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18. The Three Visitors

And the Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; 2And 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, 3And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant: 4Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: 5And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said. 6And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth. 7And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it. 8And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.

9And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent. 10And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him. 11Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? 13And the Lord said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? 14Is any thing too hard for the Lord? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son. 15Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh.

16And the men rose up from thence, and looked toward Sodom: and Abraham went with them to bring them on the way. 17And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; 18Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him. 20And the Lord said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; 21I 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. 22And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the Lord. 23And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? 24Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? 25That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? 26And the Lord said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes. 27And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes: 28Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five? And he said, If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it. 29And he spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he said, I will not do it for forty’s sake. 30And he said unto him, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there. 31And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty’s sake. 32And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake. 33And the Lord went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place.

15. Then Sarah denied. Another sin of Sarah’s was, that she endeavored to cover and hide her laughter by a falsehood. Yet this excuse did not proceed from obstinate wickedness, according to the manner in which hypocrites are wont to snatch at subterfuges, so that they remain like themselves, even to the end. Sarah’s feelings were of a different kind; for while she repents of her own folly, she is yet so terrified, as to deny that she had done, what she now perceives to be displeasing to God. Whence we infer, how great is the corruption of our nature, which causes even the fear of God, — the highest of all virtues, — to degenerate into a fault. Moreover, we must observe whence that fear, of which Moses makes mention, suddenly entered the mind of Sarah; namely, from the consideration that God had detected her secret sin. We see, therefore, how the majesty of God, when it is seriously felt by us, shakes us out of our insensibility. We are more especially constrained to feel thus, when God ascends his tribunal, and brings our sins to light.

Nay; but thou didst laugh. The angel does not contend in a multiplicity of words, but directly refutes her false denial of the fact. We may hence learn, that we gain no advantage by tergiversation, when the Lord reproves us, because he will immediately dispatch our case with a single word. Therefore, we must beware lest we imitate the petulance of those who mock God with false pretences, and at length rush into gross contempt of Him. However he may seem to leave us unnoticed for a time, yet he will fulminate against us with that terrible voice, ‘It is not as you pretend.’ In short, it is not enough that the judgment of God should be reverenced, unless we also confess our sins ingenuously and without shifts or evasions. For a double condemnation awaits those who, from a desire to escape the judgment of God, retake themselves to the refuge of dissimulation. We must, therefore bring a sincere confession, that, as persons openly condemned, we may obtain pardon. But seeing that God was contented with giving a friendly reprehension, and that he did not more severely punish the double offense of Sarah; we hence perceive with what tender indulgence he sometimes regards his own people. Zacharias was more severely treated, who was struck dumb for nine months. (Luke 1:9.) But it is not for us to prescribe a perpetual law to God; who, as he generally binds his own people to repentance by punishments, often sees it good to humble them sufficiently, without inflicting any chastisement. In Sarah, truly, he gives a singular instance of his compassion; because he freely forgives her all, and still chooses that she should remain the mother of the Church. In the meantime, we must observe, how much better it is that we should be brought before him as guilty, and that like convicted persons we should be silent, than that we should delight ourselves in sin, as a great part of the world is accustomed to do.

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