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The Man Who Bargained With God


In Genesis 18, we read about the interesting account of Abraham bargaining with God. He was a man who could bargain with God through his prayers and intercessions. He was able to commune with God, knowing very well His heart desire and purpose.

He was the most persistent intercessor ever recorded in the Scriptures. He kept on pleading with God, bargaining down so that God would not destroy the people of Sodom. Abraham’s relationship with God was true friendship. He was able to commune freely and directly with God. Face to face! However the city of Sodom was eventually destroyed. It was not because God refused to answer Abraham’s prayer and hear his intercession, but because Sodom could not produce even the minimal evidence of righteousness and repentance. Abraham did not dare to ask God to spare Sodom for fewer than ten righteous persons.  

In the world today, especially in the well-developed nations, bargaining is almost non-existent. If we walk into any department stores or malls, all the prices are fixed and properly marked. As such, we don’t bother to bargain down the prices. If the price tag says $30, we will not try to bring it down to $29.99. Not a cent less! Most youngsters nowadays do not know how to bargain because what they see in the tag is what they will pay without asking any questions.

However in most marketplaces of third world countries, bargaining is very much alive. It is an ancient tradition and a necessary skill that needs to be mastered if one desires to become a good merchant or a good buyer or shopper. If one doesn’t, very often he will be overcharged exorbitant prices, very excessive beyond reasonable doubt. If one is good at bargaining, he may only pay less than half of the asking price. He may also obtain some very good deals if he excels in this art of bargaining.

Some of us are good at bargaining with men but are we able to bargain with God? Are we bold enough to bargain with God? When bargaining with a merchant, we hold the money and he holds the merchandise. Each party has something the other party wants. And because we hold the money, we have some bargaining power. But when it comes to bargaining with God, He holds everything. God doesn’t need our money. And because of this, we may not have any bargaining power or rights at all!

Who could imagine bargaining with the God who created the whole universe? How did Abraham obtain the rights to bargain with God? Without a good relationship with God, we will not be able to bargain with God. Without communing daily with God, we will not be able to communicate with Him properly. Without good communication with God, how are we able to know His desires? In any bargaining process, each party must have something the other party wants. Do we have something that God desires?

Abraham was the friend of God (James 2:23). He was a very hospitable man, willing to entertain and refresh any weary traveller journeying through the hot deserts.

In the ancient times, there were not many inns or hotels strategically located to accommodate people needing a place to rest, freshen up or have a good meal. This was the setting of the divine bargaining event in the Bible.

One day the Lord appeared again to Abraham near the oak trees of Mamre. Yes, the Lord brought along two angels and paid a strategic visit to His close and intimate friend. Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest time of the day. As he looked up, he noticed three men standing nearby. He ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.

Abraham knew the Lord, and also the time of His glorious visitation. And he knew what to do and how to serve the Lord. He must have heard from his forefathers how Adam walked with the Lord in the garden, and how Enoch walked faithfully with God for 300 years. How these godly men had walked, talked and communed with the Lord along the journey of life! They were hospitable and had entertained God in their dwelling places or tents. Even sharing a meal together! Jesus ate with His disciples daily while He was with them, and even after His resurrection (John 21:12-15)!

“My Lord,” Abraham said, “if it pleases You, please stop over here for a while. Please rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to refresh You and wash Your feet. And since You’ve honoured Your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food for You before You continue on Your journey.”

Washing the feet of guests was customary in those ancient traditions and cultures. Only sandals were worn in desert climates, and the feet of the travellers got dirty easily. And the host would usually give their guests some cool water and clean towels to freshen up.

“All right,” the guests said. “Do as you have said.” And Abraham sprang into action immediately, and ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry up, dear wife! Please get three large measures of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread.” After finished instructing his wife, he ran out to his herd and personally chose the best calf he had. Then he gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it.

When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served them to his guests. As they ate, Abraham waited on them, and communed with them in the cool shade of the oak tree.

Abraham was a true servant of God. He was able to serve a great meal even at last minute notice. No grumbling and no fussing! His wife and his servant willingly cooperated and worked with him. They knew that these visitors were special - very important persons. Abraham also knew where to serve the meal – a place where the visitors could rest comfortably, freshen up and have a great meal. Yes, under the shade of the great oak tree.

As they ate the sumptuous meal, the visitors asked Abraham, “Where is Sarah, your wife?”

“She’s inside the tent,” Abraham replied.

Then one of them said, “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!” And Sarah was secretly eavesdropping and attentively listening to the whole conversation inside the tent. The proclamation of this good news was totally unexpected. It came almost like an electric shock!

Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah had long past the age of having children. She was already ninety years old. So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could an elderly woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my husband is also so old?”

Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’ Is anything too difficult for the Lord? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

Sarah became afraid knowing that the Lord had exposed her. She had secretly heard their conversation. So she denied, saying, “I didn’t laugh.” But the Lord said, “No, you did laugh.” No wonder the baby was named Isaac, which meant "He laughs."

One year later, after the birth of Isaac (Genesis 21:6), Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” She did laugh even though she strongly denied doing so!

After the great meal and fellowship, the Lord and the angels got up and looked out toward Sodom. It was time for their departure. Abraham went along with them to send them on their way.

As Abraham walked a short distance with his special guests, the Lord spoke to the two angels. And He deliberately did so for Abraham to overhear their conversation. The Lord asked, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” That really got Abraham’s attention!

Then the Lord reminded Abraham the covenant that He had made with him. “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.” 

God chose Abraham simply because he was faithful to teach and direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the Lord by doing what was right and just in the eyes of the Lord.

The Lord then turned to Abraham, speaking directly to him, “I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so great. I am going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I have heard. If not, I want to know.”

As the two angels turned and headed toward Sodom, the Lord remained with Abraham. He had something important to do. The Lord wanted to test of the heart of Abraham. This was where the bargaining began. The Lord had just revealed a big secret to him. What would Abraham do with the knowledge that God had just shown him?

Most people today will host big meetings and start to publish the secret of God out to big audiences or in their books, DVDs, CDs, videos, newsletters or websites. A lot of Christians love to run to meetings to hear the latest updates from their "apostles" and "prophets." Many people have obtained a lot of “prophetic insights” and “apostolic foresights” but they do not do anything with what they have in their minds and hands. But the way of God is not the same as the way of man. Sometimes secrets are not to be shared openly, but just to take it back to the Lord in prayer like Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39-46).

On the night of His betrayal, Jesus took Peter, James and John along to pray together with Him. He became anguished and distressed, and told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” He did not share with them what God the Father was about to do. The secret was too much for their human understanding. Their Messiah would be led away to be crucified for the sins of the world. That was beyond what their eyes could see and what their minds could conceive.

Jesus went on a little farther and bowed with His face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from Me. Nevertheless not My will but Yours be done.” Then He returned to His disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with Me even for one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak!”

Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, let Your will be done.” When He returned to them, He found them sleeping again. They couldn’t keep their eyes open. So He went to pray a third time, saying the same things again.

That night Jesus bargained with God the Father thrice while His disciples were sleeping away. Then He came to His disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look - the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let’s be going. Look, My betrayer is here!”

Abraham did what Jesus did in Gethsemane. He began to bargain with the Lord. He did not go and publish the secret. He went and took it to the Lord in prayer!

Abraham came before the Lord and said, “Will You sweep away both the righteous and the wicked? Suppose You find fifty righteous people living there in the city - will You still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? Surely You wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, You would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely You wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?”

And the Lord replied, “If I find fifty righteous people in Sodom, I will spare the entire city for their sakes.”

Then Abraham began to wonder. What if there were not enough people to make the mark of fifty. He humbly spoke to the Lord again. “Since I have begun, let me speak further to my Lord, even though I am but dust and ashes. Suppose there are only forty-five righteous people rather than fifty? Will You destroy the whole city for the lack of five?”

And the Lord said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five righteous people there.”

Then Abraham pressed His request further and started bargaining again. Normally bargaining would end once agreement was reached. Nobody would allow another person to bargain again and again after they have reached an agreement on the terms and conditions. But Abraham was persistent and God was merciful!

Abraham pleaded, “Suppose there are only forty?” And the Lord replied, “I will not destroy it for the sake of the forty.”

“Please don’t be angry, my Lord,” Abraham pleaded. “Let me speak - suppose only thirty righteous people are found?” And the Lord replied, “I will not destroy it if I find thirty.”

Then Abraham said, “Since I have dared to speak to the Lord, let me continue - suppose there are only twenty?” And the Lord replied, “Then I will not destroy it for the sake of the twenty.”

Finally, Abraham said, “Lord, please don’t be angry with me if I speak one more time. Suppose only ten are found?” And the Lord replied, “Then I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten.”

When the Lord had finished His conversation with Abraham, He went on His way. And Abraham returned to his tent.

There are a few precious lessons on prayer and intercession we can learn from the bargaining of Abraham with God.

Firstly, effective prayer must be based on knowing God’s desire and purpose. It is now time for us to align our will with the will of God the Father! It is not God aligning His will with ours! Prayer is not to get our will done, but to get God’s will done. Your kingdom come, and Your will be done!

Prayer must be in accordance with His will. Do we know His will? If not, how?  

Secondly, God only reveals His secrets to His close friends and faithful servants. Abraham was known as the friend of God.

James 2:23
And the Scripture was fulfilled which says,
“Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
And he was called the friend of God.

Amos 3:7-8
Surely the Lord God does nothing,
Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.
A lion has roared!
Who will not fear?
The Lord God has spoken!
Who can but prophesy?

Psalm 25:14
The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him,
And He will show them His covenant.

In John 15:15, Jesus told His disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”

Nobody will share openly his or her secrets with everybody. This principle of sharing secrets is the same in our daily living as well as in the spiritual realm. A person will share the intimate details of his life only with his close friends who have earned his trust. In the same way, God will only reveal His secrets to those who are trustworthy and who won’t abuse their blessed privilege and friendship. And God will definitely not share His secrets to those who will sell His secrets away for profit-making through selling books, DVDS, audio and video tapes! Secrets will no longer be secrets if they are published widely to the mass audiences and multitudes!

If we truly want to know God’s purpose so that we can pray accordingly to His will, we have to first learn how to live obediently in the holy fear of God.  God is now training us so that we will become His friends worthy of His trust.

Thirdly, God is both loving and just. Because He is loving, He delays His judgement. But because He is just, when the time is up, He will judge.

To the people of the world, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was an unfortunate natural disaster like the terrible earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and typhoons happening around our world. If the catastrophe should happen in our days, there would be news coverage and footage around the clock, exploring and explaining from some scientific and geological perspectives about why and how the disaster occurred.

No newscasters in the TV channels would quote Genesis 18:20 in which the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous.” The people of the world would not understand the eternal purposes of God. But Abraham knew that the destruction of the two cities was not natural but a divine judgment of a holy God upon a wicked people who had continually rejected Him and His warnings.

As the friend of God, Abraham could interpret correctly the events of his world because he knew the purposes of God. If we desire to have this kind of insight in the world we are living in, we need to take time to wait on Him and grow in Him, and eventually become a friend of God.

Fourthly, we are called to bless the nations but we may not be able to save all of them from the judgement of God if they reject His salvation and deliverance!

Genesis 12:1-3
Now the Lord had said to Abram:
“Get out of your country,
From your family
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.
I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

God’s purpose is to bless all nations through Abraham. How could Abraham bless all the families of the earth? The answer is found in Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, the seed of Abraham. Can Jesus save everybody? Yes. But is everybody saved? No, because everybody still has to make a decision to believe in Jesus or not. This freewill choice to follow God or not to follow Him is something which God had sovereignly designed so that man will truly love God.

John 3:16-21
For God so loved the world
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him
should not perish but have everlasting life.
For God did not send His Son
into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world through Him might be saved.
He who believes in Him is not condemned;
but he who does not believe is condemned already,
because he has not believed
in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
And this is the condemnation,
that the light has come into the world,
and men loved darkness rather than light,
because their deeds were evil.
For everyone practicing evil hates the light
and does not come to the light,
lest his deeds should be exposed.
But he who does the truth comes to the light,
that his deeds may be clearly seen,
that they have been done in God.

Fifthly, be persistent and never give up halfway in our prayers and intercessions. When Abraham began to bargain with God, he started with the figure of 50. But as he pondered over the possibility that there might not be enough people to fill in the quota, he proceeded to bring the number down to 45, then 40, then 30, then 20 and then finally to 10. As it turned out, there was barely one righteous man in the whole city of Sodom.

Hebrews 7:25
Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost
those who come to God through Him,
since He always lives to make intercession for them.

Jesus is now interceding for us. He is able, now and always, to save those who come to God through Him, because He lives forever to plead with God for them. He is now bargaining on their behalf. He is not slow to do what He has promised, as some think.

God is delaying His judgement because of the continual intercession of Christ! He is patient with all of them, because He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins. Jesus never gives up praying and interceding for them!

2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise,
as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us,
not willing that any should perish
but that all should come to repentance.

Many Christians do not understand this heart desire of God. We have become very impatient and judgemental. And instead of interceding to God to delay His divine judgement, many of us just want to go to heaven quickly and enjoy paradise ourselves. We don’t love others or care for their salvation and welfare! Whether they go to hell and suffer eternal damnation is of no significant value to us.

Sixthly, Abraham knew the character and attributes of God. This important knowledge drew him on into fervent prayer and intercession. We dare not command God to do what we want Him to do.

God is not a waiter waiting on us to pick what we want on the menu, and ready to take our order. In fact, we should be waiting on Him, as a waiter, ready to take His order. Abraham waited on the Lord, served Him, washed His feet and refreshed Him. He gave to the Lord the best meal. He even dined with God. When was the last time we had sweet communion with God, and fellowshipped with Him?

Christianity today has made God to be a Santa Claus! Just name what we want and claim them in the name of the Lord! We preach revival but none of us are being revived.

The measurement of true revival is the temperature of our hearts. God looks at our hearts! Are we loving God and our neighbours the way He loves us? Is the fire of God burning zealously inside so that we are shining brightly outside? Do we have passion for the Lord, and compassion for the lost? Do we have reverence for God - a holy fear for His awesome power and holiness?

Seventhly, it wasn’t an easy thing for Abraham to pray for Sodom. A few years earlier in Genesis 14, Abraham had rescued his nephew Lot along with the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah after they had been taken captive by some warring kings. He even returned all their goods back to them. Abraham had met these people of Sodom and Gomorrah. He knew how ungrateful, sinful and wicked these pagans were.

Abraham could have said, “They should have learned their lessons by now! They truly deserve God’s judgment!” But there was no hint of such an attitude of pride and arrogance in Abraham. He simply and humbly pleaded on behalf of these immoral sinners and sexual perverts! He stood in the gap for these ungodly people.

Similarly, it isn’t easy for us to pray for the wicked people in our generation. How often we have judged them instead of praying for them! These people are responsible for their sins and the consequences of their sins. But we are responsible to pray and intercede for them!

Ezekiel 3:18
When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’
and you give him no warning,
nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way,
to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity;
but his blood I will require at your hand.

Maybe through our intercessions, somehow somewhat someday someone would come to their senses and turn to God and repent! We too were sinners saved by grace! We once were blind but now can see! We once were lost but now are found! It is all because someone had interceded and prayed for us!  Likewise, we should have compassion on other sinners by praying and interceding for them that they too may experience God’s grace in Christ.

Lastly, we must intercede with the right motives through the Word of God. Abraham knew that God was going to destroy the two cities. He prayed that God would spare them for the sakes of the righteous ones. He didn't pray and intercede for a mighty revival to come upon these two cities. He prayed for true repentance and a turning away from sins.

Today, we talk so much about revivals. But the reverse seems to be happening as written in the Word. 

Matthew 24:7-14
For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.
All these are the beginning of sorrows.
Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you,
and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.
And then many will be offended, will betray one another,
and will hate one another.
Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.
And because lawlessness will abound,
the love of many will grow cold.
But he who endures to the end shall be saved.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached
in all the world as a witness to all the nations,
and then the end will come.

Now many nations are going against nations, and kingdom against kingdom. There are famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all these are only the initial birth pains, with many more to come.

Whether we like it or not, we will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. We will be hated all over the world because we are the true followers of Christ. But many Christians will turn away from the Lord, and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people of God.

Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many Christians will grow cold. But the ones who endure to the end will be saved. It is only then the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.

And who are the ones who will preach the gospel to the nations in such difficult times? Those who believe in Christ, and have overcome the world. The overcomers. Definitely not those who talk only but do not walk the talk!

Abraham bargained with God for the wicked city of Sodom. Will we bargain with God for the sinful and perverse generation we are living in? If not, can we start? How? We can begin by becoming a friend of God. Wait on Him. See what He will say to us. 

One day God Himself will share with us a secret or two. 

 

Written on 8 August 2012