Summary: Be careful to show hospitality, for some have entertained angels unawares--Hebrews 13:2.
The Life of Abraham, Part 9: The Visit of the Three Angels
In the last chapter the LORD promised Abraham what humans even today would consider impossible. Sarah was going to be a mother of a son named Isaac in twelve months. Abraham laughed at the idea, but the LORD told him it would be so. To remind Abraham that he laughed, the LORD said the boys name would be Isaac, which means “laughter”. The LORD changed the name of Abram to Abraham to reflect that he would be the father of many nations of people. He also named Sarai “Sarah” which means princess. So in chapter 17, the LORD appears to Abraham by a new name of God Almighty (El-Shaddai), gives new names to Abram and Sarai to reflect the new reality as well as to give a name to the coming son of Sarah. The names reflect a new reality in the lives of Abraham and Sarah.
The LORD also made a second covenant with Abraham of circumcision which was to be done to every male as a sign of the covenant. We discussed at length the implications of this covenant. The rest of the chapter talks about the covenant marked by circumcision and the circumcision. But nowhere does Abraham break the good news to Sarah about being a mother. That situation is about to be remedied.
Exposition of the Text
Chapter 18 begins with another appearance of the LORD to Abraham while he was sitting in a tent, the reminder that he was a wandering nomad in a land that his descendants would eventually call their own and build houses. It says he was startled by the appearance of three men. It says that he rose and bowed before them. This could be taken as a form of hospitality which was the expectation in the Middle East. Abraham’s actions were similar to the saying “My house is your house”. But when the appearance of the three men is linked to an appearance of the LORD, more is suggested. These weren’t mere men. Whether Abraham knew this and bowed before the chief of them is debated, but Moses wants us to know from the start that it was the angel of the LORD and two other angels. Many see the chief angel as an Old Testament appearance of Christ. Many of the church fathers held to this view. Some even held to the idea that the three men were the Father. Son, and Holy Ghost. I would hold the idea of an Old Testament appearance of Christ to be a good possibility. But I do not think it was the Holy Trinity.
Abraham made haste to greet and show hospitality to the guests. For since the New Testament warns us to show hospitality to strangers because some entertained angels unawares hints that Abraham did not know at first who they were. Just like the Lord Jesus hid his identity from the Emmaus disciples, the LORD held his identity from Abraham. Abraham insisted that these three men get out of the heat, drink some water, and that he would straightway go and get them food. The Middle East can get unbearably hot at midday which could be life-threatening. If they would rest and refresh themselves, they could go on their way when it was a little cooler.
The hospitality offered was extravagant. Sarah was ordered to quickly prepare three loaves of bread for the guests and his servants were ordered to prepare the fatted calf reserved for the appearance of a special dignitary. He had it brought to the three men who were under the shade of a tree for them to eat, which they did.
In verse nine, Abraham should have become aware of the real identity of the visitors. They asked Abraham where Sarah was. Only the LORD and Abraham knew of the new name. So by hearing the name of Sarah, the LORD was revealed to Abraham. The chief of the three, the Angel of the LORD, spoke to Abraham and said that He would fulfill the promise that Abraham and Sarah would have a Son the next spring. It is a rather difficult statement in that is says the LORD would personally return to them as though He were a stork delivering a baby.
The LORD knew that Sarah was listening and was perfectly aware of her own situation. She was an old woman, far beyond menopause and the loss of libido. Here reaction was almost identical to the reaction of Abraham to the announcement. She laughed within herself and thought how impossible the situation. Abraham was too old to father a child and Sarah far too old to conceive one.
The LORD asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh?” He again said that this thing would happen the next spring. Sarah denied laughing, but the LORD who knows the heart told her different. So both Abraham and Sarah laughed at the news that they would be parents of a child. The gentle rebuke of Sarah by the LORD also was one of Abraham as well.