Read Genesis 18:16-19:38. This is a difficult text, but an important one. This is a text about God’s judgment and God’s sovereignty, two topics that upset a lot of people.
God’s judgment is always just, because He is completely holy and sinless and no one else is. We all deserve God’s wrath. That was reinforced for me when I read this text. I hope it will be for you as well.
God’s sovereignty simply refers to the fact that He is God and we are not. Therefore, He can do whatever he wants. He is not capricious (he doesn’t just move us around like pawns on a chessboard for his pleasure. He does have a purpose and a reason behind everything). But he doesn’t owe me any explanations when I don’t see His purpose. He is the Creator and I am the creation. Since He is the Creator, He can destroy the creation, or any part of it, at any time for any reason. Witness the flood. We don’t like this truth, because we think we know better than God. We inherited this pride at the fall in Genesis 3.
This is a crazy story of human depravity at its absolute worst, and the depth of God’s sovereign, undeserved grace at its most extravagant.
Jesus taught from this story in Matthew 10:14-15, Matthew 11:23-24, Luke 10:12, and Luke 17:28-32, always with reference to the severity of God’s judgment on the unrighteous. This incident is referred to 27 times in other books of the Bible.
Act 1 opens with three men, who we can identify later as two angels and the Lord, talking to Abraham about the wickedness of Sodom and God’s impending judgment on that city, and Abraham praying for the city, because his nephew Lot and his family live there. Lot is a real stinker. His Uncle Abraham has become a father-figure to him and taken him under his wing. Lot has taken for himself the very best land, and given his uncle the left-overs. He is living in Sin City (as you are about to see) and appears completely ungrateful for all his uncle has done and sacrificed for him. It shows how much Uncle Abe loved Lot that he is seen here begging God to save him.
Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”
So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place. (Genesis 18:16-33)
God would have spared Sodom for 10 righteous people in it. But as you are going to see, He won’t even be able to find 10. Abraham knows that he has done all he can. He has asked God to save the city. He understands that God is sovereign, and that God will do what God will do. Does this mean that we shouldn’t pray? Absolutely not. Should my attitude be, “God is going to save those he is going to save and condemn those he is going to condemn, so why pray for my loved ones, people I counsel, and others I know who are not saved?” Absolutely not. I don’t claim to understand how God works out divine sovereignty and human responsibility. All I know is this. The Bible says that God is absolutely sovereign. And the Bible also says that God likes to work out his sovereign plan through people – and that I am to pray and to share the gospel. So, every day I beg the Lord to save those I love and others I know who don’t know Him.
Act 2 opens with “the two angels” (we assume 2 of the three men from Genesis 18) headed into the city gate of Sodom, where Lot is sitting. Ancient cities were walled cities with gates that you had to pass through to get in and out. The city gates were sort of the “downtown” area of an ancient city. Since the gates controlled who came in and our of the city, including imports and exports of goods, the city gates were the commercial nerve center of the city. By the fact that he was sitting at the city gates, we can infer that Lot has become an influential person in the city of Sodom. Notice the progression. Lot formerly lived up above Sodom with Abraham, then he moved into the valley where Sodom was located, then he moved right outside the city, then he moved into the city, and now he sits at the city gates as an influential citizen of Sodom. (Genesis 19:1)
When the two angels come into the city, Lot greets them and (like his uncle did before) shows them hospitality, inviting them to his house. He actually insists that they come to his house, because he knows the city he lives in, and he realizes that their idea of staying in the town square is a really bad idea. You’ll see why. So Lot takes the two men home for dinner. (Genesis 19:2-3)
After dinner is when things take a REALLY nasty turn. At some point between dinner and bedtime, the doorbell rings. The Bible tells us that ALL the men of the city, from young teenagers all the way up to old senior citizens, have surrounded Lot’s house and are asking him to bring the two new men out so that they can have sex with them!! (Genesis 19:4-5) There is no doubt that the verb “to know” here implies sex (see also Genesis 4:1, 4:17, 4:25, Judges 19 for a parallel story, and Jude 7). What is being proposed here is a kind of “newcomers homosexual orgy,” involving all the men of the city – young and old. This city couldn’t be more despicable! Sodom is a sick place! We get our word “sodomy” from the name of this city. So, Lot comes out of the house and shuts the door behind him. These men are Lot’s friends and business associates and when he pleads with them to not act so wickedly, their response tells us a lot. Listen to what the men of the city said: “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge!” (Genesis 19:9) Basically, they are saying, “Oh, so now you are going to judge US?” You have heard this said before (and maybe said it yourself). People say this when they know that the person they are talking to is as much of a “sinner” as they are. They are pointing out Lot’s hypocrisy, which will become apparent.
Check out Lot’s “solution” to this situation: “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.” (Genesis 19:8) Wow! As the father of a little girl, this disgusts me! He is saying, “I need to take care of these men who are living under my roof, so rape my daughters instead.”!!!!! This Sodom is a crazy depraved, wicked place. And Lot is one of them. Genesis 19:14 tells us that these daughters were already set to be married! What is Lot doing here? How did he get in such a wicked place? (Answer: one bad decision at a time, which slowly desensitized him to his sin.)
Now, this next part is the part I have a really hard time with. God is getting ready to show incredible undeserved grace to Lot, and I wish He would just let Lot burn. (Again, we think we know better than God, and we inherited this pride at the fall.) The angels then pull Lot back in the house, shut the door, and strike the men outside blind. (Every time I read this, it sounds like a really bad cartoon or “B” movie to me.) They say, “do you have any other relatives in the city? If so, you better grab them and get out of Dodge, because we are getting ready to destroy this place.” He tries to warn his sons-in-law, but they just laugh at him and think he is joking. (Genesis 19:14) This is because LOT HAS BECOME A JOKE. No one is going to take Lot seriously talking about God or sin or judgment, because they know what Lot does and who Lot really is.
Sadly, this can be said for a lot of Christians today. The church and a lot of Christians have lost our moral authority in the world because the world sees us as a joke.
As you read the rest of the story, you see that Lot drags his feet getting out of town, even getting a good night’s sleep before leaving. (Genesis 19:15) Apparently the sons-in-law have decided now to stay in town because they think their father-in-law is a joke. What an incredibly dysfunctional family!! (Lot is willing to let the mob gang-rape his daughters. The sons-in-law think their father-in-law is a joke and would rather stay in this perverted environment than escape with their wives-to-be. This is a mess!!)
The angels basically drag Lot and his family out of down, with Lot kicking and screaming. (Genesis 19:16) That verse tells us that this is God being merciful to Lot. Well, clearly. But why???!!! This man is a total waste of space, in my opinion. Seriously. I have no problem in this story with the fact that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (sister city that was apparently just as wicked). My problem is that God showed mercy to Lot!
Paul wrote this about another difficult text like this one in which God’s sovereign work is hard for man to understand:
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:14-16)
God is sovereign. We do not know why He chose to show mercy to Lot. And, although it offends our sense of fairness, He is God and I am not. The fact is, there are people who could look at my life and go, “Really God? Greg? You chose to save Greg? Interesting…” None of us deserves God’s mercy. All of us deserve God’s wrath. This doesn’t mean that God’s people, whom He has rescued, can live any way they want with no consequences. In fact, the Bible will teach that those upon whom God has mercy, He adopts (Ephesians 1:5). And those He adopts into His family, He disciplines (Hebrews 12:6). There will be severe consequences for the mess that Lot has made of himself and his family. Both Lot’s daughters, the ones he was willing to have gang-raped, got him drunk and slept with him and had children with him (Genesis 19:30-38). And both the people groups who emerged from this nasty episode, the Moabites and the Ammonites, will be used by God to discipline His people for their disobedience later on.
As with everything, God is going to redeem this whole horrific story through a descendant of Lot named Ruth. Ruth (from whose lineage Jesus is born) is a Moabite who marries an Israelite. That is the subject of the Book of Ruth in the Bible, which is a beautiful story of redemption, completely unlike this lousy story. So, out of the awful carnage of this terrible incident that reveals our need for desperate need for redemption, our Redeemer will emerge.
When we read a historical narrative, we usually naturally think in terms of good guys and bad guys. The Bible is about bad guys and Jesus, not good guys and bad guys. There is not a single good guy in this story except for God – and even His goodness is hard to see here. None of us deserve God’s mercy. All of us deserve God’s wrath. Some receive God’s mercy, and we don’t always (or maybe ever) understand why. If we could point to why God shows mercy to some, it would mean that those people, in some way, seemed to deserve God’s mercy more than others. And mercy is, by definition, undeserved.
The setting of Act 3 of this crazy story is back at Abraham’s place, where Abraham had earlier begged God to have mercy on Sodom for the sake of his nephew Lot, whom Abraham loves like a son:
And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the LORD. 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.
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. (Genesis 19:27-29)
Somehow in His kindness, God saw fit to show mercy to Lot – and to actually declare him righteous (2 Peter 2:7-8). Somehow, in His kindness, He has done the same for me. Like Abraham, I am praying for God to shower mercy on some people I love, too. I think they are are far more deserving of God’s mercy than Lot. (But then, I have to remind myself that none of us deserve God’s mercy.) I plead with God daily that He, in His great mercy, will help them to receive the truth and will save them from His coming judgment, which Jesus warned in the verses linked above will be similar to His judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah.