PRAYER AS WRESTLING
Majestic God, today I am open to You and longing for You. Reclaim, renew, re-enliven my heart with love and devotion.
Read GENESIS 18:16–33
Abraham Pleads for Sodom
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. 17 Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? 18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.[a] 19 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, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
20 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.”
22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord.[b] 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[c] 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.
- Genesis 18:18 Or will use his name in blessings (see 48:20)
- Genesis 18:22 Masoretic Text; an ancient Hebrew scribal tradition but the Lord remained standing before Abraham
- Genesis 18:24 Or forgive; also in verse 26
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Show us, Lord, that You welcome our questions and that prayer involves more than passive acceptance of whatever happens in the world.
The earlier comment that these chapters teach us about prayer applies especially to this remarkable passage. It opens by allowing us to overhear God’s private thoughts concerning His relationship with Abraham (17–19). These words immediately set up a tension between the universal reach of the salvation, which has begun with the choice of the patriarch, and the destruction and death that is about to be visited upon the cities of the plain.
This tension is immediately recognized by Abraham and prompts the prayer in which the issue of divine justice is raised before God – reverently, yet with extraordinary boldness. Commentators observe that verse 22 should be translated ‘the LORD stood still before Abraham’, indicating God’s openness to His people and suggesting that prayer is a dialogue. Abraham takes full advantage of this and, in a manner which anticipates the book of Job, challenges the Lord to act consistently with the nature of His own revealed character. The fundamental question underlying the whole conversation concerns the justice and mercy of God and how the destruction of entire cities and their populations can be consistent with His righteousness. The question is no less urgent today in the era of nuclear weapons when we hear political talk of raining death and destruction indiscriminately upon entire cities.
The crucial lesson about prayer that we derive from this passage is that it may take the form of questioning God, even of wrestling with Him, about the perceived contradictions between His holy and gracious nature and actions attributed to Him which appear inconsistent with His justice. This text, along with the tragically neglected biblical tradition of lament, allow us the freedom to articulate our doubts and struggles before the throne of grace.
Grant us liberty as Your children to speak freely and honestly with You, Lord, knowing that You understand our doubts and struggles.
God of the Ages, I am amazed how You work in saving ways, bringing the seemingly impossible to pass. I give You my heartfelt praise.
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