“And if He rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard—if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.” —2 Peter 2:7–9
Of all the persons we find described on the pages of Holy Scripture, one of the hardest to figure out is the man Lot. Were I to ask, “What do you think about Abraham? How would you regard him?” most Christians would answer without hesitation: “He was a man of great faith in God. We are not surprised that Scripture calls him ‘the father of all believers.’”
But if I would ask, “And what do you think about Abraham’s nephew Lot?” you would probably scratch your head and wonder what to say. You certainly wouldn’t reply that Lot was a great man of God. To the contrary, you would grade his godliness as at a best a C or even a D. Nevertheless, Peter writes that Lot was “a righteous man.” In fact, he describes him as “righteous” no less than three times in his inspired letter. That certainly makes us think again about Lot and how we must really understand his life and actions.
We can say that Lot was a saint (a word that means literally, “one called to be holy”). However, he was a saint with obvious failings and sins and who made some very poor choices in his life. And the result was that Lot became “a man caught between two worlds.” The irony of this is that Lot is cited in Scripture as an example—an example of what believers today should not do, an example of how they should respond to the world, and an example of God’s marvelous grace.
Lot’s Dangerous Decisions
When we read about Lot’s life in the book of Genesis, the first thing that strikes us is that Lot made some very bad decisions, spiritually speaking. The first of these decisions is recorded in Genesis 13. Lot had accompanied Abram to the land of Canaan. There, like his uncle Abram, Lot had done well materially. He had acquired flocks and herds and servants to tend them. God had blessed Lot as He had blessed Abram. No doubt because of God’s grace in choosing Abram to become the father of His future covenant people, God had also shown grace to Abram’s nephew. Lot also became a true believer and follower of Yahweh. Living next to Abram profited Lot spiritually and materially.
However, one negative result of their prosperity was that friction arose between Lot and Abram’s servants as they competed for the same grazing land for their large herds of sheep and cattle. Abram suggested that the two men separate from one another and even offered Lot the choice as to which part of the land he wanted for his animals and residence. That was kind of Abram to offer, since rightly, as the older man, he should have had that choice. Lot willingly took “first pick” and chose for his herds the well-watered valley of the Jordan River, with its good pasture land. It seemed he got the better part of the deal. But spiritually it turned out very differently, because in that fertile valley sin also flourished. It was the location of the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The Bible does not specifically criticize Lot’s choice, but it certainly tells us the eventual bad results of it for Lot and his family. It seems clear that Lot deemed his material well-being above his spiritual well-being. This ought to contain a lesson for Christians today, who often place their material welfare above the spiritual welfare of themselves and their families. A Christian father may be offered an attractive job or promotion that demands moving to another place. It is certainly not wrong to consider such an offer. Yet the most important factor in making such a decision is always how it will affect the spiritual welfare of his family. He must ask questions such as: Is there a good, solid, Bible-preaching church in the new location, and does it provide opportunity for Christian education for my children, and will my new position require me to compromise my spiritual convictions (like working on the Lord’s Day)?
This does not mean, on the other hand, that one must try to escape the world. As Jesus told us, we are in the world, but must not be of the world. World flight is not an option for the Christian, for he must be a leaven in the world. At the same time, the Christian must always be careful not to place himself unnecessarily in an ungodly environment.
This is another bad decision Lot made. He not only chose the richer valley of the Jordan plain for his material gain but then he also decided to make his home near the wicked city of Sodom. We read in Genesis 13:12: “Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of plains and pitched his tents near Sodom.” Somewhat later, we learn from Genesis 19 that Lot had moved into Sodom with his family.
In fact, Lot became involved in the society of Sodom, for Genesis 19:1 tells us that when two angels from God came to rescue Lot before the Lord would destroy the city, Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city—where the men of the city typically gathered to socialize in ancient times. Even more telling of what had happened to Lot and his family in Sodom is that the two daughters of Lot were engaged to marry young men of Sodom. Lot’s wife had become enamored of the society and culture of Sodom. Obviously, Lot’s family had become very comfortable in the utterly wicked city of Sodom. As a result, it is not surprising what happened when Lot was urged by the angels of God to leave Sodom immediately before God would pour down His judgment on the city and destroy it completely. The angels had to literally pull Lot and his family out of the city. Lot was hesitant to leave his house there.
As they left the city, Lot’s wife looked back toward Sodom and turned into a pillar of salt. She was so tied to the wicked, worldly city that she could not resist a last, longing look at it. Her heart was still there. Therefore she came to share its divine punishment—as she died while looking back. Those who love the ungodly world will perish with that world. That is also why Jesus urged His listeners living in the last days: “Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever tries to keep his life [for the sake of possessing the things of the world] will lose it, and whoever loses his life [for the sake of Christ and His kingdom] will preserve it.” (Luke 17:32–33, my comments added)
Lot’s Daily Distress
In spite of Lot’s bad decisions, however, we must not think that he had given up His faith and relationship to the Lord, the God of Abraham, while he lived in Sodom. If we only had the record of Genesis, we might be inclined to come to that conclusion. However, Peter’s inspired reflection on Lot’s experience indicates otherwise. Three times, Peter refers to Lot as “righteous.” That clearly tells us that Lot certainly knew what was right and wrong in God’s sight, and this before God had issued the Ten Commandments. God had made known to Lot and imprinted on his heart His holy will and His aversion to all sinful conduct.
For all his associations with the people of Sodom and their influence on him, Lot remained a righteous man. The evidence Peter offers of this fact is an interesting and important comment he makes about Lot. He writes that Lot was “distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard).” (2 Peter 2:7–8)
Lot was a man caught between two worlds—two worlds that were diametrically opposed to one another. One was the world of Sodom, the world of sin and Satan. The other was the world of God’s kingdom, governed by God’s righteous and holy will. And Lot, in spite of His many weaknesses and failures, was still a member of God’s kingdom. In short, Lot always remained a child of God—even though his children and posterity would not be God’s children. His daughters were infected with the sin of Sodom, and their offspring (through their incestuous acts with their father Lot) produced the people of Ammon and Moab.
Yet, as a child of God, Lot was never at home in Sodom, where he had erected his material house and raised his family. In fact, Peter uses the strong words that Lot was “distressed” and “tormented” in his soul by the filthy lives and deeds he witnessed in Sodom. Those deeds included the depraved acts of sexual immorality engaged in by the people of Sodom, among them homosexual lusts and acts. The city lived only for such sinful pleasures, which the Bible tells us in Romans 1 are the result of a God-denying, secular, hedonistic culture, which God gives up to its depravity.
This is precisely the same kind of world and society Christians live in today. The stunning practice and acceptance of homosexual lusts and acts, even gay marriage—now officially supported by the president of the United States—is a clear indication of how Western culture also has become ripe for divine judgment. It is a fearful development that more and more people—especially the younger generation—are in favor of such deeds that are abhorrent to God and against nature. The question is how much are our souls “distressed” and “tormented” by this openly espoused and proudly defiant wickedness? Like Lot, we are exposed to sin daily—in our own lives, but also in the society in which we live. But how do we react to it? Do we simply shrug it off and say: “That’s the way the world is?” Or do we even perhaps endorse sinful conduct by “reinterpreting” what the Bible teaches?
It is often said that the world has always been filled with sin and wickedness and that our age is no different from previous ones. One difference, however, is that our modern forms of communication, like the television and the Internet, expose us to sin much more readily. The practices of the sinful world are so very close to us, and we may become accustomed to them and undisturbed by them. For example, does it grate our soul and deeply disturb us when we watch the typical programs on television today, as they openly promote sin and are filled with immoral and blasphemous behavior?
Lot was himself a sinful man with a sinful nature. Yet, as a child of God, he was also a righteous man repelled by the sin he saw all around him. He lived in wicked Sodom, yet was tormented by what he saw there each day. So one might ask: Why didn’t Lot then leave Sodom on his own? Why did he remain living there and raise his family there? Those are good questions. They show Lot’s spiritual weakness. Or it could also be that his wife and children refused to leave the city they had grown to like. In any case, Lot was “a man caught between two worlds.”
Lot’s Divine Deliverance
What we should also note about Lot, however, is that the Lord had mercy on him and chose to deliver this man from the divine judgment to fall on the wicked cities of the plain. This is actually the main point of Peter’s mention of him. Peter cites Lot as an example of God’s mercy on His children who must live in an ungodly world and undergo tribulations there. If God was willing to rescue Lot, writes Peter, He will also deliver the godly from their trials, while He prepares to pour out His final judgment on this wicked world. Yes, God’s judgment on the world is sure to come. It is as definite as God’s determination was to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. But equally certain is God’s final salvation of His people.
It is to be noted, however, that while the world under sin is deserving of God’s judgment, sinners like Lot and all of us are not deserving of deliverance. That wondrous act of God proceeds only from His grace. God could certainly have left Lot in Sodom to perish with its inhabitants. Lot himself, as we have already observed, was hesitant to leave Sodom. God, through his angels, had to pull Lot and his family out of there and urged them to flee as fast and as far as they could from the doomed city. Even then, Lot had the audacity to ask the angels for permission to go to a city closer by. And this request, too, was granted. God was certainly patient and gracious toward Lot. He was saved “as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Cor. 3:15).
Yes, Lot suffered the loss of everything he had, including his wife. It is a reminder that whatever possessions one lays up on earth will perish. “Only what’s done for Christ will last.” Hence, our life’s goal must be to lay up treasures in heaven—to serve the Lord in all good deeds that advance His kingdom and glory. As we live in this world, we must remember it is not our home, for it is under God’s judgment. Our hope is in the world to come, the final and eternal home of God’s people.
God delivered Lot as a brand plucked out of the burning. And God in His grace will deliver from His judgment all those who place their only hope and faith in His Son, Jesus, who has saved us from the wrath to come.
Rev. James Admiraal is a retired pastor in the URCNA. He served most recently as pastor of Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI. He also served for several years on the board of Reformed Fellowship.