Gen. 19:24-29 “Then the LORD rained down burning sulphur on Sodom and Gomorrah–from the LORD out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities – and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the LORD. He looked down towards Sodom and Gomorrah, towards all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace. 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.”
Sodom was a community under the judgment of God. For decades the Lord had shown such longsuffering towards it, restraining his anger, giving the people much time to repent and change their ways, but now the time had come when the sin of the Sodomites had reached its full measure. Every one of them possessed a conscience; the things of the law were written on the hearts of them all. They knew about righteous Abraham living and moving over the land in the countryside all about the city – other people could live nobly with self-restraint and modesty. They also had had the presence of the magistrate Lot, Abraham’s nephew, in their midst for some years, but all that had been to no avail. They still loved sin, and their appetite for it increased with the passing of time. Sodom was a place of pain and shame.
This was all confirmed to the courts of heaven by two investigative messengers of God who had immediately become the focus of the lust of the Sodomites. These two angels repeatedly urged Lot to take his family and flee to the mountains because the vials of God’s wrath were going to be poured out on the city. “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” (v.17). The words were terse and plain; the danger could not have been made more spectacularly clear. The way of deliverance was to flee to the mountains never stopping till they got there, and not looking back.
Dawn had broken and we are told that “the sun had risen over the land” (v.23). The set time, the appointed time had come; the signal was finally given in heaven; “Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah – from the Lord out of the heavens” (v.24). The result was that the cities were overthrown “and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities – and also the vegetation in the land” (v.25) was utterly destroyed.
It did happen. That is the first thing to say quite soberly. In other words, we are confronted with the facticity of this event. Hiroshima happened, and Nagasaki happened, and Belsen happened, and the first World War happened, and the 100 Years’ War happened, and the Bubonic Plague happened, and Vesuvius’ destruction of Pompei happened, and also this little city and its neighbouring towns were destroyed. People will accept that all the other events happened but not this one. They don’t want this to happen, because they don’t want a God who is so powerful as to do this and so just and holy that he is motivated to do it, a God who punishes sin. They have a moral and an epistemological objection to this occurring. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, yes; but Sodom and Gomorrah, no. I say, why shouldn’t it have happened? As God is light, and he is angry with the wicked every day, and he has told the world that it is going to end in a general resurrection and the judgment of the great white throne shouldn’t there be foretastes of such judgment at this time of the Old Testament, during this epoch of redemptive history? Shouldn’t there be a flood, and the death of the first born of Egypt, and the destruction of God’s own people in the wilderness? Why not? Hasn’t God shown the world in these ways how important our lives are, what dignity and honour he gives to men and women who are made in the image and likeness of himself? God doesn’t condemn mere insects and fish and animals for destroying one another. That is the nature of the humbler creation, but you and I have been made in the image and likeness of God. How different we are. Christ the Saviour came as bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, and we must all appear before the judgment seat of God. Here in Sodom is a foretaste of that tremendous day. So it occurred. It really did.
How did it occur? There is little in the text to help us. The language is brief and terse as it describes the destruction. Some men hold the view that it was an earthquake that did it. Certainly this area of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea is one of seismic activity as the earth’s geological plates are colliding with one another. There is a huge line that is part of the Rift Valley that runs from the Near East down through east Africa into Kenya and on further. It is the scene of geological spasms and so an earthquake has been suggested as the cause of Sodom’s destruction. Yet there is nothing in our text suggesting this. Earthquakes occurred when Christ died, and when Paul was in prison in Philippi, but no mention is made of the earth quaking here. Nothing beneath Sodom moved, rather something pelted down upon Sodom; it was burning sulfur. That is what caused the conflagration destroying the city.
Why did it happen at that time? The Lord alone made it happen. He did not do this in Belsen and Hiroshima or even Pompei – though the latter would be referred to as an ‘act of God’ – as God did to these cities of the plain.
It was a personal decision of God and the execution was his. Have you noticed the repetition of the Lord’s name, quite redundantly and unnecessarily, but very solemnly. “The Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah – from the Lord out of the heavens” (v.24). In the great day of God’s judgment there is no battle. God came as a warrior and he didn’t return to heaven from Sodom and Gomorrah bloodstained and weary. He didn’t have a scratch on him because there hadn’t been a fight. This was a judicial execution, after due processes of justice. Sodom is the wages of sin.
The Lord rained down his justice; it all came from the Lord. The destruction of the cities and the entire region didn’t just happen because tectonic plates were moved – even by God at that moment. This event was by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. He decreed that this heinous place should be annihilated, and it was. Even the vegetation was destroyed. The very reason Lot chose for moving there was obliterated. It once looked so good; it had such promise of a verdant future, but in the day of God’s wrath there was no resistance and no fruitfulness. The place was utterly destroyed, never to be habitable again. Everything was lost. Woe to those who had found their lives in the life of Sodom; those lives were lost. Woe to Lot who had found his treasure there; his treasure was lost. In the day of judgment there will be no little place of safety for us to flee to except in the wounded side of Christ.
This is what God did, and that is what the prophets Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah believed and preached as taking place as they reminded the people of this destruction. That is what the apostles Paul and Peter declared in their references to Sodom in the New Testament, but, most important of all, this is what Jesus believed from his statement about this incident in Matthew ten, and in Matthew eleven, and in Luke seventeen. I am saying that God the Son referred to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; he used it to warn his disciples and strengthen them in their battle with remaining sin. For us the Lord Christ can say no wrong. If he believed that this happened then we don’t think we know something that Jesus didn’t know, that we are wiser than Jesus, that we know more about God than the Son of God. That Jesus believed and taught something erroneous, that he used a non-event in order to warn men to avoid a non-place is utterly unacceptable. Settle it in your minds that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by an action of a holy and sin-hating God, the only God there is, the one with whom we all have to do, not a God who shrugs and couldn’t care less how people behave towards one another, but a righteous, holy, loving and Saviour-providing God.
What had the messenger of God said to them? “Don’t look back!” (v.17), yet Lot’s wife did that very thing (v.26). She chose to do what God had forbidden. She deliberately looked back at Sodom – this favoured woman. Some women have made a heroine of her. Anna Akhmatova, the Russian poet, wanted to make Lot’s wife look courageous ‘taking the greatest chance of all for a single glance.’ No doubt you could do the same with Eve, or with a wife who looks at a married man and breaks her marriage vows. Make her a heroine! You could make rebellion against God’s wise and loving commandments an act of courage if the supreme thing in your life is you and your feelings and not your relationship with your husband and your God. Was the look an act of courage?
i] Think of the privileges this woman had enjoyed. J.C.Ryle reminds us of them. In the days of Abraham and Lot, real saving religion was rare in the world. There were certainly no Bibles, no ministers, no churches, no books, no conferences. The knowledge of God was confined to a few favoured families; the greater part of the inhabitants of the world were living in darkness, superstition, and sin. Less than one in a thousand had such good examples, knowledge and plain warnings as Lot’s wife had known. Compared with millions of her fellow-creatures in her time, Lot’s wife was a favoured person.
She had a righteous man for her husband, and her uncle by marriage was Abraham, the father of all of us who believe. The trust, the knowledge of the Lord, and the prayers of Abraham and Lot could have been no secret to her. It is impossible for her to have dwelt in a tent with them for any length of time, without knowing whose they were and whom they served. The living God for those men was more than notion; it was what made them tick. It was their purpose in life, their joy and their great reward. All this Lot’s wife would have seen and known. What great privileges she had.
When Abraham first received the promises, she might have been there. When Abraham came with his little army and achieved a mighty victory and delivered her and her friends from captivity and a life of slavery she was certainly one of the principal beneficiaries. When the angels came to Sodom and warned her husband to flee, she saw them; when they took her and her daughters and led them out of the city, she became one of the few people in the world who has ever held an angel’s hand. Once more, I say, these were no small privileges.
Yet what good effect had all these privileges on the heart of Lot’s wife? None at all. Notwithstanding all her opportunities and means of grace, notwithstanding all her special warnings and messages from heaven she lived and died graceless, godless, impenitent, and unbelieving. The eyes of her understanding were never opened; her conscience was never really aroused and quickened; her will was never really brought into a state of obedience to God; her affections were never really set on things above. The form of religion which she had was kept up for fashion’s sake and not from feeling: it was a garment that was worn for the sake of pleasing her company, but not from any sense of its value. She did as the servants did in Lot’s house: she conformed to her husband’s ways: she made no opposition to his religion: she let herself be passively towed along in his wake. The glory of knowing God for herself was missing, and all the time her heart was wrong in the sight of God. The world was in her heart, and her heart was in the world. In this state she lived, and in this state she died.
In all this there is much to be learned: here is a lesson which is of the greatest importance in the present day. You live in times when there are many persons just like Lot’s wife.
Learn, quickly that the mere possession of religious privileges will save no one’s soul. You may have spiritual advantages of every description; you may come from the happiest family of Christians, you may enjoy the best of preaching and powerful instruction, you may be surrounded by books, holy living, and loving company. All this may be, and yet you yourself may remain unregenerate, and at last be lost for ever.
ii] Think of the sin that this woman committed. She looked back. Was it with regret? With pity? With longing? She was looking back at the most evil place in the cosmos and all that she had left there. How had she
left them? At a time when they were buying and selling, marrying and being given in marriage. Her own daughters were about to enter marriage but now the wedding she had planned so carefully would certainly never take place as they’d conceived it. She couldn’t imagine life any other way and she took one long lingering glance back at Sodom. It may have been the city where she’d been born, and where her aged parents still lived. Probably she’d first met her husband Lot in Sodom and there her daughters had emerged from the womb. She had left Sodom, yes, but Sodom was still in her heart. This is what Jesus Christ means when he said, “Remember Lot’s wife.” These are his words; “ . . . in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulphur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no-one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no-one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Lk. 17:28-33).
“She looked back.” It might seem so small a sin, almost trifling to be visited with such a punishment. Yet there was far more in that look than strikes you at first sight: it implied far more than a mere glance around. Listen!
A]. That look was a little thing, but it spoke volumes of what really mattered to her. Little things will often show the state of a man’s heart and mind more accurately than great ones. You find a little lump on the breast and immediately you go to see your doctor. Little symptoms are often the signs of a deadly disease. The fruit that Eve ate wasn’t some big water melon, but it was large enough to show that she’d fallen from innocence to rebellion. A crack in an engine block is a little thing; but in an old car it means you have to get rid of the whole vehicle. A straw may show which way the wind is blowing, and so a single look can show the rotten condition of a sinner’s heart (Matt. 5:28).
B]. That look was a little thing, but it showed what was first in her life, her feelings and not the word of God. The command of the angel was simple and unmistakable: “Don’t look back” (v. 17). It was these words she refused to obey. Instead of our reading some such words as these, “And Lot’s wife held her husband’s hand, turned away from Sodom and climbed the mountain never looking back” and a new chapter would begin for the four of them, but we read the very reverse; she looked back. But the Holy Spirit says that to obey is better than sacrifice. When God speaks plainly by his Word, or by his messengers, our duty is clear.
C]. That look was a little thing, but it told of proud unbelief in Lot’s wife. When we can’t see the reason why God is dealing with us as he is, our duty is to hold our peace and keep trusting in the Lord. Her heart was still bound up with the affairs of a corrupt, condemned social order. Two voices were competing for her allegiance: one, the voice of the highlands – the voice of God calling her to liberty, purity, and salvation; the other, the voice of the lowlands – the voice of popularity and pleasure, the voice of Sodom. Slowly the voice from beneath gained the mastery of a dull conscience. Mrs. Lot stands before us as a tragic example of an unbelieving heart.
D]. That look was a little thing, but it told us that Lot’s wife loved the world. Her heart was in Sodom, though her body was outside. She had left her affections behind when she fled from her home. Her eyes turned to the place where her real treasure lay, just as the compass needle turns to the pole, and that was the crowning point of her sin. “The friendship of the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4) because the world is defined in the Bible as the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. So the apostle John says, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). The profession of love Lot’s wife had made for the God of her husband had seemed real enough. I wonder if angels can know the secrets of our hearts? Can they determine whether we are truly God’s elect? I doubt it. God only can know that. So to Lot she seemed to be a righteous person on the road to safety with all the pilgrim people of God. He didn’t know that the lowest and deepest thoughts of her heart were for this evil age. The immense danger of the world and its glittering prizes, the dreamy spires of Oxbridge, the big job in the city or with the media, the government pension – how powerful it is to draw us from God. That is the big lesson which the Lord Jesus meant us to learn when he told us never to forget Lot’s wife.
Just imagine if Lot lived in our day, here in 2009. One day Lot comes home from work a little early and finds his wife had become glued to watching the soaps on TV all the afternoon. She no longer gazed at him as she greeted him. It’s just a glance, because she wants to find out what happens next in this soap. She spends her mornings immersed in Mills and Boon romances. After supper he sees her staring bug-eyed at the evening soaps. She’s lying back motionless on the settee, staring at the TV set, the remote control in her hand. The house is littered with junk food wrappers just like her mind is saturated with junk. What has happened to the love of his life? He appraises the figure lying there; “Hello! . . . Hello!” Is she still there? Lot calls out to her. For a split second she glances and gives him a blank smile and then back to the TV. The phone rings. “Are you going to answer it?” he asks. Neither of them move. Not taking his eyes off her, he backs out of the door, and then he heads for the phone in the next room. When Lot returns, she is as she was, except that she’s turned back to the screen, but when he looks carefully again he sees that that beautiful young bride whom he’d married has changed into a glistening log of salt.
“Remember Lot’s wife!” How is it, that so often after beginning in the Spirit many professing Christians end up in the flesh. Like Samson, they are shorn of their strength and are lying in the lap of that Delilah, the world! I see it in many preachers today; they are fearful of preaching the whole Word of God; they’ve become intimidated by political correctness. They have a morbid fear of what they call ‘extreme views.’ They are filled with a dread of offending anyone in the congregation. They preach bland sermons; the world has succeeded in binding such preachers hand and foot. They have walked in the steps of Lot’s wife. They have looked back.
Many today claim to be Christians but they are only fooling themselves. It is sad to observe how professing Christians can dull their consciences. The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches have strangled the saving gospel, and they don’t even know it. They began like Jacob, and David, and Peter, but they are ending like Saul, and Judas Iscariot, and Demas. They began like Ruth, and Hannah, and Mary, and Priscilla, but they are ending like Lot’s wife. Remember Lot’s wife!
ere will you be in that great day? What will your eyes be set upon? Think of it! He shall come and all his holy angels and catch you up into the air to be always with him in the glories of a new heaven and a new earth, and what will you be thinking? Will you be looking back wistfully at this present world? Will you be thinking as you hear the last trump, “O dear, now I’ll never find out what happened in that soap if she married him or not . . . now I’ll never make my first million . . . now I’m not going to get married . . . now I won’t have any children . . . now I’ll never go to Disneyworld . . . now I’ll never find out what happened to my grandchildren”? What would thoughts like that say about your values, your eternal vision, about the reality of your trust in Christ and love for him? He’s come here for all his people and eternity is beginning. At his right hand are pleasures for evermore and you are reluctant to leave the world. Simon son of Jonas, lovest thou me?
iii] Think of the judgment that came on this woman. She became a pillar of salt (v.26). A miracle was wrought to execute God’s judgment on this guilty woman. The same almighty hand which had first given her life took that life away in the twinkling of an eye. From living flesh and blood she was turned into a pillar of salt. That was a fearful end for a soul to come to. To die at any time is a solemn thing. To die surrounded by your family, to die quietly in one’s bed, to die with the prayers of godly men still sounding in your ears, to die with a good hope through grace in the full assurance of salvation, leaning on the Lord Jesus, buoyed up by gospel promises, even so, to die, I say, is a serious business. But to die suddenly and in a moment, in the very act of sin, to die in full health and strength, to die by the direct interposition of an angry God – this is fearful indeed. Yet this was the end of Lot’s wife.
That was a hopeless end for a soul to come to! There are cases where one hopes, as it were, against hope, about the souls of those we see go down to the grave. We try to persuade ourselves that our poor departed brother or sister may have turned from rejecting Christ to salvation at the last moment and has laid hold on the hem of Christ’s garment at the eleventh hour. We call to mind God’s mercies; we remember the Spirit’s power; we think of the case of the penitent thief; we whisper to ourselves that a saving work may have gone on even on that dying bed when the dying person had not strength to speak of. But there is less confidence when a person is suddenly cut down in the very act of sin. Love itself can say nothing when the soul has been summoned away in the very midst of wickedness, without even a moment’s time for thought or prayer. Such was the end of Lot’s wife. It was a hopeless end. She went to hell. But it is good for us all to mark these things. It is good to be reminded that God can punish sharply those who sin willfully and that misused privileges can bring down great wrath on the soul.
Lot’s wife suffered the same judgment as that which happened to the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, yes, but that doom fell on her at the gates of Zoar. In Spurgeon’s sermon on this text he says, Oh, if I must be damned, let it be with the mass of the ungodly, having always been one of them! But to get to the very gates of heaven and to perish there would be most awful! To have lived with God’s people, to have been numbered with them, to be joined to them by ties of blood—and then, after all that, to perish—how horrible that would be. To have heard the Gospel, to have felt the Gospel, too, in a measure, and even to have reformed one’s life because of it, to have escaped from the filthy corruptions of the world and to have become moral, kind, and religious but yet still not to have been weaned from the world, not to have been divorced from sin and so finally to perish—the thought is intolerable!
That same burning sulfur that fell upon the inhabitants of the four cities overtook Lot’s wife. She was on the margins of the downpour, yet as it poured down from heaven she too was covered and turned into a pillar of salt, just where she stood! What an end! On the verge of having mercy to be condemned by divine justice! On the brink of salvation to become the recipient of eternal wrath! This came upon her all of a sudden. What a picture! She stops as she is fleeing . . . she turns her head . . . she scarcely looks! The gaze isn’t long enough to single out her own house, then, lo, she is turned into a pillar! The fire-salt has fallen on her! She’ll never move again! She had no time to turn, but there she stands as a statue of salt – a warning to all who should pass that way.
I do not suppose Lot’s wife petrified in her salt is standing there now, as some travelers have imagined—the pillar was not even there in Christ’s day, for if it had been, as Bengel remarks, our Lord would have said, “See Lot’s wife.” But as she was not there, Jesus said, “Remember” her. Her doom came all of a sudden, without a further warning or a moment’s time to consider. What if sudden death should strike some of you down at this moment? You who profess you follow Christ but who still love the world—what if you now fell dead? You professors who sneak in among the ungodly to have a taste of their pleasures, suppose you should be struck down while you were surfing the web for porn sites one of these days, dying with the mouse in your hand! A brilliant boy who was once in school with me and who rose to such heights in our land died of a heart attack in a South Wales massage parlour! You that pretend to be Christians but are engaged in some illegal business dealings—suppose you should fall dead doing that, the pen in your hand! It wouldn’t be a new thing under the sun, because God deals severely with those who profess to belong to him. He has jealous laws for those who join his church and yet don’t have the grace of God in their hearts. Many such don’t die the deaths of common men, but are often overtaken by strange punishments so that the world may see that the Lord has set a wall of fire around his church which none may break through on peril of their lives. Ananias and Sapphira walked into church one day, but they couldn’t stay there—a glance of Peter’s eyes and they fell dead before him! Such judgments still purge the ranks of the professing church as all who have eyes to see must know. “For this cause,” says the Apostle, “some are sickly among you, and many sleep,” because the discipline of God goes on in the midst of his church.
The worst point, perhaps, about the perishing of Lot’s wife is that she died in the very act of sin when she had no time or space for repentance. In one instant she had turned her head and looked to Sodom and she became a pillar of salt. It is a dreadful thing to die in the very act of sin—to be caught away by the justice of God even while the transgression is being perpetrated! Yet such a thing may h
appen and let those who profess to be Christians and yet parley with sin, “remember Lot’s wife” and how swift God is to deal out his judgment against professing Christians who betray his holy cause.
Our text doesn’t end with this woman’s judgment. “Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord” (v.27). This story is really about our father Abraham, the father of all of us who believe. We have been drawn down to this valley of wickedness and we’ve seen the world crumbling all around us, and even women not avoiding God’s judgment, but now it’s a new day and we rise and we stand with Abraham on the mountain top. He cannot stay in bed but at first light he goes to see what has happened to Sodom and Gomorrah. Has God kept his threat of destruction? Abraham stands at the same spot where he had made intercession before the Lord. He is looking down toward Sodom and Gomorrah to see what is happening among the sons of men, and there he sees the pall of smoke, the mushroom cloud over the place where the cities of the plain once stood.
If you’ve read the book of Revelation you see the same kind of scene when Babylon the harlot is overthrown and her smoke rises up. This is the end for those whose only hope was this world, whose entire treasure was found in the things of the earth. There we read of great rejoicing in heaven that the great harlot who has corrupted the world has been overthrown – she who shed the blood of God’s servants. God is avenged in her destruction and the sight of it causes God’s people to bow before God and cry “Alleluia!”
So Abraham acknowledges the justice of God’s judgments. He does not shed his tears now, though he knows nothing of the end of his nephew’s wife. He does not charge God with injustice. He had prayed, and thus not one righteous person had perished in Sodom. So it will be in that great day, not a single one of the righteous will be condemned, not the least significant of any of them. All will be saved. How safe is Abraham; the judgments are far from him, down on the plain. All his hopes were in God’s mercy in Christ the promised Seed. He could plead in compassion for the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah, and God heard his prayers. Come, let us be like Abraham, not like Lot who escaped only as through the fire. Let us believe the promises of God in Jesus Christ. He is our treasure. What can the world offer compared to him? Why should we get attached to what we cannot keep when we’ve already been given what we cannot lose?
Abraham interceded for the righteous in Sodom and his praying was heard. When we read the narrative of the Flood and its destructive energy we are told that God remembered Noah, and here we read that “God remembered Abraham” (v.29). Why was Lot saved? It was because of Abraham and his faith, and because of imputed righteousness deemed sufficient when he pleaded for Lot. That was why the angels spoke to Lot and told him to get out – it was through Abraham. When they held Lot’s hand and drew him outside, it was because God was remembering Abraham. He had pleaded with God and God gave him all he asked for, his nephew and his two grand-daughters. Had not our Saviour offered his blood to God for us, and pleaded to God for us then we would be lost men and women. Won’t his prayers for us be accepted as he is now looking down from heaven on our land and making sure that his blessed donated mark, the Holy Spirit, is upon us? In the day of judgment we will be drawn out of the fires as by angels and brought to the place where our treasure is. Hasn’t Christ pleaded for us? Isn’t he ever living to intercede for us? Is the seal of the Holy Spirit upon us? “Don’t ever remove it, Father,” he cries. “Keep them to the uttermost. They are coming to you, simply pleading my name.” That is all that we need, everything to gain acceptance by God is found in God’s Son the righteous Jesus, our advocate with God.