Last week we began the sermon with the well know meal time prayer, because it sets before us two of the most massive and soul sustaining truths there are. So, let’s begin again today with that same prayer, “God is great, God is good. Let us thank for Him for our food. By His hands we are fed. We thank you for our daily bread. Amen.”
God is indeed great. God is as Anselm said, the Being by which nothing greater can be conceived. We saw that last week as we worked through Gen. 18:1-15, especially as we lingered on the question in v14, “Is anything too hard/wonderful for the Lord?” Today we turn our eyes to the goodness of God, as we work through the rest of chapter 18, v16-33, especially as we linger on the question in v25, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just/right?”
The passage before us divides into two portions, see first…
Abraham, the Friend of God (v16-21)
First just v16, “Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way.
As chapter 18 began in v1-15 with Abraham playing the gracious host as the Lord and two angels arrived at his residence, so too now in v16 we still see him playing the host by escorting his guests out as they depart his residence. And so we could say, as Enoch in Gen. 5 walked with God, so too does Abraham here in our passage. He fed God an extravagant meal, and here he literally walks with God. So after having hosted them and fed them, Abraham went out with them until they got a high point overlooking the city of Sodom. This little detail, that they looked down toward Sodom, not only tells us of the heights of Mamre where Abraham lived, it also foreshadows the next moment Abraham will stand still and look down at Sodom. It will happen after the city is destroyed, in Gen. 19:28 where we read, “And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.” As we saw last week, and see again here in this, chapter 18 does much to set us up for chapter 19 by repeating similar language.
What happens as the four of them are looking down at Sodom? Well, we hear a conversation. v17-19, “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.”
While this is clearly the Lord speaking, we might wonder, who is the Lord talking to? This might appear at first to seem like a discussion between God and the angels, but I don’t think this is what’s occurring. It also might appear to be a conversation between the Trinity, but it lacks the ‘let us’ language of Gen. 1. So what’s going on? I think we’re hearing the thoughts of God to Himself in v17-19. Thoughts about whether or not God will hide from or reveal His plans toAbraham. A similar situation occurs in Amos 3. There God is defending the prophet Amos by telling His people in v7, “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets.” So, it seems as it was with the prophets, so it is with Abraham here. In prophetic style then, God ponders on whether or not He should reveal His secret plans to Abraham. And in pondering, much of the promise God made to him is repeated in v18-19. That Abraham will become a great nation, that he’ll be a blessing to all the earth, that he was chosen by God for this, and (do not miss this!) that Abraham will fulfill all his covenantal obligations. See it in v19? That “…Abraham 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.” In other words, the kind of life God’s covenant people live ought to be different than the rest of the nations outside of that covenant. What does this different life look like? It looks like a life of righteousness and justice, which is exactly the opposite of what we’ll see in Sodom. And as God’s people live like this God will bring to Abraham all the covenant blessings He intends to. All of this occurs inside the mind and heart of God in v17-19.
So will God decide to reveal His plans to Abraham? Yes, and because God will reveal this to Abraham, Abraham is not only the prophet of God, he is the friend of God because he knows His secret plans. This is very similar to how Jesus speaks of us in John 15:12-15, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” See the connection? Friend of God is not a name we would naturally take onto ourselves. We not only don’t deserve that name, we’ve done much to forfeit that name. But praise God that by His grace through the gospel we who were once God’s enemies have now become God’s friends. As Abraham enjoyed the identity of a friend of God by knowing God’s plans, so here Jesus calls us His friends because He made known to us all He heard from the Father. And as Abraham was to live out his friendship to God in fulfilling his covenantal obligations by living a righteous and just life, so must we live out our friendship to Jesus by living a life of obedience to His commands. Abraham would’ve been immensely encouraged at being the friend of God, and so ought we.
See all of this unfold next. God will reveal His plans to Abraham, so we read in v20-21, “Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 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.” So God’s plans, we learn, concern Sodom and Gomorrah. As Sarah’s laugh was known by God earlier in v12-13, now we see the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is known by God. This word outcry is unique. It doesn’t refer to the sin itself crying out from these cities but the suffering caused from the sin. So not only are the people of Sodom and Gomorrah sinning greatly, they’re oppressing one another in their sin, causing an outcry to rise up to God. And from hearing it God concludes the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is great and very grave. That word “great” describing their sin in v20 comes from the Hebrew word kavod, which means glory or heaviness. It’s used all over the place to describe the weight of God’s glory, but it’s also used many times to describe the heavy nature of vile sin. It’s used by David in Psalm 38:4 which says, “For my iniquities have gone over my head, like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.” As David’s sins were heavy to him, so too the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah are heavy to God.
So what will God do? As He once went down to see the great tower in Babel, God will now go down into these cities, not to learn something He doesn’t already know, but to show His justice, that He always investigates a matter thoroughly before passing sentence.
We’ve seen Abraham the friend of God, now see…
Abraham, the Friend of Sinners (v22-33)
“So the men turned fro m there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 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? 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?” And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 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.” Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 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.” 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.” 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.” And the LORD went His way, when He had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.”
Now the scene changes. The two angels turned and went down toward Sodom, but Abraham stayed behind with the Lord. And for the first time in recorded biblical history man initiates conversation with God. Before God has had much interaction with man, but He was always the One initiating it. Now, Abraham does it as he draws near the Lord and asks questions of the Lord. These are questions, certainly, but we could also call this a kind of prayer, could we not? Abraham shows many things here:
Abraham’s prayer is concerned about justice. The question in v23, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” reveals Abraham’s concern for the people of Sodom, his deep sense of justice, and his belief that God would surely not break this seeming immutable law. That God would let the righteous suffer the same fate as the wicked to Abraham would be unthinkable. As much as the heart of this prayer is commendable here, Abraham is wrong. God often allows the righteous to suffer along with the wicked. But let’s be patient with him. He wasn’t able to read Psalm 73, which speaks about how the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper. He wasn’t able to hear Jesus’ own teaching in Luke 13 that the tower of Siloam fell on both the just and the unjust. And he didn’t know that the final judgment would settle all accounts, regardless what fate one suffered in life.
That He is concerned with justice is also displayed in the great question of our passage, v25, which says, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just/right?” To which we say ‘Of course God will!’ He is good after all. Which means goodness is defined by God, all good comes from God, and God is Himself the standard of all that is good. And because He is good, God is a God of integrity and has a kind of predictability about Him, for He will always do what is right. I wonder if any of you struggle with God’s goodness. As you look out on the world, see great wickedness and wonder what God is going to about it. Or perhaps you look within yourself, see great wickedness, and wonder why God is changing you and growing you so slowly. Or perhaps you look at the Church, and see a lack of power, lack of witness in this corrupt world, desire for the Church to be more than what she is, and wonder what God is doing with His Church in the world. In all these things we must know, God is the Judge of all the earth, and He always does what is right, and just, and good.
Abraham’s prayer is bold. In v24-32 he asks God six times to not destroy the city if this many righteous are in it. This can be called a kind of prayerful haggling with God. He begins at 50 righteous, and ends up at 10 righteous. And each time God said He would indeed spare the city if that many righteous were found within it. These requests are so bold we might wonder if Abraham is out of bounds to ask such things. Who does he think he is to come to God like this? Who does he think he is to pray such things as this? Well, he’s in covenant with God, and as such he ought to plead God’s promises back to God. Such boldness befits prayer. We do not please God in our prayer if we lack a zealousness to ask big things. If we just linger around in the safe shallow end in prayer. Don’t mishear me, God truly loves to hear from His own, from all of us, in all kinds of situations in life. But I do think God is pleased when our prayer reflects who God is. What do I mean? Simply put, God is great, greater than we know. So, we should ask great things of Him. If we never ask great things of Him, are we truly living by faith and pressing forward in our life with God? Do not think you’re overreaching in prayer by doing this, but remember Luke 12:32, “Fear not, little flock, for it is Your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” May this boldness be present in our prayer.
Abraham’s prayer is humble. Many times throughout his questions Abraham shows that is aware of who he is and who God is. In v24 he begins with the word ‘suppose’ as if he’s feeling his way forward. In v27 he acknowledges in his speaking to the Lord like this that he is only dust and ashes. In v30 he asks that God not be angry with him for speaking like this. And then in v32 he once again owns that he is on the brink of angering the Lord, and that he will only ask one more time. In all of this we see Abraham aware of who he is and aware of who God is. Yes he’s been bold but he’s also been humble here as well. Both need to fill our own prayer.
Abraham’s prayer is merciful. Do not miss that here, Abraham intercedes and pleads for sinners. He has already saved Sodom from great kings and armies who sought to destroy them in chapter 14, and now he pleads with God that they would not receive the punishment of their sins. This, is probably not something we would do. If we were standing up on the mountain overlooking Sodom and God had told us of His plans to destroy the city, we would likely say, “Can I help? Need a match?” Abraham could’ve just sat back and watched, yet he prayed for them to be saved. Lesson? This friend of God is also a friend of sinners. Are you? When you hear of great and grave sins are you glad? Do you rejoice at the downfall of your enemies? Or do you love your enemies and plead ‘Lord, have mercy!’ As a pastor I’ve seen much sin, and seen many people ‘fall from grace.’ And I’ve noticed the people who see such sin and show grace are usually people who know they’re great sinners too. Do you know yourself to be a sinner? Then show grace to other sinners and do not be too quick to deal out death and judgment. Or as Matthew Henry says, “As bad as it was in Sodom, Abraham thought there were several good people in it. It becomes us to hope the best of the worst places.”
Lastly, Abraham’s prayer smells of the gospel. Abraham’s pleading for sinners to be saved is wonderfully Christlike. Here in our text God went down to see the sins of Sodom before executing judgment. In the fullness of time, God would come down again, not to see the sins of men and bring judgment but to bear the sins of many in Christ to save a people for Himself. As Abraham was to the sinners in Sodom, so is Christ to us, and greater. For Christ didn’t just desire us to be saved, but truly saved us! May this gospel rearrange our hearts evermore, and lead us to extend such grace to all.
 R. Kent Hughes, Genesis, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2004), 261.
 Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50, WBC (Waco, Texas: Zondervan, 2000), 50.
 Victor P. Hamilton, Genesis 18-50, NICOT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1995), 17.
 James 2:23
 Hamilton, Genesis 18-50, 21.
 Ibid., 19, footnote 14.
 Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Academic, 2001), 269.
 Hughes, Genesis, 265.
 Hamilton, Genesis 18-50, 25.