Prayer has always been the way God has chosen to show himself strong on behalf of those who called upon him. If prayer is that powerful and has that kind of value, then the practice and habit of prayer ought to set a whole new direction for each of us.
The brief expositions that follow illustrate how three Old Testament prayers instruct us in this principle. As you continue reading, I suggest you have your Bible open to the appropriate passages, so you can refer to the text of each prayer.
Abraham (Genesis 18:22–23)
In many ways, Abraham’s prayer for his nephew Lot and the cities of the plain is one of the first formal prayers of intercession and serves as a model for how we, too, ought to pray.
The Lord himself reveals to Abraham that he is about to judge the cities of the plain (where Lot had gone to live) because a serious “outcry” of evil had come up to God (Gen 18:20–21). Abraham never doubts that the people’s wickedness is deserving of judgment. But, he argues, what if there were some righteous persons in those cities? He asks, as we would, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (18:23).
In this context, the man later known as the “friend of God” (2 Chr 20:7; Jas 2:23) raises one of the most difficult questions of life: “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (18:25). This lays out a standard not only for Abraham, but also for us: Yahweh will do only what is right. He cannot do or be other than true to his nature as the just and righteous God. Abraham’s “question” is not a question in the usual sense, but is meant to affirm Yahweh’s character: he is the judge of the whole earth and will only work justice for those deserving of it (the words judge and justice come from the same Hebrew root).
Even so, there must be discriminating distinctions in the coming judgment, Abraham suggests. God agrees that for the sake of 50 righteous persons, the greater majority of persons living in wickedness could be saved. Each time Abraham renegotiates this number, Yahweh graciously accedes. And with each reduction in the number of righteous required to save the cities, Abraham expresses an increasing sense of deference for the majesty and greatness of God.
It is amazing to see how intimate and frank this conversation is. Yahweh does not take umbrage at Abraham’s prayer request or even disagree with his line of reasoning (18:26–32). There is no indication that Abraham might be pushing God too far, for the Lord gives him no rebuke, only replies of agreement.
In the end, it seems that even 10 righteous persons was too much to ask for. Yet Abraham persisted in petitioning the Lord for forgiveness. This prayer shows Abraham as a real man of faith who engaged in daring conversations with his Lord. Here is encouragement for all of us, who also are “friends of God,” to likewise pray.