My friend, Skip Bell, reminds us that we don’t venture far into a serious trek through the Old Testament before we encounter some rough neighborhoods. There are stories we don’t understand, stories we don’t like, stories that leave us shaking our heads. Just when we thought we had God figured out we come across a narrative that shocks us. It’s not that we don’t believe it, it’s just because it’s, well, strange.
Here’s a classic. God and Abraham are in full challenge-and-response mode. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are so vile God’s intent is to completely eradicate them. But Lot, Abraham’s nephew, lives there and the news of impending calamity sends Abraham into full intercessory alert. (Gen, 18 &19)
His argument with God is that there are so many righteous in the city, surely God isn’t going to destroy them, too. God, please, if there are fifty, he pleads, won’t you spare the city for their sakes? God says, Okay; for fifty. Emboldened now, Abraham pleads, How about forty-five? God grants that request, too. Forty? God says, Okay, for forty. Six times Abraham thinks of his nephew, Lot, and six times he presses the boundaries of God’s mercy. This is intercession in capital letters.
Abraham has talked the number down to ten. Surely, he muses, there will be ten righteous there. Among them, though barely, will be Lot and his family. Abraham breathes a sigh of relief. Lot will be delivered. Mission accomplished. But the drama is not over. Lot refuses to leave. He doesn’t see this intercession for what it is.
Undaunted, God sends two angels, and they have to get physical with Lot to get him out of town. But here’s the point: Unbeknown to Lot, his life is spared because of the tenacious intercession of an old man. God is honored when His people become aggressive intercessors. I love Peterson’s paraphrase in The Message: “And that’s the story: When God destroyed the cities of the Plain, He was mindful of Abraham and first got Lot out of there.” You saw it, right…? “God was mindful of Abraham.” It’s not hard for me to believe that intercessors are some of God’s favorite people.
Let’s update the story a few millennia. A man we’ll call Burt sits at his desk; it’s nearly quitting time. He gets to thinking about the cute girl he met in the lunch room yesterday – and the strange fact that she gave him her number. Maybe he’ll give her a call and stop by her house for just a few minutes – what harm can come from that?
But then he feels a check in his spirit. “I can’t do that – I’d be betraying my wife, my kids, my God, my church.” So he repents of toying with the temptation, gets in his car and heads for home.
What Burt doesn’t know is that just then someone who had his name on a prayer list – maybe an old man – raised his name to God in earnest intercession. The old man knew nothing of Burt’s battle, and Burt knew nothing of the old man’s list. Strange story? Not.
-By Don Jacobsen