Cloud of Witnesses

Unravelling the Threads


It was all going so well...

Tags: courage initiative faith

I wonder how you view your formative years? Do you consider yourself fortunate or disadvantaged?

Some people get dealt a difficult start in life and battle to overcome it. Others start with a 'silver spoon' in their mouth and blow the lot. Many of us are somewhere in between – and in our lives there are ups and downs, good choices and bad ones; things that go well and things that don't.

Lot, in some ways, is like many of us in those ups and downs, but sadly he also demonstrates a pattern of behaviour from which many of us could learn, because Lot so often found himself making bad choices or behaving in a passive way. He often took the easy option or depended on someone else to clear up his mess - and that didn't always go so well!

The Bible teaches a lot about interdependence in both Testaments; people needing and blessing each other but we do need to take responsibility for ourselves and our choices rather than expecting others to constantly bail us out. Lot never really grasped that and he's one of those cautionary tales or 'anti-role models' the Bible presents us with.

Gen 11.27

We first come across Lot in Genesis 11 and we realise that he didn't have an easy start in life.

His father dies young and he is adopted by his uncle Abram. With his grandfather Terah, his uncle and aunt (Sarai) Lot leaves the security of Ur; the centre of civilization at that time.

Genesis 12.1-9

After Terah's death he then sets out on a journey of faith with Abram and Sarai. Clearly that was a brave thing to do - to leave home, security and set out into the middle of nowhere with his uncle, following the instructions of a strange God. Lot was from a family of risk takers!

Genesis 12.10-20

Their time was prosperous though, and through a variety of adventures both Abram and Lot became rich herders; blessed by the God of Abram with material wealth. In fact their possessions become a problem. There were too many sheep and goats and their servants begin to argue over water and food for the herds.

Genesis 13

It was time to part company...

And here is where we start to see Lot's true colours.

Abram makes him an offer. The rich, lush pastures in the east – the Jordan Valley, towards 'civilization'; the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Or alternatively the isolated, drier, more challenging land of the high ground.

Lot could have shown deference to his elder. The uncle who was more like a father. As a young man he could have made the sacrifice of taking the challenging land and allowed his ageing uncle and aunt to have an easier life. But clearly the pull of a comfortable life, the temptation of cities and all they offered was a stronger pull to Lot.

His choice?

To take the fertile land thank you very much! Genesis 13.12-13 gives an ominous hint about that choice. Lot moves to Sodom…where the population were wicked in God's eyes.

At one level Lot's decision is fair enough. He was given the choice. Abram offered to bless him – so he took the blessing. At another it gives us an idea of Lot's character, taking the best for himself; the easy option. And moving to Sodom…the pull of the decadence of that city was to be his undoing!

Chapter 14

Genesis turns its attention away from Lot at that point to God's promises to Abram but in Chapter 14 we hear that all has not gone well for Lot. 4 tribal kings go to war with the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah and other local cities. This battle results in a devastating loss for the king of Sodom and his allies. Some find themselves in tar pits and the rest of their fighting men scatter while the victors occupy the land and seize all that is within it - including Lot and all his possessions.

The implication is that Lot had not been fighting.

Perhaps as an incomer he was mistrusted? Perhaps as a herder he didn't have fighting skills? Perhaps he just didn't fancy it or want to get involved in a territorial battle that he felt wasn't his problem?

So although he lived in Sodom now, he was not part of the army – but he soon discovered it WAS his problem. He, along with the women, children and livestock became captives, slaves to the victorious tribal kings.

This didn't bode well. At best Lot can expect a life of hard labour, and his wife and daughters can expect worse!

When he heard of these events Abram took action.

Where Lot had been passive, Abram activated his men – 318 of them and went after Lot's captors. After a night attack, Lot, his possessions, the women and the other people captured were rescued.

Lot has a second chance. He can return to Sodom or make a fresh start.

Genesis 18.16-33

Perhaps (ironically) he felt safer in the town at Sodom than as a nomadic herder like Abram? But whatever the reason he picked up life where he left off and the next we hear of him is in a conversation between God and Abram about the fate of Sodom, because God is outraged at the sin of that place and is about to bring judgement on it.

Genesis 19

According to Genesis 19 God sent 2 angels to investigate the 'outcry' against the city. They appear at the city gate as travellers, looking for a place to stay.

To his credit it is Lot, sitting at the city gates as an elder of the city, who rose to greet them and offered them hospitality. This was a good start, Lot was behaving in a way God would approve of. He invited them in, washed their feet, made a feast and they ate together.

Sodom however is indeed a place of evil. The men of the city gather together wanting to rape the visitors. Lot interceded – trying to persuade them not to abuse his guests. His solution – distressingly – was to offer his two unmarried virgin daughters as a substitute!

Ancient hospitality codes meant that it is his duty to protect his guests but to do so by offering his girls to the baying mob is appalling to us now – and was the original readers of Genesis too! The same offer is made in the book of Judges (chapter 19) in the face of similar circumstances and that is clearly shown to be a particular low point in Israel's history.

Lot's way of solving the problem is so far from ideal that it is shocking.

What could he have done?

Well – crying out to God would have been a start – simply barricading the doors is another. There's no way of knowing what might have happened, but his attempts to diffuse the situation seems only to have made it worse as the crowd threaten to mob him and break down the door. Clearly Lot has no real authority in the community. He may have lived among them for some time – hut he's still an outsider!

Genesis 19.10-14

In the end it is the angels who save the situation. They drag Lot inside and strike those outside with blindness. They then send Lot to round up his family before God strikes the city. However the young men engaged to marry Lot's daughters laugh at him, assuming he's joking.

Once again the population of Sodom have only contempt for Lot.

All of this is pretty traumatic by anyone's standards and it's fair enough to have some sympathy for beleaguered Lot but verse 15 starts to show God's frustration with this man who takes the easy option and needs others to bail him out so often.

"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." But he lingered."

Lot just can't make up his mind what to do! Even after the last nights attack! Even after knowing the risk he's in from both the population AND now the threat of divine judgement, Lot can't quite bring himself to act and leave the security of Sodom.

Verse 16 describes how the angels seized him and his family and literally drag them out of the city. Exhorting them to

"Escape for your life. DO not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills lest you be swept away."

Lot's response?

"I cannot escape to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me and I die. Behold this city is near enough to flee to and it is a little one? And my life will be saved!"

The city he refers to is called Zoar and God agrees to the deal.

Lot's desire for security behind walls is stronger than his trust that God has already rescued him on multiple occasions and will do so again. Lot seems unable to raise any faith that God is on his side and instead seeks the familiar - human support.

It would also appear, has married a woman similarly incapable of trusting God despite all he has done through  Abram, Angels and the such-like. She famously looks back as God destroys Sodom and "becomes a pillar of salt". What that means scholars are not sure – but it's not a good thing however you understand it!

The pull of the city is too strong for her to resist and so she perishes along with its population.

Genesis 19. 30-38

The last time we come across Lot is equally grim.

And again a story of ethical nastiness shaped by Lot's weakness of character.

Verse 30 onwards tells the dreadful story of Lot's daughters.

They fear that they will never marry now their fiances are dead along with the population of Sodom. Thus they dread they will never have children (which was the greatest fear of ancient peoples). Their solution, clearly not trusting their father to be able to provide them with husbands, and, having witnessed his willingness to send them into mortal danger, was to get him drunk and to seduce him.

Lot was so hammered "he did not know when she lay down or when she arose" (although clearly still able to 'perform!').

Not once, but twice the girls scheme and Lot performs. Both girls carry their father's sons – one was named Moab the other Ben Ammi and their descendants – the Moabites and Ammonites - become some of Israel's worst enemies.

We are told nothing more of Lot. Not how he died, where he was buried. He vanishes from the biblical narrative – clearly the author didn't think he was worth any more ink!

So – the grim story of a weak and selfish man.

Blessed with wealth by God, rescued by him on multiple occasions but unable to place any trust in Him. Unwilling to form any kind of relationship with him as Abram and Sarai had. Instead he was drawn to the security of human strength, societies values and priorities and really not good at making decisions in a crisis!

Lot is not all bad, there are times he made good choices, showed hospitality and tried to be brave but ultimately his vacillation and desire for others to protect him cost him dearly.

How might this have looked different?

Lot could have blessed Abram with the Jordan Valley. Sure, life would have been harder day to day but he would not have been taken prisoner, would not have needed rescuing, would not found himself living among such depravity and violence. (Ezekiel 16.49 tells us that the sin of Sodom was not primarily sexual, it was horrendous exploitation of the poor.)

Had he been a man of courage and authority perhaps he could have diffused the violent situation? Perhaps it would never have arisen in the first place? Perhaps his sons in law would have taken him seriously? Perhaps his daughters would not have resorted to such desperate (and nasty!) measures to ensure a lineage.

The questions this story raises are about trust.

How often have we seen God's favour? His provision and blessing? His protection and rescue? And yet still we doubt him. Still we struggle to take risks for him, to be brave and decisive. Instead we are drawn back to the apparent security of society, the world's rules and values – even though we are well aware of how corrupt and selfish they often are.

It also raises questions of how often we pray about the decisions we make.

The Jordan valley was the 'obvious' choice but it wasn't the healthiest or best one. Do we tend to take the easy route rather than ask God and risk him asking us to take the difficult (but safer!) route under his protection? So often what we aspire to is a comfortable life not one that actually makes a difference. The Apostle Paul longed to hear "well done good and faithful servant" as he describes how he has "fought the fight and finished the race" (2 Tim. 4.7) not "Oh you had a lovely life!"

Those listed as heroes of the faith (Hebrew 11) did not always have an easy time of it – many of them died for their faith. But somehow many of us in the West aspire to comfort first and foremost. We think that God wants to bless us with a lovely time – all the time! Happiness and an easy life is what we pray for – rather than to be courageous kingdom people who long to see the world transformed, people blessed and God glorified.

A friend pointed out to me the other day that Abram was in his old age when much of this took place. He took risks not as a youngster with nothing to lose, but as an old, rich man with much to give up. Moses likewise began his adventure with God in old age.

Risk taking, courage and faithfulness to God are not just for the young and keen, those who are naïve and enthusiastic.

Some of those who got it right threw their lot in with God at a much greater age.

Lot just never managed to throw his lot in with God in any meaningful way at all!

Questions to ponder

  • What is your response to Lot's story?
  • Are there any parts of it you can identify with?
  • What do you see as being Lot's major problems and how might he have overcome them?
  • What do you think are the places we tend to look for security and comfort that are not God's best for us?
  • Why do you think that is so often easier than looking to God himself?
  • How far is your desire to have a 'nice comfortable life'? In what way does this story challenge that? What do you think a 'faithful life' might look like for you?
  • How do you think we strike the balance between worshipping and trusting God and enjoying his blessing (whatever that might look like) rather than worshipping or trusting the blessing itself?
  • Whatever your age, what do you think God might be asking of you at the moment?

© Ruth Perrin 2015. Last revised on 21 September 2015