Speaking of Justice

And speaking of justice, here’s something to think about…

One the more interesting little vignettes in the Abraham narratives is his dialogue with God over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  God has come down to see if the information that has reached him concerning the depravity of the two cities is correct.  When  Abraham overhears his potential decision, he is moved to speak out for justice (Gen 18:23-29):

Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it?   Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.”

Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.  Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?”

And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.”

Again [Abraham] spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.”

[God] answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.”

Now this little dialogue is usually characterized as “haggling” but I wonder about that description. The point of the conversation is clear enough: God will spare the wicked for the sake of the righteous.  But if this is really to be called “haggling,” then you might expect something more along the lines of:

Abraham: Will you destroy the city if there are fifty righteous people?

God: Fifty?  You must be kidding me!  I cannot consider allowing Sodom and Gomorrah to go on unless you can find at least one hundred righteous men.

Abraham: One hundred is ridiculous, why no city on earth has had one hundred righteous men since you raptured the City of Enoch.  You’ll make a better name for yourself if you spare them after finding sixty righteous men.

God: Sixty will never work.  You are obviously some kind of a bleeding-heart hippie rather than my #1 candidate for Father of the Righteous.  I must find at least eighty righteous men or else my reputation as the God of Vengeance is toast!

So you know, God and Abraham don’t really seem to be haggling, or at least they’re not doing it the way we [I] understand the activity.   They’re converging toward a point at which they both agree that God is just, but  what’s in Genesis 18 doesn’t really look much like haggling.  Hm.  It makes me wonder what cultural form, precisely, this little dialogue in Genesis 18 is modeled after.

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Mormon Archipelago

November 2009
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