Abraham and Sodom

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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, given to him by angels, were true (Genesis 18:20 - 21).

Why didn't God know about Sodom?
What caused Lot to commit incest?
What is sodomy?

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 was fully aware of what could occur.

And Abraham drew near and said, "Will You also destroy the righteous (in Sodom and Gomorrah) with the wicked?" (Genesis 18:23, HBFV throughout).


Sodom and Gomorrah
Sodom and Gomorrah
Gillis Mostaert, 1597

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 archangels 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 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.

"Perhaps there are fifty righteous within the city. Will You (the Lord God of the Old Testament) also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous who are in it?

"Far be it from You to act in this manner, to kill the righteous with the wicked. And far be it from You, that the righteous should be as the wicked. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (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!

And the Lord said, "If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes" (Genesis 18:26).

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.

And he (Abraham) said, "Oh do not let the Lord be angry, and I will speak only once more. Perhaps only ten shall be found there." And He said, "I will not destroy it for ten’s sake" (Genesis 18:32).

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
Personal executions by God!
Why did Sarah lie about Abraham?
What happens on Judgment Day?
Map of Abraham's journey to Canaan
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