Genesis 18:1-19 - The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees ...

The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. He said, "If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant." "Very well," they answered, "do as you say." So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. "Quick," he said, "get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread." Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree. "Where is your wife Sarah?" they asked him. "There, in the tent," he said. Then one of them said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son." Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, "After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?" Then the LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Will I really have a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son." Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, "I did not laugh." But he said, "Yes, you did laugh." When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. Then the LORD said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him." (Genesis 18:1-19)

Did God really appear as three men?

This text leaves a number of questions about this event, which are important for us to understand the context and the situation.

First, we must ask, just who has recorded this meeting and discussion?

And who is God asking whether he should hide something from Abraham?

And did God become three men?

Yes, Abraham bows before them. But is he recognizing them as God?

Then Abraham and his wife and servant begin to prepare "the three men" a grand meal - an offering. After which they engage in some conversation regarding Sarah and her coming son.

At one point in this exchange, Sarah laughs to herself and then denies it and then she is asked if there is anything God can't do. Is God saying this or are the three men saying this?

Is this really what takes place between God and His loving servants when He appears to them? Do they really laugh about Him and then deny they laughed?

And does God really have to make up His mind about whether He wants to disclose something to Abraham or not?

So why would God appear in the form of three men and then argue with His servants, and then ask Himself whether he should tell Abraham something? Is all this really God speaking?

We know that the men were not God because of this verse:
The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. (Genesis 18:20)
Because the LORD remained after the men left, we know that the men were not God.

Is 'Lord' the same as 'LORD'?

Would God ever be described as "three men?" The assumption is that the Supreme Being appeared as three men to Abraham. This brings up the question of how Abraham knew they were God if He were three men? And why does the scripture describe them as "men" if they were God?

Such an interpretation would immediately conflict with the underlying meaning of monotheism. Practically every other verse in the Bible points to the Supreme Being as an individual. Yes, there are references to angels and messengers. But God is always referred to in the singular.

So why would Abraham be so submissive to the three men?

As Abraham sees them, he bows and greets them with the Hebrew word אדון ('adown), which is typically used as a reference to men - either "a master, a husband, prophet, governor, prince" or "king," according to the lexicon. There are few uses of this word in reference to God in the scriptures. Most of its use is specific to people - not the Supreme Being.

In Genesis 17:1, as well as throughout Genesis and beyond, the Supreme Being is referred to as יהוה (Yĕhovah), and this is translated to "LORD God." Elsewhere, אלהים ('elohiym) - Elohim - is used to describe the Supreme Being. Both of these Names of God have been sanctioned throughout the scriptures as God's Holy Names.

But Abraham referred to the three men not as יהוה (Yĕhovah) or אלהים ('elohiym), but rather as אדון ('adown).

It is in a different context that we find a reference to God - in Genesis 18:1 and then 18:13. These use the Hebrew word יהוה (Yĕhovah) - translated to LORD. The second reference was after Sarah laughed about having a son. And the LORD - יהוה (Yĕhovah) - then speaks to her.

But notice that here the LORD is referred to in the third person, not as one of the three men. This is compared to the verses prior, regarding the three men - for example:
Then one of them said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son."
This difference between Lord and LORD is critical.

Let's use a clear example: In the 24th Chapter of Genesis, there is an exchange between Abraham and one of his servants - which is described as a 'household servant' but must be understood by the exchange to be one of Abraham's students. At any rate, the student/servant makes the following prayer to God after he begins to carry out Abraham's instructions:
Then he prayed, "O LORD, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham." (Genesis 24:12)
Here the first word "LORD" is being translated from the Hebrew יהוה (Yĕhovah), and the word "God" is being translated from the word אלהים ('elohiym).

But in both instances "master" - as in "my master Abraham" - is being translated from the word אדון ('adown).

This makes a clear distinction between the use of the word אדון ('adown) from how the Supreme Being is typically addressed in the Books of the Old Testament.

We can therefore understand that the three men were greeted as masters rather than God.

We must also question why three men would be treated with such reverence by Abraham, as Abraham and Sarah prepared offerings to them and washed their feet.

From the event and language, we can surmise that because Abraham addresses the "three men" together with Abraham addressing them as אדון ('adown), that Abraham was likely greeting his spiritual teacher and two associates of his teacher at this time.

The fact that two of the men were associates and possibly disciples of Abraham's spiritual teacher is confirmed by the fact that these two "men" are identified as "messengers" - from the Hebrew word מלאך (mal'ak), which can mean 'angel' or 'messenger' according to the lexicon. And since they are clearly being described as walking - both towards and away from Abraham - we can understand they weren't angels in the sense of not having physical bodies. There were messengers of God - associates and/or disciples of Abraham's teacher.

It is also confirmed that God was not the three men because the three men got up and left in Genesis 18:16. Then after the LORD God had spoken with Abraham, He left too, but later:
When the LORD had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home. (Genesis 18:33)
We can also understand from these verses that Abraham showed great respect for the "three men." This indicated they held an esteemed position to both Abraham and Sarah. We also know from her reaction (laughing) that Sarah did not accept them as God. But given Abraham's acts of offering and devotion, as he 'bowed low to the ground' (Gen. 18:2) indicates they were significantly respected by Abraham.

Should Abraham respect God's messengers?

Abraham gave respects to all three men. This is actually an ancient tradition, one that is also described throughout the scriptures. In ancient times, the spiritual teacher or Prophet was considered God's representative and was respected as such. We can see this as other spiritual teachers throughout the scriptures were respected and worshiped by their students, including John the Baptist by his students and Jesus by his students.

The concept can be understood easily if we consider how an ambassador of a country is treated with great respect. This is because the foreign government understands that how they treat that ambassador will be interpreted by the ambassador's government as how they would treat the country and its leader. For this reason, ambassadors are typically given autonomy and unmatched privilege in a foreign country. And when they meet with officials of the foreign country, they are treated with great respect, mirroring their respect for their government.

This is because the ambassador is the authorized representative of their country's government and president.

In the same way, an authorized messenger of God - a loving servant of the Supreme Being - is to be respected as God's representative.

The bottom line is that these verses in Genesis 18 are describing Abraham paying his respects to someone he respects greatly and accepts as God's representative - along with two of that person's associates. It is after they were given offerings that we find that Abraham heard from God directly.

This is confirmed by the fact that further into the statement, God as (יהוה (Yĕhovah)), is being referred to in the second person, with, "so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what He has promised him."

Why would God not be referred to directly if he were the three men? The Supreme Being would use the word "we" or "I" or "Me", and this is confirmed throughout the Old Testament in other direct statements of God. In this statement, God is being referred to in the second person.

Furthermore, Abraham is being referred to in the third person. This indicates that this is not one of the three men speaking directly to Abraham. If so, the verses would say, "For I have chosen you," instead of "For I have chosen him."

This confirms this communication is not coming directly from the three men to Abraham. Rather, Abraham was visited by God's messengers. At the end of the meeting, God began to communicate.

Are the other words right?

As we've pointed out in other verses, the words "children" and "son" are translated from the word בן (ben), which, in this context would more appropriately refer to followers, not physical children.

And "household" coming from בית (bayith) can mean "house" or "dwelling" but it can also mean "temple" according to the lexicon.

We must understand that the context of the statement regards Abraham's devotion and dedication to the Supreme Being, and this dedication will be continued by those who followed Abraham. In fact, we know that Abraham only had two children and a small handful of household servants. How could they have become a nation?

In fact, the reference to "great and powerful nation" is also out of context here. What is being discussed is not "power" as in political power. The word גוי (gowy), being translated to "nation" refers to a large population of any sort, including locusts, according to the lexicon. In this context, it can only mean a large population of followers.

And the word "powerful" is being translated from עצום (`atsuwm) which refers not to political or geological strength, but to numbers. Being great in numbers, according to the lexicon.

So what is being described is Abraham becoming a spiritual teacher who will have many followers and whose teachings will be carried far and wide by his students, and this will create a great religious community within the region. And this is precisely what happened.

This last point about "what He has promised" has been interpreted by institutional temple teachers to mean something about the Israelites being the "chosen people," combined with the Israelites having some sort of God-given land out in the desert that is supposedly theirs.

Is God a land grant official?

Sorry but God is not in the land granting business. He owns all the land and does not give it away to some and keep it from others. Humans can not truly own any land, because our presence here is temporary.

God is also not a racist. He does not give one race of people more opportunity than others. Everyone has the same opportunity to decide if we want to re-establish our loving relationship with God. It does not matter what family we are born in or what country we are born within.

Those who do decide they want to dedicate their lives to God naturally become "chosen" because this is what a relationship is all about. Anyone can choose to dedicate their lives to God. Choosing to dedicate one's life to God results in that person being chosen because God reciprocates our love.

He doesn't force Himself upon us. After all, He is God. He could force Himself upon us at any point. But He doesn't. He lets us make the choice to love Him or not. Love requires the freedom to choose to love or not.

What God has promised Abraham is what He promises to each of us: That if we choose to dedicate our lives to the Supreme Being, we can return to our home in the spiritual realm to be with Him. This is the real "promised land."

Consider another translation of this verse in Chapter 18 of the New Book of Genesis.