God told Abraham that he was going to judge Sodom for its sins. Lot, Abraham’s nephew, lived in Sodom and this fact prompted Abraham to intercede for the city.
Then Abraham drew 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 spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death 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 spare the whole place for their sake.”
. . . . .
Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.”
He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” (Genesis 18:23-26,32)
In order to understand what Abraham was asking you need to know what the Bible means when it speaks of someone bring righteous. It does not mean sinless or morally superior to other people. We are all sinners who deserve God’s judgment but by sending Jesus to die and rise from the grave God has provided a way we can be forgiven. A righteous person is someone who has taken advantage of this and had his sins forgiven.
You probably know the outcome. The only righteous people were Lot, his wife, and his two daughters. They were taken out of the city and Sodom was destroyed.
One thing we learn from this is that the presence of righteous people in a group can bring protection and blessing. There weren’t enough righteous in Sodom to save it but the Bible records two times when a group of people were protected by the presence of someone who was righteous.
When Paul was being taken to Rome to stand trial before Caesar the ship he was on encountered a severe storm.
Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.” (Acts 27:21-25)
If Paul had not been aboard the ship it is likely that the storm would have sunk it and everyone aboard would have perished. God had determined that Paul must get to Rome and for that reason he spared the lives of everyone on the ship.
The second person whose presence brought a blessing was Jonah. God commanded him to go to Ninevah. Instead he got on a ship to go to Tarshish so he wouldn’t have to obey God, but God didn’t let him get away.
But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. (Jonah 1:4,5)
For a long time I misinterpreted what was going on here. I thought that since Paul was obeying God his presence brought good to the crew of the ship and since Jonah was disobeying his presence brought misfortune. In spite of his disobedience Jonah was a servant of God and God doesn’t abandon his own when they disobey. Instead he disciplines them so that they will do what he wants. Jonah was thrown overboard and swallowed by a large fish. He spent three days in the fish and was vomited up on land. After this he obeyed God’s command to preach to Nineveh.
Here is what happened to the sailors.
So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. (Jonah 1:15,16)
Earlier they had thrown the ship’s cargo overboard; now they feared God and offered a sacrifice to him. What they gained spiritually more that offset the economic cost of losing their cargo. This would not have happened if Jonah had not come aboard their ship.
We are commanded to do what we can to help others, but there are times when being present is enough to help.