Genesis (Part 72)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis: 18:1-8

And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

______________________________

In this section of verses, the Lord appears to Abraham Then he lifts up his eyes and sees three men – he even refers to one (or all) of them as Adonai. Abraham feeds them a meal and they eat it.

Verse 1:

Lord = יְהֹוָה Yᵉhôvâh, yeh-ho-vaw’; from H1961; (the) self-Existent or Eternal; Jeho-vah, Jewish national name of God:—Jehovah, the Lord. 

appeared = רָאָה râʼâh, raw-aw’; a primitive root; to see, literally or figuratively (in numerous applications, direct and implied, transitive, intransitive and causative):—advise self, appear, approve, behold, × certainly, consider, discern, (make to) enjoy, have experience, gaze, take heed, × indeed, × joyfully, lo, look (on, one another, one on another, one upon another, out, up, upon), mark, meet, × be near, perceive, present, provide, regard, (have) respect, (fore-, cause to, let) see(-r, -m, one another), shew (self), × sight of others, (e-) spy, stare, × surely, × think, view, visions.

Verse 2:

three = שָׁלוֹשׁ shâlôwsh, shaw-loshe’; or שָׁלֹשׁ shâlôsh; masculine שְׁלוֹשָׁה shᵉlôwshâh; or שְׁלֹשָׁה shᵉlôshâh; a primitive number; three; occasionally (ordinal) third, or (multiple) thrice:—+ fork, + often(-times), third, thir(-teen, -teenth), three, + thrice. 

men = אֱנוֹשׁ ʼĕnôwsh, en-oshe’; from H605; properly, a mortal (and thus differing from the more dignified 120); hence, a man in general (singly or collectively):—another, × (blood-) thirsty, certain, chap(-man); divers, fellow, × in the flower of their age, husband, (certain, mortal) man, people, person, servant, some (× of them), stranger, those, their trade. It is often unexpressed in the English versions, especially when used in apposition with another word. Compare H376.

bowed = שָׁחָה shâchâh, shaw-khaw’; a primitive root; to depress, i.e. prostrate (especially reflexive, in homage to royalty or God):—bow (self) down, crouch, fall down (flat), humbly beseech, do (make) obeisance, do reverence, make to stoop, worship.

Verse 3:

Lord = אֲדֹנָיʼĂdônây, ad-o-noy’; an emphatic form of H113; the Lord (used as a proper name of God only):—(my) Lord.

Verse 8:

and they did eat = אָכַל ʼâkal, aw-kal’; a primitive root; to eat (literally or figuratively):—× at all, burn up, consume, devour(-er, up), dine, eat(-er, up), feed (with), food, × freely, × in…wise(-deed, plenty), (lay) meat, × quite.


I think it’s important to outline the following events:

  • The Lord (tetragrammton / Yahweh) appears to Abraham in verse 1.
  • Then, after the Lord appears, Abraham lifts his eyes in verse 2 and sees three “men.”
  • Abraham refers to one (or maybe all) of the three men as Lord / Adonai.
  • Abraham rushes off to prepare a meal for the three “men” and the three men then eat what he had prepared for them.

There is some ambiguity as to whether Yahweh was one of the three men. The text tells us that Yahweh appears to Abraham before Abrahama lifted up his eyes to see the three men. The word “appear” can be either figuratively or literally. You could thus interpret the passage to mean God appears to Abraham – literally – causing him to look up. Or you could read this in such a way wherein Abraham senses God’s presence, or has a vision of God’s presence, and this then causes him to look up.

appeared = רָאָה râʼâh, raw-aw’; a primitive root; to see, literally or figuratively (in numerous applications, direct and implied, transitive, intransitive and causative):—advise self, appear, approve, behold, × certainly, consider, discern, (make to) enjoy, have experience, gaze, take heed, × indeed, × joyfully, lo, look (on, one another, one on another, one upon another, out, up, upon), mark, meet, × be near, perceive, present, provide, regard, (have) respect, (fore-, cause to, let) see(-r, -m, one another), shew (self), × sight of others, (e-) spy, stare, × surely, × think, view, visions.

THEN… we have verse 3. Abraham addresses the three men.

Lord = אֲדֹנָיʼĂdônây, ad-o-noy’; an emphatic form of H113; the Lord (used as a proper name of God only):—(my) Lord.

Does the use of Adonai clear up whether God is personally in this group of visitors? It seems to. Do we see other examples of Adonai in the Bible referring to someone other than God? Not per my brief review (correct me in the comments.)

Some other notes re: Adonai:

Jews use the word Adonai, Hebrew for “Lord” (Hebrew: אֲדֹנָי), in place of the word G-d on occasion. Formally, this is plural (“my Lords”), but the plural is usually construed as a respectful, and not a syntactic plural.

Since pronouncing G-d’s name or Yud, Hey, and Vav, Hey (Hebrew: ה,ו and ה,י – also designated with the Tetragrammaton YHWH), is avoided out of reverence for the holiness of the name, Jews use Adonai instead in prayers, and colloquially would use Hashem (“the Name”).

When the Masoretes added vowel pointings to the text of the Hebrew Bible around the eighth century CE, they gave the word YHWH the vowels of Adonai, to remind the reader to say Adonai instead. Later Biblical scholars mistook this vowel substitution for the actual spelling of YHWH and interpreted the name of God as Jehovah.

  • Curiously, adonai, as also with ‘elohiym, is plural.

On the point of the plurality of the name, we can look at theopedia also:

One of the names for God is Adonai, which is Hebrew for “Lord” (Hebrew: ???????). Formally, this is a plural (“Lords”), but the plural is usually construed as a respectful, and not a syntactic plural. The singular form is Adoni (“lord”). This was used by the Phoenicians for the pagan god Tammuz and is the origin of the Greek name Adonis. Jews only use the singular to refer to a distinguished person.

Some suggest that “Adonai” and other names of God may be written in the plural form to point out that this one God embodies all of the many gods that were worshipped by the ancestors of the Israelites and concurrently by the surrounding peoples.

Since pronouncing God’s personal name YHWH is considered sinful by the Jews, they use Adonai instead in prayers and the reading of the Scriptures. When the Masoretes added vowel pointings to the text of the Hebrew Bible in the first century A.D., they gave the word YHWH the vowels of Adonai, to remind the reader to say Adonai instead.


It is a common practice among Christians to attribute the human form of God that we see here to Jesus Christ.

From David Guzik’s Bible Commentary:

a. Then the LORD appeared: Apparently, this happened a short time after the events of Genesis 17. In Genesis 17:21, God said Sarah would give birth one year later, and at this time she was not yet pregnant; so this couldn’t be more than three months after the events in Genesis 17.

b. Then the LORD appeared to him by the terebinth trees: Here again, the LORD came to Abraham in human appearance. This is another presentation of Jesus in human form before His incarnation, here among the three men visiting Abraham.

i. We can assume that this was God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, appearing to Abraham before His incarnation and birth at Bethlehem. We assume this because of God the Father it says, No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him (John 1:18), and no man has ever seen God in the Person of the Father (1 Timothy 6:16). Therefore, if God appeared to someone in human appearance in the Old Testament (and no one has seen God the Father) it makes sense the appearance is of the eternal Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, before His incarnation in Bethlehem.

Somewhat understandably, using Christian text as proof of a Christian interpretation of this pre-Christian text is problematic for those who are not Christians. The difficulty goes further upon a closer examination of John 1:18:

18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

That verse is a bit vague – at least in my opinion – as a foundation for placing a pre-Incarnation Jesus in the text here. That does not mean I overtly object to the interpretation. I do seem room for debate and alternative interpretations.

The Pulpit Commentary (below) credits one of the three men as being Jehovah.

Verse 2. – And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him. Not in addition to (Kalisch), but including (Keil), Jehovah, whose appearance to the patriarch, having in the previous verse been first generally stated, is now minutely described. That these three men were not manifestations of the three persons of the Godhead (Justin Martyr, Ambrose, Cyril), but Jehovah accompanied by two created angels (Keil, et alii, may be inferred from Genesis 19:1. When first perceived by the patriarch they were believed to be men, strangers, who were approaching his tent, and indeed were already close to it, or standing by him. And when he saw them (i.e. understood that one of them was Jehovah, Jarchi rightly explaining that the word translated above “looked,” i.e. with the bodily vision now implies an act of mental perception), he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground. The expression denotes the complete prostration of the body by first falling on the knees, and then inclining the head forwards till it touches the ground. As this was a mode of salutation practiced by Orientals towards superiors generally, such as kings and princes (2 Samuel 9:8), but also towards equals (Genesis 23:7Genesis 33:6, 7Genesis 42:6Genesis 43:26), as well as towards the Deity (Genesis 22:51 Samuel 1:3), it is impossible to affirm with certainty (Keil, Lunge) that an act of worship was intended by the patriarch, and not simply the presentation of human and civil honor (Calvin). If Hebrews 13:2 inclines to countenance the latter interpretation, the language in which Abraham immediately addresses one of the three men almost leads to the conclusion that already the patriarch had recognized Jehovah.

The Pulpit Commentary also has this to say about verse 8:

Verse 8. – And he took butter, – חֶמְאָה, from the root חמא, to curdle or become thick, signifies curdled milk, not butter (βούτυτρον, LXX.; butyrum, Vulgate), which was not used among Orientals except medicinally. The word occurs seven times in Scripture with four letters (Deuteronomy 32:14Judges 5:252 Samuel 17:29Isaiah 7:15, .22; Proverbs 30:33Job 20:17), and once without א (Job 29:6vide Michaelis, ‘Supplement,’ p. 807) – and milk, – חָלָב, milk whilst still fresh, or containing its fatness, from a root signifying to be fat (cf. Genesis 49:12Proverbs 27:27) – and the calf which he – i.e. the young man – had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, – a custom still observed among the Arabs, who honor their guests not by sitting to eat with, but by standing to wait upon, them – and they did eat. Not seemed to eat (Josephus, Philo, Jonathan), nor simply ate after an allegorical fashion, as fire consumes the materials put into it (Justin Martyr), but did so in reality (Tertullian, Delitzsch, Keil, Kurtz, Lange). Though the angel who appeared to Manoah (Judges 13:16) refused to partake of food, the risen Savior ate with his disciples (Luke 24:43). Physiologically inexplicable, this latter action on the part of Christ was not a mere φαινόμενον or simulation, but a veritable manducation of material food, to which Christ appealed in confirmation of the reality of his resurrection; and the acceptance of Abraham’s hospitality on the part of Jehovah and his angels may in like manner have been designed to prove that their visit to his tent at Mamre was not a dream or a vision, but a genuine external manifestation.

Ellicott’s Bible Commentary presents a third possibility for the identify of the three men.

(2) Three men.—Jewish commentators explain the number by saying that, as no angel might execute more than one commission at a time, one of the three came to heal Abraham, the second to bear the message to Sarah, and the third to destroy Sodom. More correctly one was “the angel of Jehovah,” who came as the manifestation of Deity to Abraham, and the other two were his companions, commissioned by him afterwards to execute judgment on the cities of the plain, The number three pointed also to the Trinity of Persons in the Godhead, and is therefore read by our Church as one of the lessons for Trinity Sunday. But we must be careful not to use it as a proof of this doctrine, lest the inference should be drawn of a personal appearance of the Father and of the Holy Ghost, which would savour of heretical impiety.

(8) Butter.—Heb. curds, or curdled milk. Neither the Hebrews, Greeks, nor Romans knew how to make butter, and the word itself signifies cheese made of cows’ milk. This is less prized in the East than that made from the milk of sheep, or of goats, while camels’ milk is regarded by the Arabs as best for drinking. In a hot climate milk is more refreshing when slightly sour; but Abraham brought both fresh milk (probably from the camels) and sour milk (from the sheep), and this with the cakes and the calf made a stately repast. With noble courtesy “he stood by them, and they did eat.” The Targum of Jonathan and other Jewish authorities translate “and they made show of eating,” lest it should seem as though angels ate (Judges 13:16). There is the same mystery as regards our risen Lord (Luke 24:43).

Ellicott argues that the three men are angels – one of them being The Angel of the Lord. However, this interpretation has the trouble of not being what the text actually says.

There’s another teaching on this that might serve as an explanation: The Two Jehovahs of the Pentateuch

Dr. Michael Heiser – a Christian pastor with an MA in Ancient History from the University of Pennsylvania, and an MA and PhD in the Hebrew Bible and Semitic Languages from the University of Wisconsin–Madison (with a minor in Classical studies) – who I have referred to several times in previous posts, also addresses this apparent conundrum in his coursework on “The Trinity in the Old Testament.”

______________________________

Can angels eat food?

We are led to believe from Scripture that there is food in heaven and we are told in verses we will read soon that angels can eat.

“Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”” ‭‭John‬ ‭6:31‬

“and he rained down on them manna to eat and ** (he) gave them the grain of heaven (to eat)**.” ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭78:24‬

“The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth and said, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the town square.” But he pressed them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house. And he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.” Genesis 19:1-3

______________________________

Did Abraham serve his guests a non-kosher meal by serving meat and milk together? Answer from chabad.org

a. A simple answer would be that this story took place before the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, and the kosher laws—as well as all other Torah laws—were not yet binding. However, the Talmud tells us that Abraham kept all of the Torah, including the kosher laws, even though he was not commanded to do so.2

b. A careful look at the verse shows that Abraham did not actually dine with his guests. Rather, he served the butter, milk, and meat to people whom he believed to be traveling gentiles (there were no other Jews back then), and were obviously under no dietary obligations. Abraham saw no reason that his personal stringencies should diminish the enjoyment of his guests.3

What about the angels? How could they eat non-kosher? According to one opinion, the angels didn’t eat at all; they merely appeared to be eating, out of respect for their host.4

There is, however, a Midrash which contends that this was no show of etiquette; the angels actually ate meat and milk together. Years later, when Moses was about to be given the Torah, the angels protested, saying that mortal man does not deserve G‑d’s greatest treasure, the Torah. Moses, in typical Jewish fashion, answered a question with questions of his own, and asked the angels (among other things), “You knew the Torah. Did this stop you from indulging in a mixture of milk and meat at Abraham’s place?” The angels had no reply, and the rest is history.5 For more on that altercation, see The Sinai Files.

c. Some commentaries point out that the verse indicates that Abraham first served dairy and then the meat.6 Jewish law specifies that one may eat meat immediately after dairy (except for certain aged cheeses), provided that one adequately cleans one’s mouth and hands between the two. See Waiting Periods Between Meat and Dairy for the details. Hence, the meal was in compliance with the kosher laws.

Overall, we see that this small section of verses raises some rather large questions.

2 thoughts on “Genesis (Part 72)

  1. I’m really grateful that I found these in depth Genesis posts because I think that Genesis is one of the most interesting and “entertaining” chapters of the Bible. So it’s awesome to be able to delve deeper into it.

Leave a Reply