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Three Special Visitors

18 The Lord appeared to Abraham[a] by the oaks[b] of Mamre while[c] he was sitting at the entrance[d] to his tent during the hottest time of the day. Abraham[e] looked up[f] and saw[g] three men standing across from[h] him. When he saw them[i] he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them and bowed low[j] to the ground.[k]

He said, “My lord,[l] if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by and leave your servant.[m] Let a little water be brought so that[n] you may all[o] wash your feet and rest under the tree. And let me get[p] a bit of food[q] so that you may refresh yourselves[r] since you have passed by your servant’s home. After that you may be on your way.”[s] “All right,” they replied, “you may do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent and said to Sarah, “Quick! Take[t] three measures[u] of fine flour, knead it, and make bread.”[v] Then Abraham ran to the herd and chose a fine, tender calf, and gave it to a servant,[w] who quickly prepared it.[x] Abraham[y] then took some curds and milk, along with the calf that had been prepared, and placed the food[z] before them. They ate while[aa] he was standing near them under a tree.

Then they asked him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” He replied, “There,[ab] in the tent.” 10 One of them[ac] said, “I will surely return[ad] to you when the season comes round again,[ae] and your wife Sarah will have a son!”[af] (Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, not far behind him.[ag] 11 Abraham and Sarah were old and advancing in years;[ah] Sarah had long since passed menopause.)[ai] 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, thinking,[aj] “After I am worn out will I have pleasure,[ak] especially when my husband is old too?”[al]

13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why[am] did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really[an] have a child when I am old?’ 14 Is anything impossible[ao] for the Lord? I will return to you when the season comes round again and Sarah will have a son.”[ap] 15 Then Sarah lied, saying, “I did not laugh,” because she was afraid. But the Lord said, “No! You did laugh.”[aq]

Abraham Pleads for Sodom

16 When the men got up to leave,[ar] they looked out over[as] Sodom. (Now[at] Abraham was walking with them to see them on their way.)[au] 17 Then the Lord said, “Should I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?[av] 18 After all, Abraham[aw] will surely become[ax] a great and powerful nation, and all the nations on the earth may receive blessing[ay] through him. 19 I have chosen him[az] so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep[ba] the way of the Lord by doing[bb] what is right and just. Then the Lord will give[bc] to Abraham what he promised[bd] him.”

20 So the Lord said, “The outcry against[be] Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so blatant[bf] 21 that I must go down[bg] and see if they are as wicked as the outcry suggests.[bh] If not,[bi] I want to know.”

22 The two men turned[bj] and headed[bk] toward Sodom, but Abraham was still standing before the Lord.[bl] 23 Abraham approached and said, “Will you really sweep away the godly along with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty godly people in the city? Will you really wipe it out and not spare[bm] the place for the sake of the fifty godly people who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the godly with the wicked, treating the godly and the wicked alike! Far be it from you! Will not the judge[bn] of the whole earth do what is right?”[bo]

26 So the Lord replied, “If I find in the city of Sodom fifty godly people, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

27 Then Abraham asked, “Since I have undertaken to speak to the Lord[bp] (although I am but dust and ashes),[bq] 28 what if there are five less than the fifty godly people? Will you destroy[br] the whole city because five are lacking?”[bs] He replied, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.”

29 Abraham[bt] spoke to him again,[bu] “What if forty are found there?” He replied, “I will not do it for the sake of the forty.”

30 Then Abraham[bv] said, “May the Lord not be angry[bw] so that I may speak![bx] What if thirty are found there?” He replied, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”

31 Abraham[by] said, “Since I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty are found there?” He replied, “I will not destroy it for the sake of the twenty.”

32 Finally Abraham[bz] said, “May the Lord not be angry so that I may speak just once more. What if ten are found there?” He replied, “I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten.”

33 The Lord went on his way[ca] when he had finished speaking[cb] to Abraham. Then Abraham returned home.[cc]


  1. Genesis 18:1 tn Heb “him”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  2. Genesis 18:1 tn Or “terebinths.”
  3. Genesis 18:1 tn The disjunctive clause here is circumstantial to the main clause.
  4. Genesis 18:1 tn The Hebrew noun translated “entrance” is an adverbial accusative of place.
  5. Genesis 18:2 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  6. Genesis 18:2 tn Heb “lifted up his eyes.”
  7. Genesis 18:2 tn Heb “and saw, and look.” The particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) draws attention to what he saw. The drawn-out description focuses the reader’s attention on Abraham’s deliberate, fixed gaze and indicates that what he is seeing is significant.
  8. Genesis 18:2 tn The Hebrew preposition עַל (ʿal) indicates the three men were nearby, but not close by, for Abraham had to run to meet them.
  9. Genesis 18:2 tn The pronoun “them” has been supplied in the translation for clarification. In the Hebrew text the verb has no stated object.
  10. Genesis 18:2 tn The form וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ (vayyishtakhu, “and bowed low”) is from the verb הִשְׁתַּחֲוָה (hishtakhavah, “to worship, bow low to the ground”). It is probably from a root חָוָה (khavah), though some derive it from שָׁחָה (shakhah).
  11. Genesis 18:2 sn The reader knows this is a theophany. The three visitors are probably the Lord and two angels (see Gen 19:1). It is not certain how soon Abraham recognized the true identity of the visitors. His actions suggest he suspected this was something out of the ordinary, though it is possible that his lavish treatment of the visitors was done quite unwittingly. Bowing down to the ground would be reserved for obeisance of kings or worship of the Lord. Whether he was aware of it or not, Abraham’s action was most appropriate.
  12. Genesis 18:3 tc The MT has the form אֲדֹנָי (ʾadonay, “Master”) which is reserved for God. This may reflect later scribal activity. The scribes, knowing it was the Lord, may have put the proper pointing with the word instead of the more common אֲדֹנִי (ʾadoni, “my master”).
  13. Genesis 18:3 tn Heb “do not pass by from upon your servant.”
  14. Genesis 18:4 tn The imperative after the jussive indicates purpose here.
  15. Genesis 18:4 tn The word “all” has been supplied in the translation because the Hebrew verb translated “wash” and the pronominal suffix on the word “feet” are plural, referring to all three of the visitors.
  16. Genesis 18:5 tn The Qal cohortative here probably has the nuance of polite request.
  17. Genesis 18:5 tn Heb “a piece of bread.” The Hebrew word לֶחֶם (lekhem) can refer either to bread specifically or to food in general. Based on Abraham’s directions to Sarah in v. 6, bread was certainly involved, but v. 7 indicates that Abraham had a more elaborate meal in mind.
  18. Genesis 18:5 tn Heb “strengthen your heart.” The imperative after the cohortative indicates purpose here.
  19. Genesis 18:5 tn Heb “so that you may refresh yourselves, after [which] you may be on your way—for therefore you passed by near your servant.”
  20. Genesis 18:6 tn The word “take” is supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons. In the Hebrew text the sentence lacks a verb other than the imperative “hurry.” The elliptical structure of the language reflects Abraham’s haste to get things ready quickly.
  21. Genesis 18:6 sn Three measures (Heb “three seahs”) was equivalent to about 20 quarts (22 liters) of flour, which would make a lot of bread. The animal prepared for the meal was far more than the three visitors needed. This was a banquet for royalty. Either it had been a lonely time for Abraham and the presence of visitors made him very happy, or he sensed this was a momentous visit.
  22. Genesis 18:6 sn The bread was the simple, round bread made by bedouins that is normally prepared quickly for visitors.
  23. Genesis 18:7 tn Heb “the young man.”
  24. Genesis 18:7 tn The construction uses the Piel preterite, “he hurried,” followed by the infinitive construct; the two probably form a verbal hendiadys: “he quickly prepared.”
  25. Genesis 18:8 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  26. Genesis 18:8 tn The words “the food” are supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons. In the Hebrew text the verb has no stated object.
  27. Genesis 18:8 tn The disjunctive clause is a temporal circumstantial clause subordinate to the main verb.
  28. Genesis 18:9 tn The particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) often accompanies a gesture of pointing or a focused gaze.
  29. Genesis 18:10 tn Heb “he”; the referent (one of the three men introduced in v. 2) has been specified in the translation for clarity. Some English translations have specified the referent as the Lord (cf. RSV, NIV) based on vv. 1, 13, but the Hebrew text merely has “he said” at this point, referring to one of the three visitors. Aside from the introductory statement in v. 1, the incident is narrated from Abraham’s point of view, and the suspense is built up for the reader as Abraham’s elaborate banquet preparations in the preceding verses suggest he suspects these are important guests. But not until the promise of a son later in this verse does it become clear who is speaking. In v. 13 the Hebrew text explicitly mentions the Lord.
  30. Genesis 18:10 tn The Hebrew construction is emphatic, using the infinitive absolute with the imperfect I will surely return. If Abraham had not yet figured out who this was, this interchange would have made it clear. Otherwise, how would a return visit from this man mean Sarah would have a son?
  31. Genesis 18:10 tn Heb “as/when the time lives” or “revives,” possibly referring to the springtime.
  32. Genesis 18:10 tn Heb “and there will be (הִנֵּה, hinneh) a son for Sarah.”
  33. Genesis 18:10 tn This is the first of two disjunctive parenthetical clauses preparing the reader for Sarah’s response (see v. 12).
  34. Genesis 18:11 tn Heb “days.”
  35. Genesis 18:11 tn Heb “it had ceased to be for Sarah [after] a way like women.”
  36. Genesis 18:12 tn Heb “saying.”
  37. Genesis 18:12 tn It has been suggested that this word should be translated “conception,” not “pleasure.” See A. A. McIntosh, “A Third Root ‘adah in Biblical Hebrew,” VT 24 (1974): 454-73.
  38. Genesis 18:12 tn The word “too” has been added in the translation for stylistic reasons.
  39. Genesis 18:13 tn Heb “Why, this?” The demonstrative pronoun following the interrogative pronoun is enclitic, emphasizing the Lord’s amazement: “Why on earth did Sarah laugh?”
  40. Genesis 18:13 tn The Hebrew construction uses both הַאַף (haʾaf) and אֻמְנָם (ʾumnam): “Indeed, truly, will I have a child?”
  41. Genesis 18:14 tn The Hebrew verb פָּלָא (palaʾ) means “to be wonderful, to be extraordinary, to be surpassing, to be amazing.”
  42. Genesis 18:14 sn Sarah will have a son. The passage brings God’s promise into clear focus. As long as it was a promise for the future, it really could be believed without much involvement. But now, when it seemed so impossible from the human standpoint, when the Lord fixed an exact date for the birth of the child, the promise became rather overwhelming to Abraham and Sarah. But then this was the Lord of creation, the one they had come to trust. The point of these narratives is that the creation of Abraham’s offspring, which eventually became Israel, is no less a miraculous work of creation than the creation of the world itself.
  43. Genesis 18:15 tn Heb “And he said, ‘No, but you did laugh.’” The referent (the Lord) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  44. Genesis 18:16 tn Heb “And the men arose from there.”
  45. Genesis 18:16 tn Heb “toward the face of.”
  46. Genesis 18:16 tn The disjunctive parenthetical clause sets the stage for the following speech.
  47. Genesis 18:16 tn The Piel of שָׁלַח (shalakh) means “to lead out, to send out, to expel”; here it is used in the friendly sense of seeing the visitors on their way.
  48. Genesis 18:17 tn The active participle here refers to an action that is imminent.
  49. Genesis 18:18 tn Heb “And Abraham.” The disjunctive clause is probably causal, giving a reason why God should not hide his intentions from Abraham. One could translate, “Should I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation?”
  50. Genesis 18:18 tn The infinitive absolute lends emphasis to the finite verb that follows.
  51. Genesis 18:18 tn Or “find blessing.” The denominative verb בָּרַךְ (barakh) mainly occurs in the D-stems: Piel for actice, Pual for passive, Hitpael for middle or reflexive. Only in three formulations of the Abrahamic covenant does it occur in the Niphal. Few other verbs that occur in the Piel and Pual also occur in the Niphal but not the Qal; the tendency is for such Niphals to be middle rather than passive. The middle voice may be expressed here as “they may consider themselves blessed through him,” “they may find/receive blessing through him,” or “they may become blessed through him.” Verses 18-19 refer back to Gen 12:1-3 which include how others may receive blessing or cursing from the Lord.
  52. Genesis 18:19 tn Heb “For I have known him.” The verb יָדַע (yadaʿ) here means “to recognize and treat in a special manner, to choose” (see Amos 3:2). It indicates that Abraham stood in a special covenantal relationship with the Lord.
  53. Genesis 18:19 tn Heb “and they will keep.” The perfect verbal form with vav consecutive carries on the subjective nuance of the preceding imperfect verbal form (translated “so that he may command”).
  54. Genesis 18:19 tn The infinitive construct here indicates manner, explaining how Abraham’s children and his household will keep the way of the Lord.
  55. Genesis 18:19 tn Heb “bring on.” The infinitive after לְמַעַן (lemaʿan) indicates result here.
  56. Genesis 18:19 tn Heb “spoke to.”
  57. Genesis 18:20 tn Heb “the outcry of Sodom,” which apparently refers to the outcry for divine justice from those (unidentified persons) who observe its sinful ways.
  58. Genesis 18:20 tn Heb “heavy” or “severe.”sn Ezekiel 16:49-50 includes three types of sins of Sodom: failure to help the poor and needy while having prosperity, pride (or haughtiness), and committing abomination.
  59. Genesis 18:21 tn The cohortative indicates the Lord’s I must go down. The descent to “see” Sodom is a bold anthropomorphism, stressing the careful judgment of God. The language is reminiscent of the Lord going down to see the Tower of Babel in Gen 11:1-9.
  60. Genesis 18:21 tn Heb “[if] according to the outcry that has come to me they have done completely.” Even the Lord, who is well aware of the human capacity to sin, finds it hard to believe that anyone could be as bad as the “outcry” against Sodom and Gomorrah suggests.
  61. Genesis 18:21 sn The short phrase if not provides a ray of hope and inspires Abraham’s intercession.
  62. Genesis 18:22 tn Heb “And the men turned from there.” The word “two” is not in the Hebrew text, but is supplied here for clarity. Gen 19:1 mentions only two individuals (described as “angels”), while Abraham had entertained three visitors (18:2). The implication is that the Lord was the third visitor, who remained behind with Abraham here. The words “from there” are not included in the translation for stylistic reasons.
  63. Genesis 18:22 tn Heb “went.”
  64. Genesis 18:22 tc An ancient Hebrew scribal tradition reads “but the Lord remained standing before Abraham.” This reading is problematic because the phrase “standing before” typically indicates intercession, but the Lord would certainly not be interceding before Abraham.
  65. Genesis 18:24 tn Heb “lift up,” perhaps in the sense of “bear with” (cf. NRSV “forgive”).
  66. Genesis 18:25 tn Or “ruler.”
  67. Genesis 18:25 sn Will not the judge of the whole earth do what is right? For discussion of this text see J. L. Crenshaw, “Popular Questioning of the Justice of God in Ancient Israel,” ZAW 82 (1970): 380-95, and C. S. Rodd, “Shall Not the Judge of All the Earth Do What Is Just?” ExpTim 83 (1972): 137-39.
  68. Genesis 18:27 tn The Hebrew term translated “Lord” here and in vv. 30, 31, 32 is אֲדֹנָי (ʾadonay).
  69. Genesis 18:27 tn The disjunctive clause is a concessive clause here, drawing out the humility as a contrast to the Lord.
  70. Genesis 18:28 tn The Hebrew verb שָׁחַת (shakhat, “to destroy”) was used earlier to describe the effect of the flood.
  71. Genesis 18:28 tn Heb “because of five.”
  72. Genesis 18:29 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  73. Genesis 18:29 tn The construction is a verbal hendiadys—the preterite (“he added”) is combined with an adverb “yet” and an infinitive “to speak.”
  74. Genesis 18:30 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  75. Genesis 18:30 tn Heb “let it not be hot to the Lord.” This is an idiom which means “may the Lord not be angry.”
  76. Genesis 18:30 tn After the jussive, the cohortative indicates purpose/result.
  77. Genesis 18:31 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  78. Genesis 18:32 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  79. Genesis 18:33 tn Heb “And the Lord went.”
  80. Genesis 18:33 tn The infinitive construct (“speaking”) serves as the direct object of the verb “finished.”
  81. Genesis 18:33 tn Heb “to his place.”