In Genesis 18, three men visit Abraham and predict that Sarah will have a son in one year’s time. The men and Abraham then walk toward Sodom and the Lord shares his plan with Abraham. The Lord says that he will check on Sodom and see if it is as wicked as he has heard.
Abraham then pleads with the Lord to spare the city for the sake of fifty righteous people. After the Lord concedes, Abraham continues pleading until the Lord promises, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it” (v. 32).
The sad thing is that the Lord couldn’t find ten righteous people, so he destroyed Sodom. But before the city was wiped out, the Lord rescued the righteous people who were in it—Lot and his family. In that way, God’s actions are a direct answer to Abraham’s urgent question—”Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (v. 25). God did what was right. He destroyed the wicked and saved the righteous.
Linking the Lord and the Three Men in Genesis 18
With the point of the story firmly set, we can move on to a mysterious detail in Genesis 18: The identity of the three men. In the list below, notice how the three men and the Lord are intertwined.
The Appearance (vv. 1–2)
- The Lord appears to Abraham while he was sitting outside his tent (v. 1)
- Abraham looks up and sees three men standing nearby (v. 2)
The Question and Promise (vv. 8–14)
- The men eat then ask, “Where is Sarah your wife?” (vv. 8-9)
- Abraham answers (v. 9)
- One of the men says, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son” (v. 10).
- Sarah laughs
- The Lord asks, “Why did Sarah laugh? (vv. 13-14)
The Departure (18:16–19:1)
- The men get up to leave (v. 16)
- While Abraham walks out with the men, the Lord asks, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” (vv. 17–18)
- The Lord says that he’s heading to Sodom (vv. 20–21).
- The men go toward Sodom (v. 22).
- Abraham remains standing before the Lord (v. 22)
- The Lord leaves (v. 33)
- The two angels arrive in Sodom (19:1).
Identifying the Three Men
In seeking to identify the visitors, the key clue is Genesis 19:1, which says “The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening.” Based on that verse and the account leading up to it, two of the three men appear to be angels. How do we know? Because in one scene the men are heading toward Sodom and in the next two angels arrive in Sodom. The narrator wants us to connect the two scenes and that means identifying two of the three men as angels.
But weren’t there three men? What happened to the other one? Was the other visitor also an angel? Possibly. In that case, all three men were angels.
However, because of the way the Lord is interwoven into the account—when we expect the three men to speak, the Lord speaks, and when the Lord says he’s going to do something, the men do it—some think the other visitor was the Lord. I think that view makes the most sense of the story. If that is correct, Genesis 18 gives us one of the earliest appearances of God in the Bible. (Theophany is the technical term for an appearance of God.) And what do we learn from this early theophany?
- God appeared as a man
- God had his feet washed and then rested (18:4)
- God ate (18:8)
- God talked with Abraham and Sarah
Christians believe God became human in the person of Jesus, but God was descending to meet with humans long before Jesus was born.[This post is part of my course on Genesis 4–50.]