Genesis 18

Genesis 18:1 And the Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre
Chapter 18 of Genesis should be given an award for being unnecessarily confusing. First, you can’t tell whether the Lord is appearing to Abraham or 3 men are appearing to Abraham or 3 angels are appearing to Abraham or the Lord is appearing with 3 messengers. It’s a mess. It’s hard to know who to blame, scribes, transcribers, or translators and the Joseph Smith Translation doesn’t answer all of our questions. Second, the problem of ambiguous antecedents (the object of the pronoun) plagues the entire Bible but particularly the Old Testament. “And the Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre,” is an example. Now it is not too hard to know that the “him” in this passage is Abraham, but other passages are less clear. It takes quite a bit of contextual analysis and a bit of the Spirit to make sense of some of the “he said this” and “he said that” antecedents in the text.
In order to make sense of it all, we have to take some liberties with the text—knowing the manner in which the Lord communicates with his prophets. We must add some additional phrases to the text to make this chapter intelligible. For purposes of clarity, we suggest the following reading of the text.
The introductory statement for the chapter is, “the Lord appeared to Abraham in the plains of Mamre,” but the Lord Himself doesn’t appear right away. It seems that the three messengers precede the Lord and speak for him in announcing the birth of Isaac. The Lord appears later when Abraham and the three messengers take their journey towards Sodom.
Joseph Fielding Smith
We are not justified in teaching that our Heavenly Father, with other heavenly persons, came down, dusty and weary, and ate with Abraham. This is not taught in the 18th chapter of Genesis. The first verse of that chapter should read as follows: "And the Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre," That is a complete thought. The second part of this paragraph has nothing to do with the Lord's appearing to Abraham, and there should be another paragraph or sentence saying: "And he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him." These three men were mortals. They had bodies and were able to eat, to bathe, and sit and rest from their weariness. Not one of these three was the Lord. (Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., edited by Bruce R. McConkie [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-1956], 1: 16)
Genesis 18:2 three men stood by him
These men were angels from God but mortal angels (not uncommon in the Old Testament) and apparently holders of the priesthood; they probably held keys as a priesthood presidency. Their significance, like Enoch and Melchizedek, is not included in the Genesis record. The Joseph Smith Translation tells us they were mortal “angels which were holy men, and were sent forth after the order of God” (JST Gen. 18:23). We will see evidence that they were righteous men who communed with the Lord having authority even greater than Abraham. One of those evidences is the honor and hospitality Abraham is so eager to give them when they meet.
Genesis 18:3 My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away
The Joseph Smith Translation corrects this to read, “my brethren,” instead of “My Lord.” Hebrew scholars have similarly taught the translation should be in the plural, “My lords,” instead of “My Lord.” (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, ed. by W. Gunther Plaut [New York, The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981], 122) Abraham sees three men, immediately recognizes them as representatives of God, and eagerly welcomes them to stay a while.
Genesis 18:8 he took butter, and milk, and the calf… and set it before them
The meal is simple but tasty. Abraham entices them as if to say I will just get you a quick bite to eat; let me “fetch a morsel” he says, but he and Sarah quickly prepare an entire meal of unleavened bread and butter, milk, and beef. Interestingly, the combination of milk and meat at the same meal would be forbidden by later rabbinical dietary restrictions. (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, 122)
Genesis 18:10 And he said…
This is one of those ambiguous antecedents. Who is he? The Lord or one of the three? If we take liberty with the text, the story makes more sense, “And one of the three messengers spake, saying, Thus saith the Lord, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and lo Sarah thy wife shall have a son.”
Genesis 18:10 I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life
To return to “the time of life” means that post-menopausal Sarah would become fertile again. There is an interesting rabbinic tradition about how this took place.
“Abraham grew old and white-haired and abstained from the way of husband and wife in the world; Sarah, too, grew old and white-haired and abstained from the way of husband and wife in the world. True, it is said, Now Sarah and Abraham were old, but then Abraham, old and white-haired as he was, found his hair turning black, and he recovered the vigor of his youth. Sarah, likewise, old and white-haired as she was, found her hair turning black. Abraham became a young man again and Sarah became a young woman again. Thereupon, just about everyone in the world gathered around them and asked, ‘What was so unusual about you both as to have such extraordinary things befall you?’ So Abraham sat down, and beginning with his deliverance from the fire of the Chaldees, told everything that had happened to him in the world up to that very hour. Of the things that befell Abraham, it is said, Who hath raised up one from the East? At whose steps does victory attend? He giveth nations before him and maketh him rule over kings. And as soon as the gathering heard words of Torah from Abraham, they made him king over them.” (Tvedtnes, Hauglid, & Gee, Traditions About the Early Life of Abraham [Provo: FARMS, 2001], 76-77)
Genesis 18:11 Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age
Russell M. Nelson
Everyone “knows” that old women do not bear children. So upon whom did the Lord call to bear Abraham’s birthright son? Sarah, at age ninety! When told this was to be, she asked a logical question: “Shall I [which am old] of a surety bear a child?” (Gen. 18:13). From heaven came this reply: “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14).
So decreed, she gave birth to Isaac, to carry the crucial Abrahamic covenant into the second generation (see Gen. 26:1–4, 24).
Later, for one of the most important events ever to occur, the other extreme was chosen. As all knew that an elderly woman could not bear children, it was just as obvious that a virgin could not have children. But Isaiah had made this prophetic utterance:
“The Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14).
When Mary was notified of her sacred responsibility, the announcing angel reassured, “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). (“With God Nothing Shall Be Impossible,” Ensign, May 1988, 33)
Genesis 18:13 And the Lord said unto Abraham
To be consistent in our story, we are going to suggest that the Lord spoke in this instance through one of his three messengers. The concept should not be foreign to Latter-day Saints. We are used to hearing the word of the Lord through his servants. But again, this passage should probably read, “And the messenger of the Lord said unto Abraham…” We should learn to hear the word of the Lord when his servants speak today.
Henry B. Eyring
If you will wait upon the Lord the next time you listen to the General Authorities of the Church, if you will forget about them as human personalities and listen for the Lord's voice, I promise you that you will recognize it in the words spoken by his servants. You will have a quiet assurance that those human beings are called of God and that God honors their calls.
I will make you that same promise about the next time your bishop speaks to you. I was in my ward not long ago, and our bishop spoke. As my wife and I left, we said to each other, "You could feel, couldn't you, when the Holy Ghost came?" He bore testimony, and I knew that my bishop, who is my neighbor, was called of God as surely as any human being has ever been.
Try it with your bishop. He might decide to talk to you sometime soon. Listen. Wait upon the Lord as he speaks. Don't worry about him as a human being; just listen and see if you can hear the voice of the Lord. I promise you not only that you will hear what you should hear, but that you will see that his call is a call from God, and you will find it far easier to be a faithful servant in your ward. (To Draw Closer to God: A Collection of Discourses [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 99 - 100)
Genesis 18:14 Is any thing too hard for the Lord?
Jeffrey R. Holland
“Is any thing too hard for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:14.) I have taken great comfort in that scripture over the years. It is a family-oriented scripture. It is the scripture at the heart of everything we now call the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
In our early married life it appeared as if I too, like Sarah, would be barren. My doctor told us that there was a good chance we would have no children. But in my heart I felt otherwise, and I remembered Sarah. Is anything too hard for the Lord? No, not if their names are Matthew, Mary Alice, and David. Is it too hard to conceive them or bear them or nurse them or comfort them or teach them or clothe them or wait up for them or be patient with them or cry over them or love them? No, not if these are God's children as well as ours. Not if we remember those maternal stirrings that are, I suppose, the strongest natural affections in the world. President David O. McKay said once that the nearest thing to Christ's love for mankind was a mother's love for her child. Everything I have felt since June 7, 1966, tells me he was right.
When troubles come—and they will; when challenges mount—and they will; when evil abounds and we fear for our children's lives, we can think of the covenant and promise given to Abraham, and especially think of Sarah. And with the angels we can repeat the question, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Jeffrey R. Holland and Patricia T. Holland, On Earth As It Is in Heaven [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989], 12)
Spencer W. Kimball
Somehow, I feel that when we have done all in our power that the Lord will find a way to open doors. That is my faith.
“Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” he asked, when Sarah laughed when she was told that she would have a son. When she heard this in the tent door, she knew that both Abraham at one hundred years and she at ninety years were past the age of reproduction. She could not bear children. She knew that, as well as it has been known that we could not open doors to many nations.
“And the Lord said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh … ?
“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.” (Gen. 18:13–14.)
Brethren, Sarah did have a son, from Abraham, the father of nations.
“Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead [and that was Abraham, one hundred years old], so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.” (Heb. 11:12.)
Is anything too hard for the Lord?
Also to Jeremiah he had said:
“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?” (Jer. 32:27.)
If he commands, certainly he can fulfill.
We remember the exodus of the children of Israel crossing the uncrossable Red Sea. We remember Cyrus diverting a river and taking the impregnable city of Babylon. We remember the Lehites getting to the promised land. We remember the Revolutionary War and the power of God that gave us triumph.
I believe the Lord can do anything he sets his mind to do. But I can see no good reason why the Lord would open doors that we are not prepared to enter. (Ensign, Apr. 1984, 5)
Harold B. Lee
We have seen miraculous things happen, and when we think that the problems ahead are insurmountable, I would like to ask you to remember what the Lord said to Abraham. You will remember the Lord came to Abraham and said, "Your wife will bear a son." Abraham and his wife laughed at Him. He said, "Don't you know that she is over ninety years of age and past childbearing years?" Do you know what the Lord said to Abraham? "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (See Gen 18:10-14.)
Brethren and sisters, there is nothing too hard for the Lord. If you and I have a testimony of the divine mission of this church, the kingdom of God on earth, there is nothing too hard for the Lord. (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 1)
Genesis 18:14 Sarah shall have a son
LeGrand Richards
Without a posterity, the blessings the Lord had in store for Abraham could not have been fully realized: "And all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him." And Sarah was to "be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her."
As all nations of the earth were to be blessed in Abraham and his seed, and as Sarah was to become a mother of nations and kings of people were to be of her, so is the new and everlasting covenant of marriage necessary that every faithful man may lay the foundation of his kingdom through his wife and his posterity.
There are many faithful people who have done all they consistently could to prove themselves worthy of the choicest blessings of the Lord but who have been deprived the privilege of having children in this life, through no fault of their own. On the other hand, there are many who have borne children whose lives have been such that they will be entirely unworthy of them in the eternal worlds. The Lord has provided a millennium, during which time, no doubt, necessary adjustments will be made. (A Marvelous Work and a Wonder [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1950], 305)
Genesis 18:15 Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh
Rather than assume the messenger is reprimanding Sarah for laughing, let’s consider something else. At face value, it appears the servant of the Lord is saying, “I caught you. You laughed. I am going to tell the Lord on you. Bad girl!” Perhaps, the servant was saying, “Sarah, don’t deny that you laughed. The Lord will indeed give you a son. It is better that your posterity remembers that you laughed at the possibility of having a son because it proves that only a miracle could bring it about. We are putting it down on record that you laughed because that reinforces the power of God in the miracle of Isaac’s birth.”
“Anyone who has long sought fulfillment of a righteous desire, daily praying and at times pleading with God to grant a miracle, can relate to Sarah’s waiting a lifetime for a child. The most feasible time to be granted the promised desire passes and no scenario that even approximates the dream can be imagined. Then, at the least probable time, when every circumstance underscores that fulfillment is impossible, the Spirit whispers that God has kept His promise and will now bestow the blessing. The first emotion is typically a combination of fear and doubt. Nothing in our rational world can explain it. Then the boundless joy sets in, with the realization that the promised blessing is all the sweeter for the wait and much grander even than imagined. God may not answer when we claim we need Him, but He is always on time…
“Whatever fear or doubt Sarah experienced when she first heard the news was short-lived. Her ability to conceive, bear a child, and nurse that babe is not a reflection of Sarah’s physical strength or perpetual agelessness. She was enabled beyond her natural ability only through the grace of Jesus Christ. Commending Sarah, the apostle Paul avowed that the miracle of the ninety-year-old matriarch giving birth is explainable only through her tremendous faith in the Savior (Hebrews 11:11).” (Camille Fronk Olson, Women of the Old Testament, [SLC: Deseret Book, 2009], 41)
Genesis 18:16-17 Abraham went with them… And the Lord said
Now it makes sense for the Lord to appear in the story! Now is when, “the Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre” (v. 1). And it makes more sense if the Lord now speaks to the three servants saying:
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?
We assume the three messengers are priesthood leaders sent to give Abraham a message. They must have been great, but it seems the Lord is instructing them on the greatness of Abraham. The story begins with Abraham being subservient to the messengers and ends with the Lord explaining who is the greatest. History has certainly favored the greatness of Abraham, as we don’t even know the names of the messengers.
For I know him (Abraham), 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 I, the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which I have spoken of him.
Genesis 18:19 I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him
We are to “do the works of Abraham” (D&C 132:32); this includes being like Abraham in commanding our children and our household to keep the way of the Lord. What happens if our children murmur about going to church? What if they feel burdened with church service? What happens if they find the commandments too restrictive? Should we seek their approval and soften our standards? Should we bend the rules to demonstrate our magnanimous spirit?
We could be like Eli the priest who let his adult sons do whatever they wanted at the threshold of the Lord’s tabernacle (1 Sam 2:12-25). How well did that go over? You may remember that the Lord killed Eli’s sons and Eli, “because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not” (1 Sam 3:12). Therefore, the lesson of the scriptures is to set the standard like Abraham and stick to it. We must put our foot down like Joshua and say, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15).
“… This quality of Abraham is as essential for us today as it was 4,000 years ago. Along with our responsibility to bless all the families of the earth comes our need to perpetuate the covenant from generation to generation that it may continue to be fulfilled. The Lord expects Abraham’s seed of today to respond to the charge given of old: “And thou shalt teach [the commandments] diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deut. 6:7). Teaching the gospel is one of the most important responsibilities laid upon the shoulders of Abraham’s seed, for if we fail in this crucial assignment, the entire covenant is placed in jeopardy.” (S. Michael Wilcox, “The Abrahamic Covenant,” Ensign, Jan. 1998, 48)
Loren C. Dunn
There are some in the world who might say that such parental influence is repressive and robs the child of its freedom, but quite the opposite is true. A group of young girls was overheard talking about the parents of one of their friends. Showing maturity beyond her years, one of the girls said, “Her parents don’t love her; they let her do anything she wants.” The others agreed.
In a New York Times Magazine article, later condensed in Reader’s Digest, William V. Shannon makes the following points: “American children … are suffering from widespread parent failure. By their words and actions [he says] many fathers and mothers make it clear that they are almost paralyzed by uncertainty. … Many parents are in conflict as to what their own values are. Others think they know, but lack the confidence to impose discipline in behalf of their values. …”
What is lacking, he says, is not more information on child development, but conviction. Although heredity plays some role in the development of a child, the greater influence “depends on whether parents care enough about their children to assert and defend the necessary values.” The author also says that both mother and father need to put family and home responsibilities first. “Rearing our children is by far the most important task that most of us will ever undertake.”
He also states that “parents who do not persevere in rearing their children according to their own convictions are not leaving them ‘free’ to develop on their own. Instead, they are letting other children and the media, principally television and the movies, do the job.” (William V. Shannon, “What Code of Values Can We Teach Our Children?” Reader’s Digest, May 1972, pp. 187–88.) (“Our Precious Families,” Ensign, Nov. 1974, 10)
Ezra Taft Benson
If we could only merit that word of approval as husbands and fathers and as mothers and parents in Zion what a glorious thing it would be. (So Shall Ye Reap, compiled by Reed A. Benson [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1960], 112)
Genesis 18:20 the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great… because their sin is very grievous
Spencer W. Kimball
Homosexuality is an ugly sin, repugnant to those who find no temptation in it, as well as to many past offenders who are seeking a way out of its clutches. It is embarrassing and unpleasant as a subject for discussion but because of its prevalence, the need to warn the uninitiated, and the desire to help those who may already be involved with it, it is discussed in this chapter.
This perversion is defined as "sexual desire for those of the same sex or sexual relations between individuals of the same sex," whether men or women. It is a sin of the ages. It was present in Israel's wandering days as well as after and before. It was tolerated by the Greeks. It was prevalent in decaying Rome. The ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are symbols of wretched wickedness more especially related to this perversion, as the incident of Lot's visitors indicates. (See Gen. 19:5.) So degenerate had Sodom become that not ten righteous people could be found (Gen. 18:23-32), and the Lord had to destroy it. But the revolting practice has persisted. As far back as Henry the Eighth this vice was referred to as "the abominable and detestable crime against nature." Some of our own statutes have followed that apt and descriptive wording.
Sin in sex practices tends to have a "snowballing" effect. As the restraints fall away, Satan incites the carnal man to ever-deepening degeneracy in his search for excitement until in many instances he is lost to any former considerations of decency. Thus it is that through the ages, perhaps as an extension of homosexual practices, men and women have sunk even to seeking sexual satisfactions with animals. (Miracle of Forgiveness, chapter 6)
Genesis 18:21 Go down now, and see
The text reads, “And the Lord said… I will go down now, and see” how bad it is. Does God need to travel to a city to know their sins? When the blood of the prophets and saints cries unto God from the dust, does the Lord then have to make a trip down to earth before He understands what has happened? Of course not!
So again, we must alter the text. Is that blasphemy? Well, it doesn’t matter because we must do it. The Genesis text is so archaic and so far removed from the spirit of revelation and prophecy that we just can’t accept it as it is. Knowing that the Lord sends his prophets to the earth to “return and report,” the text makes perfect sense to us if it reads, “And the Lord said unto the three men, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; Go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, then return and bring me word.” What would those servants reply? “It shall be done, Jehovah; we will go down, And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom.”
Genesis 18:23 Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?
As the Second Coming draws nigh, this question is just as relevant as ever? When destruction comes from the Lord what happens to the righteous? Will they be destroyed as well? With Sodom and Gomorrah, only Lot’s family was righteous. Like the gathering of the saints in the last days, there must be a separation of the righteous from the wicked before the angels of destruction are let loose upon the earth, “the angels are waiting the great command to reap down the earth, to gather the tares that they may be burned” (D&C 38:12). The Lord will not destroy the righteous with the wicked. Rather, He will “hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks” (Jer. 16:16). He will gather them as wheat into the garners (Alma 26:5), or as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings (Matt. 23:37).
“And until that hour there will be foolish virgins among the wise; and at that hour cometh an entire separation of the righteous and the wicked; and in that day will I send mine angels to pluck out the wicked and cast them into unquenchable fire.” (D&C 63:54)
Heber C. Kimball
My prayer is before God and angels, by day and by night, that He would purge this people and purify them from wicked men and women; and I hope the purging operation will continue until there is an entire separation of the wheat and the chaff. There will be a separation, and I tell you what I know, and not what I believe only. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 3: 114)
Genesis 18:23-33 Abraham negotiates with the Lord for the righteous
This is not the first time Abraham has enjoyed a visitation from the Lord (Abr. 1:16; 2:3; 2:19). He has stood in His presence before and has the remarkable confidence to negotiate on behalf of the righteous. Such bold confidence is a product of honoring the priesthood. Abraham’s heart must have been filled with charity and his thoughts garnished with virtue, because his confidence waxed “strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood [distilled]… upon his soul as the dews from heaven.” (D&C 121:45)
Do we have the confidence to negotiate with the Lord? Do we have the right to negotiate with the Lord?
“It is possible to negotiate bargains with the Lord. There are enough historical examples where bargaining occurred to know that our Father in Heaven is not beyond listening to our desires and feelings, and possibly acquiescing to our wishes.
“When moments of crisis enter each of our lives, we plead with our Father in Heaven, asking for his mercy and intervention. Without necessarily thinking of it as a bargain, we [begin]—almost intuitively—a negotiating conversation: Father, if thou wilt ... I will .... We're ready to promise a great deal if only the Lord will rescue us.” (Errol R. Fish, Promptings of the Spirit [Mesa, Ariz.: Cogent Publishing, 1990], 191)
Genesis 18:27 I… am but dust and ashes
Hugh Nibley
It's such an interesting psychological study here. And he says to the Lord, "Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?" He knew God wouldn't do that. (Gen. 18:23) The impressive thing is the way in which Abraham is willing to abase himself to get the best possible terms for the wicked cities, risking sorely offending the Deity by questioning his judges. He says in the next verse, Far be it from thee "to slay the righteous with the wicked. Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?" Then he says, "Behold, now I have taken it upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes." He is abasing himself more as he gets less and less people. Fifty righteous people will spare the city. Twenty-five, yes. Ten, yes. How many righteous people will it take to spare the city? “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again. I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord." Again, in verse 32, "Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once more…" It wasn't an easy thing to do, but he is doing it. So we have Abraham here doing all these things for everybody, and he is the one who helps everybody. (Ancient Documents and the Pearl of Great Price, edited by Robert Smith and Robert Smythe, 9.)