Abraham Intercedes

18: 22-33

    DIG: Why is Abraham so bold when speaking with God? Why is he so concerned about Sodom and Gomorrah? What part did Abraham have in this intercession? What part did the Lord have? In Abraham’s intercession, what do you admire enough to imitate? When the Lord replies to Abraham, what do you find comforting? Discomforting?

   REFLECT: Can righteous people make a difference in the world? For whom is the Lord calling you to intercede as Abraham did? Can you choose to believe in the righteousness of God even though your circumstances don’t seem to give evidence to your belief?

    This is the first, and perhaps the most remarkable example of intercessory prayer in the entire Bible. Abraham was no doubt concerned about his nephew Lot and all the people he had rescued from the four kings who lived in Sodom. Although he was well aware of their spiritual condition, he hoped that they would repent and turn to the Lord.

    The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord in human form (18:22). Then Abraham interceded for the righteous in Sodom. He approached the Lord and said: Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked (18:23)? Abraham’s great character is revealed by his intercession. It is striking that he does not mention Lot at all, but only prays for all the righteous in Sodom and on the plain. Earlier he had personally rescued these people, now he pleaded for them with the same boldness and urgency with which he had fought for them.

    Abraham’s philosophical discussion with God jars some readers. But his requests, though bold, were made with genuine humility and profound reverence.310 He asked: What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it (18:24)? The reason Abraham can appeal to God’s righteousness is because he knows God’s character. Far be it from You to do such a thing – to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from You! This was really bothering him, and he finally asks the question we all ask at some point in our lives: Will not the Judge of all the earth do right (18:25)?

    We all know the Bible doesn’t answer every specific question in our lives. Should we buy this house? Whom should I marry? What occupation should I pursue? And our theology does not provide answers for every question. But where the Bible is silent and the logic of our theology fails us, we still have a choice. We can choose to believe in the righteousness of God. Will not the Judge of all the earth do what is righteous? Of course He will. That is where our faith begins, being certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1b). We will never have all the information, and even if we did we are not wise enough to apply it correctly to every situation. We need to believe, and let God be God.

    Here Abraham appeals to Elohim, the God of righteousness, rather than His mercy. God did not challenge the basis of his argument, but said to him: If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake (18:26). If God did indeed spare the city, it would only be for a time. The purpose for the delay would be to see if a righteous minority could have an impact in the city and turn it around. How small could the minority be and still have an impact? If Abraham is to be a channel of blessing to the world, could it not start here? God agrees, “All right Abraham, you have made your point”. Six times Abraham intercedes for the wicked cities. He pleads again and again. Six times the God of righteousness responded to His servant’s request.

    But, can the righteous make a difference in the world? Some people say, “What can I do, I’m a nobody!” However, the fact is, righteous people have always been and will always be a minority. Still, individually and as the body of Christ, the Lord expects us to have an impact for righteousness in the world. There are plenty of examples. From Rabbi Sha'ul, to Martin Luther, to Mother Theresa, there are those who have refused to think they were too insignificant for God to use. Their impact came not because they were full of self-importance and thought themselves capable of big things, but because they humbly did what needed to be done. Understanding the task at hand, they boldly went about doing what the Lord led them to do. In most cases, an impact is not accomplished amidst great fanfare and does not necessarily enjoy popular support. Mother Teresa worked in virtual anonymity in the squalid conditions of the diseased and the destitute for decades before gaining the popular recognition and acclaim that she received in her last years. Martin Luther and other Reformers were met with official resistance that threatened their lives, their health and their welfare.311 But they continued on and made a difference and so can you.

    God knows our needs before we ask. But He has set up the universe with this principle; we are to ask with the right motives and He will answer. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives (James 4:2-3a). He wants a relationship with us, and that includes our prayer life. Jesus said: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8).

    But Abraham suspects that there may not be fifty there so he spoke up again. He had a profound respect for God when he said: Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord. And even though he is God’s friend, he never allows himself to forget his true position of dependence on Him. Abraham acknowledges that he is nothing but dust and ashes (18:27). In Hebrew the phrase dust and ashes is a word play because they sound alike; dust is aphar, and ashes is epher.

    Nowhere does Abraham challenge God’s evaluation of Sodom’s moral filth. That was not up for debate. Nor at any time does he turn to Sodom to urge repentance.312 But he sure was persistent when he asked: What if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city because of five people? God replied: If I find forty-five there I will not destroy it (18:28).

    Once again Abraham was very specific when he reduces the number further and said to Him: What if only forty are found there? God responded and said: For the sake of forty, I will not do it (18:29).

    Then Abraham, who really has some chutzpah, reduces the number by ten saying: May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there? God answered: I will not do it if I find thirty there (18:30).

    Abraham, with a sense of earnestness, reduces the number again by ten and said to Him: Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there. The God of righteousness replied to him: For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it (18:31).

    Then Abraham made one last effort to reduce it by ten more and said: May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there? And God answered positively: For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it (18:32). The rabbis teach that he did not ask about a lesser number because, he argued, there were eight righteous persons at the Flood. It is important to remember that Abraham stopped asking before God stopped giving.

    Abraham thought he knew of at least ten righteous people in Sodom. There was Lot, his wife, their two sons (19:12), two married daughters and their husbands (19:14), and two unmarried daughters (19:8), a total of ten. Since these people were in only one city, perhaps Abraham reasoned that there would be the same number in each of the other four cities; so he interceded with God to spare the cities if He could find fifty righteous people living in them. When God agreed, Abraham continued to pray, first for forty-five, then forty, then thirty, then twenty, until the number was reduced to ten, the size of Lot’s family.

    There is no way of knowing whether God would have spared the city for, say, only four people, the number that actually was taken by the angels out of the city before fire fell from heaven. Abraham may not have been close enough in fellowship to Lot to realize that his own family members were largely unregenerate and were themselves part of the problem in Sodom. Or perhaps he did know this, and felt that his prayer would become totally selfish, focusing only on Lot himself if he carried it any further. At any rate, when the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, He left, and Abraham returned home (18:33). Abraham assuredly did know that the judge of all the earth would do right.313

    In the end, God answered Abraham’s prayer, though not exactly as he had prayed it. He did destroy Sodom and the cities of the plain with the people in it. Ezekiel was right: The soul who sins is the one who will die (Ezekiel 18:4b). But God remembered Abraham when he rescued Lot (19:29), and the reason He rescued Lot was because of Lot’s relationship to Abraham. So sometimes God will not respond to our specific prayer requests, but He will respond to the desires behind those prayer requests.

    Three important principles of righteousness become clearly evident from Chapter 18. First, the righteous will practice and teach the righteousness of God (18:19). Secondly, the basis for the request was the righteous character of God, not selfish aggrandizement (18:25b). And thirdly, a small number of righteous believers can have great influence. Only ten people would have been necessary to save an entire city (18:32). Let no one think his or her ministry is useless, regardless of how small a number is reached for God.


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