Speaking of Judgment...
Special Revelation and Divine Council
We pick up the story with the mysterious visitors rising and looking toward Sodom. Abraham goes with them to send them on their way (Genesis 18:16). The story seems to continue as normal until the next verse, where things take an unexpected turn. Well, unexpected if you're unfamiliar with what happens to Sodom and Gomorrah, but let's treat this story as if this is your first time.
“Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing," - the Lord (Genesis 18:17)
Surely the Lord God does nothing,
Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.
The Bible reveals to us a God who is interested in sharing His plans with his friends.
No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15 NKJV)
It makes sense we have the Bible today. The Bible, by its very existence supports the idea of a God who reveals to us His plans and His will. Genesis 17 also supports the idea of a divine council (Job 1:6; Psalm 89:7; Jeremiah 23:18) the existence of a divine council does not indicate that God needs council but rather supports the picture of a God who shares leadership, believes in transparency and in empowering, mentoring, and involving others in leadership and decision-making.
God could just act and never allow us to question Him. He could just keep us ignorant. He could cause us to obey Him only because He is mighty and our creator and because without Him we are nothing. But instead God chooses to involve created beings in His leadership and decision making. This way god is obeyed, followed, and worshiped out of love and admiration. We obey Him because He is good, and His plans are the best possible plans, and we know this because He reveals His plans to us. This does not mean that we will always understand everything that God does, but He reveals enough to us to cause us to trust Him when we don't understand His plan.
Genesis 18:18 connects God's revelation of His plans to Abraham with Abraham's call or mission. That is, God reveals His plans to Abraham because Abraham has a special mission. The revelation is not random and arbitrary. God's revelation is connected to our role, our mission, our calling. God reveals His will to us in order for us to better fulfill our calling.
Verse 19 supports this.
"For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.”
Abraham is called to lead his family in righteousness and justice. Abraham's leadership compliments God's desire to not only bless him but also the whole world through him and his family.
With God's special revelation (The Bible) also comes a responsibility, a calling form God to not only a special relationship (friendship/love) but also a special mission (calling/responsibility) to the rest of the world. We too are called to be blessed and to be a blessing. We too are called to lead our families and churches in justice and righteousness. Prophecy and revelations from God are never to "puff up" the prophet or the the prophet's community of faith, but rather to be used for mission, to save others. Whenever someone attempts to use prophecy or claims to have received special divine revelation and in turn uses it for selfish gain and not for service or mission that person is not following God's will.
The Lord came to earth in order to personally announce that Abraham and Sarah were going to have a baby (Genesis 18:1-15), but that was not the sole reason. God also came to investigate the situation at Sodom and Gomorrah.
“Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.” - God (Genesis 18:20-21 bold mine)
[Bold text outcry - echoes the voice of Cain's blood (Genesis 4:10); great - like the sin of Noah's day (Genesis 6:5); go down - God responds similarly to tower of Babel (Genesis 11:5ff)]
God coming closer in order to investigate is not new. As the language in the Genesis 18:20-21 suggests we witnessed this before. God is the God and judge of the world, not just the God of Abraham, not just the God of Israel.
- Genesis 3:9ff "Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”" (blog post here)
- Genesis 4:9ff "Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?”" (blog post here)
- Genesis 6:5ff "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (blog posts here and here)
- Genesis 11:5ff "But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built." (blog post here)
I imagine some of you to be pondering why god would need to come down and investigate if He already knows everything. I believe God investigates mot because He is lacking information, but rather for us to understand and accept His judgments. God comes and investigates for our sake, in order to allow us to interact with Him, to take part, to question, and to better understand How He works.
This is made clearer starting with verse 23.
Abraham Questions God
“Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? - Abraham (Genesis 18:23b)
The two leave toward Sodom, however Abraham still stands before the LORD. Abraham then approaches God and asks Him the question above. Which is a really good question! If God had just destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah without any explanation we would be left wondering many things. Now God has already made clear why He will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, its because of the great outcry against them and because of their sin is very grave.
Abraham however, still has some questions for God, and surprisingly, God allows Abraham to question His judgment.
The biblical text tells us that Abraham still stood before the LORD, not only that, Abraham also approaches God and asks the question quoted above. Would God destroy the righteous with the wicked? This is a very good question. As Abraham explains to God,
Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:15 NKJV)
Abraham recognizes that God is the judge of the whole world, and explains to God the importance of not treating the righteous as the wicked. But Abraham is not asking for God to just spare the righteous. Abraham is asking God to spare the wicked city for the sake of the righteous. This is the first biblical example of intercessory prayer.
Intercessory prayer is not of common as you would expect. I have a hard time thinking of someone else behaving in a similar manner in the Old Testament. Noah obeyed God and build the ark, but we don't read about Noah pleading for God to spare the wicked. Jonah runs away from God exactly because He does not want God to spare them (Jonah 4). Moses pleads with God to spare Israel (Exodus 32), not their enemies. What Abraham is doing here is unprecedented, and reveals to us his character. Abraham's behavior here is similar to what Jesus will prescribe for his followers.
Abraham approaches God not for himself, but to ask for God to have mercy on what was very likely the wicked population of the worst city in the world at the time.
Abraham approaches God fearfully, respectfully, and with a lot of tact. Abraham's first request is for God to spare the city for the sake of 50. Some have interpreted this to symbolize half the population of a small ancient city. In a way, Abraham could be asking if God would spare a whole city if half of it was righteous.
God replies that "if" He finds within the city of Sodom fifty righteous He will spare the whole city. I believe 50 would be significantly less than half, but God agrees to Abraham's plead. Abraham could now walk away satisfied that he had done his part in interceding for the wicked city. But caustiously, Abraham proceeds.
Then Abraham answered and said, “Indeed now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord: Suppose there were five less than the fifty righteous; would You destroy all of the city for lack of five?”
I love how Abraham does not say 45, but rather asks if God would destroy the city for the lack of 5. I get the feeling this is not the first time Abraham has bargained. Abraham is so skillful, so smooth, carefully he proceeds to intercede for the salvation of the wicked cities of the plain of Jordan.
Eventually Abraham bargains with God down to 10, and God says He will not destroy the cities for the sake of 10 righteous. 10 seems to be the minimum requirement in that culture. God's law is boiled down to 10 points, God asks for a tithe, which is 10% of the increase He grants His children. Many also claim that 10 was the minimum requirement for the establishment of a congregation.
Abraham in all likelihood imagined that with Lot's presence there should be at least 10 people who feared God and were no completely given over to sin. God then goes His way and Abraham returns to his tent. God leaves after Abraham is content with God's judgment. God allowed Himself to be questioned. God answered and dialogued with Abraham until Abraham was content and at peace with God's decision. I believe this event paints a beautiful picture of the God of Abraham, the judge of the whole world.
God is loving and gracious, willing to save, but He is also Judge.
Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people— saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”
Revelation 14:6-7 NKJV
In Revelation 14 we have 3 messages, from 3 angels. You could argue its one message and 3 progressions, but the main point I wish to highlight about the three angels' message is that the very next thing that takes place in Revelation 14 is the second coming of Jesus. That causes me to believe that these three angels' message is the last message to be preached to the world before the second coming of Jesus. At the core of the first angel's message is a call for worship in the context of judgment.
So I wish to close on this note. We are called to proclaim the everlasting gospel in the context of judgment. Jesus died that everyone who believes in Him might live. The good news are so good because they are proclaimed in the context of judgment. Those who continually, repeatedly, insist in living in rebellion against God ultimately will be destroyed.
God is merciful.
God is gracious.
God wants to save everyone, but He will not force anyone to be saved.
Ultimately, God will destroy all sin and evil and suffering will exist no more.
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
Revelation 21:1-5 NKJV