Abraham (Genesis 18:16-33)

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Patriarchs

  • Immediately following the visit with Sarah and Abraham, the visitors look toward Sodom.
  • Then God wonders whether to inform Abraham about his plan.
  • God begins with a wonderful description of Abraham – blessed to be a blessing, father of all nations; he will lead his descendants to righteousness. (This is the first time God's promise is linked to performance.)
  • God hears the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah, but doesn't say who is crying out. Nonetheless, it is time to investigate.
  • Two of the visitors continue on towards Sodom.
  • God never really says that He intended to destroy the evil cities, but the reputation of Sodom seemed to be so well-known that Abraham simply took for granted that if He were to check it out, destruction would be the result. The conversation, then, proceeds from that assumption.
  • Some scholars see the dialogue as a test engineered by God—a means of determining Abraham's moral stature.
  • Others argue that this passage is an indictment on God. Abraham stood before God as His theological teacher, raising questions that He may not have previously considered, persuading Him to consider alternatives. And, in fact, God learned from this encounter.
  • Perhaps this event is part of a larger story about man's relationship to God.
  • Abraham epitomized the just man, chosen by God to speak on behalf of humanity. His concern, which sprang from compassion, was contrasted with the depravity and cruelty of the Sodomites.
  • The story confronts the worst in humanity with the best in one man.
  • Abraham speaks first and is speaking on behalf of others.
  • He bluntly asks if God will destroy the righteous along with the wicked.
  • In considering the whole city, there would have to be a few righteous people there despite their rampant sinfulness. No mention is made of Lot and his family.
  • Abraham's concern involves justice for all because he believes that God is just, benevolent, and omnipotent.
  • He asks, "Would you destroy the righteous with the wicked? Far be it from you to slay the righteous with the wicked. Far be it from you to treat the righteous as the wicked."
  • Even human judges are expected to distinguish between the innocent and the guilty. Surely, God, as Judge of all the earth would do right!
  • He also asked that the wicked majority be forgiven because of the righteous few. The implication of this was to move his appeal from divine justice to a call for divine mercy.
  • He asks if fifty innocents were found within the city, would the Lord still wipe it off the face of the earth, would He not forgive the whole city for the fifty?
  • To this direct question, the Lord responds, "Yes." If He finds fifty innocents, He will forgive the whole city.
  • Abraham continues, "What if the number is five short of fifty, will you ruin it?" Again, the Lord responds, "No, if I find only forty-five, I shall spare the whole city."
  • Four more times this exchange is repeated in increments of five, until the number stood at ten. The Lord responds that He would not ruin it for the sake of ten innocent men. At this point, they stopped.
  • Some suggest that Abraham went as far as he thought he could go, ending with the number ten.
  • God remained patient and present throughout.
  • It is true that He did not encourage him, but He did not reprimand him either. In so doing, He allowed the discussion to continue.
  • In the process, Abraham was given the opportunity to develop his moral stand. The human initiative for justice wasn't to be just a momentary outburst.
  • Rather, it had to be a sustained thought, pursued with persistence. In the end, Abraham settled for ten.
  • This conversation isn't the first biblical example of intercessory prayer.
  • It is more than a repetitive dialogue—the repetition actually gives it weight and significance.
  • And it is more than a scene taken from oriental life, which illustrates the bargaining ritual that produces the terms of a deal.
  • It was a test of Abraham's moral commitment, of his moral stature, of his willingness to strive for a deeper understanding.
  • These would have been necessary qualities for the man who would become the father of a great and powerful nation, who would bring blessing to all other nations, and who would direct his descendants to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.
  • This is a very important moment in the story of Abraham.

Bible Characters