Theses two chapters concern the story of Sodom and Gomorah. Its one of those parts of the Bible the maybe you’ve avoided, particularly because we who live in Canada don’t know what to do with justice and judgement and wrath. Maybe we’re too polite. But judgement is a recurring theme in Genesis, from the warning taht in the day we would eat of the fruit of the tree we would die, to God wiping the earth clean in the flood, to the little phrases in Genesis 15 that foretold that God giving the land of Canaan over to the Israelites was also an act of judgement upon the people living there. It is really important to study out these passages and hear what they have to say, so that God’s character is not maligned, and our faith might not fail. Abraham asks God a very important question in this text: Should not the Judge of all the earth do right? This gets at the heart of the challenged posed by the newer movement of athiests: the challenge used to be that God was not true, now we here more often that God is unjust, a moral monster. God is immoral, therefore he is not true. This is exactly what Abraham is suggesting.
God’s Justice Cannot Be Separated From His Mercy
So in this chapter you have a record of Abraham and Sarah being visited by three fascinating beings. Moses indicates to us in verse one that one of these beings is the Lord himself who visits Abraham, whereas 19:1 suggests that the other two beings are angels. So we, the reader, are tipped off right away to the identity of these visitors, yet it is unclear as to when Abraham understand just exactly who it is who is visiting him. He extends hospitality to the Lord and his angles, unaware of their divine identity and origin.
What is the purpose of this visit? It seems to be two-fold: 1) to assure Abraham that Sarah will soon become pregnant and give birth to the son promised to him in chapter 17, and 2) to inform Abraham about the act of judgement that He was going to execute toward the cities of the Valley.
While these two purposes seem at first glance to be unrelated, they in fact demonstrate that the justice of God cannot be separated from the mercy of God. Why is it so significant that Sarah should miraculously have a son in her old age? Because of the promise of Genesis 3:15 - a promise given in the face of sin and rebellion, that instead of God pouring out judgement upon human kind, he would in his mercy provide a deliverer, the offspring of the woman should crush the serpents head. the promises made to Abraham and Sarah were an expansion and confirmation of that promise. And so even while God is visiting Abraham to speak to him about the judgement that will befall the cities of the plain on account of their sin, God is providing more assurance about the saviour He will miraculously provide as an act of mercy in response to mankind’s sin.
And this is the story of the scripture, both Old and New Testament, the God’s justice cannot be separated from his mercy, for it is who He is. The Lord’s self-designation (Exodus 34:4-5):
“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
God is Concerned that We Know Him as Merciful and Just (17-19)
In verse 17 God questions, “Should I hide my plan from Abraham?” We see that God already has it in mind to judge the people of these cities. What is interesting about the case of S&G is that God does intentionally removes the veil behind this catastrophe to let us catch a glimpse of his character. He wants to redeem the situation, in a way, by teaching humanity a lesson about himself in the process, that he is both merciful and just. God feels it is especially important to instruct Abraham because Abraham will certainly become a great and might nation. He is to be the father of the Nation of Israel, that community which God had especially chosen to be the vessel of his revelation. Not only that but all the nations of the earth will be blessed by him. Abraham is going to be the father of all who ultimately form God’s community, whether Jew or Gentile, therefore God strategically chooses him. Abraham has already been chosen to this role in previous chapters; here, then, is the first responsibility of Abraham to that call. To direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the Lord. God would teach Abraham, and Abraham was to transmit that teaching to all who would constitute the community of faith, all the way through history, even to us. We are also children of Abraham. This teaching is recorded for us in our bibles, but we should remember that this teaching ultimately has its source in God himself, the Supreme Teacher.
Abraham is to teach his children to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just. In order to teach his children the way of the Lord concerning what is right and just, Abraham himself must understand the Lord’s way himself. God desires to teach Abraham something about divine justice and righteousness that he is to pass on to all of humanity. Notice that we recipients of this teaching (us) are not only to learn something new about God, but actually change our practice in response to his instruction to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just. God’s teaching influences our practice.
God’s Justice Responds to the Cry of the Oppressed (20)
So God tells Abraham that, "I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah” This word outcry is an interesting one to investigate through the bible. At its most basic, it simply means a “cry” or a “wailing” but when this word is traced through the Old Testament we get a more full picture of what is going on. I want to note three things about this outcry.
It’s a cry that connects: The phrase most associated with this cry is “I have heard.” In most of the Old Testament references this “outcry” refers to the outcry of the weak or poor when oppressed by the wicked. Take for example Israel under the Egyptians:
Exodus 3:7 The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.
It’s a cry that contends: This is more than simply a cry for help. It’s a cry for justice. it’s a cry cry of testimony against sin. This use of the word is enshrined in the Mosaic law:
Exodus 22:22-24 "Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.
James 5:4 in the New Testament also speaks about this
“Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The wages you held back cry out against you. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s armies.”
It’s a cry that compels: Just as this cry comes up before God, it works to bring God down. It compels God to action. Refer to the Exodus and Cain passages above. My daughter and her friends like to play just outside my study window . . . when I hear the right cry, I move. Let me remind you once again. You do not want God to take that kind of interest in your sin.
God’s Judgement is Rightly Earned (21)
So God hears this type of cry, and moves off his throne in heaven because their sin is so flagrant. Just What Was Sodom’s Sin?
- Sodom is connected with wickedness from its earliest description in the Biblical record
- Gen 13:13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.
- Rebellion against authority; human or divine:
- Genesis 14:4 For twelve years they had been subject to Kedolaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.
- Isaiah 3:9 Their partiality witnesses against them; they proclaim their sin like Sodom, they do not hide it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil upon themselves.
- Idolatry: In the context of describing the idolatry of Babylon
- Deut 32:32 For their vine comes from the vine of Sodom, and from the fields of Gomor'rah; their grapes are grapes of poison, their clusters are bitter;
- Hypocritical Spiritual Leadership:
- Jeremiah 23:14 But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his wickedness; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.”
- Greed and Lack of Compassion:
- Ezekial 16:49 Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, surfeit of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them, when I saw it.
- Sexuality and Perversion
- Jude 7: just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
Yes, Sodom has become a byword in our day for a particular kind of sin. Our language is not the first to make that connection to our fault. In Ezekiel 16:56 the prophet reveals that the Hebrews had made the same mistake to their hurt: “Was not your sister Sodom a byword in your mouth in the day of your pride, before your own wickedness was uncovered? Now you have become like her . . . you bear the penalty of your lewdness and your abominations, says the LORD.” What’s my point? To say that God does not judge a society in this way for one particular expression of sin. God reserves this type of judgment for societies like that before the flood, when Genesis 6 tells us that “every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts were only evil all of the time.” This was a wicked, wicked society. Their sin had reached, to use a phrase just 2 chapters before in Genesis, its full measure. You see, their seems to be a line, a time when the cries against a people are too loud, a time when their sinful hearts have reached full expression, when God, for the sake of the righteous who have been killed and who remain, must judge. Until that time he reaches out, he waits, he sends prophets, he warns, he calls, he loves, he cries. In Ezekial 33:11 he confesses “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked!” But there comes a time when his longsuffering and patience toward sin are spent and he rises in judgment. Jonah knew that God was a “merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love; eager to turn back from destroying people.” But had the people of Ninevah not repented, they surely would’ve suffered his judgment in forty days.
God’s Judgments are Just (18:22-33)
We now get to the heart of the matter. The two men turn and head toward Sodom, but the Lord remains standing before Abraham. Abraham approaches the Lord and asks the million dollar question:
The two other men went on toward Sodom, but the LORD remained with Abraham for a while. Abraham approached him and said, "Will you destroy both innocent and guilty alike? Suppose you find fifty innocent people there within the city--will you still destroy it, and not spare it for their sakes? Surely you wouldn't do such a thing, destroying the innocent with the guilty. Why, you would be treating the innocent and the guilty exactly the same! Surely you wouldn't do that! Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?"
Those two questions are the heart of this entire passage:
- Will God sweep away the righteous with the wicked?
- Should not the Judge of all the earth do right?
Are God’s judgments just? Let’s look at this question a little closer.
Abraham appeals to God on the basis of God’s character.
Abraham has been called by God to keep they way of the Lord by doing what is right and just and to pass that instruction down to his descendants. Thus his appeal is very logical – How do you expect me to act justly if you yourself do not, Lord? Now of course, we know already that God already has in mind to act justly with the cities, but Abraham needs reassurance. So he appeals, he bargains, he wants to see just how righteous and merciful this God of his is. God he says, will you destroy it for the sake of 50, 45,40, 30, 20, 10.
And Abraham stops questioning!!!!! Abraham is convinced that the God he serves is supremely patient and righteous, just and merciful. He has a picture of God that he will be proud to pass on to his children. Abraham can confess with Job, blessed be the name of the Lord! and confess with Peter that “the Lord know how to rescue the godly from trials, even while keeping the wicked under punishment until the day of the final judgment.
What does it mean for us?
- Heed the warning that God’s judgments are real
- Pray for our Lost City and those entrenched in it: That we may repent like Nineveh at Jonah’s preaching, rather than receive the fate of Sodom.
- Cry Out to the True Son of Abraham, Jesus Christ, who revealed the fullness of God’s mercy and justice on the cross, and currently intercedes for us.