The last time we looked at the book of Genesis a few months ago, we concluded with the statement that nothing is too hard for the Lord (Gen 18:14). He can make old barren women bear children, he can raise the dead and he most definitely can save sinners, no matter what their past. Today we will pick up where we left off and go on to the next story in the book of Genesis where Abraham and God chat about the fate of the city of Sodom. Though I said I was leaving the topical study on prayer, this chat is really a lesson in intercession, a form of prayer.
As the story begins, the three visitors that Abraham has entertained get up to leave and God begins talking to Abraham. In the course of this conversation, Abraham uses two terms to describe the people living in Sodom. Some he calls the “righteous” and some he calls the “wicked”. Though I want to come back to the initial statements God makes, right now we are going to start by talking about the wicked. They are people who live in Sodom but who are representative of all evil people who don’t fear God nor keep his commandments. Jude 7 tells us that, “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.”
In fact, in Genesis 19:5 we are told about some of the sexually immoral and perverse things they desired to do. [The men of the city] called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” Contrary to whatever laws we pass in our governments, homosexuality and all other forms of sexual expression that are not between a husband and wife are always viewed in the Scriptures as wrong and frequently they are punishable by death. Just take a quick glance through Leviticus 18 which lists 18 specific forms of sexual contact which are not to be practiced calling them detestable (Lev 18:22), perverse (Lev 18:23), dishonoring (Lev 18:8,10), wickedness (Lev 18:17), and defiling (Lev 18:20). Sexual immorality is not acceptable and is wicked in God’s sight.
But that is not the only thing that makes these Sodomites wicked. They have no sense of hospitality. They desire to abuse the visitors to their city, they are arrogant and threatening to anyone who tries to persuade them to abandon their evil and they have no fear of God, refusing to believe that he is going to judge sin. (Gen 18:9) “Get out of our way,” they cry at one point, chiding Lot for trying to guide them into righteous behavior. Even Lot’s son-in-law’s thought he was joking as he declared, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city” (Gen 18:14).
But there is another aspect of Sodom’s wickedness that doesn’t often get discussed. In Ezekiel 16:49-50 we read, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me.” The failure to love others as oneself, to care for the needy, the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner is part of the life of the wicked. All of these sins stem from pride. All sexual immorality is but a final step in a walk of pride that exalts oneself and one’s desires above God and his law.
Much of the modern social justice movement is rooted not in the word of God and his concern for caring for the needy, but in pride and a desire to live out an atheistic belief that all people should be able to do whatever they please, to be their own God, if you will, and where that is not possible for one group of people or another, then through political, economic and social pressures, society will write new rules for the governance of human interactions so that everyone can become their own God.
Pride is a helmet with two horns as John Calvin aptly describes. The first horn is the failure to submit to God and to believe his words about living life. It is to declare that I am my own God and know best how I should live; therefore I can and will do whatever I desire. The second horn is the failure to take seriously one’s own depravity and sinful tendency. These twin horns are like a Viking hat, always worn together, never apart. Where a denial of God exists, there is always an over-inflating of human ‘goodness’ and where there is a belief in the overarching ‘goodness’ of people there one will find a denial of God and his word, which can only lead to a society permeated by sin.
Such prideful living, whether expressed in perverse sexuality or a lack of care for the needy will lead to but one end: being swept away, aka destroyed. This all brings us back to Abraham’s conversation with God: centering on the judgment of God upon the wicked by comparing it to the experience of the righteous. Abraham is convinced that God can’t have the same fate for the wicked and the righteous and so he asks, (Gen. 18:23-25) “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing — to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
There is no doubt in Abraham’s mind that the end of the wicked is judgment and destruction. This is portrayed by his use of the words, being “swept away.” In Isa. 7:20 the prophet uses the word swept away to refer to sitting in a barber’s chair and having one’s beard cut off and thrown away. In that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the River — the king of Assyria — to shave your head and the hair of your legs, and to take off your beards also. In Numbers Moses urges the people to step away from those who tried to offer incense to God on their own authority, claiming that God was about to sweep them away. And as we know from the story, God caused the ground under them to split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them with their households and all Korah’s men and all their possessions. They went down into the grave with everything they owned and the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community (Num 16:31-33).
This idea of being swept away is analogous to the idea portrayed in the flood, where evil is washed from the earth or the idea of the Passover, where the house is cleaned from top to bottom and not a single speck of yeast is left within the homes of the faithful Jew. God wants sin, evil, wickedness removed and when men don’t come to God and pay attention to his warnings about dealing with sin in repentance, then like the Sodomites, they too will bear in themselves the consequences and punishment of their pride – destruction.
But praise the Lord this isn’t the case for the righteous. We are told, through the medium of this haggling, that God will not punish the righteous and the wicked together. Instead he declares, (Gen 18:26) “I will spare the whole place for the sake of 50 righteous people.” I think that word spare is a pretty cool word. In the Hebrew, it is the same word that means to bear or carry. How does bearing or carrying something equate to sparing it? Consider this, the same word we use in Genesis 18:26 for sparing the whole place is also the word used in Exodus 25:14 for poles which carry the ark of the Covenant. There we read, (Ex. 25:14) Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the chest to carry (spare) it.
Did you catch that? To spare something from judgment is to carry it on one’s shoulders as the ark was carried on the shoulders of the priests. God is declaring that the fate of the righteous and the wicked will be determined by whether he carries them on his own shoulders. Daily, our Lord carries the entire world in the palm of his hand and daily his common grace is extended to creation because of the presence of his people, but when those people are so few in number that they cannot effect the life of society any longer, God quits carrying the wicked any longer and so he brings judgment, but never does he stop carrying the righteous in his hand. In fact, for the righteous, the act of carrying them is also the same as forgiving them, for that same word translated as spare in Genesis 18, or carry in Exodus 25, is also translated as forgave in the Psalm 85:2, “You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins.”
Do you wonder if you are the salt of the earth, that purifying presence in the world that staves off God’s judgment upon a people, city or a nation? Don’t, this story should serve as ample proof that a handful of Christians, 10 in fact, the number required by the Jewish Rabbis for establishing a synagogue, or in our case a church, is effective. Every church that is faithful to its call has a purifying effect on the society in which it is placed.
The righteous are carried on God’s power through judgment and into life. We are told over and over again in the Scriptures that (Deut. 4:31) For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath. (Psa. 78:38) Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath.
Why is it that God deals so differently with the righteous and the wicked? Is it because of the way they behave? No, though they do behave differently. Is it because of the things they do? No, yet they are called to live in a manner that is the opposite of the wicked. Is it because of who they are? Not exactly. It is not because of who they are in and of themselves, rather it is because of God’s call upon them. The righteous are people who are chosen by God to be in relationship with him.
God starts out conversing with Abraham and the only reason given for his conversation with this man is “I have chosen him (Gen 18:19). God has a chosen people who are called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord (Isa 61:3). Abraham refers to these people, like himself, simply as the righteous and they are contrasted with the wicked. Like Abraham, they are chosen by God to be great and powerful, a blessing to the nations (18:18). They are chosen by God to pass on the Fear of the Lord to their offspring (18:19) and to walk with the Lord their God, above the fray of sin as the setting implies with Abraham and God walking on the high plains and looking down into the valley of sinful Sodom.
God’s people are called to be in the world but not of it (Jn 17:15-16). My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Jesus fully expected us to engage the world, but to engage it while walking with God above the fray of sin, praying for the salvation of others, the protection of fellow believers and the coming of the Kingdom of God. How else would sinners come to know the Word of the Lord and repent? How else would the message go forth into all the kingdoms of the earth – unless one prays and God’s people respond to that prayer? But let us never forget our calling and the fundamental difference between the people of God and the people of this world. For God’s people await the fulfillment of all God’s promises as verse 19 reminds us. “I have chosen him…so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
While Abraham was waiting for the birth of Isaac and the coming of the Christ, we await the return of Christ and the final judgment of all sin pictured in this story of Sodom’s destruction, where all the people of God will be led out of harms way by the Lord himself and will gaze in wonder as the new heavens and new earth take their place in the redeemed and consummated Kingdom of God among men.
As the chosen people of God, we have a savior in heaven that intercedes for us, just as Abraham interceded for Lot and his family. Abraham serves as a kind of Christ in this passage, pleading for the safety of the righteous. Six times in fact, he begs God to remember the righteous and not to judge them in the same way he judges the wicked. And six times God promises that he will protect the city in which the righteous dwell if they are of sufficient number, and when their number is deemed to small to save the city, God still brings them out and preserves for himself a remnant. That is the ending of the book of Revelation.
Why only 6 times does Abraham plead? Why not 7, wouldn’t 7 be a better number and assure us more of God’s intention and promise? Possibly, but maybe there are only 6 recorded intercessions because Jesus is the seventh intercession pleading the cause of all the righteous and for creation in general now. The Scriptures tell us that (Rom. 8:34) Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. And what is he doing there in his intercession, he is constantly pleading for our salvation, sanctification and glorification. He is pleading for our complete salvation as Heb. 7:25 declares, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”
He pleads for our growth in the faith. He pleads for our strength when temptations arise. He pleads for our success in ministry. He represents us before the throne of God so that we never have to represent ourselves. In John 17, we catch a glimpse of the things Christ pleads for his people, and though we can’t be assured of what he is specifically asking for each individual person, this passage in John gives us a great insight into the kinds of things on the heart of our Lord. He pleads, “protect them by the power of your name…so that they may be one as we are one (Jn 17:11). He pleads for our protection from the evil one (15). He asks for their sanctification by the truth which is the word of God (17). He prays for our union with the Father just as he is united with the Father and the Father is united with the Son: Father, just as you are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us so that the world my believe that you have sent me (Jn 17:21). He prays for our coming into the gates of heaven one day to gaze upon his glory (24).
These were the things on the heart of our Savior on his last night alive on this earth. Did you see any parallels to the petitions of Abraham over the fate of the righteous in Sodom? Both are prayers of protection and salvation. It’s not a perfect corollary, but that is because Christ always magnifies and expands anything we encounter in the Old Testament that pointed toward the wonder of the judgment of the world and the salvation of God’s elect people.
So people of God, rejoice that your savior lives to intercede for you. Rejoice that you are called to a glorious future. Rejoice that your presence in the world can bring about the salvation of others and join with Christ and Abraham in interceding for all those who are called the righteous and the planting of the Lord.
- 2 Kinds of People: Righteous and the Wicked
- “The wicked” = Sodomites (Jude 7)
- sexually perverse (19:5, Lev 18)
- No sense of hospitality (19:6)
- Arrogant & Threatening (19:9)
- No fear of God, won’t believe God is judging sin (19:14)
- Fail care for poor (Ezek 16:49)
- Who will be swept away (18:23-25, Is 7:20, Num 16:26-33)
- Idea of Passover cleaning or flood raging through and removing
- Not so the righteous, they will be spared, i.e. lifted up (Gen 18:26, Ex 25:14, Ps 85:2)
- Who will be destroyed
- Not so the righteous, they are safe and protected (Dt 4:31, Ps 78:38)
- God has a chosen people (18:19)
- Who are called “the righteous” (18:23, Isa 61:3)
- Who will be great, powerful and a blessing (18:18)
- Who are to pass on the Fear of the Lord to their offspring (18:19)
- Who walk with him above the fray of sin (18:16, Jn 17:15-16)
- Who await the fulfillment of all God’s promises (18:19)
- To Abe that was the coming of the Christ & his Kingdom
- For us it is the return of Christ
- Who will be rescued from God’s wrath b/c Abe intercedes for them (6x 18:32)
- In this story Abraham, functions as a Christ figure, interceding for the righteous and their salvation
IV. Christ the great Intercessor (Rom 8:34, Heb 7:25, Jn 17:11-24)
- As priests, we are invited to intercede for all God’s people as our priest intercedes for us