22.12.11

Pleading for Sodom

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is an interesting, and often ill-used, piece of the Old Testament. In recent days it has become something of a prop to be toted out whenever we need to discuss the moral standing of homosexuality. It is interesting, and perhaps uncomfortably revealing, that we have reduced this great biblical type to a word on one moral issue when it ought to be a paradigm of our place and mission in the world as God's people. Yes, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah stands as an example for us to follow. Let me explain.

Biblically speaking, Sodom quickly becomes a type or representative of the way of the fallen world.  We can see this move being made as early as Deuteronomy 29:23 wherein Israel is compared to Sodom and Gomorrah. This continues in Isaiah (1:9-23, 13:19-20), Ezekiel (16:48-50), and on in to the New Testament. Though not mentioned directly, Paul's view of the human wickedness in Romans 1:18-32 clearly reflects the catalog of evil which is used to describe Sodom. The world apart from God stands, then, in the place and way of Sodom.

Within the narrative, God hears the out cry from Sodom and must respond. On his way to judge them, he stops by for a visit with Abraham. Abraham, having been brought into the confidence of God, turns to intercession. He pleads for Sodom.

Abraham seems to expect to have to bargain with God. One imagines that Abraham thought his proposal of 50 righteous people would have been met by a scoff and "I couldn't do it for less than 100," after which Abraham and God would settle to haggling and probably meet somewhere around 75. Instead, every proposal, hesitant as they are in Abraham's mouth, is met with unhesitating acceptance by God. Abraham is learning more of the character of God as he intercedes. In the end, God is more merciful than even Abraham was prepared to request; though the city is destroyed, the righteous within are saved. Abraham's initial plea, that God not sweep away the righteous with the wicked, is answered.

For our purposes, however, we must focus on the role of Abraham. In the face of the coming judgment of God, in the face of the heinous sins of the people in Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham steps forward as an intercessor, pleading for their salvation. In the middle of this narrative, God offers an aside: "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." (Genesis 18:18-19).

God chose Abraham with the purpose that he will direct his children in the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, and this with the purpose that God would bring about His promises (to be blessed and be a blessing to the nations). It is as Abraham teaches others to live and walk with the Lord that he is blessed and able to be a blessing to others. Abraham, in his response to Sodom and Gomorrah, does just this; pleading for mercy is precisely the way of the Lord. We see this same role taken on by Moses, as he pleads with God in the face of the idolatry of the Israelites in the desert. We see this same truth in the writings of Paul who, though he characterizes the world in terms of Sodom, also knows he is called to just that world with the gospel message of redemption and healing. We see this, ultimately, in the person of Jesus the Christ, the great intercessor.

This is how the story functions as an example to us. Just as Sodom is a type of the world, Abraham is a type of God's people. And it is we, the followers of Jesus, who are Abraham's seed, through faith in Jesus the Christ, members of the people of God. Thus, we are called into his mission, the same one Abraham was called to, the mission Paul labels 'the gospel given in advance' (Galatians 3:8). We live in a world walking apart from God, in the ways of Sodom. We believe in the coming judgment of the Lord. And we are called not to judge our world, but to intercede for it - to stand and plead for our world, to call down not the judgment of God, but the blessing of God. This is to act in the image of Christ, as his representative.

The only alternative is to stand in the role of Jonah, hoping and longing for the Lord's judgment, only to be dismayed, shocked, and rebuked by His mercy.

Where do you stand? For what do you plead?


- Credit for this reflection goes to The Mission of God by Christopher Wright, Chapter 11. Though not directly quoted, the ideas and arguments in this post are all directly from this work. 

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