The LORD is gracious in calling us to himself;

The LORD is lavish in his promises to us;

The LORD is just in all of his ways;

The LORD is holy;

The LORD is gentle in his dealings with us;

These are but a few of God’s qualities that are highlighted in this morning’s passage. Verse 16 picks up where we left off last week when one of the three men who had visited Abraham told him that Sarah would conceive and bear a child in the next year causing Sarah to laugh at the thought of conceiving a child at the age of 89.[1] As our passage opens it’s evident that the three men whom Abraham had served were now done eating the lavish feast that he and Sarah had prepared and placed before them for, as stated in verse 16, “When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way.” But before leaving, the LORD initiated a conversation with Abraham. And in the conversation that transpires between them, it’s apparent that over the twenty-four years that Abraham had been following the LORD, he had not only come to know God and his nature but had consequently become quite comfortable in his relationship with God. The conversation that follows beautifully expresses Abraham’s ease with being in God’s presence even as it also demonstrates God’s kindness to—and patience with—Abraham.

As indicated in verse 17, God took the initiative in this exchange as we’re told, “17 Then the Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?’” Now in what follows there are two key pieces of information that the LORD disclosed to Abraham. The first is found in verse 18: “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.” As he had from the beginning of his relationship with Abraham, God yet again expressed his lavish grace towards him by reminding Abraham of the promise he had first made to him when he called him out of Ur of the Chaldeans to make of him a nation for himself and give him, by way of his descendants, the land of Canaan.[2] Though Abraham was now 99, the LORD yet again pledged that “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.”[3] And as we’ve previously noted, this promise wasn’t contingent upon anything Abraham had done to earn such an honor but was solely due to God’s gracious choosing of him.

Now the purpose of such choosing, as stated in verse 19, was to result in Abraham and his family following in the ways of the LORD, “For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.” In other words, Abraham and his family were to imitate God. As later stated in the book of Deuteronomy concerning God “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”[4] As is the character and nature of our heavenly Father, such is to be the character and nature of his earthly children. As God does what is right and just, so should his children do.

Finally, the end of verse 19 states that as the LORD chose Abraham, and Abraham and his household followed in his ways, the end result would be that the LORD would “bring about for Abraham what he [had] promised him.” This symbiotic relationship between the LORD and Abraham was grounded in the give-and-take that is part and parcel of all good relationships. For, again, as God chose Abraham, he desired not only for Abraham to live according to his ways but also for his children and entire household to do so. The LORD wanted Abraham and all who followed him to imitate him and do “what is just and right.” And as Abraham followed God’s precepts, he would witness his faithfulness as God followed through with all that he had promised Abraham. In this we see how gracious the LORD was in choosing Abraham and how lavish he was in his promises to him.

Next, beginning with verse 20, we discover the second piece of information that God desired to disclose to Abraham. And with this, we’re again reminded that the LORD is just in all his ways as we read, “Then the Lord said, ‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.’” Now God being omniscient, or all-knowing, he of course knew what had been taking place in Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet he had also noted the outcry from others against their wicked behavior. This is a touching reminder to all who love and have a relationship with God that they can take heart in knowing that he hears their prayers when they cry out against evil for a holy God cannot and will not overlook evil. Even so, we also see here, that the LORD isn’t simply holy but he is also just for despite the outcry he had heard, he stated that he would “go down and see if what they have done [was] as bad as the outcry that [had] reached [him].” In other words, if the report was a false report, God would not take action. For, again, he is not holy but he is also just in all of his ways. Therefore, Sodom and Gomorrah would only be punished if the reports of their wicked behavior, their grievous sin, were true.

But it’s worth pausing a moment to consider the items that God chose to reveal to Abraham. On the one hand, it makes sense that the LORD would yet again share with Abraham that he planned to make of him “a great and powerful nation” and that “all nations on earth [would] be blessed through him” (verse 18) since this choosing by God directly involved and affected him. But, on the other hand, why in the world would God also share with Abraham the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah that had reached him? Empathy for his fellow man notwithstanding, why would Abraham have cared about what God, consequently, might do to these neighboring cities? I think that the answer, plain and simple, is “Lot, Abraham’s nephew.” Bear in mind that Lot had been living in Sodom for almost a quarter of a century for this was the portion of land he had chosen when he and Abraham had had to part ways when the land of Canaan could no longer sustain them both. If you’ll recall from Genesis 13, when given a choice, “10 Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt…. 11 So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: 12 Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.”[5] Yet even at the time that Lot had chosen this portion of land 24 years earlier, we were told how “the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.”[6] So it appears that there had been no restraint placed upon their evil activity in the intervening years since then. Therefore, the fact that Lot and his household had continued to live in Sodom throughout all that time no doubt accounts for why the LORD had chosen to share with Abraham concerning the outcry against both Sodom and Gomorrah’s grievous sin.

After sharing this information with Abraham, we’re told at the beginning of verse 22, that “The men turned away and went toward Sodom,…” In other words, the two angels who were with the LORD headed toward Sodom. And in what follows we see that Abraham was concerned with the fate of Sodom, where Lot lived, and Gomorrah. For Abraham no doubt knew that the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah was warranted since he had lived in their proximity for the past 24 years. Even at the age of 75 when he had first rescued Lot,[7] Abraham had refused an offer of reward made to him by the King of Sodom for having rescued him along with Lot.[8] And, again, because Abraham knew that God is holy and just, he further understood that when the LORD told him that he was going to look into the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah, such an investigation would no doubt result in their destruction. Therefore, Abraham needed to know: Would Lot and his family, all of whom were living in Sodom, also be destroyed by the LORD given that they themselves had not partaken in the evil actions that typified both cities?

In the dialogue that follows we see, essentially, that Abraham sought to rescue his nephew yet again. But this time he sought to rescue him not from enemy kings but from the judgment that the King of all Creation was about to bring down upon the cities of Sodom, where Lot was living, and Gomorrah. For, again, though Sodom and Gomorrah may have been godless, Lot himself, as the apostle Peter later wrote, was “a righteous man.”[9] Therefore, how would God apply his holy justice both to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, who were worthy of destruction, and to Lot and his family, who were not? This felt dilemma explains why the end of verse 22 states, “…but Abraham remained standing before the Lord.” He remained standing because he wanted to know what God would do. He wanted to pose this question to God. And pose it he did, in numerous ways, in the verses that follow.

Beginning with verse 23 we read, “Then Abraham approached him and said: ‘Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?’” Again, Abraham feared that God would sweep away righteous Lot along with wicked and unrighteous Sodom and Gomorrah. Though Abraham knew that God would never sweep away the righteous with the wicked because he knew that God is not only holy but also just, we see here that Abraham sought to discover just how many righteous people would need to be present in order for all the city to be spared. To put it in practical terms, though his nephew’s name went unmentioned, Abraham sought to discover if Lot and his family were big enough in size for the rest of those living in Sodom to be spared God’s judgment and wrath upon their sin.

Therefore we see Abraham seeking reassurance from the LORD that he wouldn’t destroy the righteous with the wicked. Not surprisingly, the LORD in his usual gentle dealings with those who are his, granted Abraham the reassurance he sought. Starting with verse 24 Abraham asked God, “24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Knowing that God is just, Abraham could not believe that he would destroy the righteous—again, Lot and his family—along with the wicked. Yet knowing that God is holy, that is, that he cannot abide sinful behavior, Abraham also knew that God would certainly destroy these wicked cities with the judgment they deserved. Again, he seemed to be trying to figure out which attribute of God would win out: would his justice win out so that the righteous were spared or would his holiness win out so that the cities would be destroyed? Would not God who is “Judge of all the earth do right?” (verse 25). Indeed, he would. As stated in verse 26, the LORD responded to his servant, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”—and notice that the LORD didn’t mention Gomorrah. In other words, he understood that Abraham’s questions were occasioned by Lot living in Sodom.

Well, this must have served as some consolation to Abraham. However, Lot’s family, as we’ll see next week, wasn’t comprised of 50 members so such reassurance didn’t quite suffice. Therefore, starting in verse 27, we’re told, “27 Then Abraham spoke up again: ‘Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?’” Despite acknowledging that he was “nothing but dust and ashes,” Abraham also understood that our Maker and LORD desires for us to bring all of our concerns to him. Or, as we heard read from 1 Peter earlier, God desires for us to cast all of our anxiety on him because he cares for us.[10] Therefore Abraham pressed on in probing God for more answers. Again, he who was “nothing but dust and ashes,” nonetheless came before God who had made him and everything that exists and asked what he would do if there were only 45 righteous in the city? What if there were only 45 who followed the LORD there, who believed in him? Could it be that they would be destroyed along with the city? And at the end of verse 28 we see our gentle and kind Lord yet again providing his servant the reassurance he sought, saying ““If I find forty-five there,… I will not destroy it.”

Well, since he was already down the rabbit hole, Abraham pressed on asking his LORD, verse 29, “What if only forty are found there?” And the LORD yet again put his mind at rest, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.” But Abraham, having nothing left to lose, and again, no doubt being anxious for his nephew, then said to God, verse 30, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?” And our forbearing LORD didn’t get angry but simply and patiently reassured Abraham, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”

However, Abraham’s anxiety was yet to be assuaged so he persisted, verse 31, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?” Abraham seemed to be trying to figure out what kind of calculus the LORD would use in determining whether or not to destroy these wicked cities. How many righteous followers, how many children who believed in him, would it take in order for them and the wicked among whom they lived to be spared God’s judgment? And he was reassured yet again as the LORD replied, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.”

Abraham’s final inquiry is found in verse 32 as he asked his Maker and Friend,[11] “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” And his Maker and Friend kindly replied, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” At this point it appears that Abraham’s concern was appeased as he ceased to question God. Therefore we read in the closing verse, “When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.” And I’m certain that if there had been but only one righteous person living in Sodom; that is, if of all the people living there, only Lot had believed in him, the LORD would have spared him.

So, too, I’ve heard it said that Christ, who is also LORD and Maker of all Creation,[12] would have been willing to die and rise from death if only one person had responded to his offer of salvation. Thankfully, many more than one have responded for many more than one have found God to be irresistible. How could they not? For although, as we continue to note, our circumstances are markedly different from those of Abraham and other saints, that is, of other followers of God, what hasn’t changed throughout the millennia—and what won’t change for all eternity—is God’s nature, is God himself. As James teaches, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”[13] So, too, does the author of Hebrews similarly teach concerning Jesus, who is also God, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”[14] This is, indeed, good news for us:

For as the LORD was gracious in choosing Abraham, in calling Abraham to be his child, so he is gracious each and every time he chooses one of us. He is gracious each and every time he calls someone to be his child. And as was true with Abraham, God’s choosing is ever based upon his kindness, not upon our deserving his grace;

And as the LORD was lavish in his promises to Abraham, promising him that one day all of the nations of the earth would be blessed through him, so he is lavish in applying that promise to us. For we are blessed in being able to know, love, and live for Jesus Christ, the promised seed,[15] the Messiah who descended from Abraham and lived, died, and rose from death in order that all who respond to his lavish promise of eternal life might never be separated from him;[16]

And as Abraham knew that the LORD is just in all of his ways, so this unchanging God continues to be just in all of his ways today. For though it may appear at times that evil has the upper hand, when God in Christ rose from death, Satan and all evil were defeated once and for all;[17]

And as Abraham knew that the LORD is holy, so we know that because of Christ’s sacrifice, he has sent his Holy Spirit to seal[18] and indwell[19] all who believe in and receive his Son, Jesus, so that they, too, are now holy in his sight and set aside for his purposes;[20]

And as Abraham experienced God’s patience and gentle dealings with him, so, too, God is patient and gentle in his dealings with us. For again, as we’ve already noted, Peter tells us, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

Therefore let us, follow all of Peter’s exhortations from the fifth chapter of his first epistle:

Let us “clothe [ourselves] with humility toward one another,” knowing that “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”[21] As did Abraham, let us exemplify his humility when he served the three men; and let us also exemplify his humility when he bared his soul before the LORD while acknowledging he was “nothing but dust and ashes” (verse 27);

Let us humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand that he may lift [us] up in due time;[22]

And, again, let us, indeed, “Cast all [our] anxiety on him because he cares for [us],”[23] knowing that our unchanging Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is

gracious in calling us to himself—

lavish in his promises to us—

just in all of his ways—

holy—

and ever gentle in his dealings with us.

Let us pray.

[1] Genesis 18:10–14: 10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son. Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” 13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

[2] Genesis 15:5, 7: He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be….” He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

[3] This promise was originally stated in Genesis 12:1–3. Then again in Genesis 13:14–17. And again in Genesis 15:1, 4–6. And in Genesis 17:1–8, 15–19.

[4] Deuteronomy 32:4.

[5] Genesis 13:10–11. I’ve left out a parenthetical note in verse 10, (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.).

[6] Genesis 13:13.

[7] Genesis 14:14–16: 14 When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.

[8] As noted above, even at this time the city of Sodom had a reputation for being wicked. The rejection by Abraham can be found in Genesis 14:21–24: 21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ 24 I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.”

[9] 2 Peter 2:7–8: and if [God] rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)—

[10] 1 Peter 1:7: Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

[11] Isaiah 41:8: “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend,…” [God is the speaker]. See also 2 Chronicle 20:7: Our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? [Jehoshaphat is speaking]; James 2:23b: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[Genesis 15:6] and he was called God’s friend.

[12] See, e.g., 1 Corinthians 8:6:  yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.; things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

[13] James 1:17. See also Malachi 3:6: I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.

[14] Hebrews 13:8.

[15] See sermon preached on June 14, 2020, God’s Blessing through Abraham on Genesis 12:1–9.

[16] As the Apostle Paul so beautifully and powerfully observes in Romans 8: 38–30: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

[17] See John 12:31: Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.; Hebrews 2:14–15: 14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.; Colossians 2:15: And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.; Colossian 1:13–14: 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

[18] 2 Corinthians 1:21–22: 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

[19] 2 Timothy 1:14: Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

[20] See, e.g., Colossians 3:12: Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.; Hebrews 13:12: And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.

[21] 1 Peter 5:5b, quoting Proverbs 3:34: He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.

[22] 1 Peter 5:6.

[23] 1 Peter 5:7.