The following reflection on Genesis 18:22-33 comes from the handwritten notes in my ESV Journaling Bible, Interleaved Edition.
Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 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? 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?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
18:32: “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it”: Undoubtedly, Abraham’s chief concern is not so much with God’s justice as a general principle as for the safety of his nephew Lot, who lives in Sodom. Surely, Abraham reasons, God won’t “sweep away the righteous with the wicked.” But exactly how confident would Abraham be in Lot’s own righteousness?
Abraham himself, you may recall, didn’t earn justification before God through his own good works but through faith: “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Unless Lot was likewise justified (and where’s the evidence?), we should be unimpressed that Lot is relatively more righteous than the citizens of Sodom! Scripture tells us why:
“None is righteous, no, not one… no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10, 12).
“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3)
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:6).
In Jesus’ parable of the two debtors and its application to Simon and the prostitute (Luke 7:36-50), Jesus doesn’t deny that Simon is relatively more righteous than the woman. But it doesn’t matter: each owes a debt before God that he or she is unable to pay. The woman realizes it; Simon doesn’t. Therein lies the problem.
But maybe Abraham knows that Lot isn’t righteous. Maybe he’s counting on someone else’s righteousness to save his nephew. Otherwise, why not simply ask God—who would be unjust to “put the righteous to death with the wicked” (v. 25)—to rescue only the righteous in the city? If Lot and his family were among the righteous, then so be it. But that’s not what he asks. He asks, ultimately, if God would destroy the city for the sake of as few as ten righteous. God answers “no” before abruptly ending the conversation.
Yet we the readers might continue this thought experiment: “Suppose there were fewer than ten… Suppose, in fact, there were only one righteous person in the city? Would God destroy the city for the sake of one?”
But we Christians already know the answer to that question, don’t we?
Because, regardless whether Lot, his wife, and his two daughters were righteous, we sinners know ourselves. We know our own hearts. We know that if God were destroying cities because of the unrighteous living within it, we certainly wouldn’t be the basis on which the city is spared! Right? We would need someone else to be righteous for us!
And here’s the good news: Our Lord Jesus is that one righteous man!
He is the One on account of whose righteousness we will be saved. All we need to do is “move in with him” and “live with him.”
I can tell you how to do that!