On Sunday, October 1, beginning at 9:30 in the morning, there will be thirteen professional football games played (fourteen if you count the Cleveland Browns as a professional game). Each game will include a call to rise for the singing of our national anthem. Some will sit. Some will kneel. Some will stand. And some will yell. Some will be oblivious and continue in conversation with their neighbor. Some will be looking at their phone. Some will be eating nachos. And I am wondering, what will I be doing?
In the United States of America, we have never been freer to do whatever it is we please. In the United States of America, we have never been wealthier. In the United States of America, we have never been more educated and perhaps more informed. In the United States of America, it seems, that we have never been more dysfunctional. In the United States of America, it seems, that we have never been angrier. In the United States of America, it seems, that there has never been this much crying out. And I am wondering, why am I not moved?
Looking Down Toward Sodom
As we begin Genesis 18:16-33, I want us to make just three observations. Look for the first observation in verse sixteen. “Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom.” Look for the next observation in verse twenty. “Then the Lord said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave.” And look for the third observation in verse twenty-two. “So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom.” What do you see three times? Three times is the mention of Sodom. However, in verse twenty Sodom is not mentioned alone. It is paired with Gomorrah.
Sodom and Gomorrah are cities. Genesis 19:29 calls them cities of the valley. These two cities are often mentioned together and they are often remembered together. But Genesis 18:20 intentionally pairs these cities together because whatever can be said and is true of Sodom, can also be said and is true of Gomorrah. The men in verse sixteen are the three men from verses one through fifteen – God himself and his two angels. Abraham welcomed these three men into his home for rest and refreshment. Genesis 18:16 picks up there and then suddenly draws our attention to Sodom (and Gomorrah) three times for one reason: it is the big idea. The big idea has something to do with these two cities.
For I Have Chosen Abraham
Genesis 18:17 comes with a question. This whole chapter is filled with questions. “The Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?’” Since verse sixteen puts our attention upon Sodom, whatever God is about to do has to do with Sodom. Why would God share with Abraham what he is about to do with Sodom?
We could think through a little bit of what we have learned so far. First, we know that Abraham’s nephew Lot lives in Sodom (13:10; 14:12). In Genesis 14, Sodom along with Gomorrah and three other cities were ransacked by four of the world’s mighty kings. These kings took people’s possessions and people as possessions including Lot, Abraham’s nephew. And Abraham came to the rescue. He defeated four of the world’s mighty kings and brought back all the possessions with all the people to their rightful homes including Lot, his nephew. This is important; when it comes to Sodom Abraham came to the rescue. And now God is about to do something and this something concerns Sodom.
Why would God share with Abraham what he is about to do with Sodom? Abraham’s relationship with Sodom is helpful, but not the reason that God considers sharing with Abraham what he is about to do. Listen to verse nineteen. “For I have chosen him.” What is the reason that God would share with Abraham what he is about to do? The word chosen is the Hebrew word yada which means to know and not just to know, but to really know. It is a word indicating closeness. At the heart of verse nineteen, why God would share with Abraham, is simply that he really knows Abraham. Listen to how Jesus explains it in John 15:15. “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” The Bible calls Abraham a friend of God (James 2:23). So, why would God share with Abraham what he is about to do? “For he is my friend.”
This is the heart of the answer to our question, not to mention that Abraham will become a great and mighty nation; a blessing to all the earth’s nations; and a father. Listen carefully to the end of verse nineteen. Abraham will command his kids and grandkids and great grandkids to keep the way of God which is to do righteousness and justice. This is God’s friend.
Hear What God is About to Do
Now hear what God is about to do. This is Genesis 18:20-21, but first listen to verse twenty. “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave.” There are two key words that I want us to pay attention to: outcry and sin. Notice the word sin; it is singular. Why is it singular and what could it be? Notice Sodom and Gomorrah share in this sin; it is their sin. Even more so, their sin is modified by the words very grave or grievous, which basically means heavy or burdensome. These two cities share in a serious sin!
When we were first introduced to Sodom and Gomorrah it is through the eyes of Abraham’s nephew Lot. And in the same context Moses warns us that Sodom is a place of wicked men, great sinners. But what did Lot see? Lot moved to just so close as to not be in Sodom and we could surmise it is because of the wicked men, great sinners. Eventually he is living in Sodom, but what drew him to live just next door? Lot saw opportunity and when he saw opportunity he saw wealth (Genesis 13:10). So, what was their sin? Most often Sodom and Gomorrah are remembered for their sexual sin. This is emphasized in Genesis 19. But there is a warning for us. “If we imagine the sins of these cities only in sexual terms, we miss the depth of their depravity.” This is where the word outcry is so important.
The word outcry is used in the Bible to describe the misery of a mistreated widow or fatherless child (Exodus 22:22-23). It is used to describe the misery of abused and overworked and overlooked slaves (Exodus 2:23). It is used to describe a scream of terror (Jeremiah 18:23). Now listen to Ezekiel 16:49. “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.” And I want to remind you of something the king of Sodom said to Abraham. “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself” (Genesis 14:21). So, what was their sin? Ezekiel first mentioned pride and then described the treatment of people. I appreciated this description: “Heinous moral and social corruption, and arrogant disregard of basic human rights, a cynical insensitivity to the sufferings of others.”
And hear what God said next. “I will go down to see.” What was God planning to do? He was planning to go down to see Sodom and Gomorrah for himself. Meaning, God hears the cries of humanity. I am stressing that we hear what God said because it was what Abraham heard what God said.
Abraham Still Stood Before the Lord
Notice verse twenty-two. Abraham has been walking with God during the previous verses, but when we get to verse twenty-two, “Abraham still stood before the Lord.” He has stopped moving. Genesis 18:23 may be the most important verse in the whole text. He asked a question, but this is not what is so stupendous. “Abraham drew near.” Abraham heard what God was about to do. God would go see these two cities for himself and it is because of the outcry. And this stopped Abraham in his tracks. He stopped moving. This grabbed his attention and Abraham did something. He drew near to God.
Is that not amazing?! Why ultimately did God share with Abraham what he was about to do?
Abraham asks a series of questions beginning with “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” Abraham knows what God will find and he knows what God will do. He knows what God will do because he knows that God is the Judge and that God is just in all his doings.
There are wicked people that live in Houston. There are righteous people that live in Houston. When hurricane Harvey hit Houston, I asked God to protect and shield two righteous people there: my sister and my brother-in-law. Fortunately, their home, out of all the homes in the flood waters, was completely unscathed. But sometimes the righteous share in the same sufferings as the wicked (cf. Luke 13:1-5). The righteous while on earth are not immune to terrible things.
And although Sodom and Gomorrah were terrible towns, Abraham asks God to spare these two cities if just for the sake of the righteous – 50; 45; 40; 30, 20, 10 righteous. And each time God said he would do so even if he found just 10 righteous people.
Oh Let Not the Lord Be Angry
The emphasis of Genesis 18:22-33 is the fact that Abraham spoke to God. He prayed. He knew what God was about to do. He knew God would be right in what he was about to do. And he prayed. Note his attitude. “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.” (18:27; 31). There is a humility here on the part of Abraham as he prays. And he even goes so far as to ask God, “do not be angry with me” (18:30, 31).
The big idea is that Abraham knew Sodom and Gomorrah. He could tell you some stories. And as he talks about the righteous who live there he begins to realize that there may not be even ten righteous people to be found among them. Abraham knew what God was about to do; Abraham knew Sodom and Gomorrah and Abraham was moved to cry out on their behalf. Notice that he did not ask God to rescue the righteous and sweep away the wicked, instead he asks that the wicked be spared for the sake of the righteous.
I wrestled and wrestled with this text all week. I could not understand the difficulty I was having and then it hit me. I am not moved. I am not moved like Abraham was moved and not merely with two cities that no longer exist. I am not moved for my own city and nation which sounds very similar to Sodom and Gomorrah. Why am I not moved? Why am I not weeping when there is an outcry?
I need to repent. And it is because there is a day coming for the ungodly (cf. 2 Peter 2:6). And not only do I need to repent, I need to be moved by the outcries of humanity. What if we spent a week, a month, however long interceding on behalf of the outcries of humanity? There needs to be some godly trembling for the ungodly. We are to consider both the kindness and severity of God and that the world not take for granted God’s rich kindness (Romans 11:22; 2:4).
 R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, page 263