Abraham Challenges God

Abraham Challenges God

Abraham Challenges God.

“Then they turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. And Abraham came near and said, ‘Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:22,25).

There was a momentous conversation between Abraham and the Lord as they stood on the edge of a ravine that looked over the city of Sodom. God had come down personally to take a look at Sodom to determine if the people were as desperately wicked as it seemed. Evidently, the people of Sodom were as depraved as expected, and God decided to destroy the whole population. Abraham had the audacity, standing right there with Yahweh, to challenge God in His decision. Certainly, Abraham declared, you wouldn’t destroy the righteous within Sodom with all the wicked, would you, Lord? What if you found fifty righteous, would you still destroy Sodom? No, I will refrain from Sodom’s destruction if fifty righteous were found in the city, says the Lord. And then Abraham began his brazen act of bargaining with the Almighty God. What about forty-five righteous, Abraham asks. Or forty? Or thirty? Or twenty? Or ten? Would you save the city of Sodom if ten righteous people were found? The Lord finally closed the bargaining session with, Yes, I will spare Sodom for ten righteous people. As it turned out, the Lord could not find even ten righteous people in Sodom, and the entire city was destroyed. Because of Abraham’s advocacy, though, the Lord did rescue Abraham’s nephew Lot and family from the destruction. This unique, unexpected scene brings many questions to mind:

What gave Abraham the right to challenge God? Call it the “right of friendship.” Abraham was known down through Biblical history as the friend of God (2 Chron. 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23). The Lord had just stated before the Sodom conversation that He “knew” Abraham (Gen. 18:19), which underlined an intimate personal relationship between the two of them. Besides that, God had just introduced this whole episode with a rhetorical question, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing?” (Gen. 18:17). In other words, like all close friends, God wasn’t about to keep a secret from His bosom buddy Abraham. And, as in any solid friendship, they are free to challenge each other in a spirit of respect and trust. God didn’t consider Abraham to be insolent or impudent. Abraham was audacious, but not disrespectful. God and Abraham seemed to be reasoning together, which is what good friends do.

Was Abraham questioning God’s character? Up to this point, Abraham was mindful of God’s power, wisdom and righteousness. Perhaps what Abraham was wondering about was the extent of His mercy. Abraham wanted to test the waters and see how far God would go in being merciful. Will God be merciful in His justice? God had just told Abraham that He wanted Abraham to teach his children how to be righteous and just (Gen. 18:19). So Abraham reminded God, as if He needed reminding, that He is obligated to remember righteousness in His actions, in addition to justice. Abraham mentioned the words righteous and justice often in their conversation over Sodom. Now, Abraham wonders, where does mercy fit in ? By the time God was bargained down to ten righteous, and then especially after Lot and his daughters were rescued, Abraham had no doubts that God was a merciful God and Savior.

Was Abraham advocating for the righteous or for everybody in Sodom? It appears that Abraham was advocating for the whole wicked city of Sodom. He could have asked God to merely spare the righteous and let the wicked be destroyed. But he kept asking for the whole city to be spared if righteous were found in it. Abraham wanted the city to be spared if at all possible. Perhaps he wanted the righteous to be spared as an act of justice, and the wicked to be spared as an act of mercy. It’s easy to see why the Lord chose Abraham to be the pioneer of the Chosen People of the covenant. His heart was untainted and uniquely pure. He wanted Abraham to raise his next generation to be as righteous and just and merciful as he was. With maybe a couple of weak moments, Abraham was a true spiritual hero of the Faith.

Does God want us to intercede for the guilty, to advocate for the wicked, like Abraham did? There is little doubt that this would be in the spirit of Jesus. It is said that God doesn’t want any to perish (2 Peter 3:9), and Yahweh has gone on record in Scripture as saying, “As I live, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” (Ezek. 33:11). Jesus often advocated for the sinful, even going so far as to ask the Father to forgive all those responsible for His death (Luke 23:34). So it is very much in the spirit of Christ to intercede for the guilty, just like Abraham. It is very much in character for believers to care for the homeless, visit the prisoners, and forgive the enemy, unconcerned about the levels of guilt or sin that brought the person to that predicament. We realize that we are guilty sinners as well, no better than  the wicked, and are only declared innocent because of the saving blood of Christ. We are to care for those in need, regardless of the person’s responsibility for the situation. We are to pray for God’s mercy on the guilty.

Was Sodom really all that bad? According to the just Judge of the earth, it was. The whole city was hopelessly depraved. When Lot hosted the angels in his home in town, “The men of the city, the men of Sodom, both old and young, all the people from every quarter, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot and said to him, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them.” (Gen 18:1-5). All the men in Sodom wanted to commit a homosexual gang rape. The depravity of the city was only highlighted even more later when Lot and his two daughters were rescued and were recovering in a nearby cave as the city burned. Both daughters panicked. They thought they were never going to see another man, so they both got Lot drunk and lay with him on consecutive nights. Both daughters became pregnant through their father. Neither of those daughters had any moral restraint as they committed incest with their father Lot. Sodom’s morals were so depraved that the people were somehow irredeemable. In this situation, the Lord’s sense of justice kicked into high gear.

Does God want us to challenge Him like Abraham did? God certainly wants us to be honest with Him, whether our challenges are legitimate or not. If we are harboring questions about God, we might as well tell Him forthrightly, since He knows what we’re thinking anyway. It’s healthy for us to voice our human concerns with God. All of us have human questions about how God acts or doesn’t act. On the one hand, to question the all-knowing and all-powerful Lord seems absurd. And for the most part, God’s actions are not exactly explainable, and we should simply trust and believe. One also needs to consider the spirit of the challenge or question. Is it respectful, submissive, trusting? Is the questioning done as a matter of ultimate faith in God? There are plenty of psalms of David that include what even might be considered a brutal cross-examination of God. David was a man after God’s own heart, so it was merely an aspect of the human believer asking human questions in the face of a sometimes  inscrutable God. To question God out of scorn, or distrust, or anger, or unbelief, would seem to be the wrong way to go about it. If you question God like you would a close friend who has saved your life, God would certainly welcome that.

Was God really changing His mind when complying with Abraham’s requests?  In other words, was Abraham really talking God into His final decision? Did God already know that His limit was going to be ten righteous people in Sodom, or was God sort of teasing the situation out for Abraham’s benefit somehow? Perhaps the Lord knew all along about what His bottom line was, but He wanted Abraham to be a part of the reasoning process. It seems that God set the scene up so that Abraham would challenge Him. God gave Abraham permission to speak, to be on the inside of Sodom’s judgment. Rabbi Jonathon Sacks believes that God wanted Abraham to be the defense attorney for the people accused of these moral crimes. Perhaps in God’s eyes, the courtroom of justice demands a counterargument. Sacks writes, “God needs humanity to become His partner in the administration of justice. He needs to hear a dissenting voice. Justice involves conversation, dialogue, argument, a “hearing.” As the prosecutor in this courtroom. God made His case against Sodom, while Abraham defended the accused. And as the ultimate Judge, God finally  laid down the law.

Why didn’t Abraham challenge God when asked to sacrifice his innocent son Isaac? One does wonder why he didn’t advocate for his son, and why he was so submissive to the sacrifice. There is a mystery here, of course. All we can do here is make some conjectures. It must have seemed to Abraham to be a matter of obedience to God to follow His demand to sacrifice Isaac. According to Hebrews 11:17-19, Abraham had thought about this at the time, and he finally reasoned that God would raise Isaac from the dead should he be sacrificed. Abraham pleading for Sodom was a matter of intercession. With Isaac, somehow it was a matter of faith. Abraham truly thought that, even if Isaac were sacrificed, Isaac would remain the promised child, the child of the covenant that would bless the world. Instead of advocating for Isaac, Abraham chose to obey God and believe in Isaac’s eventual resurrection. One has a feeling that no matter how one tries to explain away this question, the mystery remains. Truly, why didn’t Abraham advocate for Isaac? Perhaps God only knows. One thing is clear… God did honor Abraham for his faith and obedience. So Abraham must have done this right.

 

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