Genesis 18:16-33 “God’s Justice and Abraham’s Intercession”

Posted on April 11, 2010. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Redeemer Church Sunday School- Genesis Class

Genesis 18:16-33 “God’s Justice and Abraham’s Intercession”

Sunday, 04-11-2010

Bryan E. Walker

Read 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.



Introduction: What do you know about God’s justice? What do you think about God as judge over all the earth? How does the justice of God make you feel? In today’s passage we will gain some insight into the justice of God and the character and prayer life of Abraham. These next two lessons, today’s and next week’s, will deal with the very heavy subject of God’s justice and judgment upon sin. What we will see this morning is that God’s judgment upon sin is just. He demands righteousness and rightfully so. And in Abraham we see a man of God, the friend of God, shocked by the annunciation of judgment and he is moved to intercede on behalf of wicked Sodom. The question for us today is, Are we aware of God’s just judgment upon sin? Are we interceding for those who are liable to be judged?

  1. I.                   Gen. 18:16-21 The LORD Announces Judgment Upon Sodom & Gomorrah
    1. A.            V.16 Transition Verse- Hope vs. Judgment
      1. 1.       “Then the men set out from there…” This verse serves as the transition from the annunciation of the upcoming birth of Isaac to the impending doom of wicked Sodom. Irony is built into the text as the three men set out from Abraham’s camp where the LORD brought miracle working hope and new life into barren Sarah by announcing she would have a son within the year and then they head toward wicked Sodom where the LORD will bring down judgment and death. 1Samuel 2:6 “The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.” Psalm 76:7-9 But you, you are to be feared! Who can stand before you when once your anger is roused? From the heavens you uttered judgment; the earth feared and was still, when God arose to establish judgment, to save all the humble of the earth.” Isaiah 45:7 “I form light and create darkness. I make well being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.”
      2. 2.       We know that God is not even tempted with evil- James 1:13 and he is good, Psalm 86:5 “For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving.”
      3. 3.       This verse also serves as a bookend- compare 18:16 with 19:27-28 in the broader story (but also remember 18:1 and 33) and in this part of the story vs.16 matches up with vs.33 as well “And Abraham went with them…Abraham returned to his place.”
      4. 4.       Hamilton writes, (pp.16-17) “A number of emphases unite vv.1-15 with vv.16-33. The men arrive in v.1 and prepare to depart in v.16. The action starts in Mamre (v.1) and ends in Mamre (v.33). The quiet, gracious, scurrying host (vv.1-15) becomes the bold and brash inquisitor of God (vv.16-33). A rhetorical question in each section- (is anything to demanding for Yahweh?”; “Shall not he who judges all the earth give right judgment?”- sounds the major motif of each unit. Abraham does not feel constrained to be arbiter between Yahweh and Sarah, but he does place himself between Yahweh and Sodom, conderned as he is that God not unjustly, not precipitously, destroy the righteous along with the wicked. In both units it is some kind of noise that provokes Yahweh- Sarah’s laugh and Sodom’s groans.”
      5. 5.       “and they looked down toward SodomTradition leads us to a particular village on a hill called Beni Naim as the spot. It was 3 miles east of Hebron.
      6. 6.       “And Abraham went with them” Abraham is like Enoch here, in that he is literally walking with the LORD.
    2. B.            Vs.17-19 The LORD considers Abraham
      1. 1.       These three verses show the LORD God Almighty condescending to communicate his will, his plans for the judgment to Abraham. Why? A few weeks ago I spoke in the introduction to chapters 18-19 about the idea of Abraham being the friend of God. We see God going to Abraham’s tent and they shared a fellowship meal, a Covenant Meal, after the sealing of the covenant by circumcision in ch.17. This was a foretaste of what God would later institute with Israel around Mt. Sinai in Moses’ day in Ex.24:9-11. This pointed forward to parts of the sacrificial system which included some eating of parts of some of the sacrifices and it points forward to our eschatological hope for the great wedding banquet that the Lord will celebrate with his Bride the Church. We see Abraham walking with God and now God is planning to reveal his will. Now doesn’t God reveal himself through his Word to Israel and now to the Church? The Lord considers Abraham his friend and revealing what is about to happen has implications for the covenant and for Abraham’s descendents in Moses’ day.
      2. 2.       Application- In essence God is asking if he can trust Abraham, and the answer is Yes. Look at Amos 3:7 “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his prophets.” Throughout the OT God speaks to his prophets and then with Christ, God reveals himself in the flesh. The apostles wrote down the New Testament and today the Spirit of Christ reveals to us the mind of God through his Scriptures. Consider what a privilege we have as not just friends of God, but adopted children, joint heirs with Jesus.
      3. 3.       In a sense these vss. point forward also to Moses’ relationship with the LORD in Ex.33:11 “Thus the LORD used to speak with Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.”
      4. 4.       Vs.18 – Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation- The basis for God’s confiding in his friend Abraham is a restatement of the original promise to Abraham in 12:1-3. It is not about Abraham per se, but about God’s having chosen Abraham and making a covenant with him.
      5. 5.       all the nations on earth shall be blessed in him.– that blessing would ultimately be in his descendent, Jesus, the savior of lost men.
      6. 6.       Vs.19 “for I have chosen him” God’s electing grace; Abram was chosen for God’s glory.
      7. 7.       “that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord” Abraham has been chosen so that he may command his children to keep the way of the Lord, he would be a teacher of righteousness. Here may be an example of Abraham pointing forward to Moses and ultimately to Jesus. God’s reason for revealing his plans to Abraham include choosing Abraham so that a people will follow that will be righteous and just. Mathews writes,p.223 “The idea of election, promissory blessing and righteousness come together in v.19”.
      8. 8.       This verse contains a lot of covenantal vocabulary. “chosen” is “to know”. “command”, “keep”, “righteousness” and “justice”.
      9. 9.       command his children Deut. 6:4-8, The Shema.
      10. 10.   the way of the Lord- all parts of your life are to be lived in light of your covenant relationship with the Lord. The Gospel is to permeate every aspect of our lives.
      11. 11.   righteousness and justice- Waltke writes, p.269, “Righteousness portrays a way of living in community that promotes the life of all its members, a life promoting social orderin recognition of God’s rule. A righteous person rightly orders community, and a just one restores broken community, especially by punishing the oppressor and delivering the oppressed.”
      12. 12.   Application- We have been chosen by God and are the recipients of his Word, his revelation of himself. Are we practicing righteousness and justice? Amos 5:6-7,24 “Seek the Lord and live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel, O you who turn justice to wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth! 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Are we teaching righteousness and justice to our children? The world’s ideas of righteousness and justice is taking from the producers and giving to the non-producers through threat of prison or violence. Just as it is not just for a corporation to squeeze the lifeblood out of its employees it is not just for our government to do the same to its citizens who pay taxes.


  1. C.            Vss. 20-21 The Annunciation of  Judgment Upon Sodom
    1. 1.       Then the LORD said- The LORD now speaks to Abraham and announces his intentions.
    2. 2.       The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great- this is anthropomorphic language, similar to 4:10 where the Lord says that the blood of Cain’s brother was crying out to him from the ground or when Paul speaks of all creation groaning because of sin in Romans 8:22. Ross says that the wording here alludes back to 11:1-9 and the story of the Tower of Babel where the Lord went down to see the city the people were building. The “outcry” could be the cries of those who, like ch.19 will reveal, have been raped within this perverted city.
    3. 3.       their sin is very grave- all sin is grave and is worthy of death, but here we see that there are indeed degrees of sin. Sodom’s sin was grave. Though all nations and cities were sinful, Sodom’s sin was enough to cause a cry that went up to God.
    4. 4.       Application- this last week we received the news that a theater in Fort Worth was offering the Tarleton State theater students a place to put on their performance of the blasphemous play, Corpus Christi, about a homosexual Jesus figure. The “outcry” from the people of Fort Worth was so great that the Board of Directors for the theatre reconsidered their decision and the play will not be produced. I am convinced that we American Christians have been silent in the face of evil far too long. We need to pray, but we also need to cry out!
    5. 5.       I will go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry- the altogether means completeness, their evil and wickedness was complete, full to running over. It is like God saying, I am going to Sodom to see if they are as bad as they can be, as bad as I think.  The idea here is that the LORD will investigate thoroughly the sin situation in Sodom. God is all wise, all knowing, omnipresent and completely holy. He will know all sins, every single sin for every single person. He alone can make a judgment based upon complete knowledge of all the facts and intentions.
    6. 6.       Here we see a link between how God warned Noah of impending judgment and Abraham.
    7. 7.       Application- folks, I think America is living on the brink of destruction. I believe that God is considering whether to come down and see if we have done altogether according to the outcry.
    8. 8.       Application- Has the Lord revealed to us the danger of judgment upon sin and this world? Heb.9:27  ‘And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment’. What role should our awareness of impending judgment play in our Christian walk? Evangelism? What is your understanding of what the Bible teaches about the Day of Judgment and Hell?


  1. II.                Gen.18:22-33 Abraham Intercedes for Sodom and God’s Justice Confirmed
    1. A.            Literary Structure
      1. 1.       This plea for Sodom by Abraham matches Lot’s plea for Zoar in 19:17-22.
      2. 2.       This is a 6 fold plea- (1) vs.23-26; (2) vs 27-28; (3) vs. 29; (4) vs.30; (5) vs.31; (6) vs.32.
      3. 3.       The passage is framed by vs.22 “So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom” and v.33 “And the LORD went his way…and Abraham returned to his place.”
      4. 4.       Wenham writes, p.51, “Threefold repetition is commonplace in biblical narrative; the doubling of the pattern here is significant and gives Abraham’s intercession solemnity and weight.
      5. 5.       Notice there is a subtle shift in tone on both Abraham’s part and the Lord’s. Abraham begins with a bold “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” but progresses to vs.27 with “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord…” and concludes with v.32 “Oh, let not the Lord be angry…” And with the Lord’s responses beginning with vs. 26 “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous…I will spare the whole place”; but in vs.32 “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”
    2. B.            Abraham the Intercessor
      1. 1.       Vs.22 So the men…went toward Sodom- these would be the two angels that figure prominently in ch.19. The fact that there were two is important as in the Mosaic Law two witnesses were required to be in agreement for a capital punishment.
      2. 2.       Abraham’s interpretation of what God said in vss.20-21 is that he will bring a devastating judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah, vs.23 “Will you indeed sweep away…?” There is no mention of sweeping away in vss.20-21. There was either more to the conversation than we know, or Abraham knew in his heart what was about to happen; nonetheless he begins to intercede for Sodom, assuming that there must be some righteous in that city. Ross says that it is not just about his nephew either (p.351).
      3. 3.       Abraham the intercessor- here we see Abraham as the prayer warrior, the intercessor who pleads for the city of Sodom while recognizing, ultimately, that there may be only ten righteous people in the whole city. Moses also intervenes on behalf of a people whom the Lord is about to judge, Israel, in Ex. 32:7-14 and 33:12-17.
      4. 4.       Application- How much of our prayer life is consumed with praying for the lost? Our church does not have what Baptists have traditionally called a Wednesday night Prayer Meeting. I grew up Baptist and have been to countless Wed. night prayer meetings and I can tell you that in most cases Prayer was not the biggest thing on the schedule despite the name. Most churches require their pastor to bring a “Devotion” or what I call a Sermonette, or a Bible Study of some kind. The music minister would bring 1-3 songs. There would be announcements. Then, when it was actually time for prayer, the majority of the time was taken up by prayer requests, not prayer. And the overwhelming majority of prayer requests were for people who were sick or in the hospital or for people traveling. Once in a great while it might be for a lost person, usually a relative. Most rare of all the prayer requests were prayers confessing particular sins and seeking to grow in particular areas of the Christian walk. After the Prayer Request time we would actually pray, sort of. It was usually the same 4-5 people praying the same prayers every week. There was no life, no earnest pleading for the lost, no genuine confession and repentance, no seeking the Lord’s face. I would imagine that one reason our church does not have Prayer Meetings is that the elders have all experienced the same kind of putrid prayer meetings that I have.

How much of our personal prayer life is concerned for intercessory prayer for the lost? Do we have lost people for whom we pray? When we pray for our missionaries do we pray for the safety and health more than we pray for them to have good opportunities to share the gospel and bring in a harvest? I can confess to you that I used to be more evangelistic than I am now in practice and in prayer. I can look at my life in those areas and bluntly say I have failed in the past 3-4 yrs.

  1. C.            Is God Just?
    1. 1.       Vs.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…Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?– Abraham frames his argument in broad terms of justice, not simply, “Hey, my nephew Lot is down there!” The question is a Crucial Question, which gets back to the theme of our study in Genesis. Just about every society has asked this question in some way, for we all see the good die young, the innocent die unjustly, the guilty go free, live long and prosper. The earthquake, hurricane, plague and famine all come and the righteous do die with the wicked. There is an inner longing in the hearts of man, along with a secret fear, for justice. The universal seeking for justice is proof that we are not evolved from the primordial sea. This is an apologetic point, if we acknowledge justice, incomplete and flawed though it may be, in our current system, then there must be an ultimate justice beyond the grave; there must be some objective standard of justice that is above man. We are all born with a sense of “oughtness” and we can readily recognize when an injustice comes our way. Abraham here is pointing to the Lord as the ultimate arbiter of justice and is proclaiming that God would not punish the righteous with the wicked. Waltke writes, p.270, “The question could be read as a challenge to God, but sound theology demands it be read as a deliberative prayer asserting faith in God’s just character and as a conduit for the divine fulfillment.” Mathews writes, p.228, “The beginning point of the plea is the assumption that the Lord indeed is righteous and can be counted on accordingly.”
    2. 2.       Who are the righteous and the wicked? The righteous would be those in a proper relationship of faith and obedience to God, within the covenant. Those outside the covenant, who do not acknowledge the LORD nor obey him are the wicked. Most people today seem to assume that man is not fallen, that all are innocent til proven guilty, and that man is inherently good. This is seen in the question about God’s judgment that is frequently asked, “What about the innocent native in Africa who has never heard the Gospel?”
    3. 3.       Grudem writes, p.203, “God’s righteousness means that God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right.” In other words, there is nothing above God to which he must conform, there is not some standard out there that God sees outside of himself that he is following. God is the standard, he is Justice and Righteousness. He is the One who determines what is Right or Wrong. Deut 32:4; Psalm 19:8; Isaiah 45:19; see Rom.3:25-26 on God’s forbearance and punishing Christ for our sins. 
    4. 4.       Application: do we rejoice in the justice and righteousness of God as our Judge? Do we complain and fret when we do not see justice in the world, in issues that we care about? Do we doubt God’s justice when we see the righteous suffering and the wicked prospering? How can we use the justice of God in witnessing?




Ross, Allen P. Creation & Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI. 1996 (pp.347-353).

Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis: A Commentary. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI 2001 (pp.268-272).

Wenham, Gordon. Word Biblical Commentary, vol.2 Genesis 16-50. Word Books: Dallas, TX 1994 (pp.49-53)

Mathews, Kenneth A. The New American Commentary vol.1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26. Broadman&Holman: Nashville, TN 2005 (pp.219-233).

Hamilton, Victor P. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, The Book of Genesis Chapters 18-50. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI 1995 (pp.14-28).

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI 1994, pp.203-205.



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One Response to “Genesis 18:16-33 “God’s Justice and Abraham’s Intercession””

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[…] One of the protagonists went out of his way to point out that they were not implying that those who died in the hijacked planes or the devastated buildings were in any way the specific objects of God’s wrath, but that “sometimes innocent people must die when there is wickedness in the country”. I wracked my brains, but I couldn’t remember this sentiment being expressed in the conversation between God and Abraham in Genesis 18. […]

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