Why would the Lord God ask such a question? As I read through this chapter I believe I felt that this one verse became the most significant verse of the entire chapter.
Consider that when Abraham pitched his tent he built an alter to the Lord. When Lot pitched his tent, its toward Sodom. Lot was not Abraham's equal.
God knew this. But Abraham loved Lot. He had traveled with Lot from Chaldea, through Egypt, and finally to the land where, rather than quarrel they separated themselves from one another. Abraham had sacrificed both for and with Lot. He had risked his life to return Lot from a life of slavery. (Gen 13) Was it hard for him to consider the Lord's "justice and judgement?" (vs 19) In my mind when he asks the Lord, "Wilt thou also destroy the righteous and the wicked," he is asking what the Lord will do with Lot and his family.
As I read this chapter I did not consider that before the negotiation began, God knew how it would end. But when you think about it, as a God of mercy and love, God knew how he would answer Abraham. So for me, it is more about Abraham's tutelage in justice, judgment and mercy than it is about the destruction of Sodom.
Consider these points as you read:
- Abraham's covenant was sure: He had just been promised that Isaac would be born to Sarah. vs 16
- God trusted Abraham: the Lord acknowledges this in vs 19
- Devotion verses justice: Abraham was perplexed for his love and devotion to Lot. He knew that Lot and his family resided in Sodom. He did not want them to perish. And mostly he did not want to believe they were to be counted among the evil of Sodom.
- Justice verses Mercy: The Lord had a responsibility to justice and mercy because "the cry was great and their sin very grievous."
- Protection: The Lord is trying not only to give lesson to Abraham but to also protect Abraham from destruction. Evil that is not controlled will eventually destroy its host. Verse 18 and 19. Seeing that Abraham will surely become a great nation. AND THAT ALL THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH WILL BE BLESSED BY HIM. The evil that lurked in Sodom threatened the blessings that Lord had for Abraham's family.
- God considers weather to tell Abraham about Sodom. v 17
- God weighs the perspective of his choice. Who exactly will be affected by Abraham's lesson on justice and judgment. v 18.
- God considers what he knows Abraham understands: v 18
- God considers how he himself is constrained in bringing to Abraham what he is promised vs. 18 "that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him." Genesis 18:19
- God considers that he must weigh out the cry of Sodom against what is actually happening. He says he must go down and see for himself and "he will know." In other words their actions will speak for themselves.
- If the commission of sin is great. And the omission of doing the right thing is great. What is it to both commit grievous sin and to omit righteous action from your life?
- The prophets depart and Abraham stands beside the Lord. God grants Abraham audience.
- The Lord does not speak. He allows Abraham to learn on his own ground.
- Abraham questions "wilt thou destroy the righteous with the wicked?"
- This would have been a good time for the Lord to describe what he defines as righteousness, but he does not speak.
- He allows Abraham to bargain for the lives of the righteous thus gaining a deep understanding of the Lord's mercy and love. v 23.
- God teaches Abraham a valuable lesson on mercy. When Abraham asks if the Lord would save Sodom if he could find 50 righteous the Lord says Yeah.. I will and so on until Sodom is saved for the righteousness of ten. In this process God is teaching Abraham how to ask for mercy. Mercy is granted. If it had not been asked for .... would God have granted it?
- The key is that God allowed Abraham to act in a merciful way by asking.
- In asking for the lives of the righteous, Abraham learns to judge those who show their love for God by their actions.
- God teaches us how to ascertain the correct justice for righteousness. Can you put a number on righteousness? What is the worth of one soul? Abraham asked for the lives of ten, but only 4 were found? And these four did not obey willingly, they had to be lead from Sodom by the hands of the angels. Once away Lot's wife turns back and his daughters bring the immorality of Sodom with them and cause Lot to unknowingly commit incest. Was Lot the only righteous man?
- God teaches Abraham about righteous judgment. Is it based on familial association? Is it based on obedience? Is it based on which way we pitch our tent? So great was the sin of Sodom that it threatened the hope of a righteousness nation (Abraham's).
God's love is for all of us. God's mercy comes to us as we bestow and pray for mercy for those we love. Those that are entrapped in the walls of sin. Those that need help in walking to higher ground.
God's love knows no boundary. But justice does. When our sin becomes so powerful that it deafens our ears and numbs our ability to act for ourselves then we have lost God's ability to save us. He will not save us at the risk of overtaking our agency to act for ourselves.