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Anti-Missionary Study Hall
AMSH - Article: Genesis 18 -- The Real Story

Genesis 18: Did G-d really take the form of Three Men,

or are Certain People Just Pushing Their Product?

by Leo Onbindiro



Relevant Verses:


Genesis 18:1 "And the L-RD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;

18:2 And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground,

18:3 And said, My LORD, if now I have found favor in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant:" (- as the KJV would translate it.)

 18:16 "And the men rose up from thence, and looked toward Sodom: and Abraham went with them to bring them on the way." It then says how Hashem told Avraham that he was going to destroy Sodom. He says in verse

18:21 "I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know."
Afterwards it says

18:22 "And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the L-RD."

Afterwards, Avraham pleas for Sodom, and at the end of the discussion it states:

18:33 "And the L-RD went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place."

After which chapter 19 begins 19:1"And there came two angels to Sodom..."


            A Xian would dictate the scenario as follows: god and 2 other parts of god (or 2 angels, if the guy is thought out) appeared (18:1) to Abraham. Abraham saw god in the form of three men! (18:2). Abraham greeted them as GOD, and hosted them for a short while. god told Abraham that he would have a son, and shortly thereafter they got up to go, and Abraham escorted them (v.16). Right before they left god said "I think Ill tell Abraham about what Im gonna do to Sodom (V. 21). Then, the two other parts of god (/angels) left for Sodom, but Abraham still stood in front of god talking (V. 22) ,(since it goes on to say how God and Abraham had a conversation) but afterwards god left. (v. 33) So, a Xian would argue, we see from here that God can take the form of flesh! What have you got to say to that!

Question: Does the word "Adonoy" mean God?? In fact, it does not! It means master, or ruler. It is a term used throughout scripture to refer to important or prestigious people. Y-W-B-W refers to God exclusively, but not Adonoy. So, verse 18:3, where the hebrew says Adonoy, does not mean "LORD" at all. (Isn't it odd that the King James Version translates "Adon" as "LORD" in verse 18:3, but translates it correctly as "lord" in verse in 18:12 (13 in Jewish bibles) and 19:2! Hmmm)

Question: Now, if "the men" in verse 16 refers to all 3 "men," then we can imagine how Abraham was talking to G-d in the flesh (as a Xian would say) afterwards. But, if "the men" refers to all 3, then it should also be all 3 in verse 22. So, since god just left for Sodom, how is Abraham still talking him??? If on the other hand, "the men" doesn't refer to all 3, then how was Avraham talking to god if he's back at Avraham's camp?!? it doesn't make any sense any way you slice it!

Question: Hashem says in verse 21 "I will go down to Sodom" - "I", so Xians would have to agree that Hashem must be going to Sodom. In verse 33, after Hashem finishes talking with Abraham it says,  "and Hashem went" - it's obvious that he's going to Sodom, as he said he would. However 19:1 starts - "and the 2 angels came" where's G-d? According to Xians, he should be there! Also, if Genesis 18 was referring to the trinity, then why here do we see that at least two of them were angels, and not "parts of god"!?!?! it would make much more sense to assume that the "men" are angels and not god incarnate. (By the way in verses 19:10-13 it refers to the angels as "Men", so we can assume, if it wasn't already obvious enough, that these are the same "people" as before)

            If you happen to get a wise guy that knows a bit about Jewish law, and Talmud, he may tell you the dictum that "a messenger is like the sender" and that therefore god had indeed "gone down to Sodom," he accomplished it be sending his messengers, and that therefore it really was god/s in Genesis 18. Using the Jewish principal this could possibly make sense. However, it would create one big problem for the guy. Using that principal he couldn't prove that god took the flesh at all, since we could just say that it was an angel speaking on behalf of Hashem! In truth, that theory makes the most sense for a Xian who is using strictly written, biblical information since we find that at least 2 of the "Men" are angels. In fact there are some among the Jewish Sages that say that that was what happened, that Hashem "appeared" to Avraham by sending his angels. However, there are many of our sages that say that that wasn't the case, that Hashem really had appeared to Avraham, however, they agree that the "men" were angels and not god incarnate, and that Hashem's appearing before Avraham was not at all in a physical sense, just like it isn't in other places in the bible. I think that they may have arrived at that conclusion because the simple reading of the text implies that Hashem had revealed himself to Avraham, and AFTERWARDS, "HeeNai" (= "behold," an emphasis on surprise, or something new) there were now 3 "men" before him. It sounds on a simple, "pshat,"  reading that these were two isolated events. First, that Hashem appeared to Avraham; And second, that three men now appeared before him.

            Besides all this textual analysis, what about common sense? The jews had received the Torah around a millennia earlier. They had read it, understood it, and passed on from generation to generation what the Torah's words mean. If these verses had really meant that G-d took the form of flesh, and that that was really the Jewish and proper understanding of the text, then why did all the Jews cry out when Xians made the claim that god can take the form of man??? The Jews should have said, "ok, but He's, not him." Instead we find the Jews shocked from this claim that god can be limited to a body, and they shouting out against it. And don't try this cop-out answer that somebody made up on a whim that "the Rabbis were stubborn and wanted to hide the truth, so they made up an 'oral law'." Besides being insulting to Jews, we, who are familiar with the caliber of excellence that our rabbis - and especially the rabbis of former years - embody, realize how absurd such a claim is. Try to convince a Jew that the Chafets Chaim was a liar!! Additionally, even with such an accusation, would this be able to account for why the Karaite movement, who don't accept the oral law and strictly follow the simplest understanding of the Torah, also reject the notion of "god incarnate"? They should be the Xians biggest helpers. They have no desire to stick with conventional Judaism. They reject the oral law and reject the rabbis. Why do even they agree that G-d cannot take the form of man, if that is indeed the normal understanding of those verses?!


SO, what's the Jewish take on this scene? In short it goes something like this. (by the way, this is just for your own knowledge, it doesn't prove or disprove Xianity of Judaism per se')

            Hashem appeared to Avraham. I think that some say that Hashem was doing Bikur Cholim (visiting the sick) since it was 3 days after Abrahams Bris milah (circumcision) when the pain is the worst (Hashem appeared to him in the same place that he had commanded him to perform the bris milah. see Gen 13:18, Since we know that he lived in Mamre, why did the verse re-empasize it in 18:1? Because that is where he performed this special mitzva that Hashem had given him in 17:13. And because he performed it he was deserving to have Hashem appear to him). Hashem made it very hot that day so that there would be few travelers, because He knew that Avraham loved to serve guests, and He didn't want Avraham to overburden himself, but when Hashem saw that Avraham was truly upset and distressed at the idea of not being able to serve guests that day, Hashem "killed 2 birds with one stone:" he sent Avraham 3 "guests!" they were angels that looked like men. Avraham was thrilled! There are two interpretations as to what followed. According to most commentators, Avraham asked Hashem if he would please pardon him while he attended the guests. [By the way, from here our sages point out the importance of helping guests, that in some ways it precedes even serving G-d! anyways, ]  According to the sages that say that Hashem had "appeared" to Avraham via the Angels, then the verse is read to mean that Avraham implored these travelers to relax in his tent. Anyways, the guests "ate" (or so it seemed) and then one of them (the angel Michael, I believe)  told Avraham that Sarah was going to have a son! [ Some say that Sarah was actually born without a uterus ( if I understood the Hebrew correctly) and that the angel actually changed her physical being to ebable her to bear children! anyways,]

            When Sarah heard, she laughed. We then find Hashem asking "why did she laugh?" this seems to be a strange question. Whyd she laugh? Because she thought some arab nomad just said that a little old lady was going to have a baby! There are many answers to this question. Most commentators seem to agree that Sarah didn't realize it was an angel though. So why was Hashem asking 'why'd she laugh?' the answer that I heard that I like the most was that Sarah was on a very high spiritual level, in some ways she was even higher than Abraham!! Now, we all know that there is really no such that as nature ("teva" in Hebrew). We understand that Hashem is running the show, although he runs it in a steady, normal fashion in general. That being the reality, when Sarah laughed and said "I'm old," it was revealing that she hadn't internalized that idea. Im sure she knew it, but it wasn't her gut reaction. Sarahs was basically saying "how can I have a kid? Im Old!!" i.e. nature doesn't let me do that. Thats why Hashem asked. Not because she necessarily should have believed that arab that she was gonna have a kid, but that she shouldn't have shirked it off as impossible. By the way, a nice little "k'nech" ("pinch" in yiddish, meaning a little extra point that someone wishes to add on) is that the Shelah, I think, says that the word Elo-him = [which basically refers to Hashem's mastery over the powers of the earth]  is the same numerical value as "HaTeva" = the nature. [ By the way, we dont just add numbers to see which match, first the torah is established through the normal means of exegesis, and then if they find a numerical figure that hints to that idea they then reveal it].

            Anyways, getting back, the second angel that came healed Avraham (the angel Raphael ). The last angel, Gavriel, was there to give Avraham more guests and because he would go down to Sodom with Raphael afterwards. (by the way, the Baal Haturim says that "Vihenei Shlosha..." "and behold 3" (from 18:2) is the same value as "Alo Michael, Gavriel, ooRaphael" these are [the angels] Michael, Gavriel, and Raphael" - I usually don't use so much of the numbers material, but I happened to bump into it, so I figured that Id say it)

            Well, after Michael took care of his job with enabling Sarah to bear children, he then disappeared or went back to heaven, whatever it is that angels do in their spare time. So, at this point the two remaining angels were ready to leave. Gavriel would destroy Sodom, while Raphael would save Lot and his family. [Gavriel is derived from the word Gever, strong. While Raphael is derived from the word Rophe, which means heal or remedy. As such, it is very appropriate that Gavriel is the one to destroy Sodom and Gavriel to save Lot and his family. - saving someones life is considered a type of bodily saving.]

            So, Avraham went to see them on their way, he didn't know what they were charged to do in Sodom. While on the way Hashem said, I think Ill tell Avraham what Im gonna do in Sodom. And so he told him. The fact that Hashem says "Ill go down" is answered the same way as was discussed above. Our sages teach us a famous rule that "a messenger is like the sender" and that therefore Hashem had "gone down to Sodom," he did this by sending his messengers. [Another example of this is in 19:14 (13 in KJV) the angels say "Hashem sent us to destroy this place" but the next verse has Lot saying "Hashem is going to destroy this place."]

             While we mentioned it, if someone happens to object to the Jewish understanding as to which jobs the angels had (which wouldn't prove the Xian claim anyways. But in case you wanted to know) since the verse later on says in 19:13 "we are destroyers... we were sent to destroy this place." The commentators all unanimously agree and state very simply (which is in itself uncommon, since so very often the different commentators contribute their own little "k'nech" to prove the same point. That to find a case where their words are so paralleled is in itself implicit to the obviousness of the answer to the Talmudic scholar of yesteryear.) They all say that since Raphael's job was to bring Lot and his family out of the city so that it can be destroyed he is considered a "destroyer." THINK ABOUT THE FOLLOWING SCENARIO: you meet some guy and ask him what he does for a living. He says "Im a demolition man, I work for a demolition company" so you say "wow! You run the wrecking ball?" "No" "Oh, so you put in the dynamite!?" "No" "You break it with sledgehammers?" "No" "So what do you do?" "Well, I check the gas pipes before we blow up a building to make sure that no gas is leaking" "What! Youre a plumber, not a demolition man!" "No, Im a demolition man, without me they couldn't do anything, Im vital to the demolition process"-  - - okay. I think the point is clear. And yes I understand that someone could devise a scenario when it wouldn't seem to make sense, but one always has to remember what the function of a Mushel (parable) is. Its not to prove that 'therefore Im right". All it is is a way to demonstrate the explanation. Its not proof. Its just an aid in understanding a new idea. [ By the way, in case the last mashel was too complex, try this one: a guy holds a Jew for a Nazi to shoot him. Is the "holder" innocent? Of course not! "Why not, I didn't kill him, I just held him!" because your part was vital in the killing process"] Anyways, so since Raphael's job was in essence going to cause a destruction even though he was going to do a helpful thing, he is considered a "destroyer in that sense".

            There were only 2 other ideas I saw given, both are from the Orach Chaim, who says the other one also, but he also says that it may simply be a matter of "derech eretz" (loosely translated as "common decency," or "respect") that Gavriel shouldn't say "I'M here to destroy etc..." it makes Raphael sound like a loser. "I'M HERE TO DO THIS! I DON'T KNOW WHAT HE'S DOING, BUT ME, I'M GOING TO DESTROY, ME ME ME..." Which is a perfectly good answer. I know some Xians that I have spoken with dont like those kind of answers, which seems a bit odd to me,  I would think that they could appreciate them more than many other people since they're "all about love and peace etc.." You know, the torah is called "toras chaim" which means "instructions for living" the Torah isn't just a story book, and it's not just a law book, it's much more than that. One of the functions of the Torah is to teach us how to be angelic, in fact, even better than angels!  the Torah teaches us how to be the best people we can be. as such, we often find that some of the Torah's elucidations are used to teach us what is the best way to act. (like the case above with Avraham leaving Hashems presence to greet his guests. )Anyways, the other answer is that it was Gavriel and his legion. that there are different levels of angels {for more about this, read Derech Hashem by Rabbi Luzzato}. Gavriel is something of an archangel. he controls many other lower ranking angels that follow his command. so according to that idea it was Gavriel and his legions speaking. But like I said, every single commentator Ive seen states very nonchalantly that the answer is the first one , including the Orach Chaim.


That about sums it up. In short, the Xian view makes little to no sense. While the Jewish idea, whether or not a person may like it, makes sense, is consistent, and follows logic.


Feel free to use this article.

And please feel free to send me any questions or comments.

Leo Onbindiro,

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