Abraham knew that God was a merciful God. He had experienced His grace numerous times already.

When Abraham was a nobody, living in an obscure country, God appeared to him and made him a promise (several promises, depending on how you slice it): “… I will make of you a great nation…”, “… I will bless those who bless you…”, “… in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Unbelievable promise

It was an unbelievable promise, from a God Abraham had never met before, let alone heard of. But Abraham believed it!

He packed up his wife, cattle and servants and bought a one way ticket to Canaan.

Abraham knew that God was gracious. In the years that followed, this new God spared his wife from sleeping with Pharaoh, multiplied his wealth, gave him victory in a battle against kings, and promised a son through his barren wife.

So when we meet Abraham in Genesis bargaining with God, we know that the God he is addressing will not deny him anything good.

God, through His messengers, confided in Abraham that he was about to obliterate Sodom and Gomorrah. “Their sin is very grave,” God explains.

Merciful God

But Abraham has learnt a thing or two about this God, and one of the most important things he has learnt is that this God is merciful.

“Since I have ventured to speak to the Lord — even though I am dust and ashes — suppose the 50 righteous lack five. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” Abraham asks, apparently testing the waters.

God responds that if there are 50 guys without sin in Sodom, He will spare the whole city. But Abraham knows this city. Chances are there are not even a dozen righteous guys in there.

But it doesn’t hurt to try. So Abraham haggles with God. What if there are 45? 40? 30? all the way down to 10.

God’s reply is already a refrain by now: “I will not destroy it.”

Eventually, even 10 righteous people are not to be found. Sodom is doomed. But not before Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family are told to flee the city.

For the longest time, whenever I read this story, I would always have this nagging thought that Abraham could have negotiated lower. He shouldn’t have stopped at 10. If only he could have gone down to four people (Lot, his wife and two daughters), Sodom and Gomorrah would have been spared.

My niggling assumption was that Lot and his family were righteous, and for their sake, God would have spared the city. Abraham should have pushed just a little harder.

All have sinned

But the rest of my Bible paints a much different, grimmer picture — not just of Sodom, but of of Lot, his family and the entire world.

“…all have sinned…” (Rom 3:23), “… every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” (Gen 6:5), “ They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt…” (Ps 14:3).

Abraham’s bargaining was pointless in as far as saving Sodom was concerned. There was no one righteous. He didn’t have a prayer, yet God still allowed him to go on haggling.

I am not sure if Abraham caught the lesson, but I hope you and I have. God has no reason IN this earth to spare this earth. We all deserve to go to hell. Despite our best efforts and best intentions, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Romans 3:23 may paint a dark and grim picture of humanity, but aren’t you glad that the story doesn’t end there? Because the very next verse shines bright like the sun rise after a dark night: We “are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 3:24).

The bargaining chip

It turns out Abraham DID have a bargaining chip, and so do we! There is one who is righteous and hasn’t fallen short of the glory of God. There is one righteous, and through whom the city can be spared.

He is the man through whom God’s promise of “blessing the nations” in Abraham will be fulfilled. His name is Jesus, a Jewish carpenter who was born of a virgin more than 2,000 years ago.

He is the only one who can save this city. In fact, rather than succumb to sin like the rest of us, He defeated sin and sin’s offspring (death) by submitting to pain, suffering and death on a Roman cross, and then rising back to life!

Do you know Him? He is the way to life, the truth about life and the life itself.

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)