Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Genesis 18:26-33 Negotiating with God

Genesis 18:26-33: So the Lord said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.” And Abraham answered and said, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes. Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, wilt Thou detroy the whole city because of five?” And He said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” And 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.” 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.” 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.” 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.” And as soon as He had finished speaking to Abraham the Lord departed; and Abraham returned to his place.

Perhaps the notion that many of us carry that Jewish people are great negotiators able to squeeze the best deal from any transaction originated with this story from the life of Abraham. God somehow conveys to Abraham that He will be destroying Sodom and Abraham commences to negotiate how the city might be saved.

He asks for God to refrain from taking His planned action if fifty righteous people could be found in Sodom. God agrees. Seeing how easy that was, Abraham takes his chances, admitting that he is nothing before God but dust and ashes, and asks the Almighty to spare the city for the sake of five fewer righteous people. God agrees to not destroying Sodom for the sake of forty-five righteous ones.

Well, that five was easy, so let’s try another five thinks Abraham and goes for it. And God, once more agrees. Well, thinks Abraham, if we can get two fives, we can get a ten all in one shot. But he knows by now he is really testing God’s patience and so he said, “Please don’t get angry, but would you save the city for the sake of thirty righteous people?”

Now being who He was, God knew the end result. He knew there were not sufficient righteous people in Sodom to save the city. So what was going on here? Was He playing with Abraham? I do not think so. He agrees to save Sodom for the sake of thirty, and later for the sake of twenty, righteous people because He wants Abraham to realize the situation the city is in. Sometimes we have to come to grips with the depravity of our society ourselves before we can watch God work through us. Sometimes we have to realize that God has to do it His way and not our way. That is also true for our own lives as well as the lives of our loved ones. As a natural father, I would not allow my children to go through some of the trials they are facing, but then I realize that our Heavenly Father has attributes I lack – like ultimate wisdom and the ability to see the end and not just the present. Yet He allows me to implore Him for the sake of my children, but importantly to establish and strengthen my own faith and trust in Him. I do not think God was angry with Abraham or He would have said so.

Still, Abraham asks Him not to be angry and dares to speak to Him again, although this time, he said it would be his last. Abraham asks God to save the city for the sake of just ten righteous people thinking “surely, there must be ten like that there.” God agrees once more, takes Abraham at his word that he would not ask again, and immediately departs once He finished saying He would agree. And the scripture says, “Abraham returned to his place.”

We can do all the bargaining we want with God. But in the end, we realize that God’s plan was the right one, and often the only one. Yet, in the process of our negotiating, we are able to talk it out with Him. We are able to grow in our relationship with Him. We are able to learn more about Him. When we’re done, He’s done and then He holds us to that agreement. He goes about carrying out His part. All we can do is “return to our rightful place”, wait for Him to work it out, and come to the realization that we are safe in His care.

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