I have asked this question before: Do you truly believe in God? This can also be taken as Do you truly believe in Jesus Christ? Or, Do you truly believe in the Holy Spirit? As I have suggested previously, I doubt it very much, if we go by the lives and beliefs of so many Christians today.
When you pray, do you truly believe that God is hearing you? More than that, do you truly believe He answers prayer? It is very easy to approach the whole thing with the ‘glazed eyes’ I mention so often in my writings about charismaticism. Even reformed Christians do this!
What do I mean? I mean having a pretend faith in a very real God. God is real, Heaven is real. What God says is real and what He says He will do is real. But, usually, our response to Him is not. When a zealot wishes to convince of the reality of the subject of his zeal, he will become ‘glazed-eyed’, his over-enthusiasm being an indication of his non-faith. Real faith does not need to be worked-up into frenzy before it seems real. It is either real or it is not.
True faith is the fabric of our souls. It is the substance of our spirits. It is what we are. And nothing can be more real than ourselves. We know we are real because here we are, breathing, moving, doing! If faith is not like that, then it is not true faith, but a sham. And most Christians seem to operate at this sham level. Yes, they had true faith when they were saved, but since then they have slipped, wearing a heavy load of cynicism on their backs, weighing them down, making them weary.
In an effort to convince themselves, they glaze their eyes over, so that the pain of their unbelief does not show through too badly to others… and if others then think they are full of faith, they are happy, at least outwardly. But, inwardly, their doubt eats away like cancer. Often, they dare not admit this to themselves let alone to others. So the problem deepens.
Are they truly Believers? Yes, of course they are, at least at the point of their earthly salvation. But, at some time their true faith started to disintegrate slowly. When life threw up its many hazards and blows, they were mistaken for God’s disinterest, and with each blow faith weakened. Not outwardly - for Christians are very good at pretending all is well and that God is with them – but inwardly where it really matters. Inwardly their faith is the exact opposite of their public confession! I know it because I’ve been there and done it! And I see it all the time.
It is this pretence, this refusal to admit to being human (and therefore sinful and doubting), that prevents a cure. If we do not admit to our brethren that we are struggling, then nothing gets done. We should, of course, admit it to God first – but our ebbing faith does not allow us to do this. How can we talk to God, when our notion of Him is less than real? In the deepest part of our souls, even when we pray we pray emptily, not really believing God is there or that He will answer us. Thus, we throw out prayers with a sense of duty, rather than of love and faith.
Everyday life seems to crush us. People and things stop us enjoying our spiritual lives, and it all starts to disappear, leaving us as shells without substance. In this chapter we see Sarah laughing at God’s promise. In His mercy God did not then reverse His decision or strike her down dead on the spot. He simply repeated His promise, ignoring the woman’s stupidity. Her lifelong desire was to have her own child. But, as the years rolled on she forgot that God can do anything and her faith in God diminished. That is why she laughed; her mind ran along human lines, forgetting that God is infinite and can do anything.
We should thank God that He does not treat us as we ought to be treated! If He did, we would not be alive today! But, we are seeing in God’s mercy the fact of predestination and election. We are seeing, in this, the repudiation of Arminianism, the belief that we can do something toward salvation or the obtaining of benefits from God. Even when we laugh at God or show blatant disbelief, His promises remain. He does not remove Himself because we doubt or scorn, or we slide into our own mess. He stays with us. We struggle onward, without realising that God is patiently waiting for us to return to the truth and to Himself. There God is, in the middle of our weakness! He will only remove His active presence if we deliberately oppose Him.
I know what it is like to pretend, to suffer inwardly and silently, making a great show of faith to others, but dying inside. So, I have empathy with all Believers who do not truly believe. But, empathy does not cure the problem. It takes active service! The soldier does not become battle-hardened by sleeping on soft cushions in a palace. No do we have true faith by pretending we have it. Faith is a gift of God. We cannot manufacture it. So, how can we have this true faith, if God gives it… and we no longer seem to believe He is there?
Do not misunderstand faith. We do not just wait. Everyone who is truly saved knows it, even when faith appears to have flown out the window. If this truth is in you, grasp God with both hands! The things you inwardly cannot lay claim to must be taken as a gift. Though momentarily you may not inwardly believe it to be real, grasp it anyway. Why?
Well, let us say you do not truly believe that a giraffe exists, because you have never seen one. A giraffe is brought into your garden. There it is. But, you cling to your doubt and unbelief. Does that mean the giraffe is not there? No, it just means you are too stubborn to accept it! Likewise, faith is a gift of God, given to all who are saved. It does not go away because you lack belief. It just sits there, waiting. Satan tries his very best to reduce your faith, with all kinds of things, such as life’s blows, job problems, health risks, the pretence of others, false claims by false teachers… and you begin to sink. But, the gift of God remains where it is, waiting to be recognised and used.
Have faith, my friends, for faith is already given to you by God. You cannot get it for yourself, or make it happen. You simply grasp it with both hands and, before you know it, true faith gives you divinely sourced strength of soul. Abraham knew it, though he erred plenty. So did his wife, Sarah. Sarah was not too old to bear a child... not in God’s eternity! Nor are you too old to seize hold of the faith that is yours by gift. Doubt is a temporary product of Satan’s deceptions, but faith is eternal. You cannot lose it as a child of God, but you can cover it with human debris.
“And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;
And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground,
And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant:
Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree:
And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said.”
This is an intriguing and exciting text! Let us see why…
Who are these three men? Abraham was taking a rest at the hottest time of the day, sitting in the opening of his tent in the plain of Mamre, not looking at anything in particular. We are told straight away that the Lord appeared to him, so we know that one of these three men was the ‘Lord’… but Who?
By deduction we can say that both the Father and the Holy Ghost are spirit. Only the Son, Jesus Christ, came to this earth in human form. So, one of those men had to be Christ. We cannot tell this from the name ‘Lord’, because this is the generic name, Jehovah, meaning ‘the existing one’, the one true God. The fact soon emerges.
Abraham was looking downward, but when he lifted his head he saw three men standing not far off; they came from nowhere. Immediately, he got up and ran quickly toward them. When he reached them he “bowed himself toward the ground.” This was the act of a man bowing low, or prostrating himself, before his superior; shacha. (Adonay is an emphatic form of the root adown, meaning master, king, or Lord God).
That is, Abraham was paying homage to God. Interestingly, shacha can also apply to bowing before an angel. Coupled with Abraham’s words, “my Lord”, Adonay (used in place of Yahweh), we can say that Abraham was prostrate before Christ and two angels. Though none of them actually identified himself as Christ or an angel, Abraham knew instantly.
This is an example of the spirit of a man communing with the spirit of God. The two, combined, forge an unbreakable assurance that gives an unshakeable faith. Often, I am asked how we know when God (and not our own mind or Satan) is talking to us. My answer is always the same – we simply ‘know’, with a firm assurance that cannot be removed. It is not the same as mere human confidence or determination (found in most cults, such as Romanism and charismaticism). It is a divine gift. It is an assurance that transcends any and all problems and barriers.
We already know that Abraham, up to this time, had made many errors of judgement, yet God is talking to him directly, in the presence of two angels. Once again, we see in this the fact that we cannot claim anything in our own strength, or by our own will. Only God can give us what is holy and true. Whatever good we receive is not as a result of any human goodness we think we have – it is a free gift.
The above deductions are given further credence by the words, “if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant.” Though only a recent inhabitant in the land, Abraham was servant to no man. Indeed, had he not just come back from a running battle in which he proved his superiority over surrounding chiefs and kings?
The word ‘servant’, ebed, can mean, on occasions, a form of address between equals. But, this is not the sense here, for Abraham lay prostrate before the three men, making himself subject to them. The contextual sense, then, is that Abraham was declaring himself to be the servant or worshipper of God, and he lived to serve Him, abad.
Abraham began his statement with a query, “if… I have found favour”. The ‘if’ is known as a conditional clause (see Article A-045), the Hebrew ‘im’. That is, the answer from the three men/God depended on whether or not they thought Abraham was worthy to offer them refreshment. Again, this is the attitude of a servant toward a superior, not that of a ruler before his equal or his inferior.
Abraham wanted to know if he had found ‘favour’ or grace, chen, in the sight of God – acceptance. As this is from chanan – to seek, or even to implore favour, we can see, from the analysis of the text that the three men were of heavenly origin, considered to be superior by Abraham, who was himself a ruler of no mean wealth and power.
Abraham did not want them to be alienated from him, abar, and to walk away from him, leaving him without blessing. So, he asked them to stay awhile… let me give you some water and bread, and let me wash your feet (the act of a man welcoming visitors in the desert). Evidently his tent was right next to a tree with branches offering shade, for he suggested they sit under it whilst they drank the water and ‘sustained their souls’. After that, he said, you may go on your way. After all, he added, that is why you came to me. And ‘they’ agreed, saying “do as you say”.
We are not told if the three responded individually, or if Christ answered, perhaps, on the part of them all. This is another clue as to how we should work out our assurance. As Believers we have the Holy Spirit within. He guides us throughout our lives, daily. So, when we obey and live holy lives, He will show us how to act and speak and even what to think. We then go forth and do whatever we believe is good, and God is with us. There need not be a blinding flash or a great clap of thunder! Here, Abraham did what most folk in the desert would have done, and it was counted in his favour by God. It was his acknowledgement of Christ that made the situation different and remarkable.
We also see in this situation the ‘everyday’, ordinary image of God speaking to a man. Without doubt, Abraham was not having a vision or a dream; he was seeing and talking to actual persons, just as Jesus appeared before the men on the road to Emmaus, and to the disciples, etc. However, Christ said that once He went into heaven He would send the Comforter (the Holy Ghost) to take His place. That is why no man has seen Christ since, except for Paul. And that is why charismatics and others who claim Christ came to them in person, have been subject to demons, and have been deceived.
Every Christian can have this everyday occurrence. That is, when God wishes to be made known. He may not appear as a person, but He certainly comes to Christians in person. The thing is – do we recognise Him when He comes? Like Abraham, do we immediately see Who it is and run toward Him as His servant? When we run toward God, He meets us and embraces us, giving us many blessings.
Sadly, most Christians do not see God, but only the desert; they only see the sand, and life’s problems, and psychological explanations. That is why they never soar to the clouds and experience glory in their lives (and I do not mean the ‘glazed-eyed’ fakery experienced by charismatics). When was the last time you saw God, and not your perception of things, explaining them away in terms of psychology, or politics, or medicine, etc.?
“And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth.
And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it.
And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.”
Do you sense the excitement in Abraham? Can you see in the text that he was joyous over this encounter, maybe even almost falling over himself in his hurry (as the word mahar suggests)? He hastened into the tent again to find Sarah. ‘Quickly’, he said, ‘get three measures (about one third of an ephah per measure, thus one whole ephah), of the best meal (flour) and make cakes on the hot stones in the fire!’
The scene brings with it the idea of anxiety to please. When he told Sarah what to do, he rushed out again and “ran unto the herd”. He ran out, ruwts, darted, ran swiftly, to his cattle. He looked around and found the best calf he could see, which was ‘tender’, rak – soft and delicate, and ‘good’, towb – pleasant, excellent and valuable.
He led the calf away and gave it to one of his young male servants, who killed it and ‘dressed’ it – cut it up into joints and cooked it. When it was ready, Abraham got butter (or curd) and milk – chalab, which may have been cheese, sour milk, or fresh milk, and served the three men as they sat under the tree. He did everything to make his visitors happy and, in so doing, made himself happy, too. A great maxim in life.
Very often, as I have found in what is, amongst ministries, a very tough ministry, that doing the will of God is reward in itself, even when I see no tangible proof that God has used it in any way. Abraham had not even asked the names of his visitors, or what they had come for, yet He knew one of them was God, Christ, and, by his actions and words, shows us that he bent over backwards to be their servant. He did not care for himself, only for God.
“And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent.
And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him.
Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.
Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”
We cannot tell if the question set by the men was asked before, during, or after, the meal that was offered. “Where is Sarah your wife?” Abraham said she was in the tent. There is now a switch from ‘they said’ to ‘he said’ that is reminiscent of a similar complex interchange found in early Genesis, when God spoke as a trinity (‘we’, ‘us’ etc) and yet as a single God.
We can again assume that the ‘he’ referred to is Christ, Who advised that He would return to the couple “according to the time of life”. That is, “on the occasion of”, chay – reviving, living, or chayah – to have life, to cause to grow, etc. When linked with the following phrase “Sarah thy wife shall have a son”, the latter qualifies the first statement, and can be taken to mean, ‘in nine months time, Sarah will have a son’.
Sarah must have been listening from just inside the tent, because she heard what was said. She did not need to ponder over the promise, because she no longer experienced periods – they had finished long ago. Sarah laughed inwardly, thinking the promise to be preposterous. There is no way I will have that pleasure, she said to herself, especially as Abraham is also very old, just like me!
How often do we ask God for something - which Sarah had done for all her married life - and yet inwardly reject the idea that God will do anything for us? Too often, I say, if you are anything like me! More likely, we ask without expectation or belief.
“And the LORD said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old?
Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.
Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh.”
The response from under the tree was immediate! And the words show us further proof that the main person speaking was indeed Christ “the Lord”, for this time, instead of Adonay, we have the word ‘Jehovah’ used for ‘Lord’.
Christ knew how Sarah had reacted though she did not utter a word. ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say that it is impossible to have a child because she is old?’ How would you respond to someone who laughed at you and threw your gift back in your face? Well, Christ simply ignored it! He went on to say “Is anything too hard for Jehovah?” Is anything beyond God’s power? Of course not. It does not matter what it is – God can do it.
However, on a point of accuracy, it does not mean that God will do whatever you ask of Him. What you ask must always be within His declared bounds, for there are certain things He will not do or cannot do. An obvious thing He cannot do, for example, is to commit sin so that you can have this or that. But, when we ask in His will, it is done.
Christ repeated His promise: in nine months’ time, He would return, and Sarah would give birth to a son. When Sarah heard this she lied: ‘No, I did not laugh!’ So, she tried lying to cover a lie! The fact that this stranger knew her thoughts did not prevent her from jumping deeper into sin. Christ quickly replied: ‘Oh yes you did’, and that was the end of the encounter. He could have removed the promise, but God does not do that. Once He has promised us something He will never take it away again (unless He gives a conditional clause).
“And the men rose up from thence, and looked toward Sodom: and Abraham went with them to bring them on the way.
And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do;
Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?
For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.”
The three men then stood up and started to walk toward the direction of Sodom. Abraham went with them to see them off. As they walked Christ turned to Abraham and said ‘I will not hide from you what I am about to do, because one day you shall be a great and powerful nation that will bless all others.’
‘I know’, continued Christ, ‘that you will instruct your kinsmen and family to keep my ways and to live in honour and true judgement. That is why I will give you everything, just as I have promised before.’ And so God, as Christ, gave Abraham the great honour of taking him into His confidence. You will note that when Christ talked, He was actually prophesying about Abraham’s future conduct… God knows us in every way, even in advance.
“And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous;
I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know.
And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the LORD.
And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?
Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein?
That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
And the LORD said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.”
Christ then told Abraham that He knew of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, for He had heard their ‘cry’, za aq, clamour. This is an Aramaic word suggesting outcry, something horrid. We know Christ is talking about their many sins, because it is what He says: ”their sin is very grievous.” The word ‘grievous’ kabed, means something that is numerous, massive, abundant, oppressive and burdensome. The cities were not guilty of a single sin, but of many, all despised by God, which rendered them kabad – dull and insensible.
Christians should note – for many think otherwise – that God does not just bother with the sins of Christians. He also observes and punishes the sins of the unsaved. That is one reason why we may not, under any circumstances, condone the sins of the unsaved and the wicked. They may not be excused, whether they live in complete ignorance of God and His demands, or not. Sin is sin, at any age, in any creed, in people of any colour, and punishment of death and hell remains the same.
‘I will go and discover if what I hear is as wicked as it seems. I will know the truth.’ We may ask at this point why God should ask such a question, for it suggests that He does not know everything after all. Such a doubt should be erased, for God does know everything. He knew that the cities were really as wicked as He had said. I cannot say for certain why He therefore said He would find out if it was all true, but I suggest that there are only two possibilities – Christ was either testing Abraham’s heart, or, He was using rhetoric.
After His statement, Christ and the two angels turned from speaking with Abraham and began walking toward Sodom. Bravely (or foolishly), Abraham stood in front of Christ and stopped Him, saying ‘But will you kill the righteous as well as the wicked?’ (Possibly, he had Lot and his family in mind, but this is only my guess).
‘What if there are, say, fifty righteous people in the city? Will you destroy the whole city, or will you spare the city for the sake of the righteous within its walls? Surely such a thought is far from your mind, to kill righteous men alongside the wicked!’
Then, Abraham confirms our interpretation of who the three men are, and especially the main speaker, for he asks “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Here we identify the person clearly as the shaphat, the law-giver, God Himself. So it was Christ Who replied: “And the Lord said”… ’If I find fifty righteous men in Sodom, then I will spare the city for their sakes.’
“And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes:
Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five? And he said, If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it.
And he spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he said, I will not do it for forty's sake.
And he said unto him, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there.”
Abraham spoke up again, recognising that perhaps he was being impudent. ‘I know I am only dust and ashes, but I have determined to speak to my Lord.’ He pressed his argument… what if there were only 45 righteous people in Sodom? Christ responded – if there are only 45, I will not destroy Sodom.
Abraham must surely have been shaking with his own lack of prudence, for he asked again, what if there are 40 righteous men? Christ said, ‘then I will not destroy it.’ Abraham was obviously scared of offending God, but he continued anyway – yes, but what if there are 30 righteous men there? Christ again responded – if there are 30 there, I will not destroy Sodom. The way Abraham was acting was similar to the way Jacob would later wrestle with an angel – Christ (Genesis 32), pressing and pressing until he obtained an answer.
“And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty's sake.
And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten's sake.
And the LORD went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place.”
Not willing to let go of the issue, Abraham wanted a definitive answer: ’what if there are 20 good men there?’ Christ again said, ‘then I will not destroy the city.’ Abraham wanted to be very sure: ‘what if there are only ten there?’ Christ again patiently reassured him: ‘then I will not destroy the city.’ The point had been made very lucidly, that if even one righteous man lived in Sodom, the city would not be destroyed.
After that discussion, Christ and his angel companions carried on walking toward Sodom and Abraham returned to his tent. For us, it means that we are a privileged people if we are saved, for He will look after us even if we are living amongst the most heinous people on earth. The factor that keeps us safe is that we have faith, the gift of God, the ‘blood on the lintels’. The obedience that follows is not the result of anything we do, but arises out of the gift of faith, reminding us yet again that predestination and election are the bulwark of Christian life.
© June 2005 (Revised March 2014)