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Understanding Genesis 18: Interceding on Behalf of Sinners

Updated on August 12, 2015

Read the entire chapter 18 of Genesis on your own. You can read a variety of versions, from contemporary English to literal translations. You can download bible apps, websites (blueletterbible.org or biblegateway.com) or buy one from your local bookstore. I will use King James Version because some of the nuances are missing from other translations. When you read the chapter, don’t just read it—study it with questions and try to make sense of it.

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Loving Strangers

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Genesis 18:3

At this time, Abraham did not know that it was Jesus coming to his tent. He was just bestowing his typical hospitality by inviting strangers and travelers to his home. In this way, Abraham was displaying his love for God and strangers by opening his home without prejudice or payment.

How easy it is to love our mother, father, son, daughter, but if it was a homeless man or woman, a refugee from another country, we tend to have second thoughts before reaching out a helping hand. Let us remember that Jesus held out His gracious hand to undeserving people, and gave us the gift of life. "And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Matthew 25:40

Faith, Small as a Mustard Seed

So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord 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 was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.” Genesis 18:12-15

When Jesus foretells of Sarah’s pregnancy and the promise that God had previously made, both Abraham and Sarah realize who their guests are. Sarah at this point is a stepmother and lives with Hagar and Ishmael as harmoniously as possible. Perhaps she dwells on God’s promise once in a while as the years pass, but she no longer believes in God’s promise. Afraid of being punished or afraid of the unknown, she lies to the Lord. She lied to God’s face!

How often do we hide our sins from other people? Pretending to be a good Christian? Pretending to be good person? Sarah, after all the years of being married to Abraham, still does not have a personal relationship with God. She is led by fear and ignorance, not understanding God’s love for her. God is not withholding anything from Sarah; in fact, God understands Sarah’s sadness and inadequacies. And it is by God’s grace that Sarah is able to become pregnant at the age of 90.

"Fear the LORD, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing." Psalm 34:9,10 “Fear the Lord” does not mean be afraid of God, like Sarah was. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction." Proverbs 1:7 It means: knowledge, wisdom and instruction. Unfortunately, Sarah’s misdeeds in the past (convincing Abraham to sleep with Hagar, and then mistreating Hagar), reveals her lack of wisdom and understanding. By lying to God to His face, she again shows her ungodly attitude.

But God in His mercy does not take back His promise; He leaves them with the hope that Sarah will still conceive at her old age. At this point, she has proof that God knows all, that God sees all—and even after lying to God, she wonders about God’s promise. There is hope, mingled with common sense, and fear of expectations not met. How many times have we been disappointed with life? But as Jesus and his angels walk away, Sarah is left with a seed of hope that eventually became reality. "And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because shefn considered him faithful who had made the promise." Hebrews 11:11 God had come to Abraham and Sarah, reassuring them of their faith and giving them hope. How many times has God spoken to you through a Bible verse, a sermon or a Godly friend? "He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you." Luke 17:6 Let this seed of faith grow in you, and allow it to flourish. "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Romans 10:17 Hear the Word of God, which comes by prayer and studying the Bible. Get wisdom, get understanding.

Jesus, our Intercessor

And the LORD said, 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? For I know him, 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 the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him. And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know. Genesis 18:17-21

Does God really not know what is happening in Sodom? God knows everything. "I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’" Isaiah 46:10 God knows the thoughts we have, and our hearts that we hide from others. "He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight." Luke 16:15

There are several instances of God coming down to see what the humans are up to. Unfortunately, these moments are always when they are committing/did commit a sin. "Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden." Genesis 3:8 "But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building." Genesis 11:5 And of course, when Jesus came down to earth as a newborn.

Jesus does not come down because He doesn’t know what is happening, but to show us His mercy and justice. We see what sin has wrought in this world, and God could not allow Adam and Eve to live in the Garden forever near the Tree of Life; and therefore, they were banished. The people at Babel were proud, blasphemous and perpetuating the same sins before the flood—so God scattered them. And the inhabitants of Sodom would again show God’s justice.

But here Jesus questions whether to reveal his purpose to Abraham. And Abraham hearing Jesus’ mission, intercedes on the Sodomites’ behalf. Not because the Sodomites deserve God’s mercy, but because he knows God’s heart.

Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Genesis 18:25

Abraham knows he will inherit the land. He knows God has promised him a nation of people. But he also knows God is loving and merciful. He knows that ALL the people are God’s children. Though Abraham knows committing adultery was a mistake, he doesn’t love Ishmael any less. In the same way, even though the Sodomites are idolaters and sinners, God does not love them any less.

Abraham points out how God is righteous and merciful, and He would never destroy any people without cause. So Abraham begs for their life. And asks for mercy if only 10 righteous people are found.

Abraham was just like Jesus, to intercede on behalf of sinners. "Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession." Hebrews 4:14 Jesus not only intercedes on our behalf, but He died for our salvation. This is how we are to be Christ-like, to love others and desire their salvation. We must do what we can to intercede on their behalf, pray on their behalf, show them the truth about our loving Father by living that Love toward them. God was gracious to Sarah and gave her a son. God was gracious to us and gave us life. We can do no less toward all of God’s children.

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