God is a Haggler. He wants us to haggle.
What do we feel about that?
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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?
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.