Did Abraham Fail His Case? What is a Failure?

Sodom and Gomorrah #7 (Genesis 18:29-33)

Abraham continues to negotiate with God about how many righteous people will save Sodom and Gomorrah. This finishes when he realises that there are not enough righteous people to save the cities. Was all his effort in vain?        

Absolutely not. At minimum the trial gave us a guide to how to run a just trial. It also taught us about collateral damage. But even more, as we will see soon, Abraham’s efforts saved Lot and his family.       

As the structure of the sentences in this paragraph repeat, and are the same as that of verse 28 (which we covered in our previous post) this time I will not focus on the wording and structure. Instead, I will only translate without focusing on individual words.

Abraham keeps negotiating with God about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah and the righteous


In these few verses, Abraham continues his negotiation with God about how many righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah will save the cities from destruction.  As he negotiates numbers and not principles, he maintains a subservient tone, pleading, asking for a favour. But he knows that there is a limit to what he can ask. He knows that a single righteous person cannot save an entire city of evil people. There is a limit.    

This limit, for Abraham is ten people, and before mentioning the number ten, he tells God that this is the last request he has. He knows that he cannot go below that. He knows that collateral damage is often unavoidable; and he knows that sometimes innocent people do get hurt and die. But he wants to ensure that number should be as small as possible, and that number is 10.         

Just like the numbers 3, 7 and 12, the number 10 has a special meaning in the Bible. It is considered whole and complete. It is the sum of 4, the number of the physical creation (the day in which God completed the physical world), and 6, the number of man. As such, 10 means testimony, law, responsibility, and the completeness of order.      

God agrees. He tells Abraham that only 10 righteous men could have saved the cities. But He also tells Abraham that as there are no ten such people in the cities, the trial must end.


Was Abraham attempt futile? Did he fail?     

Indeed, he did not manage to save the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. But there is no doubt that they were guilty and had to be punished. Yet, via this trial, Abraham teaches us that, guilty or not, they deserved a defence. He also teaches us that good defence does not mean that they will be acquitted. They are guilty and therefore need to be punished.         

The trial also teaches us that we need to do all in our power to reduce collateral damage, but also that some collateral damage, as painful as might be, is unavoidable, and some punishment actions must be taken as long as we do all in our power to minimise – not avoid – collateral damage.     

And as we will see in the next chapter, is it Abraham’s righteousness that saved Lot and his family.  So can we call his actions a failure?      

We too often judge success and failure by the final outcome, forgetting that the importance is in every step of the way, not where we reach in the end or how fast we reach there. Doing all that we can is by itself a great success – often it is all the success that we need.

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Terence Wilson Winship
Terence Wilson Winship
7 months ago

Why is the God in the Old testament always angry and vindictive. Whereas the god in the New Testament is all loving forgiving and compassionate?

5 months ago

[…] have now finished with the trial of Sodom and Gomorrah, and we already know that God condemned the cities to imminent destruction. We move from the scene […]