A Whittle Bit Of Mercy
God is both righteous and merciful.
Genesis(93) (Part of the Origins(91) series)
by Stuart Johns(204) on November 14, 2021 (Sunday Morning(291))
Intercession(2), Justice(6), Mercy(10), Righteousness(8)
A Whittle Bit Of Mercy
“Mike Krzyzewski's decision to remain as coach of the Duke University basketball team rather than to become head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers was influenced in part by an e-mail from Duke student Andrew Humphries, a 19-year-old biology major. In his e-mail, Humphries recounted childhood memories of playing basketball in his driveway and pretending to hit the shot that won the national championship for Coach K. He spoke of the pride he felt in being part of the ‘sixth man’ student body at Duke that fills Cameron Indoor Stadium to root for their team. He closed his message with the impassioned plea, ‘Please still be my coach.’
In a press conference announcing his decision, Krzyzewski said that Humphries' e-mail had moved him to tears and reminded him of the special bond he felt with the Duke students and his players. The coach chose to turn down a $40 million contract offer and stay at Duke, influenced by the petition of a student he didn't even know.”
Source: AP Reports (7-6-04).
The petition of one student who represented the student body influenced coach K. We will see God’s mercy being influenced by one man who represented the people of the plains.
As we think about mercy, it is defined as not getting what we deserve.
State Police in MO
Judy and I attended church with a State Police Officer when we lived in Missouri
He told us that when he pulled over a person who had fish sticker on their car (the fish sticker meaning they were a follower of Jesus Christ) he would ask them if they went to church
If they responded positively, he would share with them what the total of the citation would be and then gave them a warning instead of a ticket
He would ask them to give the amount of the citation to their church
This was mercy in action
They deserved to pay the citation and have points added to their license, but this police officer did not give them what they deserved
Instead he gave them a warning and a challenge
His hope was that they would learn to represent Jesus Christ well by obeying the speed limit laws and that they would use the mercy extended to them to bless their church
When have you received mercy from someone else?
When have you extended mercy to someone else?
Perhaps one of the most difficult things for human beings to understand about the Lord is His ability to be both loving and just. We only want to think about God being loving, because His justice means He has to punish those who are wicked. It is difficult for us to comprehend that God can be perfectly loving and perfectly just at the same time. The reason we struggle with that concept is that we are incapable of doing that in our humanness. We will learn today that . . .
BIG IDEA – God is both righteous and merciful.
GOD (Genesis 18:16-33)
Insider Information (vv. 16-21)
Rested and refreshed
The three men have been refreshed by Abraham’s extravagant hospitality
They have been able to rest under the shade of the trees at Mamre
They are ready to continue their journey
They already know where they are going, which is why they look down to Sodom
Abraham continues his hospitality by walking along with them for a period of time
It is perhaps three miles that they walk together as they head toward Beni Naʿim (vay-knee neye-eem)
This town is three miles east of Hebron and allows for a view into the valley of the Dead Sea that is 18 miles to the south
[show picture 1 of Beni Naʿim]
[show picture 2 of Beni Naʿim]
The Lord and His two angels knew why they were traveling in this region, even though Abraham did not
But that was about to change
The Lord is having an internal conversation with Himself concerning whether or not to tell Abraham about the reason why He is in the region
The rationale for telling Abraham
“Divine call and promise” [Mathews, The New American Commentary, Volume 1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 222]
The first rationale for telling Abraham is because of his divine call and the promise from the Lord
Genesis 12:3-4, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
“To be blessed in this context means to have one who intercedes before God regarding one’s destiny, to have one who ‘makes intercession for the transgressor’ (Isa. 53:12).” [Hamilton, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50, 18]
Hang on to this idea as we get to verses 22-33
This is a significant concept that we don’t want to miss
Abraham will learn justice through what the Lord is about to do
“Such a nation has to learn justice beginning with its father, Abraham (18:17-19). The Lord models justice to Abraham in his treatment of the Sodomites (18:20-33) and through this remarkable dialogue he educes [brings out and develops] Abraham’s integrity.” [Waltke, Genesis, A Commentary, 269]
But there is a second rationale for telling Abraham about His plan
“Divine election of the man” [Mathews, 223]
The Hebrew word for chosen literally means “known”
It means that Abraham and the Lord have an intimate relationship
Abraham is the friend of God
The prophet Jeremiah understood this intimate friendship with the Lord, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5)
The Israelites experienced this intimate relationship with the Lord, “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins.” (Amos 3:2)
Jesus’ disciples also experienced a close personal relationship with the Lord, I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:15)
The Lord knew the kind of man that Abraham was, which is why He chose him
He knew how Abraham would handle the information about His plans for Sodom – about meting out justice for the wicked
The Lord could trust Abraham to direct his children and household concerning justice
The word direct means “to command, to charge”
This is what Moses did when he was given the law, he commanded, he charged the Israelites to obey it
“There is no record of a school in Israel before the late intertestamental period; families were the source of all education, including trades.” [Waltke, 269]
Abraham was going to teach his children and those in his household the way of the Lord
He was going to do this by modeling for them what is right and just
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)
Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching (Proverbs 1:8)
PRINCIPLE #1 – Fathers are the spiritual leaders of their households.
The covenant relationship that Abraham had with the Lord was a servant of Yahweh, which had certain responsibilities associated with it
One was to instruct his children and household about how to follow the Lord and do what is right and just
Fathers, we have the same responsibility as Abraham did
As the spiritual leaders of our households, we are given the responsibility of instructing our children and household in the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just
How are we doing with this responsibility, guys?
Are we leading our families by praying together, reading God’s Word together, attending church together, serving together, modeling how to give?
Can the Lord trust us with His plans, because He knows we will direct our families correctly?
#1 – My Next Step Today Is To: Lead my children and household in the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.
Because the Lord could trust and count on Abraham to direct his family well, we see that the Lord would fulfill His promise
The Lord made Abraham into a great nation
The Lord made Abraham’s name great
The Lord has blessed all peoples through Abraham
As the friend of God, Abraham was given insider information
God’s righteousness and mercy are seen through Him including Abraham in His plans
God reveals His plans to His prophets
Abraham fits the description of a prophet, because the Lord will reveal His plan to him concerning Sodom
Amos 3:7, Surely, the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets
In the other Biblical instances when the Lord reveals His plan to the prophets, it was so they could warn the people
As we will see, the Lord reveals His plan about Sodom, so that Abraham can intercede for them – he will not be warning anyone about the destruction to come
So, the Lord has this internal conversation about whether or not to tell Abraham about His plans
What we see next is the Lord telling Abraham what He has heard about Sodom
Outcry is so great
The first couple of things that comes to mind when we hear the words Sodom and Gomorrah are:
God destroyed them with fire from heaven
Homosexuality was rampant there
Chapter 19 focuses on this sin
But are people crying out to the Lord only about this sin?
As we will see in chapter 19, it is likely that any visitor to Sodom potentially had to ward off a crowd of men who wanted to sleep with them
So, perhaps the Lord is hearing the cries of those who have visited Sodom and have been violated
The word sodomy is the result of the practices done in this ancient city
The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is broader than just the sin of homosexuality
It certainly includes homosexuality, but there is more
We see it in Isaiah 1:10-31
They were murdering
They were not rebuking those who were oppressing others
They were not defending the cause of the fatherless
They were not pleading the case of the widow
Those who were oppressed, fatherless, and widows were crying out to the Lord about their treatment in Sodom – it was injustice that had reached the ears of the Lord, as well as, sexual immorality
The Lord is attentive to the cries of the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed/needy
Exodus 22:22-23, “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.”
Exodus 22:27, “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.”
Job 34:28, They caused the cry of the poor to come before him, so that he heard the cry of the needy.
The Lord had heard how grievous their sin was
Sin is grievous
The Hebrew for grievous means, “to be great, vehement, plentiful, of enormity of wickedness.” [https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h3513/nasb95/wlc/0-1/]
It wasn’t just a small amount of sin, it was a huge amount of sin
As we will see in just a moment and in the coming weeks, it didn’t involve just a small number of the inhabitants of Sodom, but rather almost every person
Because God is righteous, He has to investigate the claims He has heard – He has to see it firsthand
The Lord tells Abraham that the reason He is in the region is because He needs to see with His own eyes what He has heard concerning Sodom
Isn’t God omniscient (all knowing)?
Why would He need to come down and investigate?
Doesn’t He already know?
“God’s omniscience does not fall into jeopardy when he adopts the behavior of a righteous human judge who does not act until the evidence supports his judgement.” [Gangel & Bramer, Holman Old Testament Commentary, Genesis, 165]
The Lord did the same thing with the tower of Babel – he came down to see (Genesis 11:5)
Only after He saw firsthand what they were doing did He confuse their language and cause them to scatter over all the earth
God is righteous in His judgment, He doesn’t jump to conclusions or do things capriciously
While God is righteous in His judgment, He is also merciful toward His creation
Individual Intercession (vv. 22-33)
The two angels begin their descent to Sodom
The Lord remains standing before Abraham
The Lord doesn’t leave immediately with the other two men, because He knows Abraham’s heart
He knows that Abraham has taken the promised, “blessing to the nations,” seriously
He knows that Abraham is going to intercede for the people in the valley of the Dead Sea
I’m using the terminology of the Dead Sea plains and the valley of the Dead Sea on purpose
We normally only refer to Sodom and Gomorrah, but as chapter 19 will show us, it was the entire Dead Sea plain that was being consumed
“There are five sites of Early Bronze cities on the southeast plain of the Dead Sea, demonstrating that fairly large populations once existed here (occupied from 3300-2100 B.C.) From north to south they are Bab edh-Dhra’ (Sodom?), Numeira (Gomorrah?), Safi (Zoar), Feifa, and Khanazir, with the last being about twenty miles from the first.” [Walton, The NIV Application Commentary, Genesis, 476]
The significance of there being five cities involved will be highlighted in just a moment
“His dialogue with Abraham exhibits the exceptional condescension of God who appears as a man, hears out a man (Abraham), and then ultimately saves a man (Lot).” [Mathews, 226]
Learning about justice and God’s character (vv. 23-25)
Through the various questions that Abraham is posing, it seems as though He is simply trying to verify God’s character
God is both righteous and merciful.
So, Abraham is trying to understand that balance
Surely God would not kill the righteous with the wicked
God wouldn’t treat the righteous and the wicked the same – that’s just not in His character to do that
God’s mercy revealed
Abraham intercedes for the people of the plains
It was more than Abraham pleading for the life of Lot and his family
Abraham is interceding for all of the people in the southeast region of the Dead Sea valley
PRINCIPLE #2 – The Lord is pleased when we intercede for others.
Is there a group that you know are choosing the things of this world instead of the things of God
Have you been praying for them, interceding for them before the Lord?
Or, are you content to let them be destroyed and wiped out?
Perhaps we need to have the Lord change our hearts and attitudes, so we will intercede for others
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:8)
This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4)
Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Isreael?’ (Ezekiel 33:11)
#2 – My Next Step Today Is To: Intercede for those who are pursuing wickedness instead of righteousness.
If you are taking this step today, I want to encourage you to be specific
Don’t just pray in general terms for groups of people
Choose one or two groups and pray, specifically, by name, for those who are a part of that group
Pray that God would bring salvation to those in that group
Abraham was interceding for the entire group of people in the plain
Abraham whittles down the number of righteous from 50 to 10
The number ten could represent one family or as Goldingay mentions, “. . . ten is also the minimum number for a Jewish prayer meeting (cf. b. Meg. 23b, which could usefully have claimed this passage among its prooftexts), and Tg. Ps.-J. takes that fact as the clue to Abraham’s numbers. They had started from fifty, as indicating a minyan in each of the five towns, with the eventual implication that even a prayer meeting in one town could have forestalled the calamity.” [Goldingay, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament, Pentateuch, 302]
If there were one family or a prayer meeting group in each town, then would the Lord spare the whole plain?
The number fifty also constituted half of a small city [Waltke, 270]
Why did Abraham stop at ten?
“Phillips suggests that Abraham had multiplied the five cities of the plain by the number of necessary witnesses in each and concluded that ten was the bottom line. He says, ‘There are five cities in the plain. In Scripture two is the number of adequate witness, so it required ten righteous people to be in the valley, else there would not be even the minimum witness for God’ (Phillips, 157).” [Phillips cited by Gangel & Bramer, 165]
The numbers are fascinating
There were two angels who were heading down to Sodom to see if what the Lord had heard was true – they were necessary witnesses together with the Lord
God’s mercy is on display
Through this we see that God is merciful
“Yahweh can be merciful because he is righteous and just.” [Hamilton, 25]
PRINCIPLE #3 – The Lord is merciful!
The Lord was willing to spare the entire Dead Sea plain if only ten righteous people were found there
The Lord would not give the Sodomites what they deserved on account of ten righteous people
That is incredible!
How have you experienced the mercy of God in your own life or because of a righteous person in your life?
Can you point to a specific time or situation where you did not get what you deserved?
Did you recognize that this came from the Lord?
Did you thank the Lord for showing His mercy to you?
#3 – My Next Step Today Is To: Thank the Lord for showing me mercy when I did not deserve it.
The time of intercession is complete
The saddest part about Abraham’s intercession is that we will see that not even ten righteous people are found in Dead Sea plains
The Lord leaves for Sodom and Abraham returns home
Fathers, are you ready to lead your children and household in the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just?
People of God, are you ready to intercede for others?
If you have received mercy, have you thanked the Lord?
As a body of believers, we should be corporately interceding for those who are pursuing wickedness.
Corporately, we should be thanking the Lord for His mercy.
“As many in Britain have reflected on the life and leadership of Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1997–2007), stories have emerged concerning his faith. A 2008 issue of Time magazine featured one particularly moving story from Blair's past:
Blair is deeply religious—the most openly devout political leader of Britain since William Ewart Gladstone more than 100 years ago. He handles questions about religion deftly. He doesn't back down. His longtime press secretary and consigliere, Alastair Campbell, remembers Blair in 1996 at a school in Scotland where a gunman had killed 16 children and a teacher. In a bloodstained classroom, Campbell asked Blair, ‘What does your God make of this?’ Blair, says Campbell, stopped and replied, ‘Just because man is bad, it does not mean that God is not good.’”
Source: Michael Elliott, "Tony Blair's Leap of Faith," Time magazine (6-9-08), p. 34.