************ Sermon on Genesis 18 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 2, 2012
"Mamre: A Place of Friendship with God"
Mamre. What a significant place in the history of God's people. It was at Mamre that Abraham built an altar to the Lord (Gen 13:18); this means Mamre was a place of worship and praise and prayer and offering; this means Mamre was a place where one meets with God. It was at Mamre that Abraham bought a field and a cave (Gen 23:17); thus, it was at Mamre that Abraham made a beginning in possessing the land promised by God. It was at Mamre that Abraham buried his beloved wife, Sarah (Gen 23:19). It was at Mamre that Isaac and Ishmael buried Abraham (Gen 25:9). When Jacob returned home to Isaac and Rebekah – after 14 years of being with Uncle Laban – he did so at Mamre (35:27). And, it was at Mamre that Joseph requested burial (Gen 49:29-30) and was given burial (Gen 50:13).
Everyone in Israel knew about Mamre. So, when our passage begins with Mamre (cf Gen 18:1), everyone listening to Moses knew something significant was going to take place.
What actually takes place at Mamre? What we see is that God affirms Abraham as His friend. Notice the word used by our passage? God indicates Abraham is "chosen" by Him (Gen 18:19). The word translated as "chosen" is also the word for "know." God has "chosen" Abraham; God "knows" Abraham. He knows Abraham inside and out. He knows everything about Abraham. This word indicates the close bond between God and Abraham. In our passage, God affirms Abraham as His friend by meeting with Him, eating with Him, revealing to Him, and listening to Him.
I God Meets and Talks with Abraham
A "The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre" (Gen 18:1).
This is not the first time that God met with Abraham. We know that back in Ur of the Chaldeans, God called Abraham to leave country, people, and father's household (Gen 12:1). After a long stopover in Haran, the Lord called Abraham a second time (Gen 12:4). The Lord next came to Abraham in a vision; and, in that vision, Abraham saw the Lord – in a covenant-making ceremony – walk by Himself between animals cut in half (Gen 15). When Abraham was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him again and promised a child to be named "Isaac" and instituted the sacrament of circumcision (Gen 17). And, now, the Lord appeared to Abraham again. We see that Abraham had regular encounters with God.
B "The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre" (Gen 18:1). What do all the appearances and meetings and encounters tell you? Tell me, who do you meet with regularly? Some of us meet the same sales people every single week or month. Some of us meet once a week with a counselor or therapist. Some here meet regularly with their doctor or dentist. Some meet every week with their AA group. Some have monthly meetings with their banker or accountant. Am I missing anyone? How about this: we see our friends regularly.
Look at Abraham's meetings with God – or, perhaps, I should say God's meetings with Abraham – in this light. Abraham regularly meets with God in the same way as a man or woman meets with their friends.
So far, in Scripture, we have encountered Abraham the prophet, Abraham the priest, Abraham the king, and Abraham the sinner. But now we also see Abraham the friend – Abraham the friend of God.
Abraham is the only person in the Old Testament to receive the title "friend of God" (2 Chron 20:7; Isa 41:8). Striking, isn't it? Abraham the sinner, the laugher, the doubter, became known as the friend of God.
God's relationship with those whom He has created is not like a slave-owner with his slaves, or an employer with employees, or a teacher with students. Rather, God wants to call you and me His friends.
C God not only meets with Abraham but He also talks with Abraham. We notice that Abraham uses exceedingly polite language. It is almost as if Abraham realizes from the start that he is addressing more than just three men.
I need to mention a feature of their conversation that is not clear in our English translation but is clear in the Hebrew. The Hebrew for "you" in our passage keeps switching from the plural to the singular. Why this swapping of the singular and the plural? It is clear that Abraham realizes that one of the men is the leader. And, so, it is to this leader that Abraham speaks.
It becomes equally clear, in the course of the conversation, that the leader is none less than Almighty God. For instance, the leader made a promise to Abraham that only the Lord could carry out: "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son" (Gen 18:10). Any great ruler can promise to give land and riches. But only God is able to guarantee offspring. Even in our technologically advanced age, with in-vitro fertilization and sex selection, we can make no such guarantees.
What is more, this stranger knew everything; He knew the name of Abraham's wife; He knew Sarah's secret laughter of doubt. Sarah thought she was safely concealed in her tent, observing everything without being observed. But this stranger knew her most private thoughts (Gen 18:12-13). Abraham and Sarah discover the same thing about God that was earlier discovered by Hagar: He is the God Who hears (Gen 16:11) and the God Who sees (Gen 16:13) meaning He is the God Who knows.
It is no surprise, then, that this mysterious visitor identified Himself as the Lord (Gen 18:13). Meeting and talking with Abraham as with a friend is the King of the universe, the Lord God Almighty, El Shaddai, and two of His angels.
I am sure you realize that ours is also the privilege to meet and talk with the King of the universe. Ours is the privilege of meeting and talking with Him in worship. Ours is the privilege of hearing His Word. Ours is the privilege of talking to Him in prayer.
II God Eats with Abraham
A "The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre" (Gen 18:1). Notice what happens next. The narrative supplies a quick succession of action verbs, all applying to Abraham. Abraham sees, Abraham hurries, Abraham bows low, Abraham speaks, Abraham hurries again and commands Sarah to hurry, Abraham runs to get a calf, Abraham brings food to the men, Abraham stands courteously and waits while they eat. Abraham offers to wash their feet (Gen 18:4) and to refresh them (Gen 18:5). The first eight verses are full of Abraham's almost frantic efforts – remarkable, we should think, for a man ninety-nine years old (cf Gen 17:1).
Abraham does all of this for uninvited visitors. And, notice Abraham's final opening remark: "so you can be refreshed and then go on your way" (Gen 18:5). Telling us what? Telling us these strangers were invited to stay no more than a few hours and then Abraham expected them to go on their way. Even in the Ancient World there must have been visitors who took advantage of the law of hospitality and overstayed their welcome.
B Throughout their encounter, the Lord treated Abraham as His friend. He shared an intimate occasion with him, a common meal. This was a unique privilege for Abraham. It was the only case before the incarnation in which the Lord ate the food set before Him. There were certainly many other occasions on which the Lord appeared to people and He was offered food. However, on all those occasions He burned the food as a sacrifice. But with Abraham He enjoyed a special relationship. The Lord of the universe, El Shaddai, God Almighty, sat down at Abraham's table and ate with him.
Sharing a meal is one of the more intimate things done by friends. Seen in this light, we are privileged indeed to sit down with the Lord in the Lord's Supper because in so doing the Lord Jesus is claiming us as friends. Seen in this light, our fellowship dinners are not merely meals. Rather, we gather together as friends and family of the Lord Jesus Christ. And, do you remember how the Revelation pictures the future life (Rev 19:5-9)? It is a supper; it is the supper, the wedding supper, of the Lamb; at that time the church gets to eat with her bridegroom and she does so forever!
III God Reveals His Plans to Abraham
A So, what was the purpose of the Lord's visit with Abraham? It was not merely a social call. Nor was the Lord looking for something to fill the time. In the first place, the Lord confirmed the promise He had already made to Abraham. Abraham was now told a date for the long-awaited birth of a son; the baby, says the Lord, was to be born "about this time next year" (Gen 18:10).
Such a specific date cannot help but test one's faith. It is one thing to hope and believe that some time in the future God will give you a child. It is quite another to fix your hopes on a specific date and risk a cruel and bitter disappointment if the event does not come to pass.
It is for this reason that Sarah laughed (Gen 18:12), even as Abraham laughed in an earlier chapter (Gen 17:17). Just like us, Abraham and Sarah are reluctant believers. Sometimes God's good news seems just too good to be true. But God is always more gracious than we deserve. Sarah laughed in unbelief and then lied about this but God did not treat her as her sins deserved or repay her according to her iniquities (cf Ps 103:10). In Christ, of course, God treats you and I the same way.
B The Lord met with Abraham and ate with Abraham not simply to confirm His promise but to also reveal His plans for the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
(Gen 18:20-21) Then the LORD said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous (21) 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."
It is possible to misunderstand these verses. Some have argued they show that God is distant or removed from His creation. But what does God do? God comes down to "see" the sinfulness of Sodom for Himself. Others argue these verses tell us God doesn't know the wretched spiritual state of Sodom. However, there are no surprises for El Shaddai, a God Who hears and sees and knows everything (cf Gen 16:11-14). God, in heaven, knew that Sodom and Gomorrah deserved destruction. As we read in Psalm 139:
(Ps 139:1-4) O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. (2) You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. (3) You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. (4) Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.
C This is not the first time God has come down. Remember the story of the tower of Babel? At that time, sinful man attempted to build a tower that reached into the very abode of God. Scripture tells us God "came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building" (Gn 11:5). Though Genesis 3 does not use the same language, we know that God also came down when man first fell into sin.
Each time, after God came down, God announces judgment (Gen 3:14ff; Gen 11:6ff). This time is no different. God revealed to Abraham His plans for judgment upon the wicked cities of the plain – but only after man's rebellion has been fully examined by the Almighty. Here we see the intimacy of God's relationship with Abraham: God reveals His plans to Abraham even as a man or woman shares plans with a friend.
This kind of friendship with God is not a privilege just for Abraham; it belongs to all who follow Jesus. Listen to these words of Jesus:
(Jn 15:15) I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.In His Word, God's Spirit reveals God's plans to us. His plans to bring the Kingdom in all its fullness. His plans to judge the wicked and to save those who are righteous in Christ. His plans to make a new heaven and new earth. His plans to bring His sons and daughters to glory. His plans to make every knee bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Why? Why does God share all this with us? Because we are friends – friends of God and of Christ.
IV God Listens to Abraham
A We end with God listening to Abraham as a man or woman listens to a friend. God announces His coming judgment. Abraham responds with an appeal.
Notice the basis for the appeal. Abraham doesn't base his appeal on his own merit or goodness. He admits he is "but dust and ashes" (Gen 18:27). In other words, he is nothing and deserves nothing because he is a sinner.
Be clear about what Abraham is NOT asking for. Abraham is not asking for divine mercy for wicked people. Not once does Abraham suggest God would be unrighteous to exercise judgment against the wicked. You know, many today would argue that Sodom and Gomorrah should have been spared, not because of their goodness, but because evil doesn't really deserve judgment. By contrast, Abraham simply argued that it would be unjust to include the righteous in the fate of the wicked:
(Gen 18:23,25) Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? ... (25) Will not the judge of all the earth do right?
Abraham asked that the cities be spared "for the sake of the ... righteous" (Gen 18:24). Abraham starts with fifty, then forty-five, then forty, thirty, twenty, and – finally – ten. God's final response: "For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it" (Gen 18:32). For the sake of. For the sake of. It was all for the sake of.
Do you remember Jesus' parable about the wheat and the weeds (Mt 13:24ff)? It is for the sake of the wheat that the weeds are spared, at least until harvest-time comes. Abraham, like Jesus, was concerned that premature destruction might root out the Lord's harvest.
If this kind of thinking seems strange to you, let me put this in New Testament language. Will God spare the wicked for the sake of one righteous person? The answer of the New Testament is a divine YES. Doesn't God spare the wicked – including you and me – for the sake of Christ? Isn't this a case of the wicked being spared for the sake of one righteous person? In Christ and because of Christ, God spares all the wicked whom He, out of grace and mercy, calls.
B But there is also another concern. Abraham is also thinking of the leavening influence of the righteous. As long as some righteous people remain, it is possible the wicked may be converted. As long as there is a faithful remnant, there is hope for repentance and faith.
However, this requires holy living and holy prayer and holy witnessing. Unlike the family of Lot, we cannot accommodate ourselves to the world and its wicked ways. Instead, like Abraham, we need to stand up and stand apart and be different.
I want you to realize, my brothers and sisters, the leavening influence of Christians on a world lost in sin. Therefore, we see Abraham pleading for the righteous so that the unrighteous may repent and be saved. Abraham was praying for justice delayed not so the wicked might prolong their sin but so they might be converted.
You might wonder, could a place as wicked as Sodom really have been saved? Astonishingly enough, the answer of the Bible is yes!
However, there comes a day when time runs out. Time ran out for Sodom – but it has not yet run out for us. So, you and I – as friends of God and Christ – may still intercede for our friends and family, recognizing God's right to judge, but pleading on the merits of Christ. No one is beyond the reach of His blood. If Christ's death on the cross was enough to possibly redeem wicked Sodom, then it is enough to redeem the worst sinners today.
At Mamre we see that Abraham is God's friend: God meets and talks with Abraham, God eats with Abraham, God reveals His plans to Abraham, God listens to Abraham. To be a friend of God is the most awesome thing in Abraham's life. To be a friend of God is the most awesome thing that can happen to you and me as well.
How did this happen? How did Abraham become God's friend? I already mentioned the word "chosen." Abraham was chosen by God. In other words, Abraham became God's friend by grace. Only grace – free, undeserved, unearned, unmerited – can enable an imperfect person like Abraham to dwell in the presence of the perfect God. Only grace permits the unholy to approach the Most Holy and be called His friend. And, by grace you and I can also be or are friends of God.
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