Communion with God is kept up by the word and by prayer. In the word God speaks to us; in prayer we speak to him. God had revealed to Abraham his purposes concerning Sodom; now from this Abraham takes occasion to speak to God on Sodom’s behalf. Note, God’s word then does us good when it furnishes us with matter for prayer and excites us to it. When God has spoken to us, we must consider what we have to say to him upon it. Observe,
I. The solemnity of Abraham’s address to God on this occasion: Abraham drew near, Gen. 18:23. The expression intimates, 1. A holy concern: He engaged his heart to approach to God, Jer. 30:21. “Shall Sodom be destroyed, and I not speak one good word for it?” 2. A holy confidence: He drew near with an assurance of faith, drew near as a prince, Job 31:37. Note, When we address ourselves to the duty of prayer, we ought to remember that we are drawing near to God, that we may be filled with a reverence of him, Lev. 10:3.
II. The general scope of this prayer. It is the first solemn prayer we have upon record in the Bible; and it is a prayer for the sparing of Sodom. Abraham, no doubt, greatly abhorred the wickedness of the Sodomites; he would not have lived among them, as Lot did, if they would have given him the best estate in their country; and yet he prayed earnestly for them. Note, Though sin is to be hated, sinners are to be pitied and prayed for. God delights not in their death, nor should we desire, but deprecate, the woeful day. 1. He begins with a prayer that the righteous among them might be spared, and not involved in the common calamity, having an eye particularly to just Lot, whose disingenuous carriage towards him he had long since forgiven and forgotten, witness his friendly zeal to rescue him before by his sword and now by his prayers. 2. He improves this into a petition that all might be spared for the sake of the righteous that were among them, God himself countenancing this request, and in effect putting him upon it by his answer to his first address, Gen. 18:26. Note, We must pray, not only for ourselves, but for others also; for we are members of the same body, at least of the same body of mankind. All we are brethren.
III. The particular graces eminent in this prayer.
1. Here is great faith; and it is the prayer of faith that is the prevailing prayer. His faith pleads with God, orders the cause, and fills his mouth with arguments. He acts faith especially upon the righteousness of God, and is very confident.
(1.) That God will not destroy the righteous with the wicked, Gen. 18:23. No, that be far from thee, Gen. 18:25. We must never entertain any thought that derogates from the honour of God’s righteousness. See Rom. 3:5, 6. Note, [1.] The righteous are mingled with the wicked in this world. Among the best there are, commonly, some bad, and among the worst some good: even in Sodom, one Lot. [2.] Though the righteous be among the wicked, yet the righteous God will not, certainly he will not, destroy the righteous with the wicked. Though in this world they may be involved in the same common calamities, yet in the great day a distinction with be made.
(2.) That the righteous shall not be as the wicked, Gen. 18:25. Though they may suffer with them, yet they do not suffer like them. Common calamities are quite another thing to the righteous than what they are to the wicked, Isa. 27:7.
(3.) That the Judge of all the earth will do right; undoubtedly he will, because he is the Judge of all the earth; it is the apostle’s argument, Rom. 3:5, 6. Note, [1.] God is the Judge of all the earth; he gives charge to all, takes cognizance of all, and will pass sentence upon all. [2.] That God Almighty never did nor ever will do any wrong to any of the creatures, either by withholding that which is right or by exacting more than is right, Job 34:10, 11.
2. Here is great humility.
(1.) A deep sense of his own unworthiness (Gen. 18:27): Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, who am but dust and ashes; and again, Gen. 18:31. He speaks as one amazed at his own boldness, and the liberty God graciously allowed him, considering God’s greatness—he is the Lord; and his own meanness—but dust and ashes. Note, [1.] The greatest of men, the most considerable and deserving, are but dust and ashes, mean and vile before God, despicable, frail, and dying. [2.] Whenever we draw near to God, it becomes us reverently to acknowledge the vast distance that there is between us and God. He is the Lord of glory, we are worms of the earth. [3.] The access we have to the throne of grace, and the freedom of speech allowed us, are just matter of humble wonder, 2 Sam. 7:18.
(2.) An awful dread of God’s displeasure: O let not the Lord be angry (Gen. 18:30), and again, Gen. 18:32. Note, [1.] The importunity which believers use in their addresses to God is such that, if they were dealing with a man like themselves, they could not but fear that he would be angry with them. But he with whom we have to do is God and not man; and, whoever he may seem, is not really angry with the prayers of the upright (Ps. 80:4), for they are his delight (Prov. 15:8), and he is pleased when he is wrestled with. [2.] That even when we receive special tokens of the divine favour we ought to be jealous over ourselves, lest we make ourselves obnoxious to the divine displeasure; and therefore we must bring the Mediator with us in the arms of our faith, to atone for the iniquity of our holy things.
3. Here is great charity. (1.) A charitable opinion of Sodom’s character: as bad as it was, he thought there were several good people in it. It becomes us to hope the best of the worst places. Of the two it is better to err in that extreme. (2.) A charitable desire of Sodom’s welfare: he used all his interest at the throne of grace for mercy for them. We never find him thus earnest in pleading with God for himself and his family, as here for Sodom.
4. Here are great boldness and believing confidence. (1.) He took the liberty to pitch upon a certain number of righteous ones which he supposed might be in Sodom. Suppose there be fifty, Gen. 18:24. (2.) He advanced upon God’s concessions, again and again. As God granted much, he still begged more, with the hope of gaining his point. (3.) He brought the terms as low as he could for shame (having prevailed for mercy if there were but ten righteous ones in five cities), and perhaps so low that he concluded they would have been spared.
IV. The success of the prayer. He that thus wrestled prevailed wonderfully; as a prince he had power with God: it was but ask and have. 1. God’s general good-will appears in this, that he consented to spare the wicked for the sake of the righteous. See how swift God is to show mercy; he even seeks a reason for it. See what great blessings good people are to any place, and how little those befriend themselves that hate and persecute them. 2. His particular favour to Abraham appeared in this, that he did not leave off granting till Abraham left off asking. Such is the power of prayer. Why then did Abraham leave off asking, when he had prevailed so far as to get the place spared it there were but ten righteous in it? Either, (1.) Because he owned that it deserved to be destroyed if there were not so many; as the dresser of the vineyard, who consented that the barren tree should be cut down if one year’s trial more did not make it fruitful, Luke 13:9. Or, (2.) Because God restrained his spirit from asking any further. When God has determined the ruin of a place, he forbids it to be prayed for, Jer. 7:16; 11:14; 14:11.
V. Here is the breaking up of the conference, Gen. 18:33. 1. The Lord went his way. The visions of God must not be constant in this world, where it is by faith only that we are to set God before us. God did not go away till Abraham had said all he had to say; for he is never weary of hearing prayer, Isa. 59:1, 2. Abraham returned unto his place, not puffed up with the honour done him, nor by these extraordinary interviews taken off from the ordinary course of duty. He returned to his place to observe what that event would be; and it proved that his prayer was heard, and yet Sodom was not spared, because there were not ten righteous in it. We cannot expect too little from man nor too much from God.