Summary: The prayer of Abraham in Genesis 18:16-33 shows us a model for prayer.
God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him incredible promises. At the time, Abram was seventy-five years old when he left family, clan and land to follow God’s call to go to Canaan and claim the promises God made to him in Genesis 12:2–3, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
God reiterated his promises to Abram several times over the next twenty-four years. However, Abram, whose name was changed to Abraham, also failed God a number of times. Nevertheless, just after God promised Abraham a son by his wife, Sarah, the following year, God appeared again to Abraham in Mamre in the land of Canaan. During that time, Abraham pleaded with God for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Let’s read about the prayer of Abraham in Genesis 18:16-33:
16 Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way. 17 The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” 20 Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”
22 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?” 26 And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
27 Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28 Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 30 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” 31 He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” 32 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” 33 And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place. (Genesis 18:16-33)
Years ago, I heard Tim Keller preach this text at General Assembly. It was a very helpful sermon, and most of what I am going to say is from Tim Keller’s sermon.
If you read your Bible regularly—and I hope you do! —then you know that sometimes reading certain chapters of the Bible does not seem to have much relevance to you. But, then, as you continue your reading, you suddenly come across a portion of the Bible that seems as if it was written directly to you. That is what happens to many people when they first read Genesis 18.
In the first part of Genesis 18, three heavenly visitors, one of whom is a theophanic appearance of God, drop in to see Abraham in the land of Canaan. God reiterates his promise of a son to be born to Sarah the following year. This is important Biblical truth, but it seems somewhat distant from our daily experience.