Cultivating a Life of Faith: A Man of Intimacy
John Davis writes of his encounter with a setting very similar to the one we find in Genesis 18:
As we approached the crest of the hill in the 110-degree heat, we saw the most welcome sight of the afternoon, the little black tent of our Bedouin friend, Muhammad Radin. That he would warmly welcome us was beyond question; more than once we had been the benefactors of the warm hospitality of the Ta’amri Bedouin who roam these hills. After the usual introductions and greetings we were invited into the large section of the tent where other men were seated on a large, ornate rug. We joined them and enjoyed hot tea prepared in typical Bedouin fashion. On the other side of a partition the ladies talked excitedly as they prepared a meal. The whole scene was reminiscent of Abraham’s intimate fellowship with his three visitors, as recorded in Genesis 18 (John J. Davis, Paradise to Prison, 195).
There are two reasons that the three men appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18: 1) To reconfirm the promise of the birth of a son to Sarah; and 2) To judge the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah.
One of the men is the Angel of the Lord. The other two are identified as men, but are most certainly angels. Genesis 19.1 clearly tells us this. They are messengers of the Man identified as the Angel of the Lord. The Angel of the Lord is quite obviously a reference to YHWH Himself. Genesis 18.10 records the Angel of the Lord’s words: “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold Sarah your wife shall have a son.” Then, in verse 13, He is identified explicitly as YHWH. If we believe in the Scripture, we must conclude that the Angel of the Lord is God Himself. The other two men appear to be his messengers and instruments of both deliverance and judgment in Genesis 19.
Genesis 18 seems to be first and foremost about a continual relationship with God – fellowship with Him. Intercession does show up in the second part of the chapter, but we must remember that intercession flows from intimacy in our fellowship with God.
Intimacy is something we develop primarily with God and to a degree with other believers. Intercession is properly expressed by a heart truly burdened for people by God. This is why you cannot have fellowship with people without fellowship with God. But you also cannot intercede for people, a great expression of love for them, without intimacy with God. Genesis 18.1-16 provides a framework for our…
Intimacy with God (Genesis 18.1-16)
Davis writes that Abraham’s nomadic movements throughout the Land were “characterized not by palaces and temples but by tents and altars” (Davis, 196). But Abraham’s motives cannot be confined to the hospitality requirements of the ancient Mid-East – the same requirements that motivated Davis’ Bedouin friends. It’s more than that.
Preparing and eating a meal, as we see in our text, communicates fellowship. It is close and comfortable. Even within our culture, most feel more comfortable with friends or family at the dinner table. These are people with whom we are close. Jesus ate His last supper on earth with His disciples, but it really wasn’t His last. The resurrected Christ also ate with His followers. He sat at the table, blessed bread, broke it, and gave it to them (Luke 24.30). He took freshly caught fish and prepared it as a breakfast for His disciples (John 21.10-12). His disciples didn’t need to ask who He was. They had eaten with him many times.
Intimacy with God is communicated by having a meal many times in Scripture. Even in the future, we shall dine together at the marriage supper of the Lamb. Jesus told His disciples that He would not drink of the fruit of the vine with them again until He did so in His Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26.29). Revelation 19.7-10 speaks of the marriage supper of the Lamb and the great time of blessing and fellowship which accompanies that special time.
This communicates intimacy. When we draw near to God; He draws near to us. Jesus said to a lukewarm Laodicean church: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3.19).
But intimacy must be something built upon integrity. Abraham laughed earlier in Genesis; Sarah is laughing in our text this evening. Who can blame them? The spring of life has passed both of them by, and now God is telling them that at the appointed time, it would happen. The laughter is an expression of dejection or perhaps disbelief. But it came from the recesses of a great and deep hurt. God knows that.
Sarah denied the inward laughter, but God rebuked her. He sees the heart; He knows. He knew she was fearful. All the Lord did was gently rebuke her. That’s all that needed to be done. Sarah is trying to protect herself; God is protecting His Word and His promise to both of them.
Some of us fail in our intimacy with God because we don’t see His promises fulfilled in real time. It discourages us. I believe God knows this. He has to break through the shroud of unbelief and make our hearts tender for Him once again.
God speaks just as clearly today as He did to Abraham and Sarah in that tent. He speaks through the Word of God and the illuminating work of God the Holy Spirit. It may seem inaccessible…unreal… unreachable, but that is because we have failed to cultivate intimacy and dependence in our lives. In short, we have not cultivated a life of faith before God. Reality for us has become what we see, and we have altogether wandered away from God
The first step to intimacy with God is integrity within. While we often sin; sometimes, we are just weak. God knows it. Weakness is not sin. Failing to acknowledge your weakness and rest in the power of God is. As James Dixon reminds us, “God sees every sin, but he also sees and has understanding of our weakness” (James Dixon, Genesis: Expository Thoughts, 277). Intimacy has the integrity to admit weakness and cling to the hem of Christ’s garments. Godly fellowship is built upon intimacy with God. But this leads to…
Intercession for People (Genesis 18.16-33)
When the men or angels move toward Sodom and Gomorrah in order to bring judgment, Abraham stood before the Lord (18.22). That is a very significant statement. Why does Abraham stand before the Lord? Why does He come near to the Lord (18.23)? It is to intercede for people in danger of God’s righteous judgment.
This going back and forth between the Lord and Abraham is very instructive when it comes to our own intercessory prayer effort. It is here that we find that God has a heart for people. We don’t need to overcome the reluctance of God; He has no reluctance. We must believe what God has revealed to us. He “is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3.9). God is willing and able to save to the uttermost, and so we intercede on their behalf. As Davis writes, “It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to pray effectively for lost souls if one is not convinced that lostness will ultimately result in literal, eternal punishment.”
Abraham had a heart of intimacy that made Him burdened for the righteous within the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, especially his nephew Lot. Abraham gets the number down to ten. Would God spare all for the sake of ten righteous? That’s the question. And God Himself said, “I will not destroy it for the sake of ten.” Then Abraham and the Lord finished speaking, and Abraham returned to his place.
Did God answer the intercessory prayer of Abraham? Absolutely! He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, but mercifully delivered the righteous within the city. The problem was that the righteous simply did not number ten. But the Judge of all the Earth did right. The Scripture tells us of many men who stood before the Lord, drew near, and interceded for the deliverance of their contemporaries. Shall we do anything less? “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4.16). “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4.8a).
Why doesn’t God hide the fact that he will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? Why does He reveal this to Abraham? The Scripture is clear: God knows Abraham. They are close. There is intimacy. Abraham is a friend of God. He will command his children and 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 (see 18.19).
As an educator for 25 years, I know how important it is for parents to teach their children to keep the way of the LORD. We must know the way in order to show them the way. If we don’t, then the next generation may be the one that loses their way. We cannot know the way of the LORD without continual preaching and teaching from generation to generation. “For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher” (Romans 10.13-14).
Stand before the Lord; draw near to Him. Develop intimacy and the intercessory effort will flow from a heart genuinely burdened for souls!