Genesis (Part 73)

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

Genesis: 18:9-15

They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” 10 The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15 But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

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“wife” = אִשָּׁה ʼishshâh, ish-shaw’; feminine of H376 or H582; irregular plural, נָשִׁים nâshîym;(used in the same wide sense as H582) a woman:—(adulter) ess, each, every, female, × many, none, one, together, wife, woman. Often unexpressed in English.

Verse 10 presents a translation issue.

10 The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him

If you look for the word “Lord” in the Hebrew, though, you will not find it directly. Instead, the underlying phrase says “and he said.” The phrase comes from the following Hebrew word.

אָמַר ʼâmar, aw-mar’; a primitive root; to say (used with great latitude):—answer, appoint, avouch, bid, boast self, call, certify, challenge, charge, (at the, give) command(-ment), commune, consider, declare, demand, × desire, determine, × expressly, × indeed, × intend, name, × plainly, promise, publish, report, require, say, speak (against, of), × still, × suppose, talk, tell, term, × that is, × think, use (speech), utter, × verily, × yet.

The reason for this translation choice is unclear to me. The KJV renders it “and he said.” However, the answer may lie in verse 13.

The Lord in verse 13 is יְהֹוָה Yᵉhôvâh, yeh-ho-vaw’; from H1961; (the) self-Existent or Eternal; Jeho-vah, Jewish national name of God:—Jehovah, the Lord. Since the speaker in verse 13 *appears* to be the same as the speaker in verse 10, perhaps the translators for the ESV changed “and he said” to “the Lord said” in verse 10 to reflect consistency.

From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(9) They said.—But in Genesis 18:10 “he said,” and in Genesis 18:13Genesis 18:17Genesis 18:20, &c, “the Lord (Jehovah) said.” The messenger speaks as one with Jehovah, or as being His representative.

Where is Sarah thy wife?—This question is contrary to Oriental manners, as the women may be referred to only in the most indirect manner. But during the meal Abraham, as he talked with the strangers, had probably begun to recognise in them something more than human.

Ellicott addresses a point of controversy among scholars. Is God literally present here, as the text says, or is it proper for representatives (angels) speaking on God’s behalf to be written about and addressed as though they *are* the one they represent.

When searching through Jewish sources for the nature of these three men, I cam across this article from aish.com

Although the Torah does not mention the names of the angels that went to visit Abraham, the Talmud tells us they were Raphael, Michael and Gabriel. (Bava Metzia 86b)

Throughout most of their interaction, the Torah does not refer to them on an individual basis, but rather as a group, as it is written, “[Abraham] stood over THEM beneath the tree and THEY ate. [Afterwards,] THEY said to him…” (Genesis 18:8-9)

There are, however, instances in which the angels act as individuals. For example, only the angel Michael told Sarah that she was going to have a baby (Genesis 18:10). In Sodom, only the angel Raphael told Lot to flee from the city (Genesis 19:17). Similarly, it was only the angel Gabriel that informed Lot that the city was going to be destroyed.

From these verses, we can derive that an angel can only perform one mission: Gabriel’s mission was to destroy Sodom; Michael’s mission was to inform Sarah that she would give birth in a year’s time; Raphael’s mission was to heal Abraham and save Lot. (Although Raphael’s mission included two tasks, they were considered a single mission since they were both acts that saved people). (Talmud – Bava Metzia 86b, Rashi – Genesis 18:2 and 19:16)

This now helps us understand your question: Why did three angels come to Abraham, but only two go to Lot?

The answer is that since Michael’s sole mission was to tell Sarah she would become pregnant, he had no business in Sodom. Therefore, upon leaving Abraham’s tent he went back to his post at God’s Holy Throne. But Gabriel, who was left with his task of destroying Sodom, and Raphael, who was commanded to save Lot, had not yet finished their tasks, and continued to Sodom. (Rashi – Genesis 19:1 and 9:16)

Assuming then that the Talmud account is correct, Ellicott’s interpretation – that the angels are spoken about as God, because they are acting on behalf of God – is the correct one.

Going back to Ellicott for another look at verse 10:

(10) According to the time of life.—Heb., according to the living time. It is evident from Genesis 18:14, and 2 Kings 4:16-17, that these words denote some fixed period, but the exact rendering is in dispute. “When the season revives” = next spring, is entirely remote from Oriental thought, and the rendering of Zunz “at the living time” is poetical, but meaningless. The true rendering is probably “a year hence,” as when the year is over it dies, and a new year lives in its place. Jewish tradition is strongly in favour of this view, translating “according to this time next year,” and adding that the season was the Passover. The only other tenable rendering is “in course of time.”

Which was behind him.—The LXX. has a preferable reading, and she was behind it. The door, as we have seen, was an opening made by looping back the curtain, which would effectually conceal Sarah’s person.

The ESV renders the translation “about this time next year” while the underlying Hebrew states “according to the time of life.” Again, the KJV renders a more accurate – though more confusing – translation: “10 And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; “

From David Guzik’s Commentary:

Then they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” So he said, “Here, in the tent.” And He said, “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.” (Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him.)

a. I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son: We may wonder why God repeated the promise again, so close to the time when He said it previously. After all, it seems God was silent about the promise for more than 13 years. Now He came personally to repeat it twice in three months.

b. Sarah your wife shall have a son: We need to hear God’s promises over and over again. It is a way God uses to encourage and develop our faith: So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).

i. Perhaps also, Abraham and Sarah needed this visit to be an encouragement for them to do what they needed to do in bringing God’s promise to pass – to have sexual relations.

One of the reasons that I like to read commentaries while doing this study is that sometimes someone will point out the obvious thing I overlooked. In b(i) above we get an example of something obvious that I would not have thought of on my own. It makes sense, though. They are both at or near a century old.

From the Pulpit Commentary:

Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?Verse 12. – Therefore (literally, and) Sarah laughed within herself – Abraham had laughed in joyful amazement, (Genesis 18:17) at the first mention of Sarah s son; Sarah laughs, if not in unbelief (Calvin, Keil, ‘Speaker’s Commentary,’ Wordsworth), at least with a mingled feeling of doubt and delight (Lange, Murphy) at the announcement of her approaching maternity – saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? – literally, and my lord, i.e. my husband, is old. The reverential submission to Abraham which Sarah here displays is in the New Testament commended as a pattern to Christian wives (1 Peter 3:6).

And the LORD said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old?Verse 13. – And the Lord said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, – a question which must have convinced Abraham of the Speaker’s omniscience. Not only had he heard the silent, inaudible, inward cachinnation of Sarah’s spirit, but he knew the tenor of her thoughts, and the purport of her dubitations – saying, Shall I of a surely bear a child, whilst (literally, and I) am old? Sarah s mental cogitations clearly showed that the temporary obscuration of her faith proceeded from a strong realization of the weakness of nature, which made conception and pregnancy impossible to one like her, who was advanced in years; and accordingly her attention, as well as that of her husband, was directed to the Divine omnipotence as the all-sufficient guarantee for the accomplishment of the promise.

Here we get to the moment for which Sarah (fairly or unfairly) might be most well-remembered. She is the first woman even mentioned by name, in Genesis, since Eve. The Jewish Women’s Archive (jwa.org) has more to say about her including a lot of information from the midrash. From the JWA link above:

The midrash presents her as a prophet and a righteous woman whose actions are worthy of emulation; she converted Gentiles and drew them into the bosom of Judaism. The changing of her name from Sarai was her reward for her good deeds, and attests to her designation as a Sarah (i.e., one of the ruling ones) not only for her own people, but for all the peoples of the world. By merit of her good deeds, the people of Israel would merit certain boons; thus, for example, Israel received the manna in the wilderness by merit of the cakes that Sarah prepared for the angels.

Abraham and Sarah were related before they married. Abraham says (Gen. 20:12): “And besides, she is in truth my sister, my father’s daughter though not my mother’s; and she became my wife.” The Torah relates of their marriage (Gen. 11:29): “Abram and Nahor took to themselves wives, the name of Abram’s wife being Sarai and that of Nahor’s wife Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and Iscah.” The special structure of this verse led the rabbis to identify Iscah with Sarah; thus, Abraham married his brother’s daughter (BT Sanhedrin 69b).

The midrash asserts that all the Patriarchs and Matriarchs were termed “prophets” (Seder Olam Rabbah 21). The Rabbis note that God himself attested to Sarah’s being a prophet when He told Abraham (Gen. 21:12): “Whatever Sarah tells you, do as she says” (BT Sanhedrin loc. cit.). Another exegetical tradition lists Sarah among the seven women prophets, the others being Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah and Esther. Her prophetic ability is also learned from her name Iscah, for she saw [sokah] the spirit of divine inspiration (BT Megillah 14a).

The Rabbis applied to Sarah Prov. 12:4: “A capable wife [eshet hayyil] is a crown for her husband.” While she was not ennobled through her husband, he was ennobled through her. She is also called her husband’s “lady,” or mistress of the house. Everywhere it is the husband who has the final word, but here (Gen. 21:12), “Whatever Sarah tells you, do as she says” (Gen. Rabbah 47:1). The midrash further tells that on their journeys Abraham would first erect Sarah’s tent before he tended to his own (Gen. Rabbah 39:15).

Regarding Sarah’s good attributes, it is said that Abraham and Sarah converted the Gentiles. Abraham would convert the men, and Sarah, the women. These converts are (Gen. 12:5) “the persons [nefesh, literally souls] that they acquired [asu, literally, made] in Haran,” because if anyone converts a Gentile, it is as if he created him (Gen. Rabbah 39:14).

There’s quite a bit more there at the link and the history in general is fascinating. Sarah is also an important figure in Islam. From Wiki:

The Islamic portrayal of Sarah, who is unnamed in the Quran, mimics that of her portrayal in Judaism and Christianity, in that she is a good woman, kin and wife to Abraham, who, after years of barrenness, is blessed with a son, the prophet Isaac. However, notable differences exist in the portrayal of her relationships with Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael. She is not portrayed as Abraham’s sister but his first cousin, said to be the daughter of Terah’s brother, Haran, and Hagar is not portrayed as Abraham’s mistress but a second wife, eliminating the hostility that Sarah feels for Hagar during her pregnancy and toward Ishmael.[26][27][28] Therefore, which makes Ishmael the legitimate progenitor of the Islamic religion since both Abraham and Ishmael built the sacred and holy Ka’aba.

Looking once more at Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(14) Is anything too hard for the Lord?—Heb., Is anything too wonderful for Jehovah? At last it is made evident that the travellers are messengers from God; but until this declaration, there could have been, at most, only a dim feeling that the visitation was more than human. Though the angel does not claim for himself divinity, yet the narrator prefixes to his words, And Jehovah said. In some ineffable way there was an identity between Jehovah and the angel.

(15) Sarah denied.—With strange inconsistency Sarah knows that the speaker is Divine, and that He perceived the thoughts that passed “within herself” in the retirement of the tent, and yet denies; but it was the inconsistency of fright. Struck with terror at the thought that she had ridiculed the promise of Jehovah, she offers no excuse, but takes refuge, as frightened people are apt to do, in falsehood. Gently reproved, the result was the building-up of her faith, just as Mary’s doubt was removed and her faith perfected by the angel’s words (Luke 1:34-37).

The Pulpit Commentary makes the same assumption regarding Sarah’s motives that Ellicott makes:

Verse 15. – Then Sarah (who had overheard the conversation, and the charge preferred against her, and who probably now appeared before the stranger) denied, saying, I laughed not. Sarah s conduct will admit of no other explanation than that which the sacred narrative itself gives. For she was afraid. The knowledge that her secret thoughts had been deciphered must have kindled in her breast the suspicion that her visitor was none other than Jehovah. With this a sense of guilt would immediately assail her conscience for having cherished even a moment any doubt of the Divine word. In the consequent confusion of soul she tries what ever seems to be the first impulse of detected transgressions, viz., deception (cf. Genesis 3:12, 13). And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh. With a directness similar to that which he employed in dealing with the first culprits in the garden, not contending in a multiplicity of words, but solemnly announcing that what she said was false. The silence of Sarah was an evidence of her conviction; her subsequent conception was a proof of her repentance and forgiveness.

A shallow reading of the text my render it somewhat comedic. “I did not laugh.” “No, you did laugh.” When you consider that she is arguing with a celestial being(s), though, it was undoubtedly terrifying for Sarah.

From David Guzik:

c. Is there anything too hard for the Lord? Thankfully not, and God can also triumph even over our weak faith.

i. Hard is the same word for wonderful in Isaiah 9:6For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given … And His name will be called Wonderful. Jesus is our “wonderful” One, and He isn’t to hard or wonderful for God to give unto us.

d. The Lord said to Abraham: Significantly, God dealt with Abraham about this, not Sarah herself, because Abraham was the head of his home.

The word translated as “too hard” is פָּלָא pâlâʼ, paw-law’; a primitive root; properly, perhaps to separate, i.e. distinguish (literally or figuratively); by implication, to be (causatively, make) great, difficult, wonderful:—accomplish, (arise…too, be too) hard, hidden, things too high, (be, do, do a, shew) marvelous(-ly, -els, things, work), miracles, perform, separate, make singular, (be, great, make) wonderful(-ers, -ly, things, works), wondrous (things, works, -ly).

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