Grace Orientation, Impersonal Love, Intercessory Prayer. Genesis 18:16-33
In Genesis 18:16-23 we see another test: grace orientation's big brother, i.e. the tough problem-solving device, impersonal or unconditional love. It has to do with Abraham and his exhibiting love for Lot. Lot has tried to cheat him and there is a certain antagonism between the two camps but it all flowed from Lot's side, not from Abraham's. Lot is a believer but he is completely messed up in his whole scale of values. He is the real issue here in this test because he has now taken up residence in Sodom and God is about to completely destroy Sodom and in the process is going to disclose this to Abraham. It is that disclosure that tests Abraham. That is, am I going to say something, am I going to intercede for Lot, am I going to act as his advocate before God, or am I just going to let God go down there and judge and destroy everybody, including Lot? Is Abraham going to respond out of human viewpoint and out of his sin nature or is he going to operate on the basis of divine viewpoint, grace orientation, and impersonal love.
In conjunction with this we see this test for Abraham related to impersonal love, but in the process as Abraham is growing to maturity now is going to sort of test God. God sets up a test for Abraham but in the midst of this test for Abraham, Abraham is going to test God. The test that he has for God, once he learns of this judgment, has to do with understanding how God's justice and righteousness work together. The basic question that Abraham is asking and which underlies all of this dialogue is the question: Is God trustworthy with regard to carrying out His justice in human history? Can I really trust God to do the right thing?
In verse 25 Abraham makes a statement: "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" We have to go back to the character of God, to understanding His righteousness and His justice—His integrity—and that every human being has violated His righteous standards and therefore in justice God is bringing suffering or allowing suffering in the world, and what we see today is nothing compared to the eternal suffering that those who reject Christ will encounter. Cf. verse 19: "For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice." The key word in the chapter is righteousness, and that is the underlying issue here. There is a test for Abraham but within the context of this test for Abraham, Abraham is validating or verifying that God is a righteous God who will judge correctly and will not arbitrarily destroy the righteous along with the wicked. This is the framework for understanding these particular events.
The first section goes from verse 16 down to verse 19. This involves God testing Abraham with respect to the blessing imperative in the Abrahamic covenant. In the previous section the test focused on the seed; in this section it focuses on the blessing. In verse 16 we see the circumstances. They finished their meal, they have rested, and now the three men stand up. Two of the men in verse 16 are referred to in 19:1 as angels. Throughout Scripture angels always appear as male. It doesn't mean that the angels are identified by sex. They don't have the ability to procreate because angels are not a species. Each individual angel is created individually.
As they are walking away, v.17, "And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?" The implication is that, no it shouldn't be hidden from Abraham, he should be told. This information is going to provide a test for Abraham. There are two aspects to this test. The first is that Abraham needs to be tested because he, i.e. his progeny, descendants, will become a great and might nation. Verse 18, "Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him." In other words, because of Abraham's position as the source of blessing for all nations he needs to be trained in understanding righteousness and justice. He has to understand the integrity of God.
Impersonal love: According to Collins' Dictionary the term means something that does not involve a personal knowledge or personal relationship with something. So "impersonal" easily communicates the idea that you don't have to have a personal relationship with the object of love. The problem is that the second dictionary meaning of impersonal is that it is something that is devoid of warmth, care, or something that is mechanical or cold. And that is what a lot of people think of when they think of "impersonal," so the word in connection with love seems to be a contradiction in terms. Perhaps a better term is "non-personal," because the idea that we are trying to get across is that there does not have to be a personal relationship. Another term that is used to communicate this concept of love is the idea of unconditional. What unconditional seeks to emphasize is that we don't place a condition on our love. But another word is the word "unmerited." That means you don't do anything to earn or deserve the love. When we look at what is going on here we see that the emphasis is on righteousness and justice but the test is whether or not Abraham has learned his lessons from grace orientation and he is going to stand as an intercessor or advocate for Lot, even though Lot has mistreated him, abused him, and taken him for granted in the past. Is Abraham going to understand this connection between righteousness and justice and love? Abraham does pass this particular test. The reason this test exists is that Abraham is going to be great, the father of a great nation, so he needs to be trained. The purpose of all testing is to train us for future roles and responsibilities.
Genesis 18:19, the second element of the test. "For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him." The phrase "come to know him" is a term for having an intimate relationship with someone. This is the same idea of intimate relationship that we see indicated in the euphemism for sexual intimacy in Genesis 4 where is says that Adam knew Eve. Notice in this verse that it is setting Abraham up as an example to his descendants. That is part of what goes on in any test that God brings into our lives: that we can be an example to others, that we can be a testimony to the grace of God in our lives, both to people around us as well as to angels. What is "the way of the Lord"? It is defined in context by the next phrase: "to do righteousness and justice." The way of the Lord is the application of righteousness and justice within the sphere of human relationships. Before we can understand how to apply that within our human relationships we have to understand it in terms of God's character. That is why we have to study the Scripture. We have to study the Scripture so that we can know who God is, and we have to understand the Scripture so that we can then take these things and apply them in terms of every day relationships. The Scripture, then, gives us the models here and there on how to do this. This is what this chapter does.
Genesis 18:20, God's second statement. "And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know." God's actions toward Sodom are viewed anthropomorphically. God is omniscient and knew from eternity past what was going to happen in Sodom, but this is talking in language of accommodation for us as if it just happened and God was just now hearing this cry. The fact is, God has been aware of this all along and He has been dealing with the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah in grace. God has all the information so that His judgments are certain and absolutely right, they are consistent with the absolute standard of His righteousness. The emphasis here goes to His omniscience, which means that His justice is sure and certain.
At that point God doesn't go anywhere, the two men (angels) go. God has delegated the authority to them and they are going to go down and look at the situation. God knows what is going to happen, and there is a dual purpose in this because they will be involved in the rescue of Lot. Genesis 18:22, "And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the LORD."
Then we see Abraham test the Lord in verses 23-33. He is going to test God to see if God is truly trustworthy in terms of how He deals with men. He is specifically concerned about Lot.
Genesis 18:23, "And Abraham drew near, and said, Will you also destroy the righteous with the wicked?" What does he mean by righteous and wicked? He doesn't mean that Lot is morally pure and clean and that he has no ethical problems down there living in the midst of Sodom. Neither does he mean that the men and women in Sodom don't have some good points. What he means by righteous and wicked is that they are not rightly related to God. The terms righteous and wicked in the Old Testament have to do with one's position before God in relationship to the covenant. If we bring that over into the terminology we use in the New Testament righteousness refers to positional righteousness, i.e. someone who is saved, and wicked has to do with positionally lost and they are unsaved. It doesn't have to do with their experience because we know that Lot is experientially unrighteous. But he is called "righteous Lot" in 2 Peter 2:7, which is a reference to his positional standing before God. So Abraham's question is, if there are fifty believers living in Sodom are they going to be wiped out along with everybody else? He doesn't question God's right to wipe them out and destroy them. Then at the end of verse 25 Abraham asks, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" The implication of the question is, yes, of course. Because God is the judge of all the earth He will do that which is right. What we need to note here is that this is a sign of real doctrinal boldness on the part of Abraham. He is able to do this because of the doctrine that is in his soul. The point here is that God is not going to destroy these wicked unbelievers at the expense of any believers that are there. God is going to deal graciously with believers and He will bless by association the unbelievers that surround the believers.
What God is going to do in the execution of his judgment is, since He will not judge the Sodomites while there are believers there, He will remove the believers and then He will judge them. In that is a type of the Rapture. Before God will destroy the earth in the judgments of the Tribulation He first removes the church, and then He brings judgment.
Genesis 18:33, the conclusion. "And the LORD went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place."
This is a picture of the doctrine of intercessory prayer
1) Intercession means to act as an advocate or a mediator between someone else and God. We are to do that in prayer. Every believer is to pray for one another, as well as to pray for the lost.
2) Intercession in prayer occurs when a believer petitions God on behalf of others.
3) Intercession is a function of grace orientation and impersonal love for others. We are to pray for other people, even for out enemies. The key verse for this is James 5:16. The core part of that verse is to pray for one another "that you may be healed." The word for healing there isn't the word that we associate with physical healing, it is one that deals with spiritual recovery because of spiritual failure.