Abraham’s Intercessory Prayer for Sodom and Gomorrah
Now that we know what the Scriptures teach on how to pray, what to pray for, when to pray, who to pray for, and why we are to pray, we will study examples in the Bible of individuals who led productive prayer lives.
In this section, we will note the prayer life of some Old Testament Saints, namely, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Moses and Daniel.
The intercessory prayer of Abraham in Genesis 18:23-32 is unlike the prayers that we, in the church-age, are called to make.
Abraham spoke directly, face to face, with the visible manifestation of the Son of God, whereas, in the church-age, we are commanded by the Son of God to pray directly to the Father who is invisible (John 16:26-27; Eph 3:14).
As we will note, Abraham’s intercession reveals God’s righteous and just character, as well as His love for all mankind.
Genesis 18:22 Then the men [elect angels; see Gen 19:1] turned away from there [oaks of Mamre in Hebron, nineteen miles southwest of Jerusalem; see Gen. 18:1] and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the LORD. (NASB95)
As Abraham saw the two angels heading towards Sodom, in Genesis 18:22, he sensed that the Lord was sending them to destroy Sodom, since it had a reputation for evil.
So, rather than return home, Abraham remained in the Lord’s presence and interceded for the inhabitants of Sodom, in particular, Lot and his family.
Genesis 18:23 Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (NASB95)
This is the first recorded instance of a man initiating a conversation with the Lord.
Abraham was convinced there were righteous people in Sodom, since he knew his nephew, Lot, was a believer and living in the city at the time.
Without mentioning his nephew’s name, Abraham showed concern for his nephew.
The statement “Abraham came near” describes the act of preparing for prayer, since it does not say that he came near to God.
Abraham was bold and confident in approaching the Lord in intercession for Lot and the citizens of Sodom because he was confident in his relationship with the Lord and was experiencing fellowship with the Lord (1 Jo 3:21-22).
Genesis 18:24 “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? 25 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! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly? 26 So the LORD said, ‘If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.’” (NASB95)
“The righteous,” in Genesis 18:24-26, refers to believers, whereas “the wicked” refers to unbelievers.
A person becomes “righteous” the moment he exercises faith in Christ for salvation, as Abraham did (Gen 15:6; Rom 4).
Therefore, “the righteous” refers to those individuals who, like Abraham, have a relationship with the Lord, because of faith in the Lord.
Abraham’s question “will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” on the surface appears to indicate that Abraham was operating in unbelief by questioning the Lord’s character.
However, in context, we know Abraham was not operating in unbelief, rather, he was appealing to the Lord’s righteous and just character, which he knew by experience through the Lord’s gracious dealings with him throughout the years (Job 34:10-12).
Therefore, Abraham was operating in faith in the character and nature of the Lord, well aware that the Lord is righteous and just and would not do anything unfair to members of the human race.
Abraham’s knowledge of the Lord’s just character served as the basis for his intercessory prayer.
Abraham was suggesting that the Lord would not destroy the righteous along with the wicked because that would go against the Lord’s character and nature.
Abraham was not challenging the Lord’s character, but rather, asserting his faith in the righteous and just character and nature of the Lord.
Notice that Abraham’s intercession for the inhabitants of Sodom teaches us that God will spare and preserve the wicked for the sake of the righteous, so that unbelievers might have every opportunity to be saved until the very end.
Remember, God spares the righteous when He judges a nation since this was the case for Rahab in Joshua 2, Assyria in Jonah 3-4, and Israel in Ezekiel 14:12-20.
Therefore, the Lord answered Abraham’s petition in the affirmative, since it was according to the will of the Lord to spare the unbeliever for the sake of believers in order that the unbeliever might change his mind about Christ and believe in Him and be saved (1 Jo 5:14-15).
Abraham was not trying to talk the Lord out of destroying Sodom, but instead sought clarification from God as to the extent of His mercy.
In Genesis 18:24, Abraham began his call for mercy for fifty believers, since he inferred that he, himself, knew as many as ten believers in Sodom.
There could possibly be, he concluded, as many believers in the other four cities of the plain, which included Admah, Zeboiim, Gomorrah, and Zoar.
Of course, this was wishful thinking on the part of Abraham, since Genesis 19 records that only Lot and his two daughters were saved, since they were the only ones to escape the destruction of the cities of the plain.
Genesis 18:27 And Abraham replied, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes.” (NASB95)
“Lord” is the noun `adhon, which is a term of respect and denotes Abraham’s awareness of and acknowledgement of his covenant relationship with the Lord.
Abraham’s statement “I am but dust and ashes” demonstrates his profound deference, humility, and awareness that he was insignificant in comparison to the Lord.
Genesis 18:28 “Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, will You destroy the whole city because of five? And He said, ‘I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.’ 29 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.’ 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.’ 31 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.’ 32 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.’” (NASB95)
Abraham started cautiously at fifty, and then dropped the number by five twice with each question.
The Lord granted each of Abraham’s requests to spare the cities of the plain if there were fifty, forty-five, or forty believers in those cities.
Then, Abraham became bolder by dropping the number from five to ten, when asking the next three questions, going from thirty to twenty and finally to ten.
Again, the Lord granted Abraham’s requests to spare the cities if thirty, twenty, or even ten believers resided in those cities.
Abraham stopped at ten, since it appeared he knew of possibly ten believers in Sodom, namely, his nephew Lot, his wife, their two sons (Gen 19:12), their two married daughters, their daughters’ husbands (Gen 19:14), and their two unmarried daughters (Gen 19:8), which was a total of ten.
The number ten should provide the protection of Lot, with a margin of safety, since it would seem that Lot’s family alone was large enough to meet this number and so Abraham seemed satisfied.
As it turned out, in Genesis 19, only Lot and his two daughters survived the destruction of the valley of the Jordan.
The outstanding lesson of Genesis 18-19 is that God desires all men to be saved and will withhold judgment in order that some might be saved.
Abraham’s persistence also reinforces the importance of persevering in prayer (Mat 7:7; Luke 11:1-13).
Abraham’s intercession for the inhabitants of Sodom manifests his love for all men, as God loves all men, and teaches us that, if we want to operate in the love of God, we should intercede in prayer for all men, believers and unbelievers alike.
The principle to note, then, is that we should always show grace and mercy to the unbeliever, since we ourselves were unbelievers at one time and recipients of grace and mercy from God.
Genesis 18:33 As soon as He had finished speaking to Abraham the LORD departed, and Abraham returned to his place. (NASB95)
Genesis 19:27-29 records that Abraham received his request from the Lord; thus, revealing the power of intercessory prayers.
Genesis 19:29 Thus it came about, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot lived. (NASB95)
The phrase “God remembered Abraham” does not mean that He forgot Abraham; but rather, it signifies that God acted upon Abraham’s intercessory prayer request and delivered Lot from the destruction of Sodom.
Genesis 19:29 teaches that the intercessory prayer of a faithful and obedient believer can deliver a disobedient and unfaithful cosmic believer from death.