Friday, April 13, 2012

LOT’S FAMILY

Genesis 19
Lot is very much like us. Many Christians, however, like to think of Lot as a carnal Christian who "pitched his tent" symbolically and literally towards Sodom. (Gen 13:12) Thus they see his story and the events surrounding the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as a kind of come-uppance for Lot and his family. This "come-uppance" factor is a kind of righteous "serves-them-right" spitefulness that occurs in many Bible studies. Basically, the underlying feeling is that Lot deserved what he got because people who don’t do right have to suffer. We see this kind of thing also in sermons about Samson. Yet not in sermons about Noah. Or about Jesus. But if we read the Bible we certainly should understand that the end of a Bible character’s life or story may or may not be a judgement on that person’s life. The death of good people are more complicated than this. A good ending does not imply a good life, just as a good death does not imply that a character has lived a good life.

Few people are called "just" in the Bible. It is a high and huge compliment. Lot is called (2 Peter 2:7) a "just" man whose spirit was daily vexed because he lived among evil people. If we believe that the writers of Scripture spoke as the Holy Spirit moved them, then we should accept the Holy Spirit’s witness that Lot was a ‘just’ man.

But many sermonizers disagree with this. They begin by showing that when Abraham gave Lot a choice of choosing where he wanted to graze his flocks, Lot chose to live near Sodom because the land was green and lush. This, we Christians have been taught, is a sign of Lot’s carnal thinking: Abraham could look at something that seemed empty and doomed to failure but, seeing the invisible, he could imagine God’s power working in any atmosphere. Lot, on the other hand, we are told was so enslaved to his eyes and to the non-spiritual ways of seeing things that he chose the path that looked easy. Of course, this is partially true. But before we judge Lot, let us ask ourselves what we would have done if given the same choice. Very few of us would willingly choose to work in a field which seemed doomed to failure.

So Lot lived near Sodom and later actually entered the city and lived there. The writer of Genesis states that Sodom was such a wicked place that a cry against it had reached heaven. God heard the cries when Sodom’s cup of sinfulness had overflowed its brim. He therefore, in one of his pre-New Testament human appearances, to arrive at Abraham’s tent where he told Abraham that He intended to investigate the city and destroy it. After seeing what later happens in Sodom –-an entire town filled with men who have only murderous rape on their minds–- the reader has no doubt that Sodom deserves to be wiped off the face of the earth, although one does wonder about who made the cry against it. One can only assume that the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah had been raping and destroying innocent travelers for quite a while. But isn’t it also possible that Lot’s own vexation against the place had also been part of the general cry against Sodom?

When Abraham heard God’s plans, knowing he had relatives in the city, he made a bargain with God: He made God promise that if God could find ten good people in the city, the city would be spared. Ten persons would include Lot, his wife, his daughters and future sons-in-law.
As the story goes, angels were then sent to the city, and being supernaturally beautiful, they attracted the lust of the men of Sodom who demanded that Lot turn the angels over to them. Lot refused. He then offered his daughters to the lustful men.

The importance of hospitality was what prompted this; protecting one’s guest was very important, even if it meant sacrificing one’s family. The men of Sodom, however, wanted the angels. They grew enraged and reminded Lot that he was a stranger in a strange land and shouldn’t bring his moralizing to them. This behavior only proved that the cry against Sodom was true. As the men of Sodom became more violent, the angels repaired matters by blinding them. This put a quick end to the problem as the men began stumbling about looking for someone to lead them by the hand. Disregarding them, the angels turned to Lot and declared that the city would be destroyed. Now Lot had to convince his family. His daughters and wife believed him but his future sons-in-law did not. At this point, this is where our tendency to scapegoat begins.

It starts out very often with ministers or Bible study teachers saying that Lot’s sons-in-law (or future sons-in-laws) did not believe Lot’s witness about the coming destruction of the city because Lot had compromised himself and lived among them as a backsliding believer for so long that they couldn’t possibly take him seriously. Well, of course that kind of stuff happens. One cannot be quiet about one’s morals and faith and then suddenly rise up and speak as a religious prophet and expect to be believed.

But why is this charge laid against Lot? In his day, Noah (Hebrews 11) prophesied about a coming flood. In our days, many Christians say that the end of the world is near. No one listened to Noah. And now modern Christians will mock. Therefore, the fact that the sons-in-laws or fiances didn’t believe Lot shouldn’t be the first nail used to lock Lot in the "bad guy" category.
If we analyze the story, we would realize that since many of the men of Sodom were presumably blinded by the angels, the entire town should have stood up and noticed this great miracle in their midst. But, in the face of this astounding evidence, the sons-in-law still refused to believe Lot. Their refusal to believe Lot had little to do with Lot’s reputation. The sons-in-law either could not believe that God interceded into human lives. Or they found the idea too unworldly to take seriously. But Lot’s supposedly "carnal" compromising lifestyle is not the reason.
Something else: Lot was a sojourner in the city of Sodom. This meant his religion was probably different than theirs. How difficult is it for people with one type of God to actually be converted by a stranger, especially when the stranger tells them that "his" God is going to destroy their world!

Abraham met people of other cultures only when he had to. For the most part, he wandered in and out of the lives of gentiles and –with the exception of Melchizedek– he tended to believe the worse of the gentiles he meant, expecting them to behave immorally or unspiritually. But Lot was more cosmopolitan. He lived among other people and he was a holy man who lived in an unholy world. In many ways Lot was more like the typical North American multicultural Christian than Abraham was. When Peter writes in his second epistle that Lot’s spirit was vexed continually because of evil he saw every day, shouldn’t most Christians immediately feel a similarity to Lot? Don’t we feel our separateness when we ask a non-Christian to refrain from cursing or taking the Lord’s name in vain? But instead, malicious self-righteous judgmentalism enters the Bible study and Lot is constantly made to appear as if he deserves his plight.
As the story proceeds, the time arrives for Lot to leave Sodom. But Lot dawdles. Finally the angels have to take matters into their own hands and they grab Lot, his wife and daughters and drag them out of Sodom. When this is being studied, this is where another instance of "serves-them-right" judging pops up. This "serves-them-right" attitude is another way of scapegoating a character and turning them into "bad guys."

The angel had warned Lot’s family not to look back as they fled the city. But during the escape, Lot’s wife looked back and was turned into a "pillar of salt." A note about this "pillar of salt" is needed.

There are many salt formations at the southern end of the Dead Sea and since many believe she was turned into a real pillar of salt, there is actually a formation that has been so named. Others believe that the sulfur falling from the destroyed city engulfed her or that she became dehydrated from the heat. But those who are knowledgeable in Arabian linguistics believe this phrase "turning into a pillar of salt" is much like our English word, "petrified" which means "turned to stone" and which we use when someone is overwhelmed with. When we say that a person is petrified, we do not believe that they have literally turned to stone.

Everyone has his own reasons for his interpretation of the "pillar of salt." It is, after all, a situation that almost seems to require an apology. People who consider themselves scientific cringe at the idea of God stepping into history to destroy a city just to do something so unnatural as turning a woman into a block of salt. But even those who don’t feel the need to apologize for the miraculous or folklore sometimes have a problem with this scenario. Kinder-hearted folks can understand the destruction of Sodom but they are uncomfortable with a God who seems petulant and who "fingers" Mrs Lot for destruction. The big question then is "Did God ‘do something’ to Lot’s wife? And if He didn’t, why do we want to believe that He did?

Sadly, many Christians over the centuries feel a need to "defend" God and because of this, they feel that Mrs Lot should be judged. This means that they must find a reason to turn her into salt. The popular opinion is that Lot’s wife was carnal-minded and that the carnal concupiscence in her heart made her look back longingly on the carnal joys of the Cities of the Plains. But again, this is unthinking and heartless judgmentalism. Mrs Lot may have looked back, but certainly she had more important things to think about.

Depending on your Bible translation Lot either had four daughters –two married and two unmarried, or he had only two unmarried daughters who were engaged to men who were natives of Sodom, or he had married daughters and sons-in-laws. Once again, she should remember that Lot lingered. Isn’t it logical to assume that Lot is waiting for his sons-in-law (or his daughters’ fiances) to appear? Families and friends who had not escaped with Lot were now wiped out in the sudden heaven-sent flames. In such a situation, would not Mrs Lot look back in grief and loss? The heart of anyone who saw such a conflagration would probably fail them from fear, even more so the heart of someone who had lost someone she loved such as future or actual sons-in-law.

When prophesying about the last days in the gospel of Luke (Luke 17:32) Jesus warned, "Remember Lot's wife." Many think Jesus was judging her and showing how evil she was, but from the context Jesus did not seem to have disdain for her but sorrow. After all, the family separation and stress that will occur in the last days will be difficult. Two women will be grinding at the wheel, one will be taken and one left. Two people will be in a house, one will be taken one left. There will be tears wiped from our eyes before we enter heaven and those tears will be for those of our families who were "left." The word "remember" does not mean "judge this person harshly." It means, you will probably be in the same situation. You will want to look back, but no matter what you do, do not look back and do not fear. Jesus warned that in the last days emotional anguish and anxiety would be so common that people’s hearts would be failing them because of fear? John in Revelations told his reader that God will wipe away tears from our eyes? (Rev 21:4) Isn’t it possible that those tears will be, like the tears of Lot’s wife, shed for lost friends and relatives, because some will be taken and some left?

The next building block against Lot and another episode which makes him easy prey for scapegoating is what happens after Lot escapes to the cave with his daughters.

Like Tamar who deceived Judah into having children, Lot’s daughters felt that having children was expedient. The world had to be repopulated and they had no other choice but to do their part. His daughters devise a plan. They give Lot wine. We don’t know where the wine came from or how long Lot was in the cave, but the entire episode echoes the incidents that happened after the flood when Noah became drunk.

The Bible tells us that Lot was afraid to go to Zoar, the smallest city of the Plains. But it doesn’t say why his daughters didn’t press him to go to Zoar to find good men. Perhaps they thought the destruction was not localized and that all the rest of the world had been destroyed. Perhaps they thought that, like Noah’s family, their family had been chosen to repopulate the world. As far as they could see, their father was the only man who could help bring children back to the world. As we read in Genesis, the girls said to each other, "There is no one else on earth who will give us children." It is obvious from their conversation that they thought they were the only family left on earth, and their father was the only man.

Perhaps this was shortsightedness on their part. Perhaps it was arrogance and genuine respect for their father’s goodness. They knew how the just Lot was daily vexed (2 Peter 2:8) to live in that unholy city. He was probably the holiest person they knew. Perhaps their misguided expedience was brought on by despair and by a confused theology. Perhaps they knew that God had destroyed the earth by water in Noah’s time and now believed the world (not just Sodom and Gomorrah) was entirely under God’s wrath. Not knowing Abraham or whether his family had lived or whether he had a son, the girls felt they had no other way to create a holy human line. Whatever their reasons, the daughters of Lot did that which was "right in their own eyes" and had sex with their father.

One can assume that this was evil in the sight of God without scapegoating them. One of the reasons Moses wrote this account is because he wanted to show the Israelites why the land of the Ammonites and Moabites were now being reassigned to them. Yet Moses also showed the Israelites that they were related to these two peoples. And of course, Jesus would be descended from a Moabitess, David likewise. Therefore, the descendants of Lot would be redeemed in spite of their origins.

But when we study the story of Lot, we should examine ourselves to see our hidden motivations in believing certain things about these characters.
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