Studies in Torah

Genesis 18:1–22:24: Abraham’s teachable moments on faith

Why is Abraham considered so faithful when so much of his biblical biography shows examples of his utter lack of faith? He laughed in God’s face about a son from a barren wife, circumvented God’s prophesy for that son and lied to two different kings about his relationship with Sarah, putting her in real danger.

In the Torah parashah (portion) called וַיֵּרָא Vayera (“He appeared,” Gen. 18:1–22:24), we learn that despite Abraham’s (and Sarah’s) ups and downs, their faith was growing, not shrinking. That is why God Himself not only credited Abraham’s trust as righteousness but also made them patriarch and matriarch of “a great and mighty nation” through which all nations of Earth would be blessed.

There’s a Lot in this passage. And there’s also no way to cover all of it today. We’ll focus on the transition of Abraham from shrinking sheikh to father of faith.

NO LAUGHING MATTER

When God first told Abraham that he would have a son through Sarah, he laughed. Later he asked God to accept Ishmael instead. Abraham was not laughing for joy but laughing in disbelief. Now, it’s Sarah’s turn to laugh.

He also lies to two difference kings that Sarah was his sister rather than his wife, causing lots of problems that God Himself had to fix. Both Abraham and Sarah laughed in their lack of faith in when God said they would have a son together and that son would be a blessing to the entire world for all generations.

In light of this, why is Abraham considered so faithful? Abraham’s faith and his life were teachable moments that can teach us as well. We see through the book of Genesis how Abraham’s faith grows.

God did not get angry at Abraham or Sarah’s laughter, even though He did call it out.

MERCY FOR SODOM & GOMORRAH

As we read through this parashah, we will find out why God liked Abraham so much.

“Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth,” (Genesis 18:1–2 NASB)

Both Abraham and Lot later offer their unexpected guests a greeting of deference (by bowing towards them), serving them food and giving them a place to rest from their travels. The reason that God loved Abraham so much is that Abraham was deferential and charitable to Him.

Lot acted the same way but God didn’t chose Lot the way he chose Abraham. Lot was lacking in one thing that Abraham did not lack. God tells us why He chose Abraham when he says:

“The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? “For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.” (Genesis 18:17–19 NASB)

The men did not ask Abraham for anything, but Abraham gave anyway. Abraham also had a greater sense of justice than Lot did. God knew that Abraham would teach his children about charity and justice.

God did not have to go down and physically look around in Sodom to see how bad things were down there. God’s intent was get Lot and his family out. Lot will not leave Sodom based on God speaking to him in a dream. That is not how Lot related to God.

God’s objective was to rescue Lot, period. God did not send anyone to any of the other cities than Sodom.

Abraham goes through this process of negotiation. This is recorded to help us see how Abraham thinks. We know how Abraham practices charity, but now we also see how Abraham defines justice.

“Abraham came near and said, ‘Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?’” (Genesis 18:23–25 NASB)

It’s the same idea as the idea that it’s better for 100 wicked men to not go to jail rather than one innocent person to end up in jail. Sodom was worth saving for just 10 people. Abraham doesn’t believe in the idea that the righteous should be dismissed as collateral damage.

Lot’s charity was very strong, so strong that he was willing to sacrifice his daughters to a mob to try to protect these two strangers but his sense of justice was warped.

“Then the two men said to Lot, ‘Whom else have you here? A son-in-law, and your sons, and your daughters, and whomever you have in the city, bring them out of the place; for we are about to destroy this place, because their outcry has become so great before the LORD that the LORD has sent us to destroy it.’ Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, and said, ‘Up, get out of this place, for the LORD will destroy the city.’ But he appeared to his sons-in-law to be jesting.” (Genesis 19:12–14 NASB)

Lot’s sense of family was so strong that they were the only ones he wanted to save. His sense of justice was limited to his family and in-laws. He didn’t want to stop the evil in the city. He didn’t care about the lives of any other possibly righteous people in the city. “Blood is thicker than water” to Lot.

“When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city.’ But he hesitated. So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters, for the compassion of the LORD was upon him; and they brought him out, and put him outside the city.” (Genesis 19:15–16 NASB)

We don’t know what Lot went through in his 20 or so years while in Sodom, but his sense of charity and justice was clearly different from Abraham’s.

Our culture feels an intellectual superiority in their tolerance of the abhorrent morals of others. This might be the same spirit in Lot’s sons-in-laws and married daughters. They may or may not have participated in Sodom’s most egregious sins but they seemed to be proud of his tolerance of it and saw no problem living in this town and marrying people in it.

“But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” (Genesis 19:26 NASB)

Neither Lot nor his wife really wanted to leave Sodom because some of their family were still there, facing absolute destruction. What mother or father would not have a broken heart in such a situation?

God saved Lot for Abraham’s sake, not for Lot’s sake.

SISTER ACT: WHY DID LOT’S DAUGHTERS DO THAT?

“Then the firstborn said to the younger, ‘Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of the earth. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and let us lie with him that we may preserve our family through our father.’” (Genesis 19:31–32 NASB)

Lot knew, from the angels, that God was only destroying a few cities and not the entire world but he withheld this information from his daughters. The young daughters really thought the entire world was destroyed. They were taking the responsibility to carry on a family line as well as the line of the entire human race. They didn’t want a child for the sake of themselves, but they felt a duty to carry on the human race, which is what a son normally would do.

“When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.” (Deuteronomy 25:5 NASB)

God didn’t agree with this but he did honor their sense of responsibility. He honored the daughters of Lot by adopting Ruth the Moabitess and Naamah the Ammonitess into His Messianic line.

Lot’s daughters truly thought they were perpetuating the future of humanity as Noah and his family did before them.

HERE WE GO AGAIN: ‘SHE IS MY SISTER’

Map of Israel showing alternate locations of Gerar in ancient Israel
Alternate locations of Gerar in ancient Israel

“Now Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negev, and settled between Kadesh and Shur; then he sojourned in Gerar. Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.” (Genesis 20:1–2 NASB)

Abimelech’s “right” to take Abraham’s “sister” as his wife was a common right taken by many kings through the ages. Partly because most cultures with a monarchy considered the monarch a descendant of the gods and had a divine right to make any subject do any task they asked them, including taking any unmarried woman they wanted as their wife or concubine.

However, although God is the one who brings leaders up and throws them down, doesn’t mean that all those leaders are righteous before Him or that God agrees with all they do.

God intervened by speaking to Abimelech in a dream and he immediately returned Sarah to her husband. God also told Abraham to pray for Abimelech. This would have been hard for any husband to pray for the life of the man who kidnapped his wife, but Abraham does so and both Abraham and Abimelech learn an important lesson.

PROMISED SON WON’T BE MOCKED

About a year after the events of Gerar, Sarah gives birth to the promised son, Yitskhak (Isaac).

“The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking.” (Genesis 21:8–9 NASB)

The Hebrew word translated as mocking could be translated as playing, persecuting or teasing1 but likely not with a sexual connotation, as some have suggested.2 Galatians 4 tells us what this mocking actually entailed.

“But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the Scripture say? ‘CAST OUT THE BONDWOMAN AND HER SON, FOR THE SON OF THE BONDWOMAN SHALL NOT BE AN HEIR WITH THE SON OF THE FREE WOMAN.’ So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.” (Galatians 4:29–31 NASB)

Apostle Paul seems to tell us that Ishmael was persecuting Isaac. That is the difference between a bondwoman’s son and a free woman’s son. Slaves don’t like their masters. Paul was arguing with those who were upholding the traditions of men and using them to harass and persecute believers in Messiah vs. those who the Messiah gave freedom to love God without manmade rules.

This is why Sarah had to step in to protect Isaac. God knows the future. Ishmael and Hagar and their descendants needed to be separated from Isaac and his descendants.

Younger brothers tend to look up to and defer to older brothers. Since there were so many years separating Ishmael and Isaac, Ishmael could have easily manipulated the growing Isaac to see the inheritance in his way. Sarah didn’t want that to happen.

“Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.’” (Genesis 22:1–2 NASB)

Isaac was about 37 years old at this time. How could Abraham, who was 137 years old at this time, have subdued Isaac to be sacrificed? He physically could never have subdued Isaac. Isaac voluntarily went to the sacrifice. He was not blind. It was important that Isaac was complicit in this exercise.

Neither Issac or Messiah went to the sacrifice blindly.

If God had asked Abraham to sacrifice his son while he was in Ur, Abraham never would have followed through because a relationship grows over time and it took Abraham time to have such trust in God to follow through and be willing to sacrifice his son.

Summary: Tammy


  1. The Hebrew word is  מְצַחֵק metzakheq, the pi’el participle form of the root verb צָחַק tzakhaq (Strong’s lexicon No. H6711). That means a more intense meaning for the basic definition: to laugh. (Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. Scribe, Inc.: Dania Beach, Fla., 1906, 1951.)
    Others have noted the Hebrew wordplay here between metzakheq and the younger brother’s name, יִצְחָק Yitskhak (he laughed). (Frank E. Gaebelein, Ed. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Notes. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Mich., 1990.) 
  2. “The most controversial explanation is pederasty or pedophilia, namely that Ishmael was sexually molesting his younger brother. The exact same word metzahek is found in Genesis 26:8 when Isaac and Rebekah are in the Philistine town of Gerar. … It is a sexual encounter. … It is possible that such an explanation — homosexual fondling — could be challenged by the notion that Ishmael will marry, and produce many children of his own (Gen. 21:13; 25:12-17; 28:9).” (David J. Zucker. “What Sarah Saw: Envisioning Genesis 21:9-10.” Jewish Bible Quarterly. Vol. 36, No. 1. Jewish Bible Association, Jerusalem, 2008.)
    Also suggesting strongly for a less salacious understanding of metzakheq in Gen. 21:9 is the use of the same form of the word in Gen. 19:14, referring to the reaction Lot got when he told his family about the coming destruction of Sodom. 

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