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Ministry of the Word - God’s Justice and Abraham’s Intercession
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“God’s Justice and Abraham’s Intercession”
Genesis 18:16-33

Introduction: What do you know about God’s justice? What do you think about God as judge over all the earth? How does the justice of God make you feel?  We will gain some insight into the justice of God and the character and prayer life of Abraham. We will deal with the subject of God’s justice and judgment upon sin. We will see this that God’s judgment upon sin is just. He demands righteousness. And in Abraham we see a man of God, the friend of God, shocked by the announcement of judgment, he is moved to intercede on behalf of wicked Sodom.

The Significance of Number Fifty and Ten

Abraham begins with fifty righteous persons in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and ends his abruptly at ten? What significance did this number have in his time? Were these numbers just a random selection, or did they have some cultural, historical, or theological meaning?


Abraham begins his negotiation with fifty innocent or righteous men and then lowers three times by five (50, 45, and 40). Then again he lowers the number three times by ten (30, 20 and 10).

Why he did not finish at five, or even one? WHY..


The LORD Announces Judgment Upon Sodom & Gomorrah

Vs16 Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way “Then the men set out from there…” This verse serves as the transition from the annunciation of the upcoming birth of Isaac to the impending doom of wicked Sodom. Irony here is the three men that brought Abraham & barren Sarah hope of announcing they would have a son, they head towards the wicked Sodom where the LORD will bring down judgment and death. (Hope Vs Judgment)


The quiet, gracious host (vv.1-15) becomes the bold inquisitor of God (vv.16-33). A rhetorical question in each section- is anything too demanding for Yahweh? “Shall not he who judges all the earth give right judgment?” sounds the major motif of each unit. Abraham places himself between Yahweh and Sodom, concerned as he is that God not unjustly, destroy the righteous along with the wicked. It was Sodam’s groans that provokes Yahweh.


“and they looked down toward Sodom” Tradition leads us to a particular village on a hill called Beni Naim as the spot. It was 3 miles east of Hebron.

“And Abraham went with them” Abraham and the three men walk off after their meal. Notice that Abraham didn’t just wave good-bye to his visitors. He walked with them awhile to “send them off” (18:16) He walked 3 miles with the Lord. It was during this time that Abraham learned about Sodom. If he hadn’t taken the time to walk with them he would have never had the opportunity to understand God’s purposes and plans. This is a simple principle: If we do not make time to spend with the Lord we will not understand His ways and will be confused in our thinking about Him (Isa 55:8-9). We can’t build a relationship with God “on the fly.” If we are going to attempt to understand God’s ways, we need to make time to do so. When we make time to be with the Lord, His will and plans are revealed to us.


Vs.17-19 The LORD considers Abraham. 17 The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 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.”

YHWH soliloquizes (17-19) asking the question whether he will hide his plans from Abraham. In the ANE (Ancient Near East) a servant of God or king was also a friend, privy to the masters plans. YHWH’s own answer is that since Abrahams own people will be great among the nations the servant will receive the gift now of knowing the divine plan. The Lord is wondering if he should communicate his plans for the judgment to Abraham.


The Lord considers Abraham his friend and revealing what is about to happen has implications for the covenant and for Abraham’s descendents in Moses’ day.


God is asking if he can trust Abraham, and the answer is Yes.


18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?

Vs.18 – Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation- The basis for God’s confiding in his friend Abraham is a restatement of the original promise to Abraham in Gen 12:1-3. Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.


It is not about Abraham per se (election), but about God’s having chosen Abraham and making a covenant with him.


all the nations on earth shall be blessed in him.- that blessing would ultimately be in his descendent, Jesus, the savior of lost men.


19 “for I have chosen him” God’s electing grace; Abram was chosen for God’s glory.


“that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord” Abraham has been chosen so that he may command his children to keep the way of the Lord, he would be a teacher of righteousness. Here may be an example of Abraham pointing forward to Moses and ultimately to Jesus. God’s reason for revealing his plans to Abraham include choosing Abraham so that a people will follow that will be righteous and just.

“The idea of election, promissory blessing and righteousness come together in v.19 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.”

This verse contains a lot of covenantal vocabulary. “chosen” is “to know”. “command”, “keep”, “righteousness” and justice”.


command his children - & keep the - the way of the Lord- Our life are to be lived in light of your covenant relationship with the Lord. righteousness and justice- “Righteousness portrays a way of living in community that promotes recognition of God’s rule.

Vs. 20-21 The Annunciation of Judgment Upon Sodom 20 Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 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

Then the LORD said- The LORD now speaks to Abraham and announces his intentions.

The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great- this is anthropomorphic language, similar to Gen 4:10 where the Lord says that the blood of Cain’s brother was crying out to him from the ground. The “outcry” could be the cries of those who have been raped & sinned within this perverted city.

their sin is very grave- all sin is grave and is worthy of death, Sodom’s sin was grave. Though all nations and cities were sinful, Sodom’s sin was enough to cause a cry that went up to God.

I will go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry- the altogether means completeness, their evil and wickedness was complete, full to running over. It is like God saying, I am going to Sodom to see if they are as bad as they can be, as bad as I think.


Gen.18:22-33 Abraham Intercedes for Sodom and God’s Justice Confirmed 1(22 So the men turned from there, and went towards Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 23Then 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 then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 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?” 26 And the Lord said,“If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” ) 2 (27 Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28 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.” ) 3 (29 Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.”) 4 ( 30 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.”) 5 ( 31 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.”) 6 ( 32 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.”) 33 And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.

This plea for Sodom by Abraham matches Lot’s plea for Zoar in 19:17-22.

This is a 6 fold plea- (1) vs.23-26; (2) vs 27-28; (3) vs. 29; (4) vs.30; (5) vs.31; (6) vs.32.

The passage is framed by vs. 22 “So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom” and v.33 “And the LORD went his way…and Abraham returned to his place.”

“Threefold repetition is common place in biblical narrative; the doubling of the pattern here is significant and gives Abraham’s intercession, solemnity and weight.


Notice there is a subtle shift in tone on both Abraham’s part & the Lord’s. Abraham begins with a bold “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” & then in vs.27 with “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord” and concludes with vs.32 “Oh, let not the Lord be angry” The Lord’s responses in vs. 26 “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous…I will spare the whole place”; but in vs.32 “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”


Abraham the Intercessor …….. Vs.22 So the men…went toward Sodom- these would be the two angels. The fact that there were two is important as in the Mosaic Law two witnesses were required to be in agreement for a capital punishment.


Abraham’s interpretation of what God said in vs.20-21 is that he will bring a devastating judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah, vs.23 “Will you indeed sweep away…?”. There was either more to the conversation than we know, or Abraham knew in his heart what was about to happen; nonetheless he begins to intercede for Sodom, assuming that there must be some righteous in that city.


Abraham the intercessor- here we see Abraham as the prayer warrior, the intercessor who pleads for the city of Sodom while recognizing, ultimately, that there may be only ten righteous people in the whole city


Is God Just?

Vs.25 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…Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?-

Abraham would perhaps say to the Lord “Hey, my nephew Lot is down there!”

We have raised these questions before Why we see the good die young, the innocent die unjustly, the guilty go free, live long and prosper. The earthquake, hurricane, plague and famine all come and the righteous do die with the wicked. Why????


Abraham here is pointing to the Lord as the ultimate arbiter of justice and is proclaiming that God would not punish the righteous with the wicked. “The beginning point of the plea is the assumption that the Lord indeed is righteous and can be counted on accordingly.”


Who are the righteous and the wicked ? The righteous would be those in a proper relationship of faith and obedience to God, within the covenant. Those outside the covenant, who do not acknowledge the LORD nor obey him are the wicked. Most people today seem to assume that man is not fallen, that all are innocent till proven guilty, and that man is inherently good. What about those who have not heard the gospel..

“God’s righteousness means that God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right.” In other words, there is nothing above God to which he must conform. Rom.3:25-26 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus


Truth is, God allowed Abraham to "negotiate" because He knew there were not ten righteous people in Sodom. But Abraham knew that God was merciful so he came away from the prayer feeling that God was more than fair in His decision. As for mercy, God also allowed Lot, Abraham's nephew and family to flee before the destruction of the city.



Yes, God is merciful as He shows here by allowing the city to survive with just 10 good people


Taking advantage of the opportunity

Today, God still waits for people to come to Him for forgiveness. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to take our place in judgment. All we have

to do is believe and ask Him to become our Savior to be forgiven.


Sodom had a choice and so do we. And remember, even though God is very patient as we see in His conversation with Abraham, one day will come when His patience will wear out and the window of opportunity will close.


Genesis 18:16-33  God Consults with Abraham

God determines that Abraham should not be kept in the dark regarding what God is "about to do" (18:17).

17 The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 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.”

Gods covenant is just not with Abraham but the whole community, & how could God transmit his faith to the whole community about his covenant to the generations to come if not through Abraham.

God's speaks to Abraham 18:20 Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 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.”  & report the cries of people about the gravity of the sins of Sodom. God engages in a judicial inquiry with Abraham, and God show Abraham the ways of justice, consults with him regarding the gravity of the situation in Sodom. God's use of the language of "if not" suggests that the future of Sodom remains somewhat open, even if God has preliminarily decided what to do. He leaves Abraham a window open so that he can still try to save them.

Abraham now stands before God and engages God regarding the situation in Sodom (18:22-33). 22 So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  He raises sharp questions with God about the preliminary decision to destroy the city. He is blunt and persistent, understanding that God welcomes such a challenge. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" (18:25b) 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, b 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?” Abraham is especially concerned that the righteous in the city not be treated in the same way as the wicked. How many righteous must there be in the city for God to save it? God honors the question as a legitimate one.

Abraham, for unknown reasons, starts with the number fifty and eventually works his way down to ten. (10 in Rev is connected to evil) God responds positively to every question Abraham raises. While the numbers should not be interpreted in a precisely literal way, they raise the issue of "critical mass." That is, There is an insufficient number of righteous left in the city to turn the situation around. When the number gets down to ten, Abraham recognizes this to be the case and leaves off the questioning, recognizing that the destruction of the city would be just.


18:16-33 When interceding for Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham argues in terms of collective responsibility, as understood in ancient times in Israel: the entire people shared the same fate even though not all of them sinned, for the sin of some affected all. According to that way of looking at things, if there were enough just people in the city (Abraham did not dare go below ten) God would not have destroyed it. This way of thinking also shows how the salvation of many (even if they are sinners) can come through the faithfulness of a few, thereby preparing the way to see how the salvation of all mankind is brought about by the obedience of one man alone, Jesus Christ.


The final outcome of this episode shows that, even though he destroys these cities, God saves the righteous who live in them. God does not punish the just man along with the sinner (as Abraham thought); a person is allowed to perish or is saved depending on his personal behavior. This truth, which is found in the Bible from the start, will be given special emphasis in the teaching of the prophets, particularly Jeremiah and Ezekiel (cf. Jer 31:29-30; Ezek 18), who stress individual and personal responsibility before God


Why Abraham Begins with the Number Fifty?

He purports that number fifty represents half of a small city so Abraham is expecting an equal number of wicked and righteous in the city

The progress of the number from fifty down to ten is to be considered as an exhibition of God’s patience and Abraham’s rough estimate. Abraham did not know the accurate number of righteous.

In Ex 18:21, You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as

officers over thousands, hundreds.

fifties and tens. The simultaneous usage of the numbers fifty and ten denote the sizes of the two smaller groups in descending order to which Moses assigned the leaders. This is repeated in Deut 1:15. & in Num 8:25.

Undoubtedly, it is impossible to ascertain what Abraham had in his mind when he used these numbers, but based on these intertextual references perhaps these two number represented the sizes of the two smallest groups in descending order. Since Abraham was conscious of the brevity of time and opportunity, as reflected in his apology repeatedly in v.27 (I am only dust and ashes), v.30 (let me speak), v.32 (let me speak), he made a hurried negotiation descending from the second size of the group number (50) to the first size of group number (10) from bottom. This was a margin bargain in the limited time Abraham had.

Why Abraham Finishes with the Number Ten?

The number ten may possibly be the number of the members of Lot’s family (Lot and his wife, two daughters and their husbands, two sons and their wives as mentioned in Gen 19:12

Ten is the smallest number to make up a group.”

>“is the natural limit.”

>It is used to designate Abraham’s tithe to Melchizadek – ‘a tenth of everything’  (Gen.14: 20). Probably in Abraham’s understanding, ten percent of any set is the best representation of the whole group.

>Abraham’s descendents are promised the land of ten ethnic groups (Gen 15:19-21).

>Sarah waited for ten years in Canaan before she gave Hagar to Abraham (Gen.16: 3).

>The servant takes ten of his master’s camel (Gen. 24:10).

>Rebekah is given two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels (Gen.24: 22).

>Rebekah’s family requests Abraham’s servant for Rebekah to remain with them for ten days (Gen.24: 55).

>Jacob, the supplanter, was cheated ten times by Laban (Gen 31:7).

>Ten of Joseph's brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. (Gen 42:3).

>Joseph sent ten male and female donkeys loaded with the best things of Egypt for his father (Gen 45:23).

>The smallest group formed by Moses was of ten members (Ex 18:25).

Perhaps the number ten is the smallest number that ideally represents the whole. It is the number of completeness, this was a cultural phenomenon in Abraham’s time, which carried its own significance.



Abraham knows that his relatives in Sodom and Gomorrah are less than fifty, yet he begins his bargain from fifty. He neither begins with the number of his relatives nor begins specifically naming his relatives before the Lord. In his new role, Abraham is an epitome of the righteousness that God desires in a man who is called out to His purposes - selfless, impartial, and takes a stand beyond his personal interests, & in obedience to God’s call.

Perhaps, Abraham uses the two smallest round figure number fifty and ten to actually represent the entire humanity in the two cities with a hope that they may be spared.

Abraham is the type of the true Mediator Jesus Christ, who stands in the between the sinful world and a righteous God. Abraham’s righteousness has found flawlessness in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Abraham’s persistence and obedience has been perfected on the cross.


Now we have a perfect mediator Jesus Christ, the last Adam, in whom the whole mankind is represented.



The New Jerome’s Biblical Commentary.

International Bible Commentary


Oremus Bible Browser.


Tony DIAS.

St.Joseph’s Church. Vikhroli. (400-079) MUMBAI. INDIA                                                                      Nov 2012

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