Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Art of the Counter Offer

“Can I have two gummy bears, Mommy?”

I opened the jar and brought out a green bear-shaped blob. “How about one.”

Surprisingly, he countered my offer: “How about three?”

Just earlier in the week, someone made my father-in-law and husband an offer on some land they’re trying to sell. But unlike my almost three-year-old, they understand the offer / counteroffer dance.

In the Christian life, we don’t use terms like “offer” and “counteroffer” in our prayer relationship with God. We use loftier terms like “intercession.” But the concepts are similar in some respects.

Scripture says, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (Jas. 5:16b). And we believe that…when we need something, when we are hurting. We pray for God’s hand of healing on those whom He has afflicted with a terrible disease. We pray for God to supply a job where He has taken one away.

But how many of us sometimes give up on our families? Our neighborhoods? Our nation? Our world?

In what Matthew Henry calls the “first solemn prayer upon record in the Bible,” Genesis 18 paints a portrait of God sharing with Abraham His plan for destroying the city of Sodom. But more interesting than God’s plan to destroy wickedness is Abraham’s intercessory exchange with God, a pattern for how we should intercede for the world around us.

Abraham’s intercession begins with a simple concern for the righteous men and women living within Sodom’s walls and then a “counteroffer” of sorts: “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it?” (v. 23-24).

I think it is key that Abraham doesn’t question God’s judgment of the wicked. He understands that a just, holy God must judge sin if He is truly just and holy. But he also knows God’s heart is with the righteous, and he appeals to that facet of God’s justice with a two-fold concern—(1) God destroying the lives of the righteous and (2) God destroying the place where the righteous reside.

Then, in a quick outburst that sounds like Abraham is reminding himself more than anything , he “reminds” God how destroying the lives of the righteous would not be consistent with His character: “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" (v. 25).

God doesn’t respond to the question about His just character, which is a response in itself and perhaps shows He understands the rhetorical nature of Abraham’s last question. But it does seem God accepts Abraham’s counteroffer: “So the LORD said, ‘If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account’” (v. 26).

Then Abraham realizes who He’s dealing with—THE Supreme God. Jehovah. Sovereign over all. Who is he to ask anything of God? And his response is humble: "Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes” (v. 27).

But he doesn’t stop there. He still intercedes on the behalf of the righteous, this time counter offering by asking what if there are only 45 righteous found in Sodom? God accepts.

And again, Abraham continues—what if there are only 40 righteous? What if only 30? What if only 20 righteous? Each time, God accepts the offer until Abraham makes one final request: “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?” (v. 32). And God responds: “I will not destroy it on account of the ten” (v. 32).

That was it. Abraham went home. And God destroyed the city of Sodom because there were not 10 righteous within its walls. The next chapter tells us Lot and his family were spared, but the city fell and all the wicked who were within it.

I’ve often wondered why Abraham stopped. God was still saying “yes” to every request. Why not ask “Lord, what if there are only 5 righteous?” Or three? Or one?

Why not keep asking until God said “no”?

Sometimes I think we as Christians almost seem happy to see God’s judgment falling like rain on our neighborhood, nation, and world. We clothe ourselves in a “well-what-did-you-expect” attitude and just submit to the idea that since America and the world is full of evil, we will just sit back and watch it fall…and watch the wicked fall to eternal damnation with it.

But what if we kept going in our intercession with God for our world? What if we were like Abraham and asked God to “spare the place” for the sake of the righteous?

Would that not give more time for the wicked to repent and be spared? Would not that show a true heart of compassion for the lost?


  1. I never thought about that before, what if Abraham went further in his request. Each time he contended for more souls, it seems he was walking on unchartered territory. I find it unbelievable that we can make such exchanges in conversation with the God of the universe!

  2. I know, Debby--who are we that God would even listen to us?

  3. Jennifer, I love your insightful, inspiring post! I had never thought of Abraham's exchange with God as intercession, but yes, that is exactly what it was!!!

    Thank you for your beautiful words, and now, I must let them sink deeply into the soil of my heart so I may more truly learn the art of intercession.

    God bless you, sweet friend!!!