Genesis 18:16-33
Intercession

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

I Am Coming Down To See For Myself

1. In today's passage of scripture, we find the names of the two towns of "Sodom and Gomorrah." Besides the other passages from the Old Testament, they are even referred to in the New Testament as towns judged by God. As [there are] passages in which these names appear, and since we are reading them here right now, we just can't skip out on thinking of "the judgment of God." So, I think we should listen to the message which the Lord gave about these two towns. Please look at verse twenty. "The Lord said, 'There are truly great cries making the case that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is very heavy. I will descend, I will check for myself their behavior and whether these cries of theirs which have reached me are true.'," (18:20).

2. We have got to be very careful in reading this. The decision by God against the evil of Sodom and Gomorrah is not the point [to be made] here. The point is on the decision by the human beings. Before the judgment of God comes down, the people had their cries shouting out in appeal to God [for help]. In the original text, it has "the cries of Sodom and Gomorrah," you should probably say that the cries [arose] not from the outside but from the inside [of the cities]. Because there is crying by people [in the towns], the Lord descends to confirm whether the actual situation is as they are crying it out to be. That's the way the text has been written.

3. The detail that the point to be made is on the voices of the people making their appeal that way is very intriguing as it coincides with our own experience. It isn't actually that way, is it? We see that the human world has sin and it has evil, but God has not yet put his finger on [them]. Whenever we are made to suffer unfairly because of the evil of this world or the evil of [some] neighbor [in it], the presence of this evil becomes even more serious of a problem to us. At such a time, we may even desire for the sin of the world to be judged justly. We may even cry out in our hearts, "For me, do something, anything to these people committing this evil!" Many people will not like the term "judgment of God." I've never met anybody who loves the term "Judgment Day." But, yet the contrastive fact is that people do seek for a righteous judgment [to be made].

4. But, God doesn't judge the world in accordance with the plea of the people. He judges based on the facts, the truth. Therefore, he descends to investigate the facts. That's the way the text has been written here at this point. In this way then, the decisively important thing is the fact that "God" himself has committed himself to come down to see and to investigate. If that is so, then when we cry out with our appeals against the evils of others, a different [set of] facts will probably catch the eye of the descended God [who has come to see with his own] eyes. Also [when he does come down], then the fact of "our own evil" may catch his attention. Be that as it may, the decision will be based on how God judges all the facts which are brought out into the open.

If There Are Righteous People There, [I] Won't Destroy [The Cities]

5. But, the story doesn't end there. Something even more strange is written here. What's more, quite a bit of space is allotted to it for that purpose. A conversation was going on between Abraham and the Lord God as if "bargaining for lower prices." Abraham gets the Lord to say that "If there were fifty righteous persons in the town of Sodom, he would pardon the whole town for the the sake of those [righteous] ones," (verse twenty-six). Then, at the end of it all, he is successful in bringing down the fifty to ten persons. The Lord says, "I will not destroy [it] for the sake of those ten," (verse thirty-two).

6. We'll touch upon the contents of their talking back and forth later, but let's think about why they even had this conversation to begin with. Well, we really already know it, it's because Abraham knew the plans of judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah. Put more accurately, the Lord God himself spoke openly with Abraham about it. It is written in verse seventeen like this: "The Lord said, 'Is it necessary for me to hide from Abraham what I intend to do?'" As it turned into a "bargaining for lower terms" so that the Lord God [could] make his painful revelation, the one who originally planted the seed was none other than the Lord God.

7. When you think about it, it is not one or two scenes in the Bible where God speaks his plans for judgment to somebody. Much rather, it is no exaggeration to say God always does this. Thus, later a man named Amos will boldly talk in this fashion as well. "Verily, the Lord God does not do anything without showing his servants the prophets what he has determined to do," (Amos 3:17). Since originally it was the work of the prophet to tell the many people what God showed [him], you might say that the intention of God was to make widely known his plan before doing it. If the destruction of the evil doers was his original plan, if [that] was God's will, shouldn't God have just done it without saying anything [to anyone]? But, God didn't stay silent about it. To be brief, the point that is clear with this [text] here is the fact that it is not God's original intention or will that he judge sin and destroy.

8. The will of God as described here is clearly revealed even in the dialog with Abraham. The first question that Abraham asked was "Is it true that you will destroy the righteous along with the wicked?," (verse twenty-three). Even if there are fifty righteous persons in that town, would you still destroy it, he had asked. Then, Abraham went on further and asked, "Wouldn't you pardon the town for the sake of those fifty righteous persons?" Obviously there is a leap in logic here. Since it was illogical to destroy the righteous with the wicked it would have been good enough had he saved just the righteous. There was no need to pardon the entire town whatsoever. But, God accepted the leaped terminology and answered, "If there are fifty person in the town of Sodom, 'I will pardon the entire town' for their sake," (verse twenty-six).

9. After that, as I touched on before, Abraham began his bargaining. He said, "Perhaps it may be short five people of the fifty righteous. Even still, would you destroy the whole town because it was short the five?" Whereupon the Lord said, If there are forty-five people I will not destroy it. Then, the word of the Lord ultimately landed at saying, "I will not destroy it for the sake of ten [righteous] people." Thus, this scene comes to a close in a rather abrupt manner. "When the Lord finished speaking with Abraham, he departed. Abraham also went back to his dwelling," (verse thirty-three).

10. Why did their talk end up at ten persons? I think it's because Abraham knew what the Lord was telling him. It is clear to our eyes [as] we read it. Reading this conversation, a person would be quite dim witted to think, "Well now, nine would be no good, right?" The Lord wasn't taking issue with the number of people. He was taking issue over whether or not righteous people really were present there. He was taking issue over whether there were righteous enough persons there who could cover the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, and save them from destruction. Therefore, God eventually says, "I'll save the whole town" if there is "even [any] person" truly righteous.

Only One Righteous One

11. Then this ultimate will of God to pardon [them] is made clear later through the prophets. Please open to Isaiah chapter fifty-three. This scene, which begins from Isaiah 52:13, is known as "The Song Of The Suffering Servant." I really would like for us to read this whole passage very closely, but for here today we will only read the last part of it. This song is concluded with the following words from the Lord: "My servant will bear upon himself the sins of many in order to make them righteous. Therefore, I will make the many for his own portion, and he will receive a multitude like the spoils of war. For, he will lay down himself, die and be counted as one of the sinners. This is the man who will bear the errors of many and make intercession on behalf of those who have rebelled [against God]," (Isaiah 53:11 b and 12).

12. It might be [too much] detail, but the first part that I read today could be translated as "the righteous servant of mine ...," and there are more than a few translations that do go that way. I think that way is better. Here we find in the text one righteous man. He bears the errors of many by just himself, and makes intercession for those who have rebelled. Because of him many will be forgiven of their sins and will be made righteous. The Lord God will pardon many because of this one righteous man. That is God's will.

13. But [now], the issue is the same in the scene of the conversation between Abraham and God. It is about whether there really is such a righteous person. The number of people is not the issue. There has to be a righteous person, even if it is one. Can we really expect there to truly be a righteous person who can bear the errors of the many and make intercession for the rebellious? Is there really a righteous person bearing my errors and yours and making intercession on behalf of rebellious me and you? What reply does the Bible give to this sincere question? "There is. There certainly is," it replies. And, it points to Him. It points to the one righteous person, Jesus Christ, who bore upon the cross the sins of every person and who intercedes for them, saying, "Father, please forgive them for me."

14. "Who can condemn us in sin? The one who died, no, much rather, it is the one who rose from the dead, even Christ Jesus, and he sits on the right hand of God, and intercedes on our behalf," (Romans 8:34). That's how Paul wrote it. For certain, we are persons, for whom Christ "intercedes." But, at the same time, we recall the figure of Abraham. The figure of Abraham as he sought forgiveness for Sodom and Gomorrah so filled with their sins is also the way that we ought to be. At the same time that we are "persons being interceded for," we become "persons who intercede" praying on behalf of this world. We can make intercessory prayer for others with a sure and certain hope. -- Because there is the one righteous One. As we become one with this righteous and interceding One, we too shall be allowed to pray on behalf of others.

 
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