Daily Distinctives, March 16, 2018 – Laughter

Wow, what a busy week this week has been! I looked up this afternoon and discovered it was Friday. Ever have a week like that? I will say that one of the highlights of my week was going to a concert with a buddy of mine from church. We went and saw the bands Sanctuary & Iced Earth (metal bands) and had a really good time. The vocalist from Sanctuary is new and replaced Warrell Dane who passed away last month. The guy had some amazing pipes and could hit all of the notes that his predecessor did with no problem. Great show. In addition to this, I got to put up a new trampoline for my little ones. Funny thing is I despise assembling things, especially trampolines. Now, this has nothing at all to do with my devotional for today, but I like chronicling things like this because when I look back on them they remind me of where I was and what I was doing when I was studying certain things. I suppose I could try to tie it all into my devotional today but it would be super difficult to make any connection, (lol) so I won’t.

So, digging in for my devotional today I am picking up in Genesis 18 and here we have another interesting encounter between Abraham, Sarah, and three strange men. I believe this may have very well been the trinity gathered together. I suppose that would make it a Triophany? But as I go through this on my own with a little help from a stack of commentaries, perhaps together we will gain some insights and application for our own lives from this study.

[Gen 18:1 NKJV] Then the LORD appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day.

So, right here in verse 1, we see that the LORD appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre. I imagine Abraham was trying to keep out of the sun and is hanging out there in the shade of the tent where he could still see outside. All of a sudden the LORD appears to him. Now, we don’t know if Abraham was at the door of his tent waiting with some kind of expectation, it is more likely that he was just trying to keep cool, otherwise, why would the author take care to mention that it was in the heat of the day. But what we could say for some application regarding this verse is that it would be a smart thing for us as believers to live with expectation. As believers, we wait with expectancy for the LORD’s return and while we may not be standing at the door of our homes 24X7 looking up into the sky, we should have this heart and mind of expectancy. We should be, figuratively speaking, standing at the door of our tents anticipating the glorious moment when Christ returns for His church.

I was curious and so I did a little research on the mention of the terebinth trees of Mamre. In many of the commentaries, there is debate over the practice of tree worship. Some suggest that people would engage in “tree worship,” even divining by listening to the tree “speak” discerning prophetic wisdom from the sound leaves made as the wind blew through them. Most commentaries agree that Abraham or any of the other patriarchs for that matter were not engaged in tree worship, but chose these locations for more practical measures. This particular patch of trees in Mamre was comprised largely of “Oak” trees, and while they did not provide any kind of fruit they served as a landmark which also offered cover and protection, fuel for fire and shade. While some commentaries debate whether the original translation of the Hebrew text translate the word “trees” in the singular or plural, indicating that it may have been one particular tree (ie. the Oak of Abraham) in which case there may have been some kind religious connection, the plural seems to be the most widely accepted. We do know that it would not be uncommon, especially after a visitation from God, for Abraham to build an altar commemorating the visitation, and since, as we will see moving forward, Abraham is visited by God here at this grove of tree’s, it is not inconceivable that Abraham would have built an altar to God here. Still, some suggest that because of later prohibitions against setting up altars and idols under the trees in the high places, that the author purposefully chose the plural “trees” to disassociate Abraham from any remote suggestion that he might have engaged in tree worship.

[Gen 18:2 NKJV] So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw [them], he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground,

So Abraham sees three men close enough for him to see them but far enough away that he had to run to them. He did not wait for them to come up, but rather, ran to greet them. This would have been a traditional show of hospitality in that time. The fact that he bows himself to the ground was more of a sign of respect in that culture. At this point, I do not think that Abraham recognized that these “men” were actually Diety. It is not the first time that God came down in human form, but in the instances where we do see God incarnate, upon recognition of such, men fall prostrate before Him, and rightfully so. Here we see a courteous bow and not the procumbent posture one might expect a man to be while in the very presence of God.

[Gen 18:3 NKJV] and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant.

The use of the word “Lord” here as opposed to “LORD” gives me another clue that Abraham had not recognized that this was a holy encounter with God. This greeting would appear to be more of respectful language than a recognition that this was God. His plea was that his visitors stay for a while. In this culture, it was a sign of respect and wise to show hospitality to travelers. We need only look at the account of King David and Nabal to see why it is so important that one show hospitality to strangers. In the book of Hebrews, we also read that hospitality is important because you never know when you might be unwarily entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2), which is more akin to what is actually happening here. Still, if that is the case then how do we deal with the fact that Abraham says “Your sight and Your servant” (capitalized)? I believe this is for the sake of the reader to understand that this was, indeed, a Theophany. We are not told specifically, but my impression is that Abraham was still not aware that he was entertaining the Trinity (or at the very least God and two angels).

[Gen 18:4 NKJV] “Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.

It is likely that Abraham ordered servants, as was the tradition, to bring the refreshment of a foot washing to his visitors. The act of washing feet was reserved for servants and this why the account of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples (John 13:1–17) is so profound. What we see here is Abraham exercising his authority to accommodate visitors. Traveling through the dirty and rocky terrain would have left human travelers tired and dry. This was a practical way of showing hospitality. The cool water would be refreshing and the shade of the oak trees would have been comforting.

[Gen 18:5 NKJV] “And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant.” They said, “Do as you have said.”

Abraham goes further to offer them some food. I love how the verse says, “that you may refresh your hearts.” That is what food does for me. While the kind of foods I enjoy do not physically refresh my heart (if anything they are precursors to bypass surgery), they sure do have a way of making me happy. The thing about a morsel of bread is not so appealing in our culture today, but I am a “bread fan” (Metallic/Budgie pun intended), and in those days it was not like you could run down to the grocery store for a fresh loaf. To serve old bread would have been an insult to the guests and so to bless them, this required that fresh bread had to be made and baked, suggesting that the visitors would be staying for a while. It is implied that they understood this as they accept Abrahams invitation.

[Gen 18:6 NKJV] So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead [it] and make cakes.”

So Abraham runs back to the tent and says, “Princess, would you mind making some bread for our guests at your leisure?” No, he hurries back and says, “Quickly, make three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes.” Abraham, at this point, must have begun wondering who these guests were and so he hastens Sarah to prepare “fine” meal and knead it to make cakes. The way he approaches his wife, the quality of meal used, and the fact that it needed to be fresh, would imply that the guests were important to Abraham.

[Gen 18:7 NKJV] And Abraham ran to the herd, took a tender and good calf, gave [it] to a young man, and he hastened to prepare it.

Notice the lengths to which Abraham goes to satisfy his guests. I like having company over for dinner at our home. When we have guests I go out of my way to prepare gourmet style food. There is something satisfying about showing hospitality to guests. I remember when I was younger I had a friend named Robert who was dating this girl Witchy (not sure if that was a nickname or her real name –the only reason I remember it was because it was so peculiar). Anyways, I invited them over to my parents’ house and made an extravagant meal for them. I don’t remember why I did it, but I remember being so blessed to bless them. Of course, I say it was an extravagant meal, but some would argue Ramen Noodle is not gourmet. No seriously, I think I made steak and pasta or something.

But here we see that Abraham takes the choice meat of his flock and has one of his servant’s haste to prepare it for his guests. No doubt Abraham was busy managing the whole affair. It reminds me a lot of my wife when we have guests coming. She is running around to and fro getting everything ready so that our guest’s impression of our home is good and so that they will feel welcomed.

[Gen 18:8 NKJV] So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set [it] before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate.

Now, here is another reason that I think Abraham still did not know who his guests were. Here we see that Patriarch of Judaism serves his guest’s unkosher food. Seriously though, the dietary regulations had not been mandated yet and so I don’t think Abraham was concerned about the type of food he served. Still, God would have known and probably not eaten unkosher food, I don’t know though. It would appear that this would be the first mention in the Bible of eating meat though.

[Gen 18:9 NKJV] Then they said to him, “Where [is] Sarah your wife?” So he said, “Here, in the tent.”

Boom! And just like that, I think it dawned on Abraham who his Guests were. Abraham was probably thinking to himself, “Wait, what? I never told them my wife’s name.” If he did not know at that point, then certainly he would have known after what his Guest says next.

[Gen 18:10 NKJV] And He said, “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.” (Sarah was listening in the tent door which [was] behind him.)

Abraham would have remembered the covenant that God had previously made with him. This could be none other than the God who appeared to him before. Now some would argue that God appeared to him in the same form that He appeared to Abraham in earlier and if that were the case, Abraham would have instantly recognized Him. I don’t think that was the case though because the verses before this seem to indicate that Abraham was unaware of who it was.

But more important than whether or not Abraham recognized who his guests were is the message that they bring with them. God reminds Abraham of His covenant to bring forth a child from Sarah’s womb. We also see in this verse that Sarah was eves-dropping on the conversation and heard what God said.

[Gen 18:11 NKJV] Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; [and] Sarah had passed the age of childbearing.
[Gen 18:12 NKJV] Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”

In these verses, the author takes care to point out, yet again, that Abraham and Sarah were beyond the age where childbearing was possible. And as Sarah hears this I imagine her rolling her eyes and saying, “Yeah right! I am too old to get my freak on.” I really don’t think that Sarah actually believed it when Abraham told about God’s visit with him previously. I envision the conversation going something like this:

Abraham: Princess, I have something to tell you. I am going to start calling you PRINCESS from now on because I ran into God again today and He told me that you were going to be the mother of all of many nations. Oh, and by the way, my name is now Abraham.

Sarah: Sure Abey Baby…whatever you say you old codger.

Abraham: No, seriously God told me personally.

Sarah: Sure He did.

Yes, my imagination gets the best of me sometimes, but the point here is that Sarah overheard this conversation and was outside of the view of the guest. Not only did she not laugh out loud, but she was incognito, all ninja-like. There is no way that the Guests could have heard her or even known she was there for that matter.

[Gen 18:13 NKJV] And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I surely bear [a child], since I am old?’
[Gen 18:14 NKJV] “Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.”

Now, I find this to be interesting because what we have here would seem to be God misquoting something that Sarah said. We see in verse 12 what Sarah actually said, well technically speaking she did not say anything aloud. But in verse 13 we see that God says that she said something altogether different. In verse 12 we infer that Sarah was talking about the act of pleasure associated with sex at her age, but when God quotes her He is saying that Sarah was talking about bearing a child. I think God got to the heart of the matter and judged Sarah’s heart accurately. While Sarah may have blown off the idea of having a child, which was impossible to her, and jokingly retorted in her heart about enjoying sex, I think that somewhere deep inside of her she still longed to be a birth mother and deflected it by choosing to believe that the Man could only be referring to the pleasure aspect.

And don’t we do the same thing when we think about something that seems impossible to us? We immediately assume that if God says something that seems to be impossible that it must be a metaphor for something or type of analogy. I think that is why it is so hard for scholars to simply accept the wooden, literal, translations of certain passages of Scripture, even when the context seems confirms it to be.

Nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:36,37), in fact, all things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26). The fact that the LORD called Sarah out for her disbelief, not only knowing she was privy to the conversation, but that she said something in her heart, and even then got down to the root of the matter must have blown Sarah’s mind.

[Gen 18:15 NKJV] But Sarah denied [it], saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh!”

Aren’t we like that? I know I am. When someone calls me out, my gut instinct is to defend myself, even if I am wrong. Then I try to get off on technicalities, you know, “Technically, I did not laugh.” But then my maturity and reason kick in, and I take ownership and reluctantly admit I was wrong. That is with my wife anyways. LOL. I tend to be more humble with other people than my wife because, well, you should see the look on her face when she is right and I am wrong. There I admit it!

I think at this point Sarah is 1) convicted of her doubt, and 2) brought to a place where she can accept how God is going to bless her and be glorified through her despite her former disbelief.

[Gen 18:16 NKJV] Then the men rose from there and looked toward Sodom, and Abraham went with them to send them on the way.

Now, this is where the story takes a turn. I like this because it seems like God sets the precedent for “killing two birds with one stone.” Obviously, He was there to confirm His covenant with Abraham and to instill the same trust in Sarah, but while He was in the neighborhood there was something going on down in Sodom that needed His attention too.

[Gen 18:17 NKJV] And the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing,
[Gen 18:18 NKJV] “since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?
[Gen 18:19 NKJV] “For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.”

Now, I know I have discussed this before, but for the sake of those “just tuning in,” any time God asks a question it can be considered rhetorical because God already knows the answer. He is omniscient (all-knowing) and nothing is hidden from Him. As we will see later, LORD willing, God does let Abraham in on what is about to go down in Sodom and Gomorrah. The fact is that Abraham is going to be a great leader, and like all great leaders they must be groomed for their appointments. God is preparing Abraham for the day when he will serve as the patriarch of nations. In order for Abraham to rule effectively and fulfill his part of this covenant with God, he would need to understand God’s view on sin and the ramifications of engaging in it. God takes this practice of sin very seriously and He will show Abraham how seriously He takes it. God had a plan and a purpose for Abraham and in order for Abraham to understand the seriousness and the responsibility of his role in the covenant he had with God, the LORD would need to start giving him practical instruction on how to be the leader he was designated to be.

Prayer: LORD, thank You for training me in the ways of righteousness. I thank You for my wife who balances me when I am extreme and challenges me when I am wrong. I think of all of the people who You have placed in my life for the purpose of teaching me in various ways how to be a better man, and more importantly a man of God. Forgive me for my sinfulness, LORD. Forgive me for the fact that I can be in the middle of prayer and allow my flesh to take me off course. I am a miserable man because I see this war between my flesh and my spirit. LORD, I pray for an “Oaks of Mamre” experience in my own life. O that You would visit me like You did Abraham. Still, I have Your WORD and that is more than sufficient. I pray then if You will not come to me in the way You did with Abraham, that You would allow me to milk every drop of wisdom from the Scriptures so that I might know You and experience You that way. LORD, I surrender to You in the present imperative sense of the word, knowing that it requires me to daily put off my flesh and put on the Spirit. Help me to do that every moment of every day. Help me to keep a short account with You when I sin against You, and help me to repent. You alone are worthy of my praise and I want to give it all to You. LORD, I want to lift up Adrianna to You for healing and understanding. I pray for Mike that he would trust in Your guidance and look to You for all of his struggles. I pray for my own family that You would help my wife and me to minister to our younger and older children in the way that they need to be ministered to in order that You would draw them to You through us. LORD, if we are not a part of their salvation equation, then gives us wisdom to not say or do anything that would delay their coming to You. LORD, I want to lift up my pastor to You as well and ask that You would continue to give him the tools that he needs to effectively carry out the calling and ministry You have put on his life. Lastly, LORD, I pray that You would come again soon. Maranatha LORD Jesus. It is in Your name that I pray. –Amen

 

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