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God is a Haggler

Genesis 18:20-33

God is a Haggler.  He wants us to haggle.

What do we feel about that?

Here's a website offering to take the cringe factor out of your financial exchanges.  Instead of negotiating with a real, live human being, you can simply click a button in the privacy of our own home.

Are you from a haggling culture?

I wonder whether the way we shop and the way we pray are linked.  I'm used to fixed prices, no negotiations, no back and forth, no give and take, in and out in 18 seconds, the less chat the better.  And my prayers?  Are they just as clean and clinical?  Do I know what it is to haggle with God?

Here's audio from a 10 minute talk for our prayer meeting last night.

Click below for the rest of the text.

Last week I had a good chuckle reading Genesis 23.  Abraham wants to buy a plot of land from the Hittites.  Ephron pipes up and says:

11 "No, my lord," he said. "Listen to me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. I give it to you in the presence of my people. Bury your dead." 12 Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land 13 and he said to Ephron in their hearing, "Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so that I can bury my dead there." 14 Ephron answered Abraham, 15 "Listen to me, my lord; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between me and you? Bury your dead." 16 Abraham agreed to Ephron's terms and weighed out for him the price he had named.

It’s brilliantly middle eastern isn't it?

Ephron’s saying “No, no, I couldn’t possibly take your money, put your wallet away, take it all – I mean it happens to be worth 400 shekels! – but what’s that between me and you.”  And through this elaborate interchange they do a deal.  It’s not exactly haggling here but it's elaborate and it's drawn out and you've got to read between the lines and keep engaging in the back and forth.

Friends who worked as missionaries in Iran have told me that you don’t accept what’s given to you the first time an Iranian offers it.  You’re meant to refuse it at least twice, and if on the third time they make the offer you say ‘Thank you very much.’  (Which is why if you’re inviting someone from the middle east to the mission events, ask them at least three times.)

But this is very different to how we operate.  If we ever travel to a place where there’s haggling we act shocked when there’s no price tag.  And we say ‘How much is this?’  And they say ‘How much would you like to pay?’  And we don’t know what to do!  Within minutes the vendor has told you his life story and how many children he has and all you wanted was this tacky souvenir.

It’s not like shopping here is it?  We deal in fixed prices, in buyers rights and consumer watchdogs and written contracts and terms and conditions and there is absolutely no give and take, no back and forth.  The only question you’ll be asked at Sainsburys is ‘Do you have a Nectar card?’  And what is a Nectar card if it’s not an electronic way of discovering your shopping habits without ever having to ask you.

We live in a world of fixed prices.  But much of the world, and certainly the world of the bible, is a world of haggling.  It’s a world where the stated price is not a fixed price and not the final price – you may even discover there’s a special friend price as you enter into a verbal exchange, give and take, back and forth.

So we come to Genesis 18 with very western eyes.  And it seems very strange to us.  Here is the LORD Almighty, the Judge of all the earth (as v25 puts it), He has come to see if Sodom is as wicked as He’s heard.  In chapter 19 that question would be put beyond doubt and this LORD would, Genesis 19, verse 24, reign down judgement from the LORD out of the heavens.  The Judgement from heaven has been entrusted to this LORD who meets with Abraham.  That is who we’re dealing with.  But in Genesis 18 the massive shock is that Abraham negotiates with Judge of all the earth.  He does not treat this situation as a fixed price scenario.  And even when in v24 he gets a figure – 50 righteous people – Abraham does not take this as the final price.  That’s only a guide price.  So Abraham goes to work and the LORD happily presides over and enters into haggling.  50, 45, 30, 20, 10 – Abraham presses in.  It’s give and take, back and forth for the salvation of Sodom. God is a haggler and He wants us to haggle.  Of course another word for haggling here would be “prayer.”

The LORD invites us and listens as we press and pester Him for the salvation of the city.  “Please LORD will you save them.  Please LORD will you save them.”  And He saves THROUGH this interchange.  God is a Haggler and He wants us to haggle.

Think of all those Scriptures where the LORD says He will bring calamity.  And we think – O that’s the fixed price, no going back on that.  And then the LORD relents from sending calamity because someone has the nerve to intercede.  Haggling averts judgement.  And we might think God’s broken the rules.  He hasn’t broken the rules – He’s always had this in mind.  He’s a haggler, He’s got a final price in mind but it’s only through haggling that we reach it.

As another example, I was reading Psalm 2 the other day and something struck me that I’ve never noticed before, God the Father addresses His Son and says

“You are my Son, today I have become your Father. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance.”

“Ask of me!”  It doesn’t say – When the Son is 21 years old He will automatically inherit.  The Father says “Ask me.”  Even to the eternal Son of God – it’s not an automatic exchange, it’s a verbal, relational communication – give and take, back and forth. “Ask me.”  Even God the Son has to ask.

Then think of Mark chapter 7 and the Syro-Phonecian woman.  She wants healing from Jesus.  Jesus says, “It wouldn’t be right to take the children’s bread and feed it to the dogs.”  If she was English she’d have said “Right, well, gosh, sorry for bothering you.  I’ll be on my way.”  But no she’s middle eastern – she knows to haggle.  She says “But even the dogs get the crumbs” and right there in that give and take, Jesus says  “Yes, that’s the kind of faith I’m looking for.”  Jesus is looking for those who press on in, who keep on asking, seeking, knocking, knowing that there is a “friend price” in there, and they’ll haggle till they hit it.

Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow is teaching the very same lesson.  A woman keeps on at the judge until she gets justice.  Jesus says ‘Prayer is like that.  Prayer is not automatic.’  We don’t download blessings from God’s heavenly website, we ask Him as our heavenly Father.  So we pester Him.  And we go on pestering. God is a haggler and He wants us to haggle.

So, back in Genesis 18, what are they haggling over?  It’s the salvation of a city.  And Abraham presses in to the LORD and pesters Him and he pushes through to find mercy at the heart of the Judge.  So he keeps on at Him. That is the essence of prayer.  It’s what we’re doing tonight and it’s what all of us need to be doing over the next 7 weeks and 2 days.

God wants us to pester Him.  In this passage we see that even Sodom was saveable. SODOM.  Even on the eve of its destruction the LORD invites and listens to the intercessions of Abraham.  What about us?  What about Eastbourne?  Does the LORD have a heart to save Eastbourne?  We know He does.  But we have to press in, we have to haggle with Him, we have to pester and petition and intercede for this city.

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0 thoughts on “God is a Haggler

  1. Heather

    "God is a Haggler. He wants us to haggle."

    Do you think this is perhaps because He wants us to realize how much we really want to be blessed by Him?

    That's interesting about the traditional two refusals before final acceptance of the offer.

    I was just thinking of how God was refused first in the Garden. Then by Israel. So, "offer" number 3 is the one which is not to be ignored? :)

  2. Glen

    Heather - that's a very interesting observation. Hmmm... ruminating, ruminating, ruminating....

    Thanks Dave :)

    Missy - I only posted this accidentally. I meant to save it but I hit 'publish' by mistake. Now I know why :)

  3. Pingback: Mark Horne » Blog Archive » Haggling is not unbelief; haggling is faith

  4. John L

    One of the most helpful pieces on prayer that I've come across! Thanks Glen! I realize I struggle as much with prayer as with haggling...

  5. pgjackson

    Mmm. Never been that persuaded of this kind of interpretation of the story. If Abraham was haggling, why did he stop at ten? His question isn't 'can I persuade you to not do, let's get a figure agreed?' His question is 'are you just, O Judge of all the earth? Will you sweep away the righteous just so you can get at the wicked?' Seems to me that's why God engages him in the discussion - he wants to demonstrate to abraham his covenant partner that he is just, which is important since it will be Abraham's job to pass on knowledge of God to the next generation.

    If intercessory prayer is the focus then it makes the story slightly, well, (over-used word coming) random doesn't it? It would kinda make the story about how Abraham should've kept haggling to get God down to one or something then God would've spared the whole lot.

    ???

    Sorry, not trying to be a party-pooper.

  6. Glen

    Hey Pete,
    Whatever else is going on (and of course there's more), Abraham is haggling wouldn't you say? He is bold to speak to the LORD. And He doesn't take '50' for an answer. And through his petitions we get down to 10. There's more going on but one thing that's definitely going on is the LORD listening to intercessions for a city.

    The question: 'Why stop at 10?' is a question for whatever intepretation you take. One thing we know is that Abraham is concerned for the sweeping away of the righteous (no doubt coloured by his family connections). The LORD doesn't have to demonstrate His righteousness in this dialogue - it's precisely the LORD's righteousness that Abraham appeals to in his petitions. Abraham knows the Judge of the earth will do right - "there LORD I know you won't sweep away the righteous" kinda thing.

    And if Job had been any kind of head of his household and any kind of evangelist there would have been 10 righteous people in Sodom. Unfortunately....

    I'm not saying intercessory prayer is the focus, but a LORD who enters into dialogue about the salvation of the city has some pretty striking applications in that direction.

  7. Heather

    "Sorry, not trying to be a party-pooper."

    I guess it wouldn't be a real party unless at least one showed up ;)

    pgjackson,

    Interesting point. More to think on, for sure.

    I wouldn't know about whether this particular account specifically sets forth the concept of "haggling". But I believe a recognition of the picture of the righteous (Abraham) persistently interceding on behalf of the foolish (Lot) is not wholly inappropriate.

    This theme of intercession is also evident when God told Moses He was planning to abandon His plan to take Israel into the promised land while taking Moses alone in order to build His nation. Moses pleaded with God to be merciful for His own name's sake.

    I understand that Christ intercedes for His people in much the same manner. And, the Father is patient with humanity for Christ's sake--so that all His sheep might be recovered and Christ will be magnified above all.

    Now, I believe that the picture given is that Christ is interceding for us. But I do see in the NT (Luke 18; 1 Timothy 2) that we are encouraged to "pester" God also.

    I dunno. Perhaps this particular passage concerning Abraham doesn't "fit"--and "haggling" is not the most appropriate term.

    I suppose the post made sense to me because I've been the one who's become exhausted while "wrestling" with God but wouldn't give up until I knew I'd been blessed.

  8. Heather

    Also, didn't Paul ask three times for God to take away the "thorn in his flesh"?

    He did stop at three requests. But I think it is interesting that He asked twice more after the initial negative response.

  9. Heather

    Jesus asked three times in the Garden concerning the cup which He was about to drink.

    Three wilderness temptations.

    Peter denied Christ three times.

    Jesus was raised on the third day.

    What is significant about "threes"?

    Okay, I'm done.

  10. Dave K

    I was just musing that while Abraham haggled, God doesn't does he?

    In all these sort of exchanges that I can think of off the top of my head, God starts with a 'no' and ends with a 'yes', but there is no inbetween. There is judgement and grace, never a fusion of the two.... just floating thoughts.

    Haggling may not be a perfect description for what is going on in Gen 18 or elsewhere but I think it is helpful in getting us closer to what prayer should look like than we often think of it.

    While I'm here though, i do recommend the last chapter of PT Forsyth's Soul of Prayer. This post encouraged me to flick to it again. It seems Forsyth got there before you I'm afraid Glen:

    "If we are guided by the Bible we have much ground for this view of prayer. Does not Christ set more value upon importunity than on submission? “Knock, and it shall be opened.” I would refer also not only to the parable of the unjust judge, but to the incident of the Syrophenician woman, where her wit, faith, and importunity together did actually change our Lord’s intention and break His custom. Then there is Paul beseeching the Lord thrice for a boon; and urging us to be instant, insistent, continual in prayer. We have Jacob wrestling. We have Abraham pleading, yea, haggling, with God for Sodom. We have Moses interceding for Israel and asking God to blot his name out of the book of life, if that were needful to save Israel. We have Job facing God, withstanding Him, almost bearding Him, and extracting revelation. And we have Christ’s own struggle with the Father in Gethsemane."

  11. Si

    "And if Job had been any kind of head of his household and any kind of evangelist there would have been 10 righteous people in Sodom."

    Do you not mean Lot? Job is supposed to be contemporary of Abraham (via tradition), but I hadn't heard he lived in Sodom.

    "So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived." (Gen 19:29). Lot chose to go with Terah towards Caanan, like Abram. He also chose to go onwards with Abram, later, after Terah, etc had settled in Haran (oddly also the name of Lot's father) instead of pushing onwards. But Lot then chose Sodom, rather than Caanan, when they had to split to maintain their flocks. Abram had to come rescue Lot, when the people of Sodom were kidnapped by the four Kings (Sodom had an exile experience and defeat not long before destruction...).

    Lot's descendants (starting with the daughters who got Lot drunk and slept with him, giving him sons) are interesting - they get given land (Deut 2:9, 19), but will be like Sodom and Gomorrah and destroyed, with the land going to Israel (Zeph 2:9, Ezek 25:10), but there's also a lot of hope in other prophets for them. They were blocked from entering the assembly of the Lord - Egyptian and Edomite children could be included from the 3rd generation (Deut 23:3-8). But then there's Ruth - a Moabite who becomes great-granny to king David, and part of the line of promise (to Abraham, Isaac, Israel and Judah).

  12. theothergardener

    With lateral economies such as Ebay and Craigslist (and their many imitators), we don't so much haggle anymore as we up the ante on our fellow bidders, or, search and find something very specific and very useful for a cut rate. I like these activities, and with people who actually make things also getting involved on a "cottage industry" basis, they suggest a whole new economy. The multinational mega-corporation may not own the whole world quite yet.
    TOG

  13. Heather

    Dave K: I was just musing that while Abraham haggled, God doesn’t does he?

    ***************************

    Very much in line with my original thought. God knows the outcome before we even think to engage Him. The requests are answered before we even know what to ask!

    God is only good and completely trustworthy. But we don't know this naturally. Neither are we naturally thankful for the care He gives. We're born rebels.

    Personal experience would suggest that part of the reason God would have us ask repeatedly is so that we can learn that we really do need Him and that we actually do want Him to take care of us.

    Having to "remind" God that He promised to take care of His family serves as a personal reminder and tests my faith in Him.

    Perhaps some of the "God changed His mind after 'haggling'" language is as much about the training and maturing of the people involved as it is anything else.

  14. Heather

    "Does not Christ set more value upon importunity than on submission? "

    What if the persistent clamoring for God's attention IS submission?

    Would not this recognition of our helplessness and need and the faith that God will take care of things be exactly what He's commanded from the beginning? Maybe?

  15. pgjackson

    Good thoughts. But still unsure. 18:17-20 is partly why. God is going to tell Abraham what he's doing because he wants Abraham to teach his children to keep the justice and righteousness of the covenant, for the sake of the fulfilment of the promise. He wants Abraham to understand how his justice works, not negotiate on numbers.

    Plus, Abraham's questions read as questions. 'What if this is the scenario, what will you do then?' rather than 'I like fifty, but surely 45 is better, can't you spare the city for 45 Lord?' He seems to be daring to ask about Yahweh's ways and enquire as to whether he's really that just, rather than bargaining him down, hence why he starts with 50 instead of 'what about Lot?' or 'what about Lot and his family?'

    The point about 10 and Lot's family is a good one. Maybe that does explain stopping at 10.

    Btw, I don't have a problem, theologically speaking, with genuine intercession happening and God changing his mind. No Calvinist does. I'm just trying to understand the text.

  16. pgjackson

    I'm liking all this stuff about threes. Not sure what to do with it.

    Saying things three times is a Hebrew way of saying 'really really' I think. So 'holy, holy, holy' is 'really really holy' or even 'the very most holy' - a bit like holy of holies.

    Must be connected to God's triune being. Surely?

  17. Heather

    pgjackson,

    It's always good to be cautious about text-twisting. I tend to think that you are correct concerning the main point of the passage. God is just and He has made provision for salvation in the midst of destruction. Similar to the picture of Noah and the ark.

    Yeah. The threes have been really fascinating to me. It's everywhere. In the flood account it shows up. Noah had three sons and he sent out a raven and a dove. Then he sent the dove twice more.
    In Revelation, the "number of a man" is three 6's and I'm assuming that if three 7's represents God's perfect Being, then three 6's would represent man's complete apostasy.
    When God came to Abraham, there were three visitors. Even the "working" days of creation can be divisible by 3. There's no question God likes threes.

    I don't know. This isn't the appropriate thread on which to muse but it's something that's been on my mind a lot. I've been meaning to ask Hiram whether he knows but it seems he's been going through a struggle of some sort right now. You guys might remember to pray for him.

    Or, stop in and offer a word of encouragement http://involutedgenealogies.wordpress.com/

  18. Glen

    Thanks guys, maybe: 'GOD LOVES A HAGGLER' would be a better title than God is a haggler?

    Also - theothergardener - great point about Ebay etc. We still like to negotiate. We just don't like face-to-face as much. I think this too has implications for prayer...

    Hi Pete,

    Abraham being a prophet is definitely important (18:17-19 and 20:7). But remember a key fact about prophets - they stand in the council of the LORD (1 Kings 22, esp v5; Jer 23:18). Being let in on the decision-making process is part of his prophetic office. Therefore it's a ministry of word *and prayer*.

    Can't claim that's an original thought - got it from David Field in a magnificent sermon on Genesis 16-20:

    http://www.rock-baptist.org/Media/AllMedia.aspx?speaker=David%20Field

  19. pgjackson

    Glen,

    Good points. It just reads quite different to, say, the passages in which Moses does exactly that and succeeds in causing the LORD to relent. I might be being blinded though by simply 'feeling' that we have to read Abraham's concern over Lot into the text to come up with the interpretation you offer - whereas I guess a case could be mounted for that being a reasonable assumption to make.

    Theologically anyway, I don't think it alters the point of your post, and the exhortation to enter the throne room to plead on behalf of the world.

    Heather,

    The third day is often the day of God's actions

    Including the resurrection which by one way of counting is day 1 of a new week (or the 8th day like the day of circumcision) and yet is always talked about as the third day.

  20. Heather

    Thanks pgjackson. (would you mind if I address you as Pete?)

    I'll go stir your comment into the mess in my head and see if it helps to make sense of things. :)

  21. Dev

    what about this...

    we only negotiate intensely for the things we really want and cannot really afford

    if we want something and can afford it.. we pay any price asked - no question

    'haggling' - as weird a term as that is
    therefore is an indication of a wanting heart, that is under the 'sovereignty' of the 'Seller' (except here we buy without money)

    Therefore - Jesus asks us to pester / annoy God - Luke 18

  22. Hiram

    " We don’t download blessings from God’s heavenly website, we ask Him as our heavenly Father. So we pester Him."

    I just had a talk like this with a brother in the Lord some days ago. He asked: "I mean, is it okay for me to keep asking? To ask why and to ask for help over and over again?"

    I think we sometimes treat the Lord as if He were a suggestion box of sorts.

    The model prayer?

    "Lord, I think so and so should be such and such. Could you arrange that? Thanks.
    inJesusnameIprayamen."

    lol

    Thanks for this, Glen :)

    -h.

  23. The Simple Guy

    Heather's husband here,

    So what I have to ponder is if Heather is a haggler. . .

    I wonder about saying no twice . . or even a third time.

    :)

    Seriously,

    A very interesting discussion. Is it my pride that keeps me from "haggling" with God? "ok, if you say no, I'll figure it out on my own . . " and walk away.

    Is that how I am? I think so. Very convicting.

    Craig

  24. Gav

    Wow! I'll admit that my first reaction wasnt positive to the post title...I mean, God, a haggler??

    But after reading on.... (just after I started reading a prayer study guide that pointed to Luke 11: 5-13) I see it all over the bible like you suggest.

    What about the story Jesus tells above about the bloke that doesnt want to get out of bed to give his mate (checkout the number Heather) *3* loaves of bread but because of his persistance he will get up and give him what ever he needs.

    Jesus while training his disciples to pray actually trains them to haggle also! Cool!

  25. Glen

    Hey Gav,
    yeah I think there's something that seems particularly "unAustralian" about haggling. (My mum really didn't like the title either - and she didn't mind telling me!). We like to be no-nonsense and pragmatic and haggling seems to be a whole lot of elaborate "bull". We want a 'fair go' for all, but haggling looks like someone's trying to rip me off. We want to say "cut the crap, no dramas, get your hand off it, fair crack of the whip," pay the price and go. But the bible's different.

    Having said that Darryl Kerrigan has given us an invaluable line for use in haggling: "Tell him he's dreamin!'"

  26. Otepoti

    Hah! Glen's mother and I are cut from the same cloth. I'm not down with the idea of a haggling God either.

    I'm more struck by the idea that God does exactly the other thing with me - He comes here, spends His money like a mad tourist (there's a reason we call them loopies), and buys me as a souvenir - the equivalent of a plastic bobblehead donkey.

  27. michelle

    Perhaps the haggling is a way of stretching. Doing something you're a bit uncomfortable doing. God asks us to stretch, to take the leap of faith, to go out on a limb and help others.
    It's similar to haggle, but you and your God alone know how far you've come in spirit.
    Christ was in his crowning year, 33 yrs old at his death?

    And the bread and fish stretched...it increased in order to meet the needs of others. It expanded.

    As Christ stretched his arms out on the cross and died for our agreement(atonement) with God. As he was pierced in wrists, feet, and side.(3) His birth, life, and death is important.(3) Not just some character; or a worker in the field(like us).

    And as the shepherd searched for the one lost sheep, he calls you to his fold.

    So we don't pester God or call on Jesus to bother him with our problems for God.
    We call on Christ with an open heart. A heart / soul OPEN to his will. Not demanding a new price or a new prize.
    Just OPEN. Out stretched. Willing and ready to fill our hearts with Christ's love to live for Christ...to do his will.
    Atonement: Agreement. Willingness to accept Christ as our Savior. Bound by his blood. Servant to his will. Forgiven by his mercy, not by what we do on the planet.

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