As I mentioned before, this year I am writing a lot of notes in my journaling Bible as I do my daily reading, and I thought I would share some of those thoughts from time to time.
The end of Genesis 18 contains an interesting interaction between Abraham and God: after Abraham learns that God intends to destroy the wicked city of Sodom, he decides to intercede for Sodom, asking the LORD, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?”, implying that there are some righteous people in Sodom who don’t deserve to be destroyed with the rest of the city.
And so, a bargaining process begins (my paraphrase of Genesis 18.24-32):
Abraham: God, will you destroy Sodom if there are 50 righteous people in it?
God: If there are 50, I will spare the city.
Abraham: Hmm, it’s not my place to tell you how to do things, but what if there are 45 righteous? Five can’t make much of a difference, right?
God: If there are 45, I will spare the city.
Abraham: What about 40?
God: If there are 40, I will spare the city.
Abraham: Don’t be angry with me for haggling, God, but what if there are 30 righteous people?
God: If there are 30, I will spare the city.
Abraham: Be patient with me; what about 20?
God: If there are 20, I will spare the city.
Abraham: OK, let me ask one more time: what if there are 10 righteous people?
God: If there are 10 righteous, I will spare the city.
And at that point, the haggling comes to an end.
This episode is interesting to me for at least three reasons.
First, it’s interesting to me that in Genesis 18.23, Abraham seems to mildly reprove God for being willing to destroy an entire city that might contain righteous people, and yet, it seems that Abraham’s mercy was exhausted before God’s was. At least, Abraham quit asking to lower the bar for how many righteous people would save the city. Would God have been willing to spare the city if five righteous people were found? Or three? Or one person? We don’t know, because Abraham quit asking before God quit agreeing. It’s a helpful reminder to me that God is always more merciful than I am.
Related to the first point, the things we ask of God have the potential to change His plans. Depending on where you are on the spectrum of how God’s sovereignty works this is a debatable point, but a straightforward reading of the text certainly indicates that Abraham’s requests were influencing God’s plans regarding the destruction of Sodom. And again, it seems possible that Abraham could have continued to bargain with God until He relented from destroying the city altogether. So this is helpful as well, because it brings about a certain degree of resolve in my life: if the deep desires of my heart are denied to me (like, for instance, the healing of my daughter), it won’t be because I am not asking God for them.
And finally, I’m left to wonder: why is it that we assume that God grows impatient with our repeated requests of Him? Abraham certainly assumed and feared God’s impatience: four times he apologized or asked for patience in some way. I think we often do the same thing. But over and over again God tells us to come to Him in prayer, and in the New Testament, Jesus praises the persistence of a widow and uses her as an example of how we should repeatedly come to the Father in prayer. So I am also reminded by this narrative that I should not project my impatience on God: he patiently (and eagerly) hears my repeated requests.
This is a famous passage: what does it bring to your mind? Would you disagree with any of my reflections above?