Interpretation Based On Secondary Sources
Abraham is a man who was patiently waiting for God’s promise. The promise of a son is given in genesis 12 and scholars indicate that he had to wait for 25 years before the promise was fulfilled by God. As argued by Brown, Fitzmyer and Murphy (21), the eighteenth chapter marks the beginning of a climax in Abraham’s narrative. Genesis 18: 1-5 is the first section of a broader picture presented in the whole of genesis 18. This first section focuses on Abraham and his encounter with two men while the rest of the chapter focuses Sara’s place in relation to the promise they had been given by God.
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Although verses 1-5 of Genesis 18 seem to focus on Abraham’s generosity, they have a connection to the larger text. These verses seem to be mere introductions to the bigger story beginning from verse 9 onwards (Montgomery, 15). However, on further reflection on the text, interpreting them merely as stage setting or introductory verses proves limited. The generosity expressed by Abraham is typical of the hospitality norm that pervaded Middle East societies (Montgomery, 15). Although it was cultural to be hospitable, Abraham seems to go overboard in his welcome. The lavish attitude towards strangers portrays a man who is keen on not just being culturally right but a blessing to others. Scholars suggest that this has some touch of the promise by God that he would be a blessing to the nations.
The men are three which alludes to the trinity (Montgomery, 9). Whether they are all angels or God is represented in the person of one of them is not clear. What is more crucial to note is that Abraham and Sara do not initially connect the presence of the three men with the presence of God. It is only later that they are able to connect the words of the three men with God. This is a pointer to the larger theological fact that our encounter with God happens in the basic mundane things of daily living. It is in our daily events, activities and encounters that we experience or encounter God.
In the context of the promise they had been given by God, they challenge Abraham and Sara faced was how to continue believing and holding to it in their rather ordinary lives (Montgomery, 13). Nothing out of the ordinary was happening yet in the ordinary they had to recognize and acknowledge God’s sustaining presence and unfailing promise.
The final element worthy considering is the identity of the three men. It is only later that they are defined as angels (Brown, Fitzmyer and Murphy, 20). When Abraham sees them, they are ordinary men who in a way needed Abraham’s help. This is also a great pointer that others or fellow men are and should be God’s face to us and among us. Fellow men in essence can be rightly referred to as messengers of God.
Following from my lectio divina exercise and the interpretation given above, it is clear that although the reading falls in the larger picture of the promise to Abraham and how it comes to be fulfilled, the Genesis 18: 1-5 has a lot to teach us about encounter with God.
We live in a socio-cultural atmosphere that questions the presence and promises of God. Personally I think Abraham also had such like a struggle. God had promised him a child. God had promised him that he was to be the father of nations, a blessing to many nations. However, the reality he was living was that of ordinariness.
The passage states that he was sitting outside on a hot sunny day. This gives a picture of a very rough day. Many people would not find a hot sunny day comfortable. This statement must have an allusion to conditions of living. It is an indicator to some rough conditions of life occasioned by the weather. This is an indicator that Abraham lived the ordinary conditions of living that were characterized by struggles and hardship. Abraham meets three ordinary men and treats them with reverence and honor. Although Abraham treats the men impeccably, this also was an ordinary happening based on generally accepted cultural norms.
What is critical is the fact that it is from these ordinary happenings that Abraham experiences an encounter with God. It is, therefore, valid to infer that God comes and has always come to his people in the ordinary happenings or order of daily living. However, to experience and discern God’s presence, one needs a given disposition. The approach of Abraham to the ordinary is characterized respect, humility and honor. He approached the men and with his face touching down welcomed them. Such an approach is only possible or enabled by a given disposition. From the foregoing analysis, it would appear valid to conclude that the major theme of Genesis 18: 1-5 is encountering the mystery of God’s presence in the ordinariness of our lives.
Brown Raymond Edward, Fitzmyer A. Joseph, Murphy, Roland, Edmund. The New Jerome biblical commentary. 3rd Ed. New York: Prentice Hall, 1999
Catholic Online Bible. New Jerusalem bible. Retrieved from https://www.catholic.org/bible/
Montgomery M. Robert. An introduction to source analysis of the Pentateuch. Montreal: Abingdon Press, 2008