Summary: The effectiveness of bold petition to God.
There was a TV series in which the star would receive a newspaper with headlines about some kind of tragedy to take place in the near future. His task then was to intercede in time to prevent the tragedy from occurring. Abraham had such an experience. God stopped by for dinner, and as he was leaving he told Abraham where he was going next. He was going down the valley to visit Sodom and Gomorrah, not to have a fun night out, but to verify that their evil merited judgment.
Abraham knew the cities, and thus he knew what awaited them – annihilation. Justice could bring no less. The action he chose became the first recorded intercession in the Bible, and presents us with the first of the prayers of the OT saints to examine. Our text picks up with God turning to leave.
So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
Abraham sets for the terms of his concern: Should the righteous fare as the wicked? This is not a question of whether the righteous must face the same trials of life as the wicked, but rather, Are they to face the same judgment of destruction as the wicked? “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked…put the righteous to death with the wicked…” The issue for Abraham is justice; at least, it appears that way. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
This is a rather bold statement from Abraham. He is after all (as he will confess) but “dust and ashes.” Who does he think he is to question the justice of God? Abraham is not asking a question that he might be instructed. He is instructing God! I wish I could have been there for Abraham. I could have advised him! “Father Abraham, you really don’t want to go there. Sinful man questioning holy God – this is not a good situation.” Isaiah could have given good caution. “Abraham, if you had seen what I saw in the temple – the holiness of God unveiled – you would know better than to suggest God could learn something from you about justice. You are an unclean person with unclean lips.”
Indeed, should God not answer Abraham as he did Job? “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2). We know the apostle Paul’s view on the matter of questioning God’s justice. “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’” Paul goes on to say a few verses later, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” (Romans 9:14-15, 20).
And yet, the Sovereign Lord, replies to Abraham, “Okay.”
26 And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
God’s unexpected answer emboldens Abraham to keep whittling down the number. We can see that he is both nervous about pushing too far, and yet anxious to go as far as he dare.
27 “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes…30“Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak…32“Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once.”
Abraham must be thinking, “I can’t believe it. He let me knock the number down to forty. Could I try thirty? This is unbelievable. I’m still alive and he has yet to get mad. Twenty? He took it! I must be so close to crossing the line, but I’ll try one more time – ten. Whew! He took it. I better stop while I can. Besides, surely there must be ten. There’s Lot and surely he must have had some influence in his family and neighbors.”
So, why did God not get angry with Abraham? And why the numbers game? Why did Abraham not simply say, “What if there are some righteous; will you not spare the city?” And why did God himself not get immediately to the bottom line? "I will judge myself what the number should be."