Three visitors had come to visit Abraham. He had provided them with a feast and honored their presence at his home. These guests were truly worthy of such an honor. For you see, two of them were angels, and the third was the LORD himself! They had come to announce to Abraham and Sarah that a son would be born to them within the next year. Their world was about to change.
As the men prepared to leave, they looked out from Abraham’s tent at the plains below. There in front of them, off in the distance, was the city of Sodom. It was also where Lot, Abraham’s nephew, lived with his family. The people of Sodom lived morally filthy lives. It was a place full of a corruption and abuse, where the vulnerable were all the more vulnerable and the powerful had few to stop them from doing whatever they wanted. Abraham had already rescued Lot from capture to pagan kings (see Story 23). In doing so, he and his men had saved the Sodomites and all of their animals and gold as well. But Abraham refused to keep any of it for himself. He would have no connection to them in any way. He utterly rejected their ways…and they knew it. His rebuke against them had no effect. A testimony of God’s right, straight, pure ways had been given to these people by a man who had saved their lives, but they had not let it change them. They continued on in their aggressive rebellion against God.
As Abraham and his exalted guests looked over the city, the LORD thought to Himself:
“‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just…’”
God had made a very special covenant with Abraham to become a great nation. He longed for the children of Abraham to live as righteous people who would bless the world with their purity and goodness. The nation of Sodom had done the opposite. They lived in the deep dark filth of total sinfulness. Their sin was not only perverse, it was violent. The people had given themselves over to Satan, and they had become just like him. They preyed on the weak and destroyed any hope of goodness. Those who wanted to be good became targets of malice, deception, and seduction. The cry of the oppressed, those who suffered under the agonies of their wickedness, was heard by God, and now He was going to judge them.
Abraham was to become the father of God’s holy nation. It was important that he understood God’s judgment on the wicked. God had tremendous grace and compassion for all people of the earth. He did not come in judgment easily or lightly. It was always perfectly fair and just. So God said something that would start a discussion with Abraham. It would prove two things. First, it would show that Abraham was a just man with great compassion. He was a lot like God. Second, in the integrity of God’s perfect holiness and justice, He will not allow evil and wickedness to continue unchecked. But when He judges, God takes great care to protect and watch over the righteous and the innocent. This is what the LORD said to Abraham:
“‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached Me. If not, I will know.’”
Once the LORD said this, the two angels turned and began to walk towards Sodom, but the LORD stayed behind. Abraham stood there in shock. What was the LORD saying? Was he really going to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah? He went to Him and said:
“‘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?’”
Wow! God had shown Abraham His plan, and now we see Abraham’s passion for the goodness of his God. His Lord was not like the other gods. He did not unfairly punish the innocent! Abraham interceded for the innocent in Sodom, arguing with God Himself! Would God hold back His judgment if fifty people could be found in the city who were righteous? A small city in those days would have about a hundred people, so fifty might have been about half the city.
Now, Abraham knew just how bad Sodom was. His concern was not for all the wicked who would perish. Their own choices had brought judgment on themselves, and it was right for God to punish them. Abraham’s concern was for the righteous who would be judged with them.
God’s care for the righteous was far deeper and more powerful than Abraham’s. God had started the conversation to prove the goodness of Abraham’s character, not His own. As Abraham defended the innocent, his own purity and righteousness was allowed to shine. His desire for justice drove him to argue with God!
The LORD knew this story would be told for many generations. Abraham’s children would tell it and retell it to their children, and they would learn important lessons. They would see the character of Abraham, the honored father of their beloved nation. They would learn that he thought the lives of righteous men were valuable and worth protecting. These things would become set as high values in the culture of God’s holy nation. It would influence the hearts of the people and the decisions of their kings for hundreds of years. Over a thousand years later, the descendants of Abraham would have a saying:
“‘Whoever is merciful to his fellow beings is without doubt of the children
of our father Abraham; whoever is unmerciful to his fellow beings
certainly cannot be of the children of Abraham our father’”
(From the Talmud in Betsah 32b)
They would also learn from this story that God was just. He valued the lives of the righteous so much that He was willing to hold back judgment against wicked people to protect the few that were innocent. He could be trusted to judge rightly, and His punishments were fair. When God’s judgments did come, everyone could be sure they came with good reason.
As Abraham stood with the LORD overlooking Sodom, he could not imagine that the people of Sodom were so wholly and completely wicked that there was no one there worth saving. God was willing to work with him to prove the truth about the depths of their sin.
The LORD agreed with Abraham’s request. He said that if fifty righteous men could be found in Sodom, He would spare the whole city. The next time Abraham spoke, he came with greater humility. What if there weren’t fifty? He said, “‘Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will You destroy the whole city because of five people?’”
The Lord agreed with Abraham. It was more important to hold back judgment for the sake of the few who are righteous than it was to punish the wicked. If forty-five righteous people were found in the city, He would not judge them.
But Abraham wasn’t finished. He knew Sodom was a very wicked place. So he asked if God would hold back His judgment if there were only forty righteous people in the city. God said He would. Then Abraham asked the same thing if there were only thirty righteous people, then twenty! Each time, God showed the greatness of His mercy as He agreed to Abraham’s requests. Finally Abraham said, “‘May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?’” The Lord looked at His compassionate servant and said, “‘For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.’” And so the LORD went on to do His work, and Abraham went home.
What would happen to the city of Sodom? Would the angels find ten righteous ones there?