Did you ever wonder when the very first prayer was ever prayed? When in the history man did he decide he should pray to God? Believe it or not, the Bible tells us precisely when man began to pray:
Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD. (Genesis 4:23)
It’s hard to believe, but it took 4 chapters into the history of mankind before he prayed his first prayer. We might wonder why it took him so long?
The Old Testament is chock full of interesting pieces of historical trivia, like the one just mentioned. In the midst of it all, though, we find the wisdom of the ages. A lot of people, Christians included, think the Old Testament isn’t really all that important. They think what it has to say passe; that it’s irrelevant to our sophisticated sensibilities. But the apostle Paul, a highly educated man by anybody’s estimation, had this to say about the Old Testament:
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
1. An ignorant prayer
So, all those stories and events and even trivia contained in the Old Testament are important for us to study; they give us hope. Tucked away in the pages of the Old Testament is recorded for us many prayers of the saints. As far as we know, Abraham’s prayer, found in Genesis 18, is the very first recorded prayer in the Bible. The thing about this prayer is that it is not a prayer of praise or a prayer extolling the virtues of God. In fact, the first prayer in the Bible is a question:
“Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Genesis 18:23)
This was not just any question Abraham was asking God, it was a question regarding God’s will. Previously, the Lord had told Abraham that He was about to annihilate the godless city of Sodom. Abraham, the friend of God, had his doubts, so he went to God for some clarification.
Doubting Thomas wasn’t first doubter in the Bible. Abraham holds that distinction. It was his opinion that God would be wrong in destroying a city, no matter how wicked it was, because in destroying all those wicked people, some innocent people would be destroyed, and as far as God’s friend was concerned, that would just be wrong. His prayer went on like this:
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?” (verses 24, 25)
Now, that prayer sounds good, but was it? Really, Abraham was completely out of line praying that prayer because he had never visited Sodom. Abraham didn’t know the first thing about that city. It was a prayer out of emotion, not out of knowledge or reason.
2. God’s solution
God is reasonable, and He took the time to answer Abraham’s prayer before he prayed it! His answer is telling, not necessarily for the details is contains, but because in this answer, God is letting Abraham in on how He thinks. The real significant thing about God’s answer to Abraham is that it shows how important to God it was for His friend to understand why He had to do what He was about to do.
“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.” (verses 17—19)
Abraham needed to know the thinking of God because he would “direct his children and his household.” In other words, the future of God’s people depended on what Abraham would teach them about God! Imagine if Abraham had been kept in the dark as to why God worked the way He did; what would he tell his descendants? They would be left with a terribly lopsided view of God! If the only thing Abraham was sure about was that God destroyed two cities completely, the good and the bad, what would that make God look like?
The last thing any believer in God should do is present God the wrong way to other people. God is not like the gods of nature worshiped in pagan religions. He doesn’t unleash the rains or the heat of the sun or the destructive power of wind just for the fun of it! Nor is God like a feeble old grandfather-type of man who can be manipulated into doing anything you want. God is completely balanced in everything He does. Abraham needed to know this.
What did God do? God decided not to hide from Abraham what He was going to do to Sodom. He gave Abraham all the details he needed to come to the right conclusion about God:
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 men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. (verses 20—22)
Of course God already knew Sodom and Gomorrah were as wicked as He heard they were! He is God, after all! But Abraham needed to see God working. God had let Abraham see the inner workings of His mind, expose His will to the man, and Abraham then asked the question:
“Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (verse 23)
3. Abraham’s real issue
God shared with Abraham what was on His mind, but what was on Abraham’s mind when he prayed? Was Abraham worried about all the righteous people that might be caught up in the wave of God’s judgment? Or did he have a particular person or persons in mind? Naturally, Abraham knew his nephew and his family was living down in Sodom and Gomorrah, and that’s who he was primarily concerned about.
Notice that Abraham didn’t let up. He started with 50 righteous people, then 40, then down to 30. In each case, the Lord assured Abraham that He would NOT destroy the cities if there were those numbers of righteous people living there.
Finally, Abraham stopped at 10 righteous people:
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.” (verse 32)
Why did Abraham stop at 10? Why not 5? Or even 1? Imagine how good God would look if He preserved the cities for the sake of just 1! No, Abraham stopped at 10 because he finally got to the point of his prayer: Lot and his family.
Lot was a curious character. He was forever a thorn in his uncle’s side. Abraham would have been further ahead leaving him in Ur. But, even though he was living in a city with godlessness all around him, he was a righteous man:
…if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)… (2 Peter 2:6—8)
Lot was a righteous man who had no business living among all that unrighteousness. Yes, he was saved because he trusted God, but he was not living where should have been. Still, God had His eyes on Lot and because Lot belonged to God, he would never face judgment. There is a marvelous principle here: the righteous will never be judged!
5. Faith and doubt
We hear a lot about the relationship between faith and prayer. Often we are told the key to getting our prayers answered is faith. “Just believe,” the television preacher says. But is faith you need to get your prayers answered? What those peddlers of religion don’t tell you is that faith in and of itself has no power whatsoever. If your faith is in the wrong place, you’re just wasting your time. If faith, or belief, was all it took to receive something from God, the church would be full of healthy, good looking millionaires. It’s where you place your faith and in whom you believe that counts.
If you read Abraham’s prayer carefully, you’ll discover something that is actually very encouraging. He didn’t have faith. He didn’t approach God in complete trust. Abraham was full of doubts when it came to some things. Now, it is true that initially when God called Abraham to leave his home, he answered, apparently without question. And while Abraham seemed to hold onto God’s promise without ever losing his grip, the rest of his life indicates that Abraham had very shaky faith at the best of times. Time and again we see Abraham trying to do things his own way, as if he really didn’t trust God, after all.
The thing is, though, his doubts drove him to his knees in prayer! Why did he pray? Because in spite of his doubts, Abraham believed in God:
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
Abraham may not have had perfect faith in God’s will concerning Sodom and Gomorrah, but he did believe in God wholeheartedly. When he prayed, he KNEW God would hear him; that God would answer back. He had his doubts because of circumstances, but Abraham believed in God.
Doubt is the beginning of faith. Don’t ever be afraid to come to God in doubt.
“But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22b—24)
If you have doubts, and if you are honest to God about them, as Abraham was, God will see to it that those doubts will be transformed into an unshakable faith. God isn’t seeking perfection, but He is seeking honesty.