The Just Judge of All – Genesis 18:20-33

We have all thought it. And we have all said it: “That’s not fair!” Your favorite team loses the championship because of the refs bad call. Or students, you study hard, and you get a worse grade then the person who didn’t even study. Or employees, you work hard and ace the interview, yet you are skipped for the promotion. Or it might be that you struggle with health issues that you can’t kick while others around you don’t. Or you have hassles to deal with in a relationship at home, and it doesn’t seem that it will ever go away. It just doesn’t seem to be fair! That’s the way we begin to think when we become preoccupied with the inequities of life. Well, there’s great news from our great God. For God through His Word wants to change your thinking and grow your confidence in Him… especially when life doesn’t seem to be fair. Let’s look to the Lord in prayer: “Heavenly Father, we worship You, for You alone are high and lifted up in your glorious greatness. We confess that apart from You we can do nothing- and that includes understanding and submitting to Your Word. So, Spirit of God, be our truth teacher. Open the eyes of our eyes of our heart so that we might behold and be transformed by the wonderful things in Your Word. We pray that you will admonish us and astonish us with Your truth and make us more like our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This we pray that He might be honored in our lives, amen. We pick up the divine drama in Genesis 18 beginning in verse 20. This text describes an interlude in God’s pledging that Sarah would give birth to the promised son Isaac the following year. Remember Abraham’s special visitors included two angels and the LORD Himself. That’s a 2 Christophany, the Lord Jesus taking the form of a body on a special mission in the O.T. era. And the angels also looked like ordinary men. The LORD had come not only to announce Isaac’s birth but also Sodom’s destruction. Here before our eyes we will see the: Sinfulness of Sodom 20-22 Justice of God 23-26 Intercession of Abraham 27-33 First 1. The Sinfulness of Sodom 20-21 The LORD is talking to the angelic messengers and Abraham is listening to every word. Look at it in verse 20: “And the LORD said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave.” Sodom and Gomorrah were sister cities. They were located southeast of the oaks of Mamre where Moses had settled. On a map, that’s the area beneath Dead Sea. What characterized these two cities? First, from them ascends an alarming outcry to God. Is it people there crying out to God for help? Not at all. It’s a cry of alarm and accusation because of their sins. Job uses the same idea when he speaks (Job 31:38) of the land crying out against him. Now note what caused this loud shrieking sound that had come to the Lord’s notice. He said, that “their sin is exceedingly grave.” The term for sin here (hattah) speaks of an act that goes against what God has forbidden. And it pictures a habitual offense. It was no light thing. The crimes of these sin cities were extremely heavy- (kabad). They were burdensome and weighty in the eyes of God. When the Israelites fell deep into sin, the prophets compared them to the sinners of Sodom. God declares in Jeremiah 23:14: “Also among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: the committing of adultery and walking in falsehood; and they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one has turned back from his wickedness. All of them have become to Me like Sodom, and her inhabitants like Gomorrah.” 3 In other words, the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah marks the extreme end of God’s scale of evil. Knowing the vileness of these cities, look what the LORD does. He says, v. 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.” Why does the Lord want to go and see the situation there? To learn new information? Of course not. He sees it all just as He sees everything in us. Here’s the reason for the Lord’s going. It is to demonstrate that He is a just judge. For a good judge never executes judgement without first gathering all the evidence. So, the Lord’s personal observation of Sodom was to show Abraham and us that His judgement is not rash or uninformed. It proves to any ready to bring an accusation against God, that He knows all the facts! For God always has complete and accurate information about everything before He judges. I remember comparing notes years ago with another father who was also a pastor. He related a time when he disciplined his son and later discovered his son hadn’t disobeyed as had thought. So it wasn’t just and fair discipline. The father then quipped, “Well, that made up for the times he deserved to be disciplined that I missed!” So, the LORD investigates the situation thoroughly before passing sentence. Remember, that’s what He did at Babel: Genesis 11:5 tells us, “The LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.” Now did Abraham have any idea of the torrent of judgment the Lord would pour out on Sodom and Gomorrah? He did. And here’s how. He knew God well enough to know that God deals with sin. The more severe the sin the more severe the judgment. And Abraham knew the moral cesspool that the Lord would see in those sin cities. 4 So the two men (angelic messengers in disguise) we are told in verse 22, “turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the LORD.” Abraham now stands face-to-face with the Lord (v. 22). And here’s where we see the dominating theme of this narrative leap from the lips of Abraham. It’s all about the 2. Justice of God 23-26 Here we discover what’s on Abraham’s heart as he knows judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah is coming: Verse 23: “Abraham came near and said, ‘Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?’” “Sweep away” pictures collecting into a big heap and then discarding. It’s what you might do in cleaning up after a big project in the garage. You sweep up all the scraps of wood and dust, and in the process of gathering them in your dust pan, you might get a couple nails or screws. But you take it and just throw it all into the trash can. Abraham is saying, “God you won’t treat all the people of Sodom and Gomorrah that way , will You?” Why is this such a big deal to Abraham? Remember, he has relatives in Sodom. That’s the land self-seeking Lot chose for himself. And now that the years had gone by, Lot (Abraham’s nephew) has a wife and family there with him in Sodom. Here’s what I love. There’s no trace of bitterness in Abraham toward Lot. He’s not hoping for some secret revenge against him. Not at all. Instead, Abraham shows a huge heart of love and compassion for Lot and his other relatives there. And he wants to clarify that God won’t deal with them or any righteous people there the same way He would deal with the sinners. Who qualifies as righteous? Not those who try to make themselves acceptable to God- for all the trying in the world only further alienates us from God. It’s those who follow in Abraham’s steps of faith anchored in God. 5 That’s showcased in Genesis 15:6 “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Now Abraham here has one of the most amazing conversations with the Lord ever recorded in Scripture. No sooner has he asked the Lord, “‘Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?’ but he then puts the question in a very concrete form: Verse 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? Wow! Abraham here seeks to affirm that the Lord would not ignore 50 righteous in Sodom and destroy them with the entire sinful city. Lord, would You not withhold Your judgment if there were 50 in that city who belonged to You? Tremendous question from the compassionate heart of Abraham. Well, amazingly, the LORD doesn’t have to answer Abraham audibly. Because He has already shown Abraham the kind of God He is: 25th verse: “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! Now watch the amazing question that Abraham showcases to God. Look how Abraham places all his weight into this certainty with his interrogative reply, (end of v. 25): “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” Friends, why does Abraham ask a question if he is so sure about the answer? Here’s why. It’s a powerful technique he has learned to stress absolute certainty. God has just asked him earlier, perhaps just minutes before in conversation, (18:14)- “Is anything too difficult for the LORD?” The foregone conclusion is absolutely Not! “For God, nothing, is too difficult to you. Nothing is impossible for you!” 6 That was God’s question to Abraham. Now follows Abraham’s question to God. Take it in once again, ““Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” And the unmistakable answer is, Yes! God the judge will deal justly.” Now it’s important you see the importance of what Abraham says here, that the Lord is the “Judge of all the earth.” That means that the billionaire on Wall Street or the stone aged tribesman in Irian Jaya won’t escape the judgment of the Lord. And neither will you! For God’s judgment is not limited to only certain people and certain nations but extends over all mankind. Now, what gives the Lord the right to exercise comprehensive judgment over all? It’s this simple: the Lord made all, so He has the right to judge all by virtue of creation. And secondly, by allocation. We hear from the lips of our Savior in John 5:22 that God the Father has given all judgment to Him the Son. So Abraham appeals to God’s justice in his plea. And look at the LORD’s reply: “So the LORD said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.” How encouraging for Abraham to hear those words from God. You see, he now possesses even greater certainty that God will not sweep away any righteous in Sodom with the sinners. He knows that God will never treat the righteous and the wicked the same. In fact, he underscores that by exclaiming, “Far be it from You!” God, not in a million years, you will never lump Your people in with the unrighteous, as one big sack of rotten potatoes. Do you see what this man of God is doing? He’s holding with unswerving confidence to the character of God. That’s what the psalmist does in the opening chapter to the entire psalter: Based on God’s blessing on the righteous, he says in Psalm 1:5–6 7 “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6 For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” In other words, God separates the righteous from the wicked- because He is just! Paul appeals to this unshakable attribute of God when describing His sovereign choosing for salvation: Romans 9:14- “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!” Before Moses died, he composed a song. A beautiful song whose lyrics he read with great enthusiasm to Israel about their God. Take in these spectacular words that herald the justice of God: Deuteronomy 31:30–32:4 Then Moses spoke in the hearing of all the assembly of Israel the words of this song, until they were complete: 1 “Give ear, O heavens, and let me speak; And let the earth hear the words of my mouth. 2 “Let my teaching drop as the rain, My speech distill as the dew, As the droplets on the fresh grass And as the showers on the herb. 3 “For I proclaim the name of the LORD; Ascribe greatness to our God! 4 “The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.” This, friends, is the God of Israel. And if you have run to the cross for salvation then He is your God who is always faithful and always just. That means there’s never a time, never a place when God will do what is unfair. There’s never a situation, Christian, where He will treat you as if you were not His child. There’s never a circumstance where He will not do what is perfect and right toward you. Friends, deep down confidence in the Lord’s justice will impact the way you relate to Him. It will give you confidence and boldness in praying to Him. By the way, we as Christians are to enjoy the intimacy of friendship that Abraham did with God. 8 You say, “How’s that?” Well, in Isaiah 41:8 God uses this wonderful phrase to describe Abraham: “Abraham, my friend.” And our Lord Jesus, gathered with His disciples told them, “I have called you friends.” In other words, there’s trust, confidence and joy in a friendship. And that’s to be seen in freely telling the Lord what is on your heart, what you long for Him to do that flows from His character. Watch how this unfolds in the 3. Intercession of Abraham 27-33 What follows in our text has been described as a “plea that stands without parallel in the annals of history” (H.C. Leupold). The only exception is the plea of our Savior to His Father before and on the cross. Now let’s listen to the amazing dialogue that continues between Abraham and God. For it is teaches us so much about persevering prayer. Verse 27 “And Abraham replied, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes.” What profound reverence and humility! It was that same sense of unworthiness Job exudes when he confesses: Job 42:5–6 “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; 6 Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.” Dust speaks of insignificance and ashes of a heart of mourning. Yet that deep sense of humility before God is coupled with a spirit of confident boldness. Look how Abraham ventures further in his intercession to God for Sodom. Verse 28: “Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, will You destroy the whole city because of five?” God grants Abraham his request. “And He says, “I will not destroy it if I find 45 there.” Yet with a holy dissatisfaction and with no delay, Abraham presses on: Verse 29 He spoke to Him (God) yet again and said, “Suppose forty are found there?” And He said, “I will not do it on account of the 40.” Abraham is really wrestling with God. Like Jacob wrestling with the angel of the Lord longed for 9 God’s blessing. Now, don’t miss what he now does as he pleas to God: Instead of reducing the number of righteous by 5, now he doubles that and reduces the number by an increment of 10. 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.” From 50 to 45 to 40 and now Abraham lowers the minimum number of righteous that there must be in Sodom to 30! Remember the Apostle Paul in II Cor. 12 asks the Lord 3 times to take his thorn in the flesh (an evil messenger from Satan). But he did not ask beyond three times. Yet Abraham presses on and raises the ante. Verse 31 And he said, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord; suppose twenty are found there?” And He (God) said, “I will not destroy it on account of the twenty.” When we used to have the big Mega Sale outreach, people loved to barter. Some were relentless in trying to really drive the price down. Yet imagine if a nice bike was marked $50 and a person wanted it for less than half. And then as soon as Lonnie might say OK, what if they kept pushing for less and less, what might happen? Well, Lonnie could be thinking, “Come on, when are you going to stop this?” Be glad for the reduction. And if it was me, I might get frustrated and tell the person, you’ve pushed too far. Yet, it’s not that way with God. Abraham is about to make an audacious request, but look how he couches his next words to God: There in verse 32, the second time he says now, “Oh may the Lord not be angry.” Then he ventures to an incredible point fearing he might test God’s patience. “I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?” 10 righteous people in all Sodom? That means if Lot, his wife, 2 daughters and their husbands were righteous- that would make 6. And there would only need to be 4 more in the entire city, 10 friends, neighbors who had believed because of Lot’s witness. So graciously, God complies. “And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the ten.” Now how does this interaction end? Who stops the conversation? V. 33 As soon as He had finished speaking to Abraham the LORD departed, and Abraham returned to his place. Friends, it was the LORD who ended the negotiation when He walked on from Abraham. That’s why Abraham then went home. I have a strong suspicion, that had the Lord not left, Abraham would have lowered the limit once more to 5 people. Here’s why. Abraham lived convinced that the Lord, the judge of the earth, will always deal justly. That’s what propelled him to keep interceding to God on behalf of his family and Sodom. What a profound lesson for us in persevering prayer anchored in the justice of God. George Mueller of Bristol loved this text of Genesis 18. And God used it to grow his faith and plead his case in prayer. He would remind the Lord that the hundreds of orphans that he cared for were not his orphans but God’s. For he knew it was God’s work not his to meet their needs. Mueller plead with God very specifically and tirelessly, and he watched God answer in spectacular ways. One day, the housemother of the orphanage informed George Mueller: “The children are dressed and ready for school. But there is no food for them to eat.” So George asked her to take the 300 children into the dining room and have them sit at the tables. He then thanked God for the food and waited. George knew God would provide food for the children as He always did. Minutes later, a baker knocked on the door. “Mr. Mueller,” he said, “last night I could not sleep. Somehow, I knew that you would need bread this morning. I got up and baked three batches for you. I will bring it in.” Soon, there was another knock at the door. It was the milkman. His cart had broken down in front of the orphanage. Since the milk would spoil by the time the wheel was fixed, he asked George if he could use some free milk. George smiled as the 11 milkman brought in ten large cans of milk- just enough for the 300 thirsty children! George Mueller once explained why he established what he called the Orphan House. Here’s what he said: “The first and primary object of the work was, (and still is) that God might be magnified by the fact, that the orphans under my care are provided, with all they need, only by prayer and faith, without any one being asked by me or my fellow-laborers, [so that] it may be seen, that God is FAITHFUL STILL, and HEARS PRAYER STILL.” Father, help us we pray to take these great truths to heart, that You are always faithful, always just, and do all things well. Grow we pray our view of You, to live life’s of ever deepening faith that persevere in prayer. Teach us to how we should be asking of You great and mighty things which we do not know for your honor, not ours. Remind us that prayer is not trying to overcome Your reluctance but rather is laying hold of Your justice and willingness. Glorify we pray Your Son in us for the fame of Your name, Amen.