Abraham and Sodom - Page 2 (series: Lessons on Genesis)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

23 And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?

Would God sweep away the righteous with the unrighteous? Abraham was convinced there were righteous people in Sodom—he did not pray merely for Lot—so he appealed to God on the basis of God's justice. When Abraham spoke to God, he "drew near" to Him. Abraham drew near to the Lord (James 4:8), and the Hebrew word means "to come to court to argue a case." Abraham was burdened for Lot and Lot's family, as well as for the lost people in the five cities of the plain; and he drew near the Lord in order to share that burden with Him. When we pray, we should remember that we are drawing near to God, so that we are filled with reverence for Him (Lev. 10:3){5].

Abraham's great character is revealed by his intercession. He prayed—that in all the cities—the wicked as well as the righteous—be spared for the sake of the . . . righteous. Earlier he had personally rescued these people in battle (Gen, 14:16){1]. Now he pleaded for them with the same boldness, perseverance, and generosity with which he had fought for them. Abraham's "bargaining" with God jars some readers. But Abraham's prayers, though audacious, were made with genuine humility and profound reverence. It was for justice that he pleaded: deliverance for Sodom if there were as few as 50 . . . 45 . . . 40 . . . 3o . . . 20, or even 10 righteous people there (see vv. 24-32). He was not trying to talk God into something against His will (Lot's prayer for Zoar, however, was quite a contrast.) (See Gen. 19:18-23){2].

Thus the theme of justice predominates: those who will enjoy God's blessing (a) will teach justice (v. 19); (b) may intercede for just judgment to preserve the righteous, and (c) know that God may preserve the wicked for the sake of the righteous. Certainly, Israel learned from this that God is a righteous judge, that righteousness exalts a nation (Prov. 14:34){3], and that righteous people help preserve society (Matt. 5:13){4]. Many guilty cities and nations have been spared on account of God's people. These truths should have been as great a concern to Israel as they were to Abraham who turned them into compassionate intercession.

I think that Abraham had wondered many times about Lot and his relationship with God, but at least he believes that Lot was a saved man. He is asking God, "What about the righteous?" I believe that Abraham would have told you that he thought there were many people in Sodom who were saved. He could not understand why God would destroy the righteous with the wicked. What a picture we have here!

24 Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein?

In Genesis, the wickedness of Sodom is expressed so emphatically that its name has become the designation for wicked men and wicked places, particularly where homosexuality is involved.

This is the first solemn prayer we have on record in the Bible, and it is a prayer for the sparing of Sodom! Abraham, no doubt, greatly abhorred the wickedness of Sodom, and he would not live among them as Lot did, even for the grandest mansion in the city; and yet he prayed earnestly for them. We must pray, not only for ourselves but for others also; for we are members of the same body, at least, of the same body of mankind. We are all brethren, all created in His image, and all need a Savior.

25 That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?

In the question, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" we have a moving affirmation of Israel's faith in the essential righteousness of the God who demanded righteousness from men—all men, not Israel only. Abraham assumed that it was an incontestable and certain truth that the judge of all the earth would do right; that was the grounds for his plea. He doesn't plead that the wicked may be spared for their own sake, or that it would be too severe a punishment to destroy them, but for the sake of the righteous who might be found among them.

"Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" is still a question that many people ask. And there is an answer to it. The rest of the Bible testifies to the fact that the Judge of all the earth always does right. Whatever the Lord does is right, and if you don't think He is right, the trouble is not with God, but the trouble is with you and your thinking. You are thinking wrong; you do not have all the facts; you do not know all the details. If you did, you would know that the Judge of all the earth does right. There are many mysteries in life for which the truth of verse 25 is the only satisfying answer.

Abraham's prayer was based not on the mercy of God but on the justice of God. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (See Deut. 32:4){10] A just and holy God could not destroy righteous believers with wicked unbelievers; and Lot was a believer (2 Pe. 2:6-9){11], even though his actions and words seemed to contradict the fact.

Abraham's prayer is a wonderful example of effectual intercession. It was based on the righteous character of the Judge of all the earth and evidenced that boldness and deep humility which only an intimate knowledge of God can give.

26 And the LORD said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.

This passage reflects a realization that the Lord cares for the individual who is not, so to speak, swallowed up in the community, for the community is a community of persons. It indicates that at the time it was written, thought was being given to two ideas that were to become prominent in the New Testament: (1) that as Christians we are to be in the world but not of the world, and (2) that there is vicarious righteousness—the city might be saved because of the righteousness of a few.

27 And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes:

Abraham's negotiation, far from being tactlessly or selfishly manipulative, humbly and compassionately expressed his concern for people (Gen. 13:8-9){21] and particularly interceded for the place where his nephew Lot and his family lived. He did not intend to anger the Lord by his repeated requests (vv. 28, 30, 32).

28 Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five? And he said, If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it.
29 And he spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he said, I will not do it for forty's sake.
30 And he said unto him, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there.
31 And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty's sake.
32 And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten's sake.

In other words, Abraham says, "If there are forty-five righteous left, would You destroy the city for forty-five?" And God tells him, "If I find forty and five, I will not destroy it." This makes the man a little bit bolder, and he says to the Lord, "Suppose there are forty?" The very interesting thing is that God says, "I will not destroy it for forty." And Abraham keeps on bringing the number down. He says, "How about thirty?" God says, "If there are thirty there, I still won't do it." Abraham says, "suppose there are twenty there?" God says, "I'll not destroy it." Abraham is overwhelmed now, and he takes another plunge: "Suppose there are ten righteous there. Would You destroy it if there are ten?" And God says, "If there are ten righteous in the city, I will not destroy it."

Abraham prayed earnestly that Sodom might be spared if only a few good people could be found living there. It appears throughout this back and forth between God and Abraham that the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were exceedingly wicked (Gen. 13:13){12] because the men of these cities were given over to sexual practices that were contrary to nature (Gen. 19:5; Jude 7; Rom. 1:27{13]). The words "sodomy" and "Sodomize" are synonyms for these homosexual practices. The men did not try to hide their sin (Isa. 3:9){22], nor would they repent (Jer. 23:14){14]. The sudden destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is used in Scripture as an example of God's righteous judgment of sinners (Isa. 1:9; 3:9{22]; Lam. 4:6; Zeph. 2:9; 2 Pe. 2:6{11]), and Jesus used it as a warning for people in the end times (Luke 17:28-32){15].

But why would Abraham want God to spare such wicked people? Wouldn't it be far better if they were wiped off the face of the earth! Of course, Abraham's first concern was for Lot and his family. In fact, Abraham had already rescued the people of Sodom solely because of Lot (Gen. 14:12-16), though none of the citizens seemed to appreciate what he had done for them. They all went right back into the old way of life and did not heed the warning of God.

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