Summary: Abraham and God go back-and-forth as friends, in a cordial and remarkable dialogue, and we see in their exchange the consideration of God. He’s not a tyrant; we can appeal to Him.
“Abraham’s Argument” Genesis 18:16-33 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
After reading this passage, some of you may be shaking your heads; most of us wouldn’t dream of arguing with God, yet we find in Scripture plenty of examples of people laying out their honest frustrations to God--Who listens, and cares. He can handle it.
After the visit by the Lord and two of His angels (vss 1-15), Abraham courteously walks with them. In the desert culture it is appropriate to share part of the journey with one’s departing guests. We often walk guests to their cars. Abraham walks several miles, to where they could look down from Hebron toward Sodom, where today stands the Dead Sea. Only the two angels go directly to the city.
God then breaks out in a soliloquy. Verse 18 in the NIV leaves out that He regards Abraham as His close “friend”. God wants to warn Abraham’s people to turn from the wicked ways of Sodom. Because of His concern, God takes the initiative in this conversation. God anticipates Abraham to explain to others His thoughts and ways; to serve as a witness to His decrees.
Abraham seems to care more about Sodom and Gomorrah than his nephew Lot, who lives there. I think it’s safe to say that, while Abraham’s first thought is for Lot’s family, he also cares about those who’ve turned from God; he’s hoping for their repentance. And so Abraham appears to haggle with God, as one might with a merchant in a bazaar (I’ve done so in Korea, Israel and Mexico—you never take the “asking price”). A more accurate term (than haggling) would be “exploring”. Abraham is “feeling his way forward in a spirit of faith” (Kidner). Attorney Alan Dershowitz says that Abraham “nudges” God down to ten like a lawyer. In verse 23 we read that Abraham “approached” God. That word in Hebrew means, “to come to court to argue a case.” Abraham could be the patron saint of lawyers! If we were there, standing nearby, we might caution, “Abraham, don’t push it!” But Abraham seemed to sense God’s willingness to negotiate. And so they go back-and-forth as friends, in a cordial and remarkable dialogue, and we see in their exchange the consideration of God. He’s not a tyrant; we can appeal to Him.
Abraham speaks with a due sense of his unworthiness, admitting that he is but “dust and ashes” (verse 27)--dust in origin, ashes at the end. He enjoys friendship with God but never forgets his dependence upon his Lord. Also, God’s rebuke, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (vs 14) is fresh in his ears. So perhaps God will relent and spare Sodom. The author of Hebrews (4:16) assures us that we may boldly approach God with confidence, and we can count on a sympathetic hearing of our concerns.
Did Abraham change God’s mind? Not really. That’s not the purpose of prayer. The model prayer instructs us to pray, “Thy will be done.” God knew there weren’t even ten righteous people in the twin sin cities; nonetheless He allows Abraham to mediate in their behalf. Intercession doesn’t change God’s plans; it changes us. God changed Abraham’s understanding of divine justice and mercy. Many people have a stern picture of God, as an angry, disapproving Deity, intolerant of any human failures. Abraham walked away with a perception that God is rich in compassion, ready and willing to forgive. God will not overlook sin, but will receive all who turn to Him.
God could have easily let Lot suffer the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. He spared Lot because of Abraham. Prayer isn’t a means of forcing the hand of God, but a way of crying out to the One Who cares infinitely about human distress.
Abraham asks, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (vs 25). What happens when God does right? Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed. What of those who have never heard the Message of hope? God isn’t obligated to save anyone, but we can count on Him to be fair.
Abraham had pity on Sodom and Gomorrah. This was the 2nd time he came to their aid; the first was when his cousin Lot was captured in a war against Sodom (ch 14). His intercession in their behalf reflects the promised blessing all the nations of the world would have through Abraham and his descendants. Ungodly cities little realize how much they owe to the presence of believers in their midst. How many depraved places have been spared judgment because of godly people dwelling therein? Prayer is political action, conducted in private, with profound social outcomes.
Catastrophic events cause us to question God. We wonder what truth can we possibly derive from natural disasters? Not all disasters are divine judgment; they are inevitable. The devastation of the Asian tsunami overwhelms us, and reminds us that we live in a broken world that will only be made whole again when Jesus returns. When He comes, all that is wrong with the world will be righted…until then, the rains continue to fall on the righteous and the wicked.