The Three Visitors
18 The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
3 He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. 4 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5 Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”
“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”
6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”
7 Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. 8 He then brought some curdsand milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.
Abraham: The Friend of God
by Gene Taylor
“‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God.” (James 2:23)
Abraham is called the father of the faithful (Gal. 3:16-29; Rom. 4:11) and “the friend of God” (Jas. 2:23). He is an example to us in many ways, therefore, it is always good to study him and learn from that which the Bible reveals to us about him.
In commenting on the statement that Abraham was “the friend of God,” Guy N. Woods said, “God regarded Abraham as his friend because he was ever faithful to God and always submitted his will to God’s.” (A Commentary on the Epistle of James, p. 146) In his faithfulness and obedience, Abraham demonstrated several characteristics that we would do well to emulate so that we too might become friends of God.
Nearly every action in Abraham’s life shows his great faith in God. He left his country and countrymen never to return (Heb. 11:8-16). He believed the promise of a son though such a birth was naturally impossible (Rom. 4:18-21). He cast out a son, Ishmael when Sarah and God commanded it (Gen. 21:9-14). He was even willing to offer Isaac, the son of promise, when God demanded it (Heb. 11:17-19). Because of his great faith, he enjoyed the victory of faith (Gen. 22:12).
As seen in the illustrations above, whatever God wanted Abraham to do, he did. Whether it was leaving his homeland, casting out one son or sacrificing another, he obeyed God without question or qualm.
In Genesis 18:19 God states one of the reasons He was able to bless Abraham so abundantly and regard him as His friend. He said, “For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.” Abraham’s devotion to God not only caused him to walk obediently but also allowed him to influence others, especially those in his own house, to do the same.
In situations where strife could have occurred and then escalated, Abraham seemed able to defuse them (cf. Gen. 13:1-13). There was one key trait in his character that caused him to be able to be such a peacemaker — he regarded others better than self. This is a quality that the Christian is to possess today. Philippians 2:3-4 states, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own in-terests, but also for the interests of others.”
His unselfish nature is not only seen in giving his nephew Lot first choice of land in which to pasture his flocks and herds (Gen. 13:9) but also in his willingness to intercede for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:22-23). Even though they were wicked, Abraham was concerned for them and did what he could to spare them from the judgment which came upon them.
The hospitality he gives to three men, who are angels of God, in Genesis 18:1-8 also shows his regard for others. Though he does not know these men, he generously provides for their needs. Since Christians are to be “given to hospitality” (Rom. 12:13), the writer of the book of Hebrews uses this incident in the life of Abraham to emphasize this responsibility: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (13:2).
A Pilgrim and Sojourner
Christians are to be pilgrims and sojourners in this life, living in the world but not being of the world (John 15:19; I John 2:15-17). Again, Abraham is their example. “By faith he (Abraham — GT) dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:9-10). As he looked “for a city,” we must ever be looking to heaven and the things that are above (Col. 3:1-3) realizing that, even now, our real citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).
Because Abraham lived as a friend of God while on earth, he now lives in Paradise (Luke 16:23-31). Since God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35), we can have that same hope if we will live the same life. Let us all follow the example of Abraham and do what is necessary to be those who can be called friends of God.
Friends of God Continually Worship Him
The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. (Genesis 18:1–2)
In this narrative, we see Abraham sitting at the entrance to his tent, in the heat of the day, when the Lord appears to him. It seems like these three men appear out of nowhere. Abraham looks up, sees them, hurries to meet them, and then bows before them.
An important part of ancient Middle Eastern culture was being hospitable to foreigners. There were very few inns. Traveling long distances could be dangerous, and therefore people relied on hospitability. In fact, hospitality is still a significant aspect of Eastern culture.
There is some controversy over when Abraham became aware these three men were special, and that one of them was God. It certainly would have been clear when these strangers asked Abraham where Sarah was (v. 9). This was the name God gave Sarai not too long ago. If Abraham did not know then, certainly, it was clear when these men prophesied about her having a baby in old age (v. 10).
However, Abraham probably knew immediately that these visitors were from the Lord. God had appeared to Abraham before, and therefore, he had a greater familiarity with God’s presence and how he appeared. Also, we cannot but notice how respectful he was to these three men. The text says he bowed low to the ground. The word used for bow is typically translated “worship” when God is the object.1 We see this in Genesis 24:26 when Abraham’s servant worshiped the Lord. It says, “Then the man bowed down and worshiped the LORD.”
It seems clear that Abraham knows these visitors are special and that one of them is God. In fact, he calls one of them “my lord” in verse 3. One of the three was clearly prominent, as he was God incarnate. To further support this, Abraham said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by” (v. 3). The implication is that Abraham had a previous relationship with the prominent one; otherwise the comment wouldn’t make sense. He had just met these gentlemen. It seems like a fair conclusion that Abraham knew the man was God with two angelic guests.
Worship is a natural response for those who know God intimately. Worship comes from the fact that one recognizes how “worthy” an object or person is. Abraham had known God for over twenty years; he knew God’s beauty and his characteristics. Abraham, therefore, bowed in worship to the Lord and reverence towards the two angels.
When the Lord gave Isaiah a revelation of God in Isaiah 6:3, he saw the angels crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.” Angels cannot but continually worship God, as they consider his characteristics.
Worship is not only a characteristic of a friend of God, but it is also a way we grow in intimacy with him. How can we grow in worship?
Application Question: How can we grow in worship towards the Lord?
1. We grow in worship as we know God’s characteristics more and therefore his worthiness.
The more we know God, the more we will worship. As we know his characteristics—his love, sovereignty, wrath, goodness, and holiness—the more we will want to worship him. Theologians often call God’s characteristics, his perfections. His love, wisdom, wrath, and goodness are absolutely perfect and worthy of praise.
How do we come to know his characteristics more? We get to know God’s characteristics more by studying his Word and creation, through fellowship with the body of Christ, and by continually being intimate with him. Romans 12:1 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”
As the readers considered the truths about God and his work in the previous eleven chapters of Romans, they should be drawn to worship God—drawn to offer him their bodies as living sacrifices. This is true for us as well. The more we know God, the more we will worship.
If we are not continually worshiping God, maybe we don’t really know him as we should.
2. We grow in worship by knowing our unworthiness before God.
We get a picture of this in the extreme respect Abraham gives to God. He not only bows, but the text says that he bowed low to the ground. This means that Abraham recognized that God and the visitors were greater than him. Whenever people see God in Scripture, they always humble themselves, as they recognize the depths of their sin. Isaiah cried out, “‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty’” (Isa 6:5). Similarly, when Peter became aware of Jesus’ Lordship, he cried, “Away from me Lord, I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8).
One of the reasons many of us don’t worship God, and therefore grow in intimacy with him, is because we don’t know the depths of our sin. A diamond’s beauty is best displayed against a black cloth. We cannot truly worship God unless we know how great our sin is. And yet, the paradox is that we can’t truly know our sin unless we see God. In comparison to this great light, our sin appears extremely dark.
Are you recognizing your sin and that of others so that you can worship God more? Friends of God know both their sin and God’s beauty, and therefore, they worship.
3. We grow in worship as we recognize God’s hand in everything.
In this narrative, Abraham recognizes God in human form and, therefore, bows down to worship. Many times our problem is that we simply don’t recognize God. Jesus talked to his disciples about how God provides clothing for the lilies of the field and food for the birds of the air (Matt 6). He saw God’s work and provision everywhere. Colossians 1:17 says that Christ holds all things together. Ephesians 1:11 says that he works all things according to the purpose of his will. Romans 8:28 says that God works all things to the good of those who love the Lord.
Our God is involved in everything. He is not a watchmaker who simply allows the earth to function on its own. His hand is everywhere, sustaining and guiding all things, and unless we recognize this, we will not continually worship. As with Christ’s resurrection and appearance to the disciples, it is very easy for us to receive ministry from the Lord and not recognize him (cf. Luke 24:15–16). It’s easy to forget that every good and perfect gift comes from above (James 1:17). It’s also easy to forget that when disaster comes to a city the Lord caused it (Amos 3:6). Some only recognize God in the good and therefore don’t worship in the bad. However, Job cried, “The Lord gives and he takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). He lived in continual worship because he recognized God’s sovereignty both in the good and the bad.
How to Be God’s Friend
I heard the story of two friends who were camping in the woods. As they were having their morning coffee, they heard rustling in the bushes. Coming toward them at full speed was a very large grizzly bear with a very hungry look on his face. One of them started pulling on his running shoes. His buddy turned to him and said, “You don’t think you can outrun that grizzly bear, do you?”
“No,” the man said. “I don’t need to. All I have to do is outrun you.”
That is how a lot of so-called friends are. They run away at the first sign of difficulty. It has been said, “A friend is one who walks in when others walk out.” I wonder how many friends we truly have. And I wonder what kind of friends we are to others. Time will tell.
Socrates once said, “Friend? There is no friend.” But Socrates didn’t know about the one whom the Bible describes as “a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Of course, I am speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the greatest friend that any of us ever will have. To say, “Jesus is my best friend,” almost sounds like a cliché, but when you think about it, it really is true. You can have a close friendship with God.
Clearly Jesus Christ has offered His friendship to all of humanity. The question is, how many of us really want to be friends with God? He cannot be our friend if we don’t respond to His offer. I can’t decide to become someone’s best friend unless he wants to reciprocate and be my friend as well. I can’t just choose him. He has to choose me in return, and thus a relationship begins to develop.
Jesus offers the hand of friendship to us. He wants to be our friend. Jesus was called “the friend of sinners” because He would actually sit down and have a conversation with a prostitute or a tax collector or even a Samaritan woman. He extended His friendship to anyone who wanted it. Of course, He ultimately proved the legitimacy of His offer by laying His life down for us. The Bible says, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13).
So what is required of us to call ourselves true friends of Jesus Christ?
First, true friends of Jesus will obey Him. Jesus said, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). If you are not obeying Him, then you have no right to claim that you are His friend. God is looking for consistency and regularity in your life. If you are really a friend of Jesus, then you will obey Him.
Second, the obedience Jesus requires is an active obedience. Some people think it is enough to merely avoid what God forbids. They might say, “I am not a thief, an adulterer, or an alcoholic.” That would be like saying to someone, “I am your friend because I don’t rob you or cheat you or insult you or beat you up.” Granted, your friend will appreciate the fact you don’t do these things. But maybe you can go a little further in the friendship than that. It is not just a matter of refusing to do the wrong things. It is also a matter of doing the right things. That is what God wants. That is what it means to be His friend.
Third, true friends of Jesus obey Him because they want to. Obedience comes as a desire and not a duty if we really have a friendship with Jesus. We don’t say, “Read the Bible? Again?” or “Pray? I don’t really feel like praying right now.” When Jesus is your friend, you look forward to Bible study. You look forward to prayer. You look forward to your time with Him.
Certainly our Lord had a lot of fair-weather friends when He walked this earth. Jesus was popular when He was handing out free lunch. When He fed the 5,000, He was the most popular guy in town. But when He started challenging that fickle crowd and telling them they needed to love Him and obey Him and do what was right, many of them turned away. They were fair-weather friends.
Don’t be a fair-weather friend. Be a true friend to others. More importantly, be a true friend to God.