All right, this is starting to get ridiculous. And, in fact, I’m pretty sure it is – I’m pretty sure that the four times we’ve now had God make the exact same set of promises to Abraham have to be different versions of the same story. Otherwise God just seems to assume that Abraham has the attention span of a three-year old.
This is the most interesting of the promises, really, because it isn’t just God pulling Abraham aside to tell him (again) that he’s going to be the father of many generations. Instead, God shows up… as three people.
Okay, follow me here. The LORD appears to Abraham… (v 1) and Abraham sees three men (v 2). Then “one” says that Sarah will have a child (v 10), then the LORD wonders why Sarah laughs (v 13). The LORD says he’ll go to Sodom to check if the people are really as bad as he’s been told (v 22), but two of them men go, while the LORD stays with Abraham. He and Abraham have a conversation/argument and then the LORD “went his way” (v 33). And that’s even before you get to the gnarled knot of 19:24 next chapter.
The simplest answer is that the LORD arrives with two assistant angels, and the two men who go to Sodom are identified as such in the first verse of the next chapter. But the triplism inspired the imagination of a lot of Christian writers, who argue this is the trinity, a three-in-one God appearing to Abraham at Mamre.
I don’t buy it. Mostly because of my understanding of the trinity, I suppose. I don’t think of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three individuals who could each separately incarnate as three people. To me, the Son is the Word, the incarnate God, while the Father is the transcendent and the Spirit is the immanent. So if the transcendent and the immanent would incarnate… they’d just be the incarnate.
Apologies, that was a lot of big words. But it seems to me to be an odd interpretation of the trinity, and a stretch for the passage, where the LORD is visiting Abraham (incarnate? is this a pre-Jesus incarnation, or just an apparition?) initially incognito, with two angelic messengers in tow.
And Abraham treats him well. One of the fun things reading this in Japanese was seeing how deferentially Abraham speaks to God and his angels in this chapter. The English does its best to convey this, but Japanese has the benefit of built-in grammar that does the job on its own. Abraham is being very polite as a host, and trying not to be uppity later when he argues against destroying Sodom.
As for destroying Sodom (next chapter!), God’s motivation seems to be an “outcry” against them, implying they’ve been cruel or unjust to their neighbors (there are passages later in the Bible that argue for this interpretation), and he’s heard these complaints but has to go check them out. Or at least, he tells Abraham he’s checking them out. Does God not already know? And for that matter, does Abraham really get a bargain out of God? Or is God just showing his level of respect of Abraham (see v 19) by listening to Abraham? Is he sending his angels to inspect Sodom or to gives the Sodomites one last chance to show some decency by giving them guests to show hospitality to? Or are they just there to collect Lot because he’s Abraham’s family?
Or to put it another way, how omniscient is God supposed to be in this chapter? This seems like the same earthy God of chapter 3 who walked in the Garden and question the man and woman. I know there’s a way of seeing this as a more “primitive” view of God, but there’s something to be said for a God that’s presented in terms you can relate to, a human-like deity. And you can thank that idea from reading Pagan blogs on Patheos.
The Japanese for this chapter: totonoeru “to prepare, arrange” (v 5), gyounyuu “curds” (v 8), uchikesu “to deny, contradict” (v 15), jouju “fulfillment, realization” (v 19), uttaeru “to complain, to bring to attention, to sue” (v 20), awaseru “to subject to” (v 25), aete “dare to, presume to” (v 27).
Next chapter: boom go Sodom and Gomorrah!