“God is great, God is good. Let us thank for Him for our food. By His hands we are fed. We thank you for our daily bread. Amen.” Many Christian families have uttered these words before dinner and many will utter these words, no doubt, in countless meals to come. Though this is a simple mealtime prayer it’s two opening statements are some of the most profound words man can utter about God, two truths that bring immeasurable comfort to believers. And ironically, they’re some of the most questioned truths as well. “God is great, God is good.”
Well, before us in the next few weeks we come to Genesis 18-19, which is a 24 hour period unlike any other in Abraham’s life. On this day he’ll learn of God’s greatness, and of God’s goodness, and more. Specifically today we’ll hear God speak about His greatness in 18:14 saying, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” Later on next week when we come to it we’ll hear Abraham speak of God’s goodness in 18:25 as he asks, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” Then both of these truths about God will be displayed for Abraham in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. What a day for Abraham, one that he would not forget.
To begin our trek through this 24-hour period, today we begin with Genesis 18:1-15.
An Unexpected Party (v1-8)
“And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.”
Our scene begins with the Lord appearing to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, a spot we’ve seen him in many times before, it seems to be a kind of preferred residence for him as he travels around. As the scene meets us it’s most likely that Abraham’s worked hard all morning and is now resting and relaxing by the door of his tent during the early afternoon, which is what it means by the heat of the day. But then in v2 Abraham seems surprised to look up and see three men standing before him. As Bilbo Baggins was quite taken by surprise at the unexpected party at his door in the numerous dwarves coming into his home, so too Abraham is quite taken by surprise at these three men. We as readers know these three men are in fact the Lord Himself and two angels appearing to Abraham in human form, as the text will make clear. But Abraham doesn’t know this, at least not yet. He’ll grow in his awareness of who stands before him as this passage unfolds but as he’s surprised in v2 he doesn’t know yet exactly who these men are. Perhaps the first hint that this no normal encounter is that Abraham didn’t hear the men or see the men approaching, they were not there and then they just were there in front of him. So whether he was awake and zoning out, or actually napping and suddenly woke up we don’t know. But we do know that when he saw the three men he immediately got up to invite them in and offered them rest and refreshment.
v3-5 describes this offer of hospitality. Abraham kindly invites them in and says he’ll give them water to drink and to wash their feet, as well as a morsel of food to eat before they head out once again. This might seem strange to us today, to see Abraham so eager to be the gracious host. I mean, this is nap time for him and Abraham doesn’t seem inconvenienced in the slightest. He jumps up from his own rest and shows himself eager to work in the heat of the day for these weary travelers who are in need of rest themselves. We’ve all most likely been the recipient of kind hospitality before but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it quite to this extent before. Today we’re far too skeptical of everyone to bring strangers into our house and offer them a place to rest, to eat, and to relax. We might think if we do this the strangers would never leave! But while strange to us, you should know that it would have been strange in this culture if Abraham didn’t do this. It was their cultural norm to play the gracious host as often as they could. And as host Abraham would’ve been expected to not only provide for the needs of the guests but to ensure the safety of the guests during their stay. In this Abraham shows himself to be an excellent host, which we must remember. Because in a very short time on this very same day to be exact, we’ll see another man, Lot, play host to angels in the city of Sodom, and it is not like this scene here. We’re already being set up in the text here and now to compare this exemplary moment with the later deplorable moment to come.
So Abraham invites them in, they come in, and Abraham gets to work. The way he phrases his offer of rest is humble, meek, and meager. He says he’ll provide a little water for them and a morsel to eat but see what he does in v6-8? He’s extravagant! Of course we might even understand these humble words. Weary travelers would likely not want to stay with someone who told them they would prepare a feast for them, they wouldn’t want to be that much trouble. But though his words were meek and meager, it was a feast Abraham had in mind. This is when the pace of the passage picks up as we see him hurry off, spout off commands to Sarah, to hurry up herself, to make cakes, as he rushes off to the herd, to pick out a young calf which a servant will prepare, while he goes off to make curds and milk. This is a ton of food. He told Sarah to take three seahs to make the cakes. One seah contains around seven quarts of grain. To show one comparison, in 1 Sam. 25 Abigail makes a meal for David and his army, and she uses five seahs of grain to do so. That Sarah uses three seahs to make a meal for three men means there would’ve far more food than these men could’ve or would’ve eaten.Also, as the Israelites would have been reading the first audience to read this book, they would’ve understood that all of these ingredients in Abraham’s feast would eventually come to be used by them as they make their sacrifices to God before the priests. So perhaps, that Abraham uses what he does here and prepares such an extravagant feast, shows us that he is beginning to know these men are more than what they appear to be.
All this is done, Abraham brings the feast to his guests, and as was the custom of the day, he doesn’t eat but stands near them as they begin feasting. Unexpected party as it may have been, Abraham is entirely at their service, as both server and host.
An Unbelievable Promise (v9-15)
“They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” The LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”
As the question of v9 “Where is Sarah your wife?” hits Abrahams ears, he now has a huge tipoff that these three men are far more than men. Why? Because they know he has a wife, and that her name is Sarah. This would’ve astounded Abraham not only because these strangers knew he had a wife, but also knew her name had just been changed from Sarai to Sarah. The question itself is rhetorical, much like God’s question “Where are you?” to Adam and Eve, and God’s question “Where is Abel your brother?” to Cain. But Abraham answers anyway, “She is in the tent.” At this point you need to notice who answers next in v10, it’s the Lord who says, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” Now we know one of the three men is God Himself. And it’s actually God who will be the one who continues talking throughout the rest of our passage today. Well, here in v10 we learn two things. First, that God reaffirms His promise that Sarah will have a son this time next year, and second, that Sarah was listening in on this conversation.
Before we hear of her response to this in v12 we get a comment in v11 that Abraham and Sarah were well into old age, and that the way of women had ceased with Sarah. That is to say, she was well passed menopause. This comment reminds us of where they are in life and prepares us for what she’ll do next. Which we see in v12, “So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” Earlier in chapter 17 we saw Abraham laugh, not in defiance but in befuddlement at the unthinkable promise God made. Now we see Sarah laugh. Why? Was she doing what Abraham did, laughing because she also believes this promise to be unthinkable on human terms? Or was she laughing because when Abraham first told her about this she didn’t think such a thing was possible, and now hearing it again prompts a similar reaction? Or, does she laugh because this is actually the first moment she hears the promise? All of these are viable options. Nonetheless Sarah believes herself to be worn out, like an old, well used, tired garment ready to be tossed out. And that because of this she could not possibly have pleasure. The pleasure of intimacy with Abraham, the pleasure of pregnancy, and the pleasure of giving birth to a son of her own. To her these aren’t just remote possibilities as if her odds were bad. No, to her it’s not even within the realm of possibility for these things to occur. That’s her reality.
But God, in v13, asks another question to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh…”? Now Abraham knows for sure this is no man. It must be God, because how else could He know of Sarah’s inward laughter? In chapter 16 Hagar learned that God sees her, even in her suffering. Now in chapter 18 Sarah learns that God sees inside her, and knows her befuddlement at His promise. After pointing out Sarah’s laughter, God then says something in v14 that has resounded throughout the ages, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” and then He repeats the promise that this time next year Sarah will have a son. Much more on this in a moment. The passage ends in v15 uniquely, with Sarah lying to God. As Adam hid in the garden from fear, as Abram lied to the Egyptians about Sarai being his sister from fear, now Sarah being afraid lies to God, denying that she laughed about the promise. Which leads to her hearing God say, “No, but you did laugh.”
And once again we set up for what’s to come. The last word in this passage is laugh. Abraham had laughed at the promise, now Sarah laughed at the promise. And soon enough they’ll welcome a little boy into the world named ‘he laughs.’
God is indeed great, and we see His greatness defined for us in this v14 question, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Let’s tease this out a bit as we finish.
This question comes from God because He knows Abraham and Sarah need to take their eyes off of their own limitations that come with old age, and fix their eyes on Him, on God, on His power, on His promise, on His covenant, and on His limitless ability to do beyond all that we can think or imagine. So church, I ask you today. How great is God to you? How big is God to you? Do you have categories and limits in your hearts and minds about what you think God cannot do? Do you think there are things that truly are too hard for the Lord? Or, if you look at the small note in your Bibles after the word hard you see that it could also be translated ‘wonderful.’ “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” Perhaps you don’t think God can do certain things because it would just be too good to be true.
Church, God is great. God is great. Nothing is too hard for Him, and nothing is too wonderful for Him. He is God after all! Even if we believe God to be big, we must ever be seeing Him as bigger and bigger. And if we’re growing in Him He will always seem to be growing to us, getting bigger and stronger and sturdier as the years come and go. Many of you have the Gospel Transformation Study Bible, it’s a good one. If you don’t have it, you should consider getting one. I love what the study notes say on this passage. It says, “God’s purposes of grace are not held captive by human sin or adverse circumstances. He is the God who works out His purposes through weak and ordinary human beings such as Abraham and Sarah. It is God’s grace, not human merit, ability, or inability, that determines the course, and the blessing, of our lives…The Christian life then involves looking at our difficulties in the face and, with the promises of God in hand, and defiantly trusting God to be God for us despite our discouragements and disappointments that tempt us to leave our hope behind. Nothing is too hard or too wonderful for the Lord! Indeed God has already done the hardest thing, in becoming one of us to die for us and rise for us, shall God fail to care for us in a thousand lesser ways?”
So what is it Church, in your life right now as you sit here today that seems too hard for God to handle or too wonderful for God to do?
There is nothing in your life and nothing in the world today that is too hard, or too wonderful for the Lord.
 Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50, WBC (Waco, Texas: Zondervan, 2000), 62.
 Many early Church fathers believed the three men was a designation signifying the Trinity appearing before Abraham. Most modern theologians deny this to be what the text teaches.
 Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Academic, 2001), 266.
 Victor P. Hamilton, Genesis 18-50, NICOT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1995), 8.
 Ibid., 11.
 Wenham, Genesis 16-50, 47.
 Waltke, Genesis, 267. See also, Hamilton, 11.
 Hamilton, Genesis 18-50, 12.
 Derek Kidner, Genesis (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2008), 143.
 R. Kent Hughes, Genesis, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2004), 256.
 Hamilton, Genesis 18-50, 14.
 Gospel Transformation Study Bible, notes on Gen. 17:15-18:15, 26-27.