16 Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way. 17 The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” 20 Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”
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 was the only human being of the Old Covenant era ever to see God in human form and have God dine at his table. He was indeed the Friend of God. God had no need of food, yet he condescended to eat Abraham’s veal tacos because he had come to reconfirm his promise of a Seed to Abraham and Sarah. Abraham had heard God’s specific promise of Isaac recently (perhaps even just a few days earlier), but apparently, had not told his wife much about it. If Abraham had told her, she couldn’t overcome her logical, rational observations that she and her husband were far too old to have their own children. So, God showed up to strengthen Sarah’s weak trust and confirm to her that his revelation always trumps human observation. God asked her, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
As we’ve been seeing over the last few weeks, the Abrahamic Covenant was an Advent promise. It was a foretaste of the coming of Christ, the Promised Seed. The Virgin Mary had the same natural human reaction to the Annunciation as Sarah. “ ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ 35 And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.’” Nothing is impossible with God (Lk. 1:37)! How can the Holy and Perfect God who tolerates no sin and demands utter perfection of his human creatures sit down to dine in the presence of two sinners like Abraham and Sarah? Only because of the perfect person and work of the coming Promised Seed – Abraham and Sarah’s great descendant.
Having hosted God for a feast, Abraham continues his hospitality by accompanying his guests out of his camp and on their way. As wondrous as this visitation from God and two of his elect angels had been, there was a foreshadowing of the coming judgment as the heavenly visitors reach a high hill overlooking the plain below. Moses writes in verse 16, “they looked down toward Sodom.” Tradition identifies this vantage point as the elevated village of Beni Naʿim, three miles east of Hebron. The Dead Sea, eighteen miles to the south, could be discerned on a clear day through gaps in the hills. Like his ancestor Enoch, Abraham literally walked with God (5:24).
God’s covenant feast continued into the late afternoon. Moses didn’t need to tell the Israelites how much time it takes to gut, skin, butcher, and cook a calf. That was a regular procedure for them, but not for most of us. With a skilled slave, it would take at least the better part of an hour to ready even the smallest calf and another hour or two to roast it properly – depending on the cooking method. It would have been late afternoon before God and his angels left Camp Abraham. The sun was sinking into the west and radiating off the turquoise waters of the Dead Sea below. The walls of the condemned cities were visible in the distance. Moses introduces the theme of this section with a soliloquy by YHWH.
GOD’S SOLILOQY (17-21)
If you’ve ever seen a play by Shakespeare, you know he is fond of using the literary device of a soliloquy – the speech of a single character revealing his thoughts. In this scene, God speaks a soliloquy to reveal his thoughts. “17 The Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?’” God wants us to know what he is thinking and that what he has previously promised Abraham comes from his heart. It’s God’s way of assuring us that his covenant is not fake news. God lists his reasons for informing Abraham of the coming judgment. The first two reasons deal with Abraham’s status and responsibility. The third deals with the conditions of Sodom Gomorrah.
Abraham was going to be a channel of blessing for the world. He was known (or, “chosen”) by God. “19 For I have chosen him….” God had dined at Abraham’s table and Abraham had walked with God and talked with him face to face. He was known as the “Friend of God.” Slaves may not know their mater’s reasons, but friends do. So, God considered it important that Abraham know of this judgment upon a city where his nephew now lived.
Also, Abraham was responsible for teaching his family God’s righteousness and justice. “19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice….” God required his covenant people to practice righteousness and justice to everyone, regardless. This would be the sum and substance of the Covenant of Works: love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18; Gal. 5:14). Sodom and Gomorrah were the opposite of righteousness and love. Their charred ruins would become a visual aid for Abraham in teaching righteousness and justice to his descendants. “This what all unrighteousness and injustice deserve,” the ruins would proclaim.
The reason God choses to tell Abraham of the coming judgment is because of Abraham’s job as the instructor of justice and righteousness. This was the duty of all God’s prophets – to call God’s people to seek righteousness and justice for the oppressed. Abraham could take Isaac down to the ruins on the plain and stroll through the smelly sulfurous rubble and tell him this is what will happen to all people who reject God’s revelation. It was still a teaching tool long after the rubble subsided under the super salty water. Peter wrote God, “by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly….”
Finally, God wanted to tell Abraham of the coming judgment to explain the depth of sins in Sodom and Gomorrah. Maybe he gestured toward the cities as he spoke with Abraham from that high point in the hills of Hebron. “20 Then the Lord said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave….’” Earlier, God heard Sarah’s laughter. Now God hears the outcry of the oppressed victims of evil. The basic nuance in this word, outcry, is the cry of the oppressed because of harsh treatment. We naturally think of the sins of these two cities as largely sexual in nature. The name Sodom is the basis of the English noun describing sins outside normal sexuality. But if we think of the sins of these cities as only sexual, we miss the depth of their depravity.
The Hebrew word for “outcry” is used in Scripture to describe the cries of the oppressed and brutalized. It is used for the cry of the oppressed widow or orphan (Exodus 22:22, 23), the cry of the oppressed servant (Deuteronomy 24:15), and the cries of the Israelites in Egypt (Exodus 2:23; 3:7, 9). Jeremiah uses it to refer to the scream of terror by an individual or city when it is attacked (Jeremiah 18:22; 20:16; 25:36; 48:3-5, 34; 49:21; 50:46; 51:54). Such an outcry is the miserable wail of the severely oppressed and victimized. Sodom and Gomorrah are a repeat of the entire civilization prior to Noah’s flood – the powerful oppressing the helpless, the mighty warriors taking women (and, in this case, men too) for their personal pleasure, willful violence with no restraints – a thoroughly demonized culture.
It’s no coincidence that this demonized culture has sprung up around Abraham. The devil is determined to wipe out the Promised Seed. Since he cannot get to Abraham directly, he is poisoning the culture around the patriarch with “heinous moral and social corruption, an arrogant disregard of basic human rights, a cynical insensitivity to the sufferings of others” and complete perversion of the natural order. It’s a continuing theme of Genesis (and all scripture) that there is always a remnant of righteousness and justice among those of the devil’s kingdom.
Ezekiel confirms this culture of systemic evil when he preaches, “49 Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” Sodom and Gomorrah were vile city-states whose inhabitants cared only for themselves while they brutalized and oppressed each other. Social violence was the law of their little kingdoms. There were no human rights. The poor and needy and defenseless were especially brutalized. Tellingly, the great outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah came from the inhabitants of the cities themselves! Unpunished sin cried out to heaven for vengeance, like the blood of Abel (4: 10). The Lord describe their sin as “very grave.”
It shouldn’t surprise us that the world system is no different today than it was before the great flood, or at the time of Sodom and Gomorrah. If you’re like me, you may read the news and be tempted to think the world has become an even more terrible place than in Abraham’s day. Fortunately, we have God’s revelation to temper our subjective observations. The City of Man is the kingdom of the devil, who has always perverted God’s creation and always will until the wheat is gathered into the barn and the weeds are burned by Messiah Jesus (Matt. 13:24ff.).
There is always violence, self-interest, injustice, and unrighteousness, and perversion of the natural order in the City of Man. Power always corrupts. Industry despoils the earth. The poor are left to die in the streets; the unborn are offered up on the sacrificial altar of self-interest; the elderly and infirmed are encouraged to get on with the business of dying. The populace is constantly searching among the modern-day Nephilim for some powerful leader to grant them the illusion of social and economic security they believe they deserve. God’s revelation to Abraham and to us is that judgment is coming. The world will be put right. A new garden-temple will come to a new earth where God will be our God, we will be his people, and he will tabernacle with us.
JUDGMENT TO COME
Nothing is as offensive to the heart of stone as the idea of judgment for sin. The chief reason for this is that their stony hearts are enslaved to sin. “If God had told Abraham that he was about to destroy him, Abraham would have been puzzled in view of God’s earlier promises, but he would not have claimed injustice on the part of God. Abraham knew he had no claim on God and that anything he had ever received from God was due to God’s mercy. Abraham would have said with Job, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised’ (Job 1:21). He would have said with Paul, ‘Let God be true, and every man a liar’ (Rom. 3:4).” But no so the wicked.
Think about the people of Sodom and Gomorrah and their petty kings. They had witnessed the power and goodness of God more than any of the other cities of Canaan. They had been utterly defeated at the hands of Chedorlaomer of Elam. Most were carried off as slaves. All their valuable property and livestock were seized by the vanquishing army. They were all dead people walking toward a life of destitute slavery in a foreign land when God, through Abraham (for the sake of Lot), restored their lives and property. God, through Abraham, transferred them from lives of slavery and poverty into lives of freedom and prosperity. “They had heard the testimony of Melchizedek and had witnessed the example of Melchizedek and Abraham, as these [prophets] honored God above all earthly spoils and honors. Later, Lot was a witness to Sodom to some degree (cf. 2 Peter 2:7–8).”
If they had been warned about the coming judgment, no doubt they would have complained such an action was unfair. Why should they be singled out? Even Abraham might have come to wonder about this since the truly godly are far more sensitive to their own sins than the sins of others. The destruction of these vile cities was to be one more foretaste of the great judgment to come at the end of the ages. Abraham was to speak and teach prophetically about this to his elect family and instruct them to pass it on for all the elect generations to follow.
It should be a terrifying thing for the hardened heart to hear that God is not ignorant of any sin, no matter how great or small, no matter how hidden it remains down deep in our unspoken thoughts. No sin ever fails to cry out to God! No victim or oppressor will be left unaccountable. Those who believe in nothing but themselves, who fear nothing but their failure to achieve their own wants, ignore God’s revelation until it is too late. Meteors are flying toward Sodom and Gomorrah, set to explode apart in the atmosphere like a powerful bomb and set fire to the asphalt and sulfur deposits. Hell is coming. The putrid kingdom-states continue their predation unawares and unconcerned, raping and pillaging their own citizens and even their visitors.
So that Abraham understands this is no snap decision on God’s part, YHWH promises that he has come down to investigate the cries. Like eating a meal before Abraham and Sarah, this is God relating to humans on human terms. He already knows everything because all is part of his eternal decree. Yet, he promises Abraham, “21 I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.” God sends his angels on a fact-finding mission so that Abraham can be assured that YHWH is just and righteous in his judgment.
DEFENDING THE GUILTY (22-33)
Abraham then takes on a role as defense counsel for these guilty sinners. In my days as a lawyer, church people would often ask me this question: “How can you be a Christian and defend someone you know is guilty?” Some genuinely wanted to know something about Christian ethics and the law. Some took pride in believing they had taken me down a peg by hooking me on the horns of a great moral dilemma. My response never varied: “Isn’t that what Jesus does for us?” I would follow up with some scripture proofs like 1 John 2:1, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous,” pointing out the word “advocate” means defense counsel. Romans 8:34, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” Hebrews 7:25 says Jesus, “always lives to make intercession” for guilty sinners who flee to him.
Abraham’s bold and beautiful intercession for the guilty of these vile societies is passionate but flawed. His early deliverance of the dead sea kings and their subjects had been a side effect of his saving Lot. But now, he prayed not only for Lot alone but for all the guilty, vile, and helpless sinners doomed to destruction. “23 Then Abraham drew near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? …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?”
Abraham, the Friend of God, had become the Friend of Mankind as well. While the oblivious residents of these putrid strongholds were reveling in their predatory behavior, Abraham stood before YHWH to plead for them. He had no doubt that YHWH was the author of all righteousness and justice. He was rightly convinced that God cannot do wrong. It is a beautiful defense strategy to watch unfold. What if there are 50, 45, 40, 30, 20, or even 10 righteous people in Sodom? But Abraham’s theology was wrong. He was wrong to suppose that the comparatively righteous cannot suffer the same tragedies as the openly wicked. Abraham thought he was appealing to the same immutable law to which Job’s friends would latter appeal: bad things can’t happen to ‘good’ people. Karma says if we do good, we get good.
Abraham lacked Asaph’s wisdom in Psalm 73, the Black Sheep Psalter, where the psalmist observes that rotten things happen to God’s people while the wicked grow in prosperity and die in peace. Finally, he can only answer his observation by renewed trust into God’s revelation. Abraham lacked the words of Jesus, the Promised Seed, in Luke 13:4,5 where Jesus explained that the victims of the fallen tower of Siloam were no greater sinners than those who were spared. In widespread calamities, the relatively righteous, and the guilty are blended into the same bloody ruin. The whirlwind of righteous judgment levels both the house of the relatively ‘good’ and the house of the openly wicked.
Abraham lacked the later revelation Moses and the Israelites would receive – God’s Law, his revelation of his perfectly holy and righteous character. The Law’s first function is always to condemn all humans of their failure to achieve God’s standards of perfection. The Law accuses all humans equally and justly. Paul would write (quoting Ps. 14 and Ps. 53), “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”  Abraham was thinking according to the human standards of relative morality. Still, he was passionate in interceding for God’s grace. But God’s grace cannot be poured out apart from God’s Promised Seed. Grace is always and ONLY available through the perfectly lived life and sacrificial death of the resurrected and ascended Messiah Jesus. It is the perfect morality of the Promised Seed alone that can turn aside God’s just and righteous wrath against any sin, no matter how openly vile or secretly hidden.
The lurid details of the story to follow tell us there was no one righteous to be found in Sodom. Lot is spared for the sake of his trust into the Promised Seed – in spite of the fact that his trust is weak. It’s not the size of his trust that saves him, it is the greatness of the coming work of the Promised Seed that saves him.
By the time Abraham and YHWH finish talking, the last dark night has fallen on Sodom and Gomorrah. The two angels have arrived at the gates of hell on earth to witness and experience what kind of world the devil and his minions create in their wake with the hardened hearts of God-hating humanity. We glimpse in these little city-states how utterly self-absorbed men become when God removes the restraining hand of his goodness. We see how predatory sin truly is.
Abraham, for all his passion as a defense counsel, could not do what his greater son, the Promised Seed, Messiah Jesus, would later do. Christ became sin on the cross at Calvary. He bore each and every sin of all his people. He bore all our shame for those sins. He experienced our corruption more thoroughly than we ever can. With horror, he found himself to be entirely sin in his Father’s sight. Paul would write, “13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”
Abraham could argue only on the basis of what he dimly understood. But Christ’s intercession for his people is perfect because his life was lived in perfect obedience to God’s law and his death was the curse all sin deserves. “21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 18:16–33.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 18:14.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 1:34–35.
 Hamilton, 17.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Pe 2:6.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 18:20.
 Hamilton, 20.
 Hughes, 263. Kindle Edition.
 Sarna, quoted in Hughes, 163. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eze 16:49.
 Hamilton, 21.
 Boice, 613. Emphasis added.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 2:1.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 8:34.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 3:10–12.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ga 3:13–14.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 5:21.