In these chapters, we continue following Abram’s story. In chapter 16, Sarai tells her husband to take her handmaid Hagar as wife in order to have a son. Hagar conceives, and after some emotional conflict between the three (which requires the Lord’s intervention), she gives birth to Ishmael.
In chapter 17, Abram speaks with God, and His promises are reiterated. Abram and Sarai’s names are changed to Abraham and Sarah as a sign of their special roles within the Abrhamac covenant. Abraham is promised a son through Sarah, whom they are to name Isaac. Circumcision is given to Abraham’s house as a sign of the covenant.
Things get really interesting in Chapter 18, and this is where I want to focus for the moment. After Abraham is visited by three holy men, he converses with God, who announces His plans to destroy Sodom for the people’s wickedness.
We all know the story. Abraham pleads for the righteous in the city, saying it would be unjust to destroy them along with the sinful. Abraham negotiates six times down to 10. If there are 10 righteous in Sodom, the Lord will not destroy it. Here’s the text:
23 And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?
24 Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein?
25 That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
26 And the Lord said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.
27 And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dustand ashes:
28 Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five? And he said, If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it.
29 And he spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he said, I will not do it for forty’s sake.
30 And he said unto him, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there.
31 And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty’s sake.
32 And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.
33 And the Lord went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place.
(Genesis 18: 23-33)
There are a lot of theories about why Abraham stopped at 10. Maybe he decided he no longer wanted to press the Almighty on the issue. Maybe he figured that was reasonable enough, or that that allowed enough opportunity for Lot and his household (who were living in Sodom) to be saved.
These are all valid ideas. We don’t know for sure. But what we can learn with surety from this passage is the power for good the righteous have in their communities.
Up to a point, the Lord was willing to spare the entire city for the sake of the pious living within its walls.
Likewise, in this day and age, God blesses the nations when they live in obedience to Him. What are our biggest concerns on the world stage? National security? The economy? Natural disasters? Naturally we should work hard to ensure our collective well-being on all these fronts.
But the most basic thing we can do if we want peace and prosperity is to follow the Lord. Then will we have his incalculable blessings. If we disobey and live in open rebellion against God, we can only expect the inevitable destruction He brought upon Sodom.
As men and women striving to do what’s right, Abraham’s experience can also reassure us. While we may feel discouraged upon seeing so much evil around us, this passage teaches us that it isn’t necessary for everyone to be righteous. As long as you do what you’re supposed to, the Lord will have consideration. He will protect you in your surroundings, or lead you away from danger as He did with Lot.
God knows all things. He has a perfect understanding of what is just. The key to peace in this world is to do as he has instructed us and leave the rest up to Him.