Bible studies with Don Isaac Abravanel’s commentary (also spelled Abarbanel) has withstood the test of
time. For over five centuries, Abravanel has delighted – and enlightened – clergy and layman alike,
offering enduring interpretations of the Bible.
In Genesis chapter 18, God once again appears to Abraham.
“And God appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre, as he sat by
the tent door in the heat of the day.”
Abravanel notes the peculiar aspects surrounding this prophecy. That is, readers receive minutiae that
don’t seem to hold much relevance. In order to sharpen Bible student’s minds, Abravanel peppers them
- Why is venue important – “by the terebinths of Mamre.”
- Why is Abraham’s body posture significant – “as he sat by the tent door.”
- Why is the climactic condition newsworthy – “in the heat of the day.”
Abravanel wonders what it all means. Does location provide vital clues? Are Bible students any smarter
by knowing that prophecy came to the patriarch in Mamre, and not in a different hamlet?
In addition, Abravanel asks about the verse supplying readers with Abraham’s sitting position by his
tent’s entrance. And if he reclined inside his house, or on a chair or sofa, would it make an iota of a
difference? Or if he sat under a tree in his garden instead of his patio?
Next for Abravanel, he questions: What do we gain by knowing that the patriarch sat down? If he was
lying on his back, and not sitting, are we on to something earth-shattering? Finally, does it even
remotely matter that it was hot outside? And if it was a rainstorm, do we better grasp the unfolding
Students get the drift of Abravanel’s pounding questions. Now he supplies answers. Actually, Abravanel
says, these painstaking details are very important. They tell us of Abraham’s transformation, informing
students of the sea-change in the way that the patriarch embraced his Maker.
Abravanel clarifies. Actually, he relies on Maimonides to address the patriarchs’ metamorphoses.
Maimonides holds that the three patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) constantly occupied themselves
with the Almighty. Said differently, it means that they kept God constantly in focus. Even while they
performed day-to-day affairs, they kept their God tab open, in a manner of speaking. By infusing the
Divine into their mundane chores or habits, they sensed Him in tangible and intangible ways.
This requires more explanation. When Abraham, for example, applied God to eating time, it was the
patriarch’s method to elevate food to the point where mealtime became an exercise in godliness.
Abravanel illustrates the point from our verse. “And God appeared unto him by the terebinths of
Mamre, as he sat by the tent in the heat of the day.”
Before Abraham underwent circumcision, when the Creator appeared to him, we find that the intense
experiences felled him; he dropped to his feet. Moreover, the patriarch also had to prepare himself
through seclusion and quiet and meditation – far from the hustle and bustle of his daily life’s routine. He
had to still his senses. Nighttime was most apt, when quiet reigned.
After the patriarch’s circumcision, that all changed. Abraham could channel prophecy, and stand his
ground. How is this deduced from the verse just quoted? For Abravanel, “the heat of the day” does not
refer to the temperature outside. Rather, it suggests a general time of day (morning) when folks
heatedly rush hither and thither – off to work etc. Rush hour madness. Even in his hometown of Mamre
where his business beckoned him, he communed with God. Even when he sat on his house’s stoop, and
passersby bellowed and brawled, he sensed stillness.
The patriarch had been transformed by his circumcision. It religiously charged him. That, in a nutshell, is
precisely why our verse writes in such detail concerning Abraham’s prophecy.
Indeed, the patriarch entered his Creator’s holy space while the world around him blared loudly and
boisterously, honking and hawking during the day’s rush hour.