The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;Abraham's Intercession for the Cities of the Plain
This chapter gives two views of life as unlike each other as possible. The one is a quiet domestic scene, and the other a scene of terrible judgment. In the heat of the day Abraham was sitting in his tent under the shade of the trees, when three travellers came unexpectedly upon him. The account reads very curiously; for in the first verse we are told that "the Lord appeared unto Abraham as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day," and in the second verse we read that "three men stood by Abraham"; then in the third verse instead of Abraham addressing his visitors in the plural number he spoke to them as if they were one only, saying: "My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant." It was the Lord; it was three men! What contradictions we meet in the Bible! How could it be both the Lord and three men; how could there be one, yet three; three, yet one? Easily. The greater includes the less. Reality assumes many manifestations. Blessed is he who sees the Divine in the human, and the human in the Divine. Abraham would have had no difficulty with the Incarnation such as some moderns seem to have. He would have known the Lord at once when he saw Jesus; nay, verily, he did see the Christ; Jesus himself said so: "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad." That day was always visible to the eye that looked for it. Jesus has always been in the world, but the world as a whole knew him not; here and there some strong heart took hold of him and enjoyed the Gospel beforehand, and thus were the mysteries and the prophets of their day. In those three men at Abraham's tent door, I see the Lord Jesus Christ and two ministers of his, angels armed with the Lord's burning vengeance. How softly the way is smoothed to the end at which the three men were aiming! Thus: they came as ordinary travellers; they bathed their weary feet; they partook of the generous fare to which their host invited them; and in all other ways they seem to have done as other men would have done. Suddenly, however, they asked a question which might have startled Abraham: "They said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife?" How did they know that Abraham had a wife, or how did they know her name? Are there eyes that can see into our tents? Can any one see through the roof of my house and tell all that is done in the quietest home? The question was not, Art thou married? but, Where is thy wife? and not that only, but, Where is Sarah thy wife? By-and-by you will hear the Lord say unto Moses, "I know thee by name"; farther on you will hear Jesus say to a publican and a sinner, "Zaccheus, make haste, and come down, for today I must abide at thy house"; and about the same time you will hear a man ask in a tone of surprise, "How knowest thou me?" If you put all these circumstances together you may reach the conclusion that in all the cases the Speaker was one and the same, and that his name is Wonderful!
Then, once more, Abraham was told that he should have a son. This was indeed weary work for Abraham, for it was quite thirteen years since the promise was first made to him, and now the son was to come next year. Sarah heard this in the tent door which was behind the speaker, and she laughed. Sarah did quite right to laugh if she lived within the range of mere facts. From any side of the facts of the case, the thing was ridiculous because impossible. Sarah denied that she laughed, and perhaps her denial was true; she wished to say, "I did not laugh unbelievingly in any sense that meant disrespect to the Lord; I did not laugh mockingly or profanely, but in an innocent way, thinking it out of the question that two such old folks should ever have a child." A question had been asked that had made Sarah serious: "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" When Sarah heard that question she wished to disown her laughter and to fall into the hands of the Lord. Abraham laughed, and Sarah laughed, and in their laughter there were blended joy, fear, hope, doubt: a right human laughter, yet it did not turn away the good purpose of God.
Then came a matter which in its immediate aspects was more solemn than any other. Thus softly have we been led up to it. The three men had strange work on hand, though they looked so quiet as they sat in the tent. Was the thing to be told to Abraham or not? Was he to know nothing until he heard noises and saw sights which might well lead him to think that the promise made to him of a son was a bitter mockery? When the whole sky was ablaze, and the air was pierced by beams of fire, and the earth trembled under a terrific blow, what was Abraham to think of the prophecies which had been spoken to his heart? The outward would contradict the inward, and there would be tumult in the good man's soul.
Yes; he would tell Abraham. Two of the travellers passed on towards Sodom. "But Abraham stood yet before the Lord," and he became a priest and an intercessor. Let us follow him in the noble course which he adopted when he was taken into the Lord's confidence.
1. See how his moral nature is startled at the proposal. "Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?" "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" There is a marked difference between the tone of Abraham and the tone of Noah. So far as we can learn from the record Noah did not put any such inquiries as those before the Flood, though, perhaps, they were in some measure rendered needless by the distinct separation of himself on account of his righteousness. Still, the inquiries are intensely interesting as showing how Divine judgments on a great scale strike a pious observer. Could such a thing be right? was Abraham's anxious question. A wonderful question, opening up a wonderful range of moral speculation! Remember from whom Abraham held moral nature, and you will see that this very question is itself a tribute to the righteousness of God. The question was an inspiration. And the course which God took in answering it shows that he has ever held it of the first consequence to secure the moral approbation of his creatures. In many things he has transcended their reason; in nearly all things he has baffled and even confounded and mocked their speculations; but in all instances he has been most careful not to excite controversy against himself in the human conscience. If it could once enter the mind of man that God has done wrong, that is to say has acted unjustly, man would be in a position to vindicate the most strenuous rebellion against his government. That God should tantalise our imagination, limit our influence, determine the measure of our days, and hold us completely under his dominion, are amongst the primary conditions of created life; but there must be no dissatisfaction in the conscience. We must feel that how much soever our ideas are set aside, our moral instincts are respected. It is true, indeed, that we may come upon many things, even in moral government, which we can neither understand nor explain; but if where we can enter into God's purpose, and the method of its execution, we are enabled to see that righteousness is the habitation of God's throne, we are entitled to give our conscience rest in cases which are to our reason inscrutable. Let us be thankful that Abraham raised this question, and that it was raised so early in human history. Its importance is infinite.
2. See how cautiously, yet how hopefully, Abraham's prayer enlarged itself. From fifty to forty-five, to forty, to thirty, to twenty, to ten! A whole city would have been spared for the sake of ten righteous men. Here we see a great principle in the government of God. We are sparing others, or are being spared for their sakes. It may be your little child that is keeping the cloud of wrath from bursting upon your wicked house. Even now you may be getting the benefit of prayers your mother prayed long ago. The righteous man has to suffer many disadvantages on account of the presence of the wicked, whereas the wicked man receives nothing but advantages from the presence of the man who is good. Is there, then, injustice with God in this particular? In no wise. For there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not; and there is no man who is inherently and independently good: if you are n w good, you were once "dead in trespasses and sin," and then you were spared on account of the goodness of others. Besides, in proportion as any man is good is he willing to suffer disadvantage and loss rather than judgment should come upon the wicked. God himself suffers most. And if he is longsuffering and pitiful, who are we that we should speak of personal injury and distress? In this passage there are four great facts which should be borne in mind by Christian thinkers and teachers.
First: That God holds inquest upon the moral condition of cities. Second: That God is accessible to earnest human appeal. Third: That the few can serve the many. Fourth: That human prayer falls below Divine resources.
The Lord's people axe the first to know the Lord's will. If we lived nearer heaven we should have earlier notice of God's purposes. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant." "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." "Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth; but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you."