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OT Prayers: Praying for Mercy

Praying for Mercy

Genesis 18:22-33

When we speak of prayer, of course we’re speaking of a conversation with the Almighty. In the beginning, this conversation was frequent and pleasant as Adam and Eve enjoyed face-to-face communication with their Creator. Immediately after sin entered into the world, their situation took a dramatic about-face with a new distance created between God and men. In this newly cursed economy the Lord continued to speak, warning Cain, for instance, about where his treachery would take him if he would not address his anger. Yet, that kind of direct communication became the exception rather than the norm. This fact seems to be proven by the note inserted into the genealogy of Adam and Eve’s third son Seth. We read in Genesis 4:26 that after Seth’s birth “men began to call upon the name of the Lord.” As evil in the world grew unchecked by law or human government, we observe in the lives of a few the desire to pray with hope that the Lord might hear and respond.

The content of those early prayers is not recorded. In other instances, only the Divine half of the conversation has been written down, as is the case when the Lord speaks to Noah about building the ark or promises Abram that he will have uncountable descendants who will be blessed in a distinct land. The first time we have anything resembling our concept of prayer occurs in a conversation between Abraham and the Lord in Genesis 18 when the Lord reveals to Abraham that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.

A graphic illustration of the wickedness of Sodom follows in chapter 19 and reinforces the Lord’s determination to judge these twin cities. In this famous prayer, Abraham presses the very limits of propriety as he pleads for mercy on behalf of what he assumes must be more than a few righteous people in their midst. His negotiations end when the Lord has assured him that if there are even ten God-fearing citizens dwelling in Sodom the entire city would be spared. The prayer is based on three assumptions. Surely, he must think, his nephew who apparently holds a significant place of influence as an elder in the city gate (19:1) has been able to promote the fear of the Lord among his own household and perhaps also win a few others! The second assumption is that the Lord of Heaven and Earth would not compromise his own justice by condemning the righteous alongside the wicked (v.25). And finally, Abraham has learned through experience that the Lord’s blessing toward the righteous often overflows its banks and swamps even the ungodly who may be in their presence.

As you pray, consider two lessons that we can learn from this passage:

  1. It is significant that the first recorded prayer of any significance in Scripture is a plea for divine mercy. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Abraham acknowledges the presence of the wicked in Sodom, and the scripture is clear about the wrath of God being revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness and ungodliness. Yet, the same text that records that curse also gives every reader hope that there is mercy to be found from the Lord by those who ask for it. It is possible to pray for mercy without minimizing evil and, as we pray for those who have done evil toward us, we ought to remember that we ourselves have been shown much mercy.

  2. Abraham’s prayer is a reminder of the grace and patience of God toward those who call on him. The patriarch knew he was stepping out of the natural order of things to ask God to alter his plans, but he was received on the basis of his faith that led him to ask in the first place. God is honored when we pray and ask him to do great things that only he can do. Knowing this, we should persevere in prayer, asking for ever-greater works of God to be accomplished in our midst, humbly grateful for his grace to answer such requests.

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