Genesis (Part 74)

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

Genesis: 18:16-21

16 Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way. 17 The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, 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 to Abraham what he has promised him.” 20 Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”

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We transition from the Lord’s promise to Abraham and Sarah to the judgment of Sodom.

Ellicott’s Bible Commentary notes the transition:

(16) The men . . . looked toward Sodom.—This visitation of God combined mercy and love for Abraham, and through him for all mankind, with the punishment of men whose wickedness was so universal that there were none left among them to bear witness for God, and labour for a better state of things. There is a strange mingling of the human and the Divine in the narrative. Even after the fuller manifestation of themselves they are still called men, and Abraham continues to discharge the ordinary duties of hospitality by accompanying them as their guide. Their route would lie to the south-east, over the hill-country of Judah, and tradition represents Abraham as having gone with them as far as the village of Caphar-Barucha, whence it is possible through a deep ravine to see the Dead Sea.

Though we can be certain that “the men” are celestial – perhaps angels or the Lord Himself in some manner – the text continues to refer to them as men. “Men” is from the following Hebrew word in this instance:

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.

This word for man is related to the name given to the son of Seth, Enos:

אֱנוֹשׁ ʼĔnôwsh, en-ohsh’; the same as H582; Enosh, a son of Seth:—Enos.

There reference here to H582 leads us directly back to our definition above. As a result, we can also read “the men” as being references to the son of Seth. This is a break from our first introduction to the word “man” which was:

אָדַם ʼâdam, aw-dam’; from H119; ruddy i.e. a human being (an individual or the species, mankind, etc.):—× another, hypocrite, common sort, × low, man (mean, of low degree), person.

English fails to render a distinction between these two words but they are two distinct words in Hebrew. Should we assume the distinction is important?

  • Jehovah’s Witnesses view the distinction as important. (Check out the article at the link)
  • “ADÁM” – the name used in the Creation chapters of Genesis (see also: Exodus 4:11; Leviticus 1:2; Number 3:13; Deuteronomy 4:28; Joshua 11:14; Judges 16:7; 1 Samuel 15:29; 2 Samuel 7:14; 1 Kings 4:31; 2 Kings 7:10; 1 Chronicles 5:21; 2 Chronicles 6:18; Nehemiah 2:10; Job 5:7; Psalms 8:4; Proverbs 3:4; Ecclesiastes 1:3; Isaiah 2:9; Jeremiah 2:6; Lamentations 3:36; Ezekiel 1:5; Daniel 8:16; Hosea 6:7; Amos 4:13; Jonah 3:7; Micah 2:12; Habakkuk 1:14; Zephaniah 1:3; Haggai 1:11; Zechariah 2:4; Malachi 3:8
  • “ENÓSH” – the name used after the fall (also: Deuteronomy 32:6; 1 Samuel 2:33; 2 King 25:19; 2 Chronicles 14:11; Job 4:17; Psalms 8:4; Proverbs 29:8; Isaiah 8:1; Jeremiah 20:10; Joel 2:7)
  • “GEBER”גֶּבֶר geber, gheh’-ber; from H1396; properly, a valiant man or warrior; generally, a person simply:—every one, man, × mighty. (used throughout, including in Job 38:3; Exodus 10:11; Joshua 7:14; Judges 5:30; 2 Samuel 23:1; Psalms 34:8; Proverbs 6:34; Isaiah 22:17; Jeremiah 17:5)

The most commonly used word for man, throughout, is “ADÁM” though the other two forms are also used throughout with different forms often used by the same author. In addition to the slight variations in definition, the fact that the words are used separately, by the same author, also presents a clue that each words means something different when used.

In a brief search, I have not found much existing scholarship on the distinction. This seems like a fertile topic for future research.

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Returning to the text at verse 17, let’s see our note from The Pulpit Commentary:

Verse 17. – And the Lord said (to himself), Shall I hide from Abraham – the LXX. interpolate, τοῦ παιδός μου; but, as Philo observes, τοῦ φιλοῦ μου would have been a more appropriate designation for the patriarch (cf. 2 Chronicles 20:7Isaiah 41:8James 2:23) that thing which I do. I.e. propose to do, the present being used for the future, where, as m the utterances of God, whose will is equivalent to his deed, the action is regarded by the Speaker as being already as good as finished (vide Ewald, ‘Hebrews Synt.,’ § 135; Gesenius, § 126).

Verse 18. – Seeing that Abraham shall surely become (literally, becoming shall become) a great and mighty nation (cf. Genesis 12:2Genesis 17:4-6), and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? The import of Jehovah’s self-interrogation was, that since Abraham had already been promoted to so distinguished a position, not only was there no sufficient reason why the Divine purpose concerning Sodom should be concealed from him, but, on the contrary, the gracious footing of intimacy which subsisted between himself and his humble friend almost necessitated some sort of friendly communication on the subject, and all the more for the reason next appended.

I find it absolutely fascinating that The Lord muses him Himself, aloud, about whether to share what is about to happen with Abraham. Did God already know what He planned? Of course. We will see in the verses ahead that God’s decision to share this information with Abraham led to a negotiation with Abraham, too. Did God know the outcome of that negotiation beforehand? Undoubtedly. The purpose in sharing, then, seems to be a show of respect for his servant Abraham and an outcome wherein Abraham is settled internally with the outcome, too. What God is about to do here is… dramatic.

Returning to Ellicott’s Bible Commentary for verse 19:

(19) For I know him, that he will.—This translation has most of the Versions in its favour, and means that Abraham’s good conduct earns for him the Divine condescension. But the Hebrew is, For I have known him in order that he may command his sons, &c. It gives God foreknowledge of the purpose for which He had called Abraham as the reason for thus revealing to him the method of the Divine justice. And this purpose was, that from Abraham should spring a nation whose institutions were to be fraught with Divine truth, whose prophets were to be the means of revealing God’s will to man, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, the Messiah should come. What more fitting than that one appointed to fill so noble a calling should also be raised to the rank of a prophet, and be permitted to share in the Divine counsels? This rendering closely agrees with what is said in Genesis 18:18 about Abraham growing into a mighty nation; and it was the unique and high purpose for which this nation was to be called into being which brought Abraham into so close a relation to Jehovah.

The note here also implies that Abraham was included in the counsel of God in this matter due to his role among mankind more generally.

In verses 20 and 21 we see the next steps forward in God’s judgment. From David Guzik’s Commentary:

(Gen 18:20-21) God tells Abraham He will see if Sodom and Gomorrah are worthy of judgment.

And the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”

Again here, does God know what He will find when He investigates directly? Of course. It thus seems that the investigation itself is a part of God’s plan for executing the judgment. The investigation also provides an example of how men should act when seeking and executing justice. The investigation is important even when we believe that we know the answer.

From the Pulpit Commentary on verse 21:

Verse 21. – I will go down now (cf. Genesis 11:5), and see (judicial investigation ever precedes judicial infliction at the Divine tribunal) whether they have done altogether – literally, whether they have made cow, piousness, i.e. carried their iniquity to perfection, to the highest pitch of wickedness (Calvin, Delitzsch, Keil); or consummated their wickedness, by carrying it to that pitch of fullness which works death (Ainsworth, Kalisch, Rosenmüller). The received rendering, which regards כלה as an adverb, has the authority of Luther and Gesenius – according to the cry of it, which has come unto me; and if not, I will know. The LXX. render ἵνα γνῶ, meaning, “should it not be so, I will still go down, that I may ascertain the exact truth;” the Chaldee paraphrases, “and if they repent, I will not exact punishment.” The entire verse is anthropomorphic, and designed to express the Divine solicitude that the strictest justice should characterize all his dealings both with men and nations.

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And we are now teed up for the start of one of the most fiery sections of text in the Bible.

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