The Lot of Sodom - Genesis 19
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Several years ago a well-known Christian speaker, promising theologian and a prominent worker in the student world, as well as a leading elder at his local church, was sent to prison for sexually assaulting a 14 year old boy he met through an internet chat room. In court he said that he started struggling with his sexuality five years previously after seeing images of gay pornography on a borrowed computer. At the time he was married with a six month old baby. He went on to describe his home life as happy and content but became increasingly excited by homosexual pornography. When the police raided his house they found hundreds of gay porn magazines and videos hidden from his wife. Can you even begin to imagine the effect that had on his family, his friends and his church-let alone the poor man himself who disgraced had to serve three years imprisonment? The Christian writer, Dr Carl Trueman, a friend of this man, in the aftermath of what happened wrote these rather sobering words: ‘The problem with evangelicalism in the West is not its lack of intellectual credibility; rather it is its lack of moral integrity, its tendency towards materialism, and its lip service to a doctrinal position and code of ethics which it often despises and ignores in practice. The church needs men and women, boys and girls who are distinctively different from the world, who live for Christ, not for self, who maintain the absolute moral antithesis between the worship of the triune God and the crass idolatry of all that is not Christianity…..The battles we fight with sin are battles in which we cannot afford to surrender, and which require moral backbone, not technical brilliance, to win. And the first qualification of such people is an uncompromising attitude to their own morality, public and private born out of a knowledge of their own sinfulness and God’s glorious holiness and unmerited grace in Christ.’
You cannot hear of such an account without a sense of sadness and dread- sadness for the wrecked lives involved and dread that, ‘but for the grace of God there go I.’ It is important, however, not to think that the poor man in question suddenly decided to ditch his beliefs and change his behaviour. No, there would have been a gradual drift, with tiny almost imperceptible changes at first, a lowering of the defences here, a bit of laxity there, until the steady trickle gave way to a moral mudslide. That is what living in Sodom does to you. Eventually, however, the real problem to be faced is not so much what happens when you live in Sodom, but what happens when Sodom lives in you. That is the main burden of the episode in Genesis we are looking at tonight- and if ever it was a lesson for God’s people to learn, it is a lesson especially relevant for us living in our society today.
First, there is the danger of drift.
The writer has been preparing us for this dark and sorry episode for some time now with a profound sense of foreboding; you can almost hear the low rumble of thunder in the distance. As far back as chapter 13 the writer refers to the time before the ‘LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah ‘(v10); and that Lot moved his ‘tents as far as Sodom’ (v12) and that the men of Sodom ‘were wicked and sinned greatly against the LORD ‘(v 13). So marker after marker is laid down that this is not a good place to be- and yet, initially at least, all that Lot saw seemed good according to 13:10- the kind of place which appeared to offer stability- plenty of water and land. There were cities here and so all the benefits which go with those- markets, social amenities- perhaps even a bit of culture. It seemed a ‘no brainer’ that this was going to be far better than the life of a nomad wondering the hills, worrying where you are going to find next water hole. So, why not put down a few roots? Well, that is what Lot did. His tent was swapped for a house 19:2. His life as a drifter was exchanged for that of a leader since we are told in verse 1 he sat in the ‘gateway of the city’, the place were business was transacted and judgements of city council were made. Everything looks like it is on the ‘up and up’; of course he made the right decision when Abram gave him the choice where to live! But there was a heavy price to pay. As someone has said, if you are going to dine with the devil make sure you use a very long spoon!
And just how caught up and tied down by Sodom Lot actually was, is shown in a number of ways.
In verse 16 we are told that when Lot was urged to get out of town by the angelic visitors he ‘hesitated’ so that as one commentator puts it, ‘not even brimstone will make a pilgrim out of him.’ (Kidner). He just seems so lackadaisical in the face of the pending disaster. In verses 17-22 we meet the term ‘flee’ five times but Lot seems to be more into ‘faffing’ than fleeing. In verse 4 his sons-in-law think he is joking- why should they think that except that up to this point he has shown little piety at all, but suddenly he has got ‘religion’? His witness is compromised you see by his lack of integrity. And that he himself had descended into the moral pits of Sodom is shown by his offer of his daughters to be gang raped in verse8- what a great Dad he has turned out to be! And that his own daughters had bought in to the ‘permissive-whatever- works –for- me’- society of Sodom is indicated by the dreadful way they enticed their father to commit incest with them (vv 30-38). Not only was Lot in Sodom, but most serious of all Sodom was in Lot.
Now we need to bear in mind that Lot had many advantages over the citizens of Sodom. He was Abram’s nephew and so came under the covenantal blessings of Abram, which is one reason he was given the chance to escape. In all likelihood Abram would have shared with Lot the revelation God had given him- it is highly implausible he would have kept it to himself, here there was no ‘privatisation’ of religion as there is in our society- the whole of life was shaped by belief in God or the gods.
So here’s the question: what accounts for such a downwards spiral with Lot and his kin? The answer is: spiritual and moral drift. We don’t know quite how long Lot stayed in his tents near Sodom before moving into the city itself, but given the antipathy these folk had to strangers as shown not only by the attempted homosexual gang rape of Lot’s visitors, but the derisory comment made about Lot in verse 9 being a ‘foreigner’, he probably would have hovered on the margins for a while, slowly ingratiating himself with the inhabitants. And that is the problem- hanging around sin will eventually draw us into sin. Sometimes we think, ‘I won’t come to any harm’ as we flirt with something shady until the web spun around us begins to tighten and we are drawn closer and closer to the centre and we can’t escape sin’s entanglements even if we wanted to.
And you know what? That is what has been happening to Christians and the church in the West now over the last 60 or so years. I am sure many of you have seen the film ‘The Kings Speech’; the reason why the King Edward had to abdicate was because the then Archbishop of Canterbury refused point blank to allow him to marry a divorcee as that was seen to be going too far from Scripture’s ideal. That was then. Now we have the situation where sexual deviancy is not only tolerated amongst church leaders but affirmed as the church has engaged in an unholy exchange of the ways of God for the ways of Sodom.
But we have all been affected by this to some degree in that we are all becoming desensitised so things that at one time would have shocked us don’t any more. Well perhaps not all things. It was interesting to watch an interview between Andrew Marr and the actor Damien Lewis recently. Lewis is in a production at the West End entitled ‘The Goat or Who is Sylvia’ by Edward Albee. It is the story of a man who has an adulterous affair with a goat. When confronted by his wife and son he makes the case that he is in love with the goat and this was the proper expression of that love and so on and so forth. In modern parlance it is called ‘zoophilia’. Now this is a serious work. And in terms of the logic of the arguments presently being used to support various forms of sexual activity, it is consistent, if you have the one you can’t argue against the other- after all ‘love is love’. If there is ‘homophobia’, why can’t there be ‘zoophobia’? And this is not something which restricted to the La La land of the London theatre, there is a growing minority movement in the United States made up of people who call themselves ‘zoos’ and wish to follow the path of the gay rights movement. So one of their spokesman, a young man called Cody Beck who says he is attracted to dogs and horses, hopes that eventually this group can appeal to ‘open minded acceptance’ (by the way this was also going on in Canaan at the time of Abraham). The thing is this- Andrew Marr said all the audience left the theatre shocked. But 60 years ago had a play been performed about a married man who left his wife and son for another man, that audience would have been shocked. The point I am making is that the moral erosion of a society so that what was unthinkable becomes thinkable is gradual until you get to the point of no return- unless, that is, God steps in.
And so we come to the divine destruction.
Just look at the nature of the offence in vv4 and 5, ‘Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”
This was not a ‘one off’ isolated affair. It is an aggravated, characteristic action these men of Sodom indulged in. How do we know that? Well, just take a look at the pressure that Lot put on his visitors to get off the streets as we see in verse 3. I don’t think this is the insistence of mere hospitality because it forms the prelude to what happens next in verse 4 and the attempted homosexual gang rape.
Neither was this the act of a few drug fuelled teenagers- because we are told that ‘young and old’ were involved, this is a top-down moral decadence; the moral rot has infected every strata of society and it usually begins with the older generation who infect the up and coming generation with their degenerate ideas and they are then the ones who suffer the most in terms of sexually transmitted disease and motional breakdown. And, I am sure, as with any society, the moral disintegration culminating in these kinds of repulsive acts did not happen overnight. The acid rain of years of idolatry, self-indulgence and basic God-defying sin eventually works its way through until everything and everyone is effected-including those who may start off godly, like Lot. It is a terrifying scenario and one which has been repeated in time and time again, including our own. The trouble is that there comes a point when the infection is so widespread and so deep that we don’t even recognise it- it is just an acceptable part of society’s behaviour and so either no one would dare to challenge it in case of the kind of ‘put downs’ and threats which Lot was subject to in verse 9, or we shrug our shoulders with a ‘whatever’ resignation of ‘that’s just the way things are’.
But while we may be tempted to leave things as they are, God is not, v 12, ‘The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.” There is no question of God judging in haste based on hearsay, because in the last chapter the LORD himself, together with the angelic visitors had ‘come down’ to Sodom to see if things were as bad as he had heard- and they were, as confirmed by this incident- even angels would be gang raped if possible- nothing is sacred for these people. And so judgement is pronounced and judgement is carried out, v24, ‘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, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land.’ The judge of the earth does what is right.
Now before we dismiss this as one of those uncomfortable passages which we can consign to the theological rubbish bin because it belongs to the dark old God of the Old Testament and has no place in the teaching of Jesus, we should pause and think about what Jesus actually does say on the matter.
Here’s the question: according to Jesus is there something worse than what we have just read about which incurs God’s judgement? Yes, there is and this is what Jesus says in Matthew 11:23-24, ‘And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the Day of Judgment than for you.”’ Do you see what Jesus is saying? There is a far worse offence in God’s sight than even the degrading behaviour of Sodom, namely, being blessed with the immense privilege of hearing the Gospel, seeing its power and not being moved one inch by it. So let’s bring it up to date: ‘It will be more tolerable on the day of judgement for Sodom, than for London, or Manchester, or Hull or New York or Paris, because for centuries you have had Bibles, you have had faithful men and women speaking about the Lord Jesus and demonstrating his transforming power, and you have turned away from that all of that in order to embrace the lifestyle of Sodom and you are proud of the fact.’ Sodom might have had some slim excuse that it didn’t have the revelation Abraham had; but we are in no such position. In fact there may be people here tonight who week after week have heard sermons which people in North Korea would have given their right arm to hear, and who have yet still have not surrendered their lives to the Lord Jesus and carry on in practice as if he never existed. Well if that is you, when you face him, Jesus will say to you: ‘What wrong did I ever do you? When I extended my nail pierced hand to you in love through the preaching of my ministers, why did you slap it to one side? Depart from me you workers of lawlessness.’ And those are the words you never, ever, want to hear. And you needn’t, because those hands are still being extended to you tonight, but they won’t be for ever- judgement day is coming just as surely as it did to Sodom.
And so we come to the dynamic deliverance.
The ‘punchline’ to this episode is verse 29, ‘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.’ God showed mercy to Lot for the sake of Abraham. And is it not so with us? We may be grieved with the state of our world, but as we look into our own hearts don’t we see that the world is as much in us as we are in the world and God would have every right to consign us to judgement along with everyone else? But he shows mercy towards us for the sake of the great seed of Abraham, the Lord Jesus Christ.
And God will save his people even if he has to be pretty rough with us in doing so. Notice how the angelic visitors, grasped the hands of Lot’s wife and daughters more or less dragging them out of the town (16); how five times they are urged to flee from the wrath to come? If God is determined to save us, even from our own stupidity in sin, he will sometimes go to great lengths to do so. It may be through sickness, the loss of a job, even the death of a loved one if it will get us to recognise our plight. Even with a nation he will permit disaster after disaster to overcome it in the hope that eventually it will respond to the divine wakeup call and seek him. The question is: will we respond or will we be like Lot’s wife and look longingly back and lose everything. One thing is for sure, God’s arm is not so short that it cannot save. It can save you and it can save me, replacing the sin of Sodom with the sanctity of his Spirit, and maybe tonight is the night that you surrender to him for the first time, or maybe God is calling you to recommit your life to him afresh. Whichever it is, let us do it now.
 Carl Trueman, ‘Tell it not in Gath’, Themelios Vol 26:2
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