Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Numbers Game

I've just finished reading David Jackman's book on 'Abraham' - a Bible Biography using the systematic continuous exposition method. It was really good, as all Jackman's books are.

But anyway, what I'm writing about is the 'numbers game'. It came to mind when visiting Sodom. Sodom and Gomorrah were evil cities. The outcry against them was great, and 'their sin is very grave' (Genesis 18:20). God told Abraham what he was planning, and Abraham kicked into intercessory mode. After all, his nephew Lot was living in Sodom, and appears to have been an elder of the city. If Sodom was destroyed, then Lot would be swept away too.

And so he appeals to God on the basis of God's own character: '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?' (Gen 18:23-25).

Abraham appeals to the justice of God, and so God relents, and promises that if fifty righteous people can be found in Sodom, then it will not be destroyed.

Abraham's faith grows with this, and so his confidence in being heard by God is enlarged. So back he goes, playing the numbers game in intercessory prayer. Down through 45, then 40, 30, 30 and down to 10. Like some sort of reverse auction, God relents with Abraham's faith-full prayers, and grants that if ten righteous people are in Sodom, it will not be destroyed.

We know the end result - Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. Ten righteous people could not be found. Lot, and his two daughters were saved. His wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt. His sons-in-law refused to believe, and remained in the city. Allbecause ten righteous people were not found.

Fast forward a few centuries, and we find the numbers game in operation again. This time, the city in question is Jerusalem. The judgement of God is coming on it, 'because their transgressions are many, their apostasies are great' (Jeremiah 5:6).

The challenge is set by God to Jeremiah: 'Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her. Though they say, "As the LORD lives," yet they swear falsely. O LORD, do not your eyes look for truth? You have struck them down, but they felt no anguish; you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent. Then I said, "These are only the poor' they have no sense; for they do not know the way of the LORD, the justice of their God. I will go to the great and will speak to them, for they know the way of the LORD, the justice of their God." But they all alike had broken the yoke; they had burst the bonds' (Jeremiah 5:1-5).

Sodom would have been saved by ten righteous men. Jerusalem would have been saved by one. Yet not one could be found. Not among the poor (1-3), nor even among the leaders of the people (4-5).

What of today? Could your town be saved by the presence of a righteous man or woman? Are you that person?

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