Great Moments in Bible History
Time to Clean It Up Again
Most people do not like to think about God’s judgment. It is much more pleasant to assume that things are going to continue pretty much the way they always have. That was the way people thought in Noah’s day right up until he entered the ark and God shut the door behind him. The judgment on the whole world at that time is recorded in the Bible as a reminder that this is God’s world, not ours and that He has promised to judge the lives of each one of us.
The great flood of Noah’s day is the biggest judgment recorded in the Bible, but it is not the only one. There are numerous other judgments in later years. In today’s story we will learn about a judgment that became proverbial for what God will do to evil people.
In our previous issue we saw that God told Abraham that He was going to investigate the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sins were very grave (Genesis 18:20-21). Abraham was very concerned about that, because his nephew Lot lived in Sodom. He discussed with God whether the presence of righteous people in that city would make a difference. God promised Abraham that He would not destroy the city if He found just ten righteous people in it. At the end of that conversation we were left in suspense. How many righteous people would God find living in those cities? Our author does not immediately give us that answer. He keeps us waiting. Chapter 19 begins in the same leisurely manner as chapter 18. Some travelers were passing through. In chapter 18 three travelers arrived in the middle of the day and Abraham invited them to a meal. In chapter 19 two travelers arrived at the gate of Sodom in the evening. It would be obvious to anyone living there that the men would need not just a meal but a place to stay for the night.
In a hint about the kind of city Sodom was, there was only one person who invited the men to his house. We are not surprised to learn that he was Abraham’s nephew Lot. What does surprise us, though, is that the men turned him down. “No,” they said, “we will spend the night in the town square” (Genesis 19:2). Lot did not know who those men were, but he refused to take no for an answer. We are told that “he pressed them strongly” until the men finally agreed to go home with him. The author does not say why Lot was so insistent, but given what happened later that evening, we are left wondering if he may have known that it would have been dangerous for them to camp out by themselves in that wicked city.
The story continues very much like the one in the previous chapter. Lot fixed those men a feast and they ate. Then the story went in a very different direction. “But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.’” (Genesis 19:4-5) What those men meant by “know” was to have sex with them. They were going to gang rape the two travelers! (This story is where our modern term “sodomy” comes from.)
Lot understood just how dangerous the situation was. He did his best to defend his guests. He went out to the crowd and tried to talk them out of their proposed crime. His pleas fell on deaf ears. They replied that if that was his attitude they would treat him worse than they were going to treat his guests!
Just at the point where the men of Sodom were beginning to execute their threat against Lot, the angels reached out and pulled him back into the house. Then they struck the men of Sodom with blindness so that they were unable to find the door. (Apparently this was not literal blindness but some sort of mental confusion, because they did not seem to be aware that they were blind.)
That was the first indication Lot had that his guests were not ordinary men. From this point forward, the angels control the story and things move at a much faster pace. We learn the answer to the question we asked at the end of the last chapter: would God find ten righteous people in Sodom? It turned out that there weren’t even half that many. So it was time for judgment. The city of Sodom was going to be destroyed by God. But then we learn something that God had not promised to Abraham. The angels would not leave Lot to die in the destruction of the city.
In the next article we will learn that, although Lot was saved from destruction, he had grief after grief as he tried to save those he loved.
Some People Just Can’t Be Helped
Have you ever wondered how the people of Noah’s day reacted to the warning that a huge flood was coming? The Bible does not tell us. But we can get a good hint by observing the behavior of the people that Lot warned.
The angels told Lot to get his children and sons-in-law and take them out of the city because God was going to destroy it. He had two daughters living at home with him, but apparently they were engaged to be married. He went to the future sons-in-law and said, “Up! Get out of this place, for the Lord is about to destroy the city” (Genesis 19:14). The author tells us, though, that “he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.” The idea that God would destroy their city because of their sinful behavior was so preposterous that they assumed Lot was just making a joke! Poor Lot. He did not want to see those young men destroyed, but there was no way to get through to them. After a fruitless night trying to convince those he loved to get out, the angels finally told him that he was out of time. He and his wife and his two daughters had to get out or they would be destroyed too.
Even then Lot delayed. Finally, the angels grabbed the four of them by the hand and pulled them out of the city. They were still not safe, though, because God was going to destroy not just Sodom, but all the cites in that area (including Gomorrah). “Escape for your life,” they told him. “Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away” (verse 17).
“Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven” (verse 24). By that time Lot was safe, but unfortunately, his griefs were not over. “But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt” (verse 26). So in the end only three people escaped from that destruction.
There is even more to the story than I have room in this issue to tell about. If you are interested, read the rest of Genesis 19 to learn the sad story of how Lot’s own daughters had absorbed the corrupt thinking of the city they had grown up with. They caused even more grief for Lot.
This is the last that we hear of Lot in Genesis. He had originally chosen to move to Sodom because he thought it would make him rich, in spite of the bad reputation of the place. He was unable to influence the city for good—not even his sons-in-law. He ended up losing all those riches. His wife died because her heart was still in Sodom. He was left with only his daughters and they behaved more like the people of Sodom than like their father.
Worse Than Sodom?
When Jesus sent His apostles out to preach, He told them to go from city to city, preaching the gospel. He knew that some people would listen while others would reject the message. For those who rejected the message, He said, “Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (Matthew 10:15).
This seems unfair. The people of Sodom were incredibly wicked, as we saw in the story. How can someone be considered worse than Sodom just for rejecting the gospel? Jesus’ judgment is based on the principle that the greater a person’s opportunity, the greater their responsibility. A little later Jesus compared Sodom with one of the cities where He had done a lot of His miracles. He said to that city, “For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day” (Matthew 11:23).
May each of us use what God has given us faithfully in His service.