Having made the covenant with Abraham, God now begins to put His plan for Abraham’s offspring into action. This will continue to unfold throughout the Bible until the closing of the New Testament canon.
Three men appear to Abraham. These men are two angels, and a pre-incarnate Christ. After accepting the offering Abraham and Sarah offer, the men ask for Sarah. Notice that when Abraham responds that she is in her tent, that the one speaking is identified as the LORD. He now promises that after another year (that will be 25 total!) He will come back and Sarah will have a son – the son of promise. Sarah has the same reaction Abraham had in 17:17. She laughs. Sarah laughs because it just doesn’t seem physically possible that she could – she is well past her child bearing years.
And God asks a very important question: is anything too hard for Him? And of course, the answer is implied in the question. The following events show us what, exactly, God was referring to. The great work is not giving Sarah a child. Like when Christ healed the paralytic in Mark 2:10-11 – and like all of His physical miracles – they point to the true spiritual miracle: the salvation of sinful men and women. God’s greatest work is saving sinners.
Notice what happens here: when God accuses Sarah of laughing, she denies it. It brings our minds back to the denials of Adam and Eve in the Garden. And God now, like then, makes a pronouncement of judgment, this time on wicked Sodom and Gomorrah. Like in Babel, He will go “down” to see their works (see Gen 11:5). Sodom and Gomorrah, like Babel before them, are a picture of the utter sinfulness of man.
In verses 22-33, Abraham and YHWH have a discussion. The point in this exchange is that, while Abraham is asking God to spare the cities if there are 50…or 45…or 40…or even a mere 10 righteous people found there, the fact of the matter is that none are righteous (Rom 3:10-18). And that includes Lot, as we have seen.
In chapter 19 we have the story of the rescue of Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. We are given a picture of the utter depravity that unchecked sin produces (Rom 1:24-27). The angels then remove Lot (literally) and his wife and two daughters from the city (an act of God’s mercy – see v. 16), and destroy everyone else. This is a picture of God’s final salvation and destruction of the wicked, when He will send His angels to gather the elect from the earth and destroy the world (Rev 7:1-3, see Matt 24:31). Christ even uses this event as a picture of the Second Coming, rapture, and judgment (Luke 17:28-30).
Lot’s wife represents those who choose the world over God and His salvation. The angels tell them not to look back (v. 17), but her desire for the world – even though doomed to destruction – was too strong. This is what Christ warns against when He tells of the coming destruction (Luke 17:31-33). And in verse 29, we are told why God rescued Lot. God remembered Abraham. In other words, God remembered His promise and His covenant – and He saved Lot. It was for no reason in Lot – it was because God is gracious to whom He will.
And we see in the next passage clear confirmation that the “righteousness” that saved Lot and his daughters was not their own. And from these awful events, two nations arise that become enemies of God’s people.
And then in chapter 20, lest we are tempted to think that any inherent righteousness on Abraham’s part may have anything to do with the salvation God has provided, history repeats itself. History tends to repeat itself when it comes to sin. This time, God protects the king and Sarah. And we see in his response that the king fears God. He gives Abraham riches, and sends him off – God blesses Abraham even further! – and the Lord blesses the king for his obedience. What we see in this story is that God’s blessings are all of grace. Abraham does not deserve what God is giving him. Nobody does.
So in these three chapters we see two great realities that accompany God’s unfolding redemption. We are sinners. God is gracious.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:1–9 (ESV)