Abraham The Intercessor
Our Associate-Editor, W. Ross Rainey, has favoured us with another interesting article, an article to challenge all of us, to alert us. How often we have failed to recognize the presence of the Lord! Few attain the intimacy Abraham had with the Lord.
Scripture Reading: Genesis 18:16-33
Three times over in the Bible, and each in an entirely different context, Abraham is called “the friend of God” (2 Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8; James 2:23). In 2 Chronicles 20:7, King Jehosaphat prayed to the Lord in a time of national crisis and referred to Abraham as God’s “friend for ever”; while James, at the close of his argument about faith and works, refers to Abraham as “the friend of God” (2:23). Best of all, however, is the fact that in Isaiah 41:8 the Lord Himself calls Abraham “My friend.”
Chapters 17 & 18 of Genesis, perhaps as no other passages, reveal the familiarity and intimacy that Abraham had with the Lord, but what Abraham’s portion was should be —in far greater measure — the portion of every believer today. The friendship of God is offered to us in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 15:15).
Regarding our specific study and consideration of Genesis 18:16-33, let us observe first of all:
The Purpose of God (18:16-22)
In verse 16, either the two angels (as in v. 22), or the Lord and the two angels, “looked toward Sodom.” A guilty people, or nation, may well tremble when God fixes His gaze upon them. He waits a long while before He unleashes His judgment (e.g., Gen. 15:13-16; 2 Chron. 36:16; 2 Pet. 3:9; Rev. 16:19), but eventually it comes. It is noteworthy that Abraham accompanied his guests on their way in order to direct them to Sodom, and this act of courtesy opened to him a marvelous opportunity of intercession.
It is a revelation of condescending grace that the Lord desires, as evidenced in 18:17, to share His purposes and secrets with the godly (cf. Psa. 25:14; 103:7). How much do we really know of such intimate and enriching fellowship with Him? Of Abraham’s experience at this time, W. Graham Scroggie has concisely yet instructively stated, “God takes certain men and women in His deep counsels, and reveals to them His purposes, and in this way history is set forward. That is the meaning of Hebrews 11. One God-fearing man is made the means of universal blessing; but that man reaches the world through his family and that nation of which he was the origin.”
In 18:18 we have the reason for the Lord’s condescending grace, and just as Abraham was caught up in the purpose of redemption, so also have all true believers (see Rom. 8:28-30). God’s purpose in making Himself known to Abraham was that He might bring into being a family that would give witness to Him, enabling Him to fulfill His promises (18:19). Today, this purpose and witness are being carried on through the Church, the Body of Christ, until such time as the witness of the Church on the earth is completed at the rapture and God once again starts His time-clock with respect to Israel.
There is one important detail in 18:19 which has both pertinent and practical significance today, and this is represented by the words, “command his children.” Parents have a definite responsibility to train their children in the ways of the Lord and to evangelize each generation (cf. Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4). Part of this training includes the responsibility of believing parents to bring their children regularly to the local church, thereby making the place of worship and testimony an integral part of their family life.
No doubt the Lord addressed the angels in 18:17 and 20, but Abraham was permitted to hear what was spoken and was thus taken into the Lord’s confidence. Using common human terms, the Lord’s action 18:21 is similar to that of 11:7. Here, the two angels appeared as men ,though sometimes angels appear as horses and chariots of fire (cf. 2 Kings 2:11; 6:17; Psa. 68:17). God went down to Sodom in the person of these two angels as His representatives (Matt. 13:41).
While there is most certainly a time and place for corporate prayer, Abraham waited until he was alone with God before he began his intercession (cf. 18:21 with Matt. 6:6).
We come now to:
The Prayer of Abraham (18:22-23)
This is the first great prayer in the Bible, and it is noteworthy that it is intercessory. Observe two main things about it, the first being:
A. Its Basis
1. The Consciousness of God (18:22)
The words “drew near” remind us of James 4:8a, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (see Eph. 2:13; Rom. 5:1-2). To pray aright one must believe that God is, even as he must come to God in faith (Heb. 11:6).
2. The Covenant of God (18:17-19)
Abraham had been taken into God’s confidence and fellowship regarding His world-wide redemptive purpose.
The second main thing to observe about Abraham’s prayer is:
B. Its Characteristics
1. It Was Reverent
Believers today should show the same spirit of reverence reflected throughout this intercessory prayer, even though it is true that we have a far greater boldness of approach and access in the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 4:16; 10:19ff.).
2. It Was Earnest
There is no mistaking the earnestness with which Abraham prayed (notice the occurrences of “oh” in verses 30 and 32).
3. It Was Discriminatory (18:24-25)
Abraham discriminated between the righteous and the wicked, and he was concerned for both. Of course, he was thinking primarily of his nephew Lot (19:29), and his prayer indicates that he understood what constituted righteousness in God’s sight. Lot manifested almost no practical righteousness at all, yet he was — like Abraham — justified by faith (2 Pet. 2:7).
That God distinguishes between the righteous and the wicked is clearly set forth in His Word (e.g., Prov. 17:15; Matt. 25:46).
4. It Was in Accord with God’s Character (18:25; see John 14:13; 1 John 5:14-15; Jude 20).
Abraham’s knowledge of God’s character was used as a basis for action, not inaction. He did not take a fatalistic attitude about things as some are prone to do (see James 4:3).
5. It Was Definite (18:28-32)
It may be that much of our praying is so general as to be pointless, at the same time lacking earnestness and fervency. General praying will never be rewarded by particular answers, and at that, Abraham himself could have been more definite than he was.
6. It Was Persevering
Six times over Abraham asked that Sodom might be spared, and each time God gave him the exact answer to his petition.
7. It Was Humble (18:27)
Abraham never lost sight of the One to whom he was praying.
One of the great lessons of this passage is that the wicked owe far more to the presence and prayers of the righteous than they would be willing to admit. This is indicated elsewhere in God’s Word (e.g., Acts 27). Had there been ten believers in Sodom, the Lord would have spared the city. A further noteworthy lesson is that Abraham stopped praying before God stopped promising. Perhaps he could have gone on petitioning, requesting that the city might be spared for just one soul, but he did not take this liberty, no doubt assuming that there would be at least ten believers in Sodom between Lot and the members of his family.
In these “last days” of this present age of grace, with the world hurtling headlong toward God’s sure judgment, let us press on to realize more and more of our Lord’s purposes through a diligent study of His Word, remembering that one of the chief ways of getting to know both His purposes and Person more fully is by prayer. Abraham’s example is a good one for us today. May we be encouraged by it to frequently “draw near” to our Saviour-God, even this very moment.