Saturday, August 09, 2008

Genesis 18:22-25 On Challenging God

Genesis 18:22-25: Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the Lord. And Abraham came near and said, “Wilt Thou indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt Thou indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from Thee 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 Thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”

The Lord agrees to go down to Sodom to check out the outcry He has heard and Abraham quickly steps in to capitalize on that. As the men turn away, eager to move on to their destination, Abraham remains in his spot before the Lord. He approaches Him and asks whether God really intends to destroy the righteous with the wicked.

Interestingly, the text in this or the previous verses gives no indication whatsoever as to what God intended to do when He got to Sodom. All we know is that He was not happy with what He had heard in their outcry. So, one of three things happened which led to this question. First, perhaps Abraham knew God well enough to know what He would do when He called someone’s sin ‘exceedingly grave’ as He did in verse twenty. Secondly, Abraham may simply have assumed what God would do. Thirdly, there was more conversation between them than what the text indicates.

If the third possibility was indeed the case and there was more conversation than what we are provided with, then clearly this can also be true of the rest of scripture. That is, we may only have the highlights and critical aspects of any conversation in scripture and indeed there may be more in the account we have of any given incidence. That is a real and most probable possibility. Those of us who to try to understand scripture and interpret it for our own use must be careful to base our interpretation on what we have in scripture and to clearly indicate when we are extrapolating our interpretation based on what else we ‘assume’ was taking place or may have been said.

For whatever reason, Abraham asks God to consider sparing the city if there were fifty righteous people He could find. What I find most strange is that here is Abraham speaking to the all mighty God and saying, “Surely it is not like you to destroy the righteous with the wicked. Surely, you are not going to treat them the same. That’s not you at all, God. You are the Supreme Judge and you must deal with justice.”

Wow. That reminds me of getting sass from my children when they were young and would find some inconsistency in my life or thinking. How dare they? It reminded me of accusing my father of lying in front of my uncle. Boy, was I sore for days after that. How dared I? Yet Abraham was somehow able to question or challenge God in this manner. Perhaps it was due to his friendship with God. Perhaps he felt that as the Lord’s recent host, he could be so bold. Perhaps because of the covenant God had made with Abraham, this mortal felt he could appeal to God in the way that he did.

How would you have reacted to such a challenge if you were in God’s shoes? I would be taken aback and probably react negatively as I did when my young children challenged me or as did my dad when I challenged him in public. The next few verses reveal God’s reaction.

The point here though is the thinking behind Abraham’s challenge. When studied more closely, we see that very question indicates Abraham had an understanding about God’s character. God was a fair and just Judge who loved the righteous and would punish the unrighteous. Abraham also felt that God would deal with those that approached Him on behalf of others. Because he both asked a question and also made observations about what God would not do, it is not clear whether Abraham was hoping to point out to God that He made an error in His approach to this matter, or whether Abraham was actually hoping to change God’s mind. In any case, Abraham felt he could approach God.

We may not always have a case to present before God, but how wonderful it is to know that we can have a relationship with Him like Abraham did. We can approach our God as freely as Abraham did. I know people that feel they cannot, that God has no time for them because of their past. When they need Him most and when He is most willing to listen and care, they themselves make that impossible. That is indeed tragic.

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