Turn with me to the book of Isaiah, chapter one. When I met her, she had wiry silver hair and a fiery disposition. It was nineteen eighty eight and she was a Bible worker for an equally fiery evangelist. Her work could only be described holy boldness. She walked where angels feared to tread. She was from Ireland and had been raised a Catholic, but had not been raised to love God. She didn't think very much about God early on. She thought of Him as a distant tyrant. It was either His way or the highway. He could not possibly care for how humans felt about any situation.
But then she came across a text when she started reading the bible for herself, a text that changed her life. Isaiah 1:18. "Come now, let us reason together," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." Now, most of us when we see that verse, we focus on that last part, not what can happen to our heart and our sins. But that's not what grabbed the heart of this lady, it was the first sentence: "'Come now, let us reason together,' says the Lord." That blew her mind. "Was God reasonable? Was God someone that reasoned with you? Discuss things with one of His created beings? How could this be possible? How could god be like that? After all, God knows it all. Why would He want to reason with me?"
As she continued her studies, she found the answer to the question was, Yes, God did want to reason with her. As she continued to read Scriptures, she found many other things that she had never been taught and she became a Seventh-day Adventist Bible worker. Totally in love with Jesus Christ. But on fire like you never saw.
You know, the Bible offers many incredible views of God, not the least of which is His desire to dwell with us, which we explored last week in our series on Abraham. This week we will see that dwelling with us is only the beginning. God desires greater intimacy than that. Turn to Genesis 18. This is a continuation of last week's story. You remember, when the three visitors came and visited with Abraham, there were two angels and Jesus, Himself. Abraham fed them and entertained them at his tent. But, now the meal is over and the visitors are about to continue on their way.
Genesis 18:16. When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. This must have been a meaningful look that they gave toward Sodom. Abraham must have sensed something different in this look, something that chilled his heart a bit. They looked toward Sodom and the meaning was there that Sodom was not going to last much longer. This was his nephew, Lot's, city.
You know, it's oriental custom to see a person on their way after they have visited you, and just how far you go with them on their way depends upon the amount of respect and honor that you have for your guests. Tradition holds that Abraham walked four or five miles with his guests until they came to a place on the mountain range where they could actually see the cities of the plain, still some twenty miles distant. Next, we find and interesting conversation taking place. And it is very difficult to tell who God is talking to here, but we'll try. Look at verse 17.
Genesis 18:17-. Then the Lord said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what He has promised him.
It doesn't really seem like God is talking to Abraham because he is talking about Abraham. He may be speaking to his two angel friends about what He should do, after all, if He is willing to reason with us, why not with them? Yet, would Abraham be listening in on this conversation? Some have said that God was reasoning with Himself, or with other parts of the Trinity in prayer. I can't tell for sure. But, whatever the conclusion of this minor mystery is, the fact remains as to what was said. What God is about to do will have an affect on this aged man, and He wants to let him know.
After all, the cities in the plain technically belong to Abraham. This is his promised land. And God is about to affect it in some way. Another reason for informing Abraham is that he is the father of God's people. You notice what it said in there, after all, he's training up his children to be good and just. What Abraham thinks about his God is important to God because his view of God is going to be passed on to his children. God wants Abraham to have the most accurate view possible of His character, of His justice. Because, what Abraham thinks is what he teaches to his followers and their followers and their followers, all the way down to us. You'd better be sure that your view of God is as correct as possible because that's the view your children will grow up having.
Now, do you have a good view of God? Be as close to God as Abraham was. Be a friend. Abraham's household already trusted him and his view of God. After all, the men of his household lined up for circumcision at Abraham's word, not from what they heard from God. That shows a total trust in Abraham.
Yet, another reason for God to inform Abraham of His plans for Sodom was that Abraham was His friend. James 2:23 says, And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. Jesus said in John 15:15, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you.
Books are written now on how to know the will of God. And I'm sure they are very good. But it's real simple. It doesn't take a book. How do you know the will of God? you have to know God as your friend, and He will make known to you His plans. Let's look at verse 20.
Genesis 18:20. Then the Lord said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great Now we know who he is talking to. He is revealing His plans to Abraham. The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached Me. If not, I will know." I like those verses. They seem a little strange at first glance. You can see them looking out over the cities of the plains. Abraham is not hearing an outcry. He can hear nothing. They are twenty miles away. Maybe the sun is setting behind their backs and glistening off the walls and the towers of the cities. It would have looked very peaceful, if not beautiful. No sound of misery could be heard.
It's kind of approaching the city of Atlanta. Have you ever done that on I-20? Just as the sun is setting, you top the hill over by Six-Flags Over Georgia, and there's Atlanta! Beautiful! Towers gleaming in the sunlight, reflecting and refracting the rays of light all directions. It looks like the Emerald City. And if you look at it, you say, "Wow! What a neat place to live!" I lived there. It's not. I've been on the streets day and night. I've seen the results of sin. I've seen the homeless, I've seen the poverty, I've seen the violence, I've seen the heartache. Yet, from a distance, all looks well.
Fortunately, God is not distant. He doesn't just view us from afar and say, "Ah, it looks well." God hears the cry of misery that sin produces. In Genesis, God told Cain that Abel's blood cried out to him from the ground (Genesis 4:10). In Revelation, God hear the cries of the martyred saints asking "How long?" (Revelation 6:10) From Genesis to Revelation, from the beginning to the end, the cries of the sins of this world reach the ears of God. So, when will He take us out of this mess that we got ourselves into? The answer is in the second half of this verse. The reading of the Hebrew basically says, "Their sin is very heavy." When we stop loving this world and cry out for the madness that we caused to cease, when the weight of the sin tips Gods judicial balances enough that His patience runs out, then God's people will be rescued and sin will come to an end in destruction. And that time, I believe, is upon us. Now is the time to cry out to the Lord and plead for Him to take us home. Now is the time to stop loving the things of this world. They're junk. Now is the time to focus on Jesus. Now is the time to make sure that everyone who wants to know has a chance to know.
You want to know something else about God's character? Look again at verse 21. "I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry has reached Me. If not, I will know." Even though God knows everything, He is not distant. He does not want Abraham to think of Him as a God who rules from afar, a God who could not possibly know our circumstances and our feelings, so He comes in person to investigate what He already knows. He comes to make sure that we are sure of Him. He knows what we humans think of governments that tell us what to do and yet know nothing of our circumstances. He wants to be the King who mingles with the masses and with individuals to get a genuine feel for their lives. And that was also part of the reason Jesus came himself as one of Abraham's descendants. He wanted us to know that He knows what it is like to be us. That way, we are more willing to understand Him because He understands us. What an amazing picture of God's love.
Well, Abraham listens to God. He hears God say that He is going to go check out Sodom, and Abraham know what He is going to find. He seems to know the result will be: God will destroy Sodom. It needs it. It's wicked. But does he just say, "Well, I guess there is nothing I can do about it? Go ahead." Well, let's see what he says. Genesis 18:22. The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. If they were facing Sodom, and then Abraham stands before the Lord, I can picture him standing between God and Sodom, beginning his plea, which we're going to get to. Arms outstretched in supplication, Abraham gains holy boldness from his time spent with God.
He has reason to wish to protect the people of Sodom, not just because Lot and his family live there, remember, Abraham feels some responsibility for them He's rescued them with the sword before, and now he wants to rescued them with his word. He also know that his influence has probably been there main human connection with God. He may be wondering if he did enough for the people of Sodom. I can imagine the pride God felt in this friend, Abraham. After all, he's becoming more Christ-like. There he is, standing between a perfect God and sinful man, about o plead their case. A point that Moses also reached when God expressed a desire to wipe out the children of Israel.
Genesis 18:23. Then Abraham approached Him That word, "approach" caught my attention. He's already standing before God, now what does it mean that he "approached God?" The Hebrew meaning of this word, approach, has a much deeper meaning than just a few steps closer. There's a sense of a lawyer approaching the judicial bench. A sense of hearts coming into closer communion with each other. Not just a physical distance being closed, but hearts becoming one. You know, sometimes we can be walking with God and yet fail to approach Him.
Then Abraham approached Him and said, "Will You sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing--to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from You! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
Wow! What an opening argument before God's judicial bench! Abraham can't believe that God would take out everyone without separating the good from the evil, the sheep from the goats. And Abraham was right.
And then he begins to barter for the lives of the people of Sodom. Abraham was no stranger to bartering. In many lands, especially in the East, if you do not barter, or if you do not barter well, you are not respectable. My first experience at bartering happened when I was twelve or thirteen years old. I was on the island of Haiti wondering around for the day and I didn't know anything about bartering for goods. I stopped at a little shop close to the waterfront and I picked up a trinket. It was a little wooden machete that said Haiti on it. I picket it up. "Oh, interesting." and I put it back down. I was not interested. But, the shop-keeper saw me pick that up and he came all excited as I was starting to walk away. "Five dollar. Five dollars." I said, "No, I'm not interested." And I started to walk again. "Four fifty!" That startled me. He came down on his price. I had never had anybody do that before. They never did that at K-Mart. Maybe they should have. I still acted uninterested, and it wasn't really an act. I was not interested. I did not want it. He lowered the price another dollar. In a pitiful look on his face he explained how large and hungry his family was. I still paid no attention. He became quite agitated and said, "My business will be ruined. But you can have it for two dollars." Now he was beginning to scare me. I did not know how to handle this. And I turned and headed purposely down the street with him following behind me and the last thing I heard him cry out behind me was, "My final offer: two for fifty cents!" I should have gotten it. From five dollars to a quarter and I still didn't go for the deal.
Abraham's bartering was done with greater dignity and awe and humility. Let's look at it. Genesis 18:26. The Lord said, "If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake." Amazing! God was not only willing to listen, but to accept offers. He accepted the offer of fifty people. But what if the barterer started too high and there were not fifty righteous people in Sodom?
Genesis 18:27. Then Abraham spoke up again: "Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes," I like that. Here we have humility. He realizes God is his friend, but God is his God. God created him. He is nothing but the dust and ashes that God used to create him. "What if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will You destroy the whole city because of five people?"
He's doing this right. It's kind of like going to the store where they sell stuff for $9.99 instead of $10. It sounds a lot better. But God knows as well. "If I found forty five there," He said, "I will not destroy it."
Verse 29. Once again he spoke to Him, "What if only forty are found there?"
He said, "for the sake of forty, I will not do it."
Then he said, "May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?"
He answered, "I will not do it if I find thirty there."
Abraham said, "Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?"
He said, "For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it."
The he said, "May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?"
He answered, "For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it."
He answered, "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it."
The bartering had been going well, and in Abraham's and Sodom's favor. Why did Abraham stop with ten?" Had he counted up his family members there? "There's Lot and his wife, the two unmarried daughters, at least three married daughters and their husbands, that's ten. Some people have suggested that. I don't believe it. We will find that ten didn't escape. I would lean toward Abraham stopping at ten because he knew that he had reached God's limit. He had such a close relationship with God that he knew that He would not go any further. He was so in tune with this Holy Friend that he knew the bartering had ceased.
You know, people who live in this world may never realize how much protection they have had just because a friend of God was interceding for them. People in this world may never know how much calamity has missed them because a friend of God lived next door.
I recently read a book entitled: "A Thousand Shall Fall" in which I found this story: During World War II a Seventh-day Adventist German soldier did his best to serve God in intolerable circumstances serving under Hitler. This SDA Soldier had been a book salesman, a colporteur before the war. A soldier of higher rank as they went through the war together noticed that nothing seemed to happen to this man. He never got hurt. he always seemed protected. So he said, "You're going to stay with me. We're going to sleep in the same tent. We're going to go places together. Nothing ever happens to you." And that's the way it went to the end of the war. And the war came to an end and the time came for the Axis soldiers to hand their weapons over to the Allies. They were in great lines of soldiers coming up to check- points where the American soldiers were and dropping off their weapons to be processed. And as these two German soldiers walked up to the line the Adventist opened up his holster and he pulled out a stick that had ben painted black with shoe polish and threw it on the pile. You see, he had been a great marksman, and he had been so afraid that if he had a real pistol in his holster that he would not hesitate to use it if needed. He put himself in God's total protection. He did not want to kill anybody else. And they didn't allow non-combatants. So he carried a blackened stick in his holster through the war.
When his friend that had been with him for him for protection saw it, he asked, "What is that?" "It's a stick." "Just think, I was hanging out with you for protection!" It worked.
You know, unfortunately for Sodom, Abraham had intervened as much as possible. And the only righteous inhabitant were about to leave. Their protection was over.
I love verse 33. At first it doesn't sound like much. Just the end of the story. When the LORD had finished speaking with Abraham, He left, and Abraham returned home. Abraham had done his best. He had plead with God. God had given him no answer as to what was going to finally happen. Abraham had no assurance as to the fate of his family members. He just knew that what God would do would be best. He didn't stay to watch. He didn't try to interfere any longer. He just went home. he totally trusted God and God did what was best.
It reminds me of Jesus in Gethsemane. When He finished finding His heavenly Father's will, He calmly accepted the outcome, which was the best. And that is the kind of relationship I want to have with God. "No matter what I ask for, now matter what happens, when it domes down to it, whatever you do, Lord is best. I'm going to go home and let You do it. I trust You." The only way we can have that relationship is to be able to stand face to face with our Friend with nothing between.
Hymn of Praise: #75, The Wonder of it All Scripture: Genesis 18:20,21 Hymn of Response: #323, Nothing Between
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last updated 6/24/2002 by Bob Beckett.