18 The Eternal One appeared once again to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, while he was resting at the entrance to his tent in the middle of a hot afternoon. 2 Abraham glanced up and saw there were three men standing nearby. They seemed to appear out of nowhere. As soon as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent out to where they were standing and greeted them warmly, instinctively bowing to the ground.
Abraham: 3 My lord, if you would like to stay for a while, I beg you not to pass me by. I am your humble servant. 4 Let me send someone for water in order to wash your feet. Please go and sit down under that tree over there and rest. 5 Meanwhile, let me send for some bread so that you can nourish yourselves. After that I will not detain you further—you may be on your way—since you have come and honored your servant with your presence.
Three Men: Please, go and do what you have suggested.
6 In spite of the heat, Abraham hurried into his tent to Sarah.
Abraham (to Sarah): Sarah, we have guests. Quickly prepare three measures[a] of our best flour, knead it, and make cakes.
7 Then Abraham ran to where his herds were pastured. He took a tender calf and gave it to one of his servants, who rushed off to prepare the choice meat. 8 When it was ready, Abraham took curds and milk, along with the meat, and he placed all of this lavish feast before his honored guests. He stood nearby under the tree while they ate to their fill.
Three Men: 9 Where is Sarah, your wife?
Abraham: She’s right in there . . . in the tent.
Now Sarah was behind her guests, listening to all of this from the entrance of the tent. 11 Abraham and Sarah were quite old at this time, well advanced in years, and Sarah had long ago gone through menopause. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying under her breath, “At my age—old and decrepit, as is my husband—both of us long past having any desire to engage in lovemaking?” 13 But the Eternal heard what Sarah said and addressed Abraham.
Eternal One: Why does Sarah laugh and say to herself, “There’s no way I’m going to give birth at my age!” 14 Is anything too difficult for the Eternal One to accomplish? At a time that I will determine, I will return here to you when life emerges from her womb. I’m telling you, Sarah will give birth to a son.[d]
15 Sarah was embarrassed and tried to deny laughing. She feared these were no ordinary guests.
Sarah: I wasn’t laughing.
Eternal One: That is not true, Sarah. You did laugh.
16 At that point, the three men set off on foot toward Sodom, and Abraham walked with them to start them on their way.
Eternal One (to the other two men): 17 I wonder if I should hide from Abraham what I am about to do. 18 After all, Abraham will become the father of a great and powerful nation, and all the other nations of the earth will find their blessing in him.[e] 19 I have chosen him for a reason, namely that he will carefully instruct his children and his household to keep themselves strong in relationship to Me and to walk in My ways by doing what is good and right in the world and by showing mercy and justice to all others. I know he will uphold his end of the covenant, so that he can ensure My promises to him will be fulfilled and upheld as well.
20 (continuing so Abraham could hear) I have heard terrible things—urgent and outraged calls for help—coming from the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and their sin has become a serious problem. 21 I must go down and see for Myself whether the outcries against them that My ears have heard are really true. If not, I will know.
22 At this point the men turned and headed toward Sodom while Abraham remained standing before the Eternal One. 23 Then Abraham approached Him solemnly and pled for the city.
Abraham (to God): God, would You really sweep away the people who do what is right along with those who are wicked? 24 What if there were 50 upright people within the city? Would You still wipe the place out and not spare it on behalf of the 50 upright people who live there? 25 Surely it can’t be Your nature to do something like that—to kill the right-living along with those who act wickedly, to consign the innocent to the same fate as the guilty. It is inconceivable to me that You, my God, would do anything like that! Will not the “Merciful and Loving Judge” of all the earth do what is just?
Eternal One: 26 If I find 50 good and true people in the city of Sodom, I give you My word I will spare the entire city on their behalf.
Abraham (emboldened): 27 Look, I know I am just a human being, scooped from the dust and ashes of the earth, but if I might implore You, Lord, a bit further: 28 What if the city lacked 5 of those 50 right-living people? What then? Would You destroy the entire city because it lacked those 5?
Eternal One: I won’t destroy the city if I find 45 good and true people there.
Abraham (persisting): 29 Suppose 40 are found there.
Eternal One: I won’t destroy the city for the sake of 40.
Abraham: 30 Please don’t be angry, Lord, at my boldness. Let me ask this: What if You found 30 there who are good and true?
Eternal One: I will not do it, even if I find only 30 there.
Abraham: 31 Since I have implored the Lord this far, may I ask: What if there were 20?
Eternal One: For the sake of 20, I will not destroy the city.
Abraham: 32 Please don’t be angry, Lord, at my boldness. Let me ask this just once more: suppose only 10 are found?
Eternal One: For the sake of only 10, I still will not destroy it.
Scripture records here an amazing exchange between the Lord and Abraham. In all of the Bible there is nothing quite like it. In these verses Abraham is negotiating with God over the fate of Sodom and its inhabitants. But this is no game. Abraham isn’t bargaining with a peddler over the cost of his wares; the lives of many people hang in the balance. Abraham has followed God long enough and knows Him well enough to stand confident as he presses and probes the extent of God’s mercy. God’s mercy, he learns, runs deep; but there are limits, and Sodom has crossed the line.
33 At this point the Eternal ended the conversation with Abraham and went on His way, and Abraham returned to his home.