Sodom and Gomorrah

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What was the purpose of angels visiting Abraham before the destruction of Sodom and its 'sister' city Gomorrah? Why did he try to bargain to save them? What are the lessons we can glean from these events?

Our study on lessons from Sodom and Gomorrah 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, however, who visits Abraham also reveals that he is on a special fact finding mission. His goal is to personally visit the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to determine whether reports of their abominable sins were true (Genesis 18:20 - 21).

Although the Bible does not record Abraham being initially told what, if any, penalty there would be if grievous sins were found in Sodom and Gomorrah, he 'read between the lines' and knew what could occur.

Why did God command Isaac's sacrifice?
What caused Lot to commit incest?
What is the wrath of God?

Abraham approached the Lord and asked, 'Are you really going to DESTROY the innocent (in Sodom and the surrounding cities) 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.

Sodom and Gomorrah
Sodom and Gomorrah
Gillis Mostaert, 1597

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 to save Sodom by appealing to God's fairness and righteousness of not condemning the guiltless and innocent with those who are guilty and deserve correction.

'If there are fifty innocent people in the city, will you destroy the whole city? . . . Surely you won't kill the innocent with the guilty . . . The judge of all the earth has to act justly.' (Genesis 18:24 - 25)

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!

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 forty-five Godly people are found? What about forty? How about twenty?

Abraham then makes his last appeal for Sodom. 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.

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).

Lessons learned

God revealed that being perfect, especially in love, does not necessarily mean being unnegoiatable and unable to change his decisions. He fully intended to destroy Sodom, Gomorrah, and the surrounding cities if he saw the same sins that were reported to him by angels. He was, however, willing to listen to his friend Abraham and, for his sake, not destroy them if only ten righteous people existed!

Additional Study Materials
Mass murder in the Bible!
Why did Sarah lie about Abraham?
What happens on Judgment Day?
Abraham's journey to Promised Land
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