Is there a limit on how much we can ask from God? Should we be afraid to push God to the limit? If so, why? If not, why not?
Genesis 18 tells us about a time when Abraham negotiated with God. Abraham did not refrain from testing God’s limits, but he did it with some fear and trepidation. Should we? Should we have some fear about how much we can ask from God? Let’s look at Genesis 18 and see what we can learn.
Let’s start with some context. Notice in the following verses that the word “LORD” is in all capital letters. In the NASB and the ESV, when the word “LORD” is in all capital letters, the Hebrew word that was used there is “Yahweh”, God’s personal name. The following verses tell us that Yahweh, the one and only true God, appeared to Abraham. (The pronouns “he” and “him” refer to Abraham.)
Gen. 18:1 ¶ Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day.
Gen. 18:2 When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth,
Gen. 18:6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes.”
Gen. 18:7 Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf and gave it to the servant, and he hurried to prepare it.
Gen. 18:8 He took curds and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed it before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate.
When the men were done eating, they rose to leave, but they started talking about Sodom. Notice verses 17 and 20. In verse 17 Yahweh announced that He was going to do something, and in verse 20 He explained why.
Gen. 18:16 ¶ Then the men rose up from there, and looked down toward Sodom; and Abraham was walking with them to send them off.
Gen. 18:17 The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do,
Gen. 18:18 since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed?
Gen. 18:19 “For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”
Gen. 18:20 And the LORD said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave.
Gen. 18:21 “I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”
At this point, two of the men went toward Sodom, while Yahweh continued talking with Abraham. (In the following verses, sometimes the word “LORD” is in all capital letters and sometimes it is not. When the word “lord” is not in all capital letters, the Hebrew word that was used is “adonai” which means “my master”.) Abraham negotiated with Yahweh, trying to lower the standard required to deliver Sodom from destruction. (Yahweh had not announced He would destroy Sodom, Abraham assumed that was what was about to happen.) Notice that as Yahweh kept lowering the standard and Abraham kept asking Him to lower it some more, Abraham had this fear that Yahweh would get angry.
Gen. 18:22 ¶ Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the LORD.
Gen. 18:23 Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?
Gen. 18:24 “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?
Gen. 18:25 “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?”
Gen. 18:26 So the LORD said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.”
Gen. 18:27 And Abraham replied, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes.
Gen. 18:28 “Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, will You destroy the whole city because of five?” And He said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.”
Gen. 18:29 He spoke to Him yet again and said, “Suppose forty are found there?” And He said, “I will not do it on account of the forty.”
Gen. 18:30 Then he said, “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak; suppose thirty are found there?” And He said, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”
Gen. 18:31 And he said, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord; suppose twenty are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the twenty.”
Gen. 18:32 Then he said, “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the ten.”
Gen. 18:33 As soon as He had finished speaking to Abraham the LORD departed, and Abraham returned to his place.
Was Abraham correct to be afraid? Is there a limit on how much a person can ask from God? When we pray, should we be careful about asking too much from God?
In this particular instance, Yahweh did not get angry. However, Yahweh did get angry when Moses asked Yahweh to use someone else.
Ex. 4:13 But Moses said, “Please, Lord, now send the message by whomever You will.”
Ex. 4:14 Then the anger of the LORD burned against Moses,
The Bible doesn’t tell us why God got angry in one instance and not the other, but it could be because Abraham asked respectfully and fearfully, while Moses was asking his question as a way of resisting a direct command from God.
Consider the following verse. Notice the word “everything” and the word “requests”.
Phil. 4:6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
We are commanded to tell God our requests about everything; however, in light of Moses’ experience, we should be careful that our requests are not a form of rebellion against God’s commands. Furthermore, while we tell God all our requests, it is probably wise to follow Abraham’s example and have a healthy dose of fear and trepidation; after all, God is the creator of the universe.
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