A man may, as Cain did, bring to God his finest gifts only to find, as Cain did, that these are an abomination to God. Man may perform deeds that to his fellow men look good, seem to breathe love and the very spirit of Christianity only to find, as some will and Jesus declares that they will, that God says to them, “Depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Matthew 7:23. What a blow that will be for those who said, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name cast out devils? and in Thy name done many wonderful works?” Yet so it is, and we do well to take hold of the truth of Hebrews 11:6 that without faith it is impossible to please God, and of Romans 8:8that they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
The upright, because God has given him faith and he is in Christ Jesus by that spiritual bond of faith, can and does do that which is pleasing in His sight. And the Scriptures teach us that his prayers are a delight to God. Solomon declares in Proverbs 15:8, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord: but the prayer of the upright is His delight.” He can and does offer up delightful prayers. In these God does find delight. To those who offer to Him such prayers He also shows abounding patience and tender mercy.
Abraham was such an upright man as the friend of God whom God’s grace had given the covenant blessing of faith, and by it uprightness. And when he prayed for Lot, God did not cut him off and shut him up with a curt and stinging command to be silent. He listened patiently while Abraham dropped from a plea to save the city of Sodom for fifty righteous to ten for whom the city would be spared. Before Abraham prayed for fifty, God knew that there were not even ten, yea not even five but only one. Yet, as the longsuffering and merciful God that He is, He listened through that whole prayer with its five revisions.
The incident recorded in Genesis 18 must have taken place some twenty years after Abraham and Lot separated. When they separated we read of no wife that Lot had. Even when some years later Abraham rescued Lot from the four kings of the north we read nothing of Lot’s wife, unless it be that general remark in Genesis 14:16 that Abraham “brought again his brother Lot and his goods, and the women also, and the people.” It would, however, seem as though, if one of these were the wife of Lot, she would be mentioned before his goods. At any rate Lot now has daughters old enough to marry and were betrothed to men of the city.
So easily we today as well move away from the church or from the churches where the truth is still maintained. For a job, for the flesh, we separate from those with whom we know we belong, and as Lot we find the consequences in our children. Lot’s daughters are betrothed to unbelievers who receive not Lot’s word when he told them of the message of the angels that they must flee Sodom before the wrath of’ God descended upon the city. Lot must have gotten a wife of the Sodomites. His first step of moving there for the greener fields led him to the next step of taking a wife of the unbelievers in the city. He was getting himself deeper and deeper into the world; and to do that he had to hide more and more of his spiritual identity. He vexed his righteous soul. Scripture tells us that, and therefore we believe it. But he also fed his sinful flesh, played with fire and got burned. In such a surrounding and under such circumstances, with such an help, who was not meet for him as a child of God, he tried to bring up his daughters. Having married a daughter of Sodom, he had put up no objections that his daughters be betrothed to sons of Sodom. A child of God he was. Scripture declares it. But a weak child of God he certainly was. Twenty years among the Sodomites had, because he put up no fight, made him conform more and more to Sodom’s philosophy, so that the lines of the antithesis in his life were slowly being erased.
This also explains Abraham’s prayer. He knew not only that Lot was there in Sodom—he had at first moved only to the “cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom”—but also that he was putting up no fight and getting himself deeper and deeper in the clutches of the evil city. He is not even strong enough in the trial, when the men of the city crowded around his house, to put down the evil thought in his own mind of giving his daughters to these evil men in order to spare his guests. Yes, there was a spark of spiritual life, and he is to be commended for wanting to protect his guests and for abhorring the Sodomite’s sin. But his offer of his daughters does not reveal a man who is fighting sin and bothered deeply enough by sin to condemn it in every form. Nor was he strong enough in the faith after the warning God gave him when he was captured with the ungodly, among whom he was numbered, by the four kings of the northern regions. He went right back there.
In the Heidelberg Catechism we are taught that the child of God who knows his misery and is brought to the joy of his redemption walks in thankfulness to God. Lot showed none of this. It must have been there, for Scripture says that he vexed his righteous soul in that filth and wickedness. But what thankfulness does the man show who, being saved out of the water, jumps back in again? Instead now of walking in God’s law to show true gratitude, Lot moves in more closely to the spheres of sin from which he had already experienced some of its wages in that capture by the four kings. He vexed his righteous soul, but he did not learn very fast. And, as a clear picture of us as we are by nature, he had to be taken by the hand and had to be pulled out of the city before the fire of God descended upon the wicked. A weak brother he was. No shining light was he in the church. He vexed his righteous soul, but he was no paragon of righteousness. An example of what we are by nature he was, but he was no example for us to follow.
And for that man Abraham prayed. Would you? Would it not be time to write him off and call him hopeless? But not only does Abraham pray for such a weak Christian, such a frail child of the covenant, but God is so very patient when Abraham prays for such a member in the church. And is it not so that these are exactly the ones for whom we must pray and pray most earnestly? We pray for them all. We exclude no child of God in our prayers. And these who are so desperately weak, these who walk on the rim, who get so awfully close to the fire, who seem the most unworthy to be in the kingdom, are the ones for whom we must pray most often and who call for our most tender mercies. We have to walk the farthest to seek those who have walked farthest away from the fold. We have to double our efforts for those who have multiplied their sins.
Abraham is concerned in a love that he has for Lot as a child of God. And God delights in hearing Abraham pray for this weak child of His. We do have here a delightful prayer and one that sets a good example for us. Though Lot had mistreated him in years gone by, though he certainly deserved some suffering after not heeding the warning when he was rescued from the punishment that fell on these wicked, though before this he looked so much like the Sodomites that this is the first time that they became angry with him and objected to his judgment upon them—which apparently had been lacking till this night—Abraham does pray for him.
It was Lot for whom Abraham was praying all the time. He was not praying for the city but for the righteous who lived in that city. For Lot’s sake he hoped against hope that there were fifty righteous so that the city might be spared. But he knew that there were not and soon came down to ten righteous. Were Lot and his wife, his daughters and their husbands all righteous, there still would have been only six. And though Abraham was concerned about all the righteous—had there been more—Lot was the one he knew; and it was for Lot and whatever unknown righteous in the city that he prayed.
What is more it was Lot’s spiritual well-being that concerned him. Of course he did not want physical harm to come to him. Yet what he is praying for is Lot’s spiritual well-being. For to die in those cities was to die under the wrath of God. To die with wicked Sodom was to go into the lake of fire with them. And though God’s people often suffer excruciating pains, although in times of war they suffer brutal treatment along with the wicked and suffer torments and violence, though they die in earthquakes and perish in floods together with the world, they never die in the wrath of God upon them personally. What Abraham fears and does not want is that God deals with Lot as He deals with Sodom. He prays for salvation for Lot. He prays for God’s covenant blessings upon Lot and upon whatever righteous men and women might yet be in the city.
And in all this Abraham typifies the very Christ Himself; and that explains why his prayer is a delight to God. To a degree that Abraham could never reach, Christ prays for His people. And rejoice in it that He prays for those walking on the edge of destruction, those playing so close to the fire. He came to seek and to save that which is lost. He came not to bring the righteous but sinners to repentance. He prayed and wept over Jerusalem that had departed so far from the living God. And today He prays for weak, feeble children in the Sodoms of this evil age. With a view to the fire of hell that will soon encompass the whole human race and bring all this world to destruction Christ prays for every last sheep. And the prayer of God’s beloved Son in Whom He is well pleased is pleasing to the Father. It is a delightful prayer and a delight for God to hear it. For these are also His sheep and He wrote their names in His book of life from eternity.
How He agrees with us then when we pray for the erring, when we pour out our hearts for those who compromise with the world, move closer and closer to that world, give up this point of truth and that principle of sanctification! Understand well that when we pray for the righteous in this world—and these are the only ones for whom we may pray—we are praying for those for whom Christ died. No one is righteous apart from the cross of Christ. Jesus Himself told His disciples, as He prayed to the Father in John 17:9, “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou has given Me.” For these Abraham prays as well. He prays that the cities may be spared for the righteous, those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God. And it is Christ in Abraham by the Spirit of God that enables him so to pray. The delight of God in that prayer, the patient listening to that prayer, the tender mercy revealed in that tolerance is because God sees Christ in both Abraham and in Lot. Yes, in that miserably weak Lot too. God sees the cross of Christ that made Lot righteous—how else could he have a righteous soul to vex?—and He delights in that work of His Son. So pleased was He with it that He raised Him from the dead, thereby testifying that He had accepted all His obedience and suffering in our stead and that in Him we are righteous.
O indeed, the prayer of the upright is God’s delight. For the upright will pray for the righteous. They will honour the cross of Christ and delight in it themselves. And how delightful it is to God to hear His people express interest in His delightful Son and be, concerned about the well-being of all the citizens of His kingdom. Are your prayers a delight to God? Are you praying for the wayward? You own son or daughter who is drifting? Remember that when the upright pray for the righteous, not only do the angels in heaven sing, but God Himself is delighted.