The Life of Abraham, Part 10: The Great Intercession
In the last lesson, Abraham had met three men or what he perceived as men show up at his tent of pilgrimage in the hottest part of the day. Abraham showed great hospitality to them and even killed the fatted calf for them, This act of extravagant hospitality of treating what he probably thought were ordinary men on a journey is a reflection of the great act of hospitality that is shown to us in Jesus Christ who had given us the royal treatment at great cost to Himself. In fact, he had come to earth as a pilgrim. John even says that the Word tabernacled among humanity. He too lived among us in the tent of human flesh. Like these men, he ate with us and drank with us. John talks about beholding Jesus and writes about it in the Gospel of John as well as 1 John.
We learned of the first purpose of the visit to Abraham. The LORD reaffirmed the promise that He had just made with Abraham and did so in the earshot of Sarah. Perhaps Abraham had not even told her about the incident. They both needed to hear together of the staggering promise that God Almighty was going to do for them in giving them a son,
Exposition of the Text
In this lesson, we learn of a second reason the LORD had come for. In verse sixteen, we hear that the LORD said presumably to the other two “men” with Him some indication that not everything was well. He seemed to wonder whether to tell Abraham of the other purpose of His coming. We find it hard to understand why God would have to deliberate at all, no less speak of this deliberation. But the LORD here was clothed in human flesh of a man. This is a preview of Jesus Christ coming in the flesh. He was in every way human. He grew in knowledge and grace and truth as is desirable for all human beings. Yet Jesus was also fully God the Son. We must accept full divinity and full humanity without trying to understand how this could be. Both statements are equally true.
I see this appearance as being an Old Testament appearance of Christ in human form. After all, He had eaten Abraham’s food, so He wasn’t just an appearance as an angel or a vision. John does say that Abraham saw Jesus’ day and was glad. Does this mean that He saw Jesus? This would be staggering in its implications. Most are unwilling to go this far in their thinking. This is not to say that Abraham knew fully of all the details of Christ’s incarnation just because he may have seen Jesus. A child can see his or her parents and know who they are. But this is not to say that they know everything about their parents. They know their identity and some facts about them, but they will come to learn more as they go along. In the same way, if Abraham met Jesus here, he was only seeing in part. More would be revealed later to Abraham, his descendants, and the world in a fuller sense. But the identity is there.
In the New Testament, we have a fuller picture of Jesus, one that Abraham and the prophets of the Old Testament saw in much lesser part and like us still long to know more about Jesus. Jesus is equated in the New Testament to the person of Yahweh in the Old Testament in clear and unmistakable fashion. So when it says that Yahweh asks whether He should tell Abraham, is this Jesus?
The LORD continues to deliberate by reminding himself of the promises He had already made to Abraham and His expectations of Abraham and His seed. To the original readers that Moses recorded these words for who were at the verge of fulfilling the promise to enter into the Promised Land, it would serve as a challenge for them to remember who they are and live up to the expectation that the LORD had for them.
The LORD stops His deliberation with Himself and to the other two men that were with Him and tells Abraham outright of the other reason He had come. Again, what He says, He says from a human point of view. He had heard the outcry form the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and was greatly disturbed. He had to go down and see for Himself. It is almost as though God who must truly know what is going on so wants it to be different. He would rather be wrong than to have to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. This tells us a little of the heart of God. Again, it is impossible for us humans and our limited understanding to comprehend this. God who is all-seeing, all-knowing, all perfect, all powerful, and unchangeable cannot be understood alongside the presentation of God in human terms here. The mystery of the Incarnation is in all the Bible, not just the New Testament. We must apprehend both pictures of God as true on faith. God must be both to us if He is to have any meaningful and redemptive relation with His creatures.
In verse 22, it states that the LORD stayed behind with Abraham while the two human figures went on to their mission to Sodom and Gomorrah. God had just made a new and special revelation of Himself to Abraham as the God who does not wish that any would perish but come to life. Luther talks about the two hands of God. One is the God of judgment, justice, and holiness who needs to punish sin and rebellion. This Luther called the strange hand. He also saw the other hand of mercy and grace which is the desirable hand. God is indeed a complex personality to say the least, far more complex than we can fathom.
The LORD uses this opportunity to reveal His desire for grace, but He wants His covenant child Abraham to understand that the LORD expects the same out of His children. Like parents, like child is most desirable when the parents are good. Abraham seems to have grasped this to a degree. He shows concern for the justice or condemning the just with the unjust. Should the just be destroyed with the wicked? Abraham sets up sever hypothetical examples. “Suppose there were as few as 50 just people in the city”, he asks. He is then bold to tell God how unfair it would be to treat the godly and ungodly in the same way. Abraham tells the LORD “God forbid you should do this! Will not the God of all the earth do what is right?
Abraham shows a boldness only a child of God could ever show. He is like the child of the CEO of a great company. The secretary guards access to the CEO. The CEO calls his underlings to give account. They come in fear and trembling into the CEO’s office knowing that they could be subject to the judgment of firing and shame. But the child can boldly enter the CEO’s office and speak plainly with the CEO because the relationship is one of parent and child.
The LORD goes beyond what Abraham asked for. He would spare everyone in the city, good and bad together if He could find fifty there. Abraham is still concerned and tries to reduce the number. Really should even a single righteous person be judged along with the wicked? Abraham stops at ten. He is unaware that One righteous man would stand in for all the wicked and die in their place that if they would only believe, they would be spared judgment.
Moses who wrote this account for the children of Israel was an interceder also. Israel had committed sin as evil as that of Sodom and Gomorrah in the wilderness. God had wanted to destroy them and start all over with Moses and His descendants. Moses acted in the same way as Abraham did. In this, he uses Abraham and this incident as a reminder that they were entering the Promised Land by grace. The presence of a single righteous man and his intercession had saved them all.
Abraham was not righteous enough, not nearly to stand in our place so that we might be saved. He too, needed God’s grace in a great way. Though he might be very godly in comparison to others, he cannot help us. The same is true of Moses whose sin kept him out of the Promised Land. Only one who was truly righteous could intercede for us to save us. This person is Jesus Christ who took the wrath and judgment of God upon Himself. He paid the satisfaction that the justice of God demanded for sin and rebellion, what Luther calls the strange hand so that the hand of grace and friendship could be offered to us. God so wanted things to be different than what He knew to be the case that He sent His Son to live among us, to die and to rise again. This is the lesson we must take away. We are sinners saved by God’s grace. This is too wonderful to understand. It is indeed orders of magnitude more staggering a promise than that a 100 year old man and a ninety year old woman would have a child. We must do what Abraham did. We must believe on this promise that our faith in “the” Promise of God might be reckoned into the righteousness we need to enter into the presence of God.
Let us continue to encourage one another in the promise of God. We know that we are sinners and unworthy. This is why we must pray and petition the LORD for grace and have faith that it is God’s will to save us. This is proven by the cross of Christ. We can continue our journey in faith and love and not fear because we can quote God’s promise to us revealed in Scripture.
Let us also remember that we are called to be like our Heavenly Father. We must be intercessors. Not only do we pray for our own infirmity and sin, but we also pray for our families, friends, and neighbors. Some of them might be good people as this world counts goodness, but they still live in Sodom and Gomorrah and need gracious rescue. We must then go beyond this and pray for the utterly wicked and reprobate inhabitants of the city of man. God was willing to spare the wicked if He could find one righteous. Jesus is that righteous One by which we can now offer God’s grace to the undeserving.