22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 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?” 26 The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” 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?” “If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.” 29 Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?” He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.” 30 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?” He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” 31 Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?” He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.” 32 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” 33 When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.
Undoubtedly Abraham was aware what an appalling place Sodom was (his nephew, Lot, was living there). Chapter 19 leaves us in no doubt either. And yet he intercedes boldly for them with God.
I’m guessing this exchange is recorded here because I should pay attention to what Abraham is doing. Intercession for the people was one of the roles of a priest. Jesus (our ultimate high priest) intercedes with God for us (Hebrews 7:25). As a result, we become members of his modern kingdom of priests: we also have the role of interceding for people. Paul urged Timothy to intercede with God for some church members who had been expelled because their “faith has been shipwrecked” and they continued to speak against God (1 Timothy 2:1).
God’s response is significant here too. His anger does not burn against Abraham. He willingly receives his intercession. His judgement is not indiscriminate or unjust. But it can’t be dismissed: It’s an implicit part of his holy nature that loves justice. Sin can’t simply be tolerated. That is why Jesus had to take my place in judgement so that I could come into my place as God’s child.
The other side of interceding to God for people is to speak to people for God. ‘And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”’ (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
Jesus, speak into the appalling things in my life; and the appalling things in my world. Give me your compassion to speak, together with you, for and to those who still reject you.
Written by David Cornell