In my daily Bible reading this year I already stumbled across something I’ve read many times before, but never really thought much about. Genesis 18-19 tells of God’s plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah and the carrying out of that plan. However, before anyone starts pointing fingers at their assumptions about what I’m going to be writing about, I would like to say that I think we might have missed the point of the story. Genesis 18:17-33 begins the story; the cities aren’t destroyed until 19:24. That’s 40 verses between God revealing His plan and actually carrying it out.
What Abraham does in 18:22-33 is part of the main point of the story; a part that is normally missed for the sake of overemphasis on 19:5 leading to 19:24. And while it is true that God refers to 19:5 as the cause for 19:24 all the way back in 18:20-21, Abraham’s actions following this revelation are mandatory to grasp.
God tells him that He is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah in 18:20-21. Abraham immediately starts pleading for the city with God in 18:22 and following. He asks that if God can find 50 righteous people there, that He would then relent from the promised destruction. God says He will. Abraham then requests 45, perhaps because he doubts there are 50 righteous people. God again promises to relent. Abraham drops it to 40; God promises to relent. This goes all the way down to 10; God says, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it” (Genesis 18:32, NIV).
If there was ever a passage that screams, “Love those who struggle with disgusting sins like homosexuality,” this is one! Abraham did not want to see all those people destroyed, so he pleaded for their lives. Sure, he knew his nephew Lot and his family lived in Sodom, but as the next chapter shows, Lot was the only righteous person in the city: his wife turned back (19:26), his sons-in-law laughed at him (19:14), and his daughters later used him to produce offspring for themselves (19:30-38). Lot was the only redeeming quality in the city. Perhaps if Abraham had gone down to “one righteous person,” God would have spared the whole city for Lot’s sake.
However, in 18:32, Abraham does what we too often do while praying: we think God doesn’t want to hear our prayers go on too long. He said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” (NIV).
While Abraham may be excused for not persevering in intercession, as believers in Christ, we have the hope of Christ at God’s right hand, hearing us and interceding for us to His Father. “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, NIV, emphasis added). Because of Christ, we can know that God will never be angry with us; sure, He will be disappointed when we sin, but He will never be angry. We need never pray like Abraham, “Don’t be angry,” because Christ bore His wrath for us. We should petition for ourselves to God, and intercede for others to God with complete confidence, and when we think we’ve covered the need, we should keep praying more.
This helps explain why 19:27-28 are in the story. “Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace” (NIV). Abraham realized his prayer wasn’t answered the way he expected. It is also interesting that Genesis 19 is the last time we hear about Lot. As far as Abraham knew, Lot perished when Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed. So, a lesson to learn is also that God answers our prayers the way we need them answered, even if not in the way we expect. Abraham wanted the whole city spared; God saved the righteous one and some non-righteous ones.
So, the ultimate lesson in this section of Scripture is: pray! Never stop! Pray until you’re tired, and then keep praying! Plead for the souls of sinful people! Apart from Christ, you’re no different than any other sinner. Pray for your city; you never know when it could be destroyed, and prayer has power! Trust that God will answer your prayer, because He always will. Even if He doesn’t answer it in the way you expect, trust that He knows what is best, but also reflect on whether or not you could have prayed more seriously about that situation—whatever it was.
Soli Deo Gloria.