At the start of the story in Genesis 18, Abraham does not seem to know who the three men are:

Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and, bowing to the ground, he said, “My lords, if it please you, do not go on past your servant. Let a little water be brought; bathe your feet and recline under the tree. And let me fetch a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves; then go on—seeing that you have come your servant’s way.” They replied, “Do as you have said.”—Genesis 18:2-5 (NJPS)

(Abraham seems to recognize the men as important somehow as he treats them as honored guests, but it's not clear he considers any of them as God Himself.)

When the two angels have left for Sodom, Abraham seems to have identified the third as the Lord:

Abraham came forward and said, “Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty? What if there should be fifty innocent within the city; will You then wipe out the place and not forgive it for the sake of the innocent fifty who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”—Genesis 18:23-25 (NJPS)

What tipped Abraham off?

  • 4
    This is also the chapter with one of the Tanakh's funniest lines: Sarah lied, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was frightened. But He replied, “You did laugh.” Jan 31, 2012 at 0:51

4 Answers 4


No one has commented on the section of Scripture between Gen 18:2-5 and Gen 18:23-25. There is a whole dialog where the "visitor" specifically asks after Sarah, (verse 9...how did He know her name?) The "visitor" reaffirms the promise Abraham had received directly from the Lord that He, the Lord, would grant Abraham a son (verse 14), that He would return within a year to make good on it (verse 10, 14) which the Lord Himself makes good on (Gen 21:1). In addition, the "visitor" hears Sarah's laugh "within herself" meaning inaudible to Abraham, and relays an edited version of her inner thoughts to Abraham (verses 12-15) which causes fear in Sarah. This visitor displays exceedingly intimate knowledge of Abraham and Sarah and the promise that had been given by the Lord Himself. How could Abraham not recognize the Lord at this point?

In regard to the comment on no one being able to see the face of Yahweh and live, I would like to recall the following verses:

Exodus 33:11a "So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend..."

Gen 16:13, "Then she [Hagar] called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, 'You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?”

Jdg 13:20 "For it came about when the flame went up from the altar toward heaven, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground. Now the angel of the LORD did not appear to Manoah or his wife again. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. So Manoah said to his wife, “We will surely die, for we have seen God.”

There are a number of instances when people have declared they have seen the Lord and lived. The text may call these manifestations the Angel of the Lord, but the people confess an understanding that they were in the presence of the Lord.

The struggle to reconcile the seeming conflict between a God that could not be seen with a God who spoke personally with people is what drove the translators of the Jewish targums to substitute an alternate persona they called the "Word of the Lord" in places where the text indicates the Lord appeared in a physical form. This alteration in the targums is evidence that early scholars recognized there were times when the Lord appeared physically in Scripture and people lived through the encounter.


Abraham recognized Yahuwah once he got a clear view of him, because this was not the first time Yahuwah appeared to Abram.

Genesis 12:7 (kjv) "And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him."

Genesis 15:1 (kjv) "After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward".

This is why in ch 18 Abram recognized him out of the other two angels right away. It is because he seen him and spoke with Yahuwah multiple times before. There is nothing in the text that shows that Abram didn't recognize Yahuwah until the other two left toward Sodom. In the kjv 18:3 says " my Lord" not "my lords". So it seems Abram recognized him right away.

It is written, that no man can seen the Father at any time. This was Yahuwah manifesting himself through His Word/Son in the form of a man. This was an appearance of Yahuwshuwa (Jesus) whom said " he that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9). Hebrews 1:3 says Yahuwshuwa is the EXPRESS IMAGE of the invisible God. They are one with eachother. The prophets of old were just speaking from the light they were given, for they saw in part, and knew in part, seeing as through a dim mirror ( 1 Corinthians 13:9-12). When Abram called this man he seen Yahuwah, he didn't have the full understanding of the Father manifesting through his Son, so he spoke from the light he was given. But as Yahuwshuwa said, when you seen him you seen the Father.


We are going to introduce a new perspective to consider. To understand several of the Old Testament accounts, you need to take into account the Hebrew understanding of representation.

That is, if a representative of a High standing official is standing in front of you, it’s as if that official themselves is there. And importantly, when or if you write an account of that event, you write it as if that official was there, and it will be him that speaks, even though it is only a representative.
So, Example, Moses talking to the angel of the Lord in the burning bush, in later verses of Exodus 3, he substitutes ‘the Lord’, that is, that then it was the Lord himself - not the angel.

Now, meeting angels was not uncommon during these times. And taking the whole of Genesis into perspective, consider this. Man had ‘fallen’, was spiritually dead. So how could man communicate with God? Who is a spirit. So Angels where cast into this role, to represent God.

All this for consideration....

  • Welcome to BH. Please see the Tour and the Help as to the purpose and the functioning of the site. I would edit out your comment at the beginning about not answering the question for two reasons. 1. If an answer does not answer the exact question of the OP, the answer may be down-voted or even deleted. 2. I actually think your answer does answer the question. It is sensible.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 9, 2020 at 9:01

I think this question is based off a mistaken assumption. In verse 1, it states that the Lord (G-d) came to Abraham. In verse 2, Abraham sees the angels coming, in the guise of travelers. From verses 2-12, the dialogue involved Abraham, Sarah and the three angels.

After Sarah laughs about the angel's promise of a child, we find in verse 13-15 that G-d discusses the promise with Sarah and Abraham. There is no indication that G-d is one of the angels.

In fact, the word for "G-d" which is used is the tetragrammaton, which is never used for angels or any other entity other than G-d (as opposed to א-ל-ה-י-ם which means "power" and is sometimes used for other entities.)

Verse 16 says that the "men" went on their way, and Abraham accompanied them. The word "men" has been used consistently to refer to the angels.

verses 17-19 is G-d speaking, explaining why he wants to tell Abraham about his plan. Verses 20-21 are what G-d said to Abraham.

Then verse 22: "The men went on to Sedom, and Abraham remained standing with G-d."

And then starts the famous dialogue.

Throughout this whole time, it is clear that the angels are always referred to as "men" and G-d is always referred to as the Tetragrammaton. So there is no confusion, G-d is not one of the angels.

The only question which does arise is in verse 3, where it states "He said to 'Adonai' if it pleases you...'

The term Adonai could be used as the plural of "master." In this context, it can refer to Abraham calling the men his "masters."

Or, it can be used as a name of G-d, where it would mean "Master."

The simple explanation is the former; Abraham is politely asking his 'masters' to not pass on but rather to stay.

In the Jewish Oral Tradition, there are sources which would translate it as the latter; Abraham is asking G-d (who came to visit him as per verse 1) not to leave him while he attends to his guests. According to this, Abraham is addressing his "Master."

But even for this word, no one assumes that he is referring to the angels with any assumption of being G-d. It's simply a question of who is he addressing- the three angels or G-d?

And so I think the OP is based upon a false assumption, or perhaps an incorrect translation. G-d is not one of the angels, and His Presence is made clearly known to Abraham as indicated in the text.

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