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Taking God at His Word

February 18, 2024

Teacher: Daniel Baker
Scripture: Genesis 18


In the 70s and 80s there was a tv ad campaign by broker E.F. Hutton. Two people talking in the midst of some busy situation like an airport or by the pool or even on the set of a movie. One person mentions what their broker’s advice is. Then the 2nd person would say, “Well, my broker is E.F. Hutton, and E.F. Hutton says,...” And then everyone in the background would stop what they were doing and freeze to listen in. Then the voiceover, “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.”

It was brilliant. But then the real situation at E.F. Hutton started to come out. In the early 80s E.F. Hutton had started to write bad checks and use other bad checks to cover the amounts. It was a huge fraud. Eventually in May 1985, Hutton pleaded guilty to 2,000 counts of fraud and paid millions in fines.

The company is still around but nothing like it was. One expert who monitored investment companies said, “Even after it's over, Hutton will still wear the stigma. And in this business, which is regulated by trust, a company's reputation means a lot.”

“When E.F. Hutton speaks”? Who cares. You would have no reason to trust them. The original company closed shop around 1990. Someone later bought the name and resurrected the brand.

Faith...takes God seriously when he promises blessing...and when he promises jugdment. Faith in God’s Word is taking both sides of it—the blessings and the judgments.

Right from the Start: Genesis is a work by Moses. Part of his five-volume story of the beginning of all things and the beginnings of the nation of Israel. He writes while Israel is wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. He writes it so that they would always know WHO they are and WHOSE they are. They belong to God. And God is no territorial idol. He is the Creator of heaven and earth.

He writes it so they would trust the LORD at all times and in all situations. He writes it so they would take God at his Word. Hold to God’s Word and build their whole lives on it.

Not a Christian? In some ways your takeaway from the sermon is the same as ours who are Christians. Take God at his Word...

Sermon: Taking God at his Word (1) when he speaks blessing, and (2) when he speaks judgment.

I. When He Speaks Blessing (18:1–15)

We pick up the story of Abraham maybe just a few months after the covenant promises of chapter 17. There we learned Abraham was 99 years old (Gen 17:1). About 25 years after Abraham came to the land of Canaan from Haran to the north.

Our chapter says that Abraham is “by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day” (18:1). Mamre is a little to the south of Jerusalem, near Hebron.

But the fact he’s there in his tent and Moses mentions “the heat of the day” tells us Abraham remains what he always was, a nomad. A pilgrim. A sojourner. He was in the promised land, but he did not really possess any of it.

But then, “the LORD [Yahweh!] appeared to him” (Gen 18:1). Not in a vision like in Genesis 15:1. But in a tangible form.

Surprisingly, when Yahweh is described, we read that “behold, three men were standing in front of him” (Gen 18:2). Our Christian antenna is up: Is this the Trinity? But no, it isn’t. Genesis 18:22 and 19:1 make this very clear (“the men” depart from “the LORD,” and are then called “the two angels”).

It isn’t quite clear whether Abraham recognizes who this is or not. His address, “Adonai” (Gen 18:3), and his urgency in serving them seem to reveal he sees something special about these visitors. You can see his urgency in what he says to Sarah in Genesis 18:6.

Yahweh has something special to say to Sarah. He promises that within the year he’ll come back and “Sarah your wife shall have a son” (Gen 18:10).

When we read this promise in Genesis 18 it feels to us like a straightforward prophecy. And we can take God at his word. When he promises, he fulfills.

But in Romans 9 we learn there’s more going on here. The prophecy is also a vivid demonstration of God’s ELECTION, God’s decision to choose some to be his and not to choose others.

Here is what Paul says in Romans 9—listen for the quotation of Genesis 18:10:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Rom 9:6-13)

What happens in the natural—a verbal prophecy that results in a biological birth—is also true in the spiritual. We are children of the promise of God. God’s eternal choice before the foundation of the world. A people was promised before the world began. And then God brings that people to salvation at specific places and times.

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Rom 9:18)

22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Rom 9:22-24)

“Vessels of mercy...prepared beforehand for glory.” The promise of Isaac shows us how God’s election to salvation works.

“He has mercy” on some and gives them the promise. But others are “prepared for destruction.”

...Back to our narrative in Genesis 18.

Sarah couldn’t help but eavesdrop. A tent made of animal skins doesn’t make for a great sound barrier. She heard the promise of Yahweh, and she REACTED.

We get a pretty full picture of her REACTION. First we’re told of her age (Gen 18:11). Then we’re told she “LAUGHED to herself” (Gen 18:12) and REFLECTED.

She isn’t the first person to laugh at this promise. Back in Genesis 17:17 Abraham did the same thing.

Now it’s Sarah’s turn to laugh. Now we see how fitting it is that God said, “you shall call his name Isaac” (Gen 17:19), since “Isaac” means “he laughs” (Currid, II:320).

At this point it seems that Sarah’s laughter is the laughter of unbelief but not quite joy. There’s some rebuke in the LORD’s questioning of Sarah (Gen 18:13).

Her problem isn’t her understanding of biology. She knows how bodies typically work. And in terms of having children, her body is finished.

Her problem isn’t her understanding of her body. Her problem is her understanding of God. She doesn’t get what is true of him. She doesn’t get what he reveals in Genesis 18:14:

“Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Gen 18:14)

About 18 centuries later, another woman will also be having a discussion about her having a child. But this time a discussion with an angel. The young virgin Mary will be talking to the angel Gabriel.

She will ask, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34).

Gabiel’s answer is that it will happen,

“For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)

Mary was a virgin and yet “nothing will be impossible with God.” Sarah is past the age of child-bearing, and yet, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”

Barrenness in the Bible is so often the context where God breaks in and does miracles—Sarah, Rebekah (Isaac’s wife), Hannah (Samuel’s mother), and Mary.

Sarah is rebuked for her lack of faith. You might think Isaac’s name is a reminder of her weak faith. But it’s also a reminder of God’s sheer goodness. She will laugh when he’s born.

When Isaac is born, we’ll read:

6 And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” 7 And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” (Gen 21:6-7)

Susan Hunt Transformed and Sarah’s slow process of sanctification.

As we continue to travel with Sarah, we see that like Eve, and like us, her sanctification is slow. But through every experience, side-trip and delay God was with her, sovereignly working everything together to accomplish His purpose. Her story dazzles us with God’s persevering love for His chosen ones. His sovereignty assures us that He can keep His promises and His love assures us that He will. This knowledge is, indeed, powerfully transforming.
Karen Hodge and Susan Hunt, Transformed: Life-taker to Life-giver[1]
News-flash: Our situation and relationships do not make manipulative and harsh. They reveal the wickedness in our hearts.
Karen Hodge and Susan Hunt, Transformed: Life-taker to Life-giver[2]

“Sanctification is slow.” Yes!

Part of our growth is taking God at his word. When he promises to bless us, when he promises that he will bring good out of even the worst things we face, even then take God at his word.

Before God’s Words of Blessings, the LORD himself asks us, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Gen 18:14).

II. When He Speaks Judgment (18:16–33)

In the next part of the chapter, the focus turns from BLESSING to JUDGMENT. Particularly, God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah.

If you aren’t a Christian there aren’t many cities in the Old Testament you’ve heard of. Jerusalem probably. Maybe Babylon. But there’s a decent chance you’ve heard of “Sodom and Gomorrow.”

We’ll start with the Lord’s agenda for Abraham himself. Read Genesis 18:16–21.

The promises to Abraham also involve great responsibility. He will be “a great and mighty nation” and the source of blessings for “all the nations” (Gen 18:18).

But to be “CHOSEN” (Heb., “known”) (Gen 18:19) for such a task involves responsibilities. The responsibility here includes teaching and discipling his children and household.

He might not have many children at this point, but remember from chapter 14 when he rescued Lot that he had 318 men he took into battle, and all of these were said to be “trained men, born in his house” (Gen 14:14).

He is to teach and “command” all those entrusted to him “to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice” (Gen 18:19). He is to present a “way” of life and then call on them to “keep” it. “Righteousness and justice” is a summary phrase that means all we’re required to do in our relationship with God (that’s the “righteousness”) and in our relationship with people (that’s the “justice”).

“The way of the LORD” always involves both, a way of living before God first. But then also a way of living before people.

The emphasis on “righteousness and justice” fits this situation, because one of the essential ingredients of “keeping the way of the LORD” is to treat sin as it deserves. It isn’t true “righteousness and justice” if it treats sin casually or ignores it altogether.

We learn here about Sodom and Gomorrah that “THEIR SIN IS VERY GRAVE” (Gen 18:20).

Even back there we learned,

Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD. (Gen 13:13)

But Sodom isn’t just any random city. It’s where Abraham’s nephew Lot lives. He moved to Sodom back in Genesis 13 when Abraham gave Lot the choice of where to go. Because of Lot he appeals to God.

In terms of a prayer to God, this is one of the most unusual appeals in all the Bible. It’s like a guy negotiating to buy a camel, only he’s interceding to the living God.

Reading Genesis 18:22–33.

The Lord had mentioned “righteousness and justice” already in their conversation. Now Abraham appeals to God on the basis of justice.

—“Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Gen 18:23).

—This would seem to violate the “justice” God’s people are called to (Gen 18:19), so Abraham appeals on behalf of the city.

—“Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen 18:25).

—Like the LORD’s question to Sarah, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Gen 18:14).

—This is a question that isn’t a question. It’s an emphatic declaration: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” The answer is a loud and resounding, “Yes! The Judge of all the earth shall do what is just!”

Eventually Abraham will “bargain” the LORD from 50 to 45 to 40 to 30 to 20 to 10. Maybe he thinks that this will cover at least Lot’s family. Maybe he instinctively knows an entire city can’t be saved for the sake of only one righteous person. But for 10, maybe.

What proves to be true is that there aren’t 10 righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrow. There’s only 1, Abraham’s nephew Lot. And even Lot we’re not totally sure about.

The two angels go to Sodom in chapter 19. They go to Lot’s house. And when they do, the city proves immediately just how wicked it is:

4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. 5 And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” (Gen 19:4-5)

A homosexual gang rape is what the mean are threatening. As the LORD said, “Their sin is very grave” (Gen 18:20).

In a desperate act Lot offers his own daughters to them instead. At this point the two angels step in and end this truly dark and despicable conversation.

They blind the men outside the house, and tell Lot to get his family. His wife and daughters follow, but his “sons-in-law” thought he was “jesting” (Gen 19:14).

Lot and his family make it to a nearby small city, Zoar. And when the sun comes up the next day, God rains down “sulfur and fire...out of heaven” (Gen 19:24).

It’s no doubt true homosexuality wasn’t the only sin of the Sodomites. But homosexuality is the one highlighted before the judgment of “sulfur and fire” raining down from “heaven” (Gen 19:24).

One of the clearest truths of the Bible about homosexuality is that it’s immoral and wrong. It is condemned as an abomination in the Law of Moses:

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. (Lev 20:13)

And the New Testament adopts the same moral standard. Romans 1:26–27:

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Rom 1:26-27)

1 Corinthians 6:9–10 from the New English Translation:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. (NET, 1 Cor 6:9-10)

We know from the Bible these are SERIOUS sins. But we also know these are FORGIVABLE sins. In Christ they’re not UNFORGIVABLE sins:

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:11)


Taking God at his Word.

Before God’s Words of Blessings, the Lord himself asks, us, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Gen 18:14).

Before God’s Words of Judgment: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen 18:25)

A practical response:

  • Don’t miss God’s word to Abraham about the parenting task: “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” (Gen 18:19)
  • A greater personal response: Take God at his word. See the seriousness of sin and the reality of judgment. But the offer of forgiveness and blessing for those who trust in Christ.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. (Eph 1:7)

[1] Karen Hodge and Susan Hunt, Transformed: Life-taker to Life-giver (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2016), 155.

[2] Karen Hodge and Susan Hunt, Transformed: Life-taker to Life-giver (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2016), 175–176.

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