Three Visitors and a Promise
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?
2. Why did he run to meet these men? Did he know them?
3. What does lord mean?
4. What does “find favor in someone’s eyes” mean?
5. Why did Avraham treat these travelers so well?
6. Was Avraham in danger? Explain.
7. What did Avraham mean by, “do not cross-over, na, from by thy slave”?
8. What did he mean by, “A little of water shall be taken, na”?
9. Why did Avraham even suggest that they wash their feet? Did their feet smell?
10. Why did Avraham say, “And lean ye under the tree”?
11. What did Avraham mean by, “And I have taken a morsel of bread”?
12. What does “sustain-ye your heart” mean?
13. What did Avraham mean by, “For therefore ye have crossed-over by your slave”?
14. The men responded, “So thou shalt do just-as thou hast spoken.” Wasn’t this just a little ungrateful?
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?
2. Would you like to have a meal like this?
3. What does fresh, warm milk taste like?
4. Why did Avraham sit beside them while they ate?
5. Did Avraham and Sarah (Princess) also eat with the travelers? Why, or why not?
6. Who is this youth (verse 7), and what did this youth do?
7. Where did they get butter? How is this made?
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?
2. Why will this guest return?
3. Is Princess already pregnant?
4. Why did the Bible point out that Princess was behind the guest?
5. The speaker said, “Returning, I will return unto thee as the time of an animal.” What is the time of an animal?
6. What does “behold a son is to Princess thy woman” mean?
7. Where was Princess located when she heard this?
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?
2. Did Sarah sin by laughing within herself?
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?
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?
5. When Sarah lied, saying, “I didn’t laugh,” was she sinning?
6. Why was Sarah afraid?
7. Why did Yehovah correct her, saying, “No, for thou didst laugh”?
8. Why did Yehovah wait until Avraham and Princess were so old to give her pregnancy?
9. Which is more miraculous? Is a pregnant virgin more miraculous than Princess becoming pregnant? Carefully think this through.