Community Group Study “Genesis: Wrestling with God in Prayer

Before your community group meets:

Read Genesis 18:16-33 and write down 10-12 observations from the text, like who is speaking, what places are mentioned, patterns in the text and things we learn about God’s character.

What does Genesis 18:17 tell us about God’s relationship with Abraham?

We learned about Sodom’s wickedness in Genesis 13:13 and 14:21-24. How does this text add to what we know and what is God going to do? (Look at Genesis 18:21, compare to Genesis 11:7).

Do you think Abraham’s words are bold in Genesis 18:23? Why or why not?

Why would Abraham care so much about Sodom that he bargains with God for mercy?

What do we learn about God’s character from this interaction between Abraham and God?

Study Information:

Genesis 18:16-33 teaches us something very important about God’s character through a really intriguing conversation between God and Abraham. We learn that God is a God of justice, but in his nature is an abundant desire to show mercy.

God’s approachability to his people is astounding. Abraham had just received news from God and two angels that he’d have a son of his own, with Sarah, within a year. The two angels are about to leave to head off to Sodom to destroy it and God takes this face to face encounter with Abraham as an opportunity to reveal more of himself to Abraham. First, God chooses to not hide what he is going to do from Abraham (18:17). Second God reminds us of his special relationship with Abraham that he is “chosen”, which can also be translated as “known” reminding us that God desires to be known and reveals himself to his people (18:19). Finally, God waits back and gives Abraham space to process what he has heard and ask his questions (18:22-23).

Throughout Genesis we’ve had foreshadowing of the problem of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom represented the city of wickedness and has become an increasing problem that God would need to address. We first hear of the city in detail when Abraham’s nephew Lot moves near the city. Genesis 13:13 tells us that the city was “filled with great sinners”. The scripture then gives us a picture of their wicked king in Genesis 14:21-23. Both of these accounts foreshadow what will happen next as God prepares to judge the city for its injustice and immorality. There’s just one problem for Abraham, his nephew and family have made Sodom their home. This leads to the main question Abraham is wresting with, “will God sweep away the righteous with the wicked”? God draws Abraham into deeper knowledge of himself by revealing his plan and hanging back to allow Abraham to ask his questions and explore God’s character.

Abraham goes on to wrestle with God in prayer exploring the nature of God’s mercy and judgement. Abraham starts out asking if God would spare the city for the sake of 50 who were righteous and God says that he would spare the whole place if 50 righteous were found. The implication though is that there were not 50 righteous people in the entire city… not 50 people were righteous… let that sink in. So Abraham continues to explore God’s character, would he spare the city for the sake of 45? 40? 30? 20? 10? Abraham knew that what he was doing was not a “normal” thing for someone to do with God, but Abraham was a “friend of God”. He asks God to not be angry with him as he continues to persist in his exploration (18:30). Let us remember that God has initiated this conversation and has invited him into this moment of prayerful wrestling to understand his character. With each number that Abraham throws out, God confirms that he would spare the city for the sake of the righteous. You may wonder why Abraham stops at 10. The text does not tell us, it could be he was fearful he’d find out the true state of Lot’s heart if Abraham asked “would you spare the city for the sake of one righteous?”, but again that is speculation. Either way he stops at 10 and in this conversation with God he has learned that God’s abundant desire is to show mercy.

We walk away learning much about God’s mercy and justice, let’s point out 5 things specifically:

  1. God does not rush into judgment. Genesis 18:21 shows us that he has or will thoroughly explore the situation before executing judgment. This is in line with what we learned in Genesis 11 and the tower of Babel, as well as places where God’s character is called out for being “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” like Exodus 34:6, Psalm 86:15 and Jonah 4:2.
  2. God has the right to exercise justice because he is the righteous judge. God truly knows the situation and can judge accurately in a way that we cannot. Abraham realizes this about God and expresses this truth in Genesis 18:25.
  3. Mercy is at the forefront of God’s heart. He is willing to spare the city for the sake of even a small amount of righteous people. In chapter 19 we see that God understands the heart of Abraham’s plea and shows mercy to Lot and his family, even though the evidence suggests they were underserving.
  4. Abraham walks away knowing that God will do the most merciful thing in any and every situation.
  5. Finally, even with all that we’ve learned about God’s mercy, there is still a limit and he will work powerfully against sin and evil.

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?

Scripture and Discussion Questions:

Abraham is exploring God’s character trying to understand the nature of his justice and his mercy. How does Abraham give voice to a struggle many of us have in his question “will God indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” Do you share similar questions?

How does God feel about sin and evil based on this passage of scripture?

Why does God desire to reveal his plan to Abraham and invite Abraham into this conversation?

Behind all of this, Abraham is praying for God to save the wicked city of Sodom. What does this passage teach us about the role of praying for others as followers of Christ?

Looking Ahead:

Read Genesis 19:1-38 and write down 10-12 observations from the text, like who is speaking, what places are mentioned, patterns in the text and things we learn about God’s character.

Read Genesis 19:4-11 and Ezekiel 16:48-49. Summarize Sodom’s sin. Is it exclusively sexual immorality or is there more to it than that?

Name 3-4 ways that God shows his grace to Lot and his family throughout this story?

What is behind Lot’s wife’s desire to “look back”?

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