Genesis 18:16-33: Standing in the gap.
“16 When the men got up to leave, they looked down towards 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. 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 towards Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 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 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.” NIV UK
‘History belongs to the intercessors.’ Walter Wink.
Warren Wiersbe points out that earlier on, in chapter 14, Abraham had intervened to rescue Lot; now he interceded for his rescue. In the first place, an intercessor stands in the counsel of the Lord. He, or she, is given insight into what God is doing, or intends to do. So they are able to pray in an especially enlightened way. Abraham knew what was going to happen to Sodom before the people there (including Lot) did. ‘’The LORD confides in those who fear him…’’ Psalm 25:14a. It is interesting to me that the last words in the chapter say: ‘’When the LORD had finished speaking with Abraham…’’ You think, ‘But hasn’t Abraham been speaking with God?’ Well yes He has. But the initiative is always with God. ‘When God intends a great mercy for a people, first He sets them a praying.’ Matthew Henry.
With the knowledge he was given, Abraham prayed. He appealed to God’s justice (23-25). When the Lord rescued Lot, however, it was on the basis of His mercy and grace (19: 16 & 18). But God listened to Abraham. Prayer is powerful.
“If they [lost sinners] will not hear you speak, they cannot prevent your praying. Do they jest at your exhortations? They cannot disturb you at your prayers. Are they far away so that you cannot reach them? Your prayers can reach them. Have they declared that they will never listen to you again, nor see your face? Never mind, God has a voice which they must hear. Speak to Him, and He will make them feel. Though they now treat you despitefully, rendering evil for your good, follow them with your prayers. Never let them perish for lack of your supplications” (Charles Spurgeon: Metropolitan Pulpit, vol. 18, 263-64).
‘Undoubtedly he was thinking of Lot and his family as he progressively lowered the number of righteous people that might be needed to save the city. We don’t know why Abraham stopped at ten (verse 32); perhaps he calculated that Lot’s extended family now included ten persons. But Abraham had learned enough; he had learned that God is as concerned with the few as he is with the many, that He desires to save rather than to punish..In fact, there turned out to be only one ‘’righteous’’ person in Sodom – Lot; and God delivered him…God had greater concern and compassion for the righteous than Abraham did. Abraham stopped at ten; God was not willing that even one should perish (see Matthew 18:12-14). Since this is true, let us not tire of interceding on behalf of even one soul; God will not tire of hearing us.’ Tom Hale: ‘The Applied Old Testament Commentary’, p.159.