First Reading: Genesis 18:20-32
Negotiating with God
20 YHWH said, “Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous, 21 I will go down now, and see whether their deeds are as bad as the reports which have come to me. If not, I will know.”
22 The men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, but Abraham stood yet before YHWH. 23 Abraham drew near, and said, “Will you consume the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous within the city? Will you consume and not spare the place for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Be it far from you to do things like that, to kill the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be like the wicked. May that be far from you. Shouldn’t the Judge of all the earth do right?”
26 YHWH said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place for their sake.” 27 Abraham answered, “See now, I have taken it on myself to speak to the Lord, although I am dust and ashes. 28 What if there will lack five of the fifty righteous? Will you destroy all the city for lack of five?”
He said, “I will not destroy it, if I find forty-five there.”
29 He spoke to him yet again, and said, “What if there are forty found there?”
He said, “I will not do it for the forty’s sake.”
30 He said, “Oh don’t let the Lord be angry, and I will speak. What if there are thirty found there?”
He said, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.”
31 He said, “See now, I have taken it on myself to speak to the Lord. What if there are twenty found there?”
He said, “I will not destroy it for the twenty’s sake.”
32 He said, “Oh don’t let the Lord be angry, and I will speak just once more. What if ten are found there?”
He said, “I will not destroy it for the ten’s sake.”
33 YHWH went his way, as soon as he had finished communing with Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.
World English Bible
There are three keys to any good negotiation. First, demand or request must be clearly understood. Second, the logic behind the demand or request must be agreed upon. Third, the person requesting or demanding must persist in the negotiation. Be clear, be logical, and don't give up. Abraham did all three in his prayer to God.
Lying in a fertile valley, Sodom and Gomorrah were cities full of sin. Both were the home to Abraham's nephew, Lot. When Abraham heard that God was going to judge the cities where his nephew lived, he began with a general question: Will you destroy the innocent along with the guilty? [18:23]
Here the innocents were the righteous, those who worshiped God and acted ethically. In his request, Abraham pointed to Lot's faith and character, not to the fact that Lot was a relative. While he never clearly stated his request, nonetheless Abraham clearly made his point to God: save those who worship you and act morally.
Abraham backed up his clear request with logic. If you are the God of the just (i.e., the righteous), then act with justice. [18:25] In other words, be faithful to those who are faithful to you; be merciful to those who treat others with mercy. But Abraham asked far more from God than to act fairly. In his question, Abraham asked God for a living example of justice, a just community that would show sinners the face of a just God. Believers are a sign of hope in a hopeless world; their example is an invitation for the immoral to change.
Only one question remained. How small could a community be to act as an example of a just and merciful God? Here, Abraham persisted until God and he agreed upon the number ten. [18:26-32] But, the number ten did not only tell us the size of Lots family; it told us what was the minimum number believers that were necessary to form a faith community. Ten was the minimum number need to start a synagogue and the minimum number needed to hold services at a synagogue.
When we pray to God, we should take Abraham's example to heart. Pray with a clear request, look for the logic in the bigger picture (God's will), and persist in prayer, even when we pray for something small.
How can you be clear in your prayer, logical in its implications, and persistent in its petition? How does your prayer reflect these qualities?