Genesis 18:1-18:15 Entertaining Angels

Yahweh making house calls… a rich welcome… something was up… “Sarah thy wife shall have a son”… biological realities… laughable… neither ordinary biology nor extraordinary faith… God choosing…

Genesis 18:1-18:15

And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;

Abraham has some unusual visitors; one of the very few times we see Yahweh (Y@hovah) making house (‘ohel) calls. Plus, He seems to bring friends:

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,

The attributions get messy, but I infer from the next chapter that the three (shalowsh) figures (‘enowsh ) are God and two angels. Abraham greets them with obeisance (shachah), which might mean worship. His use of “lord” (‘Adonay) may or may not imply divine recognition:

And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant:

He certainly gives them a rich welcome:

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.

Then, perhaps surprisingly, they ask (‘amar) after his wife (‘ishshah):

And they said unto him, Where [is] Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent.

I would think it unusual for strangers of that time to ask to see the woman of the house, but I suppose Abraham already knew something was up. If not, the next verse clinches it:

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.

This bold prediction is rendered even more bizarre given the biological realities:

Now Abraham and Sarah [were] old [and] well stricken in age; [and] it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.

Even if Abraham could get by without Viagra, Sarah was clearly post-menopausal. No wonder Sarah found the whole idea laughable (tsachaq):

Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?

But her mirth did not escape the notice of Yahweh (Y@hovah):

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.

The section concludes with a comical, almost I-Love-Lucy style back-and-forth between God and Sarah:

Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh.

“Did not laugh!” “Did too laugh!”

Why such a big deal about a laugh (tsachaq)? In fact, such a big deal that the child was named Laughter? My best guess is that God (and the biblical author) wanted to emphasize both the extent of the miracle, and the incredulous response of the patriarch (and matriarch). This child is neither the result of ordinary biology — nor even extraordinary faith. It is purely a matter of God choosing to accomplish His purpose in the face of skeptical humanity.

I rather like the idea that God finds our disbelief funny, rather than just sad. I myself have benefitted greatly from what might be called the Humor of God.


God, how you must laugh at our folly and unbelief. How foolish of us to laugh at your apparently preposterous promises. Grant us a glimpse of the divine perspective, that we might see Your infinite power, rather than our finite weakness. May we submit to you in faith, and share in the joke rather than become one. Amen.


I have decided to use the more literal “Yahweh” rather than “Jehovah” (based on English mistranslations)
or “LORD” (as in the Septuagint) for the so-called Tetragrammaton “YHWH.” Irealize that any pronunciation is pure speculation — since Jews for millennia avoided speaking the name of God — but I find Yahweh least inaccurate, and better at capturing the flavor of the Hebrew text.