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Grown-Up Bible Stories

God’s Man and the Devil’s City

Of all the dramatic moments in Scripture, the disaster that befell the city of Sodom stands among the most dramatic. While time—not to mention fiery destruction—has placed many statistics beyond our reach, the disaster was huge. It involved multiple cities and a large rural area. Only three people survived.

Those three survivors had no way of knowing, but they survived because of an important conference the day before. The conference involved one of history’s greatest men of faith, Abraham. The other conferee was God Himself.

You may remember that Abraham had a nephew named Lot. The two shared a nomadic lifestyle until their large agricultural operations grew beyond the ability of the territory to support them both. They’d separated peacefully, even if things did get a bit tense between their workers. Lot had chosen the most attractive region available, a very desirable area down on the plain of Sodom. Abraham remained up in the rugged country beyond the plain. It may sound bad for Abraham, but he depended on God’s blessing and prospered hugely.

God blessed Lot too, but he wasn’t without his problems in Sodom. For one thing, the people down on the plain weren’t too nice. Later Scripture says Lot vexed his righteous soul with the things they did. Violence was part of it. Also, our word sodomy is taken from the name of this city. Lot was prospering financially, but he lived in the devil’s country.

At one point, war came to Sodom. It was probably a financially motivated war. Kings used to have this thing about taxing each other for gain, and they fought to see who got to collect. The king of Sodom lost, and the whole city became prisoners. Lot marched into slavery among them.

Now Abraham was rich enough to have hundreds of servants. He’d even trained several hundred as soldiers. It says a bit about the state of that civilization that a wealthy migrating farmer needed a private army. Maybe we should be even more impressed by the fact that Abraham stood tall enough to deal with the region’s kings.

Abraham and his private army joined up with his king friends and their public armies to rescue Lot. In the process, they also freed the citizens of Sodom and recovered their captured personal property. Sodom’s grateful king offered to give him the property. Abraham refused. He let his royal friends take their share, but when it came to his share he said no. Abraham said in effect, "I don’t want anybody saying you made me rich." The king of Sodom and Lot went home to the plain. Abraham went home to the hills and back to dealing with his own problems.

Abraham did struggle with concerns that had nothing to do with Lot or Sodom. God had chosen to speak to Abraham. In speaking, God had promised to give Abraham’s family those hills he lived in, to make Abraham a great nation, and to bless all the people of the world through him. There was one catch. For these promises to come true, Abraham needed descendants, and his wife had never been able to bear children. Now they were too old to become parents, and God kept telling Abraham to believe.

Just before our famous conference, three men came to visit Abraham. The visitors looked and acted like normal mortals, but later events proved that at least two of them were really angels. The third was either an angel or--as some Bible scholars suggest--Jesus Christ appearing in bodily form many years before He actually became flesh and dwelt among us. Whether it was three angels or two angels and the Lord Jesus, Abraham and his wife Sarah cooked a beef dinner for three representatives of Heaven. The visitors had eaten, and they’d renewed the promise God had made to Abraham and Sarah. While most of the visit had to do with this very important issue in Abraham’s life, that issue lies beyond what we’re considering today. (See Genesis 21:1-8 for the fulfillment of God’s promise to give Abraham and Sarah a son.)

The aforementioned conference happened as Abraham’s heavenly guests departed. The two men whom we know were angels walked away on the dusty trail to Sodom. Abraham remained behind with God. Again, the Bible isn’t clear as to whether God was appearing bodily as the third guest, or if He was in his usual invisible form. God was ready to do something big. He knew what He intended to do. He knew how He would do it. He knew why He would do it. He knew when and where He would do it. The appropriate angels had already been dispatched to implement the plan. Everything was ready. God didn’t need Abraham’s opinion. He didn’t really need Abraham cheering from the sidelines. Still, Abraham is remembered as God’s friend. God had one man in the whole area on close speaking terms with Him, and He spoke with that man.

God Himself stood talking with this rich, elderly nomadic farmer. What a privilege that man had! The riches, the prominent role in society, none of it even compares. God talked with Abraham!

Unfortunately, the subject of their conversation turned sad. God said He’d heard of the outrages of Sodom and its sister city Gomorrah. Either the victims of Sodom had been off crying in the dark and God heard, or someone else complained to God about them. Then, as now, God will only tolerate abusive behavior for so long. Then, the perpetrator had better watch out! In this instance, God planned to settle the score in the very near future.

But Abraham wasn’t the only person God loved. There was a whole culture on the plain. We know Sodom and Gomorrah from that society by name. Other, lesser, cities seem to have surrounded them as well. God is willing that none should perish. But the people down on the plain had it the way they liked. They’d made a choice. God had already programmed them to know what things they shouldn’t do. He hadn’t called them to great feats of faith. He’d merely told them to behave, and they didn’t want to do so. They did what people who know what God wants and choose not to obey have to do. They chose not to believe. Their world had invented numerous idols and mythical gods that would let them do as they pleased. It was easier to pray to a carved rock and get a measure of emotional release than to believe in the living God and give up the pleasures of sin. The result was a place that wasn’t even safe for angels.

The all-knowing God told Abraham He would go down and see if things were as bad as He’d heard. Obviously, God already knew, but he chose to give the city a fair trial. All unknown to the self-satisfied people in Sodom, they were on trial for their lives.

Abraham stood alone with God and looked down on the plain of Sodom, a land so bad God had actually been taking complaints against it. It was a city sitting on the brink of judgment. It was a city with one more night before its catastrophic end. It was a place people needed to evacuate, and those people were too busy partying to have a clue.

Sodom desperately needed to throw off the party togs and put on uncomfortable sackcloth. Sodom desperately needed to pour their wine on the street and fast as they begged God to send His angels somewhere else. But Sodom wasn’t talking to God. They were too busy trying to forcibly commit extreme immorality against His angels. All Sodom had left was a prayer, and Sodom wasn’t praying.

Sodom wasn’t praying, but somebody was praying for them! When Abraham heard God’s plan, he started begging. He asked God what would happen to the good people in Sodom. Good people in Sodom might sound contradictory to us, but Abraham had a nephew in Sodom. That nephew was married and had daughters. Some of his daughters were married. They obviously had husbands. Lot likely had grandchildren. Maybe Abraham thought of all these righteous households in the wicked city. Maybe he thought of the parents of Lot’s sons-in-law. Even today, it’s easy to assume that because we know one godly person in a family the whole family is godly. That’s sometimes the case, but God saves us as individuals, not families. Abraham thought of these presumably righteous people and asked: "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25)

Abraham started with the assumption that Sodom might hold 50 righteous people. He asked God if He would destroy the city if it meant wiping out those 50.

God replied in the negative. He would spare the whole miserable countryside for 50 decent people.

Abraham is famous for his faith, but to be valid, faith must be in a valid source. Abraham believed God. Such faith is valid because God is real, and He is trustworthy. Sodom didn’t warrant that kind of faith. Abraham couldn’t name fifty righteous people in Sodom and figured he’d better give himself some margin. He dropped the number to 45.

He did so carefully. He compared himself with God and admitted he was just dust and ashes in comparison. That’s an interesting statement. Think of the funeral service: "Dust to dust, ashes to ashes." Abraham saw himself as nothing--at least as bad as dead-- without God, yet he did have God and was willing to bargain with Him as it were.

God agreed again and Abraham dropped the number to 40, then to 30, then to 20. Abraham didn’t want to see any right-living person in Sodom die like a sinner. Each time, God agreed to spare the whole city. He even promised to let Sodom off if He could find 20 people who weren’t part of the regional rebellion.

Finally, Abraham got down as far as his knowledge of Sodom and understanding of justice would allow. "What if there are only 10?" [Quotations are not necessarily exact unless accompanied by a reference.] God promised to spare Sodom for only 10 righteous people.

The conference ended. Abraham had made intercession. God had promised that if He found so many as ten righteous people on the plain of Sodom He would spare the whole territory. Now He took the bright focus of His presence and went elsewhere. He would have His look at Sodom. Its only chance was if it really held ten righteous people.

God didn’t find ten righteous people in Sodom.

Let’s join Abraham in the same place as we last saw him. He’s looking out from the mountains toward the plain. God isn’t there with Him, well yes, God is there--God is everywhere. God isn’t there in the sense that Abraham can feel Him and converse with Him. Abraham isn’t talking with God, perhaps to Him, but not with Him on this particular morning as he looks to the east and sees a huge column of smoke. While we don’t have photographical evidence, the smoke likely blocked the sunlight and cast an eerie twilight across Abraham’s mountains. Its sulferous odor would waft in on the breeze. Abraham’s thoughts have been lost to history. But as he looked, he had to know God hadn’t found ten righteous people in Sodom.

God knew how to spare the righteous without letting their evil society go free, however. He gave Lot and his extended family a chance to leave town. The two angels who came as traveling men and stayed with Lot told him to take his family and clear out. In the end, only Lot and his two unmarried daughters were interested enough to make it to safety.

Later Scripture counts Lot as a righteous man, but in a sense, he wasn’t righteous enough. Abraham, who wouldn’t even accept the riches of Sodom, who lived way off in the mountains, could talk to God and get Lot safely out of distant Sodom. Lot, who was on the scene, couldn’t even get most of his family out. In fact, based on Genesis 19:29, Lot didn’t even get himself out. He needed Abraham’s intercession. That’s spooky. For those living in today’s sinful world it’s also sobering.


Most of us, if we’re honest, are more like Lot than Abraham. There’s a little too much of Sodom in our hearts. No matter how righteous we’ve tried to be, it hasn’t been enough to overcome the sins to which our self-centered ways have led us. Like the "Lots" of all time, we need somebody to go to God on our behalf. Only, we need Somebody bigger than Abraham. God has already pronounced judgment worse than the fire and brimstone that took Sodom and Gomorrah off the map. He promised an everlasting and ongoing destruction on sinful souls after the body dies. It isn’t pretty, and we weren’t on speaking terms with God to ask for mercy. There wasn’t an Abraham big enough to plead our case, so God came in the person of Jesus Christ to plead for us.

In effect, Jesus said, "I am righteous. Spare the world for my sake." He didn’t say, "Don’t be angry with me." He didn’t say, "Don’t blot my name out of Your book." He said, "Not my will but Yours." Then He went to the cross and died. The punishment was met. Now God will let each of us come up out of our personal Sodom. He will change each of us so we can stand like Abraham and have fellowship with Him.

Unlike the king of Sodom for whom there was no intercession, unlike the citizens of Sodom who tried to drag the angels of God into their evil ways, unlike the family of Lot who laughed at deliverance, unlike Lot’s wife who turned back toward the destruction and died for her empty heart, you have Someone Who is pleading your case with God. It isn’t too late. You can come to Him right now and find mercy and renewal and then begin the wonderful experience called eternal life. Won’t you do it today?

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. (1 Timothy 2:5-6)

My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)

To learn how to find God's mercy and eternal life click here: How to Have a Relationship with God

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How to Have a Relationship with God

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