On the afternoon of February 26, 2004, I was sitting in a medical clinic waiting room. A television tuned to CNN’s “Headline News” was announcing the day’s top stories. In the preceding two weeks, the mayor of San Francisco had been issuing illegal marriage licenses to same-gender couples. President George W. Bush had responded by announcing support for a federal amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
Now, according to CNN journalists, Rosie O’Donnell and her longtime girlfriend were marrying in protest of President Bush’s plan. The broadcasters made no effort to conceal their glee over O’Donnell’s marriage. One anchor enthused that she would inform her viewers “just as soon as I get more information,” as if this disgrace were great news. After confirming that the illegal union had taken place, another anchor described the event using pleasant and innocent phrases such as “happy couple” and “tie the knot.”
This positive portrayal of moral perversion reminded me of a text in Peter’s second letter. The apostle wrote that God turned “the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes” and “condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)” (2 Pet. 2:6-8). On a daily basis, Lot’s neighbors flaunted their depravity, and he found their behavior insufferable. Perhaps his wife initially shared his revulsion. Eventually, though, she grew accustomed to Sodom’s lifestyle.
Mrs. Lot’s Love
Lot’s wife arrived in Sodom as the result of a selfish choice made by her husband. Lot and his uncle Abraham, both prosperous men, possessed great herds and flocks. In fact, their herdsmen had begun quarreling over the limited water and pasture available. Concerned about the impact of this friction on his relationship with Lot, Abraham suggested a friendly separation. He wanted “no strife” with his nephew. “We are brethren,” he said. “Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left” (Gen. 13:8-9).
For more than one good reason, Lot might have insisted that his uncle take the more appealing direction. First, Abraham had treated his nephew like a son. When Abraham left for Canaan, he took Sarah “his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered” (Gen. 12:5). In “taking” Lot, Abraham was acting in his dead brother Haran’s place. Second, putting others first is always the right thing to do.
Ignoring these considerations, “Lot chose for himself” (Gen. 13:11). He looked up and “saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere.” It was like Eden, “the garden of the LORD” (v. 10). Parting from his godly and selfless uncle, Lot traveled east and settled in Sodom (v. 12).
Sodom and its neighboring cities were situated near the Dead Sea. Lot and his wife, of course, had no idea that the Lord’s patience with the cities of the plain was wearing ominously thin. The region was beautiful at the time, lush with vegetation, a perfect place for pasturing livestock. No doubt, Lot and his wife were able to socialize with neighbors wealthy like themselves.
Sodom’s only drawback was its rampant and gross immorality. The people “were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the LORD” (Gen. 13:13). This judgment levels no specific charge against Sodom, but the account in Genesis 19 does. On the eve of Sodom’s destruction, two angels sent by the Lord came to the city to spend the night. Lot, still a good man in spite of all the depravity around him, insisted that these strangers come home with him. Certainly, he was well aware of many instances in which the men of the city had attacked and molested unsuspecting visitors. Reluctantly, it seemed, the angels accepted Lot’s invitation.
As darkness settled over the city, a crowd of men—young and old—surrounded the house and demanded Lot’s guests. They said, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them” (Gen. 19:5). When Lot refused to cooperate, the men surged forward, intent on breaking down the door. The angels reached out and grasped Lot, drawing him inside the house. Inflamed with lust, the men of Sodom continued to grope for the door even after the angels struck them with blindness.
One might think that Lot’s wife would have been eager to escape such an evil environment, but this was not so. The angels warned the family to leave Sodom immediately. “We will destroy this place,” they said, “because the outcry against them [the inhabitants of the city] has grown great before the face of the LORD” (Gen. 19:13). Lot’s wife gave only one ear to this urgent warning.
The Genesis narrative repeatedly emphasizes the family’s reluctance to leave. For instance, when Lot told his prospective sons-in-law of the impending disaster, they thought it was a great joke. The next morning, at daybreak, “the angels urged Lot to hurry,” but “he lingered” (Gen. 19:15-16). Finally, God’s messengers seized the hands of the reluctant family and physically drew them to safety. The angels issued one final warning: “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you” (v. 17).
And then the sky fell. God “rained brimstone [sulfur] and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the LORD out of the heavens. So He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground” (Gen. 19:24-25). The once fertile plain now lay scorched, sending up billows of smoke like a huge furnace. The charred remains of the dead littered the ground, and one of the victims of destruction was Lot’s own wife.
She “looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt” (Gen. 19:26). How could Lot’s wife do such a foolish thing? The answer is plain: She had fallen in love with wicked Sodom.
Tina understands how Lot’s wife must have felt. With dismay she has watched America’s rapid moral decline – the elimination of prayer from public schools, the legalization of abortion and same-sex marriage, the utter corruption of television and movies, the collapse of the traditional family, the shocking rise in the rate of illegitimate births. But whenever Tina reads the Bible, she recognizes that her own worldly conduct is contributing to the self-indulgent lifestyle in the United States.
It is not that Tina has ever committed adultery or abused drugs. On the contrary, her neighbors and coworkers would all agree that she is a very good person. But Tina knows that she has bought into the American value system. She absolutely lives for material things. She is only happy when buying something new—a new car, a new bedroom suit, a new necklace or bracelet, a bigger TV, a faster computer, a new phone, a new purse, new shoes. Of course, the joy of purchasing such things lasts only briefly, and then she is looking forward to the next shopping “fix.”
From the pulpit the preacher occasionally suggests that generous giving helps curb the appetite for material things. Tina believes that this may be true, and many other people in the congregation contribute a tenth of their income or more. Tina and her husband, however, never give more than two or three percent of their net income. Car payments, furniture payments, and credit-card bills devour every available dollar, and then some.
Tina admits to herself that she is in love with the American way of life. The moral fabric of her nation is disintegrating, and this disturbs her, but she cannot bring herself to break away from the self-indulgent mindset of her neighbors and friends. Even the prospect of being in heaven seems remote and, to be perfectly honest, boring. Her love for Jesus is so weak that even the privilege of living in his presence seems rather pale compared with present pleasures.
The Bible says that the patriarchs “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb. 11:13). Tina has read this text many times, but does not emotionally identify with it. She does not feel like a “stranger” or “pilgrim” at all. On the contrary, like Lot’s wife Tina cannot imagine a fulfilling life separated from her worldly home.
Mrs. Lot’s Losses
Worldly attachments lead to nothing but bitter loss. Lot’s wife loved Sodom, but her affections failed to protect the object of her love. After God’s wrath had blazed against the city, its homes lay in blackened, flattened ruins. The entire area, once a veritable garden, was now utterly desolate.
Lot’s wife lost more than her material possessions, though. She lost her children too. A godly mother wants more than anything else for her sons and daughters to grow into men and women of faith. She fervently prays for her children, teaches them the way of the Lord, and tries to set a good example. Perhaps Lot’s wife initially had this purpose in mind for her daughters, but her worldly bonds entangled them all and choked out any interest in spiritual things.
The attitude of the two men engaged to marry Lot’s daughters pointed to the family’s spiritual condition. Urged by the angels, Lot went to his prospective sons-in-law and warned them about the city’s imminent destruction. As mentioned above, to them “he seemed to be joking” (Gen. 19:14). Clearly, if these men thought of God’s wrath against sin as a big joke, they would have made very poor husbands for young women professing faith in the Lord.
Actually, the biblical evidence suggests that Lot’s daughters never even pretended to love God. After their mother died, they demonstrated that they had brought the moral depravity of Sodom with them. According to the scriptures, Lot escaped to the mountains and lived “in a cave” with his two daughters (Gen. 19:30). Isolated from social contact, these young women had no prospects for marriage and motherhood. So the firstborn girl said to her sister, “Our father is old and there is no man on the earth to come into us as is the custom of all the earth” (v. 31). Their solution to this problem was revolting. They urged their father to get drunk. When his inhibitions were fully erased by alcohol, “the firstborn went and lay with her father, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose” (v. 32). The next evening the young women repeated their disgrace, this time the younger daughter taking a turn in her father’s bed.
If Lot’s wife had lived, this shameful episode would never have happened. She would have insisted that Lot move the family to a place where her daughters could associate with other young people and make their own homes. But Lot’s wife was not there when her daughters needed her. Spiritually, she never had been. Her attachment to evil Sodom cost the souls of her own children.
Lot’s wife lost herself too. She “looked back” and “became a pillar of salt” (Gen. 19:26). Surely, this instantaneous ruin was merely physical evidence of God’s judgment on her soul.
The Lord had been extremely gracious to Lot’s wife. As already noted, God had so richly blessed her husband with “flocks and herds and tents” that the land was unable to support both him and his wealthy uncle dwelling together (Gen. 13:5-6). Furthermore, the Lord kindly rescued Lot’s wife from a terrifying experience as a captive.
The kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela were subject to Chedorlaomer and his allies for 12 years. Tiring of this servitude, however, the cities of the plain rebelled. Chedorlaomer responded with a raid in the valley. He and his forces took everything that could be carried off—goods and captives.
It is easy to imagine that Lot’s wife suddenly became more spiritually-minded than usual. What would her fate be? Would she or her daughters be molested by the soldiers? Would her husband be put to death while she watched? Would she and her family be permanently separated? Would she be forced into slavery in some faraway place?
No doubt, Lot’s wife offered up fervent prayers to God. He listened. Abraham and 318 of his men caught Chedorlaomer off guard and defeated him in a night battle. Abraham then returned all the captives and their possessions to Sodom.
The Lord gave Lot’s wife yet more evidence of his love for her. When Sodom was about to fall, she received urgent warnings from the two angels but refused to take them seriously. When her family delayed, the angels even grasped everyone by the hand and drew them away from danger. Failing to appreciate the love and concern in this final gesture of grace, Lot’s wife looked back, turning away from God once and for all.
Mrs. Lot’s Legacy
The Roman general Titus brutally assaulted Jerusalem in AD 70. His army besieged the city for 143 days before it finally fell. When the conflict was over, 600,000 Jews lay dead and thousands more were in captivity.
Jesus predicted this terrible devastation. “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies,” he warned, “then know that its desolation is near.” He said that there would be “great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations” (Luke 21:20-24). Such warnings seem to have more than a mere historical significance. The utter ruin of Jerusalem foreshadows the ultimate destruction of the world.
In Luke 17, for example, Jesus seemed to have both the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world in view. He urged his disciples to consider the implications of what Lot’s family experienced in Sodom. Its people were eating and drinking, buying and selling in the marketplace, planting their crops, and building houses. Life was going on as usual, “but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all” (v. 29). Christ said that it would be just so when the Son of Man was revealed (v. 30). “In that day,” he added, whoever is “on the housetop” must not delay his flight from Jerusalem by taking time to gather up his belongings, and “the one who is in the field, let him not turn back” (v. 31).
Jesus concluded his allusion to the ruin of Sodom with three compelling words: “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). Mrs. Lot’s sad legacy, the eerie pillar of salt standing alone in the blasted and barren plain, was therefore an urgent warning from God against the danger of being ensnared by worldly attachments. The apostle Peter wrote that “if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning” (2 Pet. 2:20).
The United States is fast becoming a 21st century Sodom. While most American streets remain free of the perverted spectacles that disturbed Lot, the television is bringing images of moral depravity into almost every home. The result is a creeping desensitization of the American people – and the church.
If the temperature of a frog’s water is raised gradually, he senses no danger, not even when the boiling point is reached. The poor little creature will boil to death without ever being alarmed enough by the rising temperature to hop to safety. Sadly, many Christians are little wiser than the foolish frog.
Satan has been slowly turning up the heat in the American living room for several decades. When television first became popular, most Christians were incensed by the occasional curse word. They complained. Sometimes they turned off the TV in disgust. But they got used to it. A few years later, most Christians were deeply troubled by the barrage of coarse language on TV. They complained. Sometimes they turned off the TV. But they got used to it. After a few more years, the premarital sex, adultery, and partial nudity on the flickering screen offended most Christians. They complained. Sometimes they turned off the TV. But they got used to that too.
Satan once again has his hand on the thermostat. Sitcoms routinely portray homosexuals and lesbians in a positive way. They are nice, cool, and funny. And the people offended by their perversion are stupid bigots. Movies and cartoons for kids are now openly promoting and normalizing same-sex relationships. Christians are complaining. Sometimes we turn off the TV in disgust. But we are getting used to it.
If the time has not come for Christians to reduce their TV exposure drastically or even to unplug the thing permanently, when will that time come? When TV shows glamorize incest, bestiality, or pedophilia? We can get used to these perversions too.
We seem to be putting off change until the sky falls in. In spite of the moral crisis in our country, life goes on as usual. The economy remains the strongest in the world. The United States has the best military in the world. The sun is still rising and setting every day.
This way of thinking is extremely foolish. It was after “the sun had risen upon the earth” that God “rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah” (Gen. 19:23-24). The fate of Lot’s wife is certain proof that “life as usual” is no guarantee of God’s patience. And so the Spirit invites: “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:17-18).