16 Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way. 17 The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” 20 Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.” – Genesis 18:16-21 ESV
From a cursory reading of this text, it appears that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was intended as a graphic illustration to Abraham of what happens to those who fail to walk before the Lord blamelessly. The city of Sodom was of special interest to Abraham because his nephew was a resident there. As detailed in chapter 14, Lot had chosen to leave the fertile Jordan Valley and move his wife and two girls into the urban environment of Sodom. And in chapter 13, Moses gave a brief, but telling synopsis of the moral conditions within Sodom.
Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord. – Genesis 13:13 ESV
Yet, when Lot and many of his fellow citizens of Sodom had found themselves taken captive by the four kings who had invaded the Jordan Valley, Abraham had come to their rescue. With a small army of 380 men, Abraham had defeated the far superior forces of the enemy and made it possible for the captives to go free and return to their homes in Sodom. That had included Lot and his family.
Now, in chapter 18, the Sodomites enter into the story of Abraham’s life once again. This time, as the three visiting angels of the Lord prepare to part ways with Abraham, they cast their eyes on the city of Sodom, lying in the valley below. As Abraham walked alongside his departing guests, he was unaware of the conversation going on between them. But the question they considered was whether they should inform Abraham about God’s plans for Sodom.
“Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?” – Genesis 18:17-18 ESV
The three visitors had dropped in on Abraham in order to reassure him of God’s plan to give them a son through Sarah, is wife. And it “just so happened” that their reiteration of God’s promise was overheard by Sarah. This was not a case of luck or fate, but part of the sovereign will of God. He had planned all along for Sarah to eavesdrop on the conversation and hear the divine pronouncement concerning her future pregnancy and delivery. God was letting His doubtful daughter know that she was the chosen vessel through whom His promise would be fulfilled.
It would be through this future offspring of Abraham and Sarah that God would eventually bring blessings upon the nations of the earth. But God intended Abraham’s descendants to live holy lives, conducting their lives with integrity and displaying a sold-out commitment to His will and ways. He had even given them the covenant sign of circumcision as a visual reminder that they were to be distinctively different than all the other nations around them. God had promised to give to Abraham’s offspring the land of Canaan and He had added the divine commitment, “I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8 ESV).
And as God’s angelic messengers looked out over Sodom, they were instructed to inform Abraham of the divine plans for this godless community. And God’s reason for divulging His plans was so that Abraham might understand the gravity of refusing to keep the way of the Lord by doing what was right and just.
“For Abraham will certainly become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. I have singled him out so that he will direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just. Then I will do for Abraham all that I have promised.” – Genesis 18:17-18 NLT
Abraham and his family had been set apart by God, and they now bore the sign of their set-apart status as God’s possession. All the male’s of his household had undergone the rite of circumcision. But one of his blood relatives, his nephew Lot, had not been included in the ceremony because he had chosen to live amongst the wicked of Sodom. In a real sense, Lot had chosen to live set apart from Abraham and his God.
Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram. So Abram settled in the land of Canaan, and Lot moved his tents to a place near Sodom and settled among the cities of the plain. – Genesis 13:11-12 NLT
And, eventually, Lot had set aside his tend for the comfort and security of a home within the walls of Sodom. The uncircumcised Lot had made himself at home with the uncircumcised and unrighteous people of Sodom.
God wanted Abraham to know that obedience was going to be a non-negotiable requirement for His set-apart people. They would not be free to live anywhere they liked or to conduct their lives according to their own wills. They were His possession and were expected to live in keeping with that one-of-a-kind designation. They were “to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just” (Genesis 18:19 NLT). It was not their behavior that would determine their set-apart status. It was their set-apart status that would dictate their just and right behavior. And God was going to provide Abraham with a powerful visual lesson regarding the fate of all those who have not been set apart and whose lives reflect their unholy status.
So the Lord told Abraham, “I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant. I am going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I have heard. If not, I want to know.” – Genesis 18:20-21 NLT
God seems to indicate that He has just become aware of the sordid situation in Sodom and Gomorrah. But the sovereign, all-knowing God of the universe hadn’t just discovered the rampant wickedness going on among the inhabitants of these two urban enclaves of immorality and sin. He had known all along. It was Abraham who was ignorant and misinformed. He had no idea just how bad things really were in his nephew’s hometown. So, God’s report must have caught Abraham by surprise.
Having never set foot in Sodom, Abraham had no way of knowing what was taking place inside the city’s walls. And it is unlikely that Lot had ever divulged any of the disreputable and immoral activities of his neighbors.
There’s an interesting note in the second letter of Peter that provides some insight into Lot’s life as he lived among the wicked of Sodom. While it would be easy to assume that Lot’s constant exposure to the evil taking place within his community eventually compromised his convictions and led to his complicity with their immoral behavior, Peter suggests otherwise.
God condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and turned them into heaps of ashes. He made them an example of what will happen to ungodly people. But God also rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him. Yes, Lot was a righteous man who was tormented in his soul by the wickedness he saw and heard day after day. – 2 Peter 2:6-8 NLT
Two times in these verses, Peter declares Lot to be a righteous man. In fact, it states that he was “sick of the shameful immorality” of his neighbors. Their wicked behavior left him “tormented in his soul.” And, as the story in Genesis 18 will soon reveal, it would take a divine act of God to rescue Lot from his predicament.
But don’t miss the other point that Peter is making. God used the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as “an example of what will happen to ungodly people” (2 Peter 2:6 NLT). And this example was intended for Abraham’s benefit. The reason God had set Abraham apart was to that He might make from him a great nation. And God had promised to bless that nation so that it might be a blessing to the rest of the nations, including wicked people like those living in Sodom and Gomorrah. Without the blessing of God, they were destined to live their lives under the curse that came as a result of the fall and faced with the condemnation of death for their sins.
God wanted to bless. But for His blessings to eventually reach the lost living in places like Sodom and Gomorrah, His chosen people would need “to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just” (Genesis 18:19 NLT). God wanted Abraham to be an eye-witness to the destructive power of His justice and holiness. And He wanted to Abraham to share His heart for all those living under the curse of death and the condemnation of divine judgment for sin.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.