The story of the promise and fulfillment of the promise to Abraham about Isaac sandwiches the rest of the stories in these two chapters through 21:7. The final two stories of chapter 21, about Abimelech, and about Hagar and Ishmael, develop further another theme of Genesis, the story of the nations and their origin. 18:18 ties the two themes together.
Abraham understands that God judges all the nations (18:25). Before now we have seen God actively executing justice, indeed from chapter 3 onwards. We even come to understand that God knows the future sins of nations from long beforehand, in doing so (15:16). God therefore has judged individuals in Gen 3-4, the whole world but the Noah-8 in Gen 6-8, the confederacy at Babel in Gen 11, and the pattern continues, but now with this very important new difference: Abraham reasons with God about it (18:22-33)! Beforehand!
In the process, we learn more about the relationship of justice and mercy upon a society. Perhaps by their collective (18:32) presence or activity, until that too utterly fails toward the rest (19:14), the righteous prevent destruction of the wicked (18:32).
In baseball, as we are in the off-season, there are schemes of assessing the strengths of each team. But the season doesn't often seem to go as predicted. "That's why you play the games," people say. By the end of the season, not before, baseball fans know for certain, what exactly is the case. This aspect of goodness and justice -- that it is an item of knowledge, not chance or whim or inscrutable action -- has been a theme since Genesis 1! God's knowledge of the goodness of creation is emphasized -- e.g., "God saw that it was good" (1:21). He knew that it would be good of course. But after creating it, he saw that it was good. Knowledge of fact, as fact.
Now, God's knowledge of Sodom is brought out in narrative form. His justice is completely according to true knowledge. In narrative form, that comes out as the fact that God "will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know" (18:21). God shares this attribute of His justice not only with Abraham, but (19:13) with lowly Lot, who is all mixed up, now and later (19:8, 18-19, 31-36), though God puts up with it (19:21), remembering Abraham (19:29).
God's justice is also announced to those who are ultimately, in this case, judged. His were-to-be sons-in-law are told (19:14). Justice is something that God makes understandable to humans.
In the example of Lot's wife, we have told to us, in story form, a very somber reality, on top of all this: in some cases, mercy is also announced (19:16), executed upon the receiver of it (19:16-17), but its present benefit forfeited. Lot's wife, 19:26. She escaped the judgment of the rain of sulfur and fire out of heaven on Sodom (19:24). The angels had her in their hand (19:16) just as securely as they had Lot, with his whining personality babbling on (19:18-19). She knew that the judgment was behind her, not on her. How do we "remember Lot's wife" (Lk 17:32)? Having escaped, not to turn back, lest our advantage of escape be shortened in this world.
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- New Year: Lev 7-9 for Jan 31
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