Genesis 18

 

וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו יְהוָה בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם  18:1

Gene. 18:1  Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinths of Mamre while he sat in the tent entrance, as it was the heat of the day.

Was this in a dream?  Had Abraham dozed off in “the heat of the day?”

וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה שְׁלֹשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים נִצָּבִים עָלָיו וַיַּרְא וַיָּרָץ לִקְרָאתָם מִפֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ   18:2

אָרְצָה

Gene. 18:2  And he lifted his eyes and looked and, behold, three men were standing by Him, and he saw and ran from the tent entrance to meet them and bowed down to the earth.

The phrase “and he lifted his eyes” may indeed imply that he was dozing.  Now at this point we appear to have the Lord and three men standing in sight of Abraham.  But another interpretation could be that the three men were standing by Abraham, and not by the Lord (the “Him” would not then be capitalized).  In this case, there would be only the three men.  But the next verse seems to clarify the situation – but, alas, only momentarily.                                                                                                [Return to Gene. 19:1]                     [Return to Gene. 26:30]

וַיֹּאמַר אֲדֹנָי אִםנָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ אַל נָא תַעֲבֹר מֵעַל עַבְדֶּךָ  18:3

Gene. 18:3  And he said, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in your eyes, please do not pass from your servant.”

In this verse, all of the second-person pronouns and the verb pass, are singular.  So it appears Abraham is directly addressing the Lord, not the three men, and all of them are present before Abraham.

יֻקַּחנָא מְעַט מַיִם וְרַחֲצוּ רַגְלֵיכֶם וְהִשָּׁעֲנוּ תַּחַת הָעֵץ  18:4

Gene. 18:4  “Let now a little water be fetched, and wash your feet and recline under the tree.”

In this verse, the second-person pronoun and the verbs wash and recline, are all plural.  Apparently Abraham has moved his attention to the three men.  Or the Lord has receded from the scene.  My guess is that the Lord appears only as an apparition, as Spirit, and Abraham’s addressing Him first is a show of respect.  I say this because we will learn from Exod. 33:20 that no man may look upon the Lord’s “face” and live.

                                                                                                                              [Return to Gene. 19:1]

וְאֶקְחָה פַת לֶחֶם וְסַעֲדוּ לִבְּכֶם אַחַר תַּעֲבֹרוּ כִּי עַל כֵּן עֲבַרְתֶּם עַל עַבְדְּכֶם וַיֹּאמְרוּ כֵּן תַּעֲשֶׂה  18:5

כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ

Gene. 18:5  “And I will fetch a bit of bread, so strengthen yourselves; afterward you can pass on, forasmuch as you have come by your servant.”  And they said, “Yes, you may do as you have spoken.”

Again in this verse, all the pronouns and second-person verbs referring to the angels are plural.

וַיְמַהֵר אַבְרָהָם הָאֹהֱלָה אֶל שָׂרָה וַיֹּאמֶר מַהֲרִי שְׁלֹשׁ סְאִים קֶמַח סֹלֶת לוּשִׁי וַעֲשִׂי עֻגוֹת  18:6

Gene. 18:6  And Abraham hastened to the tent, to Sarah, and said, “Quickly prepare three measures of flour, fine flour, knead, and make cakes.”

וְאֶל הַבָּקָר רָץ אַבְרָהָם וַיִּקַּח בֶּן בָּקָר רַךְ וָטוֹב וַיִּתֵּן אֶל הַנַּעַר וַיְמַהֵר לַעֲשׂוֹת אֹתוֹ 18:7

Gene. 18:7  And Abraham ran to the cattle and fetched a tender and good calf and gave to the boy, and he hastened to prepare it.

וַיִּקַּח חֶמְאָה וְחָלָב וּבֶן הַבָּקָר אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וַיִּתֵּן לִפְנֵיהֶם וְהוּא עֹמֵד עֲלֵי הֶם תַּחַת הָעֵץ וַיֹּאכֵלוּ 18:8

Gene. 18:8  And he took curd and milk and the calf which he had prepared and set before them, and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate.

Well!  Milk and meat at the same table!  That seems strange, given that the scribe, writing in the future, would have known this was not permitted.  We have a bit of a conundrum here.  I will say more about this when we get to Exodus and Deuteronomy.                                                                              [Return to Exod. 23:19]

וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו אַיֵּה שָׂרָה אִשְׁתֶּךָ וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּה בָאֹהֶל  18:9

Gene. 18:9  And they said to him, “Where is Sarah, your wife?”  And he said, “Behold, in the tent!”

וַיֹּאמֶר שׁוֹב אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ כָּעֵת חַיָּה וְהִנֵּה בֵן לְשָׂרָה אִשְׁתֶּךָ וְשָׂרָה שֹׁמַעַת פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל וְהוּא  18:10

אַחֲרָיו

Gene. 18:10   And He said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year and, behold, a son for your wife, Sarah.”  And Sarah heard in the entrance of the tent, which was behind Him.

So the Lord is still there, and He is speaking.  This episode, starting with v. 18:1, is indeed strange.  It appears to be cryptic enough to hint at an underlying message.  Keeping in mind my suggestion that Sarah personifies the land of Israel, is it possible that this episode is foretelling the destruction of the second temple, and the subsequent rebirth of Israel in the 20th century (after 2000 years of “aging”)?

וְאַבְרָהָם וְשָׂרָה זְקֵנִים, בָּאִים בַּיָּמִים חָדַל לִהְיוֹת לְשָׂרָה, אֹרַח כַּנָּשִׁים  18:11

Gene. 18:11   Now Abraham and Sarah were stricken in old age; it had ceased to be for Sarah in the manner of women.

וַתִּצְחַק שָׂרָה בְּקִרְבָּהּ לֵאמֹר אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי הָיְתָה לִּי עֶדְנָה וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן  18:12

Gene. 18:12   So Sarah laughed to herself saying, “Pleasure is mine after I have waxed old!  My lord is also old.”

It’s interesting that Sarah is focused on her age rather than her infertility.

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל אַבְרָהָם לָמָּה זֶּה צָחֲקָה שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר הַאַף אֻמְנָם אֵלֵד וַאֲנִי זָקַנְתִּי  18:13

Gene. 18:13   And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why does Sarah laugh saying, “Shall I indeed beget even when I am so old?”

On occasion, the sages, as well as modern rabbis, have cited this verse as a justification for one to lie in order to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.  Look back at v. 18:12.  Sarah gives two reasons for her incredulity, first her old age and then her husband’s old age.  But in this verse, the Lord mentions only Sarah’s old years, omitting her remark about Abraham’s age.  To my way of thinking, this is an inappropriate basis for that justification.  I suspect that the Lord was not fibbing to be easy on Abraham.  I’m quite certain He “knew” how prolific Abraham was yet to be (Gene. 25:2) and didn’t repeat that part of Sarah’s remark simply because He “knew” how wrong it was.

הֲיִפָּלֵא מֵיְהוָה דָּבָר לַמּוֹעֵד אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ כָּעֵת חַיָּה וּלְשָׂרָה בֵן  18:14

Gene. 18:14   “Can anything be too extraordinary for the Lord?  At the set time I will return to you, at this time next year, when a son shall be Sarah’s.”

וַתְּכַחֵשׁ שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר לֹא צָחַקְתִּי כִּי יָרֵאָה וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא כִּי צָחָקְתְּ  18:15

Gene. 18:15   But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh,” because she was afraid.  And He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

Did she or did she not laugh?  In v. 12 she laughed to herself.  So, in a sense, she was not denying.  Apparently to the all-knowing Lord, she laughed, regardless of whether it was outwardly or inwardly.  But Abraham had laughed too (Gene. 17:17); yet he wasn’t singled out and accused by the Lord.

וַיָּקֻמוּ מִשָּׁם הָאֲנָשִׁים וַיַּשְׁקִפוּ עַל פְּנֵי סְדֹם וְאַבְרָהָם הֹלֵךְ עִמָּם לְשַׁלְּחָם  18:16

Gene. 18:16   Then the men rose up from there and looked out toward Sodom, and Abraham walked with them to send them off.

וַיהוָה אָמָר הַמְכַסֶּה אֲנִי מֵאַבְרָהָם אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי עֹשֶׂה  18:17

Gene. 18:17   And the Lord said, “Should I be hiding from Abraham what I am doing,

וְאַבְרָהָם הָיוֹ יִהְיֶה לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל וְעָצוּם וְנִבְרְכוּ בוֹ כֹּל גּוֹיֵי הָאָרֶץ  18:18

Gene. 18:18   as Abraham shall surely become a great and strong nation and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?”                                    [Return to Gene. 28:14]

כִּי יְדַעְתִּיו לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר יְצַוֶּה אֶת בָּנָיו וְאֶת בֵּיתוֹ אַחֲרָיו וְשָׁמְרוּ דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה לַעֲשׂוֹת צְדָקָה  18:19

וּמִשְׁפָּט לְמַעַן הָבִיא יְהוָה עַל אַבְרָהָם אֵת אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר עָלָיו

Gene. 18:19   “For I have known him in order that he may command his children and his household after him that they must keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice,” so that the Lord would bring upon Abraham that which he had spoken about him.

In the preceding three verses, it appears that the Lord is speaking to Himself, as the three men and Abraham were walking away (v. 18:16).

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה זַעֲקַת סְדֹם וַעֲמֹרָה כִּי רָבָּה וְחַטָּאתָם כִּי כָבְדָה מְאֹד  18:20

Gene. 18:20   And the Lord said, “The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great and their sin is indeed exceedingly grievous.”

אֵרְדָה נָּא וְאֶרְאֶה הַכְּצַעֲקָתָהּ הַבָּאָה אֵלַי עָשׂוּ כָּלָה וְאִםלֹא אֵדָעָה  18:21

Gene. 18:21   “Now I will go down and consider if they have done entirely according to the cry coming to Me, and if not, I will know.”

In this verse, we encounter the second instance of a non-inverting vav.  The vav prefix in ha,r>a,w> , translated as “… and consider…,” is non-inverting because the verb is first person imperfect. 

Now when the Lord says “Now I will go down …,” does He mean that He will head south to Sodom?  But the Lord doesn’t go anywhere (the men leave, however, in the next verse).  Are the men – angels, of course, -- somehow an alter ego of the Lord?  Are they somehow “interchangeable” with the Lord?  And why does the Lord have to go down in order to determine if evil is going on?  Doesn’t He already know without having to go down?   Hasn’t He known since Creation?  Here, once more, we have a God depicted by the scribe as little more than a powerful human.

וַיִּפְנוּ מִשָּׁם הָאֲנָשִׁים וַיֵּלְכוּ סְדֹמָה וְאַבְרָהָם עוֹדֶנּוּ עֹמֵד לִפְנֵי יְהוָה  18:22

Gene. 18:22   And the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing yet before the Lord.

In v. 18:16, the men look toward Sodom and Abraham walks with them to send them off.  This verse appears to be a reprise of that one, but it is somewhat different.  In this verse, Abraham doesn’t walk with the men to send them off. Therefore, here it seems reasonable to assume that in vss. 18:20 and 18:21, the Lord is talking to Abraham.                                                                                                                                  [Return to Gene. 19:1]

וַיִּגַּשׁ אַבְרָהָם וַיֹּאמַר הַאַף תִּסְפֶּה צַדִּיק עִם רָשָׁע  18:23

Gene. 18:23   And Abraham drew near and said, “Would You also destroy one righteous with one guilty?”

How does Abraham know that the Lord is considering destroying Sodom?  Are things being said that have not been recorded by the scribe?  It would seem so.                                               [Return to Ezek. 21:10]

אוּלַי יֵשׁ חֲמִשִּׁים צַדִּיקִם בְּתוֹךְ הָעִיר הַאַף תִּסְפֶּה וְלֹא תִשָּׂא לַמָּקוֹם לְמַעַן חֲמִשִּׁים הַצַּדִּיקִם  18:24

אֲשֶׁר בְּקִרְבָּהּ

Gene. 18:24   “Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city.  Would You still destroy, and not forgive the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are within?”

חָלִלָה לְּךָ מֵעֲשֹׂת כַּדָּבָר הַזֶּה לְהָמִית צַדִּיק עִם רָשָׁע וְהָיָה כַצַּדִּיק כָּרָשָׁע חָלִלָה לָּךְ הֲשֹׁפֵט  18:25

כָּל הָאָרֶץ לֹא יַעֲשֶׂה מִשְׁפָּט

Gene. 18:25   “Let it not be Your doing after this matter to kill a righteous one with a wicked one, that a righteous one shall be as a wicked one; let it not be for You, the Judge of all the earth, that You should not do justly.”

Is Abraham chastising or advising God here?  The discourse of this and the next few verses has been understood by scholars to mean that it’s appropriate to bargain with God or to question His judgment as Abraham appears to be doing.  But once more at the risk of becoming repetitious, doesn’t God already know that only Lot would be deemed righteous enough (or simply favored as Abraham’s nephew) to be saved from destruction?  Is that why the Lord agrees to all of Abraham’s bargaining?  This inspires the next question:  Is God being “condescending” to Abraham?

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אִם אֶמְצָא בִסְדֹם חֲמִשִּׁים צַדִּיקִם בְּתוֹךְ הָעִיר וְנָשָׂאתִי לְכָל הַמָּקוֹם בַּעֲבוּרָם  18:26

Gene. 18:26   And the Lord said, “If I will find fifty righteous in Sodom within the city, then I will forgive the whole place for their sake.”

וַיַּעַן אַבְרָהָם וַיֹּאמַר הִנֵּה נָא הוֹאַלְתִּי לְדַבֵּר אֶל אֲדֹנָי וְאָנֹכִי עָפָר וָאֵפֶר  18:27

Gene. 18:27   And Abraham responded as he said, “Behold, I now have undertaken to speak to my Master, yet I am dust and ashes.”

אוּלַי יַחְסְרוּן חֲמִשִּׁים הַצַּדִּיקִם חֲמִשָּׁה הֲתַשְׁחִית בַּחֲמִשָּׁה אֶת כָּל הָעִיר וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא אַשְׁחִית  18:28

אִם אֶמְצָא שָׁם אַרְבָּעִים וַחֲמִשָּׁה

Gene. 18:28   “Perhaps there shall be five lacking of the fifty righteous.  Will You slaughter because of five the entire city?”  And He said, “I will not slaughter if I will find there forty-five.”

וַיֹּסֶף עוֹד לְדַבֵּר אֵלָיו וַיֹּאמַר אוּלַי יִמָּצְאוּן שָׁם אַרְבָּעִים וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא אֶעֱשֶׂה בַּעֲבוּר הָאַרְבָּעִים  18:29

Gene. 18:29   And he continued still to speak to Him and said, “Perhaps forty will be found there?”  And He said, “I will not do it for the sake of the forty.”

  וַיֹּאמֶר אַל נָא יִחַר לַאדֹנָי וַאֲדַבֵּרָה אוּלַי יִמָּצְאוּן שָׁם שְׁלֹשִׁים וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא אֶעֱשֶׂה אִם אֶמְצָא  18:30

שָׁם שְׁלֹשִׁים

Gene. 18:30   And he said, “I pray, let not my Master’s anger be kindled, and I will speak.  Perhaps thirty shall be found there?”  And He said, “I will not do it if I will find there thirty.”

Here we have the next instance of a non-inverting vav before a first person imperfect verb.  The vav prefixing the verb translated as and I will speak is non-inverting.

וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּה נָא הוֹאַלְתִּי לְדַבֵּר אֶל אֲדֹנָי אוּלַי יִמָּצְאוּן שָׁם עֶשְׂרִים וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא אַשְׁחִית בַּעֲבוּר  18:31

הָעֶשְׂרִים

Gene. 18:31   And he said, “Behold now, I take it upon myself to speak to my Lord.  Perhaps twenty shall be found there.” And He said, “I will not slaughter for the sake of the twenty.”

וַיֹּאמֶר אַל נָא יִחַר לַאדֹנָי וַאֲדַבְּרָה אַךְ הַפַּעַם אוּלַי יִמָּצְאוּן שָׁם עֲשָׂרָה וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא אַשְׁחִית  18:32

בַּעֲבוּר הָעֲשָׂרָה

Gene. 18:32   And he said, “I pray, let not my Master’s anger be kindled that I speak but this time.  Perhaps there shall be found there ten?”  And He said, “I will not slaughter for the sake of the ten.”

וַיֵּלֶךְ יְהוָה כַּאֲשֶׁר כִּלָּה לְדַבֵּר אֶל אַבְרָהָם וְאַבְרָהָם שָׁב לִמְקֹמוֹ  18:33

Gene. 18:33  And the Lord departed when He had finished “talking” to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.

Now we all know that Sodom was destroyed.  That must mean that ten righteous individuals were not found there. But I would continue Abraham’s bargaining, and ask what if there were only one?  Would he or she be destroyed along with the rest?  Was Lot (who was to be saved from destruction) to be spared because he was righteous, or merely because he was Abraham’s nephew?

 

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