The first sin city

How many of you would like to get a tan this summer? In our society, there’s something culturally attractive about having a deep, dark tan. But here’s a sad reality. Noted dermatologist Michael Kalman warns, “Today’s deeply tanned beauties are tomorrow’s wrinkled prunes.” (Now, I’m sure he means that with all due respect.) If we’re aware at all of the research being done on the sun’s rays and the sensitivity of our skin, we know that we may one day pay a price for looking good.

 

Sin is like getting a tan. It may look and feel great today, but tomorrow it can bring consequences. In Genesis 19, we are going to be scorched with the insanity of sin! In this chapter, we will learn about the depravity of man, the judgment of God, and the failure of believers.

 

Our story begins in 19:1-3: “Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. And he said, ‘Now behold, my lords, please turn aside into your servant’s house, and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise early and go on your way.’ They said however, ‘No, but we shall spend the night in the square.’ Yet he urged them strongly, so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he prepared a feast for them, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.” Verse 1 informs us that two angels came to Sodom “in the evening.” The evening scene is deliberately contrasted with the noontime scene when Abraham met these same angels (cf. 18:1). These angels approached Lot at the “gate of Sodom.” The city gate was the place where the civic leaders met to finalize legal and business transactions. It was a place of prominence and influence. The implication is Lot had achieved not only his material goals but also his social and political ambitions. He had arrived! Yet, at this moment he was not aware of what his earthly success would eventually cost him.

 

Keep in mind, Lot started well. In Genesis 12:4, he was a faithful member of Abraham’s entourage and trekked the full 800 miles from Ur to Canaan. Unfortunately, when Abraham selflessly presented Lot with a choice of land, he selfishly chose the lush land. Thus, he went from looking toward Sodom (13:10), to pitching his tent toward Sodom (13:12), to living in Sodom (14:12), to eventually becoming an important leader in Sodom. Lot could be a poster boy for spiritual compromise. The fact that Lot had worked his way up to become one of Sodom’s leading citizens indicates that he was no longer a threat to their immoral way of life. The people of Sodom must have said, “Lot, we like you. You were smart to give up that nomadic existence because you have the gifts of leadership that we need here. And because you are a shrewd man, we’re willing to give you a place of honor at the city gate.”

 

Take note: You do not get honored in Sodom unless you have decided to be quiet about your faith. If you are so well thought of by the world that you compromise your testimony, you have paid too much for your success. If everyone likes you, you’re probably a quiet Christian. You may be like the Artic River, frozen over at the mouth. But if you talk about Jesus Christ and are willing to lovingly call sin “SIN,” I can assure you that you’re not going to be popular with everyone. Always beware of a politician who is popular and well liked across the board—that usually means he or she stands for nothing. The same is true with a Christian.

In 19:2-3, Lot invited these visitors into his home. When they refused his invitation, Lot “urged them strongly” to enter his home. Lot would not take “no” for an answer. He did some major arm-twisting until they said “yes.” Lot knew the wickedness of his city (cf. Judg 19:18-20). Undoubtedly, he had witnessed the abusive behavior of his fellow Sodomites toward other unsuspecting visitors.

So he insisted that these two angels in disguise spend the night in his home. Unfortunately, if Lot had hoped his guests had entered his home unnoticed, he was tragically mistaken.

In 19:4-7: “Before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and oldall the people from every quarter; and they called to Lot and said to him, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them.’ But Lot went out to them at the doorway, and shut the door behind him, and said, ‘Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly.’” In 19:4, Moses attempts to emphasize that every man and boy in Sodom is dangerous and wicked. This seems over the top. After all, most little boys do not practice homosexual rape. How was the perversion so widespread? We may not like the answer. Evidently, the older men discipled the children in sexual deviance. Undoubtedly, there was sexual abuse in the home that caused the little boys to respond like they did. This tragic storyline continues today. In the US, one in three girls and one in four boys has been sexually abused before they reach the age of eighteen! Consequently, we live in a sexually confused society. Men, you can model and disciple your boys in purity or perversion. The choice is yours. However, if you choose the latter, your boys will turn into young men with all kinds of addictions that will alter their lives forever. Today, choose to intentionally model and disciple your boys (and girls) in purity.

Sodom and Gomorrah have become a proverbial symbol of wickedness, perversion, and moral depravity.

 

In 18:16-33, I addressed some unfamiliar sins that Sodom was guilty of: arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease that resulted in being unconcerned about the poor and needy (Isa 1:10, 17Ezek 16:49-50). Yet the Scriptures also mention that they were guilty of rejecting God’s Word (Luke 10:8-12), adultery, lying, and abetting the criminal (Jer 23:14), and here homosexual perversion (Ezek 16:44-59Jude 6-72 Pet 2:6-7). Thus, this passage and several others clearly identify the practice of homosexuality as sinful (e.g., Lev 18:22; 20:13Rom 1:21-271 Cor 6:9-101 Tim 1:8-10). God’s original intent has not changed. From the very beginning, God ordained marriage between one man and one woman (Gen 1:27; 2:24). However, we must be careful not to imply that homosexuality is the vilest sin. From God’s perspective, sin is sin. That means the adulterer, the pornographer, the gossip, and the slanderer are just as guilty.

 

In 19:8, Lot responds to the Sodomites with a startling suggestion: “Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof.” This offer is horrible and cannot be justified. We understand it a little more when we consider the low place of women in the pre-Christian world and the very high place of any guest in your home. It was understood a guest was to be protected more than your own family. However, Lot’s response is sick and wrong. I don’t have two daughters, I have one and I cannot even fathom what Lot is saying here. How could a father even make such a statement? It is against reason, against nature, and against love. It is against everything a father believes. How could a father make such an offer? The only answer I find to be reasonable is that sin is insane. Even though Lot believed in God, he had been contaminated by the culture in which he lived. He did something he thought he would never do because sin is insane.

 

We have all had similar experiences. Have you ever said, “Well, Lord, I want You to forgive me for this sin. I have really struggled in this area of my life. I promise You that I will never do it again.” We have all made similar commitments. Guess what we did? We walked right out the door and fell in to that area of sin again. It doesn’t make sense—sin is insane! It doesn’t operate on logical, rational principles.

In this context, Lot (a believer) says, “You homosexuals (unbelievers) are wicked; here, rape my girls!” We’re often just as crooked as the unbelievers. The world mocks us because of all the hypocrisy they see in the church…and even in our lives. Their response to us is, “The Catholic priests are pedophilias.

The mega- church pastors are involved in this or that. There are scandals everywhere. We don’t claim to be Christians. Yet, you do and you’re hypocrites.”

This verse should remind us to be especially humble and gracious as we interact with unbelievers. Peter aptly said that judgment begins first with the household of God (1 Pet 4:17). We need to take the log out of our own eye (Matt 7:3).

 

Fortunately, the sick Sodomites did not take Lot up on his offer. Rather, they told him to, “‘Stand aside.’ Furthermore, they said, ‘This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them.’ So they pressed hard against Lot and came near to break the door. But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. They struck the men who were at the doorway of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they wearied themselves trying to find the doorway” (19:9-11). Lot may have had a degree of political power, but his spiritual influence was pathetic. The men of Sodom identified him as “an alien.” Instead of being the salt of the earth, Lot had become tasteless and was good for nothing, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. Ironically, the two angels prevented Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:13 from being fulfilled in their midst. As the men of Sodom were trying to break down the door, the two angels grabbed Lot, shut the door, and struck the perverts with blindness.

 

In 19:12-14, Moses writes, “Then the two men said to Lot, ‘Whom else have you here? A son-in-law, and your sons, and your daughters, and whomever you have in the city, bring them out of the place; for we are about to destroy this place, because their outcry has become so great before the LORD that the LORD has sent us to destroy it.’ Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, and said, ‘Up, get out of this place, for the LORD will destroy the city.’ But he appeared to his sons-in-law to be jesting.” In those twilight hours before sunrise, we can only imagine Lot’s frantic effort to convince his own family of God’s impending judgment. But because of his spiritual compromise, only his wife and two daughters were able to leave the city. Compromise had destroyed his testimony. In fact, Lot had lost such credibility with his sons-in-law that they treated his message as a joke. 

 

Notice that we are not told that they refused to believe Lot so much as they did not even take him seriously. There seems to be only one possible explanation: Lot had never mentioned his faith before. His words were not a repetition of his lifelong warnings of sin and judgment—they are something totally new and novel. What a rebuke to the witness of Lot. It is one thing to warn men and have them reject our message. It is far worse for them not even to consider our words as spoken seriously. The most serious moment of Lot’s life was ridiculed by his children, who in effect said, “Dad, you can’t be for real! You’re a joke!”  This is logical, though. When you possess a tasteless testimony, your family is always the first to pick up on it! Do you have a sense of urgency when it comes to spiritual matters? Do your children and loved ones know that you are dead serious about escaping God’s wrath? Do they know that you are banking everything on the person and work of Christ?

 

In 19:15-16, Moses writes, “When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city.’ But he hesitated. So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters, for the compassion of the LORD was upon him; and they brought him out, and put him outside the city.” Verse 15 strikes me so funny because the angels command Lot with the word “up.” The angels warn Lot. They tell him there are great consequences for sin but he delays responding to God. One would think that Lot would have been so overcome with gratefulness that he would have immediately obeyed the command to flee for the mountains; but urban life had its icy fingers around his throat. Lot was so attached to this present world of family, friends, power, and material things that he just could not bear the thought of leaving it all behind (see 1 John 2:15-17). He felt more secure inside an evil city than outside of it with God.

 

Yet, God still exercises His “compassion” and delivers Lot. What a reminder to you and me that deliverance or salvation and Christian growth is dependent upon God’s mercy (Titus 3:5).

 

In 19:17-23 the account continues, “When they had brought them outside, one said, ‘Escape for your life! Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away.’ [See Luke 9:62.] ‘Oh no, my lords! Now behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have magnified your lovingkindness, which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die; now behold, this town is near enough to flee to, and it is small. Please, let me escape there (is it not small?) that my life may be saved.’ He said to him, ‘Behold, I grant you this request also, not to overthrow the town of which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there, for I cannot do anything until you arrive there.’ Therefore the name of the town was called Zoar.” Lot is saying, “I’ll run out of Vegas, but can I run to Reno.” He just can’t shake the city life. Lot flees temptation and then leaves a forwarding address. Amazingly, the angels give Lot over to his sinful behavior (Rom 1:24, 26, 28). This is yet another example of how divine grace, not human righteousness is the basis of God’s deliverance.

 

In 19:24-25, “The sun had risen over the earth when Lot came to Zoar. [The sun motif is an Old Testament picture of God’s salvation.] Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. In the midst of God’s deliverance, we see His judgment. Three times in these two verses, Moses points to God’s sovereign initiative and judgment in obliterating these cities. He did this…it was the work of His hands. Yet, many Christians like to say, “I am a Christian, but I’m not the “fire and brimstone” type. The problem with this statement is the Bible is full of God’s judgment. Thus, whether we like it or not, we must be “fire and brimstone” Christians. God is a God of judgment.

 

In 19:26, we come across an intriguing verse: “But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” The Hebrew verb translated “looked back” signifies an intense gaze, not a passing glance (cf. 19:17). Furthermore, in Luke 17:28-32, Jesus implies that Lot’s wife returned to Sodom: “It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house must not go down to take them out; and likewise the one who is in the field must not turn back. ‘Remember Lot’s wife.’” She lost her life because of her reluctance to let go of her household stuff. She was a wife after Lot’s own heart. Her sorrow over her goods so fixated her that she could not or would not move. Perhaps she decided that she would be better dead than separated from her possessions. Ethan Allen furnishings and Nordstrom’s attire consumed her. Ladies, is this a struggle for any of you? If it is, remember that all that Lot and his wife had gained by living in Sodom burned up like wood, hay, and stubble (cf. 1 Cor 3:10-15).

 

By the way, Mrs. Lot’s family never saw it happen. They had obeyed the warning about not looking behind them. Not until later did they realize what had occurred. There’s a definite lesson here about running from wrong: Even if others are disobedient, you must be obedient!

 

In 19:27-29, Moses provides a parenthetical comment for us. “Now Abraham arose early in the morning and went to the place where he had stood before the LORD; and he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the valley, and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land ascended like the smoke of a furnace. Thus it came about, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot lived.”

 

The substitution of Abraham for Lot in the phrase: “God remembered Abraham,” (19:29; cf. 8:1) makes an important theological point. Lot was not saved on his own merits but through Abraham’s intercession. This is the second time Lot owes his life to his uncle (cf. 14:12-14). Previously, he was delivered from capture and now from death. Abraham prays and then trusts the Lord with the results. God hears and answers prayers.

 

We are to rescue those who have sold out to Sodom. We are to rescue those who are entrenched in their sin. There are two ways we must do this: Pray and act. Lot wasn’t destroyed with Sodom and Gomorrah because of Abraham’s prayer (18:16-33; 19:27-29). It was James who said that the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (Jas 5:16). In amazing fashion, God sovereignly used Abraham to accomplish His own purpose to save Lot. God loves to work through the prayers of His people. So who are you presently praying for God to rescue?

In 19:30-38, Moses records this tragic conclusion. “Lot went up from Zoar, and stayed in the mountains, and his two daughters with him; for he was afraid to stay in Zoar; and he stayed in a cave, he and his two daughters. Then the firstborn said to the younger, ‘Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of the earth. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and let us lie with him that we may preserve our family through our father.’ So they made their father drink wine that night, and the firstborn went in and lay with her father; and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose.

 

On the following day, the firstborn said to the younger, ‘Behold, I lay last night with my father; let us make him drink wine tonight also; then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve our family through our father.’ So they made their father drink wine that night also, and the younger arose and lay with him; and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father. [There is tragic irony in this section. In 19:8, Lot had offered his two virgin daughters to be victimized by the perverts of Sodom. Now later in the same account, these same daughters victimize a drunk Lot who carried out the very act which he himself had suggested to the men of Sodom—he lay with his own daughters.] The firstborn bore a son, and called his name Moab; he is the father of the Moabites to this day. As for the younger, she also bore a son, and called his name Ben-ammi; he is the father of the sons of Ammon to this day.” Nine months later, Lot became a father and a grandfather at the same time. These two nations were born of this incestuous relationship. While God dealt kindly with these nations because of their relationship to Abraham (Deut 2:19), they were a continual source of grief and conflict to Abraham and his descendants. Zephaniah 2:9 informs us that eventually, these nations would suffer the same judgment as Sodom and Gomorrah.

This account is one of the most graphic and repulsive in the Scriptures. Why does Moses include it in Genesis? For two reasons:

o   First, to reveal the consequences of sin. Moab and Ammon provide the worst carnal seduction in the history of Israel (i.e., Baal-Peor, Num 25) and the cruelest religious perversion (i.e., Molech, Lev 18:21).

 

o   Second, to demonstrate that the spiritual shallowness of parents is often duplicated and amplified in their children. Evidently, trusting in God didn’t even occur to them. This is another indictment against Lot’s failed spiritual leadership. His daughters simply mirrored the spiritual compromise of their father. Lot was able to take his daughters out of Sodom, but he was not able to take Sodom out of his daughters.

 

Later in Israel’s history, the tribes of Moab and Ammon cause numerous problems for the people of God, even to becoming the enemies of God’s people (as such they at one time were barred from entry into the assembly of the Lord for ten generations, cf. Deut 23:3). The Moabites and the Ammonites also became idol worshippers and even led the Israelites astray into idolatry (cf. 1 Kings 11:33). Yet, strangely, God at times protects the interests of the Moabites and the Ammonites (cf. Deut 2:9, 19, 37), perhaps because of His regard for Lot, the ancestor of those two nations—and God permits Moabite blood to be part of the line of the Messiah (cf. Ruth 1:4-5; 4:13, 17). But in time, God uses what was evil for good as only He can (50:20). Eventually, out of the lineage of the godless Moabite race came a woman named Ruth, and subsequently Jesus Christ (Ruth 4:18-22Matt 1:5).

 

Desperation and fear can make us do sinful things. Yet, we are not much different than Lot’s daughters. Have you ever said to God, “I must have a husband (or a wife) for my life to be meaningful”—or “I must have children,” or “I must have a career,” or “I must have good health,” or whatever? If there is anything in your life that you must have, apart from God, then it is your idol. When push comes to shove and you have to choose between serving your idol and serving God, then you will find out where your real commitment lies.

 

At this point, it is natural to ask: Is Lot a saint or an “ain’t?” (I know this isn’t proper.) The answer is: he is a “tainted saint.” In 2 Pet 2:7-8, the apostle Peter calls Lot “righteous” three times in two verses. If he had not emphasized this fact, no one would believe Lot was saved. While Lot was righteous, there is very little or no fruit evident in his life. This is an example of a believer that will be saved yet as through fire (1 Cor 3:15)—he will be saved but singed. The life of Lot shows us that it is possible to have a saved soul and a wasted life.

 

How many of us are like Lot? We’re Christians, yes. But we also want to have our part of the world. We must have our slice of the action. We feel that we can’t possibly give it up completely; that would be simply too great a cost to bear. So, like Lot, we seek instead to do our best in a hopelessly compromised situation, trying to maintain dual citizenship in the world and in heaven.

 

Believer, sin is insane! It deceives, then defiles, and then destroys. If God is calling you to forsake sin today, respond to Him before irreparable damage occurs.

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Right Christian thinking and living

One of the facts that humans have yet to master is that we cannot outperform God.  In the movie Patch Adams, the main character (Robin Williams) is an unconventional medical student who believes that humor and compassion are the most important tools of the doctor’s trade. His idealism is shattered when his girlfriend, who has helped him start a free clinic based on these principles, is murdered by one of the psychotic patients. As Patch stands on a high cliff pondering suicide, he has the following monologue with God:

So answer me please—tell me what You’re doing…You can create man, man suffers enormous amounts of pain; man dies. Maybe You should have had just a few more brainstorming sessions prior to creation. You rested on the seventh day—maybe You should have spent that day on compassion.

As he looks down into the valley far below, again considering the possibility of jumping, he says, tragically, “You know what? You’re not worth it.”

These same sentiments resound like an incessant gong throughout our society. Talk to any person on the street and you will likely hear doubts about the fairness of God doing this or that. In today’s climate of tolerance, many reject the God of the Bible as an ogre. Sadly, many Christians unknowingly do the same. Whenever we raise questions about God’s justice we suggest, as Patch Adams did, that we would be more just if given the chance. When we question God’s love we imply that we can be more loving. When we question His grace, His mercy, His patience—name whatever attribute you will—if we think we can do them better than God, we have a defective view of God.

 

A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” So what comes to your mind when you think about God? Do you question Him? Do you doubt His love for you? Or do you trust Him and find your confidence in Him? Wherever you fall on this scale, God wants to increase your view of Him because right Christian living comes out of right Christian thinking. In Genesis 18:16-33, we need to stop and reflect on our view of God. First, we must…

1. Understand God’s purposes and plans (18:16-21). This section inaugurates a break from fellowship to judgment. After eating at “Abe’s All You Can Eat Steakhouse” (18:1-15), Abraham and the three men walk off their meal. Notice that Abraham didn’t just wave good-bye to his visitors. He walked with them awhile to “send them off” (18:16). It was during this time that Abraham learned about Sodom. If he hadn’t taken the time to walk with them he would have never had the opportunity to understand God’s purposes and plans. This is a simple principle: If we do not make time to spend with the Lord we will not understand His ways and will be confused in our thinking about Him (Isa 55:8-9). We can’t build a relationship with God “on the fly.” If we are going to attempt to understand God’s ways, we need to make time to do so. When we make time to be with the Lord, His will and His plans are revealed to us.

 

During this farewell jaunt, the Lord said, “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?” (18:17-18) The Lord chooses to disclose His intentions to Abraham because he is to be a channel of blessing to all the nations of the earth (12:2a; 13:3b). Additionally, Abraham is the only man in Scripture that is called God’s “friend” (2 Chron 20:7Isa 41:8Jas 2:23); and good friends share intimate secrets with each other. This is an important truth. There is a difference between a servant and a friend. A servant may not know his master’s purposes, but a friend does (John 15:15). In John 14-15, Jesus invites disciples to enjoy friendship with Him. Yet, He explains that friendship is conditional—it is based on obedience (14:21, 23). Can you say that you are actively and intentionally seeking to obey Christ in every area of your life? Do you long to be His friend? If so, tell Him today of your intent to obey Him and become more intimate.

 

In 18:19, the Lord further explains His purposes for Abraham: “For I have chosen (lit., “known”) him, so 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 upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.” Abraham was chosen to be a blessing to the whole earth (12:2-3), but his vocation was to begin to take effect in the simplest way. He was called to “command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD.” His being a blessing to the world depended on his being a blessing to his own home. Do you share this priority? Does your heart resonate with God’s fatherly heart? Have you spent the necessary time this past week investing well in your children? Are you helping them to “keep the way of the LORD?” There is no greater task that parents must fulfill.

 

It is important to recognize that grace was not transmitted automatically to Abraham’s offspring, but through godly parenting (Deut 6:6-9Ps 132:11-12; see also Eph 6:4). This is a general rule today as well. While I believe that any success in parenting is the result of God’s grace, I also believe that God requires parents to be faithful in this most important stewardship. In my experience, it is usually parental failure in one of these four areas that causes children to not keep the way of the Lord. Parents, this reality ought to shake us to our core. In which of these four areas are you weak? Are you committed to grow in a particular area? Jesus was deeply concerned about the spiritual health and maturity of children. In all three synoptic Gospels, He declared, “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt 18:6; cf. Mark 9:42Luke 17:2). These are sobering words for parents.

 

The Lord further tells Abraham that he will accomplish this task by training his children in “doing righteousness and justice” (cf. Mic 6:8). As we shall see, these desired behaviors are contrasted with the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah (18:20-21). Like Abraham, we are to instruct our children in “doing righteousness and justice.” This means explaining to them what God expects of His followers when it comes to right living and justice and then providing them opportunities to fulfill God’s commands. This may lead to ministering together as a family in capacities that carry out righteousness and justice.

 

The last phrase in 18:19: “so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him,” emphasizes the conditional aspect of God’s unconditional covenant with Abraham. If Abraham and his descendants are to personally enjoy the benefits of the covenant, they must follow God’s commandments. Like Abraham, if we are to enjoy our fellowship with God, we must obey Jesus. When we do we experience the abundant life (John 10:10). Today, is this your experience? Or do you feel worried and miserable? God wants you to experience all that He has for you but it takes place as you obey His will. Right Christian living comes out of right Christian thinking.

In 18:20-21, the Lord continues to speak, “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.” We naturally think of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah as largely sexual in nature. After all, Sodom provides the basic word (sodomy) for sins outside of normal sexuality. But if we imagine the sins of these cites only in sexual terms, we miss the depth of their depravity. The word for “outcry” is used in Scripture to describe the cries of the oppressed and brutalized. It is used for the cry of the oppressed widow or orphan (Exod 22:22-23), the cry of the oppressed servant (Deut 24:15), and the cries of Israel in Egypt (Exod 2:23; 3:7, 9). This is confirmed by Ezekiel who described the inhabitants of Sodom: “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore, I removed them when I saw it” (Ezek 16:49-50).

 

There is an equation in this passage that is instructive:

Arrogance + abundant food + careless ease = a lack of concern to help the poor and the needy.

This eventually led to haughtiness and “abominations” (the sins we usually equate with Sodom). Yes, Sodom was sexually depraved (2 Pet 2:6-7Jude 7); but there were also no human rights. The poor, the needy, and the defenseless were especially brutalized. Why? Because Israel was arrogant, had abundant food, and careless ease. (See NIV: “overfed and unconcerned.”) The application is clear, although it will not be popular: Most of us are proud and idle people who need to go on a diet!

The sad reality is “abundant food” leads to “arrogance” and “careless ease.” However, few of us worry about how much we eat or how much our fellow believers eat. Gluttony seems to be one of the few acceptable sins in our churches. We might condemn the abuse of alcohol and smoking as sins against our bodies, the temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). Yet we refuse to preach against overeating, poor diets, and obesity, even when the temples of the Holy Spirit in our churches start to look more like amphitheaters.

No, this is not a pitch for the South Beach or Atkins diet. My point is that we forget that our bodies, spirits, and actions are intricately intertwined. If we grow arrogant or complacent in our hearts, our prayers wane and we forget about the needs of others around us. We begin to care less about others, whether they’re across the street, across cultural barriers, or across oceans. And if we allow ourselves to live as “overfed” people—with no apparent curbing of our gluttonous appetites—it follows that we will lose a sense of concern for others. How apathetic and sleepy we get when our bellies are too full.

Ezekiel’s condemnation of those who were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned for the poor has forced me to scrutinize my own life to make sure my appetites are not dulling my spiritual senses and numbing my compassion. The greatest evaluation of whether we’re guilty of the sin of Sodom is whether we’re genuinely hospitable to poor people.

 

In 18:21, the Lord declares, “I will go down and see…” He is not going down to learn the facts; He already knows everything (Job 38-39Ps 139). This is Moses’ figurative way of saying that God always thoroughly investigates the crime before passing sentence (see 3:11-13; 4:9-12; 11:5). By this He assures Abraham that He would base His judgment on full, accurate information He already perfectly knew.

 

In this verse, we must come to grips with the reality that God personally observes sin (18:21). The Hebrew text literally states, “I will go down personally and see if their sin is made complete.” Sin has been building up in Sodom. God has delayed judgment because of His love and mercy. More sin builds up. Now the cup of sin has been filled, and God moves in judgment. And He does it personally. He does not send angels or other messengers. He does not judge sin on what others report. He does not judge the observations of His assistants. He does it Himself. He never delegates the matter of judgment.

 

I need to ask a very sobering question: How much sin would you carry out if God was sitting next to you? Most Christians would not want to sin in the presence of God, yet we do so constantly. Could it be that we don’t recognize the nearness of God? In our busyness and stress, we commit all kinds of sin without realizing that we are doing so in the face of God. Yes, not only is He looking down and observing our lives; He’s also living inside us (Eph 4:301 Thess 5:19).

[We have been urged to understand God’s purposes and plans. Now we will be challenged to…]

2. Understand God’s justice and grace (18:22-33). In 18:22-23, Moses writes, “Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the LORD. Abraham came near and said, ‘Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?’” The two angels leave and the Lord remains with Abraham. Abraham then “came near” and began praying. 

 

The principle is this: Effective prayer is a matter of drawing near to God so we can pray with His heart. In this section, Abraham, the friend of God, becomes a true friend of men. Earlier Abraham was the savior of Sodom (14:13-16); now he becomes Sodom’s intercessor. To “intercede” is to plead the case of another person. When a friend speaks up on behalf of a student about to be punished, that friend is interceding. Here, Abraham’s relationship with God had taken on a new dimension—concern for someone other than himself. The previous dialogues between Abraham and God (Gen 12, 15, 17) had all concerned the covenant promises and Abraham’s need for assurance that the promises were true and irrevocable.

 

In his willingness to be an intercessor Abraham is like Jesus, because the greatest intercessor of all time is Jesus. He is interceding for us even now (Rom 8:26-27). Every Christian can know that Jesus is at the right hand of God the Father interceding for him. Jesus prays for exactly the right things for us. He prays that we might be kept from being captured by Satan, that we might be kept in unity, and that our faith might continue. The reason why the Christian survives at all is because he has a great Intercessor. Yet Jesus’ intercession is also done through His church. By His Spirit He leads us to pray for each other. Praying for others in this way is one of the greatest things we can ever do. Prayer is also one of the most unselfish things you can ever do. It identified with God and with Jesus. It is truly Christlike. Abraham is never more like God than at the moment he is praying for Sodom. His prayer did not save the city, and it was never intended to do so, but it did make Abraham manifest in his own life the mercy and the compassion of God. This is why God asks us to pray, that we might take upon ourselves something of His own character.

In 18:24-25, Abraham says, “Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from You 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 You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” Abraham’s primary purpose seems to have been to secure justice (i.e., deliverance) for the righteous minority in their wicked cities. Secondarily, he wanted God to spare the cities. This interpretation finds support in Abraham’s appeal to the justice of God rather than to His mercy (18:25). This appeal was the basis of his intercession. Abraham was jealous for the Lord’s reputation among his neighbors. If this was his primary purpose, Abraham succeeded in obtaining justice for the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah.

 

In 18:26, the dialogue continues. The Lord replies, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.” To save the cities for ten righteous showcases God’s amazing grace. Although He is a God of justice (Deut 32:4), His grace is all-encompassing and all- surpassing. When we ponder this truth it will affect our lives. Right Christian living comes out of right Christian thinking.

 

In 18:27 Abraham replies, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes.” Abraham models profound deference and humility when he says, “I am but dust and ashes.” By this he means, dust in origin, ashes at the end. We ought to approach God with this same reverence and awe.

In 18:28-29, Abraham says, “‘Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, will You destroy the whole city because of five?’ And He said, ‘I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.’ He spoke to Him yet again and said, ‘Suppose forty are found there?’ And He said, ‘I will not do it on account of the forty.’” Abraham turns into a reverse auctioneer.

In 18:30-32, Abraham said, “‘Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak; suppose thirty are found there?’ And He said, ‘I will not do it if I find thirty there.’ And he said, ‘Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord; suppose twenty are found there?’ And He said, ‘I will not destroy it on account of the twenty.’ Then he said, ‘Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?’ And He said, ‘I will not destroy it on account of the ten.’” Abraham’s boldness grew and for his last petitions he lowered the number of necessary righteous by tens! The Bible tells us that God is a “consuming fire” (Heb 10:31; 12:29) and yet it also tells us to come to Him boldly (Heb 4:14-16). The Bible also exhorts us to persist in prayer (Luke 18:1-8). A man becomes physically strong by working continuously. A weight lifter trains constantly. Someone has said prayer is the gymnasium of our soul. Only through persistent prayer is our faith exercised and strengthened.

 

One of the questions from this text is: Why did Abraham stop at the number ten? Why did he not press for five? The answer was that he probably felt there were at least ten righteous people in Sodom. It may be that he figured that there were ten righteous people in Lot’s family (Lot, his wife, at least two sons (19:12), at least two married daughters and their husbands (19:14), and two unmarried daughters (19:8)—exactly ten). Even if the daughters of 19:14 had not yet married their fiancés, and were the same as the daughters of 19:8, it was plausible to assume that Lot could find two other righteous people somewhere in the city of Sodom. Yet, Abraham misjudged God’s grace. He bargained all the way down to ten, but God exceeds his requests and delivers the four who “qualify” anyway (19:12-22). God’s grace always exceeds our expectations (Eph 3:20).

 

Our passage closes with the following words: “As soon as He had finished speaking to Abraham the LORD departed, and Abraham returned to his place” (18:33). It does not say, “And the Lord went His way when Abraham had finished speaking to Him.” It says, “As soon as He had finished speaking to Abraham the LORD departed.” In other words Abraham did not quit here, God did. Intercession doesn’t change God’s plans; it changes us. God changed Abraham’s understanding of divine justice and mercy. Abraham did not change the mind of God; he demonstrated it. God did not suddenly alter His purposes; He informed Abraham of His purposes so that He could evidence His mercy and justice and compassion.

 

But that raises an interesting question: Why did God allow Abraham to intercede for Sodom? After all, God already knew the facts and He already knew what He was going to do. Doesn’t that render Abraham’s request useless? To say it that way is to come up against the greatest mystery of prayer. If God already knows what He is going to do, why pray? Some of the answers to that question may be seen in our text. First, God allowed Abraham to intercede in order to reveal His mercy. Second, He did it so that we would know that He (God) takes no pleasure in destroying the wicked. Third, Abraham’s prayer shows us the power righteous people can have. Fourth, in a larger sense, it teaches us the value of intercession. This is the purpose of prayer.

In 1886, Dr. John Pemberton introduced Atlanta, Georgia to his caramel-colored syrup concoction. He first distributed this drink to Jacobs Pharmacy where Coca-Cola was sold for the first time. As its popularity rose, Dr. Pemberton’s concern was that every person alive should be able to taste his product at least one time in his or her life!

It has been over 100 years since Dr. Pemberton’s concern took action. Surveys now show that 97% of the world has heard of Coca-Cola, 72% has seen a can of Coca-Cola, and 51% has tasted Coca-Cola! What we need are more people like Dr. Pemberton that will let their concern move them to action! An understanding of God’s justice and grace is far more valuable than Coca-Cola. Can we equal Dr. Pemberton’s burden and fervor and share it with others? Right Christian living comes out of right Christian thinking.