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Genesis 18 : 16 - 33
- Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way.
- The LORD said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do,
- seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?
- For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him."
- Then the LORD said, "Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave,
- I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know."
- So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD.
- Then Abraham drew near and said, "Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?
- Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?
- Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?"
- And the LORD said, "If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake."
- Abraham answered and said, "Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.
- Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?" And he said, "I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there."
- Again he spoke to him and said, "Suppose forty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of forty I will not do it."
- Then he said, "Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there." He answered, "I will not do it, if I find thirty there."
- He said, "Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it."
- Then he said, "Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there." He answered, "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it."
- And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.
Last held on the 7th of September 2003 at Hattem
A good friend! You discuss everything with him. Also, very personal things. Your joy and sorrow. All you went through and you’re up to. You have no secrets for a close friend. You also can say it to him if you don’t understand him or disagree with him. Great to have such a friend.
Do you have one? But above all: Do you have God as such a friend? And does God have you as such a friend? That’s believing: being friends with the Lord, dealing with each other personally, having a real conversation with each other about everything. That’s how the Lord and Abraham also treated each other.
The three guests, one of whom is God himself, are leaving. Abraham sees them out as a good host. And then the true friendship appears. For at that moment, the Lord thinks: "Would I hide from Abraham what I’m going to do?"
So God deals like a friend with those who believe in Him. Confidentially. He shares his secrets with them. He had chosen them. He knows them and will be known by them, like with Abraham. He sometimes lets them know what everybody else does not know. He shows them backgrounds that others don’t see. He gives them special wisdom and insight. He shows them his ways, which are higher than men’s. “Would I hide from Abraham what I’m going to do?” Yes, the Lord sometimes gives His children wonderful insight into His intervention in history. In the short history of human life. In the great history of this world. Then they see lines running that others cannot see. They see God’s hand in all kinds of events. They have a spiritual explanation for what's a mystery to others. There's no proof, but it’s inspired to them, they are sure.
The downfall of Sodom? Ah, the city was in a volcanic area that then started to move violently. The ground turned to hot liquid lava. All kinds of gases escaped from the earth ignited. Logically nothing remained. But there’s more behind it: the hand of the righteous judging God. And whoever believes will know about it. Wars, disasters, but also miraculous outcomes and coincidences, God’s children see acts of the Lord in them. And sometimes, they already know what’s going to happen because of their secret relationship with God. God has told them what He’s going to do, just like with Abraham. I’m thinking, for example, of the few pastors in the church of the Netherlands who warned about Hitler’s horrors but weren't taken seriously.
But is it just a noncommittal spiritual hobby? I see what you don’t see? No. We don't let our children learn all kinds of things at school for fun, but with the intention that it'll benefit them. And so the Lord also doesn’t give His children that spiritual insight for fun. But to help them further on the way to the final redemption, of theirs and the worlds. Why doesn’t God hide from Abraham what he is going to do? “For Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and with him, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” That's why! What God tells Abraham somehow fits into the fulfilment of God’s promises of righteousness and salvation. One sometimes hears people tell what the Lord revealed to them. The most wonderful things. The herbs they must pick and cook for their healing. The train they have to take to meet their true life partner. Sorry, I don’t know what to do with such stories. I dare not judge, let alone condemn. I want to ask people who tell such wonderful stories: Do you also know how to fit it into God’s great salvation plan for this world, which He started with Abraham and which He made a decisive turn about through Jesus Christ? For God does not give promptings just like that, only if they fit in the route to his Kingdom.
And just as our children don’t learn all kinds of things at school for fun but to use it wisely in their later life, so God’s children must use the secrets that the Lord has entrusted to them, also for the benefit of themselves and others. And this is to walk the right ways of the Lord, and not the crooked ways of Satan. “For I have chosen him,” said God, “that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice.” They are lessons and warnings that must be passed on. That now and in the future will keep people from wicked ways and on the way to salvation. God fulfils to Abraham all that He has spoken about him. But by way of justice. The Lord wants to be our friend, really know us. And that means: knowing us lovingly, choosing, saving us. But then we, too, will have to keep the way of the Lord by doing what He says is right. Are we trying that seriously every day? Sodom is an educational example that there's no other way. That the way of injustice and sin has a dead end.
For sins against the righteous God are not silent, mute sins, but crying, lamenting sins. Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.” So sins are infuriating, crying to heaven. It happens when the victim of the injustice complains about his need for God. As James wrote: “Indeed the wages that you kept back by fraud from the labourers who harvested your fields are crying, and the cries of those who harvested have entered into the ears of the Lord of Hosts.” (James 5:4) But even when the victim no longer can shout, silenced, yes, killed. Like Abel: “Hear, the voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to Me from the face of the earth”. (Gen.4:10)
But also, sins one has covered up are heard by the Lord. Every sin calls upwards and is a cry of an indictment. In the Dutch language, we know the expression: crying injustice. All injustice cries out to God. Which reminds us of the seriousness of any sin.
And so the cry of Sodom’s sins is cause for an investigation by the heavenly detective. “I will go down and see.” God also examines our lives in this way. And nothing remains hidden from Him. “Nothing, O Supreme Majesty, is hidden from your omniscience.” (Dutch Christian hymn) That’s a comfort on the one hand. The Lord does not go with the name and reputation we have among men, which is not always correct. He will investigate it himself. But it’s, on the other hand, a warning that may keep us from doing wrong. The Lord will come to see and judge it Himself. He doesn't stay at a safe distance in heaven but enters our lives and looks at us with his inquiring gaze. Well, who doesn’t look down in shame then?
And so Abraham hears what the Lord is planning for Sodom. But seeing God’s hand in the events does not mean that every riddle has been solved. On the contrary, it sometimes raises new questions. These are questions that concern not only Abraham but also Job and Asaph, but all of us. These are things that we feel cannot be reconciled with God’s justice. Things that show He still hides something from us in His majesty and wisdom. He is the exalted God, whom we cannot always understand. Are You going to kill the righteous with the wicked? Do You give them the same fate? Will you, the Judge of all the earth, do not justice?
Thus, an awful lot is happening that’s also unjust in our understanding. And it’s therefore difficult to reconcile with the existence and justice of God. So much is happening that makes us sigh: that’s not fair. Why? Why must the good suffer from the bad? But is that a reason to break off the conversation with the Lord? On the contrary. It’s an application to interfere with God’s government in the good sense of the word, in the sense of intercession. For everyone, for the righteous and the wicked.
Likewise, Abraham has a heart full of love and compassion for everyone. All the inhabitants of Sodom. He can't bear it that they will go to their destruction, although most have more than deserved it. He asks the Lord to spare them. Abraham has a high-priestly heart.
Do you also have such a heart? One that has pain because of the need and lost state of the world? Do you ever think with fear that every person, known or unknown, friendly or not, white, brown or black, has a soul to lose and goes towards eternity? Is it hard for you to read with dry eyes from a plane crash or see images of a terrible act of terrorism in Israel or Iraq? Do you ever spontaneously cry out: O Lord, what is to be done of your world? It’s easy when the world’s need doesn’t bother you; when you live your own life without caring about others. You are not so vulnerable; you have less pain from worrying about the other person. But whether it is so much better? The more we resemble Jesus, the better it is. And was He not moved with compassion for the crowd? Did he not weep for Lazarus, for Jerusalem, even for an entire city? As Christians, we stand in the ministry of the believers. It’s in the royal ministry, like Abraham, who associates princely with the Lord, so that He does not hide from him what He is going to do. It’s the prophetic ministry, like Abraham, who must command his children and his house after him to keep the way of the Lord. But it also is a priestly ministry, like Abraham, who intercedes for wicked Sodom. What room does intercession have in our prayer life? The intercession for acquaintances and loved ones, but also strangers, yes the whole world, through which the deep cracks of sin and sorrow pass? That is a gauge of our faith. So we can see to what extent our hearts is converted, to what extent we have become like Christ’s image, who prayed for the transgressors: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
In this context, I remember a chorus of a poem, also a prayer, written by a resistance fighter on his death row: “Lord, help the others, I will be right”. How rich it is if you can pray like that.
So Abraham prays for Sodom. In all humility: “I am just dust and ashes.” But also in some boldness: “I have undertaken”. I dare it. Do we also know that combination of humility and courage? I'm afraid that this humility is hard to find in modern man. All kinds of reproaches are made towards God. How can He allow this, not stop that? If He exists, why is there so much suffering in the world, and does He not punish the wicked? Abraham wants to avoid punishment! Modern man calls God to account instead of knowing to be accountable to God. Modern man has also forgotten that he’s insignificant before God. And that we cannot understand and fathom God with our little minds. He does not confess: “Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as His counsellor has taught Him? (Is. 40:13) He does not realize that we’re just dust and ashes. What about our humility? Do we experience our prayers as a daring undertaking because it’s quite something to approach the holy eternal God, dust and ashes as we are?
And what about our boldness? Do we dare to ask a lot because it’s not for ourselves but for others? And because we dare to expect miracles from God? Or do we soon shut up? Are we afraid to ask what is no longer in line with expectations and scientific logic?
Now Abraham speaks concretely in his intercession about the relationship between the righteous people in Sodom and the entire city of Sodom. So it’s about the relationship between individual persons and the community to which they belong. Because as individuals, we live in relationships. We sometimes forget that in these modern times, times of individualism. The individual is number one. We have little regard for the collective relations, for the communities of which we are a part. Yet it’s built into God’s creation that we're not alone in this world, but we're part of a continent, a culture, a people, a region, a city or village, a certain environment, a family, spouses with children. On the one hand, we often unintentionally and unasked are involved in the good en evil of the communities in which we live. When the Germans occupied the Netherlands, this had major consequences for each citizen’s life personally, even though one person suffered heavier from the occupation than the other. On the other hand, our personal actions, consciously or unconsciously, influence the communities to which we belong. That gives an additional responsibility. Not only our fate, but also others are in our hands to a certain extent. If we surrender to evil, we will suck others into the abyss of that evil. An alcoholic drags his entire family to ruin. Bad work ethic works like a spiritual poison on colleagues. Evil is a contagious virus that spreads very easily. Whoever sins does not only harm himself but also others. Sinning has a collective effect on our environment. It’s ruining a whole community, of which good people are also a part. So the righteous must suffer under the wicked. When an entire society is depraved, religion has been banned, lawlessness reigns, there's much lovelessness, then the good suffer severely. The whole social climate is then something in which they find it difficult to breathe. Therefore, now may be a difficult time for God’s children in our modern, materialistic, godless culture. Sinning does not only harm ourselves but also the neighbourhood. It drags others down with it. Be careful!
But, Abraham asks the Lord, can this collective relationship work not only negatively but also positively? If there are righteous men in the city, can they save it from destruction? Yes, says the Lord, then I will not destroy it for their sake. How good and fruitful your life is if it’s a life of faith, love and righteousness, if you may be converted again and again by God’s Word and Spirit and walk in the way of God’s commandments. That’s not only a blessing for yourself but also for others. Then constructive forces go out from you to your environment, and you preserve the communities you are in from disruption. Then you are the salt of the earth, as Jesus said to his disciples, and salt stops decay and gives the taste. How a God-fearing mother, a wise father, can protect the family from degeneration in these turbulent times. How good a few honest jovial colleagues can keep the atmosphere on the factory’s work floor good. How interest in each other, compassion for each other, helping each other can be the cement that keeps a community together; a city, a village, a church. What good influence can come from a sensible boy, a good girl in youth circles! The Lord loves to see that. Much more than to come and inspect the sins in a community. And He is willing to spare such a community for the good He still sees. He will forgive the whole place for their sake because He is loving. Where He sees some perspective because there are still righteous men living among the wicked who work like salt, there He postpones His judgment. That becomes clear in the conversation with Abraham. Reason to pursue the good and ask: “Lord, make me one who will be fruitful and constructive in the communities I belong to. My family, relatives, colleagues, the circle of friends.
But when do the scale skip? When are there too few righteous men to keep a wicked community from destruction? That’s the exciting question in our chapter. And the tension increases. There may be fifty righteous in the city. Perhaps the fifty are missing five. Maybe forty will be found there. Or thirty. Or twenty. Let not the Lord be angry if I speak one more time: perhaps ten are found there. And He said: “I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten.” And then the conversation ends quite abruptly. Abraham does not dare to continue with haggling, and the Lord also goes away, closing the conversation. We know how it went on. Not even ten righteous were found, for Sodom was destroyed while only Lot and his daughters were saved.
But we have to forget that for a while. Our story has an open ending. Open to the New Testament, in which it’s about that one just person, the only real just and sinless person, who remained in the whole world: Jesus Christ. Because of Him, the Judge of the entire earth still looks upon the world with love and grace, and spares it, and has reserved for it a future of salvation. Due to Him, the scale has not always turned to the wrong side. He’s the only one who, collectively for many, wanted to be salt, sparing, preserving, saving for the entire human community. Who took on all the burdens of a world lying in sin and guilt. The only one who in his saving righteousness wanted to bear the penalty for sins. “For him who had no knowledge of sin God made to be sin for us; so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”( 2Cor. 5:21) It wasn’t 50, not 40 or 30, 20 or 10, but only one, in the end, given by God, Jesus Christ. But that was enough. He puts so much weight on the scale by his atoning work, vicarious sinlessness, and vicarious suffering and dying of sins that the scale of God’s justice goes in the right direction. There's still salvation for sinners such as you and I if we take refuge in this Jesus. He pleads and prays for us even more than Abraham for Sodom. Oh, how wonderful: “The wrongdoing of your people had forgiveness; all their sin had been covered. You were no longer angry: you were turned from the heat of your wrath.” (Psalm 85:2 and 3) This for the sake of Jesus, the one righteous person who wanted to become a sinner for us
Let us, therefore, entrust ourselves to this Jesus, seeking from Him the sparing and redeeming love of the Father. That granted righteousness, whereby we only can exist before the Judge of the earth. Let us also together form a community around this one Righteous. Please let us not pass Him by now that we know so much glorious about Him. For He, Himself says that if Sodom had learned as much as we do, it would have remained to this day, and He warns that it will be more tolerable to Sodom in the Judgment Day than to us if we don’t repent to Him. (Matth. 11:23 and 24) Will we find some in our hometown? Righteous people? Justified in Jesus Christ? But how much? We don’t know the number, the Lord only. Do you belong to them? Amen.