Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 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?”
When we think of days that brought death and destruction, 9/11 and New York City might come to mind. So might Pearl Harbor on a December 7.
Yet neither compares to the death and destruction that rained down upon the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We have seen the pictures. Survivors have told their stories of the horror. We pray such bombs will never fall from the sky again.
But the story of their destruction doesn’t compare to what happened to two cities in the Middle East: Sodom and Gomorrah.
We can only imagine what it was like to have burning sulfur fall from the sky. Buildings burned. So did human flesh.
There was no rebuilding of these cities. They are forever gone. They had rejected God’s laws. Now they faced his judgment. They learned the depth of the saying, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).
The sin was sexual perversion. So depraved were the inhabitants that they wanted to rape angels—though they did not know they were not human.
The remarkable backdrop to the story is the visit the Lord God and two angels made with Abraham and Sarah just before that fatal day. The Lord announced to the elderly couple they would have a son. The news was shocking. More shocking news followed.
As the angels headed toward Sodom, the Lord told Abraham what he was about to do. This horrified Abraham. He immediately began to plead that the cities be spared. He asked the Lord, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” Perhaps he was thinking of his nephew, Lot, and his family, who lived in Sodom.
He asked, “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?”
He voiced his concern. “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?”
Was he really willing to argue with God? Was he really suggesting that God would not do the right thing?
It was not an argument. It was not criticism. It was a plea for mercy.
The result? “The LORD said, ‘If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.’”
But Abraham wasn’t finished. “What about forty-five?” Then “What about forty?” Then “What if thirty are found?” Then “Only twenty?” Then “What if only ten are there who are not guilty of this horrendous defiance of the Holy One?”
Finally, he stopped pleading. The Lord had said, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”
But there were not ten. Yet, the Lord did not punish the innocent along with the guilty. Lot, his wife, and his two daughters were allowed to escape. The daughters’ fiancés were offered a chance to go with the survivors—but they chose to stay behind. Lot’s wife turned back to look while already on the path to safety. She was turned to a pillar of salt.
Lot and his two daughters survived. No one else did. Then Abraham “looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.” It was like Hiroshima—but worse.
The lessons are many. The tragic result of defying God is one of them. But there is another. The Bible reminds us: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
Might we be one of those righteous ones? Remember what was said about Abraham? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3).
Since we believe God, we are declared righteous, are we not? Then our prayers must be as powerful and effective as Abraham’s. Are they not?
It is good to remember that.
Prayer: God of power and mercy, you have declared us holy because of the payment Jesus made for our sins. You have created saving faith within us. You have given us the privilege of powerful and effective prayer. Teach us to use that gift often. Lead us to pray, like Abraham, for the benefit of others. Amen.
Written by Rev. Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Belle Plaine, Minnesota.
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