After visiting Abraham, two of the three angels make their way to Sodom. The narrative tells us they arrive in the evening (Genesis 19:1). Both RaShI and Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno explain that in terms of distance covered, the angels could have arrived earlier but they delayed their arrival until evening to allow Abraham the opportunity to argue on behalf of the residents of Sodom and, perhaps, convince God not to destroy the city. But this explanation ascribes to the angels a kind of independent thinking. However, angels are God’s messengers and, as such, are not afforded independent thought. Angels carry out God’s will without hesitation or qualification. (In fairness, neither RaShI nor Seforno are claiming that angels are independent thinkers but that God is so merciful that He delayed the angels’ arrival.)
So another explanation must be discovered to explain why it is important to know that the angels arrived in the evening. In fact, two explanations come to mind. First, arriving at the end of the day when it is getting darker would stand a better chance of the angels arriving unnoticed. Going unnoticed would prevent their harm. As readers will note, as soon as the residents of the city realize that newcomers have arrived, they surround Lot’s house and demand that he hand them over for abuse. The strategy was unsuccessful but well intentioned.
Second, arriving in the evening was not a statement about the angels’ strategy but a statement about Lot’s virtue. Lot sat at the entry gate of the city the entire day hoping to welcome to his home any strangers that passed by. Abraham sat at the opening of his tent in the heat of midday. Lot sat at the entry of the city all day long. Both Abraham and Lot were dedicated to fulfilling the obligation of hospitality to strangers. In this particular area Abraham and Lot shared a common outlook.
Lot may not have exerted sufficient control over his shepherds causing friction between himself and Abraham. And Lot may have been jealous of Abraham’s wealth. But Lot was not without some redeeming qualities, hospitality being one of them. In this one little word (ba’erev = in the evening) the Torah gives us a reason for considering Lot worthy of salvation.