Today’s passage in Genesis is difficult for many people and difficult for differing reasons. Some wonder why He would destroy a whole city; why not kill the bad guys and let everyone else live. Others offer this as proof that Yahweh is a god of evil, not love. Still, others find it hard to believe that a human could get Him to change His mind. There are other arguments, but we won’t look at them.
What we need to do is look at what is actually happening. You may recall last week Abraham received three visitors and God who told him he would have a son in one year. Immediately, in verse 16, the three men set out from there and looked down toward Sodom, Abraham walking with them to see them off. NIV
Before we go farther, what is the connection between Abraham and Sodom? You may remember that Lot went to live in Sodom, but that is not the key point. Back in chapter 12, Abram went forth as God instructed him. At that point, Abram/Abraham became a prophet. A prophet is a person who speaks the Word of God. That is not to be confused with a preacher. Few preachers are prophets, and probably few prophets are preachers.
Prophets have a special connection with God—God speaks through them, sometimes without them realizing it. Prophets are not always church leaders or even churchy people. It would seem from the OT that the way to spot a prophet is to see who is most hated; who people are trying to kill.
Abraham, as a prophet, was invited by God to become involved in the question of what to do with Sodom. In verses 17-19, we find an unusual inner thought of God. The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 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.” ESV
Clearly, God had decided to destroy the city. This ‘inner thought’ is the author’s way of letting us know that God trusts Abraham enough to allow him some input to the plan.
If you have been following the life of Abram/Abraham closely, you will know that the man had more trust in God than almost any other human. I don’t see this as a test by God, as some suggest. After all, God knows the heart of Abraham just as he knows our hearts. God knows he will seek some reduction of the destruction. That is what a prophet of God does.
I see this exchange as more of a practice session. Abraham needs to know he can approach God and ask for what he thinks God might do differently. That is not to say that God will do it. Remember, Jonah tried to change God’s mind with no success.
But why does God destroy two whole cities? The same reason he flooded the whole earth; to eliminate deeply infested sin. The events are all examples of how God deals with humans and with sin. We read about the complete and final destruction of sin in Revelation.
How does the prophet Abraham negotiate with God? Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. ESV He makes no demands on God. He asks questions, like David in Psalms.
Look at the first response of God in verse 26. If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake. NIV Nearly all the translations have the same word: spare. The CJB, OJB, and JSB read forgive. In other words, the Jewish translations use the word forgiveness, but the Christian translators do not. Interesting?
The Hebrew word can have either translation, and the difference between forgive and spare is minimal. In either case, God will spare/forgive every sinner in the city if there are as few as ten innocents.
But He destroys the cities, lacking the ten. Only Lot and his daughters make it out. Countless Hell-fire sermons have arisen from this passage, and most miss what God is doing.
Sin exists in the world. Every human ever born has sinned. Abraham sinned, Sarah sinned, Lot sinned. We all deserve the fate of Sodom. It is what we have earned.
But God has a plan to spare/forgive those who try to be faithful to Him. Instead of listening to God, some ignore Him. Instead of trying to be faithful to God, some turn away from Him. Instead of saying, I who am but dust and ashes, some choose to act like little gods. Instead of moving away from sin, some choose to live in it.
So it is that righteous people die with the unrighteous. Of the 85 million people who died in WWII, God alone knows how many did not deserve to die.
Death is not the end of the story. The only human who was perfect died. None of us are getting out alive. The sorting will be done after earthly death. What the account of Abraham teaches us is that being faithful to God will make it possible to avoid the fate of Sodom.
Read my earlier comments on this theme here.
Be righteous and do good.