I’m not sure that there are many passages in the bible that describe a greater level of wickedness than this one. If these events don’t cause your stomach to churn, then your conscience definitely needs to be recalibrated. But at the same time, if you think you are so very different from the sinners in this chapter, then your understanding of the gospel definitely needs to be recalibrated as well. Likewise, if you don’t wonder at the severe judgment of God in this passage, then you’re not paying attention. And at the same time, if you don’t marvel at the covenant mercy of God, then you don’t quite understand what you’re seeing.
I mentioned last week that this particular visit from God—the one that began in 18:1—was meant to accomplish three things. First, in vs.1-8 we saw that God wanted to eat with Abraham; demonstrating His friendship with Abraham and His intention to fulfill the covenant quickly. Second, in 9-15, we saw that God wanted to make sure Sarah was a believing participant in the covenant; He did so by reminding her of His unending power in the face of her doubt. And third, in 22-33, we saw that God came to see if the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were as wicked as He’d heard and if so, to destroy them. Well, this morning, we find God’s examination of Sodom and Gomorrah and His resulting judgment.
The main point of this text/sermon, then, is that we find great wickedness in mankind and even greater mercy in God. Please pray with me that God would impress us with the depth of our sin and the greater depth of His grace.
THE ANGELS ARRIVE IN SODOM (1)
You might remember that this part of the story began (back in chapter 18) with three “men” (who were actually the LORD and two angels appearing as men) visiting Abraham and Sarah (18:2). It is curious, then, that v.1 says only the two angels went on to Sodom and Gomorrah.
1 The two angels came to Sodom in the evening…
For reasons not told to us, both Abraham and the LORD chose to stay back. And yet we’ll soon see that the LORD was present in spirit and Abraham in prayer.
Upon arriving, the angels found Lot…
1 … sitting in the gate of Sodom.
The fact that Lot was sitting at the city gate meant that he was a man of some standing in Sodom. Given the nature of the city, this is not a compliment. It is a sad, even if subtle, indictment of Lot’s affection for this city. Worse yet, it is merely the first of several such displays that we’ll see in this chapter. Where Lot should have been repulsed he was attracted. Where he should have had both feet in the kingdom of God, he had one in Sodom. Grace, if you find yourself indifferent to, comfortable around, or worst of all attracted to wickedness, you have found yourself in a very dangerous spot; just like Lot.
LOT SHOWED GREAT HOSPITALITY (2-3)
In spite of all of this, in a manner very similar to Abraham, Lot extended great hospitality to his visitors.
1 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.” They 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.
Like Abraham, Lot was sitting upon the arrival of the “men” (Abraham in his tent and Lot at the city gate). Likewise, both Abraham and Lot rose immediately upon seeing their guests only to bow before them, both pleaded with the men to stay with them, both washed the men’s feet, both provided a “feast” to the men, and both seemed initially unaware of the true nature of their guests. What’s more, in both cases—surprisingly—the heavenly beings consented to all that Abraham and Lot suggested.
At the same time there are two important differences to note. First, unlike Abraham, Lot made unleavened bread. Unleavened bread was quicker. This is the first indication of an urgency that builds throughout the chapter. Second, while Abraham seems to plead with the men to stay solely as a means of honoring them, Lot understood that it would have been exceedingly dangerous for the men to stay in the town square (as the events we’re about to see testify to). Lot’s actions were hospitable, but they were also protective. The entire motivation behind Abraham and Lot’s kindness isn’t clear, but their hospitality was impressive.
THE MEN OF SODOM ACT WICKEDLY (4-11)
While Lot’s hospitality set a certain tone for the visit, that tone quickly changed.
4 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. 5 And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.”
We saw in the early chapters of Genesis what human sexuality was meant to look like. We were given a beautiful picture of God’s good purpose for making male and female, the unique, complimentary way in which He designed our bodies and roles, and the miraculous natural fruit (children) that comes from a proper union. Here, however, we’re shown the contrasting ugliness, unnaturalness, fruitlessness, and outright evil of those who had become slaves to their own passions and gods in their own image.
On the one hand, this is a foul passage and lingering long on it is uncomfortable at best. On the other hand, it is a mistake to move too quickly from it for we need to be clear on the true nature of sin. Grace, keep your eyes open long enough to see that this is what sin looks like in maturity. In these two verses we see murderous, lustful, unbridled, sexually deviancy of the highest order. While it’s somewhat hard to imagine the depth of depravity that would lead to this level of sin, we must not miss the fact that this is what all sin looks like unmasked and this is where all sin eventually leads unchecked.
On the surface sin often looks pleasant enough, doesn’t it?. A lingering glance at someone other than your spouse, a brief visit to an inappropriate (not necessarily explicitly pornographic) website, hanging around a bit too long with someone you shouldn’t, etc.—these things might not even seem sinful at first. It might look like friendliness and kindness. Even as sin grows and it becomes clear that the sin is sin, it still doesn’t immediately show its ugly face. Over time, however, unchecked, this is what it always becomes. And again, even though we don’t always have eyes to see it, this is always what sin looks like.
Every sin of ours is this heinous to God. Sin in any form and to any degree is infinitely offensive to a holy God. In other words, the same sin-seeds that produced the actions described in Genesis 19:4-5 were in you and me from birth. Our sin is not of a different kind, even if it hasn’t yet reached that level of maturity. A right reading of this passage, then, does not condemn “those vile sinners” from a position of self-righteousness; instead it recognizes the same depth of sin in us overcome only by the amazing grace of God and pardoned only by the blood of Jesus.
Lot Tries to Hold Back Evil with Evil
Well, what would Lot do in the face of such vileness?
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.”
Lot had developed a taste for the city, but thankfully he hadn’t yet given his appetite fully over to it. That is, once again, Lot had one foot in Sodom and one foot in the kingdom of God. Grace, this is the hardest place of all to be. From this position, you get all the trials and only a few of the blessings of each kingdom.
Thus, from the foot in God’s kingdom Lot acknowledged the raping, homosexual intentions of these men as sin and condemned them as such. Lot understood the wicked intentions of the Sodomites and nobly sought to protect his guests. Unfortunately, however, from his foot in the world he sought to do so by sinful means. In no sense was it right to offer up his own daughters to satisfy the diabolical sexual appetites of the men as a means of diverting them away from the men in his house. Well intentioned or not, Lot ought to have known that darkness will never overcome darkness and evil will never triumph over evil.
And once again here lies a lesson for us. Grace, the only God-honoring response to sin is righteousness; to evil is good; to darkness is light. Whatever may befall us we cannot honor God by fighting wickedness with wickedness. It is of no profit to gain the whole world but forfeit our souls.
The Men of Sodom Persist
Lot should never have offered his daughters, but the Sodomites weren’t interested in them anyway. Having been given up to the lusts of their hearts, they exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature. Thus…
9 …they 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.
At this point, even if he meant well, and even if he’d tried his hardest, the practical results of all Lot’s faithless efforts were the enraging of his neighbors, the endangerment of his daughters, and a total lack of protection for his guests.
The Angels Intervene
Thus, we read in the next section that the very men Lot was trying to protect were forced to step in to protect him.
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.
So thorough was the corruption of these men of Sodom that even in the face of miraculous blindness they still did not relent. So insatiable was their appetite for sin that the supernatural judgment of God couldn’t persuade them to abandon their hunt. This is the exact opposite of the effect of God’s regenerating grace. When God moves to save sinners, as we learn from Jesus’ parable of the buried treasure, we will stop at nothing, we will eagerly give everything, to gain Jesus. In this story the men of Sodom would stop at nothing, they would eagerly give everything to satisfy their sinful desires.
Again, let us learn from this, Grace. There are times when God’s mercy is severe, but let us learn to recognize it and receive it before it’s too late. Where your sin is causing you pain or conviction or some other difficulty, don’t reject it, don’t become bitter, don’t persist; thank God and repent. His discipline is an act of His love.
THE ANGELS DETERMINE TO DESTROY SODOM (12-29)
Do you remember the third reason God “came down” this time? It was to see if Sodom and Gomorrah were as bad as the outcries had claimed. The actions of the men of Sodom confirmed all that the LORD had heard. Could it get any worse? For that reason, then, the angels made haste to destroy the people of the land.
More Mercy Offered to Lot
Before they did, however, for Abraham’s sake, the angels showed even greater mercy to Lot and his family. God had already shown Lot mercy by rescuing his whole family from the rage of the men of Sodom. Adding to that, God offered Lot the unique opportunity to gather his family and flee before judgment rained down. The angels promised safe passage to Lot and all who were with him.
12 Then the men 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.”
This really is staggering. This really is great mercy. Lot had done little to glorify the LORD (had he done anything?!), but the LORD was so severe in His mercy that He determined to rescue Lot according to His promise to Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you…” (12:3). Whatever else Lot had done, evidently he still blessed Abraham and so through Abraham he was blessed. God always keeps His word, Grace!
Consistent with the warning of the angels, then, Lot ran off to warn his kin.
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.”
Oddly enough though…
14 … he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.
Even if they weren’t present, they certainly would have heard of the blindness caused to every man in the town, and yet Lot couldn’t get through. I tried all week to think of what might have been in Lot’s tone or delivery or message to make his sons-in-law think he was messing around. I read several commentaries to see if they had any suggestions. There seems to be no earthly explanation. Grace, this is what spiritual oppression looks like. This is what it looks like when God gives people over to their sin; it’s irrational. Even if everyone around you is calling it wisdom, sin is always irrational. Therefore, as night turned to morning, the angels called Lot to leave without them.
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.”
Although he left, as we see in the next verse, Lot wasn’t too far ahead of his sons-in-law. That is, in an act of similar irrational, ridiculousness Lot agreed to go but refused to do so with the urgency the situation required.
16 But he lingered. So the men [angels] 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.”
Again and again Lot chose to respond to the LORD primarily from a selfish, worldly perspective. Although he hadn’t yet become entirely consumed by the passions of Sodom, he also wasn’t entirely consumed by the glory of God and so he lingered in longing rather than fled in disgust. And yet, again the LORD chose to respond to Lot with mercy, seizing him, his wife, and his daughters rather than wait for them to obey on their own.
Lot Seeks and Receives More Mercy on Top of the More Mercy
And if that were not enough, one more time Lot presumed to improve on the LORD’s command, to test His patience.
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.
It seems that Lot didn’t believe he would be able to make it all the way to the hills before God’s destruction came. It seems that Lot didn’t believe God could actually rescue him from the judgment He was about to bring. What folly! Thus, Lot asked for permission to escape to a nearer city; trusting in the nearness of the city for his salvation rather than God of salvation. How utterly stupid this is! How often is this us?
Destruction Befalls Sodom and Gomorrah
Finally, then, having determined that the wickedness of the city was complete and having rescued the one family in the city who blessed Abraham, as morning dawned God rained down His judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah.
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.
It in spite of all Lot’s faithlessness, God rescued him…
26 But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
Like Abraham’s wife, Lot’s wife was slow to believe the LORD. Unlike Abraham’s wife, though, Lot’s wife came to the end of the LORD’s patience. She looked back (the implication is that she did so in longing), in direct contradiction to the LORD’s instructions, and was judged severely for it.
Let this be a lesson to us, Grace: God’s patience, His offer of mercy and grace, eventually comes to an end for the unrepentant. Unbeliever today is the day of salvation. Wandering Christian today is the day of repentance. See the severe justice of the LORD and then cry out for the severe mercy of the LORD. If you do, because of and through Jesus, He will give it.
In v.27 the scene changes a bit. The attention turns back to Abraham. Having done everything he could to intercede for any righteous in the twin cities (18:22-33), Abraham awaited the judgment of God. Thus…
27 …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.
Grace, once again, we are invited—indeed, required—to see ourselves in the Genesis sinners. We must find our own fickleness in Abraham’s doubt and “common sense” solutions, our own skepticism in Sarah’s reluctance to believe God, our own wickedness in Sodom’s treachery, our own ridiculousness in Lot’s reluctance to heed God’s warnings, fighting sin with sin, slowness to obey, fondness for the world, and presumption to improve on God’s designs, and our own longing for the world and disobedience in Lot’s wife’s turning back toward Sodom. To know the severity of God’s mercy is to first know the severity of our own fickleness, skepticism, wickedness, ridiculousness, and sinful love for the world.
THE MERCY SHOWN TO LOT REPAID WITH WICKEDNESS (30-36)
Well, it would be quite a chapter if it ended there. But, unfortunately, it does not end there. One of the more disgusting scenes in Genesis follows.
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. He is the father of the Moabites to this day. 38 The younger also bore a son and called his name Ben-ammi. He is the father of the Ammonites to this day.
These few verses have been called an epilogue to the story above. That seems too dismissive to me. Whether that’s a proper characterization or not, there are at least three critical things to see in it.
- Earlier Lot pleaded with God to let him go to Zoar (20), but here he fleas from it in fear. Grace, as we’ve seen over and over again, getting what we want is often the exact opposite of what we need. Our perspective and wisdom and understanding are all so limited. That is why the Lord Jesus taught us to pray, “Not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Let God’s word be your guide, Grace, not your own wisdom or passions.
- The girls’ planned intoxication of their father was an inducement to sin. Worse still was their plan to become impregnated by their father in his drunken state. According to the Law of Moses (that was to come), the penalty for homosexual acts and incestual ones were the same (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13): capital punishment. What’s more, Lot should never have led his family to this place. He was here and alone because he thought more of his own wisdom than he did of the LORD’s. Further, Lot’s passivity in all of this was another sin. Allowing himself to be “made to drink wine” is not the act of a righteous man. In other words, this passage is filled with sinners sinning. None of the parties were innocent. This passage must serve us well, Grace, in warning us against the building nature of sin. Sin does not naturally die out. It naturally grows in death. We must be killing sin or it will be killing us.
- The practical result of this “epilogue,” of the sinful decisions described here, of the self-centered, prideful choices of Lot and his daughters, was the birth of two nations who would torment Abraham’s descendents for centuries and the seed of the false god known as Molech. “[Lot’s] legacy, Moab and Ammon, was destined to provide the worst carnal seduction in the history of Israel (that of Baal-Peor, Numbers 25) and the cruelest religious perversion (that of Molech, Leviticus 18:21)” (Kidner, TOTC, 146). In other words, Grace, unrepentant sin grows and often stretches out in death over generations.
On our way to covenant fulfillment we’re confronted with this overwhelming chapter. What severe wickedness and mercy it reveals. In all of this we’re meant to see a vivid contrast between the choices of those who have faith in God and those who do not. Likewise, we’re meant to see a vivid contrast between the fate of those whose hope is in God and those whose is not. And in seeing these things, in seeing these almost unfathomable mercies, miracles, and mayhem, we’re meant to recognize the greatness of God and His offer of mercy and turn to Him with all that we have and are. When we do, He will receive us in Jesus, forgive us of all our sins, and welcome us into His presence and blessing.