Monday, September 11, 2017

Genesis 18:16-33 “THE POWER OF INTERCESSION”

Today we are considering the second reason for which the divine visitors had come to Abraham in Genesis 18. The account begins in chapter 18:1 with 3 men appearing to Abraham at his tent in Mamre (Hebron). We had seen that these 3 men were the LORD and 2 angels, and they had come to do two things:
(i)               to reassure Abraham and Sarah  that they would  become parents  even at this late age, and so fulfil the promise given 25 years earlier in Genesis12. This miracle would now happen within a year. (18: 1- 15)
(ii)             to tell Abraham about a coming judgement upon the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah(18:1 -33).

The Judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah which will happen in Chapter 19 is a weighty matter, and very relevant, particularly in our time.   You know that the word “Sodomy” is associated with depravity and wickedness, and the word has been coined in particular to  describe the sin of homosexuality, the  sexual relationship between two people of the  same gender. This phenomenon is described   in 19:5, when the men of the city demanded to have sexual relations with the 2 angels, appearing here since 18:1 in the form of men. We will deal with this next time, and as I said, this is a matter that has attracted considerable attention and debate in this age. There is a strong and extremely  vocal lobby  worldwide (the so called  LGBT movement)  in support of  deviant sexual practices under the  protection of the  so called  Human Rights movement.   Some theologians sympathetic to this movement have worked strenuously to reinterpret this and other passages   to justify their position.

Abraham, at this point is not aware of the further agenda of His three divine visitors. In v. 16 we read that the three visitors are set for their departure, Abraham accompanying them for a while.  Their eye catches the view of Sodom, below in the plains. It is the view  of  this  town  that  gives rise to  what follows now in the rest of chapters 18 and 19. The  LORD (YAHWEH – covenant name –here the pre-incarnate  Lord Jesus Christ) , the spokesman of the group says in vv. 17-22

“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 by him? For I have chosen him , that he may command his children and his household  after him to keep the law 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”.

Please note: The fact that   Abraham will become a great and mighty nation and that all the nations on earth of the earth shall be blessed by him (v. 18), has been well established by now. He has been chosen and called by God, to live differently in the world. He has been called to be a testimony and a witness to the way in which God intends families (i.e. his children and household after him) to live in the world, and it is very different from the life of the average household in Sodom.  The end to which God calls   and saves men and women from this world is that they may  reflect His holy and righteous character – to be holy as He is  holy [Lev. 19:1 ; 1 Pet. 1:15,16]

The dilemma was  that Abraham and his future offspring were living in a neighbourhood which was morally corrupted in every way. In God’s words, they were living in a neighbourhood against which there had been an outcry… and their sin was very grave (v. 20).  This news about Sodom is actually not new. Already back in Gen. 13:13 we read:  “Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.”

Why did God not judge them back then? The answer is this: For the same reason as Gen. 15:16 states: “Because the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete”.  The destruction of Sodom, like the destruction of the Amorites later under Joshua is not a kneejerk reaction from God. God is patient. These are sinners in the hands of a patient God (2 Pet. 3:9). And all this is a foreshadowing of that great Day of Judgment which is yet to come, spoken of by the prophets and the Lord Jesus Christ.  
The judgement  upon  the Amorites and the Sodomites would come  because   such  deliberate, willful and continuous  sinning  was making the world  a place in which soon no human being would be safe from  such wicked , abusive people.  You may be sure that in those days, children and women and men alike   were abused in the worst of manners[1]... They were filling up their sins, and now the time for judgement had arrived. In Chapter 19 the two angels sent by the LORD will experience the terrible atmosphere for themselves.  It is not as if God needed to go down to investigate. God is omniscient.  But He is doing this for Abraham’s sake and our own sake.

The wickedness of these towns was going to be a perpetual example of wickedness in the Scriptures[2].  Jesus used this example. He said that the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida to whom He had ministered by word and miracle had had far more privileges than Sodom. (Lk 10:12) So too did the apostle Paul (Rom. 9:29) and  Peter (2 Pet.2:4-9)   and Jude (Jude 1:7). Billy Graham once said that if God does not judge  the wickedness of our generation, then He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.
So this is what Abraham hears as he walks with the LORD and his two angels.  What is Abraham’s response?

ABRAHAM’S RESPONSE  (18:23-32)

While the two angels made their way down to Sodom, Abraham   continued standing before the LORD.  And Abraham knows people down in that plain, in those towns and their vicinities.  Among them are his nephew Lot and his family. In Abraham’s mind there is also the thought of those people  that  may not  be  of the  kind  of many  in Sodom, and he makes that contrast in v. 23 : “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked ?” What follows here is a dialogue with the LORD – something which is known to us as prayer, and in this case intercessory prayer, prayer that intercedes on behalf of others, and it is wonderful to see this.  Although God has determined to judge Sodom and Gomorrah,   He allows Abraham to question Him, bargain with Him, intercede with Him, pleading as it were   for the life of the righteous in these towns.  Isn’t it wonderful to know that God is willing to hear your prayer? He wants to hear Abraham’s prayer. He is not going on with the angels at this point. His attention is fixed on Abraham who has some serious questions to present to the LORD.  
What an encouragement for us, who intercede for this city of Windhoek and for  the towns of Namibia  and  for  this world ... “O Lord, in your  wrath, remember mercy”, cried the prophet Habakkuk (Hab. 3:2). 
  • Samuel promised to intercede always for Israel (1 Sam. 12:23). 
  • The apostle Paul always prays for his churches (Eph. 1:16; 6:18 ; 1 Thess. 1:2; 2 The. 1:11 etc.); 
  • Ephaphras always struggles on behalf of the Colossian Christians in his prayers (Col.  4:12). 
  • The Lord Jesus Himself prays for us (Jn. 17; Rom. 8:34). He always lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25)
  • All these expected to have the ear of God when they prayed. So must we.  If we do not believe that we have the ear of God, then we will not pray. But here Abraham had the ear of God, and he made the most of it.

And we may be assured that God will never destroy the righteous alongside the wicked. Never! And in the absence of having the exact knowledge of men’s hearts like God always does, it is not wrong for us to present holy arguments to God (Spurgeon) for the salvation of the souls.  Here is Abraham:

“Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the sake of 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 hat from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (vv.23-25).

Do you see Abraham’s argument? He   knows the character of God so very well. After so many years of walking with God he knows that God is good and kind and merciful to the righteous.  The righteous Judge of all the earth can only do right. God cannot destroy the righteous along with the wicked and remain a just and good God. He cannot sweep away the righteous with the wicked. NEVER!  So what if there are 50 righteous people in the city, acting like salt and light in such a dark and wicked place? Will God destroy that city?  No! In that case, how many righteous are needed in a city to counteract the influence of the wicked? 45, 40, 30, 20,10?  God will not destroy. But what if there were only one righteous man? That is the issue. Actually, there is none righteous, no not even one. [Psalm 14:1-3; Rom. 3:9-18]

And here we begin to see the basis of God’s justification in the Bible. Who is righteous? Only the one whom God justifies and counts righteous  Among them were Abraham and his nephew Lot, and so we see that Sodom will be  eventually destroyed because it lacked any righteous people in its midst.
Here is something for us to ponder.  
Why is Windhoek not destroyed this very day?  The answer is that God still has many people in this city, and for their sake God withholds his wrath.  That is the reason why the God-ignoring, God hating people of our city have not been destroyed  by the wrath of God. It is the presence of God’s righteous men and women, interceding men and women, which saves sinners  from the wrath of God at this time. God is merciful and the text in 2 Peter 3:9 applies again.

But God will not withhold his wrath for ever. 
A day came when the sin of Sodom did reach its full measure, and a day will come when the sins of our world will reach their full measure, and  when our sins will have reached their full measure and then the wrath of God will be revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Rom. 1:18ff).  But even as He removed Lot and his family from Sodom before destroying it so God will deal with the world, removing the righteous and judging the rest.  There will then be a great separation in time to come and in that day you will need a more powerful Mediator than Abraham. You will need the greater Son of Abraham - the Lord Jesus Christ. Without his blood covering your sin the wrath of God will fall upon you forever .  
O call upon the God of mercy now, while it is still a day of   gospel mercy.  
Beg Him to save you from the wrath that is to come ! 

Those of you who know that He has saved you, come and celebrate at the table now set before you. Amen!




[1] Some of it is described in that horrible story in Judges 19:22ff
[2] Isaiah (Isa 1:9), Ezekiel (Ezek. 16:49),

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