Friendship and Intimacy (Gen 18:1-33)


Previous passage: "Walk Before God Blamelessly" (Gen 17:1-27)
Related passages: "The Wonder of Laughter" (Gen 18:9-15; 21:1-7)
Why Did God Chose Abraham? (Gen 18:19)

What do we really want in life? What do we need? We need money. We need a career. We need to have fun. On a more basic and foundational level we need some meaning and purpose to our own existence. Perhaps more than anything else, we need a good friend. If one is married, their best and most intimate friend should be their spouse. As the saying goes, "A happy wife is a happy life." Also, the more true friends one has, the better their "quality of life." Sadly and tragically, when one has no friends, their lives become a living hell. On Christmas and Thanksgiving day, the suicide rate spikes each year without fail, likely because of the absence of a loving and caring friend. Why might friendship be so foundational to a happy life?

Being created in the image of the Triune God (Gen 1:26-27), it would be fair to say that God created man to be an intimate friend with God and to be intimate friends with each other (1 Jn 1:3; Ac 2:42; Jn 15:15). Derek Kidner, renowned OT scholar, says in his commentary on Proverbs that 2 Biblical qualities of friends are candor and constancy. Candor means to be honest and transparent, while constancy refers to faithfulness. Tim Keller says, "Friends always let you in (candor), but never let you down (constancy)."

In the Bible, Abraham is regarded as God's friend (2 Chron 20:7; Isa 41:8; James 2:23). How so? Gen 18:19 says, "For I have chosen him..." Here the Hebrew literally means, "I have known him personally." Commentators say that it means almost "to make someone a friend." In other words, God, by His grace alone, makes us his friends. This is the doctrine of election. In Gen 18:1-33, we can see the candor and constancy of friendship in both God and Abraham (Gen 18:1-8, 16-33), as well as God toward Sarah (Gen 18:9-15). This passage can be divided into 3 parts:

  1. Abraham's friendship with God (1-8).
  2. God's friendship with Sarah (9-15).
  3. The fruit of friendship: intimacy and prayer (16-33).
I. Abraham's Friendship with God (Gen 18:1-8)

Heb 13:1-2 makes a reference to this incident: "Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." Although 3 men came at an importune time in the heat of the day (Gen 18:1-2), Abraham welcomed them with a sumptuous meal with the utmost of generosity, deference and courtesy (Gen 18:3-8). Abraham gave his guests a royal welcome at an inconvenient time. Jesus said, "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in" (Mt 25:35). This hospitality of Abraham was literally extended to God. His reward was contact with God himself.

We learn here that friendship with God depends on faithfully doing our Christian "covenant" duties of prayer, Bible study, worship, repentance, acts of faith and service to those who are needy and hurting, etc. In this way we put God first in our lives as God expects of his covenant people (Gen 17:1). Experiences of the presence of God cannot be programmed; they must come to us. However, they won't come to us if we stop being faithful and diligent in our basic Christian duties. If we have no time for Christian ministry and service and for the "means of grace" (Bible study, prayer, worship), then we won't know or grow in our relationship with God. No one can create or deepen a friendship without being committed to spending time together.

II. God's Friendship with Sarah (Gen 18:9-15)

This has been blogged previously in "The Wonder of Laughter" (Gen 18:9-15; 21:1-7). God was kindly insisting on candor (honesty) from Sarah, because she lied to God (Gen 18:15) -- to God! Yet God shows the essence of friendship: On the one hand God insisted on honesty ("I did not laugh." "(Oh) yes, you did laugh."). On the other hand God did not attack or reject Sarah for her dishonesty. God was convicting her gently. God was calling her to wonder at his grace (Gen 18:14). God wanted her to allow Him to fill her life with wonder. This is the mixture of firmness (truth) and yet loving assurance (grace) that is the essence of parenting and spiritual shepherding in general. Thus, God shows both candor and constancy. What about with Abraham?

III. The Fruit of Friendship: Intimacy and Prayer (Gen 18:16-33)

God also provides candor with Abraham when God remarkably begins to "think out loud" about Sodom in a way that invites Abraham "in" to God's inmost thoughts (Gen 18:20-21). God says in the form of a rhetorical question, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?" (Gen 18:17). The obvious answer is: "No. I will not hide from Abraham. We are friends." Similarly, Jesus said to his disciples at the Last Supper, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you" (Jn 15:15).

God's gracious initiative indeed welcomed Abraham not as a "Yes man" but as a faithful and honest probing friend. The result is one of the most breathtaking examples of candor between friends as seen in Abraham's boldness in seeking to dissuade God from judging Sodom (Gen 18:22-33). Even Abraham is amazed at his own candor and honesty (Gen 18:31), for Abraham's "boldness," "familiarity," and direct talk is the mark of friends.

(Gen 18:19 explained in a separate blog: Why Did God Chose Abraham?) What 6 things can we learn from Gen 18:17-33 about the prayer of a friend of God (often known as intercessory prayer)?

  1. Abraham's prayer is initiated by God.
  2. Abraham's prayer is persistent and specific.
  3. Abraham's prayer is bold.
  4. Abraham's prayer is humble.
  5. Abraham's prayer is theological.
  6. Abraham's prayer is for the city.
Ref: "The Friend of God" (Gen 18:1-33); What were we put in the world to do? Study Notes (136-144). Tim Keller.
"Promise and Intercession" (Gen 18:1-33). Sermon by Ligon Duncan.

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