The apostle Paul makes an interesting statement in the book of Hebrews. Being tutored in the Bible from his youth, he no doubt had Abraham in mind when he wrote that angels do indeed (sometimes secretly) visit humans from time to time.
Remember to welcome strangers in your homes. There were some who did that and welcomed angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)
Our story opens with Abraham being visited by and showing hospitality to some strangers (Genesis 18:1-8). But these were not just ordinary travellers passing through the land. They were sent by God to reveal the joyous news that, just as God had promised, Sarah would give birth to a son (Genesis 18:9-15) nine months after they spoke. One of the mysterious strangers also reveals that he is on a special fact finding mission to research whether reports of abominable sins being committed in Sodom and Gomorrah were true (Genesis 18:20-21).
23 Abraham approached the Lord and asked, 'Are you really going to DESTROY the innocent with the guilty?'
Now begins one of the most interesting and fascinating sections of the entire Bible. On one side of the ensuing discussion is, of course, Abraham. The other person, however, is not a mere angel, or even one of the "super" angels like Gabriel or Michael. He is Jesus Christ, taking the form of a human before his birth through Mary, so that he can discuss something very important with his friend.
Bargaining for mercy
Abraham decides to plead with God to possibly forestall any punishment. Although he is no doubt familiar with some of the grievous sins committed by the cities, his nephew Lot lives in Sodom. While he tries to strike a bargain with God in order to save the cities, God teaches him (and us) a valuable lesson about character and what it means to be perfect.
Abraham begins his bargaining by appealing to God's fairness and righteousness of not condemning the guiltless and innocent with those who are guilty and deserve correction.
24 'If there are fifty innocent people in the city, will you destroy the whole city? . . . 25 Surely you won't kill the innocent with the guilty . . . The judge of all the earth has to act justly.' (Genesis 18)
The Lord replies to the negotiations not with wrath or with condemning Abraham for not trusting God's judgment. Instead, Jesus agrees that the reasoning used to spare the cities makes sense!
26 The Lord answered, 'If I find fifty innocent people in Sodom, I will spare the whole city for their sake.'
What is eye-opening is that Jesus does not stop Abraham as he continues to argue for lower and lower numbers of righteous needed to spare the cities. Will the cities be spared if 45 Godly people are found? What about 40? How about 30 or even 20?
Abraham then makes his last appeal. He is well aware that God has indulged his desire to be as merciful as possible. Prefacing his last argument with acknowledging God's graciousness toward him, a case is made to forestall total destruction if only ten righteous can be found.
32 Abraham said, 'Please don't be angry, Lord, and I will speak only once more. What if only ten are found?' He said, 'I will not destroy it if there are ten.'
Most people know what happens next. Only one person, 'righteous Lot' (2Peter 2:7), whose uncle was Abraham, was found in the cities. He and his family are personally escorted out of Sodom before fire rains down from heaven and completely destroys the two sinful cities (Genesis 19:12-25).
God revealed that being perfect, especially in love, does not necessarily mean being 'locked in' to one unchangeable decision or only one way of accomplishing a goal. Perfect love is flexible and willing to not only consider multiple options but also to CHANGE a decision or action should circumstances warrant it.
In spite of what many people may think, God IS negotiable in certain circumstances and situations. He no doubt intended to destroy the cities if he saw the same sins that were reported to him by angels. While this was his will it was, in light of his discussion with Abraham, not his FINAL unchanging judgment. God was ultimately willing to 'allow' the cities to continue sinning and NOT destroy them if only TEN RIGHTEOUS PEOPLE out of tens of thousands (it was more than 450 years after the flood) existed!