Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
22 So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” 26 And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
27 Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28 Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 30 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” 31 He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” 32 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” 33 And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.
Abraham intercedes for Sodom.
Though he lives apart, it is likely that Abraham is concerned for his nephew, his nephew’s family, and various other members of the community there that he may have met. Abraham ultimately negotiates God down to save the city if there are ten righteous people – a number so small it could be interpreted as… “if there is anyone at all who is righteous in addition my nephew’s immediate family.”
The preceding verses do not tell us explicitly that the Lord plans to “sweep away” anyone. Abraham assumes it will happen though, despite the Lord saying that he only intends to visit Sodom to see if the outcry against it is accurate. Either some of this conversation is left from the text or Abraham knows what the Lord will find in Sodom and knows how great God’s anger will indeed be.
Let’s back up though and start at verse 22:
22 So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord.
The word here translated as Lord is the tetragrammaton – spoken as either Yahweh or Jehovah. This is problematic for many Bible scholars inasmuch as we are told that men cannot look on God’s face and live. Example:
Exodus 33:20 – But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”
How do we work around this problem? There are a few options:
- An angelic representation of the Lord is being spoken to as, and speaking as, the Lord. Imagine a messenger of the King being spoken to and treated as the King Himself. We recently met “the Angel of the Lord” a few verses back and that angel is also often treated as though he is God in the surrounding text when he appears. For example: Starting in Genesis 16:7, the text refers a few times to this Angel. Then in Genesis 16:13, Hagar names the place where this encounter occurred as a place where The Lord (Yahweh) spoke to her.
Further, the jewish Talmud names the three angels as Raphael, Michael and Gabriel. (Bava Metzia 86b)
- It is possible that the rules regarding seeing God changed over time. Genesis 2 and other pre-Flood chapters seem to imply a personal face-to-face existence for humanity alongside God, initially in the Garden and subsequently at the border of the Garden (where Cain and Abel delivered sacrifices on an alter.) Abraham may simply live at a time before those rules changed.
- More than one Yahweh. This theory posits that Jehovah exists in at least two persons in the Old Testament – both named Jehovah (or Yahweh if that is your preferred vocalization of the tetragrammaton.) This teaching is a bit of a blending of the two viewpoints that “elohim” represents God in multiple personages (i.e. the common teaching that elohim refers to the Trinity when used in the Old Testament) AND the idea that elohim is also a general term for celestial beings.
This is a topic that could span books so I will move on.
Returning to the text, let’s look at Ellicott’s Bible Commentary and its verse 23:
(23) Abraham drew near.—As Jewish commentators remark, this word is especially used of prayer, and Abraham’s intercession is unspeakably noble. Nor must we suppose that he thought only of Lot. Doubtless he remembered the day when he had restored the persons and spoil to the king of Sodom. He had then seen their human affection; the joy of parent meeting with child, and friend with friend; and he hoped that there were good people among them, and that so marvellous a deliverance would work in many of them a true repentance. Neither must we suppose that Abraham adroitly began with a large number, with the intention of lessening it. It was the readiness with which each prayer was heard which made him in his earnestness continue his entreaties. It thus illustrates the principle that the faith of the believer grows strong as he feels that his prayers are accepted, and he ventures finally to offer petitions, nothing wavering, which at an earlier stage would have seemed to him to ask more than he might venture to hope from the Divine goodness.
Destroy.—Heb., sweep away; and so in Genesis 18:24. The difference is not without force; for the verb “to sweep away” gives the idea of a more indiscriminate ruin than the usual word destroy, which Abraham substitutes for it in Genesis 18:28; Genesis 18:31-32.
We see in the text that Abraham begins the bargaining to save Sodom by asking if God will destroy the righteous alongside the wicked. He then asks if God will spare the city if He finds 50 righteous men therein.
From The Pulpit Commentary:
Verse 24. – Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city. A charitable supposition, as the event showed, though at first sight it might not appear so to Abraham; and the bare Possibility of Sodom’s – not Sodom alone (Kalisch), but the Pentapolis – containing so many good men was enough to afford a basis for the argument which followed. Wilt thou also destroy and not spare – literally, take away (sc. the iniquity) i.e. remove the punishment from – the place (not the godly portion of the city merely, but the entire population; a complete discovery of Abraham s design) for the fifty righteous that are therein?
Verse 25. – That be far from thee – literally to profane things (be it) to thee – nefas sit tibi = = absit a te! an exclamation of abhorrence, too feebly rendered by μηδαμῶς (LXX.) – to do after this manner (literally, according to this word), to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked (literally, and that it should be – as the righteous, so the wicked), that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? The patriarch appeals not to Jehovah’s covenant grace (Kurtz), but to his absolute judicial equity (Keil). It does not, however, follow that the Divine righteousness would have been compromised by consigning pious and wicked to the same temporal destruction. This must have been a spectacle not infrequently observed in Abraham’s day as well as ours. Yet the mind of Abraham appears to have been perplexed, as men’s minds often are still, by the magnitude of the proposed illustration of a common principle in Providence. Though prepared to admit the principle when its application is confined to solitary cases, or cases of no great amplitude, yet instinctively the human mind feels that there must be a limit to the commingling of the righteous and the wicked in calamity, though it should be only of a temporal description. That limit Abraham conceived, or perhaps feared that others might conceive, would be passed if good and bad in Sodom should be overwhelmed in a common ruin; and in this spirit the closing utterance of his first supplication may be regarded as giving expression to the hope that Jehovah would do nothing that would even seem to tarnish his Divine righteousness. Abraham of course regarded this as impossible, consequently he believed that Sodom might be spared.
God answers in Verse 26:
26 And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
Cautiously emboldened by this reply, Abraham seeks out just exactly how many righteous people would need to be found to save Sodom.
From the Pulpit Commentary on Verse 27:
Verse 27. – And Abraham answered and said (being emboldened by the success of his first petition), Behold now, I have taken upon me, literally, I have begun, though here perhaps used in a more emphatic sense: I have undertaken or ventured (vide Gesenius, p. 326) – to speak unto the Lord – Adonai (Genesis 15:2) – which am but dust and ashes. “Dust in his origin and ashes in his end” (Delitzsch; vide Genesis 3:19).
The word translated as “taken upon me” is: יָאַל yâʼal, yaw-al’; a primitive root (probably rather the same as H2973 through the idea of mental weakness); properly, to yield, especially assent; hence (positive) to undertake as an act of volition:—assay, begin, be content, please, take upon, × willingly, would.
From David Guzik’s Commentary, regarding Abraham’s heart and his intercession:
c. Suppose ten should be found there? Abraham was a skilled negotiator and he prevailed upon God to lower the number of righteous required to spare the city. First by units of five, then by units of ten, until the number settled at ten.
i. It is impossible to miss the persistence of Abraham in intercession. Why didn’t he give it up at 40 or 50 and say simply “it’s in the Lord’s hands” or “the Lord will do what the Lord will do”? Because an intercessor must feel, at the moment of prayer, that the eternal destiny of men depends on his prayer.
ii. This is the kind of heart God wanted to draw out of Abraham – a heart that cared so much for people made in the image of God that he worked hard to intercede on behalf of a city that deserved judgment. This was the heart a great leader of a great and mighty nation needed to have.
iii. Remember, there is a sense in which all this negotiation was fruitless. There were not ten righteous people in the city, only four. The cities were destroyed. Yet God specifically revealed the fate of these cities to Abraham to draw out of him an intercessor’s heart of love, so even before the time of Jesus Abraham could be conformed into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29) who is Himself an intercessor (Hebrews 7:25).
We are of course left to wonder what might have occurred had Abraham asked God if he would spare the city for four righteous people.
After The Lord tells Abraham that He will not destroy the city if He finds ten righteous people therein, the conversation ends. See in Verse 33:
33 And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.
From the Pulpit Commentary:
Verse 33. – And the Lord (Jehovah) went his way, – i.e. vanished (Keil); not to avoid further entreaties on the part of Abraham (Delitzsch), but for the reason specified in the next words – as soon as he had left communing with Abraham (because Abraham’s supplications were ended): and Abraham returned unto his place (viz., Mature near Hebron).
“went his way” = יָלַךְ yâlak, yaw-lak’; a primitive root (compare H1980); to walk (literally or figuratively); causatively, to carry (in various senses):—× again, away, bear, bring, carry (away), come (away), depart, flow, follow(-ing), get (away, hence, him), (cause to, made) go (away, -ing, -ne, one’s way, out), grow, lead (forth), let down, march, prosper, pursue, cause to run, spread, take away (-journey), vanish, (cause to) walk(-ing), wax, × be weak.
“returned” = שׁוּב shûwb, shoob; a primitive root; to turn back (hence, away) transitively or intransitively, literally or figuratively (not necessarily with the idea of return to the starting point); generally to retreat; often adverbial, again:—((break, build, circumcise, dig, do anything, do evil, feed, lay down, lie down, lodge, make, rejoice, send, take, weep)) × again, (cause to) answer ( again), × in any case (wise), × at all, averse, bring (again, back, home again), call (to mind), carry again (back), cease, × certainly, come again (back), × consider, continually, convert, deliver (again), deny, draw back, fetch home again, × fro, get (oneself) (back) again, × give (again), go again (back, home), (go) out, hinder, let, (see) more, × needs, be past, × pay, pervert, pull in again, put (again, up again), recall, recompense, recover, refresh, relieve, render (again), requite, rescue, restore, retrieve, (cause to, make to) return, reverse, reward, say nay, send back, set again, slide back, still, × surely, take back (off), (cause to, make to) turn (again, self again, away, back, back again, backward, from, off), withdraw.
“to his place” = מָקוֹם mâqôwm, maw-kome’; or מָקֹם mâqôm; also (feminine) מְקוֹמָה mᵉqôwmâh; or מְקֹמָה mᵉqômâh; from H6965; properly, a standing, i.e. a spot; but used widely of a locality (general or specific); also (figuratively) of a condition (of body or mind):—country, × home, × open, place, room, space, × whither(-soever).
Additional Notes: There is an interesting teaching at chabad.org regarding “dust and ashes.” Abraham prefaces his pleading on behalf of Sodom by saying that he is but “dust and ashes.”
What did he mean by “dust and ashes”? Click HERE for the teaching. (There is a video teaching embedded at the link.)
There is a series on YouTube covering the Book of Genesis by the late pastor, Chuck Missler, which is worth watching if you are interested in this topic and enjoy looking at it from a sometimes unusual perspective. (Consider this more of a “you might want to check this out” rather than a “I completely endorse and personally adhere to this teaching.”) Missler has – in my opinion – one of the more interesting personal backgrounds you’ll ever find for a well-known pastor. From his wiki:
Missler graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1956 and received a Master’s degree in Engineering from UCLA. He worked for several years in the aerospace and computer industries. He joined the Ford Motor Company in 1963. Missler joined Western Digital as chairman and chief executive in June 1977 and became the largest shareholder of Western Digital.
In 1983, Missler became the chairman and chief executive of Helionetics, Inc., another technology company. He left Helionetics in 1984 “to pursue other opportunities in the high-technology field.” In August 1985, Helionetics sued Missler, alleging a conflict of interest, claiming that after Missler and other Helionetics executives had decided not to purchase a small defense electronics maker, that same company was purchased by an investment corporation in which Missler held a controlling interest. The suit was settled when Missler’s firm agreed to pay Helionetics $1.6 million.
In 1989, he headed the Phoenix Group International, a former Colorado real estate company that entered the high-tech industry to sell personal computers to Russian schools. Phoenix filed for bankruptcy protection in 1990 when the deal did not develop as anticipated.
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