Abraham Unexpectedly Meets God
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.
- Summary: In Genesis 18 the patriarch Abraham has a dramatic encounter with God. His meeting with God provides us with a wealth of insights into who God is and how He relates to us humans.
Genesis 18:1-2 The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.  Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
- •• “The LORD” in verse 1 who appeared to Abraham is Jehovah (or alternatively, Yahweh), one of the Bible’s names for God.
- •• And “the LORD” appeared in the visible form of “three men”, a powerful symbol of God being a Trinity. A classic definition of the Holy Trinity is: “There is one God, eternally existent in three Persons — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
Vs. 1 The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.
- •• We can meet God in everyday situations. Here Abraham was simply sitting at the door of his tent on a hot day. Nothing out of the ordinary was occurring, when suddenly Abraham found himself in the presence of God.
- •• The thought that stands out to me from this verse is the importance of our cultivating an all-day-long God-consciousness. What may seem like a routine day, with routine circumstances, can at any time turn into a blessed encounter with God. An encounter in His word, in prayer, in praise and worship, or in quiet reflection.
Vs. 2b ...[Abraham] hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
- •• Abraham “hurried...to meet them.” Let us, like Abraham, always have an exuberant desire to meet with God.
- •• Abraham “bowed low to the ground.” In the ancient world this was the essential posture of worship. The message I draw from this is never to take a casual, nonchalant, or (God forbid) a flippant approach to worship. God Almighty is deserving of our utmost respect and reverence as we look to Him in worship, in prayer, and in other ways.
Vs. 3 He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by."
- •• God’s willingness to allow us to experience His Presence is a manifestation to us of the gracious favor of the Lord.
- •• Just think of what a privilege it is that God permits us to commune with Him in prayer, in praise and worship, in the reading of His word, in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, in meditation upon Him, and more! That is the Lord’s favor, entirely independent of any supposed merits on our part.
Vss. 4-5 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree.  Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way — now that you have come to your servant.” “Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”
- •• I see in the godly patriarch Abraham a trait that each of us should emulate — that is, a desire to minister to God. Abraham desired that these “three men”, a Trinitarian theophany — that is, an appearance of God to man (vs. 1) — be fed, rested, and refreshed by him. May that always be in our hearts too. That is, an attitude that wants to reach out to God in ways that are pleasing to Him.
- •• And it is clear from verse 5 that the Lord was pleased with Abraham’s intended ministrations and replied, “Very well.” Expect to be accepted by Almighty God as you reach up to Him in prayer, in praise, and in other ways.
Vss. 6-8 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread.”  Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it.  He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.
- •• Abraham models for us a desirable attitude, that we offer our very best unto the Lord — “fine flour ... a choice, tender calf”. It is human nature, typically, to spend most of our day dedicated to our own pursuits. God often gets only the “leftovers” of our time, energy, and devotion. But Abraham shows us that we should dedicate our best to each of our daily encounters with God. Jesus told us that the first and greatest commandment is to love God with everything that is in us (Matthew 22:36-38).
- •• Notice the exemplary respect and deference that Abraham showed towards God — “While they ate, he stood near them under a tree” (vs. 8). I have at times been dismayed by the casual, nonchalant attitude towards God that I have seen in some Christians, at times almost as if they felt that they and God were just “buddies”.
Vss. 9-10 “Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent,” he said.  Then the LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him.
- •• “Sarah your wife will have a son.” God shows Himself to be the God of what man considers impossible! When Sarah gave birth to Isaac, she was about 90 years old and Abraham 100! The message? Never limit God.
- •• How can such things happen? The answer is simple; the accomplishment of any of God’s promises rests with Him, not with us — “I [God] will surely return to you...” No matter how formidable the obstacle, no matter how staggering the need, if God says, “I will do it!” then you can depend on Him to fulfill what He has spoken.
Vs. 10 “I will surely return to you about this time next year...”
- •• “this time next year” — God has a timing for all things. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” God is not arbitrary or random. He has wisdom, order, and timing for His activities and intervention in the lives of His people.
Vss. 11-15 ... So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?”  Then the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’  Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son...”
- •• “Sarah laughed.” Doubters often make light of God’s great promises. And sadly, the doubters are not always found among unbelievers. Remember Thomas, one of Jesus’ hand-picked apostles, who chose initially to disbelieve the testimony of Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:24-25). As a result, even now, 2,000 years later, he is still called “Doubting Thomas”!
- •• In the face of Sarah’s unbelief, the Lord replied, “Is anything too hard for the Lord? ... Sarah will have a son.” Believer, that is His word to you today, too. No matter how seemingly insurmountable your problem is, God says to you, if you will receive it, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Absolutely not! “Hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19, KJV). If God has made a promise, He can and will fulfill it.
Vss. 16-17 When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way.  Then the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?
- •• “Abraham walked along with [the Lord]”. The small word “with” is very important here. We don’t want just to have sporadic meetings with God. No, we want to walk with God, to pursue His presence, to cultivate regular fellowship with Him in prayer, in praise, in His word, in gathering with other believers to worship, and so forth.
- •• And when we do that, when we walk consistently with God, He tends to reveal His mind to us — “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” And God did not hide it, but in the following verses took Abraham into His confidence and revealed His plans to him. These revelations come to those who strive to have ongoing, regular, personal encounters with God.
- •• The author of Psalm 42:2 possessed this praiseworthy attitude of hungering and thirsting to regularly meet with God — “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”
Vss. 18-19 “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.  For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
- •• It was in his meeting with God that Abraham received God’s great promise of a lineage that would bless the entire earth (vs. 18). God does not run after us, desperately trying to catch up to us so that He may speak to us. No, He speaks to those willing to walk with Him (vs. 16). My fellow believers, do we faithfully take time each day to meet God in prayer? in praise? in His word?
- •• God foresaw that Abraham would raise his children to serve the Lord. Parents, like faithful Abraham, train your children to serve God, “so that” (vs. 19) the Lord may find you a faithful servant of His to whom He may make great promises and fulfill them in your lives.
Vss. 20-21 Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous  that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”
- •• God is concerned about societal iniquity, here that of Sodom and Gomorrah. By the same reasoning, God is concerned about iniquity in today’s cities and nations. And as with Sodom and Gomorrah, no city or country can assume that it is exempt from God’s judgment unless it repents and turns to the Lord. It is very easy to forget that the Bible clearly teaches that there will be a Second Coming of Jesus, wherein “...In flaming fire [He will take] vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:8, KJV).
Vss. 22-26 ... Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” ...  The LORD said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
- •• Abraham was moved to intercession for the residents of the cities God was about to judge. He specifically intreated the Lord on behalf of the cities’ few righteous citizens.
- •• Vss. 25-26 show that God indeed spares the righteous while judging the wicked. The righteous are not subject to the same condemnation as the wicked. It is also interesting to note that it is the presence of the righteous among the wicked that can be a source of potential protection for those same wicked. If there were enough righteous, God would spare the entire cities, including the righteous and wicked alike.
Vs. 27 Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes...”
- •• Abraham elsewhere was called the “friend of God” (James 2:23, KJV). But he never let that go to his head. Here we see him remaining humble and self-effacing before the Lord. Another illustration of this would be when Jesus called His disciples “friends” (John 15:15). But they continued humbly to address Him as “Lord”.
Vss. 27-33 ... He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”
- •• I am impressed by Abraham’s persistence, his importunity. He asked, would the Lord spare the cities for 45 righteous? for 40? for 30? for 20? for 10?
- •• Jesus taught this attitude as essential for effective prayer — “... because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.” (Luke 11:5-9, KJV).
- •• Amazingly (vs. 32), the Lord promised to spare an entire city if He found even ten righteous persons there! This is a startling reminder of how important it is that we be what Jesus has called us to be — the light of the word and the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-14).
We have seen a treasure trove of divine insights from just one encounter with God, that of Abraham meeting “the Lord” on the plains of Mamre. Just imagine the blessings that we can similarly experience, if we devote ourselves to meeting with God often in His word, in prayer, and in praise and worship. Let’s purpose to do it! Our lives will be dramatically better as a result.
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©1998, James H. Feeney. Copyright statement.