“Bible prayers: Abraham prays for Sodom”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
Sixty years ago, back in December of 1963, NBC (that’s the National Broadcasting Company), first aired a show they called Let’s Make a Deal. It’s a show that’s run, off and on, for nearly forty years now, with more than 6,700 episodes! And it all began with a host named Monty Hall.
The idea was simple. Each episode consisted of several “deals” between the host and one or more members of the audience. And after each “trader” was given a handful of cash worth about three hundred dollars, they were given the opportunity to trade that cash in for some bigger and, hopefully, better prize.
Finally, at the end of the show, the highest winner is given a chance to choose a prize from behind one of three curtains, what’s called door number one, door number two, and door number three. And if they choose the right door, the winning door, they could walk home with beautiful new furniture, or a vacation with first-class accommodations, or even a brand new car!
But making a deal on Let’s Make a Deal, didn’t always end so well. Sometimes, the contestant went home with a consolation prize, what they called a “Zonk” prize. And that prize could be anywhere from an old piece of used furniture, a fur-covered garbage can, a moose head, or even a live llama!
We like to make deals, as long as we get a good deal. Nobody wants to end up with a “Zonk” prize!
The book of Genesis also talks about trying to make a deal, one of the most important deals of all time. I’ll read the words of Genesis chapter 18: “So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. Then Abraham drew near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will You then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’” (Genesis 18:22-25).
Let’s step back for a moment to see what’s going on.
The book of Genesis chapter 18 opens as Abraham is sitting at the door of his tent “in the heat of the day” (Genesis 18:1), probably late one afternoon.
And as he looked out from the door of his tent, he happened to see three men walking towards him. And just as soon as he saw them, he knew they were far more than any average, ordinary visitors, so he ran to them, then fell down to the ground before them and said, “My Lord, if I have found favor in Your sight, do not pass by Your servant” (Genesis 18:2-3). Or as another translation reads, “Please stay here in my home so I can serve You.”
So off he went to prepare quite the spread of fresh-baked loaves of bread, roasted calf, curds, and milk.
Then later, after they finished talking and eating, the three men suddenly stood up and looked toward a nearby town called Sodom. But before they left, one turned to the other two and said: “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” (Genesis 18:17).
Sodom. So what do we know about Sodom?
As far as we know, it was a town, along with four other towns, that sat on a plain just to the north and east of the Dead Sea. It was a place known far and wide for its well-watered, fertile land, what was called, back in Bible times, “like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt.”
Which is why Abraham’s nephew, Lot, chose to live there.
There was just one problem, one really big problem--and that was the people who lived there.
So how bad were they? Let’s just say that all who lived there and worked there were as bad as bad could be. As the Bible says in Genesis 13: “Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners before the Lord” (Genesis 13:13).
Now we don’t know just how bad or how wicked, but we can guess. If their sin was anything like the sin recorded in Genesis chapter 6, their every thought “was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). Or think of the words of Romans chapter 1: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25).
And suffice to say, the time had come when Lord had enough. For years, He had put up with their constant and incessant abuses and excuses until, frankly, enough was enough. Their time of judgment had come.
And that’s why the Lord came to Abraham and said: “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” Then what follows is one of the most incredible, amazing, and agonizing prayers of all time.
Now Abraham was under no illusions. He knew full well just how bad Sodom had become. And he knew that, when the angels came back to report all the things that they had heard and seen, the Lord had no choice, by all that was right and holy, to destroy it. All Abraham wanted to do was to save and protect his family--his nephew Lot.
So he prayed. Verse 24: “Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will You then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?” Verse 28: “Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will You destroy the whole city for lack of five?” Verse 29: “Suppose forty are found there.” Verse 30: “Suppose thirty are found there.” Verse 31: “Suppose twenty are found there.” And verse 32: “Suppose ten are found there.”
And what did the Lord say? He said: “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it” (Genesis 18:32).
What an amazing, wonderful, powerful example of prayer. It’s what one author called, “some of the most audacious words in the history of faith.”
I mean, think about it. Much like a contestant on Let’s Make a Deal, there’s Abraham standing before the Lord--begging, pleading, crying, hoping against hope that, if there was any possible way, He just might change His mind. So in a delicate balance between boldness and humility, taking the opportunity to plead before the Lord, the very King of heaven, Abraham said: “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked! Far be that from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25).
And what did the Lord do? He could have said, “You know, Abraham, this is what’s going to happen, because I say so.” And He could have said, “Frankly, there simply aren’t ten righteous people in all of Sodom, so don’t bother to waste your breath or your time.” Instead, (and here’s the point), the Lord wanted to see just how far Abraham’s faith would go.
And so he prayed--fifty…forty-five…forty…thirty…twenty…and ten. And wonder of wonders, the Lord listened and said, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it” (Genesis 18:32).
So what can we learn from all of this? Simply this--prayer changes things. In spite of what might seem obvious and inevitable, when all seems impossible and without hope, prayer changes things. It happened for Abraham and it can happen for us as well.
Now I don’t want to make you feel bad, but I ran across a study of the time some of our fellow Christians have spent in prayer. For example, Athanasius was once a founder and leader of the Christian church, so much so that the early Christian church even named one of our three Christian creeds after him--you know, the Athanasian Creed.
And do you know how many hours he spent in prayer each day? How about five? He prayed five hours a day!
Bernard of Clairvaux, known today as the “honey-tongued doctor” for his writings on the love of God, wouldn’t start his day until he had spent three hours in prayer. And Augustine spent eighteen months doing nothing but praying.
Francis Asbury was an American pastor who lived at the time of the Revolutionary War. He got up at four o-clock every morning just to pray.
And Martin Luther once said: “I have so much work to do that I have to spend an extra amount of prayer, perhaps three hours today.”
And this is what he wrote about prayer: “Let everyone know most assuredly and not doubt that God does not send this distress to destroy you. Instead, He wants to drive you to pray, to implore, to fight, to exercise your faith, to learn another aspect of God’s person than before, to accustom yourself to do battle even with the devil and with sin, and by the grace of God to be victorious.” And he wrote: “Without this experience, we could never learn the meaning of faith, the Word, the Spirit, grace, sin, death, or the devil.”
In his book, A View from the Zoo, author Gary Richmond tells about the birth of a giraffe. He said, “The first things to emerge are the baby giraffe’s front hooves and head. A few minutes later, the plucky newborn calf is hurled forth, falls ten feet, and lands on its back. Within seconds, he tucks his legs under his body. From this position, he looks at his world for the very first time and shakes off the last vestiges of birthing fluid from his eyes and ears.
“The mother giraffe lowers her head long enough to take a quick look. Then she positions herself directly over her calf. She waits a minute, then does the most unreasonable thing. She swings her long, pendulous leg outward and gives her baby a gentle, but firm, kick.
“Then, when it climbs up onto its feet, what does she do? She kicks it again.” Why? He said, “She wants it to remember how it got up.”
You see, in the wild, baby giraffes have to get up as quickly as possible to keep up with the herd. To lions, hyenas and leopards, young giraffes are a favorite food. And they’d get it too, if the mother didn’t teach her calf to quickly stand up.
There are trials and temptations of all kinds that will knock us down, that will shake us off our feet. Still, through it all, we have a God who urges to walk with Him, in the shadow of His care.
When Jesus faced the darkness of Gethsemane, He could have tried to find some common, middle ground. Instead, He prayed, “Father, not My will, but Thine be done.” When Caiaphas asked, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” He answered, “I am, and You will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.” When Pilate asked, “So You are a king, then?” He answered, “For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world.” And when the crowd cried, “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself,” He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Jesus did not compromise. He would not compromise. He perfectly obeyed all the Father asked Him to do.
And so should we, always living in the shadow of His care.
Nearly four hundred years ago, pastor and author Hans Brorson put it like this: “I walk with Jesus all the way, His guidance never fails me; Within His wounds I find a stay when Satan’s pow’r assails me; And by His footsteps led, my path I safely tread. No evil leads my soul astray; I walk with Jesus all the way.”
We thank You, dear Father, for the power and the privilege of prayer. Help us to lean on You and to rest in You, for You are our only help and our salvation, for Jesus’ sake. Amen