Genesis Lessons 18: 20-25; 19: 12-16 - Sodom and Gomorrah: Dens of Iniquity
INTRODUCTION: Last week, in Gen. 17:2-8, 15-22, we saw God appear to Abram after 13 years of silence which had followed the birth of Ishmael. Abram and his wife, Sarai, had demonstrated weak faith in God;s plan when they schemed to produce an heir using Sarai's servant, Hagar, as the birth mother (Gen. 16:1-15). At this appearance, in a series of sweeping pronouncements, God changed Abram's name to Abraham and Sarai's name to Sarah, and informed him that Sarah (at age 90) would bear him (at age 100) a son (named Isaac) who, as heir to the Covenant, would be (1) "exceedingly fruitful" (2) father of many "nations"; and (3) father of "kings." At the same time, God promised to bless Ishmael, too, but not as the heir to the Covenant. At the end of that conversation, we saw a humbled Abraham step out in faithful obedience once again.
This week, in Gen. 18:20-25; 19:12-16, we will learn an important lesson about God's justice as He metes out judgment upon the incredibly evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. As we go into this text, we need to see that Abraham's intercessions with God have nothing to do with changing God's mind, but has everything to do with proving, beyond doubt, that God's actions are, in fact, just.
Read Gen. 18:20-21 - I WILL GO DOWN AND SEE
20 Then the LORD said, "Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 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."
v. 20: "Then the LORD said, "Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave." - God, in vv. 18-19, explained why He intended to include Abraham in His plan to deal with the great evil in these cities: God could have simply exercised his righteous judgment and destroyed these wicked cities outright; however, as God's chosen instrument to be the father of His people, God intended to instruct Abraham on how to act wisely for the cause of righteousness and justice, and to do this, Abraham would need to experience a firsthand understanding of God's standards and expectations.
v. 21: "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." - While God already knows the truth about Sodom and Gomorrah and how his plan for it will be executed, His words here indicate that His decision to destroy these cities would only be undertaken after a careful examination of the evidence. As a fair and just judge, He intends to examine all the evidence and then reward and judge their deeds accordingly. The remark, "I will go down to see," wasn't meant to imply that God's all-seeing powers were limited in this instance but that He was using human terminology to show himself as a fair judge who is even willing to invite Abraham to assume the role of an intercessor.
Read Gen. 18:22-26 - WILL YOU SPARE THE RIGHTEOUS?
22 So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham drew near and said, "Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 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? 25 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?" 26 And the LORD said, "If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake."
v. 22: "So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. " - The "men" referenced here were in fact two of God's angels (v. 19), who at this point are walking toward Sodom. Behind them, the scene pictures God (in human form) standing with Abraham from a high vantage point overlooking the city. At this point in time, Abraham was surely aware of the fact that his nephew, Lot, who lived in Sodom, was in imminent danger of being annihilated if God decided to visit His judgment on that city.
v. 23a: "Then Abraham drew near and said," - Abraham's question was probably prompted by the impression that God already knew what the investigation would determine-that Sodom and Gomorrah are, in fact moral cesspools. Abraham had very likely heard reports about the rampant depravity taking place in those cities and might have known people who had seen it firsthand. His greatest concern would be for Lot and his family. Have you ever been to Los Vegas or Tijuana?
v. 23b: "Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?" - With this question, Abraham boldly raises an ethical dilemma. Even in the most thoroughly wicked places there may be a few righteous people sprinkled among them. So Abraham asks God if He can justify imposing the same punishment on them that he inflicts on the guilty. In military actions, we call this "collateral damage"-innocent civilians who get killed or injured because of their proximity to a military target.
v. 24: "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" - Assuming the role of a defense lawyer, Abraham now makes the ethical dilemma more specific: would He spare the city for 50 righteous people? He could have asked to God to simply spare the innocent and punish the guilty, but takes the inquiry deeper by asking God if he would spare the whole city for the sake of 50 righteous people.
v. 25: "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?" - Now, Abraham poses the ethical dilemma in the form of a question that is both rhetorical and leading. The whole premise of this question and its answer is that when all is said and done, God, who is "judge of all the earth" will always do what is right (or just, the same thing).
v. 26: "And the Lord said, "If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake." - This pronouncement stands for the general principal that God will not punish the righteous along with the wicked.
Note on vv. 27-33: As Abraham continues to engage God on the fate of the righteous in Sodom, he presents different scenarios whereby the hypothetical number of righteous is reduced from 50 to 10, and God eventually affirms that "for the sake of ten I will not destroy it" (v. 32).
Read Gen. 19:12-14 - WE ARE ABOUT TO DESTROY THIS PLACE
12 Then the men said to Lot, "Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city, bring them out of the place. 13 For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it." 14 So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, "Up! Get out of this place, for the LORD is about to destroy the city." But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.
v. 12a: "then the men said to Lot." - From the context, these "men" are the two angels who accompanied God in Chapter 18 and began walking down to the city. Lot saw them at the gate of Sodom and invited them into his house for dinner and to stay the night. By doing this, Lot demonstrated the biblical virtue of hospitality. As the night wore on, the men of the city surrounded Lot's house and demanded that Lot let them in so they could sexually molest (committ "sodomy") his two male visitors. When Lot weakened and shamefully tried to appease the crowd by offering them his two virgin daughters, the two angels forcefully intervened and struck the men outside blind.
v. 12b: "Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city, bring them out of the place. - This reveals that angels aren't all-knowing but have to ask Lot who is in the house. They ask the number, identity, and location of the people in Lot's family. Their mission is to rescue anyone who is part of Lot's household, including any in-laws.
v. 13: "For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it." - Here, the angels reveal their mission-they have been sent by the LORD, who intends to destroy Sodom. Sodom was destined for judgment, but God, in his mercy, wanted to spare Lot and anyone included in his family.
v. 14: "So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, 'Up! Get out of this place, for the LORD is about to destroy the city.' But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting." - Insofar as Lot "went out," it implies that his two sons-in-law were among the debauched group of men who had previously been dispersed from the house. When he told them that they were facing certain destruction from God, they laughed at him as if he were telling them a joke. Because Lot had been living a compromised life, he wasn't a credible witness for God's truth.
Read Gen. 19:15-16 - THE ANGELS URGED LOT
15 As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, "Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city." 16 But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city.
v. 15: "As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, 'Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.'" - The sense we get here is that Lot and his family were just lounging around, seemingly unconcerned about what was about to happen. The angel's shouted order "Up!" sounds like a military command to get on your feet and get ready to move out now! They were right on the verge of being "swept away."
v. 16a: "But he lingered." - This pictures a person in a visibly backslidden condition. Too much of Lot's heart was tied to depravity of Sodom. Despite the real urgency of his situation, he was still of two minds.
v. 16b: "So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city." - In a great display of divine mercy, the angels take the initiative by grabbing the family members by their hands and forcibly moving them out of danger to a place safety. They were literally snatched out of the fire.
Postscript: The Lord had promised Abraham that He would not destroy the city if there were as few as ten righteous people to be found there. However, Lot, his wife, and two daughters only added up to four. Thus, it was perfectly clear that not even ten righteous people were to be found in Sodom. Both God's justice and His mercy would be satisfied. As the city laying burning behind them, the angels commanded Lot's family not to stop or look back, but Lot's wife disobeyed and looked back because her heart was still in Sodom, and she immediately turned into a pillar of salt (v. 26).
APPLICATION-When Judgment is imminent: