Ten Righteous Men Save a City
Genesis chapter 18 is one of the most interesting chapters in the Bible.
In this chapter God announces that Sarah, who is 90 years old and long past menopause, shall have a son. Sarah laughs at this for it seems so impossible. In modern parlance she says (I’m paraphrasing here) – it is scientifically impossible to conceive. Moreover, Abraham is 100 years old and lacks virility. The whole notion is preposterous. God hears this and says “Is any thing too hard for the LORD?”
In this answer we see that there is no such thing as “scientific law” or scientific truth. There is a law that is above this – the Divine Will – this is the ultimate scientific law. Nature has certain properties and behaves a certain way because this is the Divine Will. But at any time the Divine Will can change these things. (It usually doesn’t happen, but it can happen if the Divine so wills it.”)
But the rest of the chapter is even more interesting and illuminating. God intends to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. “And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do” (v.17). In this statement we see that God (the Divine Mind) reveals to the Saints and Believers, what HE is about to do. He doesn’t hide these things from them. He makes them aware so that they can take a appropriate action. (Abraham can be understood also as the “Abraham State of Consciousness” – not just as a historical figure. Thus that state of consciousness knows what is about to happen.)
But the following verses are even more illuminating. After God announces his plan to Abraham, there ensues a most extraordinary negotiation between Abraham and God. First of all, Abraham whose main virtue is total unquestioning obedience to God, starts to negotiate? To Question? This is very much out of character for him. After all, when God tells him to leave his home, his family and his country, Abraham doesn’t question, he just does it. When God tells him to get circumcised (a very painful procedure at his age) he doesn’t question, he just does it. Later on God tells him to sacrifice his first born son Isaac, there is no negotiation about it. He just sets out to do it. But here he enters into a negotiation. What’s up here?
Perhaps the answer is that when disaster is decreed, negotiation is advisable. It is possible to soften a Divine Decree. And this Abraham tries to do.
So now he asks “if there are 50 righteous people in the city shall you destroy them as well as the wicked?” God answers no. Not only will I not destroy the righteous 50 but I will spare the entire city for their sake. Then Abraham asks “if there are 45 righteous people in the city, will you destroy them as well?” and again God answers that he will spare them and the whole city if there are 45 righteous people. This goes on and on – its almost like a business negotiation at a middle eastern bazaar. What about 40 righteous people? 30? 20? And finally 10? In each of these cases God’s answer is that he will spare the city (not only the righteous people, but the whole city) for the sake of these righteous ones. After 10 Abraham stops the negotiations. Less than 10 righteous people cannot save a city.
We all know what happened afterwards. Sodom and Gemorra were annihilated but the one righteous person there – Lot, Abraham’s nephew, was spared – he and his family.
It is from this passage that the Jews derive the “minyan” – the quorum of ten males – needed to hold services. 10 is the minimum. Nowhere is it specifically mentioned in the old testament that a minyan needs 10. (In fact Minyan is never mentioned at all – services were held in the Tabernacle and later in the Holy Temple.) So I believe it is derived from this passage.
Students of Kabbala could supply another reason for the number 10. There are 10 Spheres in the Holy Tree of Life. So a complete prayer, a complete service, a service that contained power would need 10 people – one for each of the spheres – for each of the aspects of the Divine.
The message here, ten righteous people, gathered together in prayer, can save a city. They are a “force multiplier”. Their power is many times greater than their actual number.