Contending with God


Gen. 18:17-33


Before us is an act which on the surface is so bold it borders on blasphemy. Abraham will stand before the Almighty Creator of the universe and will contend with God, if not almost argue with God. Surely this is border-line blasphemy. Or is it? Christianity claims that people come into a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. If 2 people are in a relationship, then neither one is a doormat. The name "Muslim" literally means "one who submits because he is in complete submission to God. To some this complete submission could almost qualify as groveling. That is not what happens here in Gen. 18. Abraham is extremely respectful; however, he does not grovel before God. Rather, he contends, he strives with God. It is an act which his grandson Jacob will repeat many years later (Gen. 32:24-32).


In order to understand better exactly what happens between God and Abraham, we first need to look at an incredible compliment God pays to Abraham. (Look especially at the words in bold italics.)

17 The LORD said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? 19 "For I have chosen him, so 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 upon Abraham what He has spoken about him."

In what way is this a compliment from God to Abraham?

What compliment does Isaiah pay Abraham (Isaiah 41:8)?

Of all the saints in the OT, Abraham alone is given this compliment. No wonder he will feel confident in approaching God the way he does in the next passage. According to John 15:14, 15 what does Jesus (God the Son) call us who have followed Him?

Notice that God the Father never extends this compliment to us. His Son does, but not the Father. This doesn't mean that we are to revere the Father but not the Son. The fact is that we have a different kind of relationship with the Son than we do with the Father, just like I have a different kind of relationship with my earthly brothers than I did with my earthly dad.

The special relationship Abraham had with God the Father explains the reason he approached God the way he did. Keep this in mind as you read the following passage.


20 And the LORD said, "The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. 21 "I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know." . . . 23 Abraham came near and said, "Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 "Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 "Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" 26 So the LORD said, "If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account."

27 And Abraham replied, "Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes. 28 "Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, will You destroy the whole city because of five?" And He said, "I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there."

29 He spoke to Him yet again and said, "Suppose forty are found there?" And He said, "I will not do it on account of the forty."

30 Then he said, "Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak; suppose thirty are found there?" And He said, "I will not do it if I find thirty there." 31 And he said, "Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord; suppose twenty are found there?" And He said, "I will not destroy it on account of the twenty."

32 Then he said, "Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?" And He said, "I will not destroy it on account of the ten." 33 As soon as He had finished speaking to Abraham the LORD departed, and Abraham returned to his place.

Which of the following attitudes characterizes the way Abraham prayed to God? Circle the one you think most fits the story:
timid        daring        arrogant        bold        meek

What in the story made you choose that attitude to describe the way Abraham approached God?

Look at something very interesting Abraham does in verse 25. He is wanting God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah because his nephew Lot lives in the city. What does Abraham appeal to in v. 25? Circle the one you think fits best:
God's love        God's faithfulness        God's holiness        God's justice        God's glory

Sometimes praying can be like playing cards, especially the game of Spades. In the game of Spades, although you might have an ace of hearts (which is the highest heart in the deck), a deuce of spades is even more powerful. It trumps the ace of hearts. As powerful as the deuce of spades is compared to all the hearts, clubs, and diamonds in the deck, the most powerful card in the deck is the ace of spades. Now you can play spades all day long (if you have enough of them and if you don't have to follow suit); however, you get only one chance to play the ace of spades. Once played, it is played. It is so powerful that it needs to be played wisely.

Sometimes relationships are like the game of Spades. Your wife may come up to you and say, "Hon, if you loved me, you would do . . ." This trump has a powerful effect on the husband if it is played wisely and sparingly, just like the ace of spades needs to be played wisely and sparingly. Your kids may approach you with the statement, "But, Dad, I really need this . . ." or "If you do this, I'll never ask for anything again in my life." If the kid plays this card often, it will become old hat and the dad will start ignoring this particular plea (the same holds for "Hon, if you loved me, you would . . .").

Well, we should have a real relationship with God; at least Abraham thinks we should, especially in light of the way he prays to God. I feel like God has given me a few trumps in my life which He expects me to use wisely and sparingly...all because He wants a real relationship with me.

In this particular instance, the trump Abraham plays is God's justice, that is, he appeals to God's sense of justice. We can appeal to God's love, His mercy, His faithfulness, His sense of fair play.

I have a friend who is grieving over her children and their spiritual waywardness. This friend has been so instrumental in bringing young people to the Lord. I told her to approach the Lord and ask Him that on the basis of all that she had done for other young people, He would bring in a wonderful spiritual adult who would reach her children for the Lord. Does that seem legit?

Notice that Abraham stopped at the number 10. Why didn't he go on down to the number 1, that is, just ask for Sodom and Gomorrah for Lot's sake alone?


"Let us, therefore, draw near with confidence to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace and help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16).

Job's response to God in light of the fact that he is innocent and yet is still suffering: 2 "I will say to God, 'Do not condemn me; Let me know why You contend with me. 3 'Is it right for You indeed to oppress, To reject the labor of Your hands, And to look favorably on the schemes of the wicked? 4 'Have You eyes of flesh ? Or do You see as a man sees [that You would judge me like this]? 5 'Are Your days as the days of a mortal, Or Your years as man's years, 6 That You should seek for my guilt And search after my sin? 7 'According to Your knowledge I am indeed not guilty, Yet there is no deliverance from Your hand. 8 'Your hands fashioned and made me altogether, And would You destroy me? 9 'Remember now, that You have made me as clay; And would You turn me into dust again? (Job 10:2-9)

and a little later on, Job again claims: 15 "Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him. 16 "This also will be my salvation, For a godless man may not come before His presence. 17 "Listen carefully to my speech, And let my declaration fill your ears. 18 "Behold now, I have prepared my case; I know that I will be vindicated (Job 13:15-18).

All of these are bold statements. "Let us therefore draw near with ______________ to the throne of grace" (Heb. 4:16), not as sniveling little worms but rather as sons and daughters of God. Unfortunately, some dads have misused their position of authority in the home to make them feel better about themselves. The dads are beaten down at work; they are beaten down in marriage; all their athletic promise has evaporated. They have to feel manly at least in one area of life; so that they make sure that that area is their children. They can feel strong and manly by brow-beating their children. How sad. No wonder many children either cringe at the mention of the word "dad" or else they avoid him altogether.

Heb. 4:16 reflects a healthy father/son relationship, in which the son has a healthy respect for his dad but also a confidence in his dad knowing that he can approach his dad about almost anything without any fear of ridicule, abuse, or retribution.

The second set of verses from Job is a little more startling. Is Job border-line blasphemous? I don't think so. His confidence reveals that not only is he upset with God but also that he has a relationship with God. How many people do you get upset with you don't have a relationship with? How do you often treat people with whom you don't have a relationship?

The opposite of love is not hate. It is apathy. Jesus makes this quite clear. According to Rev. 3:16 which of the following does Jesus NOT want us to be? Circle the correct one:
Hot        cold       lukewarm

When people are angry at somebody, they are so emotionally invested in the person they hate that if something new happens, that great amount of emotion may actually turn from hate to love.

I had 2 boys in my youth group who hated each other. One would verbally lacerate the younger kid who happened to be a whole lot bigger than him. At times the smaller older kid would even kick the younger one. I told the mother of the older kid that one day the younger kid was going to get his fill of the older one and haul off and knock his block off. Well, that day came. On a mission trip to Maine, they were taking showers at the YMCA. The older kid made fun of the younger one because he took a shower with his swimming trunks on. He was naturally modest because of his age. The younger kid snapped. He reared back, made a fist, and planted it right on the older kid's face. It sent the older kid sprawling across the showers. Although the older kid had gotten the message, the younger kid had snapped and wasn't finished. He started chasing the older kid around the YMCA. He wanted to kill him. Well, guess what is the end of this story? You got it. They became best friends. Emotions can easily change; apathy is much more difficult to change. In other words, God can handle our anger much better than our apathy because He knows it can turn on a dime from anger to love.

If we don't approach God with the attitude above, there will be 2 possible dangers in our attitude towards prayer. First, we may think God is going to do whatever He is going to do no matter what, so why pray? With that attitude why should we pay Him any attention? How does James 4:2c address this attitude towards God and prayer?

Second, we may think God will do whatever we ask Him; therefore, He will become a vending machine...pop in the money and get the product. How does James 4:3 deal with this attitude?

Both attitudes reduce our relationship with God.

Our heavenly Father wants a real relationship with Him, sometimes relationships involve great emotions. We need to grow in that relationship to the point that we are totally trusting, loving AND confident. These are the attitudes that Abraham and Job are ultimately displaying in their prayers. What promise does the apostle John make us in 1 John 5:14?