The Last days of Sodom

When the Lord warned his followers about the coming judgment on the world, he drew upon two cataclysmic events, the flood in which all flesh perished (apart from the family of Noah), and the more localised holocaust of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Both events were monumental and their effects are still seen in pits of fossils and frozen mammoths (such as in Russia), and in the Jordan depression around the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on earth.

We first hear of Sodom when Abraham and Lot occupied the promised land.  They settled in the hill country around Bethel with their herds and flocks, dwelling in tents that marked the pilgrim nature of their existence.  Trouble between the herdsmen sparked contention that led Abraham and Lot to separate.  Genesis 13:7 inserts a seeming irrelevant comment: “the Canaanite and Perizzite dwelled then in the land.”  This had already been stated in the previous chapter.  Why restated?  Was it because the strife had some connection with the spirit of the Canaanite, who was a known trader and merchant?  Had the profit motive become more important than brethren working together?  It is remarkable that the final chapter of Zechariah which deals with the establishment of the King in Zion, records “there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts.”  Thus the influence that adversely affects the people of God will no longer be permitted a presence.

The increase of the herds caused difficulty between the herdsmen of Abraham with the herdsmen of Lot.  The contention was quite sharp, so Abraham intervened before the problem involved himself and his nephew.  There is a lesson in this for us.  Don’t let disputes get out of hand.  Raise them with the people concerned who are responsible for the decision making.  Be pro-active.  Seek the peace of others (Matt 5:9).  It would have been so easy for Abraham to have taken up the criticism of his own servants and make an accusation against the servants of Lot or even against Lot himself.  However, some issues are more important than our material advancement.

By offering Lot the choice of land, Abraham exhibited a gracious spirit.  There is no hint here of personal possession, or consciousness of self.  He could have easily said, “God called me out of Ur you know.  The promise wasn’t directly to you.”  God appreciated the magnanimous spirit in Abraham which was one of the reasons He had chosen him (Genesis 18:19 “for I know him that he will command his children and his household after him and they shall keep the way of the Lord to do justice and judgment…”.)

From the heights of the Judean hills, Lot “looked down on the plain of Jordan…”   How often our eyes lead us into trouble!  Eve “saw” the fruit with new understanding after the advice of the serpent (Gen 3:6).  Job made a “covenant with his eyes” (31:1) because he was aware of the ease with which the sight of the eyes led to sin.  Jesus said that after looking, lust too easily developed (Matthew 5:28).  The advertisers of this world know that they just have to place the pictures in front of us and we are so easily ‘hooked’.  We would have never even considered doing this or buying that if we had not first seen!  But now that we have seen, well this object could be quite handy, it might even save us time so that we will have more time to pursue our lusts!

 

Lot thought the well watered plain was a very acceptable choice and would certainly solve the problem of continually moving to find new pasture.  In fact, it reminded Lot of their recent time in Egypt where he had seen the fertile gardens by the Nile (Genesis 12:14, 20).  The lush pasture of the plain would prevent the herd spreading out and so avoid confusion with other herds.  But wise decisions are only made when the entire spectrum is considered.  It is not wise to relocate ONLY on the basis of better employment opportunities and material advancement.  By moving to Sodom, Lot deprived himself the daily fellowship of his uncle Abraham.

We next read of Sodom when the affluent cities of the plain were targeted by a northern confederacy of nations.  In the ensuing battle, many of the army of Sodom and its allies were lost in the slime or bituminous pits of the plain.  Thus we are alerted to the seepage of the great oil deposits in the substructure of the earth.  By the time of this invasion, Lot had further relocated, leaving rural life in the plain to live in Sodom.  He was no longer a tent dweller.

As a result of the success of the northern armies, Lot and his family are carted off as slave labour (Genesis 14:12).  On hearing the news, Abraham acts promptly, pursues the army and not only routs them, but rescues Lot and the other captives.   The king of Sodom goes out to greet Abraham on his return.  King Bera has to acknowledge that Abraham has been successful with a small band of men while he suffered a military defeat!  Abraham will not accept any reward from the king of Sodom because he does not wish to be beholden to him, nor cause others to think he has any connection to the king of the licentious city.  Abraham knows that he cannot give allegiance to the powerful of this world, because he has covenanted himself to God who is “the possessor heaven and earth,” a far superior power to that of the crowned head of Sodom! (Genesis 14:22)  He takes an inflexible position – he will not become a friend of the world. (1 John 2:15-17).

It is this clear sighted view of where true power is vested which enables Abraham to believe the amazing promise of God, thereby exhibiting the faith that God so greatly prized (Galatians 15:6; Romans 4:3).  When God reassured Abraham concerning the gift of the land to him, He did not mention the Sodomites (Genesis 15:19-21), because their days were numbered.  In fact God graciously permits the indigenous people to retain their occupation of the land for the moment, in order to give them full opportunity to respond to Him, perhaps through the teaching and example of Abraham (some were already confederate with Abraham; Genesis 14:13).  In His wisdom and all pervading omniscience, God will not judge any people before ‘full-term’ (Genesis 15:16)Genesis 15:16)G

.  But it would not be long before judgment fell upon Sodom.

The Divine Visitors

After visiting Abraham and Sarah concerning the planned birth of Isaac, the visitors prepared to leave the home near Hebron, and Abraham, anxious to retain their company for a little longer, accompanied them part way on their journey (Genesis 18:16).  The leader of the little group made the decision to acquaint Abraham with the secondary purpose of their visit.  Realising that ultimately all the earth would be blessed in Abraham, and that he had the capacity to exercise the justice of God, the bearer of the Divine Name informs Abraham that they intend to ‘inspect’ the situation in Sodom, because of the faithful entreaties of one of its occupants (Genesis 18:21).  Abraham was instantly on the alert – Sodom was where Lot now lived.  He watched as two of the angelic visitors made their way.  Previously the manifestation of God had always been in connection with the purpose of God as it was in Abraham.  There had never been a hint of judgment, although the response to the Abrahamic hope was defined in those who blessed or those who cursed (Genesis 12:3).  In the fullness of time, all nations would be blessed – there would be no place for those who were cursers of Abraham’s descendants.

Abraham knew how bad things were in Sodom.  Doubtless he and Lot had seen each other from time to time and certainly local knowledge would be cognisant of the reputation of the cities of the plain.  As two of the angels set off on their way to Sodom, Abraham stood watching and did some rapid thinking… those who bless and those who curse.  “Be it far from thee to slay the righteous with the wicked…shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25)  Abraham did a quick mental calculation.  He knew how many there were in Lot’s household when they moved down to the plain. With some ‘falling away’ perhaps there would now only be some fifty (Genesis 18:24).  Abraham himself had over three hundred “instructed” servants in his household, and this number only accounted for the males!  Abraham’s concern drove him to press the divine presence to the limit:  “I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.” (v32)  But directly after saying this, and doubtless giving Abraham a long, sympathetic look, “the Lord went his way” to Sodom.

 

The visitors had left Abraham and Sarah in the heat of the day, and arrived in Sodom at evening where they encountered the object of their search “in the gate of Sodom.”  The gate was the centre of civil, business and the legal activities of the community.  Sitting in the gate, indicated that Lot had achieved the position of either a city councillor or a judge.  In the view of the comments in Genesis 19:9, it seems likely that Lot was now a judge.  Perhaps this role gave rise to his earnest prayers because of what he saw and heard (2 Peter 2:8).  

At evening, the light quickly fades in this part of the world, and once the sun dips its golden orb behind the Judean hills, darkness quickly envelops the earth.  Lot did not particularly recognise the visitors, but since they were arriving late day, he assessed that they had been travelling some distance and would need lodgings before proceeding on their journey next day, so he offered them the customary hospitality.  One of the great trading routes from Damascus passed nearby. The men were not initially willing to accept the offer (as they did so readily with Abraham), but Lot who knew the city, pressed his invitation upon them.  Perhaps at some point during the meal in his house Lot raised his concerns about the city and the reason for urging his invitation upon them.  Maybe he also observed that these were no ordinary travellers or traders.

They had not retired for the night before there was a disturbance.  Despite the darkness of the night, there was a planned attempt to violate the sanctity of Lot’s home to accost the visitors.  Men choose the cover of darkness to fulfil their evil deeds (John 3:19).  “People from every quarter” of the city arrived to encircle Lot’s house.  They demanded that Lot hand over his visitors.  The word “know” here is used in the sense of sexual knowledge – the Hebrew word “yada” indicating “to know by experience” (as in Genesis 4:1).

 

Lot confronts the citizens

Lot is not a timid man.  Despite the mob baying at his door, their abnormal lusts aroused, he left the security of his house, shut the door firmly behind him and confronted them.  This was to be his final act in “dwelling among them, seeing and hearing and vexing his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds” (2 Peter 2:8).  Why was Lot still in Sodom?  Why didn’t he leave?  It seems that he was trapped by the love of his family and his hopes to influence them in the way of God.  The ecclesia of some fifty that Abraham had in mind is no more, won over to the ways of the world, and there is only “righteous Lot”.  It is remarkable that Lot was able to maintain his personal integrity in the face of such wickedness.  That he was successful in this, is recorded by Peter.  Lot was in a daily state of anxiety because of the sin of the city.  How do we measure up to this?  Or have we become ‘accepting’ that this is the way things are done now?   We object of course to the depravity and immorality in the world, but we have become desensitised by it.  It is after all placarded before us on suggestive billboards, explicit newspaper and radio reports of various ‘cases’, and obscene public entertainment.  The daily viewing of television programmes which portray unfaithfulness, immorality and violence wears away the ethics of its audience.  ‘Soft porn’ is marginally acceptable and the most depraved pornography has escalated aided by modern technology, but also because of the weakness of censorship.  A report released in NZ in 2005, showed that a study on paedophiles demonstrated that in every case the perpetrators had first been consumers of pornography.

Lot however never lost his sensitivity to the things of God.  But Lot is now faced with a dilemma.  He makes an offer to the mob outside which is repugnant to us, and surely must have been to him as a father.   But he is desperate, and he makes a decision between ‘what is the lesser of two evils.’  Thwarted ambitions in men inflamed with lust leads to violence.  As a result, the spirit of Lamech threatened righteous Enoch and so climaxed in the flood (Genesis 4:23,24; 6:5, 12; Jude 14,15).  Like Lamech, these men are of no disposition to be chided and they threaten Lot personally.

 

Lot was kept from violence only by the angelic presence.  The cries of the howling mob soon turned to despair as they groped around in the darkness with sightless eyes.  Their spiritual insight had died long before.  Amazingly they weren’t easily diverted from their filthy purpose – they continued to grope for the door!  Pulled inside by the hands of the angels, Lot now knew for sure the identity of his guests.  His daily prayers had been answered.

The escape plan

The decision to destroy Sodom is now confirmed.   There is nothing else to do but to get out. “Whatsoever you have in the city, bring them out of this place, for we will destroy this place … the LORD has sent us to destroy it.” (v13)  Lot “went out,” that is, he left his house (doubtless under angelic protection) and went to talk to his sons-in-law and daughters (no sons are mentioned, so it seems Lot had at least four daughters).  But his sons-in-law “mocked.” This word is widely used in the sense of laughter, making fun of or even in the case of Samson, making public fun (entertainment).   In fact they ridiculed the old man.  Doubtless they had long been used to Lot’s disapproval of what the city saw as normal activity.  An invitation to flee the city because of impending judgment just seemed too fantastic!  “These religious people are a bit extreme you know.”  “Your dad’s got some funny notions,” they would say to their wives, who remained silent, on side with their husbands in face of their father’s entreaties.

All night Lot pleaded with his family until the first signs of morning, when the angels entreated Lot to leave immediately with his wife and the two daughters that lived in his house.  Lot “lingered,” he delayed, hoping to persuade his reluctant family that the end was near.  The judgment about which Lot had doubtless warned had crept up on them so suddenly!  Every day proceeded normally, “they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded” (Luke 17:29).  But suddenly normal life was to end.  Jesus used the destruction of Sodom as the prototype of the sudden, cataclysmic finish to our civilisation.  The warning is clear.  Unless we keep the way of God uppermost in our thinking as did Lot, we will simply be unaware of the impending doom;  and perhaps not even be ready to respond to the heavenly visitors when they come to call our families away.

 

The angels had to act – they “laid hands upon his hand and upon the hand of his wife and upon the hand of his two daughters” (v16) and the family were dragged out of Sodom.  The rest of his family remained behind because they were enveloped in Sodom’s way of life, and therefore were included among those who “did not like to retain God in their knowledge” so “God gave them over.” They may not have “done” the evil deeds of Sodom, but they condoned those that engaged in such activity (Romans 1:28, 32).

The Lord is merciful

In the context of the angel’s action, the purpose of their visit is made plain.  “The Lord being merciful to him..” (v16).  The mercy of God had waited during the night for him to gather his family, but now must act swiftly so that the righteous will not be destroyed with the wicked.  Herein is exhibited the grace of our God, who despite the determined course of judgment upon wicked Sodom, would indeed not forsake the righteous.

Even in the face of Sodom’s “extreme wickedness” (Genesis 13:13), God is “not willing that any should perish.”  He provides every opportunity for repentance for He is more concerned with the salvation of the godly than He is with the destruction of the wicked.  The graciousness of God is given prominence in the expression of His Name which also expresses His will in his dealings with man (Exodus 34:6,7).  He extended His mercy to His people Israel, bearing long with their failings.   But He also gives opportunity for others to respond.  For this reason, He was not yet prepared to empty the land of promise of its inhabitants, “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” (Genesis 15:16)  As it was, the influence and example of Abraham had already affected a number, some of whom were members of his large household.  The leaders of Israel “filled up the measure of their fathers” (Matthew 23:32) in crucifying the Son of God, but even then, God delayed His judgments specifically at the request of His son (Luke 23:34). As a result, many responded (Acts 6:7; 21:20) but the impenitent were consumed in the fires of the siege of Jerusalem.

 

Run for your life!

Once out of the city, there was no respite.  The voice of the angel urged on the little band, “escape for thy life, look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain lest thou be consumed.” (v17)  “Escape to the mountain” and it seems that perhaps a particular mountain was in mind.  Certainly the advice to make for the mountain indicated the angel knew the details of the nature of the destruction.  The danger as the angel saw it was that the cataclysm might consume them.  But the graciousness of God is infinite.  The angel acceded to the request of Lot, who despite being mindful of the grace of God, was so emotionally drained and distraught that he could not travel more than a few kilometres, and permitted him to find refuge in Zoar, at the south eastern end of the Dead Sea.

Such was God’s mercy, that the judgments were minimised to save Lot, “I will not overthrow this city for the which thou hast spoken” (Genesis 19:21).  This took some fine tuning on the part of the divine Judge, for Zoar was only some fifteen kilometres or so from the main cities of the plain which were annihilated.  Though Zoar was kept intact, it would have experienced the tremendous earth movements when the plain was dramatically lowered after the explosion and combustion of the subterranean oil deposits.  When the dense smoke dissipated, Zoar would have found itself a couple of kilometres from the new shore of the extended Dead Sea.

But the grace of God did not stop with this concession. God would NOT act until Lot was safe!  “I cannot do anything until thou be come thither.”  The prayer of Abraham would be answered, as well as the prayer of faithful Lot (2 Peter 2:7-9; Genesis 18:20-23), “for the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations..”

Remember Lot’s wife!

But Lot lost his wife.  She lingered, broke free of the angel’s urging hand, and “looked back.” This is not a curious, cursory glance.  The meaning of this word in the Hebrew indicates to look intently, implying a regarding with pleasure, favour or care.  It is translated “consider” in Psalm 13:3, “look” in many places (such as Isaiah 51:12) where a searching enquiry is implied, and “behold” (such as in Lamentations 1:12 regarding the suffering servant).  It is notable that the first time the word is used is in connection with God instructing Abraham to “Look now toward heaven..” (Genesis 15:5).  His consequent acceptance of God’s promise ratified Abraham’s absolute faith.  The last time the word is used in the Hebrew Scriptures, is in Zechariah 12:10, where Israel finally recognises their Lord and will “look upon me whom they have pierced.”   Lot’s wife was not captivated by the promise of God;  she was truly enslaved by the city life of Sodom.

Like Lot’s family, we will also leave behind more than mere possessions;  we will leave behind a past way of life, a status, a standing perhaps in the work place, a recognition among neighbours.  Our calling away will be a little like the scene when the angels pressed Lot and his family to leave immediately or else!!  As a reminder of the future cataclysmic event of the earthquake to be triggered at the return of the Lord (Zechariah 14:4), Israeli geologists are monitoring the increase in activity of the great fault line of the Jordan Valley Depression.  This is the western edge to the Arabian tectonic plate.

Are you prepared to greet the heavenly visitor who will one day appear at your door, or may meet you as you go about your business in the city?

Perhaps we could be better prepared if we packed our little bag now in readiness.  It could stay in the hall of our comfortable home, in a prominent place, to remind us of how little we REALLY need in life.  When the focus of our life is set upon the things of God we will have “treasure in heaven” which our Lord will bring with him “to give to every man according as his work shall be.” (Revelation 22:12)  Lot’s belongings went up in smoke in the holocaust, the effects of which are still visible.   Let us not value those things that will pass away in the coming devastation.

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