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Abraham: God's Friend  (117)

Genesis 18:17-33

James R. Davis

In Genesis 18 God stops in the midst of his busy schedule of running the universe and taking care of the affairs of the world and personally shares with Abraham his plans for the cities on the plains of Sodom. God comes to Abraham not in tones of thunder or in royal garb but personally . . . undetected in the ordinary garb of the day. God comes sharing his being, his existence and his plans with his friend Abraham. Religion is only powerful when it becomes personal and personally involved in the lives of others. I think that this is also true of God, he becomes real and powerful when he becomes personal and personally involved in our lives. God becomes real and personally powerful when we allow him to become personally involved in our lives.

Friends with God

It is one thing to claim some great person as your friend but it is quite another for that great person to claim you as his/her friend. I know a preacher that carried photos around with him of himself and the big name people he had met. He had pictures of himself and Gerald Ford on the golf course together. He had pictures of himself and several celebrities. He would sort of corner anyone he could in order to show them the pictures. I think that it made him feel important in that he had his picture taken with great people. It would be different if these important people and celebrities had carried around a photo album and showed these same pictures to their friends saying, "Let me show you some pictures of my friends."

God shows us a portrait of Abraham in a few chapters in Genesis and declares him as his friend. In Genesis 18 we don't see Abraham claiming to be God's friend or declaring his own greatness. Abraham admits that he is nothing but dust and ashes as he stands before the Lord. The amazing thing is that God is coming to Abraham sharing his struggles and plans with Abraham as a friend. "O our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?" (2 Chronicles 20:7) "But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend . . . (Isaiah 41:8) James says, "And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend." (James 2:23)

A friend is a person with whom we are not afraid to share our struggles and innermost secrets. As we share our heart with another the relationship builds. God had a problem and he shared that problem with Abraham. It is in this dialogue that we see the heart of Abraham and the heart of God. Someone has said, "Love binds two hearts together so they beat as one." As we see the heart of God and the heart of Abraham we see two hearts intertwined so they actually beat as one. The amazing thing about this story is not Abraham's plea but that God revealed his heart-rending struggle to Abraham.

Have you ever made plans for your life and before initiating the plans out of courtesy for a friend you sit down with him/her and inform your friend of your plans? You do this for several reasons. You don't want your friend taken by surprise and also you would like for your friend to feel free to share his/her feelings about your plans. Your friend may ask you some very personal penetrating questions about your plans and how they will impact your life and those you love. But nevertheless you welcome the response. It may be encouraging or discouraging. The friend's response may not tell you any more than you already know. But the sharing of thoughts strengthens the relationship and binds two hearts closer together. This is what God is doing with Abraham.

Earlier in Genesis these same heavenly visitors shared a meal with Abraham and told him the plans that God had for him and Sarah within the next year. They were going to have a son. Sarah laughed and the heavenly visitors ask, "Is anything too difficult for the Lord." As they proceeded to leave Abraham and Sarah the Lord said: "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him. And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know. (Genesis 18:17-21) God fills Abraham in on his plans for all the cities in the plains of Sodom and Gomorrah.

A Dialogue with God

This conversation wasn't a monologue but a dialogue. The two of them were sharing their thoughts. Neither adapted a monologue where only one did the talking. God initiates the conversation. "Then the LORD said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Then the LORD said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 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." (Gen 18:17, 20-21)

In this dialogue with God Abraham approaches God with what seems to us a terrifying boldness. Who was Abraham to question the integrity of the God of all the earth? He realized that he was but dust and ashes (v. 27) in relation to God. He knew that he risk a stormy response (v. 30), but his spirit was so agonized that he was driven to speak again and again. But we must also understand that God evoked this kind of response from Abraham by revealing his intentions to him. God welcomed Abraham's response, his misgivings and his objections. (Joyce G. Baldwin, The Message of Genesis 12-50, The Bible Speaks Today, The Old Testament Series, pg. 74)

God welcomed his response; he wanted to hear about his fears, misgivings and even his objections to what God was doing. God continued to stand before Abraham while Abraham framed his questions probing the character of God. God didn't become defensive or objectionable but each time he answered Abraham's question in a way that all but elicited his next question. It was almost as though God wanted Abraham to ask the questions where Abraham could come to know him better.

Many times when we meet great people we are at a loss for words because we feel somewhat intimidated by their presence and the conversation may become a monologue. But when Abraham discovers he is speaking to God, Abraham speaks to God as he would a friend. "Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Abraham was not intimidated although he realized God's greatness, he spoke his mind to God, "Far be it from you to do such a thing-- to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike." (Genesis 18:25) Although Abraham realized that he was but dust and ashes he boldly approached God with his concern for the city. His friendship with God made this possible. Our conversation with God today should be a dialogue where we share our thoughts and allow God to speak to us through his word and by the leading of his Spirit.

Although today God doesn't appear physically, this is the same relationship that Christians have with God. And it is the same relationship that any sinner that is not a Christian can have with God. Philip comes to Christ and asks, "Show us the Father?" Christ was standing there saying, "Let not your heart be troubled . . ." (John 14:1-9) Jesus was standing there in such ordinary garb that Philip couldn't see that he was God. Even for those not in Christ Paul says that "In him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28) God is not far from each one of us. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that he wanted to give her living water. Later she discovered that he was the Messiah and she brought the whole village out to see the Messianic God who appeared so ordinary that you had to look twice or you would miss him.

Abraham's Love for the Lost

In this bold dialogue with God we see the heart of Abraham.

Genesis 18:23-33
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? 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?" The LORD said, "If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake." 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, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city because of five people?" "If I find forty-five there," he said, "I will not destroy it." 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." 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." 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." 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." When the LORD had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.

Several issues are of great interest in this account. First, Abraham recognizes the mercy of God. Notice that he says, Lord, suppose there are fifty men in the city that are righteous. Wouldn't you spare the whole city for them? Notice the way he is arguing. This is so easily misunderstood. Abraham is not trying to shame God into doing the right thing as a mother might shame her child into doing right. But he appeals to his self-respect in this reminder: "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. 18:25b) God does not need anyone to remind him to do right, or to tell him it would be wrong to slay the righteous with the wicked. Rather, Abraham is basing his appeal on the knowledge of God's nature. He knows God would never destroy the righteous with the wicked. Now he is asking him to go further and spare the wicked for the sake of fifty righteous. Abraham is recognizing the basis of God's mercy in every age since then.

For Abraham there was no casual "what will be, will be" attitude, but a genuine concern over the outcome. These verses reveal the heart of Abraham and the heart of God. Neither God nor Abraham delighted in wickedness. Neither did they delight in the destruction of sinners. God does not destroy sinners on a whim without any agony on his part. This reminds us of Peter's statement about the longsuffering of God that doesn't wish anyone to perish. (2 Peter 3:9)

A person walked past a church bulletin board one day and noting the announcement of the sermon: "If I were God." The person said, "'If I were God'"---that's an interesting title for a sermon. "If I were God, I'd just lean down over the battlements of heaven, take a big, deep breath, and blow this earth out of existence." Why has not God done that long, long ago, with all the shameful record of human defiance, rebellion, and depravity which history records?

True friends of God share the same compassion even for those who are totally consumed with sin. Nothing is surer than the judgement of God, but he is longsuffering not willing that you should perish. We are usually more judgmental than helpful. I wonder what we would have said if we had been in Abraham's shoes. I think some of us would have wrapped our robes of self-righteousness around us and said, "Good for you, Lord; they've got it coming. I wondered just how much you could take. I've long since had enough."

Or perhaps we might have said, "Lord, do you mean you are going to destroy the city? All these wonderful people---I know they are evil, Lord, but they mean well. They have just been carried away a little bit. Don't be too hard on them. Perhaps we would have interceded in that way." Abraham makes no plea to justify the behavior of the wicked. He appeals to God to save the city for the sake of the righteous.

Abraham had no time for self-righteousness, smugness, or sentimental nonsense, however. When these two angels left to go down to the city, this would have been the cue for Abraham to say goodbye and get back to his tent. But it appears that Abraham did not let the Lord go. He stood yet before the Lord. There was something on his heart, and we see in the following dialogue the emotion, the strong passion, that is awakened in this man's heart by God s proposal.

Sinners today can boldly approach God through Jesus Christ concerning their sins. The Hebrew writer reminds us that the word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword and it is penetrating in that it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight and we will give account to God. But in the same breath he rushes to remind us that we have a great sympathetic high priest that we can approach with our sins. Our high priest is sitting at the right hand of God and he has been tempted, as we have been tempted. Therefore we can approach him with boldness. (Hebrews 4:11-16) But we must approach God with confidence and with a resolve to walk in the light as he is in the light. (John 1:7-9)

You Can Trust God's Character

I wonder what Abraham thought later when he realized that God had saved the city Zoar because of only 3 righteous souls, Lot and his two daughters. When the angels finally took Lot and his family by the hand to get them out of Sodom, they were told to flee to the mountains. Lot pleaded with them that they might be allowed to go into the city of Zoar. And the angels agreed to let them go to this city in the plains. This decision prevented the angels from destroying Zoar along with the other cities. The Lord actually spared Zoar for 3 righteous souls. (Genesis 19:15-22) It was probably here that Abraham's belief about the righteousness of God was confirmed. (The angels tell Lot that they cannot do anything until he reaches the city (19:22) this shows us that God will not destroy the righteous with the wicked.)

But God in his mercy has done something even beyond our imagination; God has determined to save the whole world because of the righteousness of one man. (John 3:16)

Rom 5:6-9, 19
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! . . . For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

God will one day judge the world in justice by Jesus Christ (Acts 17:31) but God is withholding his final judgement on the world because of one righteous person, Jesus Christ. If the devil is whispering doubts in your ear: "How can a sinner like you think you can approach an all holy God?" "After all the word of God in its purity cuts your heart going and coming?" "You ought to go off and hide in some cave in the side of a mountain!" "How can dust and ashes approach God?" "Who do you think you are anyway?" "Look at how many times you have tried and failed?" Then you need to turn and ask Satan: "Is anything too difficult for God?" and "Will not the God of heaven do what is right?" "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Ezek 18:20-23
The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him. "But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live. Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

Ezek 18:30-32
"Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!

God Welcomes Your Response

God welcomed Abraham's response to his plans for the city of the plains and God welcomes your response to his plans for your life. I don't know how one would go about getting an invitation to the White House for a conversation with the president. It is something that most of us could not do. The wonderful thing about God is that he has taken the initiative to invite me to be his friend through Jesus Christ. My relationship with God is at his proposal. He proposes a wonderful eternal plan for my life. He has made the proposal. I don't have to sit back and figure out how to get invited into his presence. The invitation has already been made all I have to do is to accept it.

Many years ago an elderly gentleman sat outside the main gate to the White House in Washington, D.C. His threadbare clothes were covered with dust, and his eyes were filled with tears. A young boy stopped and sympathetically asked why he was crying. The man said that his son was in the Army and condemned to be shot because he had deserted his post. "The guards on the White House grounds will not let me see the President," said the distraught man. "Mr. Lincoln is so kind and generous. If he heard the full details of my son's desertion, I feel sure that he would pardon him." "I can take you to the President," said the boy. "You?" asked the man with surprise. "Yes, he's my father. He lets me come in and talk with him anytime I feel like it." The little fellow took the man into the White House; and after Lincoln heard the story, he did indeed pardon the condemned soldier.

In this incident we see a number of striking parallels to the believer's relationship to the Heavenly Father. But the one that stands out is this: Through Jesus Christ, the eternal Son, we can freely enter God's presence. We can enter into a dialogue with God.

God says, "I won't keep this from Abraham for two reasons: first, because he has been given by grace a favored position in my sight. He is the man whom I have called out to become great. Through him all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. And second, I have chosen him in order that he might charge his household to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice. I came into his life to show him how to do this, and because he has been taught by grace how to walk before God, this is the man to whom I want to tell my secrets."

Do you see the parallel of the Christian today? Every believer in Jesus Christ stands in exactly the same relationship with God. We have been given by grace---not on our own merits---a favored position before God. We have been called into the family of God and made sons of the living God by faith in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, we are being taught by grace how to walk righteously before him and as we learn that lesson, we become the people to whom God tells his secrets. It is not enough to have the favored position. I think many Christians believe that because they have accepted Jesus Christ, all God has is now open to them. But there must be the walk, the daily appropriation of what he is so that we learn to walk in righteousness. When we do, then God begins to share his secrets. The reason some people get a lot more out of the Bible than others is that they have discovered God in this two-way relationship.

You Can Build Your Life on God's Integrity

Abraham built his dialogue with God upon what he knew of God's character, and argued on the basis of God's integrity. God cannot deny his word and therefore we can take him at his word and rely upon his good name. God made no attempt to defend himself by reasoned arguments about what he was going to do to Sodom. Instead he revealed himself to Abraham as the God who knows and cares, and whose providential ordering of our lives shows beyond doubt that he is in control, and that "he rewards those who seek him." (Hebrews 11:6) (Joyce G. Baldwin, The Message of Genesis 12-50, The Bible Speaks Today, The Old Testament Series)

Some time ago the Detroit Free Press carried an interesting item telling about the construction of a public facility in a small Michigan town. The problem with the whole project was that it didn't have an access road. The article stated, "A new $100,000 federally funded community center stands vacant and unused in this rural western Michigan town because of a bureaucratic oversight. There are no roads connecting the building with the outside world. It was for senior citizens and the township fire department. `I've never been confronted with this problem before,' said a community development representative. `When we approved the project, we must have assumed there was a road there. Why build a building in the middle of nowhere with no access to it?'" Mistakes like this can happen when man is involved in making the plans, but they never occur with God.

The Lord Jesus informed His disciples that He was going to leave this earth to "prepare a place" in His Father's house, where there "are many mansions." He went on to say, "And where I go ye know, and the way ye know." When Thomas responded, "Lord, we know not where Thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way." You see, not only is He preparing a wonderful home, but He has also provided a way to reach it. The Lord Jesus has made it possible to enter those mansions in the Father's house. Thank God, there is an "access road" to Heaven.

Conclusion:

A life with God begins with his proposal. It is astounding that all through Abraham's life it is God who takes the initiative. God approaches Abraham and proposes a covenant with him. (Genesis 12) Earlier in chapter 18 God approaches Abraham about his plans for him to have a son within a year. And here we see God approaching Abraham proposing his plans for the cities of the plains. It begins with God; it never begins with man. We often make our plans and bring them to God for his blessings. We make a proposal to God. We may think God is to be bossed around and told about the plans we make without any consideration for his proposal for our life. Lord, I have planned to win the lottery, so I bought a lottery ticket, now I want you to make it happen. We crawl out on a limb and then beg God to keep someone from sawing it off.

C. H. Spurgeon wrote, "There are many locks in my house and all with different keys, but I have one master key which opens all. So the Lord has many treasuries and secrets all shut up from carnal minds with locks which they cannot open, but he who walks in fellowship with Jesus possesses the master key which will admit him to all the blessings of the covenant; yea, to the very heart of God. Through the Well-beloved we have access to God, to heaven, to every secret of the Lord." [Pulpit Helps, Mar 1993. Page 16.]

 

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