Yahweh is the “Judge of all the earth” (18:25). Given human wickedness this is a fearsome prospect. There is no one who will escape God’s judgment. But the promise of Genesis 12 is repeated here: “All the nations of the earth will be blessed” in Abraham (18:18). Provision is made through Abraham for all people to be blessed rather than judged. It is for this reason that Abraham is qualified for God to share with him the judgment he has planned for Sodom and Gomorrah.
In this passage, “all” and “earth” are brought together to indicate universal extent.
Earth words are used in this passage several times without theological significance (19:1, 23, 31). But in verse 25 and 28 it is clear that once again human sin has an effect on the land. A land that once could be compared with the garden of the Lord (13:10) now has not only its wicked cities with their inhabitants burned up but the vegetation as well so that the land that Lot once saw as well-watered Abraham now sees smoking like a furnace.
Sodom throughout Scripture is the illustration of human wickedness (Deut. 32:32; Isa. 1:10; 3:9; Jer 23:14; Ezek. 16:46-56; 2 Pet. 2:6; Jude 7; Rev. 11:8). It may well be that the consequences of Sodom’s sin are also paradigmatic. Peter says as much: “. . . if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly” (2 Pet. 2:6). Peter does teach that there is a judgment of fire awaiting the earth (2 Peter 2:7), though the connection he makes directly is to the suffering of the ungodly in hellfire (see also Jude 7).
This chapter touches on the promises of land, seed, and blessing. In this chapter Abraham is both a curse and a blessing to Abimelech, as Abimelech moves from an (unwitting) wrong relationship to Abraham to a right relationship with him. The subtext to the entire chapter is the danger that Abraham’s deception puts the seed promise in (which also demonstrates the promise is given not earned). Land also plays a role. The chapter begins with Abraham traveling to the land of the Negeb and then sojourning in Gerar. His traveling and sojourning in the land are indications that the land promise is yet to be fulfilled. But in verse 15, Abraham is given and open invitation to dwell in Abimelech’s land. The land is not yet Abraham’s, but this is a step toward the promise (Wenham, WBC, 2:75). This invitation will lead to Abraham’s first land-possession in Canaan (Gen. 21:15-16) (Mathews, NAC, 2:258).
Whereas the first part of this chapter dealt with the initial fulfillment of the seed promise in the birth of Isaac, the last part of the chapter deals with the land and blessing aspects of the promise. Abimelech has recognized God’s blessing on Abraham, and he presumes that that blessing will cause Abraham’s descendants to become powerful. He thus requests a covenant guaranteeing kindness. He will bless Abraham in the hope of receiving blessing.
And yet during this time Abraham is still a sojourner in the land (21:34). Not only that, he is a sojourner who has his wells taken away (21:25). The seed promise has begun to be fulfilled, but the land promise is still a distant hope.