Genesis 18:17-33.
Living in this Corrupt 21st-Century World

American Journal of Biblical Theology,
Copyright © 2015, John W. (Jack) Carter     Scripture quotes from KJV

We obey God by remaining true to His abiding purposes as we live righteously in a morally corrupt world.  We live in a world where Satan is its authority: not the authority of a god, but of a prince, a force that has influence but is powerless against the king.  We see moral corruption all around us.  Our own 21st-century culture has seen the steady decay in social morals, a gradual degradation of the values of society that is fueled by the efforts of the media to appease the base desires of sinful man and by sinful people who use the political and social systems to validate their depravity.  What are some of the ways this corrupt world influences us? We use euphemisms to place an acceptable name on unacceptable practices.  For example, we use the words "pro-choice" to validate the practice of modern child sacrifice.  We use the name "alternate lifestyle" to justify sinful and aberrant lifestyles.  The list goes on as a culture that is steeped in sin attempts to bring acceptance to sinful behavior.

This sin-sick world offers us a wide variety of choices.  What guides those choices?  This Bible passage contrasts the lifestyles of two biblical contemporary individuals: Abraham and his nephew, Lot as it illustrates the consequences of the social choices that they made. 

1.  Choices have Consequences.

Let us observe a little background to help us understand the context of this scripture. 

And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar.  11Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other.  12Abraham dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.  13But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly.  Gen.  13:10-13. 

When Abraham came to the land of Canaan, he brought his family, servants, flocks, and various belongings.  One member of that family, who was very close to Abraham was his nephew, Lot.  Lot, like Abraham, was wealthy, owning many animals and served by his own servants.  The close proximity of the two flocks frustrated Lot as there was competition over grazing, and this competition was expressed between the servants of the two families.  Lot did not share in Abraham's zeal for this promised land and, much like the prodigal son, sought out his own place and his own future.  Consequently, Abraham and Lot agreed to separate themselves by some distance.  Abraham allowed Lot to choose where in the land he would go.  True to the nature we will learn of Lot, he chose the most fruitful and green land, leaving his uncle in the more arid portion of the country.  By moving to the greener pastures, Lot would be setting up a stationary farm, no longer needing to search for sustenance for his animals.  Lot was also moving to the area of the pagan cities, away from the isolation of the pasturelands.  Abraham chose to live in the relative isolation of the pasturelands of Canaan while Lot chose to live among the sinful cities.  The nature of their choices is clear based upon the words used in the description.  As Abraham remained in the pastureland, Lot "pitched his tent toward Sodom" after he "lifted his eyes and beheld" what was there.  Lot was clearly attracted to the lifestyle of the cities, and we will see that his attraction was shared by his wife.  With the decision made, the two large families parted ways, with Lot leaving for the plains of Jordan among the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Upon arrival, Lot moved his family into the city of Sodom, leaving servants to tend to his farm.

On what basis do we make important career and lifestyle decisions such as where we will work or live?  Where will we find our entertainment?  What world view will we instill in our children?  Lot chose the relative security of the cities where he could live comfortably off of his already accumulated wealth.  In Sodom, Lot would have immediate access to the marketplace and to social stimulation that would be absent in the rural pasturelands.  Abraham, also possessing great wealth, chose to live in the land where he would have to work to feed himself, his family, and his clan.  Living in the land meant constant moving to better pasture land and searching for suitable water sources.  Abraham chose a hard and less secure life.  Note also that by choosing the land of Canaan he was staying obedient to God's call, separated and protected from the temptations of the pagan cities.

We face such choices every day, particularly in this modern era where our society becomes more like Sodom with each passing event.  Faced with this culture what is a Christian to do?  There is certainly the choice whether or not to take part in this godless culture.  Christians can turn off the television set when it offers cutting-edge examples of sin's degradation of society.  Christians can choose a lifestyle of righteousness that is based on God's Word rather than on the spiritually debase cultures defined by television, movies, the media, and the pagan liberal elite who controls them all.

We will find that Abraham chose to stay close to God where Lot chose to immerse himself in the pagan culture.  We see a significant difference in the nature of Lot and the nature of Abraham.  In Abraham we have seen a consistent integrity, a man who seeks to follow the LORD.  In Lot we see no such integrity.  Instead we see a self-centered, gratification-seeking agnostic whose allegiance to the LORD is minimal at best and nonexistent at worst.

2.  A Revelation of God's Plan

Gen 18:17-18.

And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; 18Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 

Note the way God revealed his will to Abraham in these verses.  Prior to this point, three messengers were sent to deliver God's word to Abraham.  Two of them are referred to as angels, and one is referred to as the LORD.  Many who believe in the timelessness of God and His eternal kingdom believe that the LORD referred to here is actually Jesus Christ, the Messiah Incarnate prior to the Bethlehem birth.  More important than arguments concerning the identity of the messengers is the content of the message.  Abraham certainly felt that these messengers were important and showed great hospitality towards them (vv.  2-8).  Hebrews 13:2 reminds us to show hospitality to strangers due to the possibility of entertaining "angels without knowing it."

In the Bible it is a consistent pattern for God to reveal His will to a chosen servant before executing it, (i.e. Noah-flood, Jonah-Ninevites, Jeremiah-fall of Jerusalem).  Amos 3:7 states, "Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets." Why do you suppose God chose to reveal his plan to Abraham? We will see that God has a plan to teach Abraham (and his seed) an important lesson.  Also, Lot was by now fully immersed in the city of Sodom.  As God is revealing his plan to destroy the wicked city, He would certainly know Abraham's grave concern for Lot.  

What we see in these verses is a soliloquy, a conversation that the LORD seemingly has with Himself for the purpose of sharing it with us.  In this literary form, God reveals to the reader the nature of His purpose in what is to take place.  Herein is a mechanism to describe the nature of Abraham and God's future plan for him.  In this soliloquy God is discussing with the reader His plan to reveal his plan for Sodom to Abraham.  God has a plan to demonstrate to Abraham His righteous judgment, and it is appropriate that Abraham know that what will take place in Sodom and Gomorrah is an act of that judgment and not simply some natural disaster. 

Gen 18:19. 

For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him. 

Another reason that God chose to reveal His purpose to Abraham is that He called Abraham to be the father and leader of His chosen people.  Abraham would need to clearly understand that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra was not by chance alone.  Furthermore this event would impact the life of his nephew who chose to be part of that community.  The Mosaic law was not yet written, and Abraham would have to teach his family and ancestors the principles of moral righteousness.  He is about to learn first-hand the consequences of submitting one's self to the wrath of God.  Look carefully in verse 19 at what God expects of his chosen people.  What are these things?

1.  Direct his children and his household.  In ancient near-eastern culture the household includes family and servants who are under the authority of the master.  When the parent refuses to direct the children and the household in the ways of the LORD, they will not follow them. 

2.  Lead them to keep the way of the LORD.  It is the responsibility of the master to train his children and household in the ways of God.  If he does not do this they will have no training and no reason to follow God, nor will they pass this spiritual integrity on to their own children.  In only two generations the entire faith can be lost.  Some parents have refused to bring children up in faith allowing them to "choose" when they become adults. However, by adulthood children have already established their world view from their parents. Scriptures repeatedly instruct parents to teach the ways of God to their children. This the parent's responsibility, and to leave this to someone else is to despise your children.

3.  Teach them to do what is right and just.  How many families in today's culture are characterized by a lack of God-centered parenting?  It is no surprise that the continuing generations are moving further away from God.  The surprise is that the culture does not understand why moral and family values are dramatically ebbing.  Apart from God, a sin-filled culture teaches that what is "right" is relative to the sinful desires of the one establishing truth.  This compromise of absolute truth is the acid that is eating away at the foundation of the family, and ultimately the culture itself. 

God knows that Abraham will teach his children to do what is right and just, so God is engaging Abraham in His plan, and by so doing He is both demonstrating His wrath on Sodom and Gomorrah (why do we never say "Gomorrah and Sodom"?), and is teaching Abraham an important lesson in righteousness.

What is the evident reward for such obedience? When one is obedient to God's call, He is able to accomplish his promises through the life of the believer! In order to receive the promises of God we must place ourselves in a position to receive them.  What is that position? It is simply obedience to His will rather than to our own. 

Gen 18:20-21. 

And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; 21I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know. 

In the Hebrew, this verse starts literally, "Jehovah cried out with a shriek." His response here was similar to his description of mankind prior to the Noahic flood.  What is meant by, "go down and see what they have done"? The statement used here, when viewed in terms of God's unfailing judgment implies that by visiting Sodom and Gomorra he is judging it.  The words "I will go down" is a Hebrew idiom that describes the act of a King who must descend his throne to deal with a dissident or disobedient subject.  The King already knows what is taking place.  By "going down" he is making his presence known.  Abraham understands this as a statement of judgment because his immediate response refers to the imminent destruction of the cities.  At the surface we might wonder why God would have to "go down and see" as if He is not omniscient.  However, if we understand the Hebrew idiomatic form used here, it not only makes sense, but it also helps in understanding the context of the statement:  The King, in order to be true to who He is, must act in judgment against His dissident servant. 

Gen 18:22-23. 

And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the LORD.
23And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? 

Once before Abraham had risked his life to rescue his nephew when Lot was taken prisoner during a battle between regional leaders (Gen 14).  Now he is about to do it again.  Abraham is clearly questioning God.  He fully understands God's intent to destroy the city, again clear because of the idiom previously used.  Lot's presence in the city places him and his family in imminent danger, and Abraham's location in the pastureland makes it impossible for him to intercede for Lot physically.  He must now find another way to intercede for his foolish nephew.

Look at the burden you are to those who love both you and the LORD when you are out of God's will.  If Abraham was to be true to God he had to intercede for Lot in both circumstances.  Are there those in your circle of relationships that occasionally have to intercede for you?  Or, like Abraham, do you have loved ones who seem to continually need your intercession?

Note here the attitude of Abraham.  Most people would gloat over the destruction of the cities thinking "they deserve it."  What was Abraham's response? Abraham knew God well enough that he recognized that what God was stating was not consistent with his perfect judgment.  God does not bring suffering upon people (James 1:13, 17-19).  We also should know God well enough to be able to discern whether something is consistent with His will or not.  God does not destroy the righteous as a casualty of his wrath.  God promises life to all who place their faith in Him.  It is this that Abraham is questioning.  We are not aware if Abraham considers Lot to be one of the righteous ones in the city, and as we come to know Lot, it is clear that he is not a righteous man.  Still, Abraham seeks to understand God's judgment, and though God would not destroy the city if there were a single righteous person in it, Abraham questions God.  Abraham asked if God would destroy the righteous with the wicked, and probably should have left the question there.  However, he possibly questioned the value of a single righteous person, so Abraham continues his question:

Gen 18:24-25. 

Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? 25That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? 

Note here even the concern of Abraham that God's reputation as a just judge would be damaged if he destroyed the city if it contained righteous people.  Surely the plight of fifty must be of concern to God, so Abraham asks if the city would be spared for the sake of fifty righteous people.  Fifty people could also nearly number about those of Lot's extended family, including his servants and their families. 

Gen 18:26. 

And the LORD said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.   

Did God "change his mind?" No, He did not.  Remember, God knows that he will be destroying the city and that Lot and his family will be rescued.  However, he also knows that there are no righteous people in the city and the context of the conversation is to be a lesson for Abraham and his seed, not a lesson for God.  Is it God's desire that the people of the cities perish? (2 Peter 3:9)  God's desire is that none would perish, and no righteous person ever will.  This is a lesson that Abraham must learn.  However, he and us will also witness the consequences of sin and a lifestyle that is at enmity with God. 

Gen 18:27-33. 

And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the LORD, which am but dust and ashes: 28Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five? And he said, If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it.  29And he spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there.  And he said, I will not do it for forty’s sake.  30And he said unto him, Oh let not the LORD be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there.  And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there.  31And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the LORD: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there.  And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty’s sake.  32And he said, Oh let not the LORD be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there.  And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.  33And the LORD went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place. 

Abraham now clearly recognizes that God will not destroy the city unconditionally.  God is willing to spare the lives of those who have true faith in Him.  However, Abraham still does not seem to be willing to challenge the LORD over the salvation of a single soul, so he engages in this famous reverse auction with God.  Of course, God would not destroy the city for the sake of a single soul, but He has not communicated this to Abraham, so Abraham continues the countdown first by fives and then by tens.  When Abraham stopped the number in his request at ten, the LORD ended the communication and left.  We might recall from previous verses that Abraham was visited by messengers and by the LORD.  The messengers left in verse 22, leaving Abraham with the LORD, and now the LORD "went his way," leaving Abraham to go his.  Abraham could only hope that the righteous who were in the city would be his nephew's family.  Unfortunately, Lot and his family were not counted among the righteous.  However, because of Abraham's faithfulness, God had a plan to save Lot.

One lesson we see here is the persistence of Abraham in his request of the LORD.  Jesus said we receive not because we ask not.  We don't know the wisdom of God's timing and purposes most of the time, and we are encouraged to "pray without ceasing".  Be persistent in your prayers and seek God's will concerning those prayers.  Ask for God's discernment to know that your prayers are in His will, for only then will you be in a position to receive an answer. 

Second, as Abraham was seeking to save those who were in the cities he was not wallowing in their sin.  By keeping himself pure he had the ear of God, and God listened to him.  We are not in a position to help those who are in the muck and mire of sin if we are also involved in their iniquity.  The lesson is clear.  If we as God's people are to effectively intercede for those who are in spiritual need, we must avoid becoming prisoners of sin ourselves.  We would hardly be in a position to intercede if we too were about to be judged by God.

In the verses to follow we learn much about Lot and his family.   We find Lot to be an extremely self-centered and unrighteous man, even offering his own daughter as a givt to rapists at his door.   Still, Lot heeded the warning of the messengers and took his family out of the city they loved.  Their desire for the lifestyle of the city is evident in the well-known incident of Lot's wife who, when all had been instructed to look back, disobeyed.  The scripture that described her looking back uses a grammar that refers to a longing and desiring look.  Her disobedience was immediately judged as she was destroyed along with Sodom. 

And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in the which Lot dwelt (Gen.  19:29). 

3.  Awesome judgment and unexpected mercy. 

The wickedness of the city of Sodom is identified in the experience of Lot with the messengers in verses 1-11.  He showed hospitality to them similar to that done by Abraham (vv 1-3).  In contrast to Lot's hospitality, the neighbors with whom Lot lived wanted to homosexually rape the visitors (hence the word sodomy).  Verse 4 clearly identifies that this was the norm for the city.  For Lot to offer his daughters in their place was a breach of morality (verses 6-8), not a heroic response to the situation.  For who's benefit was Lot saved? Abraham's.  The reason given for their rescue is in verse 16: The LORD was merciful to them.  Note that there is little or no indication that Lot was in any way righteous. 

How does one remain pure in a wicked and perverse society?  We have certainly seen the sodomite lifestyle throughout the ages.  The ancient Greeks' hedonistic practices would make even the most ardent in our culture blush.  Yet, the spiritual depravity of this culture is no less than at any other time in history.  Are Christians living above this level of cultural depravity, or are they, like Lot, fitting in so well that the neighbors only think of them as "nice people."?  We can learn from the experience of Lot.

4.  Living faithfully in a depraved world.

When Lot looked upon the wicked cities what was his response?

  • He pitched his tents near Sodom (13:12).  We have a choice of with whom we socialize.  It is important for every Christian to become part of a Christian fellowship in order to share needs and accountability, among many other reasons.  If we pitch our tents in the middle of depravity, it will be very difficult for us to avoid its stain in our lives.  One can avoid the temptations of this world by simply choosing to avoid a fellowship with it.  A Christian can be a missionary in this lost and wicked world, but not a partaker in it.
  • Later he was sitting in the gateway of the city (19:1).  Not only did Lot live in the city, but he took part in its daily activities.  We see occurrences of "sitting at the gate" many times in scripture, as this is also a Hebrew idiom that comes from the activities that took place at the gates of the city walls, the busiest places in the city.  Whatever was available for consumption in the city was sold near the city gates.  There you would see the best and worst of the community.  This verse states that Lot became closely engaged with the practices and products of the city.
  • He was then reluctant to leave after hearing of the imminent destruction.   Lot loved the city, and so did his wife.  He found its sensuality exciting and its opportunities enchanting.  Sin can be sensual and enchanting to one who has little desire to serve the LORD.  However, a heart that is obedient to God's has appropriated the power of the Holy Spirit and is armed by it (Ephesians 6:12, ff.) with the resources to ward off both the temptation to sin and to strengthen one against sin's attack. 

Lot and his family became part of the city and it became part of them.  Look at the result!

  • He tried to warn his sons-in-law of the judgment and they laughed at him.  (1 9:14).  Lot had not lived a life among those in the city that separated him from them.  When he declared the message of God's judgment to them they simply did not believe him because he was not respected for his faith in God.  Had Lot been serving God in that city, he would have been known as a man of God, and when he declared the judgment, some would have listened.   Lot offered salvation to those in the city who would be lost, and they would not listen.  Likewise, a Christian who lives an ungodly lifestyle is not in a position to declare God's plan of salvation.  Such a plea would also fall on unbelieving ears.  However, when a Christian remains faithful and communicates the source of their strength, their testimony will not be scorned.  Most may ignore the testimony, but some may listen.  Few will laugh.
  • His wife may have died because she desired the city.  (19:26)  It is no surprise that, since Lot paid little or no heed to the LORD, neither did his family.  His desire for the ungodly lifestyle of Sodom was shared by his wife.  They were told not to look back on the city, but Lot's wife could not resist.  She was leaving behind the life she wanted, desiring only to return to it.  Most Christians are quite familiar with both Luke 17:22 and 17:23 as separate verses, yet together they combine to make an important message:

Remember Lot’s wife.  33Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.  (Luke 17:22-23)

  • After Lot and his daughters escaped he had incestuous relations with them (19:30-38).  We see a continual degradation in the life of Lot, a sliding spiral downward that never retreated.  A Christian who embraces the lifestyle of this world will not spiral to new spiritual heights, but similar to the law of entropy, will only fall deeper into the world's depravity.

The sins of Sodom thrive in our society today.  Homosexuality is becoming passé as American states rush to enable homosexuals to wed, and the acting profession, a hotbed of homosexuality has succeeded in bringing it into mainstream movies and television.  Wwe kill 4000 unborn babies in this country each week and society shouts "hallelujah", television brings writer-created sins of all kinds into our homes, as well as having plenty of material from reporting the acts of this sinful society.  Like Lot, we have become desensitized to murder and moral decay. 

How can a Christian respond to such a culture?

  • Look at the world through Biblical glasses and develop a sensitivity to sin.  The world desensitizes and softens the blow of sin, God's Word provides sensitivity to the truth.  Christians should be looking at the world as God does, and respond to it as Jesus would.  Jesus loved the people of the world, but never took part in its sin.  Christians would do well to do the same, and to do less is to live a life of disobedience to God.
  • Guard our families from the influences of iniquity.  Parents must appropriate God's purpose in their marriages and from the basis of that testimony, teach it to their children.  If all parents failed to pass the love of God on to their children in a single generations, all faith would die in two or three.  Fathers (and mothers) should be watching what is being brought into the home that is better off staying in the depraved world.  One of the first places this can be done is in the monitoring of the television set.  The most peaceful and productive years of parenting in my own home were my children's formative years when we had no television set.  My daughter developed a love for reading, and my son for creating.  Parents need to talk to their children about the evils of this world and the appropriate way for Christians to live in it but not of it.
  • Value righteousness more than prosperity.  Integrity more than compromise.  Only through uncompromised integrity can you bear a true and pure testimony of the Love of God.
  • Share the gospel and the love of God at every opportunity.  Some would argue that this is defined as soul-winning.  I do not agree.  There is a whole range of interaction with the lost that engages the love of God.  God's love is shared simply by "being Jesus" to those with whom a Christian comes in contact.  It may be no more than helping someone when no such help is expected, but it is a help done out of a love and desire to do so, not for any reward.  Jesus did not turn His back on someone in need.  Christians, again, would do well to do the same.  If Christians everywhere lived lives that were separate from the world, the gospel would carry a clearer voice and people would be saved.   A Christian should not be like Lot who could not save those who knew him best.
  • Pray without ceasing, for prayer is our most powerful weapon in this spiritual war.  We often forget the power of prayer.  However, prayer keeps us in obedience.  It is difficult to be engaged in sin and true prayer at the same time.  Prayer, by it close nature to the ear of God, brings us close to God and even of itself serves to strengthen one against the battle with the sin of this world. 

Isaiah 41:8 and James 2:23 reveal Abraham as a "friend of God." Can you be referred to as a "friend of God? Or, are you more like Lot who is immersed in this pagan world.  We are probably all situated somewhere between the two.  We live in a world that is literally walking down the road to separation from God, the road to hell.  It is not the appropriate direction for Christian travel.  The Christian is empowered to take a different road, a road that is paved with God's peace and love, and ultimately, an eternal reward of God's blessing.