Torah reading: Genesis 18:1 – 22:24
Haftorah reading: 2 Kings 4: 1-37
This week’s Torah reading has a profound message for us right now in November 2017. Across the world we see turmoil and chaos increasing at an alarming rate. Scandals, hate speech, racism and other factors consume the news media and become the topic of heated – sometimes vicious – exchanges on social media.
While we may admire Abraham’s hospitality in this week’s reading, I think there is something else that displays a high degree of spirituality and maturity in the Patriarch. The brilliance of Abraham’s character is seen in his intercession with the Lord for the sparing of the righteous in Sodom.
The Lord and the two angels made their way down toward Sodom, escorted part way by Abraham. It would seem that the Lord turned to the two angels as He asked, almost rhetorically,
… Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? For I have chosen him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; in order that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him” (Genesis 18:17b-19) .
The intimacy of the relationship between God and Abraham served as the motivation for God’s disclosure of His purposes for Sodom. Further, the Abrahamic Covenant provided the foundation on which that relationship was based. In verse 19 the necessity for Abraham’s faith to be communicated and continued by his offspring is stressed.
In contrast to the faithfulness of Abraham’s descendants is the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah.
And the Lord said, ‘The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know’ (Genesis 18:20-21).
Verses 20 and 21 dramatically portray the sin of Sodom and the righteous response of a holy God to it. The sin of the city is so great that it virtually cries out to heaven for retribution. God’s personal interest and focused attention is depicted as ‘going down’ to deal with it. God is not ‘going down’ to learn the facts, but to take personal interest in them and to invade the situation. So it is that Abraham discerned that God was about to destroy the city, although it was not stated specifically.
The two angels went on toward Sodom, leaving the LORD and Abraham alone, overlooking the city (19:27,28). While speaking reverently, Abraham manifested a boldness with God never seen before.
And Abraham came near and said, ‘Wilt Thou indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt Thou indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from Thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from Thee! Shall not the judge of all the earth deal justly?’ (Genesis 18:23-25).
Abraham’s appeal is based on the justice of God. He recognizes the evil in the city but his thoughts turn to the possibility of righteous people in the midst of it. Certainly he was concerned for his nephew, Lot and Lot’s family, but at the same time, Abraham also understood God’s mercy and his appeal may well expose his hope that if the city were spared because of the few righteous, perhaps the wicked might yet come to faith in God.
Abraham boldly asserts that it is against God’s nature to treat the righteous and the wicked in the same way. Therefore, if a sufficient number of righteous could be found in Sodom, there is every reason for God to spare the city from destruction.
The LORD entertains Abraham’s plea and the bargaining begins. How many righteous will it take?
God agreed to spare the city if 50 righteous could be found (verse 26). Abraham must have doubted that such a number could be found, and so he began to plead for a lower figure.
And Abraham answered and said, ‘Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes. Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, wilt Thou destroy the whole city because of five?’ And He said, ‘I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there’ (Genesis 18:27-28).
From here, Abraham was encouraged to attempt to further reduce the minimum number of righteous required to spare Sodom. First it was 40, then 30, then 20, and finally 10. We almost sigh with relief here, for one might fear that God would lose His patience with Abraham. Personally, I believe the heart of God was warmed by Abraham’s compassion and zeal. This was no selfish petition, but intercession for others.
Why, then, did Abraham stop with ten? Why would he not have gone on to five or even one? Some may think that he did not dare to press God farther. Perhaps so, but I do not believe that Abraham would have ceased until he were confident that Lot and his family were safe from the wrath of God.
As we know from chapter 19 Abraham’s hopes exceeded reality. This would have resulted in tragedy were it not for a great divine truth: God’s grace always exceeds our expectations.
In the final analysis there were only three righteous in Sodom, Lot and his two daughters. Some might well question the righteousness of the daughters from their actions in the next chapter. However, God did comply with Abraham’s petition. While He did not spare the city of Sodom, He did spare Lot and his daughters.
In Tune with Torah this week = in our day, nation after nation across the world is in turmoil. Scandals, riots, violence and chaos are regular items in the daily media. In the midst of a broken society, what are the children of Abraham to do?
Abraham, our father, is our example.
You will notice that Abraham did not spend precious time denouncing the wickedness of Sodom. It was obvious enough and needed no further commentary. Abraham turned to the only One who held out any hope for a remedy.
Never underestimate the power of prayer.