In one long sentence, beginning with verse 4 and ending with verse 10, Peter highlighted three episodes in Israel’s early history when God both cleansed the earth of evil and rescued the remnant of righteous ones. In his first example, Peter reminded his readers of the fallen angels.
His second example drew upon the same story, but from a different angle—after judging and imprisoning the angels (now demons), God sent a vast flood that swept all life away. It was, in a fashion, a sort of “uncreating” of what God had made at the beginning of Genesis, and a “reseeding” of both humanity and all creatures. God had rescued a tiny portion humanity, Noah and his family, and with them a tiny portion of all land animals.
Peter then turned to an episode in their first patriarch’s life, when Abraham prayed for the plight of the Cities on the Plain. In the end, only three people responded to God’s offer of redemption.
The Saving of a Righteous One
And if he rescued Lot, a righteous man greatly distressed by the licentiousness of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by their lawless deeds that he saw and heard) . . .2 Peter 2:7-8 (NRSV)
Lot and Abraham
I remember the first time I read those two verses, years ago! I immediately flipped back to Genesis 13 and 14, to read about Lot’s and Abraham’s relationship, trying to figure out what had prompted Peter to say he had been a righteous man.
I saw, as I read those stories, two wealthy men, one elderly, one young and virile, looking out over the Cities of the Plain, located near what is today the Dead Sea in the southernmost end of Israel. During the Middle Bronze Age, the approximate time Abraham would have arrived with all his flocks, herds, hundreds of servants and warriors, and his family, this was a fertile valley, with fresh running rivers and springs, a robust agriculture and rich forests.
Behind them was arid high country, scrub brush, rocky foothills. Below them was the lush Valley of Siddim.
Lot chose the best, or at least what seemed the best. He chose wealth, status, civilization, and was evidently content to leave Abraham and his household to pitch their tents in the scrubland.
Lot and Sodom
Then, I turned to Genesis 18 and 19, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and was reminded of the rest of Lot’s awful story.
Lot had married into one of Sodom’s families and developed a reputation for himself as well. As an elder and city official, he adjudicated cases every day at the city gate, which today might be seen as civil court. Peter had written that Lot was greatly distressed by the licentiousness of the lawless, and that he was tormented in his righteous soul by their lawless deeds which he presumably saw and heard about daily, as he sat in the gate with the rest of Sodom’s elders.
Yet, all of us are shaped by the culture we inhabit, and Lot, his wife, and his children were no different. Though Lot knew God, it seems he had little influence on his family or the society he kept. Eventually, in an act of severe grace, God allowed the sacking of Sodom and the capture of its families.
Sodom and the Cities of the Plain were shown just how vulnerable they really were.
What was in store for Lot, his wife, and their young family could have included being forced into slavery, rape, even death. As it was, they had already been traumatized by the brutality and violation they had already experienced.
Then, in a miraculous rescue, Abraham and his few hundred fighting men—and, by the way, the infinite and eternal mighty wonder-working power of Almighty God—against all odds, overcame the heretofore invincible armies that had conquered and plundered Sodom and Gomorrah and their satellite cities, and were even now marching its citizens into exile.
God’s next act of grace was to speak through both Melchizedek and Abraham in the ceremony that followed. The entire city had been arrayed around these two pillars of faith. It would have, could have, been a Pentecost moment, when the people of the city realized their great need for God. (But it was not)
King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High.He blessed him and said,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,Genesis 14:18-20 (NRSV)
maker of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
And Abraham told the king of Sodom, as he refused even one coin for his heroic act of rescue,
“I have sworn to the Lord, God Most High, maker of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, so that you might not say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me—Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre. Let them take their share.”Genesis 14:22-24 (NRSV)
These were powerful words of integrity, generosity, and faithfulness to Almighty God, the very character traits so palpably missing in the Cities of the Plain.
The story of God’s messengers, angels in disguise, the rescue of Lot and his daughters, his wife turning into a pillar of salt, the Cities of the Plain bursting into flames, is a famous account! And there were important lessons concerning God’s judgment that Peter’s brief summary might have recalled to mind for his readers.
God’s Righteous Judgment
God is just. So God’s judgments are just, God gives what is deserved. We have to trust God with that. When I am reading a story in the Bible, and I am confused about how to understand what I am reading, I look to God’s response to the people in the story. I trust God. God is just.
God rights what has been made wrong when God judges. A great cry had gone up to God concerning the desperately wicked condition of the Cities of the Plain. All those invested in that wickedness were under God’s judgment. God’s warning had come through the invading armies, but that warning had been ignored. Now, sin had reached its fulness. Judgement had come.
Redemption from that fate could come only through obedient faith to God’s word. No turning back. Thousands of years later, Jesus’ brother James would write,
“for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”James 1:6-8 (NRSV)
God’s wrath has a cleansing, purifying aspect to it – to cleanse the universe of the corruption of sin, just as was happening before Lot’s and Abraham’s eyes, for Abraham was watching all this from his mountain site. Lot’s wife became a searing emblem of what it means to cling to the old life, the life without God.
God’s judgment shows that who we are and what we do matters. If God did not judge sin it would mean that God was indifferent to the existence of right and wrong, good and evil. But God is not indifferent. God’s wrath, grief, and intense pain over sin, is the necessary and only right response. Even Lot held that within him, for all his own faults and moral turpitude.
God’s final judgment is permanent and universal – Lot’s wife became the depiction of that finality. The horror of her end was a warning to Lot and his daughters. Sadly, they did not seem to understand its implications.
God’s mercy is always available to overcome justice
This is perhaps the greatest lesson of all, for as James would later write,
mercy triumphs over judgementJames 2:13 (NRSV)
(Tomorrow, the rest of the story)
[Wife_of_Lot_-Cathedral_of_Monreale-_Italy_2015 | © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 4.0]