Genesis 18:1-33 Prayer and God’s Blessing
We can respond to the promise of God’s blessing by FEAR or FAITH.
Two blessings were about to happen. Two prayers were about to be answered.
- God was going to provide a son as promised.
God was going to save a son as promised.
One promise was for Sarah. Another promise was for Abraham.
Sarah was praying to have a family. Her prayer (or lack of it being answered) was the reason she dismissed God’s blessing with a laugh. If we trace the promise of a son, we see that Sarah doubted this promise all along. Sarah tried to make it happen before God wanted it to happen. She tried to rush God’s timing. When we act like this, we are operating out of fear. We can’t trust. We think things won’t work. We worry. We want to make happen when God has not timed it to happen.
Abraham was praying to save a family. I think Abraham has been praying for Lot since they parted ways. Everyone knew that Sodom was wicked. Would Lot still have faith in God even in a place that placed no faith in God?
The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah was from Abraham. It explains the conversation between Abraham and God immediately after God decides to find out if the outcry is true. God confronts Abraham. It looks like Abraham confronts God. But in reality, it’s the other way around. God desires to see if Abraham will trust God in faith.
Sarah’s response was based on FEAR. Abraham’s response was based in FAITH.
So the question becomes when we contrast these two responses is this: How can learn to go from FEAR to FAITH?
I believe in these verses there are FIVE SKILLS one can learn to go from FEAR to FAITH in prayer.
FIVE SKILLS IN PRAYER NEEDED TO GO FROM FEAR TO FAITH
1. Stop doubting the joy of God in your life (Genesis 18:12)
“So she laughed to herself: “After I have become shriveled up and my lord is old, will I have delight?”” (Genesis 18:12, HCSB)
Someone comes to your door and promises that next year you will come into a million dollars. Do you believe them? Or do you dismiss it with a laugh – “Nah, that won’t ever happen to me. I’ll have to work until I die.” Replace the word “money” with “child” and “work” with “be barren” and now you have Sarah’s dilemma.
But considering all that she has gone through, can you blame her? Abraham tells her “God told me we are going to have many descendants.” They obviously tried many times and it didn’t take.
Which makes you wonder if the problem was Abraham’s fault. This may be the reason that Sarah approved Abraham sleeping with Hagar. She probably thought: “Maybe it’s my husband’s fault that we can’t have children.” It also explains why she reacts to Hagar later. Sarah knows that it’s not Abraham that can’t conceive, it’s Sarah.
So from Sarah’s point of view, it’s all hopeless. Nothing can work now. Age has caught up with her. You don’t see women get pregnant when they are in their 90s. Three guys come to the house and one of them says: “I will certainly come back next year and your wife Sarah will have a son.” (Genesis 18:10). God said it loud enough for Sarah to hear. Sarah dismisses the comment under her breath with a comment: “Ha, I’m too old now. I’ll never know the joy of having children.”
God heard her laugh. He doesn’t take kindly to our dismissals of His promises (Genesis 18:13-14).
“But the Lord asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Can I really have a baby when I’m old?’ Is anything impossible for the Lord? At the appointed time I will come back to you, and in about a year she will have a son.”” (Genesis 18:13–14, HCSB)
Sarah denies it, because she is afraid (Genesis 18:15).
“Sarah denied it. “I did not laugh,” she said, because she was afraid. But He replied, “No, you did laugh.”” (Genesis 18:15, HCSB)
Wouldn’t you be in her situation? She’s been expecting this child and has seen the opportunity pass her by. God comes and gives her a promise and she doesn’t believe. That’s the danger she is sensing in her fear. God gives Abraham a promise and Abraham responded in faith. God gives Sarah a promise and Sarah responded in fear.
That’s us in a nutshell when we dismiss God’s promises. We are acting out of fear. Quietly, Sarah is reminded of that fear (Genesis 18:15). Thankfully, God didn’t give up on His promise to Sarah even though she had dismissed Him.
What about you? Are you giving up on God’s promises in your life? Are you dismissing God with a laugh? Are you responding out of fear instead of faith? Sometimes it’s hard to believe when everyone says it’s not possible. But as Christians, we have to believe that God can do the impossible. That’s what He is in the business of doing.1
So don’t give up or give in when God makes a promise of a blessing to you. God keeps His promises. We may not know everything surrounding the promise. In this case, Sarah had been waiting for years. Now God has narrowed the timeline. He said: “The baby’s coming.” Your blessing is coming. Don’t let the joy of God’s promises turn into fear.
2. Start believing the Word of God for your life (Genesis 18:14, Genesis 18:20-21)
“Is anything impossible for the Lord? At the appointed time I will come back to you, and in about a year she will have a son.”” (Genesis 18:14, HCSB)
You can see the turn in this passage between Sarah and Abraham. God reminds Sarah that God can do anything.
“Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is immense, and their sin is extremely serious. I will go down to see if what they have done justifies the cry that has come up to Me. If not, I will find out.”” (Genesis 18:20–21, HCSB)
Then God tells Abraham that God can even listen to the outcries of people who pray to Him.
Who is crying out? The right and just people are crying out to God. Who are the right and just people? Abraham knows that his family is there – Lot and his family. Could Lot and his family be crying out to God? One might think that Lot and his family be the right and just people who are asking for help? However, I think the outcry is from Abraham.
It appears that the outcry is from Abraham because God reveals to Abraham what He is about to do to Sodom and Gomorrah.
“Then the Lord said, “Should I hide what I am about to do from Abraham? Abraham is to become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him.” (Genesis 18:17–18, HCSB)
Scholar and theologian Matthew Rowley noticed something interesting in the way God spoke to Abraham about Sodom and Gomorrah. To me, Genesis 18:17-18 always seemed strange to me, like God was talking to Himself. Rowley mentioned this about the passage2:
In Genesis 18:16–33 God appeared to Abraham and told him that he would destroy the city of Sodom. Genesis 18:17–18 read:
The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do [to Sodom], seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?”
When one reverses the ordering, the logic of this statement becomes apparent:
Since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and since all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him, therefore I shall not hide from Abraham what I am about to do [to Sodom].
That word “seeing” shows that Abraham was to learn from Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham experienced the reality and power of God through what he heard, felt, smelled, and saw in the Sodom and Gomorrah event. God told him of the miraculous destruction and then performed this act before his eyes.God lets Abraham ask Him questions to find out how may right and just people are in the town. God lets Abraham learn from this event. This allows Abraham to deduce that the only right and just people are people from his family.
Yet, God gives us the chance in prayer to discover His ways. We learn to discover God’s work and what He plans to do. We also learn to how to pray for others who are asking for God’s intervention in their lives.3
3. Keep asking for God’s direction in a matter (Genesis 18:23)
Abraham doesn’t ask just once. He continues to ask about God’s direction. The point is that when you pray, very rarely will you stop after just one prayer. You have to keep asking. What if Abraham stopped at Genesis 18:23?
“Abraham stepped forward and said, “Will You really sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Genesis 18:23, HCSB)
What if Abraham said: OK. You are going to sweep away the righteous with the wicked. There is nothing I can do now. If Abraham did that, would he have discovered what God was really doing? No, of course not. That is why you have to keep asking. Jesus also reminded us to keep asking until we received an answer:
““Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7, HCSB)
But you also have to pay attention as you are asking. This leads us to the fourth skill.
4. Determine from your prayer life what God is doing (Genesis 18:26-32).
The point of the countdown in Abraham’s request is to see if there were more than Lot’s family who was righteous. Abraham was very concerned about his nephew’s family. Abraham wanted to know if God would save his family. The fact that Abraham didn’t question about ten people proves that Abraham discovered what God would do. Lot and his family made up ten people.
The answer was that he probably felt there were at least ten righteous people in Sodom. It may be that he figured that there were ten righteous people in Lot’s family (Lot, his wife, at least two sons (Genesis 19:12), at least two married daughters and their husbands (Genesis 19:14), and two unmarried daughters (Genesis 19:8)—exactly ten).4
But God was going to judge the wicked. God would NOT judge the righteous with the wicked (Genesis 18:25).
“You could not possibly do such a thing: to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. You could not possibly do that! Won’t the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”” (Genesis 18:25, HCSB)
Abraham doesn’t question God in Genesis 22 when God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son. That is because Abraham has learned to trust God and His Word. He learns to trust God in faith. Because Abraham learned from this event, he did not challenge God in Genesis 22 in the same way that he did in Genesis 19.5 He has learned that sometimes, you have to trust God even when it doesn’t make sense.
This leads me to the last skill in prayer:
5. Trust God even when it doesn’t make sense (Genesis 18:33).
“When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, He departed, and Abraham returned to his place.” (Genesis 18:33, HCSB)
I have noticed that when people send texts to one another, one always wants to have the last word. I send out a “thanks” and they give me a “thumbs up.” Here, God gets the last word. Abraham is not sending God a text with a “thumbs up.” Abraham just accepts what God has told him even when it doesn’t make sense.
When we leave this conversation, Abraham doesn’t have evidence that God is going to save his nephew’s family. He doesn’t even know after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:27-29). We know because the writer of Genesis tells us.
Where are you today? Are you like Sarah, operating out of fear, worrying about what God is going to do or not do? Are you like Abraham, operating out of faith, learning to trust God even when it doesn’t make sense? If you want to see God’s blessing, whether it is providing or saving something or someone, or whether it is to see what God is going to do next, we have to have the will to trust God when we prayer. He may not answer all of our prayers. Yet, He will give us enough information to discover what He will do. All we have to do is seek Him and He will show us.
1 Jim Erwin, “Dismissing God’s Promises With a Laugh,” Simple Thoughts Reflections 2016 Logos Bible Software Notes, 2 June 2016, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2016/06/02/dismissing-gods-promises-laugh/, accessed on 15 September 2016.
2 Matthew Rowley, “Pastoral Pensées: Irrational Violence? Reconsidering the Logic of Obedience in Genesis 22,” Themelios 40, no. 1 (2015): 82–83.
3 Jim Erwin, “How God Allows His Servants to Discover His Ways,” Genesis 18:17-21, Simple Thoughts Reflections 2005-2015, Logos Bible Software Notes, 25 June 2012, found at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2012/06/25/genesis-1817-21-how-god-allows-his-servants-to-discover-his-ways/, accessed on 15 September 2016.
4 Keith Krell, “If I Was God…,” Genesis 18:16-33, Bible.org, https://bible.org/seriespage/23-if-i-was-god-genesis-1816-33, accessed on 15 September 2016.
5 Matthew Rowley, “Pastoral Pensées: Irrational Violence? Reconsidering the Logic of Obedience in Genesis 22,” Themelios 40, no. 1 (2015): 82–83.