not believe she could have pleasure, referring to sexual pleasure at her age. Her husband was also old. The word for pleasure is ednah, from which comes the name Edna. This word is the feminine form of Eden, the name of the Garden in which Adam was placed. Princess was looking at pregnancy from a practical viewpoint.
The text then directly identified this speaker: Yehovah. Yehovah said unto Avraham, “Why is this?” He then quoted her thoughts—“Princess laughed to say, ‘Even faithfully I will bear, and I, I was old?’” No person but Yehovah can read minds! Yehovah responded to her thought question with a question: “Will the thing be-more-miraculous-than Yehovah?” Yehovah spoke of Himself in the third person (as if He is speaking of Himself instead of using I or me). He could have said, “Will the thing be-more-miraculous-than me?”
He then repeated what He had said to Avraham: “At the appointment I will return unto thee as the time of an animal. And to Princess is a son.”
Princess lied—yet she spoke the truth—“I did not laugh!” She laughed, but in her mind. She didn’t laugh out loud. She feared. She now knew Who this was. He responded to her denial, “No, for thou didst laugh!”
1. Can a woman become pregnant in Princess’s (Sarah’s) condition and at her age? No! The path as women ceased to be to Princess; she no longer produced eggs to fertilize! She no longer ovulated! On top of that, she was now an elder! She had been sterile before this time; her condition made pregnancy impossible!
2. Did Sarah sin by laughing within herself? No! She didn’t sin. She thought that what the visitor said was truly funny! That could never happen to her! She knew that she had atrophied—that is, that some of the parts needed for pregnancy inside of her had wasted away and were gone. She knew that she couldn’t have sexual pleasure now; her lord (Avraham) is old!
3. Why did Yehovah ask Avraham why Princess laughed, and why did He quote what she said to Avraham, as if he is responsible for what Sarah did? He asked Avraham so that Princess would hear exactly what He was saying! No human and no angel can know what a human is thinking! Only God can do that! He quoted what she said so that she would know that He had read her mind! (He knew that Avraham wasn’t responsible for what Princess said or did.)
4. Why did Yehovah ask Avraham, who had said nothing, “Will the thing be-more-miraculous-than Yehovah?” as if Avraham had laughed? Why is Sarah being indirectly addressed? Is this right to do? Yehovah is addressing Avraham so that Princess (Sarah) will hear! The question, “Will the thing be-more-miraculous-than Yehovah,” brings up the issue of whether the power of God is great enough to do this miracle!
Sarah is being indirectly addressed for her sake, for Avraham’s sake, and for the sake of all readers! It is the right thing to do when it is being done in kindness (and not in meanness!).
5. When Sarah lied, saying, “I didn’t laugh,” was she sinning? Sarah didn’t laugh out loud; she laughed in her mind. Now, she did lie, because she did laugh—but in her mind.
There is no accusation against her for lying. Besides this, there hasn’t been a commandment against lying, and where there is no commandment, there is no sin accusation. Had there been a commandment against lying at this time, she still would have spoken the truth regarding what she did out loud, and she still would have lied regarding what she did in her mind.
6. Why was Sarah afraid? She was afraid because she now knew that this is Yehovah—not an angel, and not a human. No angel or human can read minds.
7. Why did Yehovah correct her, saying, “No, for thou didst laugh”? He determined to show her how certain He was that she had laughed! She had to know that He is Yehovah in order to do what was necessary to become pregnant!
8. Why did Yehovah wait until Avraham and Princess were so old to give her pregnancy? This birth had to be as miraculous as the ‘virgin birth’ of Yeshua—and even more so! Yehovah determined to bring an entire race into the world that could not otherwise have come into the world. That way, the entire world might be able to see that Israel is God’s own possession! He miraculously brought Israel to serve the races with Truth!
9. Which is more miraculous? Is a pregnant virgin more miraculous than Princess becoming pregnant? Carefully think this through. I propose that this is more miraculous than a pregnant virgin, since what a pregnant virgin needed was a sperm; what Princess needed was all her female equipment that had never been functional enough to give conception, and was now wasted away. Plus, she was too old, now, to become pregnant. On top of that, Avraham was too old to give her sexual pleasure. So, there were more factors to this!