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Update: This is a jewish source that think that the guy that approach Abraham is indeed God:

But is it not so that he [Avraham] did not go to stand before Him? Rather, it was G-d who came to him and said to him, "The wailing concerning Sedom and Amorah is so great," and it should have been written: "G-d was still standing near Avraham,"but, it is a tikkun soferim [an emendation of the Scribes)


And Jehovah appeareth unto him among the oaks of Mamre, and he is sitting at the opening of the tent, about the heat of the day; 2 and he lifteth up his eyes and looketh, and lo, three men standing by him, and he seeth, and runneth to meet them from the opening of the tent, and boweth himself towards the earth, 3 And he saith, 'My Lord, if, I pray thee, I have found grace in thine eyes, do not, I pray thee, pass on from thy servant

If one of the men is not God, why Abraham bother bowing himself toward the earth? I thought only God deserve that kind of bowing? Also what does it mean that Jehovah appear among the oaks? Abraham can see God?

let, I pray thee, a little water be accepted, and wash your feet, and recline under the tree; 5 and I bring a piece of bread, and support ye your heart; afterwards pass on, for therefore have ye passed over unto your servant;' and they say, 'So mayest thou do as thou has spoken.' 6 And Abraham hasteth towards the tent, unto Sarah, and saith, 'Hasten three measures of flour-meal, knead, and make cakes;' 7 and Abraham ran unto the herd, and taketh a son of the herd, tender and good, and giveth unto the young man, and he hasteth to prepare it; 8 and he taketh butter and milk, and the son of the herd which he hath prepared, and setteth before them; and he is standing by them under the tree, and they do eat.

So here it looks like God eat too.

http://yltbible.com/genesis/18.htm It's young literal translation. The jewish translation translate that as Lord. I've heard that word Yehovah, unlike word elohim, always mean God. But the word in young literal translation (and hence match the jewish version) says Yehovah.

So here Jehovah (=God?) appear unto him among the oaks and sit. So who is this Jehovah that sit at the opening of the tent? I thought God never incarnate? How can he sit at the opening of the tent if he isn't anthropomorphic?

This should just be one question. But the other verses are also confusing. Young literal translation says that Yehovah talk to Abraham. I thought only Moses talked to Abraham face to face. And well I am threading slowly here. If anyone can explain that too it'll be great.

Or is it possible that the "he" there refer to Abraham? And the men are God's minions. And God spoke to Abraham telepathically. So God is not one of the men? Am I getting this right?

Then why would Abraham bowed toward the men? And who is it then that "appeareth unto him among the oaks of Mamre" if God is nowhere to be seen as usual?

Note: So who are the three men that Abraham saw? Are they humans? What humans outrank Abraham? Are they angels? Why aren't we seeing angels walking like men now? – Jim Thio 12 hours ago

Looks to me I am not the only one confused that God might be one of those 3 men. https://sites.google.com/site/yahwehelohiym/the-messengers/abraham-meets-three-men . Anyway, I'll use jewish translator next time. However, unlike young literal tranlation, most christian and jewish translation is not literal. Yehovah is translated as lord. Adonai (which may not be God) is also translated as lord. Maybe in small letter. For someone that don't know hebrew, this is confusing as hell. Christians always translate elohim as God though, which is a source of another confusion. – Jim Thio 35 secs ago edit

And this jewish translated bible like mechon-mamre.org/e/et/et0118.htm also wrote "And the LORD appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; "

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I'm not sure why this was downvoted. It's a valid question based on Jim's bible translation. –  YDK Sep 28 '11 at 14:45
@YDK I didn't downvote, but I'm not sure why we should entertain questions based on English translations written by Christians on a Jewish website that asks for original (generally Hebrew) sources. Despite the legitimacy of the question, I'm inclined to close it based on judaism.stackexchange.com/faq#questions because it is based on a Christian version of the text. Maybe it can be re-written from a Jewish perspective. Do you want to help Jim with that? –  Seth J Sep 28 '11 at 15:05
Upon re-reading the question, it's pretty clear that Jim is misreading the verses, even in the English translation. A careful reading makes it obvious that even the English translation doesn't intend to imply that G-d was physically present in any form. I vote close because it is based on simple misinterpretation. A more carefully prepared question about the many (MANY) cases in which G-d is described in physical form would make a good basis for our Q&A format, but not this question. Sorry, Jim. I hope you find the answer you're looking for. Start here: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/893/5 –  Seth J Sep 28 '11 at 15:16
Since my first comment, I have downvoted for the reasons I mentioned in my second comment. –  Seth J Sep 28 '11 at 15:27
Your main question is based on a mistake that bowing is reserved for G-d. If you would read the bible, you would see a plethora of cases where men and women bow to others out of respect (similar to handshaking). For example, see here: mechon-mamre.org/e/et/et0133.htm. Another mistake is the assumption that the word translated as "appeareth" denotes physicality. The root of the word in Hebrew does not, and sometimes connotes merely understanding. Btw, your young "literal" translation, translates the exact same word- "vayar" -once as "looketh" and another as "seeth". –  YDK Oct 2 '11 at 5:06
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closed as not constructive by Tal Fishman, Ariel K, Gershon Gold, Seth J, Monica Cellio Sep 28 '11 at 15:30

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1 Answer

up vote 8 down vote accepted

There are two equally-valid ways of reading the verses (both found in classical commentaries):

  1. Abraham was sitting in the Elonei of Mamre, outside his tent at the heat of the day; when G-d appeared to him. Abraham then looked up and saw three men; [recognizing it was more important to do kindness to strangers right now than to sit and continue having his personal Divine experience], he ran towards them and bowed (as a sign of respect, which plenty of flesh-and-blood Biblical people did to plenty of others, e.g. here) said to the most prominent of them, "my lord (sir), please don't walk away! Some water will be taken and you all can wash your feet ..."

  2. Abraham was sitting in Elonei Mamre, outside his tent at the heat of the day; when G-d appeared to him. Abraham looked up and saw three men, he ran towards them and bowed in respect. [Recognizing he'd just interrupted his session with presence of G-d], he said -- "My Lord, please don't leave your servant." [He then continued addressing the three men], "some water will be taken and you can all wash your feet ..."

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It still doesn't explain why Abraham bowed to the earth. Also why would he said to those men, "My lord?" I mean does the men somehow "outrank" Abraham himself? –  Jim Thio Sep 29 '11 at 3:05
So, who are the three men that Abraham saw? Are they mere human prophets that somehow outrank Abraham? Are they angels? If so, why aren't those angels walk like men again among us? –  Jim Thio Sep 29 '11 at 4:10
I think you fail to understand the cultural protocols at the time. Plenty of people would bow and say "my lord/master/sir" to other men, as a form of respect. (For instance, Jacob both bows and says "my master" to his brother Esav. Abraham later bows to a bunch of Hittites when negotiating a purchase.) I think you once read the bowing/"my lord" in a religious sense, and now you're having trouble reading it otherwise. In this case, Abraham is showering respect upon 3 complete strangers (angels who he thought were men), hoping he could do them some kindness. –  Shalom Oct 2 '11 at 10:19
One of the 3 appeared to be their leader, so he addressed him in the singular, "my lord." One commentary suggests that the men looked like royal officers or dignitaries. And yes, the prophetic experience is a non-physical one. And yes, Abraham says "excuse me please" to G-d, something the Talmud stresses too. Abraham, Moses, Job -- they all have dialogues with G-d. Study more Tanakh; you'll find it's consistent in that way. –  Shalom Oct 2 '11 at 10:26
@JimThio: That's exactly what the Talmud deduces from here. Giving hospitality to those in need is even more important that experiencing God talking to you. –  Shalom Nov 25 '11 at 13:30
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