Genesis 18:22-33 “Praying for the Sodomites & God’s Justice”
Redeemer Church Sunday School- Genesis Class
Genesis 18:22-33 “Praying for the Sodomites & God’s Justice”
Sunday, April 18, 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.
- I. Gen.18:22-33 Abraham Intercedes for Sodom and God’s Justice Confirmed
- A. Literary Structure
- 1. This plea for Sodom by Abraham matches Lot’s plea for Zoar in 19:17-22.
- 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. 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. 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. 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.”
- B. Abraham the Intercessor
- 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. Deut.17:6,7 “On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. 7 The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”
- 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 although vss. 17-19 imply some kind of action. 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. 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. Remember Wenham’s comment above that the six-fold request by Abraham adds solemnity to the narrative. It is a solemn and urgent duty and privilege to intercede for the lost. Abraham is here acting like a priest and that is our role as intercessors as well. We must understand that the Lost, those without Christ, are in fact damned; they are under the just wrath of God and, if they do not repent, will be condemned to hell forever. And such wretches were we, prior to God’s saving grace being poured out upon us!
- 5. 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.
- A. Literary Structure
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 their 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.
- 6. Let’s take time right now to mention some lost people whom we know and then take some time in the practical exercise of intercessory prayer.
- C. Is God Just?
- 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.” I had a witnessing opportunity yesterday and one of the questions was along this very line of the source of Justice. I was asked if I could point to an objective source of Justice other than by relying on the Bible. I said that ultimately if there is no God, if the God of the Bible is not God, then there is no Justice, it is only a human construct that can be altered whenever convenient.
- 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. Rom.3:22 “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Remember that back in Gen. 15:6 Abraham was declared righteous because of his faith in God. 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?” We need to understand that no one is innocent in God’s eyes, Rom.3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and in 6:26 “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
- 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. 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? How should Christians respond to injustices in our land? In the rest of the world? Do we act justly towards others? Should we be gracious and merciful to those who don’t deserve it or should we always seek to execute justice on those who sin against us?
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.