Genesis 16–19: Covenant & Judgment

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 5: Monday

Now Abraham arose early in the morning and went to the place where he had stood before Yahweh; and he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the valley, and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.
Genesis 19:27–28 LSB

Monday’s Bible reading is Genesis 16–19. These chapters continue to recount the life of Abraham. Genesis 18:17–20 contains the two strands of events in these chapters: God’s covenant with Abram and his descendants, and God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah.

Now Yahweh said, “Shall I conceal from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? For I have known him, so that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of Yahweh to do righteousness and justice, so that Yahweh may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”
So Yahweh said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave.”
Genesis 18:17–20 LSB

Here’s an overview of the main events. Notice the length of time between the end of Genesis 16 and the beginning of Genesis 17.

Chapter 16:

The presumption of Sarai and the birth of Ishmael.

Chapter 17:

Yahweh restates His covenant with Abraham and gives circumcision for its sign.
Yahweh renames Abram and Sarai as Abraham and Sarah.
Yahweh promises the birth of Isaac by Sarah.

Chapter 18:

Yahweh and two angels visit Abram.
Yahweh’s promise of Isaac restated.
Yahweh’s announcement of His judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. Abram pleas for the cities to be spared if innocent to be found.

Chapter 19:

Sodom & Gomorrah are destroyed.
The sin of Lot’s daughters.

The first strand is God’s covenant with Abram. Sarai’s presumptuous act to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise by giving Hagar to Abram to bear his child, not only brings affliction to Hagar, but will have dire consequences for Sarai’s descendants. God promises Hagar uncounted descendants and tells her of Ishmael’s nature and hostility to come. Kent Hughes writes,

“Note well that there is not a word here about the great promise to Abram. Ishmael’s prophecy is apart from the promised land, apart from the great promise to Abram…

“The historical reality is that Ishmael’s offspring become a thorn to God’s people both under the old and new covenants. Through Ishmael, the firstborn, they claim Abram as their father and affirm that they are his truest representations. Little did Abram and Sarai imagine that their shortcut would run for millennia and that oceans of blood would be spilt. Abram, the father of the faithful, had begotten a wild man instead of a child of grace. How tragic was Abram’s expediency.”1

In Genesis 17, God restates His promise to Abram and promises a son, Isaac, to him and to Sarai. God gives circumcision as a sign of His covenant with Abraham and his descendants. J. A. Motyer writes that Genesis 17 (my emphasis in bold),

“remains as the sole biblical account of the origin of Israelite circumcision. It was integrated into the Mosaic system in connection with Passover (Ex. xii. 44)…The Jews in the New Testament had so associated circumcision with Moses that they had virtually forgotten its more fundamental association with Abraham (Acts xv. 1, 5, xxi. 21; Gal. v. 2, 3). Our Lord had to remind them that it antedated Moses (Jn. vii. 22); Paul is emphatic that it was the current understanding of the Mosaic connection which was obnoxious to Christianity (Gal. v. 2, 3, 11, etc.), and constantly brings his readers back to Abraham (Rom. iv. 11, xv. 8, etc.)…

Gn. xvii shows circumcision as firstly a spiritual, and only secondarily a national, sign. That it is national, signifying membership of the Israelite nation, is not to be denied and is, indeed, as clear in Gn. xxxiv. as ever it became after Moses…In Gn. xvii. 10, 11, 13, 14 circumcision is identified with the covenant made with Abraham (cf. Acts vii. 8); that it is to say circumcision signifies the gracious movement of God to man, and only derivatively, as we shall see, the consecration of man to God.”2

This is why the Bible not only refers to physical circumcision, but also to spiritual circumcision of the lips, ear, and the heart. This is why Paul wrote these words to the Gentile Christians in Colossae.

Therefore as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and being built up in Him, and having been established in your faith⁠—just as you were instructed⁠—and abounding with thanks­giving.
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells bodily, and in Him you have been filled, who is the head over all rule and authority; in whom you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you being dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him, having graciously forgiven us all our transgressions.
Colossian 2:6-13 LSB

In Genesis 18, Yahweh and two angels visit Abraham. Kent Hughes writes,

“We know that Abraham’s guests were the Lord (Yahweh) and two angels. But Abraham had no idea of this — at first…

“The divine visitation and feast was nothing short of a covenantal meal. This is the only place in Scripture before the Incarnation that the Lord ate a meal with a human being. Robert Candlish, the eminent nineteenth-century principal of New College Edinburgh, explains:

“It is a singular instance of condescension — the only recorded instance of the kind before the incarnation. On other occasions, this same illustrious being appeared to the fathers and conversed with them; and meat and drink were brought to him. But in these cases, he turned the offered banquet into a sacrifice, in the smoke of which he ascended heavenward (Judges vi. 18–24, xiii. 15–21). Here he personally accepts the patriarch’s hospitality, and partakes of his fare, — a greater wonder than the other implying more intimate and gracious friend­ship, — more unreserved familiarity. He sits under his tree, and shares his common meal.

“The meal with Abraham was an exercise of spiritual intimacy. To dine with Yahweh at the table was and is the ultimate honor any mortal could have in this world…God came to dinner.

“…the covenantal function of this meal was to restate the promise of a son through Sarah [born in within a year]…Later the same day, when the two angels departed for Sodom, the Lord stayed behind with Abraham, and they talked face to face as the Lord explained what was to follow (cf.. vv. 16–33). Such intimacy! Significantly, Abraham received the title “friend of God” (James 2:23; cf. 2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8)….

“We should note that four hundred years later the Lord held a covenantal meal with the family of Abraham on the eve of the fulfillment of the Law (cf. Exodus 24:5). We should note even more that the new covenant was celebrated with a covenantal meal when Jesus took the cup and said, “This cup…is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).”3

The other strand in these chapters is God’s judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18:16–19:38. God decides to reveal to Abraham His impending judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham intercedes on behalf of the city’s inhabitants as the angels begin traveling to the valley. Derek Kidner writes,

“The noon encounter in this chapter and the night scene at Sodom in the next are in every sense a contrast of light and darkness. The former, quietly intimate and full of promise, is crowned by the intercession in which Abraham’s faith and love show a new breadth of concern. The second scene is all confusion and ruin, moral and physical, ending in a loveless squalor which is even uglier than the great overthrow of the cities.”4

When Lot moved to Sodom in Genesis 13, the city was already notorious.

Now the men of Sodom were evil and sinners, exceedingly so, against Yahweh.
Genesis 13:13 LSB

Years later things have not changed:

So Yahweh said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave.”
Genesis 18:20 (cf. 19:13) LSB

It’s clear from Genesis 19 that their sin is homosexual immorality, and not the sin of “lawless commotion…and…boorish display of inhospitality,”5 as has been claimed. Derek Kidner notes that D. Sherwin Bailey put forth this idea in a book published in 1955. Kidner points out the glaring flaws of Bailey’s claim, and writes:

“It has been necessary to discuss the point as fully as this because the doubt created by Dr. Bailey has travelled more widely than the reasons he produces for it. Not one of these reasons, it may be suggested, stands any serious scrutiny.”6

Kidner also says, “Apart from this, it is silenced by Jude 7.”7

God destroys the cities and the valley, and the consequences of Lot’s decision to live in Sodom play out. Lot’s future sons-in-law think he is joking when he warns them; his family lingers and would have died, but for the angels seizing them and getting them out of the city; Lot’s wife looks back and becomes salt; and Lot’s daughters, who appear to have become acclimatized to the practice of perverse sexual sin, each commit incest with their father in order to bear children. Their sons’ descendants, the Moabites and the Ammonites, will become enemies of Israel.

As you read of Sarah and Abraham presuming to take matters upon themselves and of the sordid sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Lot, his wife, and his daughters, the reality of the evil intent of man’s heart sinks in. The forbearance of God and His faithfulness is astonishing.

The depth of God’s mercy will be further evident in the future. Ruth, a Moabite woman, will marry Boaz, a Hebrew man descended from Abraham. Not only Ruth is named in the lineage of King David, but in his Gospel, Matthew names Ruth in the genealogy of Jesus Christ.

Before such love and grace we can only bow our heads. God is truly worthy of our deepest gratitude and praise.

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Sodom and Gomorrha: Henry Ossawa Tanner. Public Domain.
1,3R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning & Blessing (Crossway Books, Wheaton IL: 2004) 242–243, 254–255.
2J. A. Motyer, “Circumcision,” The New Bible Dictionary, J. D. Douglas, organizing ed., F. F. Bruce, J. I. Packer, R. V. G. Tasker, D. J. Wiseman, consulting eds., (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI: 1962) 233.
4,5,6,7Derek Kidner, Genesis (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1967) 131, 137, 137, 137.

For more on the Bible and homosexuality, I recommend Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon’s site. Dr. Gagnon is Professor of New Testament Theology at Houston Baptist University and the author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001; 520 pgs.) as well as other books and articles. As a service to the church, he provides a large amount of free material on the web dealing with Scripture and homosexuality. Background and general information are here. Online articles, and video and audio presentations are here.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2021–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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