|Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 9, Number 38, September 16 to September 22, 2007|
Some of you here this morning will be old enough to remember a time when these "motivation" posters started appearing all over the place. I do not know who started it all, or even exactly when it all began, but it was like one moment they were not there and the next, these things were lining the walls of every place of business you went into. And then they started appearing on coffee mugs and key chains and t-shirts, etc. They were everywhere. And typically what these things consisted of was some sort of inspiring picture of a sunset or a snow-capped mountain range or a deserted beach or some determined-looking runner on some lonely highway - and each poster had some sort of pithy saying at the bottom like "There is no "I" in team" or
"No guts, no glory". That sort of thing.
Anyway, a few years ago now, someone at "Despair.com" thought they would have a little fun and start putting out what they called "De-Motivation Posters" which were sort of poking fun at this whole "motivational poster" thing that had been going on for some time. And in contrast to these really inspiring sayings, they started putting out posters that said things like this:
And then there is one of my personal favorites, and it's this picture of a cruise ship that is sinking, and immediately you think "Titanic." At the top of the poster it says "Mistakes" - and at the bottom it says, "It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others." And it's sort of funny when you read it. But as you think about it - it's sort of sad.
This morning we are going to look at just such a thing - a man whose life story has been preserved for us in Scripture to serve as a warning and as a sobering reminder of the kinds of the messes that people can get themselves into - even the people of God - people like you and me. Before we look at that, let's pray together......
Father in Heaven, please take us from where we are at this moment, to the place we need to be to fully appreciate the good things you have written and preserved for us in Your Word this morning. For your own sake and for the sake of your kingdom, please apply your truth to us this morning in a healing, restorative way - whatever that might mean. Sometimes your word is like a scalpel, and it cuts deep, not to hurt us but to help us by removing a deadly spiritual "cancer" that is threatening to overwhelm our souls. Sometimes it is more like a balm or an ointment that brings relief and comfort where we are hurting. But in whatever way it comes to us, we know it comes to us by YOUR hand. So please, Kind Sir, we know that you CAN heal us. And we are asking that you would. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Listen now, to the opening verses of Genesis 19,
Genesis 19:1-11 The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth 2 and said, "My lords, please turn aside to your servant's house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way."
Now, right away, at the beginning of this story, you see a very close parallel to what happened at the beginning of Chapter 18, with Abraham. If you remember, Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent, in the heat of the day, when these three strangers show up. And when he sees them, he runs to them and offers them his hospitality. In a similar way, we find Lot at the entrance to the city when the two strangers arrive, and he rushes out to meet them as well. And it seems to me that we are meant to read these two stories in parallel, with one being set as a contrast to the other. Let's read on....
They (the two angels) said, "No; we will spend the night in the town square." 3 But he pressed them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house. And he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.
Here these angels are, coming to check things out in the city to find out if the reports of its wickedness are true, and they are met by Lot at the city gate who is VERY insistent that they do not try and spend the night out in the open but should, instead, stay with him. Why is Lot so insistent? Why is there this sense of urgency in the text? Because Lot knows what sort of city he is living in. He knows what might happen to these men if they attempt to stay in the town square. Clearly Lot, at this point at least, is not aware of the identity of these men and is simply extending to them the hospitality and protection that he felt obligated to give. The story continues......
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.
How many "righteous" people was Abraham counting on God finding in the city? Do you remember? It was ten. Ten righteous men. What does the text say? "....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." 6 Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, 7 and said, "I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8 Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof."
Now, without drawing too much attention to the obvious here, and for the sake of the children who are present, let's just say that this is one of those sections of the Bible that will probably never find its way into a Veggie Tales video. The men of the city - all of them - have gathered around Lot's house in this sordid, lust-driven "feeding frenzy". Apparently Lot's hasty removal of the two strangers into his house was not quite hasty enough. Word has gotten out. And now Lot has a real problem.
For one thing, he is greatly outnumbered. For another, he has an obligation to protect these men. You see, back in Lot's day, when you took a guest into your home you were doing more than just offering them a meal and a warm bed. You were taking responsibility for their protection and safety. And that obligation was yours - even if it meant exposing yourself and your family to great personal risk - even death. And Lot, to his credit, knows this. As a result, when these men gather around the house and make their demands, Lot's first step is to go out and try and talk some sense into them - an act which, by itself, would have taken a certain amount of courage. And so Lot steps outside, shutting the door behind him.
But following this act of bravery, Lot then takes a terrible gamble. He does the virtually un-thinkable - rather than allowing these men to have the strangers he offers to them his two daughters who, as we will see soon enough, are engaged, but not yet married and so are sexually inexperienced. And you read this and you say to yourself, "What is going on here? What was Lot thinking? That's horrible. That's nuts. What sort of father would do that?"
Well, there's no question about it. It was a horrible decision to make, borne of an equally horrible situation in which there were no good options, only bad ones. But Lot was likely gambling on at least one thing. His two daughters were engaged to be married to two of the young men in the city, men who likely came from extended families. The text tells us that all the men, from young to old, had turned out and surrounded Lot's place. That would have included the men to whom Lot's daughters were married - which isn't saying much for them - to be sure - and we'll say more about that in a moment.
But Lot was probably hoping that these men, and perhaps their families with them, might step forward to prevent anything from happening to the daughters. He was likely hoping that even among such terrible men there was some sort of honor and regard for one another. And even that might not ultimately prevent any harm from coming to the strangers, but it might buy Lot some time to think of some other way out of this situation while the men argued amongst themselves. Now that's not a justification for what Lot did. It was still a horrible thing to do. But it may not have been just this disgraceful act of cowardice that it appears to be when you first read it. It was a shrewd gamble on Lot's part. Sadly, Lot's gamble failed.........
9 But they [the men of the city] said, "Stand back!" And they said, "This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them." Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down. 10 But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them and shut the door. 11 And they struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house, both small and great, so that they wore themselves out groping for the door.
Well, at Lot's alternative suggestion, the men of the city become enraged. It is clear from their words that Lot has never been regarded as "one of them" but rather as a "sojourner", or as an outsider - all of which means that there must have been at least some ways in which Lot had distinguished himself from the lifestyles and practices of the people. At the very least he clearly regarded their homosexual desire as wrong - calling it a "wicked thing".
Nevertheless, the men of the city will not allow Lot to stand in their way and so they rush toward him, surely with the intent of killing him. The angels, at the last moment, open the door, reach out, and pull Lot inside the house and then immediately strike the men with some kind of blindness that renders them incapable of carrying out their desires - even though some did not even allow their blindness to stop them from trying!
12 Then the men [the angels] said to Lot, "Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city, bring them out of the place. 13 For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it." 14 So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, "Up! Get out of this place, for the LORD is about to destroy the city." But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.
The angels, whose mission it was to find out whether the wickedness of this city was as bad as had been reported, now know all that they need to know. There are not ten righteous men in this city. There's barely even one, and even he's not looking too hot. So, the angels instruct Lot and his family to get out of the city. Judgment is on the way. But before it is destroyed they angels, quite graciously, give Lot the opportunity to take with him anyone that will come. So, Lot goes out and, for the sake of his daughters no doubt, attempts to get his sons-inlaw. Now, they are described as sons-in-law, even though they are not yet married and living with Lot's daughters, because in that day and age being engaged was as binding as marriage. As a result, from the point of your engagement, you were regarded as family.
So, again, Lot goes out to get these sons-in-law who, can I just remind you, would have been out somewhere among this insane crowd just moments before. And now these same young men would have been crawling about on the ground, blinded by the angels. In other words, Lot didn't have to go very far, or look very hard, to find these "fine young men". And yet, when he does find them, they don't take Lot's warnings seriously - which says something about these young men, to be sure, but it also says something about Lot. What does it tell you when a father-in-law cannot convince his sons-in-law that he's serious?
15 As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, "Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city." 16 But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. 17 And as they brought them out, one said, "Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away." 18 And Lot said to them, "Oh, no, my lords. 19 Behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life. But I cannot escape to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me and I die. 20 Behold, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there - is it not a little one? - and my life will be saved!" 21 He said to him, "Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. 22 Escape there quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there." Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar.1 23 The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar. 24 Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven. 25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. 26 But Lot's wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. 27 And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the LORD. 28 And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace. 29 So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.
Lot, being un-successful in persuading his sons-in-law, has no choice but to leave. But even then, despite the urgent warnings of the angels, the text tells us that Lot lingered. He is clearly reluctant to leave this city which, in spite of its wickedness, had some kind of grip on him. Amazingly, even after all that had happened, Lot could barely bring himself to leave behind his possessions, his lifestyle, and the society that he had made his "home" for so long - so strong was the hold that this place had on him.
And so Lot leaves, dragging his feet, half-carried out of the city by the angels. And even then, he appeals to them for a concession. He asks not to be sent into the hills but rather to be sent to a much smaller, nearby village which came to be known as Zoar. Apparently, this too was an act of graciousness on the part of the angels because, judging from the language used, even this small city would have been destroyed otherwise. And so one of the angels says, in verse 21,
"Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken."
And so Lot and his family make their way to the city of Zoar. And yet Lot's wife, in spite of the instructions NOT to do so, looks back upon the cities as the Lord rains down destruction upon them. She too, like Lot, was very much captivated by Sodom, in spite of its corruption, and could not bear to not look back upon it. And so she looks, and in doing so, she pays the ultimate price for her disobedience, being turned into a pillar of salt.
And somewhere, up on a hill some distance away, stood an old man - Abraham - watching the rising smoke and flames, witnessing the Lord's answer to his prayer to preserve the city if there were ten righteous, no doubt wondering if his nephew Lot had been allowed to escape.
Well, before we have any time to really dwell on that, the scene cuts back to Lot and his family, who have escaped to this small village, and who have nothing now but the clothes on their backs. And while they started out in the city, they eventually move out and go up into the hills anyway, most likely from fear that Zoar too might receive the same sort of judgment as Sodom and Gomorrah. And so now, in contrast to what they had before which, no doubt, was a fine house in the city, they are now living in a cave. This is a true "riches-to-rags" kind of story.
Now you might have thought, when you get to verse 29, that this story is over. But it isn't. Because there is this bit at the end about something that happened in the cave......
30 Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters. 31 And the firstborn said to the younger, "Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth. 32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father." 33 So they made their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn went in and lay with her father. He did not know when she lay down or when she arose. 34 The next day, the firstborn said to the younger, "Behold, I lay last night with my father. Let us make him drink wine tonight also. Then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father." 35 So they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose and lay with him, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. 36 Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. 37 The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab.1 He is the father of the Moabites to this day. 38 The younger also bore a son and called his name Ben-ammi.1 He is the father of the Ammonites to this day.
Just when you think the story might be over, just when you think things couldn't be any worse, Lot's daughters, in a misguided attempt to preserve their family lines, lure their father into a drunken stupor - not once, but twice mind you - and get him so drunk that he is not even aware of what is happening. And then, taking advantage of this reality, they both manage to become pregnant by their father - producing children from whose offspring two of the most wicked nations known to Scripture would arise.
One was the Moabites who were involved in fertility cults and orgies and who, one day, would lead the people of Israel into imitating their practices. The other was a race which worshiped a "god" named "Molech" in a religion which, among other things, encouraged child sacrifice, and which would also be a plague upon Israel.
And so, from a Father who offered up his own children sacrificially, comes a race of people who practiced child sacrifice as a religion. And this sad little story, this little "teaser" at the end, reminds me of those old B-grade horror movies in which you get to the end and you think that the monster has been destroyed and happy times are assured, once again. But then the camera cuts to this final scene which shows that perhaps one of the creatures escaped, or was re-generating or something. Whatever the case - you are left with the very clear impression that the horror is not over. And then the movie fades to black and the words "The End" with a big question mark at the end , appear on the screen. Even though Lot's family is now out of Sodom. Apparently, Sodom is not yet out of Lot's family. The sad legacy of that city, unfortunately, has followed them into the cave. And one day it will rear its ugly head once again, ironically, through Lot's own descendants. The horror just goes on and on and on.
What do you do with a story like this? What should we think about Lot? How should we think about Lot? Well, before you answer that, let me throw you one more twist. Turn with me to 2nd Peter, chapter 2, verses 6-10,
".......6 if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;1 7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials,1 and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority"
In addition to everything else we know about Lot, here is one final thing that we have to factor in about him - he was, as Peter infallibly tells us, a righteous man. Now, if you were with us last week, you will know that the word "righteous" is used in different ways, with different senses, in the Bible. And so, when Lot is described as righteous, the Bible is not saying he was without sin. That's not the sense of the word being used here. It is not making an absolute statement about his condition before God but rather about his position before God. In describing Lot as "righteous" the passage is saying that Lot, for all his weakness and faults was, nevertheless, one of God's people.
And Peter's point in referring to Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot is to show that God is both willing and able to judge sin, and, at the same time, is able to deliver his people from that judgment - including people like Lot who, as 2nd Peter tells us, were troubled by the wickedness around them but who also, as Genesis makes evident, were clearly not troubled enough to separate themselves from it, or to allow their consciences to cause them to make better choices.
And the key to really understanding this account of Lot's life, and why it has been preserved for us, is to look back at some earlier events. If you have been with us for this series on the Life of Abraham, then you may remember how, back in chapter 13, some trouble arises between Abraham and Lot's herdsmen and so, in order to preserve the peace, Abraham divides up the land and allows Lot to have first choice of which way he would go and which land he would settle his people into.
And this is the crucial moment. With all this land spread out before him, what does Lot do? Well, in complete disregard of his uncle, Abraham, Lot chooses for himself the best land, land that is either just outside, or else right on the edge of the promised land. But the most telling statement of all is in Genesis 13:12-13, where it says,
Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord....
There it is. Do you see it? Lot not only takes the best land for himself, he chooses to personally pitch his tents as close as he can to cities with known reputations for evil and wickedness. That is the story of Lot's life. Skirting the edges. Flirting with disaster. Seeing how close he can come to the flame without being burned. Fast forward now to chapter 19. Where is Lot now? He's not living in a tent outside the city of Sodom anymore. He's living IN a house, in the city gates. And that movement, from just outside the city, to making a home within it - that is Lot's life in a nutshell. Now we don't have much time left, so let me get to the heart of the issue here.
Lot's life is a compromised life. And it has become increasingly compromised for some time now. Yes, Lot is still one of God's people, he still has a conscience that is bothered and troubled by the extreme wickedness he sees, but he has entangled himself within a shady existence. He has become enmeshed in this godless environment, so much so that it has affected his judgment, and hindered his vision, and has resulted in his making choices that will have painful consequences for he and his family, for generations to come. Lot, the man who chose the best for himself, who chose to live as close as possible to the city of Sodom - has lost everything in the end - his possessions, his wife, his city, and finally, his dignity.
The value of this for God's people, in every age, ought to be pretty clear. If you look at Lot's situation and are appalled - Guess what? You should be - you're supposed to be. Here is a man whose life is a living illustration of what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 3 as believers who, in the end, "...will be saved, but only as one escaping through flames...." You ever wonder what those words mean? Look no further.
Friends, we are in danger. We are in a precarious position, you and me. Because we're a good deal more like Lot than we care to admit. And I would venture to say that most of us here this morning are either just outside the city walls or have already made ourselves comfortable within it. And there is real danger here. There is opportunity too. But there is also real danger. The danger is of becoming enmeshed, of sinking our roots too deep, of not only entangling ourselves in the world, but allowing the world to get a grip upon us. Believers today are no more immune than Lot was in his own day. We are just as prone to put ourselves in questionable, precarious situations - in our businesses, in our personal relationships - and we, like Lot, think that we're okay and that we can handle it. And sometimes as we are shifting out tents closer and closer to the city - sometimes as we are drifting, our better friends will say something to us. They will ask us questions about the wisdom of some of the choices we are making. And what do we do? We get defensive. And we give strong assurances and make all sorts of promises that if there is any influencing that takes place it will be in the other direction - our influence on the world around us.
Next scene: We have begun to compromise and turn away from the very things that we once swore wild horses could never take us away from. I have seen this happen more times than I can count. Christians regularly and consistently over-estimate their ability in these situations and rely on their own strength to pull them through in ways that are just foolish and stupid.
To be sure, this is not a call to withdraw from the world, but it is a warning against becoming enmeshed in the world. Christians can and should be a force for transformation in the midst of our culture. But there is danger there, and being an influence like that takes wisdom because there are times and places where lines need to be drawn and where going any further is not brave or bold. It's just stupid - either because of the situation, or because of the character and maturity of the person involved - or both.
As Kidner points out, a lot of Christians will go into a situation thinking that they will be a Joseph or a Daniel - and they end up looking like Lot instead. And they are being influenced more than they are being an influence and, in the end, they manage to escape - JUST - But they are burnt and singed - sometimes a little worse for the wear - sometimes a great deal worse for the wear.
And the situation with Lot and his daughters is a further warning as well. It illustrates, as we've seen, that the problem with Lot and his family was not only getting them out of Sodom, it was getting Sodom out of them or - as Ross says - getting the "mentality of Sodom" out of them. The world had gotten its clutches deep into Lot and his family. Christians who are flirting with this same reality should beware. The legacy you are passing on to your own children may not be the one you think you are passing on. All your Christian words and Sunday service attendances, in the end, may be shouted down by the movement of your life which speaks loudest of all.
Friends, these words are preserved for us as a warning, and they are delivered as a warning. All of us need to examine our hearts and ask the Lord to show us how enmeshed and entangled we already are, and ask God to deliver us from the idolatries that keep us entangled. And certainly, we need to be thankful for the grace that is ours in Jesus and to fight against enmeshment with engagement - by sacrificially giving ourselves to one another, and to the service of the Gospel.
But let not this warning be lost on you. For you are the people of God. And if you are a
child of God, then you are a righteous person. But then again, so was Lot.
|This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.|
RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. To subscribe to Reformed Perspectives Magazine, please select this link.