Sermon: Leaving Sodom
Forsaking This World
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 17-Nov-12; 74 minutes
Before the sermon that I gave two weeks ago, someone asked me if it was going to be part of a series; and I said “No” because I have been doing a number of stand-alone sermons and I consider that sermon, which I had called “Life in Sodom” to be another one-off message that I would then be able to just say “Okay, this one’s done” and I would go on to something else.
But, after finishing that sermon and thinking about it, I felt that I had left something on the table—I felt that we had remained there in Sodom—and it nagged at me for about a week when, during a conversation with Beth, she made some comments that helped kind of coalesce an idea that may help complete (or maybe ‘complement’ should be a better word) the subject of that first sermon.
Now, because so many of you did not hear that first sermon, I will go ahead and summarize what I said last time.
We saw that when Jesus warned us about end-time conditions, He pointed to two historical settings. First, He pointed to the days of Noah; and then He commented on the days of Lot. We know the days of Noah are described in the Bible as the height of human wickedness.
It says there in Genesis 6 that every imagination of the heart was only evil continually. So every thought that they had was, in some way, linked to doing evil of some sort. I do not think we have reached that point yet, but we are getting closer to that.
We saw in the sermon last time that there was some sort of perversion of marriage, because that figures prominently in the first few verses of that chapter, and a great deal of violence. It was so violent that God said He was grieved that He had even made man and He decided to wipe mankind out except for Noah and his family.
We then moved on to Lot’s time, which was the bulk of the sermon. My main point in going through all that was to describe what Sodom was like.
We know a lot about what Noah’s time was like. We think we know about what Sodom was like because that is the byword for that kind of homosexuality. So we think that that is the way Sodom was.
But I wanted to show, through the descriptions of the whole of Scripture, that it adds a great deal of information about what Sodom was really like. So we found out that the inhabitants of Sodom were those infamous Sodomites and they practiced a very violent form of homosexuality.
But we saw in other places that there was a lot more to Sodom than just that. For instance, the people were very wealthy. They had money coming out of their ears as it were. They lived in a veritable paradise.
The Bible’s own description of the plain of Jordan, where Sodom and Gomorrah and the other three cities were, is that it was like the garden of God. It was paradise. It was so well-watered, you threw a seed out on the ground and it grew up overnight—almost like Jack and the Beanstalk.
The ground was fertile, there was water there, perfect conditions; and it was just a wonderful place to live—on the surface. It was the bread basket of the region. I am sure that they were able to produce way more food than they could eat, and so they could export it then.
Jesus somewhat verifies this. When He talks about it, He says that they were very hard workers. With the days of Noah, He said they were marrying and giving in marriage, but when He talks about Lot’s time, He says that they were building and sowing and doing all these other activities that shows that they were a society of merchants, of growers, of builders; and they were making a whole lot of money by doing their trades and by trading because they were also on a conjunction of trade routes; and so they could take their finished products and sell them to the caravans coming through.
But Jeremiah and Ezekiel compared them to Judah and to Israel, and this is where some of the more interesting comparisons come out about what Sodom was like.
They tell us that the Sodomites had too much free time. It says they had an “abundance of idleness.” They had made so much money that they had a life of ease and they were able to stop work early and do whatever their hearts desired. And it often led them into evil.
Then, of course, they had an overabundance of food. They had no lack. They had no real reason to go out there and make a living, or to do things that are spiritually profitable or culturally profitable—not just monetarily profitable. So they got into all kinds of evil.
They also tell us that the people of Sodom were proud and self-indulgent. I am sure they were proud about their ability to make money, for one thing, and they were proud of their culture; and of course, they were self-indulgent.
It says that they were uncharitable. They would not help the poor because all that profit, all their money, all that free time was being spent on themselves and not on the people that were poor among them.
And it also says that the people of Sodom were supportive of evil-doers; that a wicked person would arise, and the people would say “Aha, this is my chance to get ahead.” And so they would back that wicked leader that would arise and climb the ladder in society rather than doing what was right.
So that is kind of our snapshot of Sodom and Gomorrah and those cities of the plain. They were very wealthy, they lived in a paradise, they could make money easily. They were hard workers (merchants and growers and builders) but they also had too much free time on their hands and they were proud, self-indulgent, uncharitable, and supportive of evil-doers. The Bible actually tells us quite a great deal about the people of Sodom.
Now in both cases, when you go through Matthew 24 and Luke 17 (where Jesus talks about the days of Noah and the days of Lot), Jesus emphasizes that they (both the people in Noah’s time and the people in Sodom) were so self-absorbed that neither people realized that their civilizations were about to be judged and destroyed. They could only see as far as the end of their own noses. They could not see what was going on around them. They could not see the deterioration of their society.
And even if they saw or caught glimpses of it, they did not think it was all that bad. What they saw was a situation to take advantage of. And then they did, but only to do something that would help themselves.
This is an example to us, this is a lesson to us, because He compares this to the fact that we too will not know for sure when the Son of Man will return. Even those of us who have the understanding that is granted to us by God’s Spirit will not know when Christ will return. You will not know the day or the hour, He says. He did not even know. Only His Father in heaven.
We might have a ballpark figure, we may be able to get kind of close, but even we will not know.
He goes on to say that if it were possible, even the very elect could be deceived. So we might have our heads turned one way or the other and miss the big clues. I hope that is not the case.
We should pray frequently that we are not deceived and we see things properly from His perspective. We will not know exactly when He is going to return, and so He advises us to watch. He implies awareness, a wariness even, a vigilance about what is happening around us. That we are to look on society, on our own lives, and always be comparing them to the ideal and be then able to compare how far we slipped, and be able to look at the signs of the times.
So we need to frequently take the temperature of society, in terms of godliness or ungodliness; I think we were on the other side of it—we were on the ungodly side. People are less and less moral today. They are not ‘Christian’ to the extent that they were before. There used to be many people who did what the Bible said, whether they really understood it or not. They had their own ways of going about it, but at least they were moral people. They would keep the Ten Commandments as best they knew how.
But today those things are going by the wayside and fewer and fewer people take the Bible seriously, Christianity seriously, and so we need to be aware of that.
But more important than all of that—more important than taking the temperature of society—we need to take our own spiritual temperature frequently.
II Corinthians 13:5 tells us that we are to examine ourselves. And we usually do this around Passover time. But we should be doing it more frequently because we always need to look at the gauge (the gauge is Jesus Christ and His character) and we need to be seeing how we are doing in comparison.
We are always going to fall short. For many of us the gauge is very much toward empty, but that is just something we have to work on to try to get more and more like Jesus Christ. But we must be comparing ourselves to the image of Christ frequently.
As a summary way, I will say, we do this by gauging how close our relationship is with God. How close are you with God? How much are you communicating with Him? How much are you learning from Him? How much are you copying, imitating, mimicking His example? And if we are honest, we find that we are not doing all that well, and we should then get better and do it more. Even if we have been in the church a long time, we should not take this activity for granted.
This is about where we left off in the last sermon. As the sermon ended, we remained in Sodom with Lot and we were aware of the evils of the society there.
But I did not give you much guidance about what to do. I am not sure how much guidance I will give you today about what to do, about leaving Sodom.
But the story of Lot provides us with many lessons about what not to do. Lot is a great example of the wrong way to do things. So we are going to look at that today and highlight the major pitfalls that we need to avoid when leaving our own particular Sodom, that is, this world around us.
Before we look at Lot’s example more closely, I think we need to touch on a very important principle that will provide a foundation for this subject.
We are all aware that Paul tells us plainly in II Corinthians 4:4 that Satan is the god of this world, and he goes on to say that that god of this world—Satan the Devil—has blinded its inhabitants to the true God and to His plans.
So even though Romans 1 tells us that there are things about God that we should know by just being here on earth and looking around and seeing all the things that we can see (we know that only the mind of God could have done certain things), still Satan has been working by broadcasting his attitudes to the point where we all disbelieve what our eyes see.
And then this goes further by his inculcating into the cultures of this world the deceptions that are there about God, about what He is doing, and he has even counterfeited the true religion so that people are confused about what is going on—they do not know God, they do not know what He is doing, they do not know whether this is truth or that is truth or if there is any truth at all.
That is what it has gotten to today where there is no truth; it is all relative. It is: Whatever truth you want to believe, whatever you accept, that is truth (which is stupid and it usually ends very badly).
But we also know that in Revelation 12:9 (this is another memory scripture) that the dragon deceives the whole world. Mr. Armstrong went to this verse very frequently during his sermons.
So we can say the first part of this principle I am trying to get you to understand is that there is no place on earth that is free from Satan’s influence. If Satan has blinded the whole world—all the inhabitants of the earth—if he has deceived the whole world, we have proof from the Bible that Satan’s influence is everywhere. It is worldwide.
The prince of the power of the air has broadcast all his evil and rebellious attitudes to every person—man, woman, and child. We have all imbibed, we are all tuned in (to keep the metaphor going), to the broadcast of his attitudes. So you cannot go anywhere where you can really escape from Satan.
Here God says:
Zechariah 2:6 “Up, up! Flee from the land of the north,” says the Lord; “for I have spread you abroad like the four winds of heaven,” says the Lord.
This is in an end-time situation where God is telling His people to flee from those places where He has scattered them. And then, in verse 7, it is interesting because He says:
Zechariah 2:7 Up, Zion!
‘Zion’ is normally a symbol of God’s church, His spiritual people. He mentions in verse 6 His physical people; perhaps here, in verse 7, He is talking more specifically about His spiritual people. He says:
Zechariah 2:7 Up, Zion! Escape, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon.”
So we have a clear command here and in that place in Isaiah and the one in Jeremiah where He tells us to flee from this entity—‘Babylon’ (this world). “Forsake it. Get out of there.”
Let us go to the book of Revelation. He says essentially the same thing. We know this one is very much in an end-time scenario—at the time that Babylon falls, and just before.
Revelation 18:4 And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.”
This is something that is not just something we should be looking forward to, when that time comes; this is something that we have to be doing all the time. We have to be getting out of Babylon because the sins of Babylon are there—now. They are affecting us. We do not want to share in those sins and we certainly do not want the plagues (meaning, the penalty of sin) that come as a result.
So, if you get out of Babylon, you are not going to be involved in the sins that Babylon is committing, and you will not get the penalty— you will not get the judgment—for those breakings of God’s law.
This is the second part of the principle that I am trying to get across here: There is a fairly consistent command to God’s people to flee—to get out, to forsake—this world.
God told Abraham to leave Ur of the Chaldees; “Get out and go to a land that I will show you,” He said.
Jacob had to escape from his father-in-law Laban.
Moses had to flee from Pharaoh, and later he led Israel out of Egypt; they all fled from Egypt.
David had to flee from Saul’s murderous madness. The point of the spear was right behind him.
Elijah had to hop it ahead of Jezebel’s soldiers and get to Sinai.
A remnant of Jews, when Judah fell, fled to Egypt. And Jeremiah took the king’s daughters all the way to Ireland. The Jews later left Babylon to return to build the Temple in Jerusalem.
Even Joseph and Mary had to flee from the wrath of Herod, taking their son Jesus to Egypt, where they kept Him safe.
And when Rome began to surround Jerusalem, the church fled to Pella.
There are all kinds of examples in the Bible of God’s people having to get out of town quickly—to leave, to do something that God wanted them to do, to hit the road, to pack their tent and go camping for a while.
Now most of these flights took place in times of physical danger. Abraham’s did not. Maybe Jacob’s did not. But Moses could have had a problem. David certainly might have lost his life. Elijah would have lost his life most likely (so many of the prophets did).
And of course, Jesus would have probably been killed as well.
But many of them were temporary displacements. Once the danger passed, they were able to return to the place where they lived.
But none of them, even though they all fled at some point, left the world completely. Not even Enoch and Elijah. Both of them were whisked away, but they were whisked away to somewhere else on the earth; and when they came down, they had to deal with the people—the worldly, carnal people—who were there wherever they spotted down. And of course, they had to deal with their own carnality and worldliness that was still inside of them.
So, if you take it to the extreme, where a person leaves the world as it were and goes out and is the only one for miles and miles around—maybe on top of some mountain or in some wilderness area where there is no one else—the world is still there, because that one person has brought it with him.
We need to combine, then, the two parts of this principle. And if we do, we find that in this life, though we must flee from our particular Sodom, we can never completely escape it. Not physically. Spiritually we can kind of carve out our own little world, but even then we have the residue of untruth, of deception, of misunderstanding that is still in our own minds, and those things can work on us.
So the only thing that allows us to really escape is the Spirit of God and even then, throughout our entire lifetimes (I do not mean to be a downer), we will never ever completely leave this world—not until the resurrection.
Let us notice this. Jesus tells us this in His prayer for us. This is very significant. These are the last words that He said to His disciples in any kind of instruction to them all before He died. Not the last ‘last words,’ but these are the last things that they really picked up on—the 11 of them (Judas was gone by that time) and whoever else was hanging about.
Notice John 17:14. He is praying this to the Father. The disciples were listening in.
John 17:14-16 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. [And so He repeats this. And then He says:] Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world [not ‘out of’—‘into’].
Jesus gives it to us pretty straight right here. He says He has called us out of the world. So we are not any longer of the world, just as He is not of the world—meaning, our citizenship is in heaven. We have been put in another category. We have been taken out of the ‘world’ category and we have been put into the ‘Kingdom of God’ category.
It says very specifically there in Colossians 1:13 that we have been translated to the Kingdom of the Son of His love. So already we have been transferred as it were, at least legally, from this entity (the world) to another entity (spiritual entity, God’s entity, the church, the family of God, the Kingdom of God). So we are separate. We are no longer of the world.
So, now, if we accept what Christ has given (He says, “I have given them Your word”—meaning, the truth of Scripture and the additions that Jesus made in preaching to them)—if we believe these things and we are practicing these things that He has given us through His words—then those things are antithetical to what the world believes and practices.
There is a clear line of demarcation between these two entities. God has plucked us up and put us over that line into this other entity; and now we really, fundamentally, have nothing in common with the people in that other entity or anything having to do with that other entity. We have been totally separated out—spiritually, legally. We are citizens of another nation.
The god of this world no longer has a claim on us because we have been redeemed from his world by the blood of Christ. We have been bought out of that world. Christ paid for us with His own life and transferred us then into that other entity.
Now, having said that though, Jesus specifically says, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world”—meaning physically—but He asks the Father to protect us from the evil one.
So while we had all this stuff done to us spiritually and legally and so that we do not have the name tag “Citizen of the World” (We are now with the Kingdom of God)—even though all that has taken place—we are still in the same physical place. We are still right here in the world and we have the promise of God’s protection from Satan. So we have a bit of a bubble around us. We have God’s angels helping us. We have God’s Spirit in our minds helping us to understand. So we have a lot going for us.
But we are still smack dab in the middle of Sodom and we are here for the duration. We are unable to escape, except through death. I am not going to stop there because that would be a downer.
Now notice verse 17. It says we are sanctified by the truth. We are set apart, we are made different, we are made holy. And this should give us a great deal of encouragement that we are put in that other category. God’s Word, His truth, has infused in us this difference, this ability—with God’s Spirit—to be just like Jesus Christ.
And what we read in the Bible, what we accept from God’s instruction, what we apply in our lives reveals that we are not of this world. In fact, if we are doing these things—if we are reading the Bible and accepting what He gives us and putting it into practice—we stick out in this world like a sore thumb. It is so different.
We do not run like we used to run in this world. We do not do the things we used to do. We do not think the way we used to think. It is totally different night and day. And it is God’s truth as well as His Spirit that has made us so different, made us sanctified.
So God has done this for us and He wants us to flee from this world.
But we cannot truly leave it (not physically) and moreover (this gets better), as lights in this world, we are as inconspicuous as spotlights on a dark night. We glow, in other words, if we are doing what God has given us as His Word to understand and to practice.
So it brings up a bit of a conundrum—a paradox, does it not?—that we need to leave the world, but we cannot; we kind of want to hide, but we cannot.
But this is what we have got to do: We have got to spend the rest of our lives, spiritually, getting out of this world as much as we can, even though we cannot; and not looking like it, as much as we can. It is tough. It really is tough.
Let us go to I Peter 4 and we will find out how we do this.
I am sure you are way ahead of me—you know how we do this. But I just want to get this down before we touch on what mistakes Lot made.
This kind of encapsulates part of what I have been going into. Peter writes:
I Peter 4:1-5 Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in [licentiousness], lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries [you guys did that; you are in pretty bad shape]. In regard to these, they [meaning the Gentiles, the old friends] think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
So Peter gives us the first part of the answer here. Part of leaving Sodom, or whether we want to call it ‘fleeing Babylon’ or ‘forsaking this world,’ is to change our behaviors. That is the first part of what we do. Peter says we no longer run with our old friends in this world. We do not do the things that they want us to do.
So in order to conform to the will of God, we have to put the false religion, the drinking parties, the illicit sexual activities, etc. etc. etc. behind us. We have to put off that old man, as Paul says.
And, of course, as it says there in verse 4, we have to take the criticism from friends and family who think that we have gone off our rocker; they are probably going to be pretty nasty about it.
And God says (to help us understand) that God is going to judge them. He will take care of that, you do not worry. God is ready to judge the living and the dead. So just, kind of, turn a deaf ear to it—if you can. So He will take care of it.
Okay, what else do we have to do?
What we saw in I Peter 4 was we have to change our behaviors; we have to stop running with the world. These are a lot of physical behaviors (what we do) that we have to change.
Here, in Colossians 3, is what we think and how we react and what our attitudes are. That is the second part of this answer about how we flee from this world. Paul says:
Colossians 3:12-17 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, [humbleness of mind], meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
We put off our sinful attitudes and behaviors, yeah, and then we put on the spiritual attributes that please God. There are many of them that are listed here. These are the traits that form the character image of Jesus Christ. This is how He was when He was a man on earth and this is how He is today and this is what He wants us to be mimicking, to be reflecting in our own lives, and this is the truly hard part.
In comparison to changing our physical behaviors (not going to the drinking parties, not going to the revelries, not doing all this licentiousness and lust—that is easy), these things are hard (put on tender mercies, forgive others as Christ forgave you, put on love, live peacefully). These are hard things.
This is the transformation by God’s Spirit from glory to glory into the spitting image of Christ that is talked about at the end of II Corinthians 3. This is our job and it is mostly internal; it is a change of mind. And, of course, it comes out then in changes of behavior, when we show outgoing love to one another.
Most of these things that Paul mentions—between verses 12 and 17—fall in the category of loving our neighbor. It is our neighbors that need our tender mercies; it is our neighbors who need our forbearance; it is our neighbors who need us to show love; it is our neighbors who need us to be peaceable. And we can go on and on and on. This is where the rubber meets the road.
You could fool a lot of people by changing your behavior, but you cannot fool God when it comes to changing your heart. Like I said, this is the hard part: how we treat one another.
Just as we would expect a church member to put the revelries and the dissipation behind him, so we should expect a church member to improve his relationships with others.
If we have grudges against one another, they should go; if we have not forgiven somebody something, it should be forgiven; if we have had a feud with someone and we cannot live in peace with them, we should not just go away—we should resolve it and get over the feud. And on and on it goes. These are the things where we really show that we have come out of the world.
Because the people of the world would maintain these things; they would let bitterness grow in their hearts because they are never going to forgive that person for what “so-and-so did to me back in 1952”. Those people would hold those things over another person’s head.
But we in the church are supposed to show love and put them aside—cover those sins (if they were sins made against you) and act in love toward the other.
So, to sum up then (if you want to put an umbrella statement on all I have said so far), God wants us to forsake this world in place—where we are, whatever we are doing.
We do not leave it physically. We do not run into the wilderness or up into the hills. We do not join a monastery. We do not live apart so that we do not have to deal with people. That is not the way to do it. Doing so is neither good nor practical for most of us. Most of us have to live in a city, close to our jobs. We have to make some sort of a living. We have to support our families. So we have to forsake the world where we are, in the situation we are in.
What we have to do is to change our lives completely—in beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors—while interacting with the world and all of its ugliness and sinfulness.
[When] you work out in the world, you (most of us) are going to have to deal with a boss with very worldly behaviors, very worldly expectations, and so, you deal. But you never cease being a Christian because you are no longer of the world. You forsake the world’s way where you are, whatever you are doing. This challenges us. It tests us.
Hopefully, it proves us, who we are—that we are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. It prepares us for the Kingdom of God in dealing with the attitudes that we are going to have to deal with in the Millennium and in the White Throne judgment. And it makes us a witness to this world, of God and His way.
That is why God leaves us in this world. He wants us to learn and grow and overcome and leave an example. We will see, when we go through Genesis 13 and 19, that Lot fails to meet pretty much all of these challenges. He is a negative example in most cases, but it is very enlightening, I think.
We are actually going to go over the same grounds we went over last time, but this time I want to pull out Lot’s attitudes and the stupid decisions that he makes. We read from Genesis 13:1 last time. I will spare you the first four verses; we will start in verse 5. Remember that Lot is with Abraham at this time and they are in Bethel. Now, back to the front of the book.
Genesis 13:5 Lot also, who went with Abram, had flocks and herds and tents.
Now it had just been said that Abraham was very wealthy, and the way this is said here in verse 5 is that Lot was wealthy, but he was not nearly as wealthy as Abraham was. Lot had flocks and herds and tents, but Abram had livestock and silver and gold and all those things—they are a lot better than just tents.
So we get kind of a comparison here and I want you to take that with you because there is, throughout this chapter, a steady comparison between Abraham and Lot.
Genesis 13:6-8 Now the land was not able to support them, that they might dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together. [We have indication here that Lot is pretty wealthy too.] And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land. [So there were others around. So they had to live elbow-to-elbow with them.] So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me [notice that Abram is the one that took the initiative here], and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren.”
They were uncle and nephew. But I want you to notice that Abraham called Lot his brother. So notice the way Abraham is approaching this. Abraham makes the initiative; he does not want any trouble; he calls Lot an equal, his brother. And then he says:
Genesis 13:9 “Is not the whole land before you [He says, ‘Look out here. It’s stretching from horizon to horizon’]? Please separate from me [because he does not want the quarreling]. 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.”
What is Abraham doing? He is giving Lot the choice.
Genesis 13:10-13 And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other. Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom. But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.
This section here, this passage, documents Lot’s first mistake as a biggie.
Like I said before, they were in the area of Bethel. And if you look in your map in the back of your Bible and locate Bethel, it is easy to find—it is right in the middle of the land. It is on the ridge, right there in the center of Israel, going north and south, and it is north of Jerusalem a few miles.
From Bethel, you have a pretty good view—360—all around of the whole land of Israel. A great spot to look at Israel from, because you are up probably about 3000 feet and you can see the whole panorama before you. I should also mention that Bethel was just a mile or so north of the eventual dividing line between Judah and Israel.
So when God allowed those two nations to separate, He cut them in half, and it was right about there at Bethel. Bethel was pretty much the southern boundary of Israel.
Okay, so here they were at Bethel, and Abraham told him to look at the whole land. He did not say, “Look over here in this little sector in the southeast and I want you to go toward only the cities of the plain, okay?” It was not like that. He said, “No, look at the whole land. You got the whole land before you—north, south, east, west.”
Lot could have chosen any place in the land of Canaan. He could have chosen Jerusalem. He could have chosen the north, where it was very agriculturally rich, up there toward Megiddo, and that area—beautiful well-watered valleys. He could have gone down toward the Philistines—good trading down there coming out of Egypt. There were a lot of places he could have gone to. He was not confined to just a small area.
So Abraham opened it all up because Abraham pretty much had the deed to that whole land. He could have given any part of it because God had said that the land of Canaan was his and his descendants.
So, “Hey brother Lot, what part of it do you want?” That was what he said. He was really not kidding when he said, “The whole land is open, take your pick.” And I just add in to this that God, just a few generations later, call Canaan a land flowing with milk and honey.
If the cities of the plain were like the Garden of Eden, well, the rest of the territory of Canaan was nothing to sneeze at either; it was the land that drew Israel out of Egypt. They were looking forward to those huge grapes that people carried on poles (you know, the whole thing you get there in Israel from all the vendors). It was a beautiful land. It was rich. It was fertile. It was well-positioned for trade.
Any place Lot could have picked would have been a great place to live. He could have done well just about anywhere in the land. But he chose the plain of Jordan and he chose Sodom, in particular.
I just have to shake my head.
Of all places in the land of Canaan, he picked Sodom to live. The wording in verse 12 is very significant. It says there, at the end, that Lot “pitched his tent even as far as Sodom.”
You hear the narrator in there saying, “He went so far as go to Sodom? He pitched his tent there? Even though it was a really nice place—Garden of Eden, well-watered, very fertile, wonderful place—but he went to Sodom?” And then in verse 13, he says: “The reason why I’m kind of wincing about this is because the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord. Why would a righteous man want to go to Sodom?” Abraham’s own nephew chose Sodom over any other place in the entire land. It is incredible.
What God is doing though, through the narrator here, is telegraphing “Big Mistake. He shouldn’t have done this.” We talk about “Oh, let’s stay as far away from the edge of the cliff.” Well, Lot was running and fleeing himself over the cliff, by going and living even as far as Sodom. He went so far as to live in Sodom where the wicked people lived.
Like I said, we are invited to compare Abraham’s choice with Lot’s.
Abraham was the man of God and he gave Lot the choice of the best land. He was the one that showed agape love to his brother, Lot. He gave him the best. He was willing to take the inferior portion for himself. He did this all to keep the quarreling down so that there would be peace between them.
But Lot—I wonder about the man sometimes.
Abraham was the man that raised Lot after his father died. He had lived with him for many years. He could see Abram’s righteousness. He had been able to benefit from all the wealth of Abraham, all the connections Abraham had, all the trade that Abraham did. Should he not have had the respect to say, “No, uncle, why don’t you take the first choice?”
But what did Lot do? “I’m going to have the plains, the cities on the plains. Woo-hoo! I’m going to be so rich! I’m going to go down there with my flocks and my herds and I’m going to set up my tent, and caravans are going to come by, and I’m going to make a killing! I’m going to get the best of the land.”
You can see his character here. Lot was selfish and greedy. It does not come right out and say it, but his choosing of this part of the land telegraphs it to us that that is what he was: He was selfish and greedy. He wanted the best because he wanted to get rich. He wanted to be rich like Abraham.
So his choice was made in lust. It was the lust of the eyes. It says he lifted up his eyes and he saw that beautiful plain and the dollar signs started rolling in his eyes. “Wow! That’s where I want to live. If I go down there, I can make it big and then I can live the life of Riley. Ease for the rest of my life. Wouldn’t it be wonderful? It’s like winning a lottery. Hey, I get to live in Sodom. Woo!”
So this section shows that Lot’s criteria for discerning what was a good or bad part of the land was skewed, it was very carnal; and we could even go so far as to say that it was perverse. If you go live in Sodom, there is something perversity in your thinking (if you really want to go down there and live).
From the information we get there in verse 10, Lot decided based on a very long-distance view. He just saw it and he said, “That’s the place for me.” It looked like paradise. It had a lot of water. It would be easy to grow things. Trade was wonderful. He could make a lot of money in a place like that.
Truly, he knew about Sodom’s reputation. Do you not think that the Canaanite grapevine had gotten around talking about Sodom, saying how perverse the people were?
But he chose it anyway because his priorities appear to have been wealth and ease—that is what he was looking for. He was looking to live the good life. So he was willing then to put up with anything to get what he wanted. And that was a huge mistake.
Jesus tells us in the Model Prayer: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
But Lot does just the opposite. He chooses—he makes a conscious choice—to establish himself in an environment of constant temptation.
He probably thought that he could resist the evil (“Ah, that will never bother me. I’ll put my tent out there on the road, real close to Sodom, so we have the advantages of the city but we’ll be out there, and it won’t affect us. We’ll make lots of money. It’ll be fine”].
But it was a foolish, stupid thought that he could resist all that in Sodom.
Just think: If he had never chosen Sodom—if he had never chosen to live under constant temptation like that—he would never have had to leave it. He could have avoided it altogether.
He could have said, “Give me Megiddo. I don’t care if there’s war there every 50 years or so. That’s alright. It’s better than Sodom.”
Now if he could have gone and lived anywhere else, it would have been a far better life—far better than what happened. But he did not.
So the lesson here is that he chose to establish himself in an environment of constant temptation, and that was a big mistake.
Let us go to II Peter 2. I am skipping into the middle of a sentence here. He is talking about what God has done in time past. Verse 7:
II Peter 2:7-8 [God] 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).
Whose fault was that? God did not say, “Lot, I want you to choose the cities of the plain and go live even as far as Sodom.” No, He did not; Lot chose that. This is the life he chose for himself. By putting himself in an environment of constant temptation, he brought all of this on himself.
It amazes me (I have to believe it) that Peter calls Lot ‘righteous’ twice. But I, kind of, get the idea that he was a lot like the Corinthians, which Paul, in I Corinthians 3 calls “still carnal.” If nothing else, he was not a very wise righteous man. His foolish choice of choosing to live in Sodom caused him ‘oppression’ (Peter’s word) and torment. It was self-inflicted.
He had the option too to leave Sodom at any time, for who knows how long he was there (I am not exactly sure how long it was between chapter 13 and chapter 19, but it was a long time). He had plenty of opportunities to leave, but he did not. He chose to remain in a place that was full of oppression and torment to his righteous soul. He decided to live cheek by jowl with the filthy conduct of the Sodomites. He chose it.
And, you know, in the very next chapter, it shows that Lot’s stubbornness got him embroiled in a war, he was taken prisoner, and Abraham had to come save him. And what did Lot do? He went right back to Sodom!
So, the lesson is, choose to steer clear of this world’s temptations; and if you are in the middle of them, get out. Choose to steer clear of the world’s temptations.
Now on to Genesis 19. There is more here. I do not want to linger too long on these things but I should at least show them to you. We will read the first 11 verses here.
Genesis 19:1-11 Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground. And he said, “Here now, my lords, please turn in to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise early and go on your way.” And they said, “No, but we will spend the night in the open square.” But he insisted strongly; so they turned in to him and entered his house. Then he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. Now before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both old and young, all the people from every quarter, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them carnally.” So Lot went out to them through the doorway, shut the door behind him, and said, “Please, my brethren, do not do so wickedly! See now, I have two daughters who have not known a man; please, let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you wish; only do nothing to these men, since this is the reason they have come under the shadow of my roof.” And they said, “Stand back!” Then they said, “This one came in to [sojourn], and he keeps acting as a judge; now we will deal worse with you than with them.” So they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near to break down the door. But the men reached out their hands and pulled Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. And they struck the men who were at the doorway of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they became weary trying to find the door.
Like I said, we went through this passage the last time. I noted then that Lot is shown sitting in the gate of Sodom. Now this is a Hebraism. It denotes a position of honor and respect in the community. So he may have been, by this time, one of the city elders. I speculated perhaps that Abraham’s heroic rescue of Lot had really raised his level in the community and he had become somewhat of a leader there—he might have been an advisor or even a judge. In fact, the men of Sodom complain in verse 9 that “he keeps acting as a judge”, as if they did not really accept it.
If nothing else, his lengthy residence in Sodom had made him identify with its citizens. Notice he says there in verse 7: “Please, my brethren.” So now he is identifying himself with the Sodomites, like he had become a citizen of that city.
His mistake here is that he forgot (something that Abraham never did) that he was a pilgrim, a sojourner. That is even what the Sodomites said. They remind him that “this one came in to [sojourn] and he keeps acting as a judge” [verse 9]. They had not accepted him. But he had certainly wholeheartedly accepted them as brethren, and he had gotten to the point where no longer did he consider himself a sojourner, but he began thinking and acting as if he were a citizen; and he was not. He was different. God had made him different. But he had tried to blend in.
And so, for us, we have to remember that we have been called out of this world and our ties and our loyalties are elsewhere. Notice Abraham’s attitude on this:
Hebrews 11:13-16 These all died in faith [not just Abraham, but these ‘others’], 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. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
So Abraham and these others knew that they were on a journey someplace else, and they could not get involved in what was going on—in Canaan or wherever they happened to be. But Lot forgot this. He thought he was one of the Sodomites and it really tripped him up.
Another point that I brought out last time, in verse 8 of Genesis 19, is that Lot tries to bargain with the Sodomites. He tries to bargain one sin in exchange for another. This shows you that by this time his thinking had really gotten perverse; he was thinking like a Sodomite. His priorities were horribly twisted.
If we would sit down, we could not imagine a righteous man offering his virgin daughters to a crowd of sex-crazed men just to avoid violence to his house guests—men who had shown that they could take care of themselves because he obviously recognized them as ‘lords’ (that is what he called them).
But, even so, it was noble of him to save his house guests, but at the cost of the virginity and maybe the lives of his own daughters? That is just rank stupidity. What did he think he was going to gain by that? What father would do that? The more you think about it, the more irrational it seems. Lot had come to the point where he was not thinking clearly at all.
And the lesson here for us is we cannot justify one sin to avoid another. The common expression is “Choosing the lesser of two evils is still evil.”
Another lesson is that the longer we remain in the world, the more we will think like it, and that is just screwy.
Okay, let us go on from there. I do not want to dwell on that because that is pretty depressing.
Genesis 19:12-14 Then the men said to Lot, “Have you anyone else here? Son-in-law, your sons, your daughters, and whomever you have in the city—take them out of this place! For we will destroy this place, because the outcry against them has grown great before the face of the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it” [So now they reveal what they were there for]. So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who had married his daughters, and said, “Get up, get out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city!” But to his sons-in-law he seemed to be joking.
Now, after striking the men of Sodom with blindness, the angels urge Lot to gather his family and get out right then. Go! You can hear how earnest they are and insistent—“Get out! We have come to destroy the city.”
And Lot responds (that is good; it is about the first good thing that he has done), but his sons-in-law do not when he goes to talk to them. They laugh at him. They are not taking him seriously, which suggests that Lot neither had their respect nor any moral authority with them.
We can imagine that he had compromised enough over the years that even his sons-in-law would not give him the benefit of the doubt. They thought he was lying to them, playing a trick on them. And this is very tragic because his lack of moral leadership cost him his married daughters, and possibly grandchildren. They did not respect him enough to allow him to lead them out.
So the lesson is compromise with the world (we can call it ‘hypocrisy’) is moral failure, and that leads to loss of moral authority and the ability to make a good witness. So when we saddle up to the world, we lose the moral high ground and we are sunk.
Genesis 19:15-16 When the morning dawned [now they wait until the sun comes up], the angels urged Lot to hurry, saying, “Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the punishment of the city.” And while he lingered, the men took hold of his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters, the Lord being merciful to him [I will say], and they brought him out and set him outside the city.
What is wrong with this man? They lingered, so much so that he and his family had to be literally dragged out of the city and put outside the gates. What were they doing?
Were they wandering through the house taking a last look at each little knickknack, remembering all the things that had happened about the good times? Were they dithering about what to take with them (“I don’t need that shirt”; “yeah, that’s so nice, I’ll take that one”)?
Were they finding little unimportant things to do? You know, people do that when they get stressed; they will start tidying up and washing the dishes and making the beds and leaving notes for the maid and the gardener—whatever it is—so that they just do not have to think about what is going on.
Or was Lot just mooning about wondering what had gone wrong? Maybe he was petrified by the enormity of it all, maybe he was still unwilling to forsake his stuff. I do not know.
Whatever the reason, his attachment to the place—his home, his life there, his relationships—had caused him to delay when decisive action was called for.
So we see again his spiritual irrationality. He was not thinking straight. He did not feel the urgency. He did not see God’s judgment on the way even though God had told him through the angels that they were going to destroy the city right away. Lot though wanted to squeeze every drop of his life in Sodom out before he left.
And the lesson for us is: The more settled we become in this world, the harder it is to leave it behind.
I do not think we need to go much further with Lot. He did do one more thing where he did negotiate going to Zoar instead of going up into the mountains (because of the lions and tigers and bears, or something like that). The irony of that is that he had to leave Zoar anyway a little bit later on. And where did he go? The mountains.
II Corinthians 6, I hope, will put a capstone on this. Verse 17, very familiar scriptures. God says:
II Corinthians 6:17-7:1 Therefore “Come out from among 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.” Therefore [this is Paul’s concluding statement], having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit [both the behaviors and what is inside], perfecting holiness in the fear of God.