In our study of Genesis chapter eighteen, we will see that Jesus is the judge of righteousness and we are not. While we are not qualified to judge these matters because we do not have all of the facts, we find that Jesus is qualified because He knows what is in the hearts of men.
The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
In chapter 17, we saw Abraham and his family adopted as God's chosen people. Now, the Lord visits him and brings with Him two angels. We are reminded of the fact that, throughout the Bible, the number three is associated with the earthly display of God's will for man.
He said, 'If I have found favor in your eyes lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way - now that you have come to your servant.' 'Very well,' they answered, 'do as you say.'
Abraham did not recognize Jesus or know that He had two angels with Him but he showed great hospitality to them anyway. Many of us would jump at the opportunity to serve Jesus in our home but are we so eager to serve regular men? The Apostle Paul would recount this to the Jewish believers in reminding them that men can entertain angels without even being aware that they are angels (see Hebrews 13).
So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. 'Quick,' he said, 'get three seahs of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread.' Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.
When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus said the second greatest was like the first and it was to love your neighbors as yourself. Abraham was demonstrating this as he prepared the best food that he had for his guests and expected nothing in return.
'Where is your wife Sarah?' they asked him. 'There, in the tent,' he said. Then the Lord said, 'I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.' Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, 'After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?'
Once again, the Lord assured Abraham that he would have a son through his wife Sarah. As Sarah overheard, she laughed because she had already been through what we call menopause and so she did not see how it was physically possible to have a child. We can look back over history and wonder how she could doubt but we must admit that we all have this trouble of seeing past the physical restraints of this world. A favorite quote is "faith is only faith when it's all you've got".
Then the Lord said to Abraham, 'Why did Sarah laugh and say "Will I really have a child, now that I am old?" Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.' Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, 'I did not laugh.' But he said, 'Yes, you did laugh.'
We see from this conversation that the Lord knows what is in our hearts and our minds. Sarah had said those things to herself and yet He knew what she said. When asked about it, she lied and that reminds us of one of the ways that the devil tries to separate us from God. The Lord had asked a question not in condemnation but to strengthen their faith but the devil brought fear into her heart and she lied. When we have trouble seeing past the physical, we can admit it to God and He will still accept us. When we try to hide it, we open a door to the tricks of Satan.
When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. Then the Lord said, 'Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?' Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.'
As they left, Abraham walked with them and the Lord began to reveal their purpose. We see a contrast between the blessing planned for Abraham and the judgment that awaited Sodom and Gomorrah.
Then the Lord said, 'The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.' The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord.
The Lord revealed that He was there to investigate the reports of their sin. As He stayed with Abraham, the two angels turned towards Sodom to check it out. What was this grievous sin that they were there to investigate? As we shall see, it was men having sex with men which was against the design of God and it is where we get the term sodomy.
Then Abraham approached him and said: 'Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing - to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?' The Lord said, 'If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.'
You can almost feel the desperation as Abraham pleads for his nephew. It is interesting to note that Abraham did not consider Lot to be righteous because he had not been circumcised. He is hoping that Lot will be spared based on the righteousness of others.
Then Abraham spoke up again: 'Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city because of five people?' 'If I find forty-five there,' he said, 'I will not destroy it.'
Now, Abraham gets clever by pointing out that, if there were five less than the required fifty, God would be destroying the city because of the actions of only five people. We remember that the number five is the number of grace but Abraham did not know of the grace of God through Jesus Christ.
Once again he spoke to him, 'What if only forty are found there?' He said, 'For the sake of forty, I will not do it.' Then he said, 'may the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?' He answered, 'I will not do it if I find thirty there.' Abraham said, 'Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?' He said, 'For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.' Then he said, 'May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?' He answered, 'For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.' When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.
The conversation continued until Abraham stopped asking for forgiveness at ten. Why did Abraham stop at ten and not go all the way down to one righteous man? Abraham must have thought that the city could not be that bad as to not even have ten men with hearts for God. Would the Lord have spared the city for just one righteous man if Abraham had asked? The answer is yes but he knew their hearts were given over to evil. It seems that many look at our world today with the same "it can't possibly be that bad" attitude. The "church" has become comfortable and forgotten that judgment is coming.