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.”
22 So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” 26 And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
27 Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28 Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 30 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” 31 He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” 32 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” 33 And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.
I did not grow up in a haggling culture, but I have visited them. I find such a culture intriguing and strange at the same time. I once heard of a missionary in India whom the local vendors would no longer serve. He refused to haggle over the price of their wares with them. About the only place we might still dicker about a price is at a car lot. I for one am relieved that there are places to buy a car which no longer do that. I am just not very good at it.
Abraham was clearly good at haggling. He cajoled God all the way down to ten righteous people in Sodom. It is one of the most interesting examples of prayer in the Bible. Of course, in Abraham’s culture this was normal. We confess an omnipotent and omniscient God. He surely knew what Abraham was going to do and just how many righteous people there were in Sodom. I think it was approaching zero if you read a little further in Genesis. Lot and his daughters were hardly paragons of virtue. But God walks with Abraham, listens, and converses with him. I think God likes to hear from us, no matter what we might say.
I once walked back to my office from chapel with a member of our psychology department at Concordia. At the time, I was responsible for the chapel program, and she felt she needed to say something. She felt that the Lenten hymn which we had just sung was too depressing. She felt that worship music should be upbeat and happy. I was surprised and told her so. She of all people, as a psychologist, someone who dealt with the emotional ups and downs of people, should delight that we could bring the whole breadth of our emotions to God in prayer and song. God loves me and wants to hear from me on my sad days and my joyful days. We can tell God anything about ourselves. He is strong enough to take it. How are you feeling today? Is it happy, sad, worried, confident, or something else? Speak your heart to God. He listens. He listened to Abraham’s prayer.