The Intimate Connection between Abraham's Faith and Ethics.

A sermon on Genesis 18-19

by Dr. Richard Gamble

I. Introduction.

We are all aware that Abraham's possessed a mighty faith, but what about his ethical life? Abraham was by no means perfect, and the Bible does not cover up his sin or condone it. Yet, Scripture does place his weaknesses against his great virtues, such as hospitality, magnanimity, self-sacrifice and loyalty. "Abraham was taught that the religious favor of God cannot continue (except) accompanied by ethical living."1

II.Character Study: God and Sarah

In reading Genesis 18, we not only need to consider Abraham and his character, but also Sarah and hers. As Peter pointed out (1 Pet. 3:1-6), Sarah called Abraham "lord." "And you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear." Wives are to be submissive and obedient to their husbands by being chaste and respectful (1 Pet. 3:2). Unfortunately, some may give their husbands the title "Lord," but still attempt to rule their husbands because of their pride. For her part, Sarah gave proof of her husband's title by her actions.

When God promised Abraham a son, however, Sarah committed double offense by first laughing at the Lord, and then by lying to the Lord. This does not indicate that she was a reprobate. Rather, she slipped, she was "terrified" and she lied — but after this she repented. Nevertheless, her sin was great: she had heard the covenant promises of Genesis 17, the revelation of God's name, and failed to believe.

Even in her sin, Sarah provides an example from which we can learn. First, when we sin, we ought to confess it. We must not make excuses for our sin as Sarah did. Second, we learn of God's tremendous mercy — he leniently treated Sarah with undeserved grace and mercy. He just as well might have treated her more severely as he did Zecharias who was struck mute for nine months (Luke 1:9).

III. Character Study: God and Abraham

God had blessed Abraham with many things, and his generosity towards Abraham had grown progressively greater. Just as with Abraham, all the blessing we have also come from God, and God increases our blessings progressively, as well. As John Calvin wrote, "From the time when God begins to be kind towards us, he is never weary, until, by adding one favor to another, he completes our salvation."

But there is more to Abraham's story in Genesis 18 than the blessing of a son. God actually shared the future with Abraham regarding Sodom and Gomorrah. He admitted to Abraham that he was planning to destroy the rich and powerful city of Sodom. He was ready to exercise his sovereign control in the temporal judgment of the sinful city.

Abraham knew that his beloved relatives would also be destroyed by God's righteous wrath, and he feared for their lives. So, he prayed for the deliverance of some people from Sodom. He did this by recognizing that there was a remnant of righteous men in the city, and pleading with God to consider that remnant. Of course, Abraham knew that there was a difference in ethics between the pagans and his own people. He also knew that ethics are neither independent of religion, nor the sole content of religion. Instead, they are the product of religion (Gen. 17:1).

As a result of Abraham's intercession, God permitted the salvation of his nephew Lot and Lot's family. Interestingly, the Bible suggests to us that God did this in order that Abraham might be faithful to instruct his own family to walk in the way of the Lord. 2

What is the way of the Lord? "Walking before him" pictures the constant presence of Jehovah in Abraham's mind, as if God himself walked behind Abraham and supervised him. The motive for such obedience is the divine approval. Further, it is not a vague notion of God that inspires Abraham to obey, but God as El-Shaddai, the one who fills his life with miraculous grace. "Is anything to hard for the Lord" (Gen. 18:14) .As Christians, we know he can move mountains, and that he exercises for us the same miraculous grace that he exercised for Abraham. Thus, just as Abraham's morality, our ethics are put on a redemptive basis and inspired by the principle of faith.

Noting here God's plan for instruction in righteousness, we must also remember the context of this section, that it is not the New Testament. Realizing that this narrative is from a more primitive time in redemptive history, there are nevertheless instructions for us because our God is the same God. For instance, Peter calls our attention to Lot and God (the angels), and Sodom and Gomorrah in the New Testament, noting similarities between Lot and Noah:

"[God] did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)" (2 Peter 2:5-8).

As God had rescued righteous Noah from the sinful pre-Flood world, so also he rescued Lot from Sodom. Ultimately, Lot was saved because of God's mercy to him (Gen. 19:16) and because of God's covenantal commitment to Abraham (Gen. 19:29). God destroyed the world because of its sin, and he destroyed Sodom because of its sin.

Because of the abiding significance of the destruction of Sodom, the event becomes something like a paradigm or technical phrase to summarize God's judgment on sin — even in the New Testament (cf. Ezek 16: 46-49; Amos 4:11; Rom. 9:29).3

IV. Character Study: God (The Angels) and Lot.

In looking at the narrative of Lot and the angels, we should notice that there were two angels and not three — God had left in Genesis 18:33 to go to heaven and rain down fire. Also, Lot was in the city gate, which was an important place.

Lot's faith is also significant. Abraham's faith is our faith (Rom. 4; Gal. 3). Our faith is not a faith based upon works righteousness, and neither was Lot's. But here we see righteousness revealed in good works. Good works are a manifestation of faith, a demonstration of faith. They are not a ground for obtaining faith. Rather, good works follow faith. Lot demonstrated his faith through several different good works. First, He rose and bowed down in order to show hospitality to strangers (Gen. 19:3). Next, he risked his own life to protect the strangers (Gen. 19:8).

He also did something that we might consider unlawful by offering his daughters to the men of the city (Gen. 19:8). Why was this acceptable? He should have been willing to endure a thousand deaths. Besides, evil cannot ward off evil. How do we handle such complicated ethical affairs? The answer lies in the necessity of Lot's actions. Given his circumstances, what was otherwise unlawful became lawful and expedient.

Lot also provides us with an example in prayer. When the angels commanded him to flee to the mountains, he respectfully begged, "Please, no," just as Abraham had asked God to spare the cities if he found enough righteous men in them. It is not wrong to ask God to reconsider his decisions and to show mercy.

On the Other hand, Lot and his wife also provide some negative examples. For instance, they wrongly failed to obey God's messengers promptly. Instead of leaving the city when instructed, they tarried. As a result, they were saved only by an act of the angels' mercy and compassion (Gen. 19:16). Once beyond the boundaries of Sodom, however, Lot's wife disobeyed by taking a brief look behind her. For this sin, she was instantly and severely judged (Gen. 19:26). God requires swift and complete obedience, and only his continuing mercy withholds the judgment we continually merit.

IV> Conclusion

Our text is early in the Old Testament, and shadowy compared to the New Testament. Yet it is not at all out of line with the teaching of the New Testament. God has laid a plan of life before us. The principle is that the faithful live lives of faithfulness, whether they are the Old Testament faithful or New Testament faithful. I trust that you have faith in our powerful Savior JC. Our lives of faith are converted lives. To be converted means to "walk with," to turn from paths of wickedness and to walk hand in hand with him. It is not complex. However, it is impossible to do in our own strength.

It is imperative that we as the faithful live lives of faithfulness. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:21ff., "Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My father in heaven. Everyone who hears these saying of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand."


1 Vos, BT 88.

2 Gen. 18:19: "For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him."

3 Rom. 9:29: "And as Isaiah said before: ‘Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we would have become like Sodom, and we would have been made like Gomorrah'" (Isa. 1:9).