Dust and Ashes: Abraham’s Prayer for the Righteous

When Abraham petitions the LORD to save Sodom if there be but 10 righteous people living there, we often times focus on the petition itself and miss some of the finer details of that petition. Once such phrase caught my attention yesterday as I studied the passage. It was the phrase “dust and ashes.” Abraham is making his case with the LORD and makes the comment that he is merely dust and ashes (Genesis 18:27). In doing so, Abraham is showing the LORD that he knows his position before YHWH, the creator of all the heavens and the earth.

When he calls himself dust, he is referring to the very substance by which mankind was made in Genesis 2. God took the very ground and breathed into it to give mankind life. So when Abraham uses this phrase before the LORD, he is indicating that he knows his place before God, as a created being. He is accepting the fact that God is the Creator of heaven and earth, and humbling himself before the LORD. We all need this reminder in our daily lives. God is the Creator of heaven and earth, and we are merely His creation. We are not gods.

But what of the phrase “ashes?” Why does Abraham throw that phrase into the mix? If it is quite certain that dust refers to the creative portion of God’s work, and is looking back to the creation, might we conclude that “ashes” is looking forward to God’s final work with creation? In other words, might Abraham also be accepting the reality that YHWH is not only the Creator, but the final judge of creation as well?

Peter tells us that final judgment will be of the fiery sort. 2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. In the final judgment, all of the earth shall burn away as God brings that judgment on mankind. There is the possibility that Abraham did not realize this, but I believe he did. In this encounter with the LORD we are seeing God’s treatment of both the righteous and the wicked. God comes and blesses those who are righteous in Him, namely Abraham and all who believe (Lot in the present context). And He brings judgment on the wicked.

I don’t believe that Abraham is pointing toward his own death and burial when he mentions ashes, but to the right of God to bring judgment on the wicked. In His judgment of Sodom, we have a small snapshot of the greater judgment to come. In that judgment, the righteous will be spared just as Lot is spared, and the wicked will be condemned with fire. Abraham is doing what so few of us are capable of doing: admitting God’s RIGHTFUL  place as judge. God is God, and He has a right to bring judgment on the wicked.

In his plea, Abraham is acknowledging God’s position as the Creator of all there is, as well as the Creator’s position to serve as judge over that creation. He is also acknowledging his position before God, as one that is both created and judged. For those who are righteous, that final judgment is lifted for Jesus Christ dealt with Abraham’s sentence upon the cross. However Abraham still mentions that sentence because he knows the punishment of the fiery travail to come has only been lifted from him by God’s grace. It is God’s right to bring judgment, but also His prerogative to show grace. Abraham is clearly a recipient of that grace along with all the others who put their trust in HIM for salvation.

The point is that when we pray, it is good to mention that we are dust and ashes before God, for in doing so, we honor God by admitting our place before Him.