Then Abraham came near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous 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?’”
The second half of Genesis 18 contains one of the most startling scenes in the Bible. It features a conversation between the Lord and Abraham. The subject is God’s apparent intention to punish, even to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for their grave sin. The surprise is Abraham’s persistent boldness as he addresses the Lord, challenging what he perceives to be God’s plan on the basis of what he knows of God’s character.
The conversation between the Lord and Abraham began when the Lord told Abraham that the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah was great because of their sin. God was going to check the validity of this outcry and, implicitly, destroy the cities. But then Abraham spoke up, acting as if he were God’s trusted royal advisor: “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous 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?” (Gen 18:23-25). Abraham raised the question of God’s justice if his plan was to wipe out all the residents of Sodom, including those who were righteous. From his experience of the Lord, Abraham sensed that it would not be consistent with God’s character for God to do such a thing. Surely, the Judge of the earth would do what is just!
At this point in the story, we might expect the Lord to put Abraham in his place. But, amazingly enough, God accepted Abraham’s counsel and agreed to spare Sodom if there were fifty righteous people in the city. If I were Abraham, I would have exhaled a big sigh of relief and let things lie. But Abraham seemed emboldened and continued onward with the same sort of argument, getting God to agree to save Sodom if there were forty-five righteous, then forty, then thirty, then twenty, and, finally, ten. God would not destroy the city if there were only ten righteous people in it.
This stunning story shows us, on the one hand, how Abraham’s faith matured and how his heart was formed to reflect God’s own character. Abraham was willing to challenge God, counting on God’s own justice and mercy, which Abraham knew about from personal experience. He expressed his leadership by standing up for justice, even if that meant standing up to the Lord himself.
On the other hand, this story shows how God allows us to participate in his work in the world. Sometimes we do this through our actions, like when Abraham moved his whole family from Haran to Canaan. Sometimes we join in God’s work through our prayers, through asking for God’s guidance and even by calling upon God to act consistently with his own character. The latter half of Genesis 18 encourages us not to underestimate God’s willingness to draw us in, to value our convictions, and to heed our prayers.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Have you ever prayed like Abraham in this story? Have you ever heard anyone pray this way?
Why do you think God allowed this dialogue to go on for so long? What was God’s purpose in this conversation with Abraham?
Do you base your prayers on God’s own nature as revealed in Scripture? If not, why not? If so, what difference does this make?
Gracious God, I am amazed by this story, by your willingness to allow Abraham to challenge you, by your apparent willingness to take his counsel. You invite us into partnership with you, calling us to share in your work, even listening to our concerns and challenges. Thank you, Lord, that we can speak to you honestly, holding nothing back. Thank you for choosing us as your partners, so that we might share in your redemptive works. What an awesome privilege! Amen.
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