Genesis 18 and 19
The destruction of Sodom is a figure of what will happen when the Lord comes. They carried themselves as if the world was to last for ever. Such is still the great sin of the world, and what marks the incredulity of the heart; 2 Peter 3. Men make all possible arrangements for the future; and yet, since the death of Jesus, the world cannot count upon a single day. God is waiting till the iniquity of the earth reaches its height, till it is all out and open before He exercises judgment. The world takes advantage of this. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil,” Eccles. 8:11. It is the principle and the practice of infidelity all through: it was the history of the antediluvians and of the doomed cities of the plain; Luke 17:26-30.
The church, the Christian, has properly but one object— Christ in heaven, and therefore is called to be in heart separated from everything here below. Abraham, as far as he was a stranger and pilgrim on earth, is the type of the faithful; Heb. 11. He saw the promises afar off, was persuaded of them, embraced them, and confessed himself a pilgrim here below. Of such God is not ashamed to be called their God. He would be ashamed to own as His people those who make this world their fatherland. “And truly if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned: but now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God.” Abraham had only a burying-place in the land of Canaan. As he followed God in the main faithfully, God took a particular interest in him: Abraham is called “the friend of God.” There is no uncertainty in his movements. He quits Ur of the Chaldees; he and his leave Haran subsequently. “They went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan they came.”
On the other hand, Lot’s wife (“remember Lot’s wife”) left Sodom in bodily presence, not in heart. Her judgment is recalled to mind by the Saviour. Which of the two does Christendom resemble? His people are not in a state which God can own, if they do not say such things as Abraham, if they say them not in deed and in truth.
God communicates His thoughts to Abraham, and Abraham responds, in his measure, to such grace on God’s part. He is not here, as in Genesis 15, asking something for himself; he intercedes for others. There is no lovelier scene than the opening one of Genesis 18, upon which the infidel spues his wretched materialism, and proves his moral incapacity to appreciate God’s gracious condescension to his “friend.” “This did not Abraham.” Accustomed to the ways and words of God, he quickly feels the divine presence; yet he beautifully waits till the Lord is pleased to discover Himself, acting all the while with a touching and instinctive deference.
Indeed, such intimacy was not only most suitable to the infancy of man in the revealed blessings of God, but it was the fitting prelude and preparation for Abraham to learn the high privileges in store for him; above all, for that precious communion, which rejoices in another’s blessings, and sympathises in another’s sorrows. God therein assured Abraham, in such a way that he could not possibly mistake, of His interest, and His confidence in him. “And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 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,” Gen. 18:17-19. Abraham enjoys the closest intercourse with Jehovah, who reveals His counsels to him. Not only is he told afresh, with fuller light, of the promised seed, but he learns from God the imminent destruction of Sodom.
Now God has displayed other, richer, and more spiritual means of assuring our hearts of His love; but nothing could be more appropriate then than His dealings with Abraham. He appears to him in the plains of Mamre. He comes before the tent door, enters, converses, and walks with Him. He wanted to confirm the heart of Abraham practically; and He succeeded, we need scarcely add. The effect appears in pleading before Jehovah. For us, through infinite grace, He has provided something better still. He has come and manifested Himself in Jesus. And we have the certainty that we have, in the Man Christ Jesus, One who ever intercedes for us; yea, we see ourselves in Christ before God; and the Holy Ghost gives us an intimacy with God, which even Abraham did not and could not enjoy, because the basis which renders it possible was not yet laid. It is too likely that we have made little progress in using this nearness to God; but such is our standing privilege; though it be not a palpable visible thing, the reality of this intimacy is not the less great. The counsels of God are revealed to us in His word, and the Holy Spirit is given to us that we may know and enjoy them. What we fail in is the simple and strong faith of Abraham.
Abraham does not dread the presence of Jehovah; such fear is the effect of sin. If we have seen the glory of God in Jesus, the divine presence becomes sweet to us; we find there full strength and confidence. To know Him is indeed life eternal, and His presence makes us happy with the deepest possible joy.
When a soul is in this confidence, God shares His thoughts, as here He treats Abraham as a friend, telling him even what concerns the world. With a friend we do not speak of mere business, but of what we have on our heart. Intercession is the fruit of the divine revelation and fellowship. Abraham, separate from the world, and with the Lord upon the mountain, communes of the judgment which was about to fall upon the world below. The church is, in a still more positive and complete way, separated to God from the world, and beloved of Him. God confides to the church His thoughts—not merely what He means to do for her, but what is hanging over the world. The Son of man is going to judge the quick as well as the dead; and He has told us of it.
God shews the world the utmost patience. He lingers; He “is not slack concerning his promise as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” If His love be displayed to us in ways beyond and more spiritual than that which the elders tasted, His forbearance to the guilty world is also more marked. If a man had to govern the world, he could not endure its ingratitude and iniquity for an hour. God brings His friend, in some degree, to enter into His own long-suffering, and even reproduces it, as it were, in him. The angels, in the guise of men, turn their faces and go toward Sodom; but Abram stood yet before Jehovah. Such also is the portion of the church—to stand before the Lord and learn His purposes and thoughts. She is familiar with His love for her, and has the consciousness of it. She intercedes for the world, in the hope that there is still room for grace. The heart then leaves circumstances to draw upon the love that is in God. If we cannot intercede for a person, the sin is stronger than our faith. When we are practically near God, the Spirit which sees the sin intercedes for the sinner.
Abraham is silent (v. 33), “and the Lord went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham”; but He did more than Abraham asked. He withdrew Lot from Sodom and saved him. Nothing could be done till Lot was safe; Gen. 19:16, 22. God’s eye was upon him. What blessedness to be able to reckon on His love for the righteous!
Abraham persevered in intercession, though he stopped short of the fulness of God’s mercy. We know not as God knows all He is going to do. Nevertheless we may intercede with faith. Abraham grows bold as he goes on; his confidence increases. In result he knows God much better than before. The peace of God kept his heart. The fruit of it all is seen in Genesis 19:27, 28, where Abraham gets up early in the morning, to the place where he stood before the Lord, and looks down on the plain, now smoking like a furnace. From far above he sees the effects of the utter destruction. Such is our position if we are heavenly. It is thus that we see the judgment of the wicked.
On the other side, Lot and his daughters had been spared —saved so as by fire—not to their honour, but through the faithful care and tender mercy of the Lord. It was his unfaithfulness, indeed, that had placed Lot there; it was his unmortified desire after the good things of the world. “And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord… Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan” (Gen. 13); then he pitched his tent toward Sodom. Next he dwelt in Sodom; Gen. 14. On the eve of its downfall, “Lot sat in the gate of Sodom,” in the place of honour there (Gen. 19:1), sad example of the earthly minded believer in the path of declension! Such men dishonour the Lord, and pierce themselves through with many sorrows.