Abraham’s Intercession and Imputation

The account of Abraham’s life in Genesis, from the toledot of his father Terah in Genesis 11:27 until his death in Genesis 25:7, is a fascinating narrative describing the ups and downs, faiths and failures of one of the more, if not the most, prominent figure in the Old Testament. In many ways, Abraham’s life mirrors many of our’s on this side of the cross who have trusted in Christ for salvation, meaning evidences of great faith – mountaintops, and evidences of great failures – valleys, yet collectively a life lived before the face of God (coram Deo; see Gen. 17:1).
In Genesis 18-19, we find Abraham in the midst of his third visible encounter with the LORD, undoubtedly a Christophony or pre-incarnate representation of Christ. This encounter begins with Abraham’s appeal to the LORD, joined by two others (angels perhaps), to “not pass by” (see also Ex. 12:12, 23). Here we must remember that there has been nearly 25 years since the original promise of blessing made to Abraham in Genesis 12 that included the promise of an offspring – an heir from his own flesh. Since that time, Abraham surely had his doubts about whether this promise would ever be fulfilled going so far as to proclaim a child in his house as heir, Eleazar, and later to father a child from his servant Hagar, Ishmael. However in the midst of these doubts, God repeatedly appeared and reaffirmed his promise. By the time we reach chapter 18 of Genesis, Abraham’s faith seems resolved to trust in the promises of God, but no doubt part of his appeal to the LORD to stay for a little while is the anticipation of further revelation of the promise and perhaps even its time of fulfillment. That is precisely what happens, as we read in Genesis 18:1-15. After this update on the promise, including now the timing of it’s fulfillment, the narrative takes an interesting and unusual twist. In Genesis 18:16-21 we read the following:
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
In the same chapter, in the same encounter, we have on the one hand promise-fulfillment and on the other hand salvation-judgment. These are massive themes running throughout Scripture and God is about to put both on display. As we know, these both are inseparably intertwined at the cross through the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ. While on the surface the transition from the promise and timing of fulfillment for the long anticipated heir of Abraham might seem abrupt, we know from earlier in Abraham’s life that he had prior dealings with Sodom. Recall that in Genesis 10, we found them listed among the “Table of Nations” who had descended from Noah, more specifically Ham, and narrowed down further as descended from Canaan. These nations were directly under the curse of Noah as a result of the wickedly sinful action of their father Ham. Therefore, we are prepared to view the Canaanites – the Sodomites, with an eye of suspicion when we next encounter them because of the separation made between Noah’s offspring, namely between Shem and Ham. Our next encounter with Sodom comes in Genesis 13 when Abraham puts the promised land up for bid, as it were, allowing his nephew Lot to have his choice of the land. Revealing the early condition of his heart, Lot chose the city of Sodom, a choice which was followed by this statement, ” Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord. ” Genesis 13:13 In the very next chapter, we again encounter Sodom, now with clarity that their city and people are full of wickedness, as their name would imply. In Genesis 14, we recall that several area kings had gone to war with each other, among them the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, who had been raided and their people capture included the aforementioned Lot. Hearing of this, Abraham sets forth to rescue Lot, and does, followed by an encounter with the King of Sodom upon his victorious return.
21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.” Genesis 14:21-24
This same Abraham who had been concerned with self-preservation earlier in his life, now risked his own life for another, Lot, and is less interested in the accumulation of riches at the cost of compromise by taking from the wicked King of Sodom. All of this prepares us for the abrupt transition we read of earlier in Genesis 18. Time has passed and Sodom has continued in their wickedness such that the “outcry” of their sin had reached the ears of the LORD and soon, His eyes. Because God had entered into a covenant relationship with Abraham, a plan of salvation, He chose to include Abraham in His plan of judgment upon the wicked city of Sodom. Abraham obviously had a vested interest in this plan because he was all too aware of his prior dealings with their king and intimately aware that his family resided in this city. Genesis 18:21, cited above, is translated awkwardly, but clues us into the nature of the LORD’s visit to Sodom:
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 18:21
The ESV footnote on this verse helps us ascertain the further meaning of the phrase, “have done altogether according to the outcry…”. Here we read that more clearly altogether means to bring an end to, termination, complete destruction, otherwise translated to bring a full end to. In other words, the LORD is saying He is going to visit Sodom personally to determine whether they are deserving of complete and total destruction, i.e. if the crime merits the punishment. Here we ought not get lost in questioning why God would need a visible look or a personal encounter. Clearly He had perfect knowledge of the situation and His presence is not needed in order to inform His knowledge. Rather, through this language we are seeing a further pattern for the visible and personal appearance of the LORD for the confrontation of sin, and this is frightening. This, we recall, was how God confronted the first sin in Genesis 3, how He confronted Cain’s sin in Genesis 4, the sin of mankind in Genesis 6, the sin of Babel in Genesis 11 and how He will confront and judge sin in that Day when He returns, personally and visibly to judge the nations. As the accompanying angels move toward the city, the LORD remains with Abraham who then begins to negotiate on behalf of Sodom (and by implication his nephew Lot) in order to prevent their total destruction. His appeal is centered on the following question, “Then Abraham drew near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?'”, which is itself grounded in Abraham’s understanding of the very character of God, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” As the dialogue between Abraham and the LORD continues, we see Abraham making an appeal, an intercession, and perhaps even a negotiation on the possibility of the righteous dwelling in Sodom and being “inadvertently” swept away in the judgment of the wicked. The negotiations begin with Abraham appealing to the presence of fifty righteous people that would result in sparing the entire city on their behalf (Gen. 18:24) and he continues until he whittles this number down to ten, each time with the LORD agreeing to his appeals. It is remarkable that through these negotiations we never find the LORD growing impatient, nor do we find Him in anyway displeased with Abraham’s efforts to appeal towards the righteousness of another in order to save the wicked. Fundamentally, Abraham is appealing to the righteousness of another in order for mercy to be extended to all in Sodom. In the beginning of Genesis 19, as the two angels find their way into the city and among Lot and his family, we see that in actuality there are no righteous people in Sodom. Certainly not the townspeople, then certainly not Lot who welcomes the angels but abruptly offers up his own virgin daughters to the townsmen in order to prevent them from having sexual relations with the angels. His own actions were not exactly an appeal to the righteousness of another in order to save the wicked, rather a grotesque distortion. Despite this, we find God extending mercy to Lot, his wife, and his two daughters by allowing them to escape the pending judgment on Sodom. As we know, Lot’s wife looks back perhaps indicating her unwillingness to leave the wicked city causing her to turn into a pillar of salt. Further, we know the depravity of Lot’s two daughters at the end of chapter 19, all of which leads us to ask, “Were there any righteous people to be found in Sodom?” Our answer, an emphatic “NO!” In the midst of all this, the depravity and warranted destruction, we read of the following commentary
So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived. Genesis 19:29
Here now, our application of such a grand and somewhat mysterious account. Abraham, who had earlier entered into a covenant with God (see Gen. 15 & 17), was allowed privileged information concerning the upcoming destruction of Sodom. Knowing this, he appealed to the righteousness and justice of God to save all (including the wicked) on the basis of some (righteous). As it turned out, there were none righteous, no…not one (Romans 3:9-18). Yet God, in His great mercy did save on the basis of another’s righteousness. Indeed it was because of Abraham’s own righteousness that Lot and his family were saved.
In the midst of this Old Testament narrative on the promise-fulfillment to Abraham as well as salvation-judgment we find this principle of imputed righteousness, i.e. that the righteousness of another could, and did, offer salvation (typologically speaking) for another, even very great and wicked sinners. Surely this points us forward to the imputed righteousness of Christ, the only truly righteous, who gave His life for sinners just as wicked as those in Sodom, namely Lot and his family. Note too that we have a limited application of this righteousness. It did not extend to all the members of Sodom, as perhaps Abraham had hoped. Jesus Christ the righteous gave His life on the cross for sinners. The great exchange, as it is called, sin imputed to Him and His righteousness imputed to others, all those who by faith were united with Him in death and raised with Him in His resurrection (see Romans 5:12ff). Hallelujah, what a Savior!

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Christian saved by grace through faith.

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