After God reviewed the reasons for sharing His plans for the destruction of Sodom with Abraham, He told the patriarch that He was about to investigate the wicked condition of that city. This news moved Abraham to ask God to be just in His dealings with the righteous there.
"A rhetorical question in each section--'Is anything too demanding for Yahweh?' [v. 14]; Shall not he who judges all the earth give right judgment?"[v. 25]--sounds the major motif of each unit [vv. 1-15 and vv. 16-33]. . . . In both units it is some kind of noise that provokes Yahweh--Sarah's laugh and Sodom's groans."531
18:16-21 God chose to reveal His intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah to Abraham. He did so because of His plans for Abraham.
"In this section [vv. 1-21] we have an illustration of fellowship with God and some of its essential features. Fellowship is the crowning purpose of God's revelation (1 John 1:3). There is nothing higher than this, for man's life finds its complete fulfillment in union and communion with God. Notice the following elements:
"1. Sacred Intimacy. . . .
"2. Genuine Humility. . . .
"3. Special Revelation. -- Fellowship with God is always associated with the knowledge of His will. Servants do not know their master's purposes, but friends and intimates do. . . .
"4. Unique Association. -- The man who is in fellowship with God does not merely know the Divine will, but becomes associated with God in the carrying out of that will. . . ."532
18:22-33 This is the first time in Scripture that a man initiated a conversation with God. He prayed for the people of Sodom, not just Lot. Abraham's intercession raises several questions in the minds of thoughtful Bible students. Did Abraham succeed in his intercession since God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah? Some interpreters believe he did not because he quit too soon.
". . . Abraham ceased asking before God ceased giving."533
This conclusion assumes that Abraham's primary purpose was to get God to demonstrate mercy and to spare the cities for the sake of their few righteous inhabitants (v. 24). While this idea was obviously in Abraham's mind, his primary purpose seems rather to have been to secure justice (i.e., deliverance) for the righteous minority in their wicked cities (vv. 23, 24). 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 (v. 25). This appeal was the basis of his intercession. Abraham was jealous for the reputation of Yahweh among his neighbors. If this was his primary purpose Abraham succeeded in obtaining justice for the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah.
A second question arises from Abraham's method of interceding. Is his haggling with God an example we should follow? Evidently Abraham was not trying to wear God down by pressuring Him. Instead he was seeking clarification from God as to the extent of His mercy. He wanted to find out how merciful God would be in judging these cities.
Why did Abraham stop with 10 righteous people (v. 32)? Probably he thought there would be at least 10 righteous in those two cities. He overestimated righteous Lot's influence over his neighbors.
Will God spare a city or nation today because of the Christians in it? This passage is helpful in answering this question because in it we can see that a godly minority does play a role in influencing God's judgment. It can delay judgment by promoting godliness. However a godly minority may not prevent God's judgment if "sin is exceedingly grave"(v. 20). God does not always choose to remove the righteous from the wicked before He judges the wicked as He did in Lot's case. Nevertheless the Judge of all the earth does deal justly. We can see this when we take the long view. People alive now have yet to receive their final judgment from the divine Judge.
Abraham's shameless, bold persistence with God illustrates what Jesus had in mind when he taught the importance of these qualities in prayer (e.g., Luke 11:5-10; 18:1-8). Threefold repetition is common in Scripture, but Abraham's doubling of it gives his request even more solemnity and weight.
This chapter illustrates a progression in Abraham's relationship with God that is normal for those who have a relationship with Him.
1. God revealed Himself to Abraham (v. 1).
2. Abraham welcomed God's revelation (vv. 2-3).
3. Fellowship resulted (vv. 4-8). They ate together.
4. This fellowship led to further revelation and greater understanding of God's will (vv. 9-22).
5. Having learned of God's purpose to judge the sinners Abraham's response was to intercede for those under God's judgment (vv. 23-33).
"It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to pray effectively for lost souls if one is not convinced that lostness will ultimately result in literal, eternal punishment."534
The outstanding lesson of this section is probably that since God is a righteous Judge He will not destroy the righteous with the wicked.535