While the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is one of the better-known biblical narratives, it is preceded by an interesting dialogue between God and Abraham. God reveals to Abraham his intentions to destroy the region of Sodom, and Abraham argues with him: “Will You [God] even destroy the righteous with the wicked? Perhaps there are fifty righteous men in the midst of the city; will You ever destroy and not forgive the place for the sake of the fifty righteous men who are in its midst?” (Genesis 18:23-24).
God responds that if there were 50 righteous people found in Sodom, he would save the city — implying that if there were not, the city could not be saved. The dialogue continues like a countdown: If there are 50-45-40-30-20-10…Alas the inhabitants in the region of Sodom appear to have been thoroughly corrupt.
There were five cities in the region, of which Sodom was the largest. The other cities were Gomorrah, Adman, Zeboim, and Bela/Zoar. Abraham began with 50 hoping that a quorum of 10 righteous people could be found in each of the cities. He dropped to 45, hoping that there were 9 righteous people who, with the addition of God’s presence, would qualify to serve as a quorum per city. Once it was clear that a quorum of 10 would not be found in each of the cities, Abraham continued to argue, reducing each request by 10, based on the hope that at least some of the cities might be spared.
Why didn’t Abraham continue to ask for fewer than 10 righteous people? According to Genesis Rabbah 49:13, “Because at the generation of the Flood, only eight righteous people (Noah, his wife and their sons and daughter-in-laws) remained and the world was not given a respite for their sake.
While Abraham was unable to save the citizens of Sodom, there is an important lesson to be learned from his efforts, perhaps a hint to an inherited predisposition to social action. Abraham was not just concerned with the members of his family who resided in the city (his nephew Lot, and his family), but with all of the people who lived in the region even though their values were so different from his own.