Abraham and Sarah saw the smoke rise up from the valley. The acrid smell of sulfur and burning filled the air. Just the day before, Abraham had entertained the three visitors. The Lord had said to Abraham, “I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah. I am going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I have heard.” Just then, the other two visitors turned and headed toward Sodom.
Abraham stood with the Lord and watched as the men picked their way down the path. He was silent. His nephew Lot lived in Sodom with his wife and two daughters. Lot’s father had died young, and when his grandfather had set out for Canaan with his Uncle Abraham and Aunt Sarah, it had seemed natural for him to join them.
Lot had traveled with them to Canaan, and then to Egypt to escape the famine. Both Abraham and Lot had come back from Egypt with so many servants, possessions, and livestock, that their herdsmen were forever quarreling over water and grazing rights.
Finally Abraham had said to Lot, “Let’s not allow this conflict to destroy our relationship. The whole countryside is open to you. Your choice.” And Lot had chosen the fertile plains of the Jordan valley, pitching his tents near Sodom. He did not agree with the culture, and in many ways, it pained him to live there, but for his own reasons, Lot chose to stay.
Suddenly Abraham said, “Lord, you wouldn’t sweep away the righteous with the wicked, would you?” He did not look directly at the Lord, but stared out over the horizon. “Suppose you were to find, say, fifty righteous people living there, wouldn’t you spare it for their sakes?”
Abraham glanced sideways, but could not make out the Lord’s expression. Then he took a deep breath. He had come this far, he might as well go for broke. “Surely you wouldn’t treat the righteous and the wicked the same. Shouldn’t the judge of all the earth do what is right?” He swallowed. He could hardly believe he had dared to speak that way.
But the Lord simply replied, “If I find fifty righteous people in Sodom, I will spare the entire city for their sake.” He had made himself known to Abraham. One day, every nation on earth would be blessed through him. He would not hide his plans from Abraham now.
Only somewhat emboldened, Abraham said, “Since I’ve started down this road, if you don’t mind, I’d like to ask — though I have no right — suppose there are only forty-five righteous people? Will you destroy the city if it falls short by five?
The Lord answered, “I will not destroy the city if I find forty-five righteous people there.”
Abraham hesitated, but then he said, “Just suppose there are only forty … ?”
The Lord said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty.”
“Please don’t be angry, Lord,” Abraham found himself saying, “but what if there are only thirty?”
The Lord replied, “I will not destroy it if I find thirty.”
Abraham did not feel bold, but he was encouraged that the Lord did not seem angry or even remotely impatient with his appeal. In fact, it almost seemed that the Lord welcomed his intervention, as if he wanted a good reason to stay his hand.
“Since I have dared to pursue the topic this far, please let me ask something else.”
The Lord waited.
“Suppose there are only twenty?”
The Lord replied, “I will not destroy it for the sake of twenty.”
The corruption of Sodom and Gomorrah was well known. Abraham could not be sure there were even ten righteous people in the city, let alone twenty. He would not ask the Lord to save the city for Lot alone, but he would ask one more time for the sake of ten.
“Lord, please don’t be angry with me if I speak just one last time. Suppose you find only ten?”
The Lord replied, “If I find ten, I will spare the city.”
Looking now at the charred remains of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham did not know for sure what had happened to Lot and his family. God had said Lot was a righteous man, and he had been willing to spare an entire city for the sake of ten people. Abraham would trust in his mercy.
What happened next:
Deja Vu | A Lot Can Happen in a Year
What came before:
Mysterious Visitors | What Sarah Heard
Note: Though I try to remain faithful to the events and characters as described in the Bible, I take some liberties where the Bible is silent, especially regarding what the characters might have thought or felt. I encourage you to read the original story to separate fact from fiction.
Genesis 13, 18