After the Covenant, Abraham really is a new man. Shortly after the deal, God, making small talk, says “What up, Imma destroy those places.” Okay, I took some liberties there, and it’s important that we not do that. So God said “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin!”
What it was important to know the exact wording is that this is not pre-emptive. People are crying out against these cities. We don’t know if it’s people inside the cities (we will know that later), but there are people angry and hurt over what Sodom and Gamorrah are doing. So this is God acting on behalf of people.
It’s also interesting to know the kind of language here. “Cry out” is a phrase seen before, specifically with the story of Cain and Abel. Abel’s blood cried out from the earth. We’re not quite there yet, but we might be coming close to a precedence. These cries out seem to be for matters of justice. Maybe if we can get some more people crying out, we can set the pattern.
What happens next is a definite sign of a brand-new Abraham. He negotiates with God, setting a threshold for the number of good people in the city for God to stay his wrath. Abraham starts at 50, then gets all the way down to 10. At this point, Abraham stops negotiating; Either he feels God won’t be moved any lower or that Abraham doesn’t think the city is worth saving if there are fewer than 10 people.
Throughout the entire exchange, Abraham and God are on more equal footing. This is not a man cowed by fear. Abraham is holding his own and talking to God as someone more like a peer than a servant. If we continue the parent/child dynamic from Adam and Eve, Abraham has grown a few years, and is very much his own person, now. The status of the Covenant gives him an elevated status that he didn’t have before, more like a teenager or young adult who will start shouldering responsibilities.
This is a necessary step for Abraham as part of his side of the covenant is that he will become a “father of nations.”