Have you ever tried something new and found yourself wishing you could stop and go back? I’m not an expert rock climber by any stretch but I’ve tried my hand at a few climbing walls before and it’s interesting that all the spotters I’ve ever had have always said the same thing, “When you’re climbing up the wall and you get stuck, don’t look down because you’re not going in that direction and it will just make you want to quit and climb back down. Instead, keep looking up, find your next hand-hold, and keep moving up.” I’ll be honest with you, I’ve had to apply that advice to more than one thing I’ve attempted. When I was half way through Seminary the first time, I remember thinking how much easier my life would be if I could just go back to working and being a husband and father instead of a student as well. I tried every excuse possible to quit. I even tried to talk myself into believing that God hadn’t called me to ministry and that I just made it up. I looked back at my life before Seminary and it was so much less complicated. Looking back didn’t make being faithful to what God was calling me to do any easier. Instead, looking back made being obedient even harder.
I think it’s human nature, at least for most people, to gravitate toward what is familiar and comfortable. That’s not to say we don’t like adventure, but when there’s no money left in the bank to pay the bills, the adventure of a new business venture loses its appeal. When you’re working on two or three hours of sleep for five days straight doing homework, the adventure of a graduate degree quickly becomes drudgery. Let’s be honest, this applies to our faith journey as well doesn’t it. When we first became followers of Christ, it was an exciting adventure. However, for most of us, the adventure quickly ended when we figured out just how hard it was going to be to be a faithful follower of Christ. It’s one thing to accept Jesus as your Savior, it’s something altogether different to make Him your Lord. For many people, making Jesus the Lord of their lives is more than they bargained for. They like they idea of being a follower of Christ but when they look back at their old lives it’s just too hard to give up what’s familiar and comfortable.
There’s an old worship hymn called, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, that picks up on an important theme in light of our lesson. The refrain goes like this:
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”
When we turn our eyes upon Jesus, we find the strength to be faithful followers of Christ. When we look back we lose heart and return to our old sinful lives because it is easier and more comfortable. When you turn our eyes upon Jesus, you have the strength to put the necessary time and effort into your marriage. When you look back, your other interests always take priority in your life at the expense of your marriage. When you turn your eyes upon Jesus, you have the courage to be honest. When you look back, you rationalize that cheating and dishonesty is just being shrewd. When you turn your eyes upon Jesus, you have self-control. When you look back, you convince yourself that one more drink couldn’t hurt that much. When you turn your eyes upon Jesus, you can live generously. When you look back, you can never get enough for yourself. When you turn your eyes upon Jesus, you can live a life of holiness and righteousness. When you look back, you convince yourself that sin is really not as bad as it seems. When you turn your eyes upon Jesus, you can take up your cross and follow Him. When you look back, you realize that a life that doesn’t involve a cross is so much easier. Being a faithful follower of Christ isn’t just hard. Sometimes it seems impossible. However, I’ll let you in on a little secret that will make things at least a little easier—Don’t Look Back!
15With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” 16When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the LORD was merciful to them. 17As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!” 18But Lot said to them, “No, my lords, please! 19Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die. 20Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.” 21He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. 22But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” (That is why the town was called Zoar.) 23By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. 24Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the LORD out of the heavens. 25Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. 26But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
The events of our Subject Text are clearly dire so we should probably have a good understanding of circumstances that lead up to those events. Our Subject Text and the previous verses describe the moral decay of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Specifically the text leading up to our Subject Text describes how three angels appeared to Abraham primarily to inform him that one year from then his wife, Sarah, would give birth to a son. It was a significant announcement given that Sarah was 90 years old at the time and Abraham was 100. Nevertheless, the angels where there to announce the fulfillment of God’s plan to build a nation through the descendants of Abraham.
However that wasn’t the only reason the angels were there. They were also there to pass judgment on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and the people who lived in those cities because of their blatant sinful lives. Abraham knew that his nephew, Lot, lived in Sodom so he convinced the angels not to destroy the cities if as many as ten righteous people could be found there. The angels made their way to Sodom and Gomorrah to see for themselves. When they arrived in Sodom, Lot, not knowing they were angels, took them into his home because it was not safe for them to be out on the streets. Unfortunately, some men of the city noticed they had arrived in the city and were staying at Lot’s house. So the men went to Lot’s house and demanded that Lot turn them over so that they could have sex with them. Lot tried to dissuade them by offering the men his own virgin daughters to satisfy them but they refused and insisted on having sex with Lot’s male guests. When the men attempted to break in to Lot’s house and take the visitors by force, the angels struck them all blind. The angels witnessed enough. Blatant sexual immorality, including homosexuality, was more than enough evidence for the angels to condemn the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and their respective inhabitants. (Defenders of homosexuality argue that this text only condemns homosexual rape and not homosexuality in general. I can assure you that no amount of rationalization will erase the condemnation of homosexuality in general throughout the Old and New Testaments. It is not the intention in this particular lesson to expand on the immorality of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. I have done that elsewhere in a previous lesson. See When God Has Had Enough (http://seredinski.blogspot.com/2015/07/when-god-has-had-enough.html) to learn more on the topic of homosexuality.) The immorality must have been egregious and widespread because the only people the angels were willing to save were Lot and his immediate family (Lot’s sons-in-law didn’t believe Lot’s warning so they stayed behind and died when the city was destroyed).
15With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” 16When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the LORD was merciful to them.
Once the angels determined that the cities were deserving of condemnation, they wasted no time to evacuate Lot and his immediate family according to vv. 15-16. The text says that Lot hesitated but considering Lot’s righteousness, it is unlikely that his hesitation had anything to do with regret or an unwillingness to leave. More likely it had to do with confusion about what to do next. We tend to read the text forgetting that the characters in the text don’t know what’s coming next. They are living in that moment. Imagine how confusing it must have been for them. We know that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed in a hail storm of burning sulfur because we have the benefit of historical perspective but Lot didn’t have that perspective. Set aside for a moment that Lot was visited by angels (that would be confusing enough), and imagine that you received news that your entire city along with all its people were about to be destroyed. Imagine the enormity of that reality. Clearly God’s judgment is always perfect and the people deserved precisely what was coming to them. Nevertheless, imagine being there and about to witness such a devastating human tragedy. Even without questioning God’s righteous judgment, it had to be difficult for Lot to wrap his mind around what was about to happen.
Additionally, Lot knew the grotesque immorality that surrounded him but how to escape it was not so clear. This is probably something many of us can relate to. Sin and immorality press in on us from every side and we have no idea how to escape it. For those who have a deep and abiding relationship with Christ; who desire our lives to reflect His righteousness, God, through the Holy Spirit, takes us by the hand and guides us to safety much like the angels took Lot by the hand and led him and his family out of the city. Notice the motivation of the angels. They helped Lot and his family because God is merciful. This is exactly why we have received the Holy Spirit who Jesus referred to as a Helper. Just like Lot was the beneficiary of divine intervention, we receive the Holy Spirit as our divine intervention to guide us away from the sin that seems to press in on us from every side because God is merciful to us.
“The picture of Lot, then, is that of a righteous man living amid unrighteousness—a righteous man being rescued from the fate of the wicked through divine intervention. Moreover, not surprisingly, the basis of God’s rescue of Lot is not Lot’s righteousness but the Lord’s compassion. When the men take hold of Lot and lead him and his family out of the doomed city, the writer is careful to note that this is because ‘the Lord was merciful to them.’”
17As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!” 18But Lot said to them, “No, my lords, please! 19Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die. 20Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.”
It appears Lot is finally beginning to understand the magnitude of the destruction that is about to descend on city because he seems to worry that he can’t get his family far enough away quickly enough without being swept up in the destruction. Consequently, he asked the angels if he could instead escape to a nearby small city and take refuge there. I appreciate this dialogue because it is deeply relational. God expects obedience but more than anything He desires relationship and only God can achieve perfect judgment without comprising His Holiness or without sacrificing relationship. Lot isn’t asking God to withhold his judgment but simply a way out that seemed more bearable than the command to “flee to the mountains.” People mired in sin see in our Subject Text an angry God who is an unforgiving, brutal dictator. However, vv. 17-20 paint a very different picture of God. These verses reveal a God who is perfectly just in His condemnation of those who happily bathe themselves in sin yet infinitely merciful to those who humbly seek His mercy. The relational aspect is revealed when Lot feels like he can object to God’s clear instruction to “flee to the mountains.”
There are times in our relationship with God when we have a duty to simply obey even when we don’t agree or don’t like it. Let’s use the context of the immorality of our Subject Text as an example. It is very clear in both the Old and New Testament that homosexuality is forbidden as is all sexual activity outside the context of marriage between one man and one woman. We don’t have to like it as Christians but non-compliance is being disobedient and breaks our relationship with God. However, vv. 17-20 show us that we can have a dialogue with God about anything we believe God has called us to do. In the end, we may have to do exactly what God has called us to do. However, as we see in these verses, God is not a dictator. Instead, God wants to dialogue with us; He wants us to bring our petitions directly to Him and then trust that He knows what’s best for us. Unless, you ask Him you won’t know if He will grant your requests—so just like Abraham asked for the cities to be spared on behalf of the righteous, Lot asks for another way out of the coming destruction. It’s interesting to note that even though Lot recognizes God’s mercy, he still doubts God’s ability to save him as though the coming destruction was somehow going to escalate out of God’s control and swallow up Lot and his family. I, for one, am thankful that God doesn’t get tired of our doubts but instead works in and through them to accomplish His will while at the same time elevating our level of trust.
“The ‘mountains’ were typically sanctuaries of isolation, providing safety from human contact. In this case the mountains were actually outside the targeted area for total annihilation. Lot, however, refuses and makes a counterproposal…His chief concern is ‘life’ and ‘death’; since he cannot make it to the mountains before the disaster strikes, he proposes sanctuary in the small nearby town of Zoar. His ‘bargaining’ with the lead angel recalls the pleas of Abraham with his guests [not to destroy the cities for the sake of the righteous living there even if they can only identify ten righteous people living there]…Abraham’s initial encounter with the three visitors (18:3) bring both events together. The angels in both settings graciously concede to the pleas of the patriarch and his nephew. The point of the allusion to Abraham is to remind us that Abraham’s intercession was honored, even for the reluctant Lot.”
21He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. 22But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” (That is why the town was called Zoar.) 23By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. 24Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the LORD out of the heavens. 25Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land.
The angels agree to Lot’s request in vv. 21-25 and allow him and his family to flee to Zoar. I’m sure most of you know this story very well so there’s really nothing shocking about this. But I want to point out something I know I’ve read countless times but just now realized, maybe for the first time—the significance of the request that the angels granted Lot. Specifically, it is the angel’s revelation that “I will not overthrow the town you speak of.” Now Zoar means “small” or “smallness” so we can safely assume that it was a small city with few people. Nevertheless, it fell within the boundary of destruction that was coming. But look at what happened: The city and all its inhabitants were saved because one righteous man and his family fled there to find refuge.
Don’t miss the significance of this just because Zoar was a small city. What if it was the city where you lived? What if it was the city where your family lived? What if it was the city where your children lived? In that context, does it really matter that it was small? It doesn’t to me. However, here is the most important thing I want you to get out of these verses—God can choose to save an entire city for the sake of one righteous person. That person could be you! Think about all God could do through your faithful obedience. This is why our faithfulness and spiritual transformation is so important! It’s not just about you or me, this is about all the people we come in contact with. It’s about your family, your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, your classmates and even the stranger at the corner grocery store. If God could use you to save just one of them, wouldn’t it be worth the hard work of being a faithful follower? Well if God can use someone as broken as me to reach people with the simple message of His love and mercy then I have absolutely no doubt He can use you to do even more. However, you must prepare your heart and your mind to live a life of righteousness. That will only happen in the context of a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ who said that He is the Vine and we are the branches and apart from Him we can do nothing. In fact, apart from Christ humanity is condemned.
You might be thinking, “‘What can I do—I’m a nobody!’ there are ample opportunities for despair. But the fact is, righteous people have always been and will always be a minority. Still, individually and as the corporate church, God expects us to have an impact for righteousness in the world.
“Examples of such individuals abound. From the apostle Paul to Martin Luther to Mother Theresa, there are those who have refused to think they were too insignificant for God to use. Their impact came not because they were full of self-importance and thought themselves capable of big things, but because they humbly did what needed to be done. Understanding the task at hand, they boldly went about doing what God led them to do. In most cases, and impact is not accomplished amidst great fanfare and does not necessarily enjoy popular support…God can use a small, righteous minority to have a significant impact on a fallen world…We are called to impact the world in whatever ways we can, large or small—to make a difference for God. We cannot be driven by the results, because we will never know the results in the lives of people that we touch this side of heaven. We must instead be driven by the needs of the world and constrained by the love of Christ.”
26But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
Whenever you read the Bible, you always have to pay particular attention to the “but’s” because what comes after them usually teaches an important lesson. And it’s no different in v. 26. This really isn’t a simple matter that Lot’s wife looked back at the destruction that was behind them. How many of you have been guilty of slowing down while driving in order to have a better look at an automobile accident on the side of the road? You might think that Lot’s wife was guilty of nothing more than curiosity. Except for this one small detail—the angels specifically told them, “Don’t Look Back!” Instead, it seems like there is something more nefarious involved in this case which Jesus confirmed during his ministry. Let me explain, Jesus was teaching the people about His Second Coming. Jesus said, “On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions 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 their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it (Lk. 17:31-33).
Lot’s wife didn’t look back out of curiosity, she looked back because she longed to have her old life back. Some theologians even go so far as to suggest that she returned to the city. In the context of Jesus’ lesson, Lot’s wife wanted to keep her life. As a result, she lost it. Jesus isn’t specifically talking about literally losing our lives as in the case of death. He is referring to losing our sinful lives in exchange for a life of righteousness and to receive eternal life.
To say it’s hard being a faithful follower of Christ in a sinful, self-prioritizing world would be an understatement. Many like the idea of Jesus as Savior but few like the idea of Jesus as Lord. We want to be saved but we don’t really want all that comes with that salvation. Specifically, putting the old-self to death so the new-self can have life to the fullest. We want to enjoy the benefits of salvation without experiencing the inconvenience of that salvation. When Jesus calls us to be His followers, He doesn’t expect us to follow Him when it is convenient or comfortable, He expects us to follow Him at all times and in all circumstances. That usually means picking up our cross and following Jesus into the teeth of a world that will hate us for being his followers. Nevertheless, this is the same world that Jesus died to save so it is our mission to go out into the world and tell people about salvation found only in Jesus and then train those who believe how to be His faithful followers.
However, we can’t just teach people how to be followers of Christ, we have to show them as well. And we show them through the witness of our righteous lives. Keep in mind that that doesn’t mean we are perfect and sinless, it means when we sin, we confess our sins, seek forgiveness for our sins, and grow in our faith and faithfulness even if we have to confess the same sins over and over and over remembering that we cannot out-sin God’s capacity to forgive. Part of the process of seeking forgiveness is the process of repentance, which isn’t just a process of turning away from our sins, it also means turning toward God. And the best way for us to avoid falling back into the same old patterns of sin is to follow the instructions of the angels and Don’t Look Back!
Luke gives an account of a time when a man came to Jesus and said that he wanted follow Jesus but he wanted to go back and say goodbye to his family. Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God (Lk. 9:62).” Like the man who wanted to follow Jesus or Lot’s wife, we can’t have life both ways—sin and righteousness cannot abide together. We have to choose and sometimes that choice will require some radical changes in our lives. If you struggle with alcohol or some other substance abuse, not having it in your house may not be enough, you need to stay away from any person or situation where you might be seduced to look back. If you have a problem with pornography, turning off your television or computer may not be enough, you may have to get rid of every device that might entice you to look back. If you have a problem with greed, giving more of your money may not be enough, you might have to give it all to avoid looking back.
Jesus didn’t just expect radical obedience, He expected us to make radical changes in our lives. He told his followers, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell (Mt. 5:29-30).” Was Jesus being literal? Honestly, I wish I could say no with absolute certainty but I can’t. He was probably being hyperbolic but don’t use that as an excuse to water down how serious Jesus was about eliminating sin or anything that could cause you to sin from your life. The spirit of what Jesus was saying is that you must rid your life of whatever is keeping you or could keep you from being a faithful and fully committed follower of Jesus Christ. Once you’ve done that, then daily turn your eyes upon Jesus and Don’t Look Back!
(Audio version; Music--"Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" by: Alan Jackson and "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" by: Nicole Nordeman)
 Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland, gen. eds., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis-Leviticus, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 198.
 Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2005), 240.
 John H. Walton, Genesis, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 485-486.