Daily Distinctives, March 20, 2018 – The Baby With the Bathwater

I wish that I could do this for a living. You know, study the WORD of God and break it down line by line and precept by precept. Often times though, I find that I run out of day before I get the opportunity get into these deeper studies. They are truly the joy of my day. I took a little break from Genesis yesterday to talk a little about prayer and I am so glad that I did. But today, I am going back to Genesis to wrap up chapter 18 and look at a couple of things that I find quite interesting and are worthy of discussion. The first question I had as I read this, is whether or not it is okay to haggle with God. The second question that came to mind is whether or not God changes His mind once He has set His mind to do something. So, with those questions in mind let’s examine the passages of my devotional for today.

[Gen 18:20 NKJV] And the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave,

The first question that I asked myself as I read this is, “Who made the great outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah?” It could be reasoned that it was Lot, for he was one of the inhabitants of the land there now under the scrutiny of God. Perhaps, under the oppressive sinfulness, Lot cried out to the LORD against these cities. Perhaps it could have been others within the city who were the poor and oppressed that made an appeal to the LORD against the inhabitants (Ezekiel 16:49). We cannot be for certain, but we do know that the cry reached the ears of the LORD and God recognized that the sin of the people was very grave.  Now, we must be sure that God already knew the state of these cities. He may very well have allowed Lot to inhabit these cities to be a missionary of sorts, but now would come the time for Lot to knock the dust off his sandals and move on (Matthew 10:14), for no amount of proselytizing or evangelistic outreach, would save these wicked twin cities. The day of their  judgement had come.

[Gen 18:21 NKJV] “I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”

Again, I don’t believe that God was oblivious to what was going on here. I don’t think He needed to go down and check out the story for Himself, because He already knew the state of the union, so to speak, and had no need of discovery. The fact that He vocalizes this statement leads me to believe that He did such for the sake of Abraham. Abraham knew that his nephew Lot was living amongst the people and no doubt he would want to rescue Lot at all costs, as evidenced by his previous and successful rescue. While I can’t be sure that God did this for the sake of Abraham, I think it is plausible to consider that might be the case. God is in the business of training up men to follow after Him and He desires that we intercede for others in prayer. Perhaps God was preparing Abraham to consider the appropriate way to hand down judgment since Abraham would be a father of the multitude and would have to gain this kind of invaluable training in order to lead such a great multitude.

[Gen 18:22 NKJV] Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD.

Now we see the two “men” that accompanied God to visit with Abraham turn away and leave, headed towards Sodom. Some suggest that these were angels, but as I alluded to in an earlier devotional, perhaps these were even the remaining members of the Holy Trinity. I cannot be sure and most commentaries suggest that they are merely angels (as if there is anything mere about angels). Still, there is no argument in the commentaries against the possibility of these being the Son and the Holy Spirit in human form. Either way, the pair leaves Abraham standing before the LORD. I like to think that the two went down to give the inhabitants one final chance to repent and turn from their wickedness.

[Gen 18:23 NKJV] And Abraham came near and said, “Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked?

We see that Abraham came near and then asks his question. Many of the commentaries I have read on this subject state that this was an act of prayer. I hearken back to my study yesterday on prayer and think about how when we pray we are boldly approaching the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). When we go to the LORD in prayer we go to praise Him, to make our requests to Him, to seek wisdom and guidance and last but not least, to intercede for others. Abraham was doing the latter. While the description seems to point only to the fact that Abraham came near (as to suggest that he came near physically), we know that any communication with the LORD is considered prayer; prayer, after all, is communication with God by its very definition. And so Abraham approaches God, and I think Abraham asks an appropriate question here. “Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked?” Abraham surely knew the character of God. He had likely taught his family about how God is a just and righteous God who spared the righteous way back during the flood; the God who delivered Abraham from Egypt when in his folly he had gone astray from righteousness himself. Abraham is not concerned that the LORD would destroy the wicked, for the wicked are reserved for judgment (Job 21:30, Proverbs 16:4, 2 Peter 2:4, 2:9), but rather the righteous. It is for these that Abraham intercedes. Perhaps Abraham was focused intently on Lot being numbered amongst them and wants to see Lot spared, but I think he was concerned for any of the inhabitants that might be found righteous and numbered amongst those doomed to destruction. And so Abraham begins to haggle with God to spare the city of Sodom.

Another thing that we have to consider is that when we are talking about Sodom here we are not just speaking of Sodom alone, but the surrounding cities that made up 5 cities which were cojoined consisting of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar (a Pentapolis). This entire region was under the impending wrath for the sin was horrendous in that area. And so Abraham, surely convinced that God will do what is righteous because God is by His very nature righteous,  pleads for those amongst the 5 cities who may have some hope of salvation.

[Gen 18:24 NKJV] “Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare [it] for the fifty righteous that were in it?
[Gen 18:25 NKJV] “Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

Now some might view this as Abraham questioning the integrity of God as if He could do wrong. And while some do approach their questioning of God’s reasoning with an impious attitude, I am certain that this was not the case with Abraham. Abraham seems to be appealing to the very nature of God. I like what John Calvin says on this subject:

This method of appeal would not always avail among earthly judges; who are sometimes deceived by error, or perverted by favor, or inflamed with hatred, or corrupted by gifts, or misled by other means, to acts of injustice. But since God, to whom it naturally belongs to judge the world, is liable to none of these evils, it follows, that He can no more be drawn aside from equity, than he can deny himself to be God.

The fact is that God is not an earthly judge who is swayed by the corruptible. God is incorruptible and His judgments are fair, true and righteous. God is incapable of doing anything apart from His nature. And so to quell the thoughts of injustice that some still may have, may I remind you that God sometimes carries out His judgment on whole groups of people and for good cause allows collateral damage. Take for example Daniel, Shadrak, Meshak, and Abednigo. If any were numbered amongst the righteous of Israel surely these young men were. Still, they were exiled with the whole lot of them. God designed it as such for a greater purpose which was later revealed. God may throw the baby out with the bathwater if He has plans for the baby that don’t involve the tub.

[Gen 18:26 NKJV] So the LORD said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.”
[Gen 18:27 NKJV] Then Abraham answered and said, “Indeed now, I who [am but] dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord:
[Gen 18:28 NKJV] “Suppose there were five less than the fifty righteous; would You destroy all of the city for [lack of] five?” So He said, “If I find there forty-five, I will not destroy [it].”
[Gen 18:29 NKJV] And he spoke to Him yet again and said, “Suppose there should be forty found there?” So He said, “I will not do [it] for the sake of forty.”
[Gen 18:30 NKJV] Then he said, “Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Suppose thirty should be found there?” So He said, “I will not do [it] if I find thirty there.”
[Gen 18:31 NKJV] And he said, “Indeed now, I have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord: Suppose twenty should be found there?” So He said, “I will not destroy [it] for the sake of twenty.”
[Gen 18:32 NKJV] Then he said, “Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak but once more: Suppose ten should be found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy [it] for the sake of ten.”

Now it might seem that Abraham was searching for some kind of loophole in all of this and that his haggling with God was somehow irreverent. If that were the case, I am quite certain the response that God gave would have been a stern rebuke. But this is not what we see here. God answers the requests gently. But when Abraham whittles down the lot to include what would likely be equated to the number of Lot and his family, I think Abraham understands that if Lot is found to be righteous then God will spare him. I believe that the LORD was patient with Abraham to help Abraham quell his own fears. Once Abraham is satisfied the LORD went His way and Abraham returned to his place.

[Gen 18:33 NKJV] So the LORD went His way as soon as He had finished speaking with Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place.

And so we have an encounter with God and Abraham where Abraham intercedes for the inhabitants of the land. Through this study, I think I have the answers to my initial questions. The first question I asked is whether or not it is okay to “haggle with God.” To this, I would say, it depends on your motives. As we have seen, Abrahams motives were for sparing the lives of many. I think about when my mother passed away, how my siblings and other family members prayers seemed to be something along the lines of haggling, “if You will spare her I will do this or that, or I won’t do this or that,” as if a change in behavior would somehow motivate God to change his direction. My prayer was different, not that I think of myself as more holy in my prayer life than that of my family who was grieving for my mom. My prayer was that the LORD would have His will done. If He took my mom home, Amen. If He gave her additional days, weeks, months, or years, Amen. I think that the attitude struck me was that they were hoping that God would change His mind. Which leads me to my second question, “Does God change His mind?”

As we saw and will see, LORD willing, moving forward, God set His mind upon the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham understood that a part of God’s nature was His immutability. That is, God never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Some would argue that there are instances in the Bible where God changes His mind or does something that He regrets and they will site accounts like that in Genesis 6:6, or the account of Jonah and the city of Nineveh. What we have to consider is that we are not even in the same dimension as God. He views things from an otherworldly perspective which we are incapable of. God knows the beginning from the end (Isaiah 46:9-10) while at the same time having no beginning or end (John 8:58) and Who is the beginning and end (Revelation 1:8). The fact is that God is eternal and immutable. He does not change (James 1:17). To say that He changes His mind would be an error for it is not in His nature to change His mind. While the language of the Bible is perfect (2 Timothy 3:16) it is in terms that we can understand in our nature, it does not limit God to our nature though, for He is beyond our nature. We ascribe to be conformed to His nature, not the other way around.

Prayer: LORD, You are holy and just. You are righteous in all of Your ways. You judge fairly and in accordance with Your nature. Thank You for being patient with us, when we, like Abraham, intercede on the behalf of others. I think it must make You smile to hear our prayers and see that we earnestly seek to be like Jesus who intercedes on our behalf as well. Thank You, LORD, that Your will is perfect and so far beyond our own. LORD, I pray that You would help me to remember this at all points of my life. I pray that You would engrain in me the understanding that You are perfect in all of Your ways and Your decisions are the best decisions. When I step out into my own flesh, I thank You for pulling me back on course. I pray that You would continue to work in and through me to bring glory to Your name. Since You know all things, I ask that my prayer would be directed to You in such a way that You would cause me to ask for things that You know I need answers to. Do not let my prayer become dry and purposeless. You are the I AM and I am so grateful that I am attached to You. Thank You for laying down Your life for me Jesus. I long to be with You and to know You. Holy Spirit guide me and help me to be the man You have called me to be. It is in the name of Jesus that I pray. -Amen

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