The dictionary defines an Advocate as a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause, a protector or patron. A person who puts a case on someone else’s behalf, who speaks for, argues for, pleads for.
In Genesis 18, at the ripe old age of 99, Abraham humbly but boldly approaches God like an Advocate approaches the bench of a High Court Judge on behalf of a guilty accused (Gen 18:27). Armed with a new name and a secure covenant, Abraham begins to live out God’s promise to make him a blessing to all families on earth (Gen 12:2-3; 17:5).
In this extraordinary interchange, Abraham does not only plead for his nephew Lot and his family to be saved, but also for the contemptible Canaanites who live in Sodom. Like an Advocate for a monstrous criminal, Abraham pleads with God to save his disgraceful client. He begs the just Judge to spare the city’s wicked inhabitants on account of the righteous few who live among them.
In this unique chapter, Abraham points us to the Lord Jesus Christ, the only righteous Advocate qualified to represent sinners in the High Court of heaven. We get a glimpse of our great High Priest, who intercedes and prays to God on behalf of every believer. May this image remind us that we will never face any difficulty alone, as Jesus is pleading our case in the throne room of heaven (Rom 8:34).
My prayer is that this text may encourage us to live as God’s royal Priests (1 Peter 2:9), soft-hearted and bold like Abraham, always ready to serve and intercede in prayer on behalf of our family, friends, city, nation and world– even our worst enemies (Matt 5:44). Only the gospel can spare sinners from the judgment to come (2 Peter 2:6; 9).
Our text today is Gen 18:22-33:
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.
Abraham the Intercessor
In Abraham’s role as pleading priest, he unwittingly provides a peek preview of the Great High Priest who pleads on behalf of believers in the throne room of heaven. Abraham is also an archetype of Christ’s royal priesthood in every generation (1 Peter 2:9). If we are children of God, we are called to be intercessors in our community, no matter how evil it may be and regardless of people’s foolish choices (eg, Lot in Gen 13:10).
The Canaanite community of Sodom and Gomorrah were not nice people (2 Peter 2:6; Gen 13:13; Ezekiel 16:49). Genesis 18:20 tells us that their sin was grave and their offence great. The “outcry against Sodom” paints a picture of cities without moral boundaries, where the cries of the oppressed and violated were heard by no one except God. Genesis 19 paints a sordid portrait of their vicious debauchery. Many modern contexts spring to mind, where powerless victims of abuse have no protectors, and atrocious evil runs wild.
Yet Abraham poses the question to God five times: “Suppose I find a few righteous people in the city, will you destroy the whole city?” The ‘righteous few’ shrinks from 50, 45, 40, 30, 20 to finally 10 people (Gen 18:24; 28, 29; 30; 31; 32). Each time, God’s reply is laced with grace and mercy, despite the depravity of Sodom. “For the sake of the few, I will not destroy the whole city.” These are not Abraham’s people he is pleading for, but violent, degenerate Canaanites who had previously captured Lot and his family (Gen 14). His appeals on behalf of a pagan city are unique to the Old Testament.
But then Abraham abruptly stops before the punchline! I can imagine him studying the fingers on his two hands as he pleads for God to save the city for the sake of 10 people. He never finishes by asking God what would happen if he found just ONE righteous person in Sodom. Perhaps Abraham realized that he would not find ten good men if he scoured the cities from top to bottom. Perhaps he knew that even Lot, his wife and two daughters had been tainted by what they saw and heard, living day after day in Sodom (2 Peter 2:8). But perhaps the truth dawned on him that “there is no one righteous, not even one. No one seeks God. All have turned aside. No one does good, not even one” (Rom 3:10-12). Perhaps Abraham instinctively understood, even without the law or scriptures, that “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” (Rom 3:23). I believe that Abraham knew there was no truly righteous person to be found in Sodom, or on planet earth for that matter.
The Ultimate Go-Between
Abraham could not have foreseen the appearance of one truly righteous man qualified to represent and save the many who deserve judgment– even Abraham himself. He could not have imagined that Yahweh, the just Judge of all the earth would send His Son to earth to die for the guilty, to be their High Priest and Advocate, their Bridge—the ultimate Go-Between and only Mediator between man and God (1 Tim 2:5; John 14:6; Heb 9:24).
What a wonderful picture this story paints of Jesus as our great High Priest, interceding for us in the throne room of heaven! He who stood like a rock through every temptation; passed every test with flying colours; triumphed through every trial and stayed on the cross when He could have saved himself—that same Jesus is praying for you and me as we face our own trials! He is fighting as our Champion who has conquered death itself. As our Advocate, He is campaigning on our behalf, pleading our case before the Father even when we give him good reason to disapprove and find fault with us. We stand acquitted, forgiven and freed from judgment, only because we are represented by the perfect Mediator of a bettercovenant than Abraham ever had. What a powerful rebuttal when Satan accuses us! Read how the writer of Hebrews describes it:
22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.
23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but Jesus holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. 26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. (Hebrews 7:22-26)
It is good to know that our high priest lives to make intercession for us, but even better to know what He is praying for.
What Jesus prays on our behalf
In the High Priestly Prayer recorded in John 17, the Lord Jesus gives us a peek into some of his pleas for all Christians throughout the ages. Jesus prays:
That we will be kept safe from the evil one (John 17:15); be kept holy in the world (John 17:16); that we would be sanctified by holding tight to the truth of God’s word (John 17:17; 19); that God would equip and send us out into the world as his emissaries (John 17:18); that we would be credible witnesses as we abide in Christ’s love (John 17:21; 26); that we would be united with other believers and together shine God’s love for all the world to see (John 17:23), and that we would get safely to heaven to enjoy Christ’s reign forever and ever (John 17:24).
Now that we know Jesus’s prayer requests for us, let us plead and pray these same prayers on behalf of ourselves and those we care about. Even on behalf of our enemies and those we despise. Let us behave as Christ’s priests in our generation, knowing that it is only by grace that we have been called out of darkness to proclaim his wonderful acts to the world (1 Peter 2:9).
What more can we possibly need for this life that the prayers of Jesus haven’t covered?
Lord, rescue me from the sin of self righteousness. I am no better than Lot or any of the people of Sodom. Help me not to be a critic, a fault finder or a disapprover, but give me eyes to see the grace you have lavished on me to make me your child. Make me your pleading priest in my home, my city, my nation and my generation. I want to be a bridge to lead people to Jesus, the only one who is qualified to take sinners into your presence. Give me energy, boldness and grit to keep interceding in prayer for those who need you. I know you invite me to wrestle with you in prayer and do not despise my sincere appeals. Give me your grace to pray for my enemies and those that hurt me. When all is said and done, may I entrust my future to Jesus, the guardian of my heavenly inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade (1 Peter 1:4).
In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.
I have a strong, a perfect plea:
A great High Priest, whose name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is written on his heart;
I know that while in heaven he stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart
No tongue can bid me thence depart.
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God, the Just, is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
To look on Him and pardon me