Bangor Church of Christ

Great Moments in Bible History

Number 21

Surprise Visitors

Imagine that you are living back in the days of Abraham and you need to go on a journey . Most likely you would walk, carrying anything you needed on your back. Where would you eat? Where would you stay at night? They did not have restaurants or motels back then. Most nights you would have to camp out. You could buy food in any town you passed through—kind of like carry-out today. Occasionally you might find someone nice enough to invite you home for a real meal or who would even provide you with a place to stay for the night. In today’s story Abraham was that nice person who invited some travelers for a meal.

Basket of bread

Abraham didn’t know it at first, but the travelers were no ordinary people. Our author lets us know who they were at the beginning of the story, though it took Abraham a while to figure it out. “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” (Genesis 18:1). All Abraham saw, though, were three men (v. 2). As soon as he saw them he immediately invited them to stop and rest and have a bite to eat. He said that he would “bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves.” It sounds like he was going to give them a little snack, but once they agreed to eat with him he prepared a big feast!

It wasn’t until they asked him a question that he realized he was not entertaining ordinary travelers. “Where is Sarah your wife?” (v. 9) He had never seen these men before in his life, yet they knew the name of his wife. Abraham answered, “She is in the tent.” We will learn what they said to Sarah in the next article, but before we do that I would like us to consider a New Testament passage that refers to this story.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). There are only two stories in the Bible of people entertaining angels without realizing it. This is the first and the second one is in the very next chapter. The passage in Hebrews is telling us that we need to be like Abraham and consider the needs of strangers that we come in contact with. Although most travelers today stay at motels and eat at restaurants, there are still plenty of opportunities to help the people we meet in our day-to-day lives. Most of us have no problem helping a family member or a friend in need, but the writer of Hebrews wants us to show concern even for strangers. His mentioning that some have entertained angels unawares is a reminder that the people we help may be much more important in God’s eyes than they appear to be at first glance.

A Promise Too Good to be True?

God had two reasons for appearing to Abraham at this time. The second reason we will look at in our next issue. The first reason was directed at Sarah. In the previous chapter God had appeared to Abraham and told him that he and Sarah would have a son, but He had not directly told that to Sarah. When Abraham first heard that promise he laughed at the thought of two old people having a child. As a result, God said the child would be called Isaac, which means “laughter.”

Laughing lady

In today’s story God made the same promise and added this detail, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” Sarah knew even better than her husband how impossible such a thing was. She had never been able to have a child. She was now 89 years old. “So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’” (Genesis 18:12) Such a thing was simply too good to be true.

Although Sarah was hidden inside the tent when she laughed to herself, God knew what was going on in her mind. “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.’”

That question, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” is one of the most important questions God’s people have to consider. It comes up again and again in the Bible. It comes up in our lives today. How often do we find ourselves in a difficult situation? Do we handle it God’s way and patiently wait on Him? or do we take a “shortcut,” do something we know God has forbidden, because we just cannot believe that God can rescue us if we do it His way?

God does not get surprised at the difficult situations His people find themselves in. In fact, sometimes He puts us in those situations Himself. God wants us to have the joy of seeing that our God is the God of the impossible. We see this in the story of Abraham and Sarah. God had been making these promises to Abraham for nearly 25 years. Surely there would have been easier times for God to give Sarah a child than when she was almost 90. Why had He waited so long? Because He wanted to make it clear that He was the one doing it. If He had done it 25 years earlier I’m sure Abraham and Sarah would have been grateful, but it wouldn’t have been over-the-top amazing. Over and over in the Bible God does things for His people that are so over-the-top amazing that those people have no question who did it. It truly is a wonderful gift when God does something like that for you.

Sarah’s reaction after God read her mind was very true to life. “But Sarah denied it, saying, ‘I did not laugh,’ for she was afraid. He said, ‘No, but you did laugh.’” We are happy to have God do amazing things for us, but it is more than a little troubling to realize that God knows what we are thinking. God did not come down hard on Sarah when she tried to lie to Him, but He let her know that He really does know all of our thoughts.

Who Believes God Can Do Anything?

When we read the stories of people like Abraham and Sarah it seems easy for us to believe that God can do anything. But if it is that easy to believe, why were there so few people back then who actually did? When God told Noah that He was going to flood the earth, the prediction seemed preposterous. Such a thing had never happened before. Only Noah and his family believed God’s prediction.

The Book of Exodus (the next book after Genesis) tells the story of God sending ten plagues on the Egyptians to force them to let His people go. By the end of those plagues it should have been obvious to everyone—Israelites and Egyptians alike—that God really can do anything. Yet few of those people actually believed. Pharaoh ignored the lesson and attacked the Israelites as they were crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 14). His whole army was drowned as a result. The Israelites who had seen such a marvelous rescue almost immediately started complaining and showing how little they believed God. Very few of them truly learned the lesson that God really can do anything.

When Jesus came, He found the same problem in the people of His day. He taught that His people need to keep praying because God really can answer all of their needs (Luke 18:1). He taught that we should not worry because our lives are in God’s hands (Matthew 6:25). He taught that we should not lay up treasures on earth, but rather lay them up in Heaven (Matthew 6:19). It is all about believing in God.

And it isn’t easy. Every day we are confronted with tests of our faith. We are short on money this month. How will we pay the bills? Someone has crossed us and made us angry. Are we really going to leave this in God’s hands or are we going to nurse our hurt and our anger? Our marriage is painful. Maybe we should walk out on our spouse. Jesus says not to (Matthew 5:32). Do we really believe Him? Things aren’t going so well in our church. Maybe we should leave. Jesus says not to do that, either (Ephesians 4:1-3). Do we really believe?

What can we do when we realize that we don’t believe as much as we know we should? A man once came to Jesus to ask Him to cast a demon out of his son. He said to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:22). Jesus responded, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” The man immediately responded, “I believe; help my unbelief!” That is a good attitude for all of us to have. We believe. Now let us pray God to help our unbelief.