A Friend of God

Genesis 18

If you wanted to tell someone about yourself, how would you begin?  If you were applying for a job, you would hand them your resume.  But if you were just sitting down with someone across the table over a cup of coffee, you might start with some information – your name, age, where you were born, where you grew up, your family, your interests.  But sooner or later, you would start telling stories about experiences that you’ve had, relationships that were important, people you have known… “Did I tell you about the time we went…, and did…”

How would God reveal himself to people?  Some might wish he had sent a resume with all the pertinent information in neat, logical order.  Some would like to boil God down to a catalog of his attributes:

A – accepting, approachable

B – benevolent, blessing

C – comforting, compassionate

D – disciplining

E – exalted

F – forgiving

L – loving

P – patient

S – sovereign

A to Z – Awesome to Zealous – everything is there – every attribute catalogued for your convenience.

But what you would have is a two dimensional picture – flat and shallow.  You might be able to describe God after reading it, but you wouldn’t really know God would you?

Well, that’s not how God revealed himself –he revealed himself in actions and attitudes, in relationships – in reality.  He revealed himself in the way he has dealt with his people and his creation throughout time, and those stories are recorded so that we can know God – really know God.  Who he is, how he acts, how he feels.

It’s one thing to say God is loving or patient, but show me – tell me a story about how God demonstrated that love, how he was patient with someone.

That is really what Genesis is about – Adam, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac are all important figures, but the central character of Genesis is always God himself.  How did God relate to these people?  What do we learn about God from their stories?  These people have strengths and weaknesses, they may fail or succeed, but God is the constant – always faithful, always intensely concerned with his covenant people.

If God is not the central figure, if these stories are about people and human potential, I hate to say it, but I’m not all that impressed.  I mean, Abraham seems like a pretty good guy, but he sure messed up a lot.  Noah was amazing, but there was that drunken, naked thing.  And Adam and Eve, well… what can you say?  They screwed the whole thing up from the word go.

I want to imitate Abraham’s faith, but more than that, I want to know his God.  And that means that, just as important as the stories of God dealing with his people in the Bible, are the stories yet being written of how he deals with you and me.  How do I learn about his love, his patience, his compassion, his discipline?  It’s not in a library or even in a pew, it’s out there in everyday life as I let him work in my life, as I experience his love, his patience, his compassion, his discipline.

You’ll remember that God told Abraham to leave his home and move to a land he would show him.  So Abraham had taken his family and moved to the land of Canaan and settled down.  Time passed and God blessed him abundantly.  So much so that there wasn’t enough room where he was for him and his nephew Lot’s flocks and herds.  So, Abraham told Lot to pick where he wanted to live and Lot chose the best land – [Picture – river valley]   flat, great pastures, plenty of water – a fertile lush river valley surrounding two of the major cities of the plains – Sodom and Gomorrah.  [Picture – sheep]   Abraham took what was left – the land around Hebron – mountainous, rocky, sparse vegetation.  God still blessed him.

Lot also prospered – so much that he and his family moved to the city where he became an important person.  But not everything was right in his world.  In fact, everything was very wrong.  Big cities seem to attract the worst of everything, and Sodom was a magnet for everything wicked.  The writer of Genesis says,  Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.  (Gen. 13:13)

One day three visitors show up at Abraham’s front door.  Abraham realizes there is more to these travelers than meets the eye, and he calls Sarah and they make a meal fit for a king, and the travelers sit and relax with Abraham under the cool shade of the oaks of Mamre.  It’s at this point that one of the visitors (whom we already know is the Lord himself) tells Abraham that a year from now they will have a child, and inside the tent Sarah laughs and the Lord says, just for that you’ll name him Isaac (which means “laughing boy”).  (I think it was to remind them not to laugh when the Lord’s not joking.)  They finish the meal and Abraham walks a ways with them on their journey to the east – toward Sodom where Lot lives.

Like I said, if you want to know God, look at his relationships with the people he loves, and here in Genesis 18, we get a glimpse into the mind of the Lord and how he feels about his relationship with Abraham:

Then the LORD said to himself, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” (Gen. 18:17-19)

If your picture of God is one who is distant and aloof and unconcerned with what’s going on – well, this blows that out of the water.  This God cares about his people and is concerned with how they live.  But more than that, he considers Abraham a trusted friend with whom he is going to share his plans and even get his opinion.

Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

The other two men head toward Sodom, but Abraham and the Lord stand there for a moment in silence.  Then Abraham speaks.  If it were you or I, we would probably say, “whatever you say, Lord.”  But listen to how Abraham speaks with the Lord:

Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?  Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you!  Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” The LORD said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city because of five people?” “If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.” Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?” He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.” Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?” He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?”

He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” When the LORD had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home. (Gen. 18:23-33)

I hope you hear how amazing this conversation is.  God has entrusted Abraham with his plan and seeks his counsel.  Then Abraham has enough confidence in their relationship that he speaks openly and boldly, pressing the Lord to the very brink.  But hear what Abraham says to the Lord:  he reminds him of his justice and fairness, but also his mercy.  He challenges him – “don’t forget who you are.”  Listen again to vs. 26:  Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you!  Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

What kind of relationship does that describe to you?  One of intimacy and approachability and freedom to say what is on your mind – no holding back here.  Abraham pushes the Lord to the limit – and he knows it.  And the Lord does not reproach him or put him in his place.  He listens and actually allows Abraham to influence his decision.

But if I had preached a sermon on the attributes of God and told you “the Lord is approachable,” you would say, well that’s nice, but what does that mean?  This is what it means – and it means that the God whom Abraham felt comfortable enough to talk to is the same God who feels the same way toward you.

James looks back at Abraham and summarizes his faithfulness this way:  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.  (James 2:23)

It’s that same kind of friendship he desires with each of us – intimacy, communion, and a boldness that doesn’t fear.

I thought of what the Hebrews writer had to say about the approachability of God:  Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Heb. 4:14-16)

When was the last time you approached God’s throne boldly?  When was the last time you sat down with the Lord to talk as friends? 

That’s the kind of relationship God wants with you.  Not stained glass and padded pews with Thee’s and Thou’s, but an honest, heart to heart talk with a friend who cares more about you than anyone else in all the world.

You are his precious child who has open access to his throne anytime.  He wants to know what’s going on in your life and what you are thinking and feeling.  He invites you to question him and wrestle with his answers. 

You want to know God?  Invite him into your life. Let him have a place in your heart.  Be a friend of God like Abraham.