AskRob: A question on Genesis 18

Q. Hey Rob,
Since you said you're a theology nerd, here's a question I've been curious 
about for a while. If you're wiped out from your test, you can save this for 
later, 'cause it's kind of long.

In Genesis 18, the text totally confuses me. It states in verse 1 that the 
LORD appears to Abraham, but starts out by telling us that he saw "three 
men". In verse 2, he addresses the three of them as "My Lords" (without all 
caps for Lord). He tells Sarah to prepare food, but doesn't mention that 
it's for the Lord, unless the text merely omits it. I would think, 
personally, that it was worth mentioning, but okay....maybe he doesn't 
realize that it's God yet. Then they, (as a group?) ask him where Sarah is. 
We know that God knows all things, so I wonder why He asked?
Next, one of them tells Abraham that he (not they) will return next year and 
Sarah will have a son.
The text then reads (in verse 13) that the LORD asked Abraham why Sarah 
laughed; is this all of them or one?
In the next paragraph, we're told that the MEN (not the Lord) got up from 
their meal and started toward Sodom. Here's where I get really confused. The 
LORD asks someone (himself?) if He should hide His plan from Abraham. As if 
it weren't confusing enough that we're left unsure to whom the question is 
directed, now I'm also wondering why it appears to me that there's an unmade 
decision here. Obviously, God's plans are laid out well beforehand, and He 
therefore need not question Himself. But perhaps this is one of those 
rhetorical questions, like when he asked Abraham "Is anything too hard for 
the LORD?"?
The text continues in verse 20 with "The LORD told Abraham"......... (is 
this still all 3 of them?) and again stymies me when He seems to say that He 
must go see for himself whether the reports of he wickedness in Sodom are 
true, as if He must have this personal, visual verification prior to wiping 
them out, and appearing as if He isn't certain, because we know that He is: 
certain of both their wickedness and the certainty of their judgment. We 
know that God knows and sees all, so why the statement in verse 20-21?
In verse 22, we're told that the two MEN go on ahead but the LORD stays and 
converses further with Abraham. Are the other two beings angels, or are they 
men, or are they God the Son and God the Holy Spirit? Next, we're told that 
Abraham APPROACHES the Lord, which makes me wonder belatedly why he hasn't 
yet burnt up from all this close contact with the Most High, first, when 
they came up to him at the entrance to his tent and were probably an arm's 
length away, or later, when they were eating together, or even now, when he 
is apparently still close enough to converse. I mean, Moses barely sneaked a 
peek at God's back and his face glowed so that he had to physically cover 
it.
Then this unbelievable conversation ensues, in which I'm just astounded at 
God's amazing patience and love for us, such that He tolerates this 
bargaining from a human (albeit a special one).
After the conversation is over, we're told in verse 33 that the Lord went on 
His way (not caps), and then in verse 34, it's two angels who arrive in 
Sodom, but two men who left Abraham to go there.
Then we come to one of the worst fathers on the planet when Lot offers to 
give a bunch of bloodthirsty gay men his two virgin daughters (which reminds 
me of the account of the chopped-up concubine- in Judges, I think), which 
really makes me wonder if God saved Lot and His family merely for Abraham's 
sake, because Lot doesn't appear to be so righteous to me.
So, this is probably one of the longest e-mails you've ever gotten. I'll 
stop now.
Looking forward to hearing your insights!

Here you Go:
As we look at the narrative of Genesis 18, it is important to have a quick view of the context that begins in chapter 13.  Here Lot and Abram separate and Lot seemingly chooses his new home based on the flesh. (13:10-11)  Here the tension of the lands of Sodom and Gomorrah are first stated. (13:13) This wickedness immediately spills over into Lot’s household in chapter 14, as he is caught up in a war of wicked men. When captured, Abram recovers him, but is clear to have no dealings with the King of Sodom, unlike his welcomed dealings with Melchizedek. (14:22-24) In chapter 15, the LORD states that Abram need not fear (15:1b) and that God would be his shield (15:1c).  This is presumably against men like the King of Sodom. In the next few chapters, especially chapter 17, the covenant promise that is first revealed in chapter 12 is solidified and marked with the sign of the covenant, circumcision. Now one purpose, I believe, for this particular progression is to show a stark difference between God’s chosen people (in Abraham) and the wicked.  Remember that a contrast between the righteous and the wicked is an essential theme in all of Scripture. Sodom and Gomorrah will be the first nations proper to experience the wrath of God in this way, but certainly not the last.[1]
 
So, here we are in chapter 18 with two main things in mind: Abraham and Sarah’s faith in God’s promise and God’s judgment on the wicked, of which Lot was spared, but only barely and only because of the “compassion of the LORD.” (19:16) Now, the Narrative includes the three men, which were two angels (19:1) and a Theophany (or rather most likely a Christophany)[2], which is a pre-incarnate appearance of God as man. Abraham, may or may not have known that this was the LORD, as calling someone like him “Lord” would have been customary. Although, I think he knew at least at some level. It would appear later that Lot understood the magnitude of the presence of two angels.[3] Now, all questions that God asks are not to accrue information, but rather to bring information to light. He employs this here as well in His questions about Sarah and her laughter. So it is with this question the LORD seems to ask Himself, which is most likely a conversation between the Father and the Son, although it could have included the Spirit as well.  This is to let Abraham in on what was going to happen.  Truly, Sodom and Gomorrah were going to fall, but the LORD let Abraham experience the depth of His grace and mercy, as even again Lot experienced as when he hesitated, the angels forced him out. Abraham was not haggling with God, but searching the depths of His mercy.
 
A great deal of this is also wrapped up in the Hebrew style of writing, which is almost completely different from our way of writing. They were always after the big picture, rather than the logical details when they gave a narrative account of something.  This does not mean the details are not important, but remember that God had them remember and write down these stories to convey theological themes, such as we see in Genesis[4] and even John employs this method[5] in his Gospel, as do many of the New Testament writers.
 
God made a promise to Abraham that would be fulfilled, because a distinction between the righteous and the wicked is the reality. Abraham’s promise would ultimately bring about the Incarnation and then make us children of Abraham, who believe like our father and it too is accounted unto us as righteousness, but not so the wicked…
 
 
[1] Interestingly enough, one such nation is Nineveh about 150 years after Jonah came to them.  The prophet Nahum returns to Nineveh with an, “It’s too late” message. [2][2] I happen to think that all “theophanies” are in actuality “Christophanies.” It appears to be one of the functions of the second Person of the Godhead to appear in this way, instead of a manifestation of fire or the like. This would be why Abraham could look on Him and not die. [3] The offering of his two unmarried daughters shows the depth of fear (in both the reverence sense and the afraid sense) he had for the two.  Angels showing up is a BIG DEAL. [4] Many views exist on the theme of Genesis, but I think that one of the primary themes is wrapped up in the phrase, “The generations of”, or “the account of.” See Genesis 2:4, 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 32, 11:10, 27, 25:12, 19, 36:1, 9, 37:2 [5] See John 20:30-31