Genesis 18:16-33 – God Consults with Abraham


Genesis 18:16-33


Abraham proceeds to raise very specific questions about God’s preliminary decision to destroy Sodom because of the outcry against its citizens.


God determines that Abraham should not be kept in the dark regarding what God is “about to do” (18:17). God is concerned that Abraham charge his descendants to “do righteousness,” that is, to do justice to the relationship with God in which they stand. If Abraham did not do this, there would be no transmission of the faith to the next generation and hence no community to whom the promises apply.

God’s initial words to Abraham (18:20-21) report the cries of unidentified persons about the gravity of the sins of Sodom. God engages in a judicial inquiry with Abraham, and God–determining to show Abraham the ways of justice–consults with him regarding the gravity of the situation in Sodom. God’s use of the language of “if not” suggests that the future of Sodom remains somewhat open, even if God has preliminarily decided what to do.

Abraham now stands before God and engages God regarding the situation in Sodom (18:22-33). He raises sharp questions with God about the preliminary decision to destroy the city. He is blunt and persistent, understanding that God welcomes such a challenge (such challenges to God are also present in the laments; for example, Psalm 13). “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (18:25b). Abraham is especially concerned that the righteous in the city not be treated in the same way as the wicked and raises the issue in these terms: How many righteous must there be in the city for God to save it? God honors the question as a legitimate one.

Abraham, for unknown reasons, starts with the number fifty and eventually works his way down to ten. God responds positively to every question Abraham raises. While the numbers should not be interpreted in a precisely literal way, they raise the issue of “critical mass.” That is, how many righteous are necessary to save the city from its own destructive ways? The buildup of wickedness in any community can become so deep and broad that there is an insufficient number of righteous left in the city to turn the situation around. When the number gets down to ten, Abraham recognizes this to be the case and leaves off the questioning, recognizing that the destruction of the city would be just.