Study 1 THE PRAYER FOR A WICKED CITY
GREAT PRAYERS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portion: Genesis 18: 23-33
There is little doubt that our first parents must have prayed, especially before the Fall. In Genesis 4:26 we read that in the year of the birth of Enoch “men began to call on the Name of the Lord”. Probably this refers to some form of united prayer. In this first study we are to consider Abraham’s great prayer for the people who lived in the city of Sodom. Our study is based upon three facts: (1) Sodom was a very wicked city (Genesis 13:13; 18:20; Isaiah 1:9 and 3:9; and Lamentations 4:6. (2) God said that His judgment must fall upon Sodom (Genesis 18:20-21). (3) Abraham, moved with the desire for God’s glory and a love for the people of Sodom, prayed to the Lord and pleaded with Him to spare the people. We live in a city like Sodom, in a world that is full of sinners, and just as Abraham interceded for the people of Sodom so we are to plead for the multitudes of lost souls in our own city or in the world. Consider Abraham’s intercessory prayer, then, as a prayer for the salvation of souls. What are the characteristics of such a prayer?
1. It must be offered on the ground of a covenant relationship.
This is important (Genesis 15:18). Abraham was a believer. He was one of God’s people, he was “God’s friend” (James 2:23), and compare James 5:16. In Genesis 18:22 we read that Abraham “remained standing before the Lord” and in verse 23 that “Abraham approached him.” This man not only knew the Lord but he knew Him intimately; he was on close terms with Him. This is also brought out in Genesis 18:17-19. Are you God’s friend? – look up John 15:15.
2. It must be offered in a spirit of true humility.
Notice that Abraham came in fear and trembling, with great reverence and with a sense of his own personal unworthiness – read Genesis 18:27 carefully! In addition to confessing his unworthiness, we read also that Abraham dreaded God’s displeasure. This is brought out in verses 30 and 32. One of the great statements in this connection is found in Isaiah 66:2, which should be compared with Daniel 9:3. Are you the kind of ‘servant’ God is looking for?
3. It must be offered with a deep conviction concerning the desperate need of men and women and with a deep compassion for their salvation.
Abraham believed that the people in Sodom were in great danger, and this moved him deeply to pray for their salvation. What did Abraham fear for the people? (Genesis 19:24-25). What is the immediate spiritual need of people around us who are not Christians? Consider the following:-
- (1) According to Luke 19:10, they are LOST.
- (2) According to John 3:16, they are PERISHING.
- (3) According to John 3:18, they are CONDEMNED.
- (4) According to John 3:36, they are UNDER WRATH.
- (5) According to 2 Corinthians 4:4, they are BLIND.
- (6) According to Ephesians 2:1, they are DEAD.
- (7) According to Ephesians 2:12, they have NO HOPE.
But more, their future prospect is a terrifying one (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9), and compare Matthew 8:12; 13:42; 22:13; 24:51; 25:10-12 and Luke 13:25-28. As you consider the need of those who are without Christ do you not feel as the queen felt, of whom we read in Esther 8:6? – look up and compare Exodus 32:32; Luke 19:41 and Romans 9:3.
4. It must be offered with a firm belief in God’s willingness to hear and answer prayer for their salvation.
It is moving to read Genesis 18:23-26 and to realise how willing God was to hear and to answer Abraham’s prayer! Each time Abraham made the request God said, ‘Yes…’, until Abraham stopped making a request. Why did he not go on praying? There is an element of mystery here and yet there were less than ten in Sodom who loved and belonged to the Lord. God’s judgment must fall upon sin and upon the sinner if he will not turn from his sin (Isaiah 55:6-7). But does God love sinners very much? Yes, He does (John 3:16 and Romans 5:8). Does He want men and women to perish? He does not (1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9). Abraham had absolute trust in the justice of God. He said, “Such and such a thing is right; therefore God must do it” – this is the meaning of Genesis 18:25. But all this shows us something more:-
5. It must be offered with a sincere desire for God’s glory.
Was Abraham’s motive in praying for Sodom simply that Lot might be spared? After all, Lot was his own nephew, and it would be quite natural to desire that the city might be spared in order that Lot should be delivered. Genesis 19:29 tells us that Lot was spared for Abraham’s sake, but Abraham’s motive was the glory of God, and this is brought out in Genesis 18:23. For God to destroy the righteous with the wicked would be inconsistent with His character and His promises. When we pray for the salvation of loved ones and friends our motive must be the glory of God, otherwise we shall fall into the error of James 4:3 – look up Psalm 106:7-8 and Ephesians 1:3-6.
6. It must be offered with persistence.
“With strong, great wrestling souls are won” – and this truth is clearly brought out here. Abraham didn’t pray once, but six times. It was a prolonged and a persevering prayer. We quickly read the prayer in Genesis 18:23-33, but these prayers may have taken Abraham hours or days. Each time he prayed his faith grew, and this tells us how we should pray for souls.
7. It must be offered in the light of several other vital considerations.
- (1) The solemn responsibility of such prayer (1 Samuel 12:23).
- (2) The reflex blessing of such prayer (Job 42:10).
- (3) The hidden nature of such prayer (Matthew 6:6).
- (4) The essential condition of such prayer (John 15:7).
- (5) The certain result of such prayer (Jeremiah 33:3).