IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT





A Righteous Man in an Unrighteous City

Date: Jun. 3, 2018

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Genesis 19:1-38

Key Verse: Genesis 19:29

So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.

Many superheroes have one main nemesis. Superman has Lex Luthor. Captain America has the Red Skull. Spider-man has Norman Osborn. Thor has Loki. Black Panther has Klaw. The Flash has the Reverse Flash, and Batman has the Joker. Many times, these nemeses are very similar to their hero, but the reverse with just one main thing that differentiates the hero from the villain. One of the Joker’s more famous quotes from comic books is when he was speaking to Batman one time. He said, “All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That's how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day.” (Batman:The Killing Joke) The point is that it doesn’t take much for a person to go from sane to insane, just one bad day. We have breaking points that lead us to madness. That is an interesting thought, but there is another one, that is similar, but more meaningful. What does it take to compromise a good person? We may know many good people, but what would cause these good people to have the goodness eroded away? Would it take just one bad day, or would it take a continuous onslaught? Today, we will see what happens to a good man, a righteous man, who chose to live in an unrighteous city.

For the past two weeks, the Lord has been talking to Abraham. Two weeks ago, we saw the Lord visit Abraham, along with two angels. Abraham welcomed them into his home and served them with great honor, but the Lord was not there for Abraham’s hospitality. He had a mission, to see what is going on in Sodom and Gomorrah. Word had reached the Lord’s ear concerning the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah and he wanted to investigate those claims. If they were as bad as he heard, those cities would be destroyed. When Abraham heard this, he tried to understand the Lord’s mind in the matter and asked if he would spare the city if there were fifty righteous people in the city. God said that he would spare it if there were fifty righteous people. Abraham kept talking to the Lord until they got to ten people. The Lord would spare the city for the sake of ten righteous people. The angels who were with the Lord went down to Sodom and that is where we pick up today’s passage.

Our passage starts out today, “The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground.” (1) The angels arrived at Sodom in the evening and wouldn’t you know it, Lot, Abraham’s nephew, was at the gateway of the city. The last time we saw Lot, Abraham just rescued him from the clutches of Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him. Lot had been living in Sodom since he separated from Abraham, and now he was still living in Sodom. Not only that, but Lot now had some prominence in the city because he was sitting at its entrance of the city. You see, the gateway of the city was a public location that was used as the administrative and judicial center. Legal matters were discussed and resolved at the gateway. Since Lot was sitting there, he may have been a part of the ruling council. He may have earned that position since Abraham, his uncle, had saved the whole city from being carried away. In order to honor Abraham, they may have invited Lot to become a part of the ruling council.

When Lot saw the angels, like Abraham did in the last chapter, he recognized their specialness. He met them and bowed down before them, just like Abraham. He even invited the angels to his house to rest and refresh. “‘My lords,’ he said, ‘please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.’” (2) In those days, hospitality was a major thing, especially to the foreigner. It was so important that it was mentioned as part of the laws of Moses. The Israelites were to take care of the widow, the orphan and the foreigner. This passage predates the laws of Moses, but the culture of hospitality was still important. It showed the world what type of person you and your people are. Poor hospitality could incite wars, while great hospitality could bring trade and alliances. Both Lot and Abraham showed good hospitality, but Abraham did so with greater humility. Abraham took the nature of a servant before his guests, using terms like, “If I have found favor in your eyes”. On the other hand, Lot just says, “Please stay at my house.”

The angels refused to go with Lot and wanted to stay in the city square, but Lot insisted strongly. On such strong insistence, the angels agree to stay with Lot. When they get to his house, Lot has a meal prepared for them. Unlike the meal they had with Abraham, which had curds, milk, bread and a prepared calf, Lot’s meal was just some bread without yeast. Lot does a fine job of doing what he needs to do. There is no belittling Lot’s hospitality, but it does pale in comparison to the hospitality of Abraham. Abraham went above and beyond the call of duty to serve his guests. He hurried and rushed to prepare the best things he had, then he stood nearby while they ate. Lot had a simpler way. It was not that his way was bad, but it could have been oh so much better.

After eating, Lot’s guests were going to go to bed, but before they could do so, there was a great disturbance in the city. “Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house.” (4) Lot’s house was surrounded. There were countless men on every side of the house – men from every part of Sodom, rich and poor, young and old. It did not matter what walk of life they were from; they were all there around Lot’s house. Just imagine looking out the windows of where you live and seeing the entire neighborhood or city gathering. It would be pretty scary, and they had demands, too. “They called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.’” (5) The crowd wanted Lot’s guests, and they didn’t want to greet them, make friends with them, beat them or steal from them, which are all more normal demands, even if some of those are evil. Instead, the crowd wanted to gang rape Lot’s guests.

Honestly, I can’t even process this correctly. It is so far outside the realm of normal that it is hard to understand. Was this the normal practice when foreigners came to the city, like some sort of initiation? If so, did Lot have to go through this? Was it for dominance over the guests? What was really the motivation behind it? We can only speculate the motivation, but we can see this event is just a symptom of something deeper. This sin is just the tip of the iceberg. You see, this was very open and public, and the worst sins are kept secret and are done in private. If gang raping out of town guests is public, then who knows what evil is done in secret? If you look at the crowd, there were people from all walks of life, from all over the city, young and old. This type of sin had become culture in Sodom. It’s like promiscuity today and the Tinder culture with hookups. We, as a society, think of that a normal, but it’s sinful and it was the same way in Sodom.

But there was one man, who saw a problem in this – Lot. “Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, ‘No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing.’” (6-7) Lot went outside the house to confront the crowd. He closed the door behind him to prevent the mob from getting in behind his back and he addressed them. “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing,” he said. He called them friends, not necessarily because he was their friend, but to get close to them and help them listen. Lot recognized what the crowd wanted to do was wicked. He was the one man in the entire city who knew that gang raping out of town guests was wrong. The apostle Peter described Lot as, “a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless”. (2 Peter 2:7) Lot was the one righteous man in the whole city. Abraham and the Lord talked about sparing Sodom for the sake of ten righteous men, but there was only one, Lot.

For a number of years, Lot traveled with his uncle, Abraham. He was blessed because of Abraham. He may have learned a bit about faith by seeing his uncle figure out how to live a life of faith himself. For years, Lot may have seen Abraham try to do the right thing, and when he failed, return back to God. Lot may have learned to be a good man by seeing everything his uncle did. Then, one day, there was an argument and Lot left his uncle’s house to venture out on his own. He traveled to the region around Sodom and left the blessing that came through Abraham. Lot was out there on his own merit. He lived, for many years, near and in Sodom. He was taken captive once and rescued by his uncle, once more. Lot returned to Sodom and lived many more years. He took a wife, who was probably from Sodom, and had two daughters. He lived among the people and saw who they were. He saw their depravity up close, and, as Peter mentioned, he was distressed at their actions. Perhaps, it was Lot’s prayers that the Lord heard. Maybe he thought that he could influence the city with his position on the ruling council. When the crowd came for his guests, it was time to test that influence, so he calls what they want to do “a wicked thing”.

Lot continues, “Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” (8) Well, all thoughts of Lot’s righteousness are all but gone. Instead of having the mob gang rape his guests, he proposes that they have their way with his virgin daughters. Again, this is just unfathomable. I’m the father of three, including one daughter and there is no way that I would give her, or any of my kids, to an angry mob. Lot viewed protecting his guests as more important than protecting his own family. Lot hoped to influence the people of Sodom, but with his own words, we can see that the people of Sodom have influenced him. All that he learned from his uncle was eroded to the point that he thought it was a good idea to turn his daughters over to this mob. They could gang rape them or even kill them. Lot gave them free range to do what they wanted with his little girls. Only an eroded conscience could think that this was a good idea.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the crowd refused Lot’s offer. “‘Get out of our way,’ they replied. ‘This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.’ They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.” (9) With Lot sitting at the city gateway and his attempt to placate the mob, I get the sense that Lot was trying to influence the people of Sodom to live a better life, but at this moment, we see that Lot had no influence. Whatever influence Lot thought he had was merely an illusion. He may have sat at the gateway, but the people still saw him as a foreigner. They saw him as a self-righteous man who thinks that he could judge the people because he is so high and mighty. We have met people that are actually like that. People who think that they are so good that they have a right to comment on other people’s lives. The crowd threatened to do worse to Lot than his guests and they truly turned into a mob by trying to break down Lot’s door.

At that moment, Lot’s guests intervened. Remember, they were not ordinary guests; they were angels. “But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.” (10-11) The guests pulled Lot back in and made the people trying to break the door down blind, so they couldn’t find the door. They used their divine power to prevent a terrible thing, and they had seen enough. “The two men said to Lot, ‘Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.’” (12-13) They came to see for themselves how bad the sin of Sodom was, and now they saw it. They saw how depraved the city had become and knew that it was time for Sodom’s destruction. There was no doubt that the cries the Lord had heard were real. Sodom was so sinful that it had to be destroyed.

Yet, the Lord was going to have mercy on Lot and he and his family would escape the destruction. The angels told Lot to gather his family, even any sons-in-law, and get out of there. Lot goes to speak to his sons-in-law, but they don’t even believe him. They think that he is joking. Again, we can see the extent of Lot’s influence in other people’s lives: he doesn’t seem to have any influence. These two men were going to be Lot’s sons-in-law. They were going to marry his daughters. In middle-eastern culture, those who are older were respected and honored, but these two men did not respect or honor their father-in-law. Lot spoke with conviction about hurrying, but those two men just thought he was joking. They had no respect for Lot whatsoever.

He may have pleaded with them until dawn, but when dawn came, time was up. “With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.’” (15) Time was getting close for Sodom’s destruction and if Lot didn’t hurry, he and his family would be swept away. For all the urgency of Lot’s situation, Lot hesitated. Something held him back from fleeing. He knew that Sodom would be destroyed, but he hesitated. Again, this shows how his goodness was compromised. When Lot hesitated, the angels grabbed his hand and the hands of his wife and two daughters and dragged them out of the city. “As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, ‘Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!’” (17) The angels told them to run for the mountains and don’t look back.

Unfortunately, Lot complained. He didn’t think that he could make it to the mountains in time, so he pleaded to go to a small town and that small town would be spared the coming destruction. The angels agree, but again tell them to hurry. The destruction could only begin when Lot and his family had made it to safety. “By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land.” (23-25) Once the sun had completely risen and Lot and his family made it to the town, the Lord began the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He rained down burning sulfur from the heavens. It may have looked like meteors raining down on the plain and the cities and the fields were devastated. Everything was destroyed by the burning sulfur. Judgement had come to Sodom and Gomorrah. Burning sulfur is also associate with hell, as there are lakes of burning sulfur there. Even all the plants in the land were destroyed to prevent people from building the cities back up. But during it all, Lot’s wife looked back. “But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” (26) The angels specifically told Lot not to look back, but his wife did so anyway. Lot didn’t have influence over his own wife to stop her from looking back. Her heart was in Sodom and she became a pillar of salt.

That morning, Abraham returned to the place where he was talking to the Lord and looked toward Sodom. He saw smoke rising from the area as it burned. It was dense smoke, like that of a furnace. He may have wondered if Lot was there, but Abraham did know that there were not ten righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah. However, the passage says, “So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.” (29) Even though Lot left Abraham’s protection years before, the Lord still remembered Lot for Abraham’s sake. Abraham was still a blessing to Lot.

After Lot fled to Zoar, he didn’t settle there. He left Zoar out of fear. Perhaps he was fearful that the judgement would also reach there, so he fled to the mountains and lived in a cave with his two daughters. It was a miserable thing to happen to Lot. He had pretty much lost everything. He lost his house and possessions. He lost any influence he had over the people. He lost his sons-in-law and he lost his wife. All he had now was his two daughters and a shred of dignity that he was their father, but even that was going to be lost. “One day the older daughter said to the younger, ‘Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children—as is the custom all over the earth. Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.’” (31-32) Lot’s daughters were worried about not being able to have children since there were no men in the cave. They were living in a remote area with no people around. So, the older daughter concocted a plan, they would get their father drunk and sleep with him. Man, this entire passage is filled with people making the weirdest decisions. How is getting your dad drunk and sleeping with him a good idea?

At any rate, the girls proceeded with the plan. The girls got their dad drunk and the older one slept with him one night and the other did the same the next night. Lot was so drunk that he had no recollection of anything happening. He was plastered, blotto, and probably had a horrible hangover the next day. These girls didn’t respect their father and used him for their own machinations. Their dad was but a tool for their own goals and the last shred of dignity he had was taken away. It was so easy for him to get plastered because there was so much grief and he wanted to drown his sorrows with wine, but his daughters took advantage of that and both of them became pregnant. The older daughter gave birth to Moab who was the ancestor of the Moabites and the younger daughter gave birth to Ben-Ammi the ancestor of the Ammonites. Both of those people would become enemies of the Israelites later.

Lot’s life looks very tragic. This is the last we hear about him and it is not a good thing that we hear. He is a broken man that has lost everything, even the last shred of his dignity. We can look at Lot and pity him, but there is so much that we can learn from him. Lot was a righteous man in an unrighteous city. We don’t know his exact motivations for going to Sodom, but they were selfish. He could have stayed with his uncle but chose the best-looking land for himself. When he went to Sodom, it looks like he is trying to make things better for the people. In this passage, Lot is trying to show the people that what they want to do with his guests is wicked. He wants to help them change to be better people, but he is doing it all on his own. He is self-righteous and thinks that he knows better, which might be true, but that attitude helps no one. People trying to influence others by showing people what is right are only met with resistance, and, instead of influencing them, those people are compromised by living near them. The apostle Paul wrote, “Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) When you take a clean shirt out into the world, it doesn’t make other things clean. Instead, the shirt gets dirty. Its cleanliness is compromised. It is the state of everything in the world. I mentioned the second law of thermodynamics a number of weeks ago. The entropy, or measure of disorder, is increasing in a closed system. Things go from ordered to disordered, clean to dirty. They don’t go the other way without a great deal of help.

All is not lost for Lot. His life looks like it is but a footnote in history, but his descendants will play an important role in God’s history. The Moabites would become an enemy of the promised people, the Israelites. However, there was one Moabite who would have faith in God and be grafted in to his family, Ruth. Ruth’s husband was an Israelite who died. Ruth could have returned to her people, but by faith she stayed with her mother-in-law and eventually be redeemed through Boaz, who would become the great-grandfather of the greatest king that Israel had David, who himself, was the ancestor and model of the greatest king ever Jesus. Without Ruth, a Moabite, there would be no David and no Jesus. There is redemption for Lot, a righteous man. Because of that redemption, we can all be redeemed. Jesus came to redeem all of us, to change all of our miserable lives of compromise into meaningful lives.

Things go from ordered to disordered, clean to dirty. They don’t go the other way around without a great deal of help, and that help is Jesus. When we try to change people, we become changed by the people. Nowadays, there is a lot of activism and Christians are no different. We are championing causes like everyone else. Christians are holding protests, sit ins and sharing fliers. Christians are getting vehement and forgetting the grace that comes through Jesus. Many are all about morality, but they sacrifice their own morality and bring hatred and anger to conversations, and no one is changed. No one in influenced by a person like that. We are not called to change the world. We are called to preach the gospel, and it is the gospel that changes the world. Throughout history, the only way society has been positively influenced is when Christ is preached, not when we get up and talk about what is right and wrong. The world of the early church was as twisted as it is now, but the church simply proclaimed Christ crucified and people were changed. There were no protests against certain sins, there was just Christ crucified, because that is where influence happens. Without that and only that, we will be compromised like Lot. We become compromised and not be the influence. When we try to be the light, we will be snuffed out. When we proclaim the true light of Christ into the world, change happens, influence happens and people are changed for the better. It’s only through Jesus, remembering his grace and love, and not trying to have our own importance, because that is what happened to Lot and he was changed for the much worse.

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