The Outcome of Lot's Choice
J. R. Miller, 1908
Abraham ended his intercession, and the two angels went on their way. In the evening they reached the gate of Sodom. There they found Lot sitting in his place, ready to show hospitality to strangers. When he saw the heavenly messengers approaching, he arose and greeted them cordially and warmly. He invited them to stop with him in his house as his guests. Lot understood the laws of hospitality and failed not in practicing them. The men at first declined to stay in Lot's house, saying they would abide in the city square—but when they were pressed, they accepted Lot's invitation and went home with him. Lot then made a feast in their honor.
The coming of the strangers to Lot's house became known outside, and during the evening the people of the town gathered about the door, apparently in a wild and boisterous mob. This shows the character of the inhabitants of the city, and gives us a hint of the wickedness that prevailed there. Peter speaks of Lot as righteous, and says that he was greatly distressed by all the immorality and wickedness around him; and that he was distressed by the wickedness he saw and heard day after day.
Lot is a problem. He is spoken of as a righteous man and one that preached righteousness. Yet his preaching seems to have had little power to make the people better. His own life appears to have been blameless, and yet it had no influence on the community. The people were not made better by it. It probably is not hard, however, to account for the ineffectiveness of Lot's righteousness and his preaching. He revealed the kind of man he was in his treatment of Abraham. He showed his selfishness in taking advantage of Abraham's generosity, and choosing the richest and best portion of the country for his own, choosing the garden valley and leaving the rugged hills for Abraham.
Lot's choice revealed his worldliness, as well as his selfishness. The people of the Jordan valley were exceedingly wicked. Lot knew the character of the towns in this garden spot—and yet he overlooked this in his desire for the wealth that he could gather there. Not only did he choose the rich valley—but he soon pushed his way into the depths of the wickedness, for he took his family into the city of Sodom and became identified with the place, doing business in it, one of the ruling men in the city.
One, to be an effective preacher in an evil community, must keep himself separate from the evil. He must not be a partaker in it. Those who would preach unselfishness must be unselfish. It is evident that Lot was a lover of money, of luxury, of gain. A home may be a blessing and a center of influence in a community—but to be so it must be a home of prayer, of love and of all righteousness. There are evidences that the home of Lot was not kept sacred and separate. Its doors were open to the social life of Sodom. Lot's children made their friends among the Sodom young people. His daughters were married to evil men of the place. It is easy to see that his home had not made itself a power for good in the community. It was not known in the city, as a home of prayer. It was just like the other homes of Sodom!
All this explains the fact that however good a man Lot was in his personal life—he had no effectiveness as a preacher of righteousness. He loved the world and lived in the world and for the world—and therefore could have no influence upon the men of his community! He showed courage that night when his guests were so insulted by the wicked mob. He went out to plead with them and to try to persuade them to depart. He showed loyal hospitality, and was ready to pay any price to protect his guests. But the people only laughed at him and assaulted him. It would have gone hard with Lot—perhaps he would have lost his life—had not the angels, his guests, interfered to save him, bringing him inside, shutting the door and smiting the mob with blindness, so that they were powerless to do anything.
The angels then began at once to prepare to get Lot and his family away from the city—before its doom would be visited upon it. First, they inquired about his household. "Do you have any other relatives here in the city? Get them out of this place—for we will destroy the city completely. The stench of the place has reached the Lord, and he has sent us to destroy it!" The angels wished that all of Lot's family might be spared from the overthrow which was impending.
It is not enough to secure our own safety; we must also eagerly seek the safety of all who belong to us. Lot hastened out in the darkness of the night and sought the homes of his sons-in-law and, arousing them, told them of the doom that was about to be visited upon the city. "Quick, get out of the city! The Lord is going to destroy it!" "But his sons-in-law thought he was joking!" They only laughed at him. They did not believe his message nor heed his warning. It is sad when a good man has no influence, even upon his own family! Lot had not begun soon enough to have his children trust in him and respect his counsels.
A man rose in a prayer-meeting one evening, when the topic was "Home Religion," and asked prayers for his sons. In the early days of his home life, he was not a Christian. He did not love God nor honor Him. He never prayed in his home. He lived without God. He indulged in profanity, in bad temper, in strong drink. In that atmosphere, his children were born and spent their childhood. After a good many years the father came under the influence of the Spirit of God, and was saved. His conversion was genuine and thorough. He became a man of faith and prayer. He put away his evil habits and was an earnest follower of his new Master. Then he tried to bring his family to Christ. But his children had learned the ways which he had shown them by his example, and had so long lived in these ways that he could not win them to the new life he had chosen. They only laughed at his pleadings. He came into the prayer-meeting and told the whole story, asking the Christian people to help him.
If we would have our children safe with us in the shelter of Divine love—we must begin in their earliest years by teaching them the Divine commandments and by living ourselves near to Christ. When they are out in the world, absorbed in its life—it is too late to fly to them in some time of alarm and beg them to come to Christ. Lot had to go away from Sodom—and leave his two sons-in-law to perish in its destruction!
At the breaking of the day the angels hastened Lot. "Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the destruction of the city!" There was no hope now that the city would be saved. Abraham had prayed that if there were ten good people found in it the city would be spared for the sake of the ten. But there were not ten righteous to be found. Yet while the city could not be spared, the good who were in it would be gathered out before the doom fell. It was so also before the flood came—the saving of Noah and his family was provided for. It was the same before Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD—the Christians were led out of the city and found refuge in Pella. So it will be at the end of the world. Not one believer in Christ shall perish in the destruction that shall come upon the wicked. Christ will send His angels and gather out all His own.
It seems strange that Lot lingered when the angels had urged him to flee. Why did he linger? Did he doubt that the destruction of the city was imminent? No! but all Lot's interests were in Sodom, all the property he had amassed. He was probably very wealthy. If he fled from the city—he must leave all this behind him, and his heart clung to it. It is hard for those who love the world and money—to part with it. We have an example of this in the story of the young man who came to Jesus asking the way into the kingdom. He was told to give up all that he had, and let it be used to help the poor, and then follow Christ. He longed to make the right choice—but he could not, and the last we see of him—he is clinging to his money and turning his back on Christ.
The angels had almost to drag Lot and his wife and daughters away from their home and from the city. Angels are gentle and kindly messengers—but here was a time when gentleness would have been most unkind. "When Lot still hesitated, the angels seized his hand and the hands of his wife and two daughters and rushed them to safety outside the city, for the Lord was merciful."
If we understood the meaning of our troubles and chastenings, our disappointments, the blighting of our earthly hopes, the severe things in our lives which so often break into our ease and comfort—we would find that many of them are God's angels, sent to save us from ruin! Even stern treatment is kindness, when it saves us from destruction. Anything, however painful or stern, that tears us away from sinful attachments and brings us into the way of life—is a Divine mercy.
When the angels had brought Lot and his wife outside the city—they bade them escape for their lives. The terrible storm of fire was about to burst upon the plain. What the exact agency of destruction was, is not known. Josephus, giving the Jewish tradition, ascribes it to lightning. An Assyrian legend also says that a terrible thunderstorm caused the destruction. Others say an earthquake was the cause. The Bible account is very striking and simple. "The Lord rained down fire and burning sulfur from the heavens on Sodom and Gomorrah. He utterly destroyed them, along with the other cities and villages of the plain, eliminating all life—people, plants, and animals alike!"
This judgement broke suddenly and the angels had commanded Lot and his wife and daughters to, "Run for your lives! Do not stop anywhere in the plain. And do not look back! Escape to the mountain, or you will die!" They were not even to look behind them, nor were they to stay or slacken their flight anywhere on the Plain. They were not to rest—until they had reached the mountain.
This is still the gospel message. We are in danger of God's judgment—and must escape from it—if we would live. We must not stay anywhere in all the plain of sin. There is no safe spot, no shelter anywhere, no place where the fires of judgment will not fall. Some people would like to compromise; they are willing to flee from some sins—but not from others. There are some professed Christians who like to stay on the borders of their old life. They are continually asking whether they can do this or that, go here or there—and still be Christians. They want to keep just as near to Sodom as possible—so as not to be burnt up in Sodom's destruction. The answer to all such questions is, "Run for your lives! Do not stop anywhere in the plain. And do not look back! Escape to the mountain, or you will die!" Even the borders are unsafe! The only safe place is the mountain, the mountain where Christ's Cross stands!
Lot ventured to make a request, to ask for a special favor. The mountain seemed far away. The flight to it seemed greater than he could make. So he pointed to a little city that was near at hand, and begged that this might be an asylum for him. It was only a little city, and he pleaded that it might be spared from the doom of all the cities of the Plain, just to be a refuge for him. Lot did not show much faith in God, in making this request for a refuge near at hand. He certainly had not much of that faith which Abraham had, when he left all and went out, not knowing where he went—but trusting God to take care of him.
Lot reluctantly left Sodom—but he wanted to choose his own refuge. There are a great many who make the same mistake. They want to be Christians—but they are not willing to be brave, heroic Christians, cutting loose from all their old life and following Christ to the mountains in heroic ventures of faith. They are afraid to give up a wrong business which pays them well—and depend upon the Lord to provide for them. Such timid faith never reaches anything noble in Christian life or character. God may still accept us—but we are throwing away our own opportunities of doing a great work, and of attaining a high character. Little faith wins only little blessings.
Lot's request was granted, the doom upon Zoar annulled, and Lot was allowed to flee there. We should note, however, that God sometimes lets people have their own way, which seems an easier way to them—when it is not really best for them. He sometimes answers even unwise prayers and gives us what we crave, though it is not what He would give to us if we had more faith and courage and were able for the harder thing. In this very case, Lot soon found out that he had made a mistake in fleeing to Zoar, and he was glad enough to leave his unsafe refuge and go at last to the mountain to which the angels had bidden him to flee at first. God may sometimes let us have our own way, though it is not the best, until we learn our mistake by our own sad experience.
Lot's wife 'looked back'. There had been a specific command, "Do not look back!" The meaning was, that the storm of death would move so swiftly that even a moment's delay in their flight would imperil their safety. Why Lot's wife looked back is not explained. Was it curiosity to see the nature of the terrible destruction that she heard roaring behind her? Or was it her dismay as she thought of her beautiful home, with all its wealth of furnishing and decoration, and all her jewels and garments and other possessions—which were now being consumed in the great conflagration?
Our Lord's use of the mistake of Lot's wife was to teach the peril of desiring to save things out of the world—lest in doing so we lose all. "It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot's wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it."
The inference from our Lord's use of the incident would seem to be that she was appalled at the thought of leaving and losing all her beloved possessions, and paused in her flight and looked back, with the hope that possibly she might yet run back and snatch some of the ornaments or gems—something, at least, from the awful destruction. "But Lot's wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt!"
We should not miss the lesson which our Lord Himself teaches us from the tragic fate of this woman. We cannot have both worlds! Lot's wife could have escaped with her husband and her daughters—but she could escape only by resolutely and determinedly leaving everything she had in Sodom. Her love for her possessions, cost her her life.
Just so, there are thousands today, to whom God's message comes, "Run for your lives! Do not stop anywhere in the plain. And do not look back! Escape to the mountain, or you will die!" They somewhat desire to follow Christ—but their love for the world is so intense that they cannot give it up—they cannot renounce it. They must decide, however, which they will renounce—Christ or the world. They cannot keep both!
In Lot—we have an example of one who was almost lost—and yet saved. In Lot's wife—we have an example of one who was almost saved—and yet lost. She was lost because she loved the world. She looked back, lingering there until it was too late to escape.
There is a picture of an artist sitting on an ocean rock which had been left bare by the retreating waves. There he sat, sketching on his canvas the beautiful scenery—sky, earth, and sea—all unconscious that the tide had turned and had cut him off from the shore and was rapidly covering the rock on which he sat. The tempest, the waves, the rising sea were forgotten, so absorbed was he in his picture. Even the cries of his friends as they shouted from the shore were unheard.
So men grow absorbed in this world, and perceive not the torrents of judgment onrolling, and hear not the calls of friends warning them of their peril. So they stand—until overwhelmed with the waves of destruction!