Genesis 18:16-33 Believers intercede for the nations through their righteous ways
Then the men rose up from there, and looked down toward Sodom; and Abraham was walking with them to send them off. 17 The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? 19 For I have chosen him, so 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 upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.” 20 And the Lord said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. 21 I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”
22 Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the Lord.
23 Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”
26 So the Lord said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.” 27 And Abraham replied, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes. 28 Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, will You destroy the whole city because of five?” And He said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 He spoke to Him yet again and said, “Suppose forty are found there?” And He said, “I will not do it on account of the forty.” 30 Then he said, “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak; suppose thirty are found there?” And He said, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” 31 And he said, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord; suppose twenty are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the twenty.” 32 Then he said, “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the ten.” 33 As soon as He had finished speaking to Abraham the Lord departed, and Abraham returned to his place.
Abraham is recognised by the Lord as one to consult with in matters that concern the rise and fall of people and cities. Abraham has risen to the role of intercessor and prophet of the nations. Here, Abraham’s righteousness and compassion is apparent in interceding for the souls of the dying city. Today’s devotion teaches the believer’s role in becoming salt and light to the community. In interceding for the nation, believers bring enduring prosperity through their acts of righteousness in kindness and justice. Believers intercede for the nations not just through their prayers but by the way they live.
The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do…
After addressing Sarah, the Lord proceeds with His primary agenda: to inform Abraham of what He is about to do concerning Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham is worthy of the Lord’s trust and has become the key person in helping God establish His kingdom upon the earth. Thus, the Lord shall not hide from Abraham what He is about to do, but will involve him in the major decisions that concern the nations.
And the Lord said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave.
The Lord draws Abraham’s attention to the smoking gun of oppression (the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great), of which He is about to ascertain (I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry.) Elsewhere in the bible, the Lord takes heed to the outcry of the Israelites in Egypt and raises up Moses for their deliverance (see Exodus 3:7). The outcry is unmistakably the cry of distress from those who are helpless and oppressed. Oppression of the weak is an abomination to the Lord and God warns to destroy the oppressors (see Jeremiah 50:33, Ezekiel 18:12).
Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?
The basic premise of Abraham’s proposition to spare Sodom and Gomorrah is: mercy must always triumph over justice… As long as there is a shred of recognisable righteousness in the city, there is reason enough to spare it. The Lord functions as judge and upholder of righteousness and justice, whereas the preservation of life is top most on Abraham’s mind. And he pleads to spare the entire city, not only the lives of the righteous. Here, Abraham seems to possess divine patience for sinners and optimism for their repentance.
Abraham pleads to save the righteous in order to secure reprieve for sinners. The sequence of the dialogue attest to the fact that this is an intercession as opposed to a business kind of negotiation. It is important to note that a business negotiation fights for personal benefit whilst an intercession vies for mercy and favour for another.
So the Lord said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.
Abraham initiated with a figure of 50 righteous persons by which the city will be spared. Apparently, the negotiation seems one-sided with Abraham paring the figure and the Lord readily conceding to his requests: 50 – 45 – 40 -30 – 20 – 10. However, the dialogue ends abruptly upon reaching 10 righteous persons by which the Lord will spare the city. Abraham’s approach to the negotiation is unusual and seems unreasoning where he changes the figure the moment the Lord concedes to his suggestions, and he does it five times. By virtue of the fact that Abraham is not negotiating for his personal benefit but for the city, the Lord hears Abraham repeatedly and considers his requests.
God gives the righteous the power to intercede for the community and nation.
The manner in which the Lord responds to Abraham’s unconventional intercession for the city speaks of God’s overwhelming desire to forgive sinners and to spare them from destruction. However, the Lord in deciding the course of action takes into consideration the following:
a. the number of righteous in the midst. The righteous function as salt and light in the midst of an evil generation giving hope towards a righteous nation. Therefore, believers must uphold righteousness in the community by showing compassion to the weak and to uphold justice for all. In doing so, we preserve the community and future generations from destruction.
b. an intercessor to stand in the gap. The intercessor pleads on behalf of sinners to appeal to God’s mercies to delay the divine recompense that will befall. The effectiveness of the intercessor to warrant God’s hearing and gracious attention will depend on his inner qualities of love and righteousness.
The conversation between the Lord and Moses is about the shifting threshold of God’s mercy and the burden of justice: How many righteous persons in the midst will warrant a just reprieve for the entire city? Abraham, being a righteous man plays a fitting role as intercessor on sinners’ behalf. Abraham has successfully brokered a reduced expectation on the number of righteous men in the city required to save it. Although the city is eventually destroyed, Abraham has again saved his nephew Lot from imminent danger.
Unfortunately, many churchgoers do not play their role as salt and light in the community. Their lives remain predominantly self-centred having little concern for the moral condition of the people or the plight of the poor. In fact they look on passively while their nation slide into decay. Such are like Lot, who looks pass the oppression of the poor and the corruption of the city supposing all will remain well by the grace of God.
Therefore, believers must play the leading role in cultivating the spirit of charity among the young; to teach them about who they are as children of God; to learn tolerance and to put the interest of others before themselves; and to uphold the spiritual order that the wealthier is to share in all things with the needy.
What causes the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is the result of years of neglect for the poor among them. Being oppressed by the upper class, the lesser are driven to oppress the weakest among them. God is searching for men and women who will stand in the gap in a bid to reverse the tide of corruption so that they may see salvation for future generations. The righteous must intercede by stemming the tide of oppression so that sinners may be saved. The prophet Ezekiel says,
The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice. I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one. Ezekiel 22:29-30
Turning a blind eye to the needy is the beginning of oppression.
Oppression does not necessarily entail breaking the law, it can simply be a case of turning a blind eye to those in need. Although the law gives the landlord the right to increase rent, or the lender to exact interest, what is lawful in the eyes of the world may be grave injustice in the eyes of God. The prophet Amos warns the people,
Therefore because you impose heavy rent on the poor
And exact a tribute of grain from them,
Though you have built houses of well-hewn stone,
Yet you will not live in them;
You have planted pleasant vineyards, yet you will not drink their wine.
For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great,
You who distress the righteous and accept bribes
And turn aside the poor in the gate. Amos 5:11-12
An oppressive society has no regard for the financial capability of the poor to afford basic necessities of lodgings and food. The rich will rather keep their many well built houses vacant instead of making the rent affordable. They keep their excesses to themselves even though they cannot consume them. When you see the homeless and hungry in increasing numbers, it signals the beginning of the end. However, an apathetic society can hide behind a facade of well run charity institutions funded by the government. In fact, the people are merely using their tax money to keep the aged and handicapped out of their sight. Many of these established social services house the needy in the name of humanity so that citizens can sooth their conscience and turn a blind eye to them. During major festivals, the handicapped and the aged are often asked to participate in the celebrations in a bid to show the world that all’s well.
The prophet Micah teaches the distinctive of a blameless society: one that does justice, loves kindness and walks humbly with God (see Micah 6:8). A compassionate society begins with the heart: mercy in giving the weaker person an opportunity to be trained, to make mistakes and to rise up. Justice in treating the weaker as equals with their stronger compatriots. Humility in recognising God as Judge and Benefactor of all people. Therefore, when the people’s hearts are set right, we can see the signs of a blameless and compassionate society. We see the aged and the handicapped frequenting public places aided by caregivers. We see children from poor families excelling together with the middle and upper class. We see blue collar workers given the same dignity and respect as white collar workers. We see the poor given access to similar medical treatment as the rich. We see minorities being given equal opportunities to progress in their careers.
Is the culture in your country showing signs of oppression and apathy towards the poor? You and your church can do something about it by showing the young how to live justly and show kindness to the marginalised among them. Collaborate with all people without prejudice in bringing empathy to the community. Do all that is in your power to maintain equity and justice at the work place. The role of the church is not just to preach salvation in Jesus but to perpetuate His truth of mercy and justice wherever we are.
Dear Lord, prepare me as intercessor and prophet to my community. I endeavour to show kindness, and uphold justice wherever I am. Use my church to be salt and light to the community. I pray that you bless the nation through the work of our intercession. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.