1. ABRAHAM THE HOST (18:1–15)
1 Yahweh appeared to him by the terebinths of Mamre; he was sitting at the opening of the tent as the day grew hotter.
2 He looked up and spotted three men standing beside 1 him. Upon seeing them he rushed from the opening of the tent to meet them, and bowed to the ground.
3 He said: “My lord, 2 if I have found favor in your eyes, please do not pass by your servant.
4 Let a bit of water be fetched so that you may bathe your feet and rest yourselves under the tree. 3
5 I will get a morsel of bread so that you can be refreshed. 4 After that you may go on—now that you have come by your servant.” They answered: “Very well, do as you have spoken.”
6 Abraham went quickly back to the tent to Sarah. “Hurry,” he said, “three seahs 5 of fine flour, knead and make cakes.”
7 And Abraham ran to the flock, and took a tender and choice calf, gave it to the young man, and he quickly prepared it.
8 He then took curds and milk, and the calf which he had prepared, and placed these before them. He was standing by them 6 under the tree while they ate.
9 “Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked. “In the tent,” he replied.
10 One (of them) said: “At this time next year 7 I will surely return to you, and by then 8 Sarah your wife shall have a son.” Sarah had been eavesdropping at the opening of the tent which was just behind him.
13 Yahweh said to Abraham: “Why did Sarah laugh, saying: ‘Will I indeed 15 really give birth even though I am old?’
14 Is anything too demanding for Yahweh? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and for Sarah there will be a son.”
15 Because she was afraid, Sarah lied, saying, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “No, 16 you laughed.”
For a last time Abraham is given advance notice of Isaac’s forthcoming birth. This happens while Yahweh and his entourage journey to Sodom to inspect the situation there. Abraham appears in two distinctly different roles within this chapter. In the first half he is the polite, deferential host who treats his visitors with the greatest respect. In the second half of the chapter he appears as the outspoken intercessor who pleads before Yahweh on behalf of Sodom. There is also a blatant contrast between how Abraham hosted his visitors (ch. 18) and how the Sodomites hosted the same delegation (ch. 19).
1 At the completion of an earlier revelation Yahweh had vanished from Abraham’s sight (17:22). Now he reappears, this time in the heat of the day, as Abraham rests by his tent, located in a cluster of trees at Mamre. 17 The visit of Yahweh to Abraham in the hottest part of the day (cf. 1 Sam. 11:11; 2 Sam. 4:5) contrasts with his “visit” to Adam in another garden in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8).
2 To his surprise Abraham sees 18 three men in front of him. Yet, for reasons unclear to us, he addresses only one of them in the following verse. Indeed, one of the interesting features of this section is the shift back and forth from singular to plural. Thus: v. 2, three men; v. 3, all singular; v. 4, second person plural; v. 5, again the second person plural; v. 9, plural; vv. 10–15, singular; v. 16, plural; vv. 17–21, singular; v. 22 begins with the plural but ends with the singular; vv. 22b–33, singular. 19
A similar shift from plural to singular, or from angels to God, occurs in ch. 19. At Sodom Lot is met by two angels whom he addresses (v. 2) as “my lords” (ʾaḏōnay). 20 A few verses later (v. 17) we read: “when they [the angels, Lot’s ʾaḏōnay] had brought them outside [Lot and his family], one of them said.…” 21 Then follows v. 18: “He [Lot] replied to them [the angels], ‘Oh, no, my lord’ ” (sing., ʾaḏōnāy)!
The same fluidity between God and angels is found in 21:17 (the angel is distinct from God) and 18 (the angel is identified with God). Judg. 6:7–24 provides the lengthiest illustration of this dynamic transfusion between angel and deity. The angel who greets Gideon is distinct from Yahweh (6:12). Gideon addresses him as “sir” (ʾaḏōnî, 6:13). But from v. 14 on the angel and the deity are the same. In fact, in 6:15 Gideon addresses him as “my Lord” (ʾaḏōnāy, the form used only of God). In 6:20 “the Lord” becomes “the angel of the Lord” again (see esp. v. 22). In vv. 23ff. the angel is once more the Lord. Finally, we note that the divine visitor to the mother of Samson is variously identified throughout Judg. 13 as “the man of God” and “the angel of Yahweh.” Manoah fears for his life, for he says: “we will certainly die, for we have seen God” (Judg. 13:22). 22
Scholars have accounted for the shift between plurals and singulars in Gen. 18 in several ways. One suggestion is that two variants of the story have been intertwined. One emphasized the visit by three individuals to Abraham. The second emphasized a visit by one messenger to Abraham. 23 E. A. Speiser offers a second suggestion (see the reference in n. 2); he harmonizes the singulars and plurals by having Abraham at times address the group and at other times address only the leader. Noting that 19:1, 15 refer to two of the three visitors to Abraham as malʾāḵîm (“messengers, angels”), A. R. Johnson has advanced the idea that Gen. 18 provides another illustration of the oscillation between the one and the many in the Israelites’ conception of God. 24 ʾĕlōhîm is both one and more than one, and on this concept the NT doctrine of trinitarianism is built.
The progression of events in Gen. 18 is written in typical Hebrew narrative style. The writer first describes what has happened from the author’s perspective (v. 1). Then he proceeds to narrate how the discovery was made by the one involved directly in the story (vv. 2ff.). The same progression is found in ch. 19. One may also compare the glow on Moses’ face after his meeting with God (Exod. 34:29). Only eventually did Moses himself learn of this glow. The author and reader know why the scrub bush near Horeb is aglow (Exod. 3:2). But Moses does not immediately realize the significance of the burning bush. Similarly, the author and reader know why Job is suffering (Job 1), but Job does not.
The simple description of the visitors as three men is intriguing. No attempt is made to delineate the form or the appearance of them. Nor is any comment offered on the significance of three visitors, as opposed to one or two, or more than three. The next chapter, ch. 19, suggests that the trio is really Yahweh and two of his messengers. 25 But that information is not forthcoming in ch. 18. That Gen. 18 does not identify the visiting party beyond calling them “men” may in fact be intentional. “Obscurity is story’s way of telling us the truth about this God with whom we daily have to do, by reminding us of God’s hiddenness, of the concreteness of God’s revelation, and of the impossible possibilities that are open to all who believe.” 26 All that is told is the words they uttered. That they are described as standing (for deity “standing” [niṣṣāḇ] cf. Gen. 28:13; 1 Sam. 3:10; Amos 7:7; 9:1) implies, but does not prove, erect human form. In the OT God may assume human form and allows himself to be seen in such form by human beings; indeed, when God does appear in a form at all, the human form is the characteristic one for him to assume. 27
This is the one theophany in the Abraham cycle in which Yahweh appears to Abraham with others at his side. Older Christian interpreters seized upon the number three in v. 2 and identified them with the Trinity. Obviously, such a statement reads a considerable amount into the text, and forces on the text an interpretation the text itself will not yield.
3–5 The emphasis here is on Abraham’s solicitude as host. His actions include giving water to his guests so that they may wash their feet, 28 and offering them rest and food. Once they are refreshed (v. 5), they may continue on their journey. Such hospitality in the ancient Near Eastern world would not be strange. Indeed, its absence would be strange and disturbing. The host is responsible for his guest’s needs and safety as long as the guest remains under his roof. This custom explains Lot’s actions in the following chapter when it is his turn to host a visitor. 29 On an earlier occasion Abraham, when he himself was the visitor, received anything but a hospitable reception from the Egyptians (Gen. 12:10–20).
The masquerade is perpetuated by the visitors. They accept Abraham’s offer: Very well, do as you have spoken. They eat! Like Joseph, who conceals his identity from his brothers, Yahweh and his angels conceal their identity from Abraham. He does not know that he is “entertaining angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2).
It is not necessary to push this story as far as do some commentators, who understand 18:1–15 as a story diluted by the Yahwist from the idea of God eating food to the idea of a meal given to angels unawares. 30 Rather, the eating is a concession by God to Abraham’s ignorance of the one who stands in front of him incognito. In OT thought God inhales the pleasing odor of sacrifice, but he does not consume the sacrifice. Surely it is not without significance that only when Yahweh is in the guise of a wayfarer does he partake of food (18:8; 19:3). 31
The presentation of food sacrifices to the gods is standard in the ancient Mediterranean world, Israel excepted. 32 The Ugaritic texts in particular provide instances in which a childless couple or father present food to their god in the hopes of alleviating childlessness. In the Keret Epic, Keret has lost his wife before she can provide him with an heir. He implores El to help him get her back, that through her he may have children to carry on the line. Part of El’s instructions to Keret are
“Take a lam[b in thy hands]
A kid in b[oth]
Loaves of [thy] b[read] of—
Take the entr[ails] of a bird of sacrifice
P[our] wine [from a c]up of silver
Honey from a cup of [g]old
Rise to the top of the [to]wer
Ride the shoulders of the wal[l]
Lift thy hands heavenward
Sacrifice to Thor, thy Father, El
Bring Baal down with thy sacrifices
Dagon’s Son with thy victuals!” 33
Later in the narrative El blesses Keret with “a cup in his hand, a goblet in the right,” that is, the benediction with a cup of wine (provided by Keret).
In another Ugaritic text, the Epic of Aqhat, Aqhat’s father Danel and his mother Danatay serve a feast to express appreciation for the bow that the god Kothar-wa-Ḫasis has just presented to their son Aqhat
Thereupon Danel, Man of Rpʾ,
Straightway the Hero, Man of Hrnmy,
Picks himself up
Yea he sits
In the enclosure of the gate
Under the dignitaries which is in the threshing floor
He judges the case of the widow
Adjudicates the cause of the fatherless.
On lifting his eyes
By the thousand acres
He spies the going of Kothar
He spies the course of Ḫasis.
Lo he brings a bow
Behold he fetches an arc.
Thereupon Danel, Man of Rpʾ,
Straightway the Hero, Man of Hrnmy …
Shouts aloud to his wife: “Hear, Lady Danatay!
Prepare a lamb from the flock
For the soul of Kothar and Ḫasis
For the appetite of the Skilled of Handicraft!
Feed, give drink to, the gods
Serve and honor them.” Lady Danatay hearkens
She prepares a lamb from the flock …
Thereupon Lady Danatay
Feeds, gives drink to, the gods
She serves and honors them …
Kothar departs to his tents
The Skilled departs to his tabernacles. 34
Now, it is difficult to compare the offering of food by mortals (Keret, Danel, and Danatay) to gods (El, Kothar-wa-Ḫasis) with Abraham’s actions in Gen. 18. First, Abraham is not aware of the true identity of this visiting triumvirate, as are the human beings in the Ugaritic epics. Second, while Sarah is still childless, and while that motif will shortly emerge in the narrative, there is no indication that those circumstances dictate Abraham’s actions. He acts as a gentleman and as a gracious host. He is not engaging in any ritual action, nor has he any hidden motive.
6–8 Sarah will provide the cakes for the meal, using three seahs of fine flour. 1 Sam. 25:18 tells us Abigail made sufficient provisions for David and his band of outlaws with five seahs of parched grain. The trench Elijah dug around the base of the altar at Mt. Carmel, which was then filled with twelve jars of water, was large enough to hold two seahs of seed (1 K. 18:32). These two references suggest that Sarah’s three seahs is a large amount, which will yield much more bread than the three visitors, Sarah, and Abraham can possibly eat.
Abraham’s extravagance continues. He provides curds and milk (side dishes to bring out the taste of the meat and to diminish their thirst), together with the meat of a tender and choice calf. In other entertainment scenes the host is content to provide “kids of goats” (Gen. 27:9; Judg. 6:19; 13:15). 35 That Abraham provides a calf shows either his relative prosperity and social standing, or his desire to give his best to his guests, or both. Abraham apparently does not share the meal with the threesome: He was standing by them under the tree while they ate. He is both waiter and host.
9 Sarah also does not join around the table. Abraham is standing aside, but Sarah is not seen at all. She is still inside the tent. Perhaps it was not proper for females to eat with males. Later, Rachel would be in a tent and would protest to her father that she was not able to rise so that he could search the entire tent because “the manner of women” (lit.; dereḵ nāšîm) was upon her (31:35). Sarah too is in a tent, but for her “the manner of women” (lit.; ʾōraḥ kannāšîm) has ceased (18:11).
Readers may be surprised that the visitors know Abraham is married, and further, they know his wife’s name, for nothing in the narrative has indicated that Abraham has introduced her to them, or even spoken of her to them. Abraham, however, shows no surprise. Perhaps the narrator makes a deliberate contrast between the three men who know who Sarah is and Abraham who does not know who they are.
One may compare the visitors’ question, Where is your wife Sarah? with the deity’s earlier question, “Where is Abel your brother?” (4:9). Abraham’s response is a bit more respectful than was Cain’s.
10 All previous promises of a son to Abraham were, to say the least, nebulous and unqualified (e.g., 15:4; 17:16). Now the announcement is more specific. At this time next year Sarah is to have a child. Possibility now gives way to specificity.
It is not clear all that is meant by the phrase I will surely return to you. What does the return of the divine presence to Abraham have to do with Sarah’s conception of Isaac? Gen. 21:1 picks up on this promise: “Yahweh visited Sarah as he had said, and Yahweh did to Sarah as he had promised.” A number of OT texts use šûḇ with God as subject, and the idea is to return for the sake of showing favor. 36
11 Abraham’s earlier protestations regarding fathering a child had focused on his problem (15:4), or on the advanced age of both prospective parents (17:17). Also, such protestations occurred in Abraham’s direct discourse. But here it is the narrator who speaks. He knows Abraham and Sarah are advanced in years and Sarah has reached menopause. This phrase reinforces the advanced stage of Sarah. She was not just old or older, but at a point where her menses had ceased. This verse and the following two place special emphasis on the ages of Abraham and Sarah by the three-time use of the root zqn. The narrator calls both of them “elderly” (zeqēnîm, v. 11), a point made by Sarah about Abraham (zāqēn, v. 12) and about herself (zāqantî, v. 13). The narrator simply states the biological facts. The narrator, while he does not succumb to an outburst of laughter as Abraham did, and as Sarah shortly will, through such asides, injects his own sense of humor and the incredulous into the story. As Sternberg has said, “In his interpolated aside on the age of the prospective parents, he [v. 12, the narrator] goes out of his way to give color to Sarah’s laughter at the visitor’s forecast: the more natural her doubt, the stronger our sense of God’s supernatural prescience.” 37
12 Sarah’s display of shock is not as skeptical as that of her husband. At least she does not fall on her face, laughing. Her response is more of a bemused reflection after she overheard the visitor announce her forthcoming pregnancy to Abraham. Given the hard realities of the situation, she cannot imagine the possibility of such pleasure. 38
13 Sarah has overheard the anonymous visitor talking to her husband. Now the tables are turned—the visitor overhears Sarah talking to herself. Here the speaker is identified: Yahweh. That explains how he knew Sarah’s name, and how he hears her quite distinctly here, even though she laughed inwardly and was probably muttering to herself.
For such a response Yahweh takes Sarah to task, through her husband: Why did Sarah laugh? She is not spoken to directly. Furthermore, Yahweh knows quite well what Sarah had meant by “pleasure,” as is evident from his interpretative quotation of her: Will I really give birth, even though I am old? That is what Sarah had in mind, but that is not exactly how she said it. She had drawn attention to both her own age and her husband’s advanced years (v. 12). Yahweh has Sarah drawing attention to her own advanced age. He discreetly avoids any reference to Abraham the centenarian, for conceivably a man might father a child even at such an age.
It may seem odd that Yahweh rebukes Sarah for her reservations but does not challenge Abraham for his doubts. We had mentioned earlier that 18:10b and 17:19 would, together, suggest that Abraham kept the announcement of Isaac’s conception from Sarah. She hears about it (18:10b) quite by accident. Perhaps the rebuke aimed at Sarah indicates that Abraham had shared the news about Isaac with Sarah, but that she still persisted in unbelief. She was not convinced by her husband. 39 Or perhaps, following Speiser, one should translate ṣāḥaq in 17:17 as “smile,” rather than as a laughter of disbelief (see commentary on 17:17).
14 Here Yahweh himself promises to return to Sarah. Sarah’s laughter and display of incredulity provoked this question from Yahweh: Is anything too demanding [difficult, impossible] for Yahweh? 40 It is a question that neither Abraham nor Sarah tries—or has a chance—to answer. The guest’s first question pointed to Sarah. His second question points to himself. In the latter half of this chapter Yahweh is moved out of the role of interrogator and into the role of respondent when Abraham asks him a rhetorical question: “Shall not he who judges all the earth give right judgment?” (v. 25).
Yahweh’s question to Abraham is designed to shift the patriarchal couple’s obsession beyond their own hopeless situation and their own limited resources to the limitless resources of their God. Note that Sarah’s unbelief does not abort, or sidetrack, or slow down the promise of God. She will still conceive, whether she thinks she can or cannot. To reinforce this certainty, not only does the text repeat in v. 14 the kāʿēṯ ḥayyá (at this time next year) of v. 10 but it adds lammôʿēḏ, at the appointed time.
15 Because she was afraid. Fear moves people to do things that are irrational and uncharacteristic of them. Adam hid because he was afraid of God. Abraham deceived because he was afraid of what the Egyptians might do to him. Now Sarah is afraid because she has challenged the authenticity of a divine promise and because she has irked the divine visitor. Thus she lies: I did not laugh. A second sin is committed (lying) in an attempt to cover up a first sin (unbelief).
Sarah speaks aloud only once in vv. 1–15—“I did not laugh,” (v. 15), and softly once (v. 12). Only once is she addressed: “No, you laughed.” The conversation stops quickly. Abraham makes no contribution to the dialogue between Yahweh and Sarah. By ending on such a note, Yahweh intends for Sarah not to dismiss quickly remembrance of her laughter over the announcement of her forthcoming conception. In effect, Yahweh is providing Sarah with a “recondite hint of the name of the child.” 41
1 Cf. Gen. 28:13 for the combination nāṣaḇ ʿal to express again the appearance of a divine being to a mortal; also Amos 7:7; 9:1. For nāṣaḇ be involving theophany, see Num. 22:23, 31; Ps. 82:1; 119:89; for the related verb yāṣaḇ (only Hithpael) in similar contexts see Exod. 34:5; Num. 22:22; 1 Sam. 3:10. See also nāṣaḇ (Niphal) in Exod. 33:21; 34:2; Deut. 29:9 (Eng. 10); and yāṣaḇ (Hithpael) in Exod. 14:13; 19:17; Deut. 31:14; Josh. 24:1; Ps. 2:2.
2 The MT here has ʾaḏōnāy, “Lord,” implying thereby that from the beginning Abraham recognizes God as God. My translation “my lord” reads the text as ʾaḏōnî. It is unlikely that Abraham, had he known his visitor to be God himself, would have offered him water for his feet and food for his stomach. Such an early recognition by Abraham of God would also run against the idea of the gradual revelation of God’s identity to Abraham in this narrative (vv. 10, 13, 17–22). See the lengthy note by Speiser, Genesis, p. 129. He harmonizes the sing. of v. 3 and the pls. of vv. 4–5 by suggesting that Abraham through some means identified one of the three as leader, and spoke to him in v. 3. Out of courtesy he included the other two in vv. 4ff. It is also possible to read the consonants as ʾaḏōnay, “sirs,” as if Abraham is addressing all three men, but to do so one would have to change “your eyes,” “do not pass,” and “your servant” in the rest of the verse from sgs. (as in the MT) to pls. (as is done by SP).
3 ʿēṣ occurs approximately 320 times in the OT, the vast majority of which the LXX translates by zýlon. On the few occasions that ʿēṣ is translated by dendron (as here, v. 8; 23:17; Num. 13:21; and about 12 more times), what is meant is a big tree. See B. Paradise, “Food for Thought: The Septuagint Translation of Genesis 1:11–12,” in A Word in Season: Essays in Honour of William McKane, ed. J. D. Martin and P. R. Davies, JSOTSup 42 (Sheffield: JSOT, 1986), p. 194.
5 The seah is a measure for flour and cereals (1 Sam. 25:18; 1 K. 18:32; 2 K. 7:1, 16, 18); its exact size is uncertain. Suggestions range from about one-tenth of a bushel to one-third of a bushel (IDB, 4:834–35), or from about 7 to 12 dry quarts (ISBE, 4:1050–51).
7 The exact force of kāʿēṯ ḥayyâ here and in v. 14 (and in 2 K. 4:16, 17)—“about the living time”(?) “at the time of life”(?)—is open to question, although all agree that it refers to some time in the near future. Is it a reference to the period of pregnancy, i.e., 9 months (see Skinner, Genesis, p. 301; see also A. B. Ehrlich, Randglossen zur hebräischen Bibel [Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1908], 1:72, who gives “the time required for the embryo to be born”). Support for the translation “at this time next year” is found in the Akkadian expression ana balaṭ, lit., “to life,” used in the sense “next year.” See R. Yaron, “KAʿETH ḤAYYAH AND KOH LEḤAY,” VT 12 (1962) 500–501; O. Loretz, “kʿt ḥyh—‘wie jetzt ums Jahr’ Gen 18, 10,” Bib 43 (1962) 75–78. If ḥayyâ is an adjective, the absence of the article is strange. Accordingly, Yaron reads ḥayyâ as a noun, not an attribute of ʿēṯ, “at this time, next year.” G. R. Driver (“A Lost Colloquialism in the Old Testament,” JTS 8  272 n. 2) notes that the omission of the article before ḥayyâ, whether adjective or participle, is correct, since it is not merely a descriptive epithet but has predictive force. He cites Gen. 37:2; Ps. 94:3; Jer. 16:16; Ezek. 34:13; Hag. 1:3. Cf. GKC, § 118u; BDB, p. 312a; O. Margalith, “More Samson Legends,” VT 36 (1986) 397 n. 2; idem, “Some Aspects of Terms Denoting Time in the Bible” (Hebrew), Beth Mikra 89–90 (1982) 198–200. The translation “at this time next year” is supported by the parallel phrase in 17:21 baššānâ hāʾaḥereṯ, which clearly means “by this time next year.”
8 On the use of wehinnēh with temporal force, see D. J. McCarthy, “The Uses of wehinnēh in Biblical Hebrew,” Bib 61 (1980) 337.
9 For the phrase “goes/going in days” see Gen. 24:1; Josh. 13:1; 23:1; 1 K. 1:1. Days are seen as something through which one moves. Cf. S. J. DeVries, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), p. 44 n. 60. The use of the participle indicates that the process of aging is not yet fully completed, suggesting that Sarah may be able yet to bear a child. But the next phrase in the verse (“had reached menopause”) precludes that possibility.
10 Lit., “there ceased to be for Sarah the way of [as?] women.” The problematical ka- in ʾōraḥ kannāšîm is best explained as an illustration of construct k in Biblical Hebrew. See F. Andersen, “A Short Note on Construct k in Hebrew,” Bib 50 (1969) 69.
11 For Heb. tiṣḥaq śārâ beqirbāh cf. UT, 75:I:12–13: ʾil yẓḥq bm lb wygmś bm kbd, “El laughed in his heart and exulted in his inward parts.” See H. L. Ginsberg, “Baʿlu and his Brethren,” JPOS 16 (1936) 140 n. 3. See also M. Niehoff, “Do Biblical Characters Talk to Themselves? Narrative Modes of Representing Inner Speech in Early Biblical Fiction,” JBL 111 (1992) 583–85.
12 The verb for “worn out,” bālâ, occurs again in Deut. 8:4 and 29:4 (Eng. 5) to refer to the clothing and shoes that did not wear out as the Israelites traversed the wilderness. The word is used only one more time (in adjectival form) in reference to a woman. Ezek. 23:43 mentions a woman who is grown old or jaded with adultery.
13 The word for “pleasure” (ʿeḏnâ) has strong connotations of sensual and sexual pleasure. See BDB, p. 726b. It is also to be associated with the primeval garden, Eden (ʿēḏen), “the garden of delight.”
15 H. L. Ginsberg (The Legend of King Keret [New Haven: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1946], pp. 42, 44) cites Gen. 18:13, 23, 24 and Amos 2:11b as instances of ʾap̱ indicating a question in the OT. In each of these cases, however, ʾap̱ is prepared by a he-interrogative, showing that ʾap̱ itself does not indicate a question. See BDB, p. 65a.
16 The expression lōʾ kî, to express denial, is found here and in 19:2; 42:12; 1 Sam. 8:19; 1 K. 3:22. Y. Hoffmann seems to go too far when he says that never in Biblical Hebrew is absolute denial expressed only by the use of lōʾ as an independent clause, but that with lōʾ is required an additional word (“Did Amos regard himself as a nāḇīʾ?” VT 27  209–10). Here we have an adversative element introducing the positive statement after the negative one: “No [your denial in v. 15a is untrue], but you did laugh.” See Z. Zevit, “Expressing denial in Biblical Hebrew and in Mishnaic Hebrew, and in Amos,” VT 29 (1979) 505–8, and p. 508 n. 6.
17 For other references to “terebinths/oaks” of Mamre cf. 13:18; 14:13. Both of these verses designate this spot as Abraham’s dwelling place. In 14:13 Abraham receives at Mamre a human visitor with chilling news (Lot has been captured). In 18:1ff. he receives divine visitors with happy news (Sarah will shortly have a child). 13:18 is the only text that refers to Mamre as a place of worship. 23:17 locates Mamre near the cave of Machpelah where the patriarchs and their wives were buried. The OT does not refer to Mamre outside Genesis. After citing postbiblical references to Mamre, R. de Vaux suggests that the silence in the rest of the OT about this site is due to the embarassment of orthodox Yahwism over a syncretistic cult that flourished there (Ancient Israel, 2:292–93). Note that Jerome’s rendering of Heb. ʾēlôn (“terebinth, oak”) by convallis (in 12:6; 13:18; 14:13; 18:1) and vallis (Deut. 11:30; Judg. 4:11), “plain, valley,” is anticipated by Targ. mysr.
18 Lit., “he lifted up his eyes and saw.…” On the idiom “to lift up one’s eyes” see S. C. Reif, “A root to look up? A study of the Hebrew nśʾ ʿyn,” Congress Volume: Salamanca, 1983, ed. J. A Emerton, VTSup 36 (Leiden: Brill, 1985), pp. 230–44. Reif notes (p. 243) that “there is some conscious intellectual decision associated with the element of sight in the phrase nśʾ ʿyn. This may take the form of an understanding that arises out of the sight.” He then refers to Gen. 18:2, 4 as illustrations of this point.
20 In contradistinction from Abraham’s “my Lord” in 18:3 (ʾaḏōnāy).
22 See M. Takahashi, “An Oriental’s Approach to the Problems of Angelology,” ZAW 78 (1966) 346–48.
25 Westermann (Genesis, 2:275–76) notices that earlier commentators cited the passage from Ovid (Fasti 5.494ff.) in which a childless Hyrieus is visited by three gods (Zeus, Poseidon, and Hermes) who dine with him, but Westermann offers reasons why he does not believe it to be either the source of Gen. 18 or even a legitimate parallel.
26 W. M. Alston, Jr., “Genesis 18:1–11,” Int 42 (1988) 400.
27 See J. Barr, “Theophany and anthropomorphism in the Old Testament,” in Congress Volume: Oxford, 1959, VTSup 7 (Leiden: Brill, 1960), p. 32; S. Terrien, The Elusive Presence: Toward a New Biblical Theology (New York: Harper and Row, 1978), pp. 79–81.
28 For other illustrations of offering water to a guest and inviting him to wash his feet cf. Gen. 19:2; 24:32; 43:24; Judg. 19:21; 1 Sam. 25:41; 2 Sam. 11:8. In each case, except for 1 Sam. 25:41, the host merely provides the water—the guest washes his own feet. For possible connections with Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet, see A. J. Hultgren, “The Johannine Foot-washing (13:1–11) as Symbol of Eschatological Hospitality,” NTS 28 (1982) 539–46.
29 At the heart of Ps. 23, at least the second half, is this law of hospitality in operation. In Ps. 23 God acts as Abraham does in Gen. 18. God is the host; we sit at the table he has prepared while a helpless enemy looks on. Thus Ps. 23 pictures God as shepherd and host. Both metaphors suggest the idea of providing for the physical needs of another and providing for the protection of those for whom the host is responsible (sheep/those who sit at his table).
30 See W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, tr. J. A. Baker, OTL, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961–1967), 1:144.
32 See W. Herrmann, “Götterspeise und Göttertrank in Ugarit und Israel,” ZAW 72 (1960) 205–16; P. A. H. de Boer, “An Aspect of Sacrifice. I. Divine Bread,” in Studies in the Religion of Ancient Israel, VTSup 23 (Leiden: Brill, 1972), pp. 27–36.
34 Ibid., pp. 124–26. P. Xella (“L’épisode de Dnil et Kothar [KTU 1.17 (= CTA 17) v 1–31] et Gen. xviii 1–16,” VT 28  483–88) notes eight parallels between 2 Aqhat V:2ff. and Gen. 18:1–16: (1) both Abraham and Danel are seated; (2) the appearance of one or more divine beings; (3) an offer of hospitality, which is accepted; (4) an order by the man to his wife to prepare a meal; (5) the prompt execution of the order; (6) the divine beings eat and rest; (7) hospitality is rewarded (with an ark, with a son); (8) the divine beings depart. Y. Abishur (“The Story of the Angels’ Visit to Abraham [Gen. 18:1–16] and its Parallel in Ugaritic Literature [2 Aqhat v:4–31],” Beth Mikra 32 [1986/87] 168–77 [Hebrew]) notes five parallels between the two stories, all of which were observed in Xella’s earlier article except for the use of the idiom “lift one’s eyes and see” in both accounts. Such parallels support the view that Gen. 18:1–16 is a cohesive unit, rather than the result of a fusion of sources.
36 Here and again in v. 14; 2 Chr. 30:6; Zech. 1:3; Mal. 3:7 (all followed by the preposition ʾel); Ps. 6:5 (Eng. 4); 80:15 (Eng. 14); Isa. 63:17; Jer. 12:15; Joel 2:14; Jon. 3:9 (all without the preposition ʾel).
38 My translation “Shall I experience pleasure” renders, somewhat unusually, a qāṭal form (hāyeṯâ) by a future. One translation renders the passage, “after my wearing out, have I had sexual pleasure … ?” (R. B. Coote and D. R. Ord, The Bible’s First History [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989], pp. 118, 125). GKC, § 106n, cites hāyeṯâ in Gen. 18:12 as an instance of the perfect “to express facts which are undoubtedly imminent, and, therefore, in the imagination of the speaker, already accomplished.”
40 W. Brueggemann traces the trajectory of the theme of the possibility/impossibility of God throughout Scripture, beginning with Gen. 18:14, in “ ‘Impossibility’ and Epistemology in the Faith Tradition of Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 18, 1–15),” ZAW 94 (1982) 615–34. See also his Genesis, pp. 159–62. For all the nuances contained within the Hebrew root plʾ (here translated “demanding”), see R. Albertz, THAT, 2:413–20. BDB, p. 810b, cites Gen. 18:14 as an illustration of the meaning “be beyond one’s power, difficult to do” for pālāʾ. On many occasions the verb means not “to be difficult” but “to be wonderful.” Thus, one might render 18:14a “is a matter too wonderful for Yahweh?” But almost all instances of pālāʾ meaning “be wonderful” are confined to Niphal participles and uses of the verb in the Hiphil stem.