The Righteousness and Justice of God (Genesis 18:16-19:38)
In Genesis 18:1-15, Abraham was met by three visitors: God himself and two angels. After being treated to Abraham’s remarkable hospitality, God told him that his promise to give him and Sarah a son would be fulfilled in a year. In response to Sarah’s skeptical laughter, God reminds her that because he is God, nothing is impossible for him.
God is just.
One of the reasons God and the angels visited Abraham was to announce that Isaac’s birth was only a year away. But there’s another reason: they’re on their way to Sodom (18:16), and God wants to let Abraham know what’s coming for that city. God’s “internal monologue” (18:17-19) explains why he chooses to reveal his plans to Abraham.
God discloses his plans for Sodom to Abraham because he has chosen Abraham to be a great nation that would bless all nations (see 12:1-3). But Abraham and his descendants would only do this to the extent that they modeled God’s character for the nations by “doing righteousness and justice”, which involves doing what is right and standing up for the oppressed (Isaiah 1:17). By involving Abraham in his judgment on Sodom, God is teaching him what it looks like to “keep the way of the LORD” and “be blameless” (17:1) in an evil world.
The reason for God’s visit to Sodom is because the “outcry” against it has reached God (18:20). That is, the city is full of social injustices that are crying out to be avenged (compare with Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 5:7), and God is going to visit the city on a fact-finding mission to see if what he’s heard is true (18:21). The language used in these verses isn’t meant to imply that there are things God doesn’t know (he knows all things); it’s meant to reinforce his justice. In other words, we’re meant to see that before God brings judgment, he first examines the situation, determines if judgment is warranted, and administers justice in proportion to the injustice.
Again, as a man chosen to represent God to the nations, it’s important that Abraham understand how God’s justice works. That’s where verses 22-33 come in. Abraham’s not “haggling” God here or trying to cool his hot temper down. He knows God is the just Judge of “all the earth” (18:25). But what does that mean in practice? Is God willing to sacrifice righteous people in his punishment on the wicked? The answer is no.
Genesis 19 goes into more detail about Sodom’s sins. In contrast to the warm hospitality the angels received from Abraham (18:1-8), their experience in Sodom is a sharp contrast. Though Lot was kind to them and brought them into his house, the men of the city surround the house and demand to have sex with them. The language of 19:4 (“both young and old, all the people to the last man”) suggests that this type of behavior was normal for them.
Lot’s life now in danger, the angels who had come to assess the city had seen enough. They’ve confirmed the “outcry” against Sodom (18:20-22) and its doom is now fixed. But Lot and his family are reluctant to leave. His sons-in-law think he’s crazy and stay (19:14-15). Lot himself needs to be dragged out of the city by the angels (19:16), and even when he’s told to flee to the hills, he wastes time (19:17-22). Lot’s wife “looked back” and perished (19:26). In light of Jesus’ comments in Luke 17:28-33, it seems as though she couldn’t bear to leave the material comforts of her life in Sodom and instead went back.
Back in Genesis 13, Abraham offered to let Lot choose any part of the land of Canaan to dwell in. Instead, he left the land of promise for the beautiful land near Sodom (13:10). By the end of chapter 19, the beautiful land is desolate (19:25), and Lot had gone from living in a house to living in a cave (19:30) and producing offspring through incest (19:31-38). In the quest for worldly pursuits, he had lost everything.
- Many people have a mental picture of an “Old Testament God” whose temper is easily set off and who capriciously inflicts judgment. How does Genesis 18:16-33 refute this common misperception of God? (See also Jonah 3:10-4:2)
- Is it unloving to teach about God’s wrath? According to Romans 12:19-21, how does the knowledge that God will judge sin enable us to love others?
- According to 1 Peter 2:23, how does knowing that God is a just judge enable us to endure suffering?
- Read Luke 17:28-33. How can a preoccupation with material goods or goals hurt our spiritual lives? What are some things in your life that tend to distract you from spiritual realities?
Genesis 18:25c – “Shall not the Judge of the earth do what is just?”
 Sodom’s sins include homosexuality and attempted rape, but include others as well: oppression (Isaiah 1:10-17); lying (Jeremiah 23:14); pride; neglecting the poor (Ezekiel 16:49).