Aug 26 2007

7- LOT: GENESIS Ch. 11 – 19

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7. LOT

“It was wisdom that, while the godless perished, saved the virtuous man as he fled from the fire raining down on the Five Cities, in witness against whose evil ways a desolate land still smokes, where shrubs bear fruit that never ripens and where, monument to an unbelieving soul, there stands a pillar of salt”(Wisdom 10:6,7).

In order for these studies to be practical and fully related to the spiritual life of the reader, we have included the following biblical references, which should be read in advance, so that an attempt can be made to answer the questions posed before reading this study.  As you read this article, you should also consult the references given throughout the paper.

Biblical references:

Gen. 11:27-32, 13, 14:1-16, 19; The Book of Wisdom 10:6-8; Sirach ‘Eccl.’ 16:8; Judges 19:21; Matt. 1:5; Luke 17: 28-32; 2Pet. 2:6-9.

Questions:

1.   Where was Lot born and where did he die?

2.   How many sons and daughters did Lot have?

3.   Mention two incidents in the life of Lot to indicate the power in intercession.

4.   Would Lot be looked upon as a virtuous man or an evil one? Why?

5.   Did Christ come from the seed of Lot?

6.   Where, in the NT, is the story of Lot’s wife mentioned?

7.   When were the two Books of Wisdom and Sirach written?

1- Lot in the Bible

Lot was the only son of Haran, one of Abraham’s brothers.  After the death of Haran, the  whole family set out from Ur of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran, in Syria.  Lot was so close to Abraham that they were considered ‘brothers’ (Gen. 13:8).  They migrated together after God’s second call to Abraham to leave Haran and go to the land of Canaan.  After their return from Egypt, their possessions became great, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abraham and those of Lot, so that it became impossible for them to settle in the same place.  Abraham suggested that they separate and he gave the option to his nephew, who chose to live in the fertile valley of Siddim to the south of the Dead Sea, which looked like ‘the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt.’ He moved his tents close to Sodom[1], and  there he settled and became a chief (Gen. 19:1-3).

Although Lot is well respected in the Jewish tradition, called ‘righteous’ in the New Testament and considered by Moslems as a prophet, a number of contemporary bible scholars are of the opinion that his separation from Abraham was equal to deserting the life of faith and the beginning of his spiritual downfall, thus bringing him and his family disastrous consequences, as stated e.g. by F. B. Meyer:

“When first Lot went down to Sodom, attracted by the sole consideration of its pastures, it was no doubt his intention to keep aloof from its people, and to live outside its walls.  But the moth cannot with impunity flutter about the flame.  By and by he abandoned the tent life altogether, and took a house inside the city.  At last he betrothed his daughters to native Sodomites, and sat in its gateway as one of its aldermen.  He was given to hospitality; but in the proposals by which he endeavored to vindicate its exercise, he proved how the air of Sodom had taken the bloom off his purity.  He was with difficulty dragged out of Sodom, as a brand plucked from the burning; and over the closing scenes of his life it is decent to draw a veil.”[2].

In an article entitled “God’s call to Abraham and Lot”, Charles Mackintosh says, “What about Lot?  What was his end?” “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon;” (2 Sam 1:20). Perhaps it was better not to disclose the last scene in the life of someone who was never sure of the power of God’s call to him.  His behavior revealed what he always coveted in the lands of Egypt and Sodom.  It also seems that his heart could not be completely weaned from the world.  Therefore, he exhibited unsteady behavior since he left Abraham, moving from bad to worse, and from one stage in sin to another, until it last grievous scene in the cave, with its sorrowful results  seen in the life of Moab and Ammon, enemies of the people of God.  This was the end of Lot whose history should be taken as a grave warning to every Christian who feels a tendency to be carried along by the currents of the world.

The wrong judgment made by some scholars, and followed until today by many preachers, has two main reasons: First, the study of the Bible should be historical.  We should not judge anyone who lived at the dawn of history (before the Law and the Bible) based on the moral principles introduced by Christianity.  Nor should we apply our laws to judge those who lived in a social environment different from ours.  Secondly, all we know about Lot is closely associated with the life of Abraham, even after they became separated from each other, but “one star differs from another star in glory”; we cannot compare between Lot and Abraham.  Abraham, no doubt, is the hero of faith and all men of faith have become his children in all generations (Gal.4:16).  “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out … And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he dwelt in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents … By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac …” (Heb. 11: 8,9,17).  Abraham attained the life of sojourn, deserting the world and detaching himself from any love of the world, including love for his most intimate relatives, except within the bounds of his love and obedience to God.  It was for his obedience to God that he dismissed his first-born son Ishmael and was about to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering.  Lot, on the other hand, represents the ordinary faithful person who did not reach that level of high faith.  But he did not associate himself with the evil environment in which he lived, and was described as a righteous man despite his mistakes and shortcomings (2Pet. 2:7). This can be easily compared with the mistakes of other prophets, saints and apostles, such as Jacob, David, and St. Peter, and even Abraham.  Albeit disgraceful, their errors were erased by God’s grace and by His redemptive work.

The story of Lot was not written in many parts of the OT or the NT for the mere sake of comparison with the life of Abraham in order to shed light on his faith.  Rather, it is part of the history of salvation, and this is how we hope to study the word of God, with the guidance of the interpretations of the holy fathers of the Church, for in His Word we have eternal life (John 5: 39).

2- Leaving the world

After God’s call to Abraham to leave his country, his own people, and his father’s house (Gen. 12:1), the early fathers – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the twelve tribes – sojourned in the desert living in tents.  According to the monastic tradition which started in the Egyptian deserts and spread to the rest of the world, the first step along the spiritual path was to ‘leave the world’ behind and live in solitude in the wilderness.  When the Israelites went out of Egypt (Biblically refering to the world), they lived in the wilderness for forty years receiving spiritual nurturing, a period of time extolled by the prophets who called upon the people to revisit that time particularly during the periods of their spiritual and moral collapse (Hosea 2:14,15; Jer. 2:1,2; Ezek. 20:33-38).

Spiritual fathers, in every time and place, have concurred that leaving the world behind and living in the wilderness is a precondition for anyone who wants to live with God, and that such virtues are not confined to saints and monks.  In this regard, St. Thomas A Kempis says, “The nearer a man approacheth to God, the further he recedeth from all earthly solace. …When thou settest thine eyes upon creatures, the face of the Creator is withdrawn from thee.”[3] And St. Isaac the Syrian says, “The first impulse God pours out upon those coming to join Him is the despising of the world. This blessed impulse blossoms into every good deed in their lives.”

There is agreement among the Fathers and scholars that leaving the world and living in isolation do not relate in any way to exchanging one physical place with another, or living in solitude in a cell or a noisy city.  In this respect, St. Thomas A Kempis says, “The place availeth little if the spirit of devotion is wanting; nor shall that peace stand long which is sought abroad, if the state of thy heart is without the true foundation, that is, if it abide not in Me.  Thou mayest change (the place), but thou canst not better thyself.”[4] Thus, living in solitude in the wilderness will not necessarily make a saint, nor will living in the world make people evil.  A clear example of this is the story of Lot who lived in purity in Sodom, but drank wine and sinned with his two daughters in the hills.

3- Lot in Sodom

“It was wisdom who, while the godless perished, saved the virtuous man as he fled from the fire raining down on the Five Cities, in witness against whose evil ways a desolate land still smokes, where shrubs bear fruit that ever ripens and where, monument to an unbelieving soul, there stands a pillar of salt”(Wisdom 10: 6,8).

“Likewise, as it was in the days of Lot – they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all – so will it be on the day when the Son of man is revealed. On that day, let him who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away; and likewise let him who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17: 28-32).

“ And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)” (2 Pet. 2:6-8).

With the exception of the local war that took place between five of the cities of Canaan on one side and four cities of Mesopotamia on the other, and  in which Lot was taken captive but delivered by Abraham (Gen. 14), there is no mention in Genesis of Lot’s life in Sodom.  However, from the ‘Book of  Wisdom’, ‘Luke” 17: 28-32, and 2Pet. 2:6-10, we can derive a number of facts about life in Sodom and Lot’s role in it and about God’s redemption of man.  The people of Sodom led a sensuous life of food, drink, sex and immorality, in an explicit manner that was a stumbling block to those who see or hear, and was painful to the spiritual person.

The association between the story of Noah and the Flood and the story of Lot and Sodom in the Gospel according to St. Luke and in the second Epistle of Peter, sheds light on the role of Lot in Sodom, a role which was not passive at all.  God is never without a witness: in Sodom, Lot did act as Noah did in his generation.  He witnessed to the truth byhis deeds, and he warned his generation of God’s forthcoming punishment (Gen. 19:14).

The story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah with brimstone and fire carries the same spiritual meaning as the story of the Flood[5].  It signifies the destruction of evil in the world and the salvation of the righteous people, and thus, as a symbol or type, it refers to the day of the Lord (1Co. 10:5) that “will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up” (2Pet. 3:10).  It is the day of judgment for the evil ones and salvation for “those who are eagerly waiting for him”(Heb. 9:28).  This is essentially the same as Lord’s words in Luke 17.

4- The two angels visit ‎Sodom

It is thus clear that Lot’s coming to Sodom was not a result of relinquishing the Divine call and a beginning of a spiritual downfall, but rather part of the Divine dispensation.  Furthermore, Lot was not a hero of faith but a simple believer who lived as a foreigner in Canaan.  It was natural for him to seek stability for his family and good grazing land for his cattle.  Perhaps he did not know that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were wicked and great sinners against the Lord (Gen. 13:13).  Remember that the Book of Genesis was not written until many centuries after that time, but it is certain that Lot experienced their wickedness after he settled in that land.  But who are we to judge him, since we are under the same condemnation.  The great majority of the readers of this Review are emigrants who moved to strange lands, and no doubt they were aware that many of the evils that prevailed in Sodom were also present in their new country.  Did this deter them from coming to the land of immigration?  Furthermore, did we live in tents outside the cities or mix with the natives at work and everywhere else?

Lot represented the ordinary man of faith who lived in the world but did not belong to it: one who had the weaknesses of man but deserved to see the angles.  He was probably in the mind of the Apostle when he wrote, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13: 2).  The impression we have from reading about Lot’s hosting of the two angels and his hospitality and respectfulness to them, is quite the same as when we read about the visit of the Lord and the angels to Abraham (Gen. 18).

After supper, as it is well known, the people of Sodom surrounded Lot’s house demanding that he delivers to them the two men, and Lot refused and offered to give them his two daughters instead, “and do to them as you please (Gen. 19: 4-11).  Isn’t it terrible to hear that? But before we judge this incident according to our Christian moral principles, we should consider what used to happen in the old world.  The story has a replica, without its peaceful end, since the guests were human beings and did not have the power of angels.  This took place about 700 years from the time of Lot, and the events were not in Sodom but inside Israel.  That story which covers three chapters in the Book of Judges (19-21) gives an account of what happened in the territory of Benjamin.  A number of its men surrounded a house where a certain Levite and his wife (concubine) were spending the night as guests.  The men of the city said to the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.”  The master of the house refused and offered to give them his daughter and his guest’s wife, but the men would not listen to him.  So the guest seized his wife and put her out to them, with the consequent death of the woman.  This led to the greatest civil war in the history of Israel, in which most of the tribe of the Benjamin perished.

This story alone tells us that what happened in Lot’s house was not due to his being in Sodom, and that Lot, when he offered to give them his two daughters was not influenced by the manners and practices of the people of Sodom, as some Bible commentators think.  This story happened in Israel, many generat-ions after they received the Law.  Any limited study of the history of ancient peoples would help us to draw the following explanatory ideas: First, the sins of Sodom were not confined to it. God punished Sodom and Gomorrah as a deterring  example to other people; “but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 5:13). Secondly, hospitality and guest protection were among the basic virtues in the East, and remain as such to a large extent. Thirdly, in ancient times women and children were regarded as the property of men, who would do with them as they pleased.  Examples of this were the offering of one’s own children as a sacrifice, and the price paid by a bridegroom to his father-in-law in order to get his bride.  A woman used to call her husband ‘my master’ or ‘my lord’.  The term ‘baal’is still used in Arabic meaning husband; it is the name of an ancient god ‘Baal’ who was worshiped by the peoples living around Israel.

5- Getting out of Sodom

What happened to Lot on his last evening in Sodom gives us a picture of the terribly painful life he led, for Lot was “greatly distressed by the licentiousness of the wicked (for by what that righteous man saw and heard as he lived among them, he was vexed in his righteous soul day after day with their lawless deeds)” (2 Pet. 2:7,8).  At last, his work was burned, but he was saved “only as through fire” (1 Co. 3:15).  There is no doubt that Abraham’s intercession to God for Lot contributed to his salvation (Gen. 19:29).

It was not easy for Lot to leave the city and all his belongings.  It is possible that he also had other children in that city (Gen. 19:12).  The verse that mentions his sons-in-law is not clear on whether his daughters were already married or that he had other daughters married to people from Sodom.  But Lot seemed to his sons-in-law to be joking.  The angels urged Lot to leave, and when he lingered they seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, and set him outside the city.  Then the angels warned him, “Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley; flee to the hills, lest you be consumed”.  This urgency and quick action by the two angels indicate their knowledge that God’s judge-ment was imminent after the city and its neighbors had fulfilled their sins.  Since then, Sodom and Gomorrah became the symbol of evil (Deut. 32:32; Isaiah 1:10, 3:9; Jerem. 23:14; Ezek. 16:49,50; Rev. 11:8), and of the overwhelming devastation brought about by God’s justice (Deut. 29:23; Isaiah 1:9, 13:19, Jerem. 49:18, 50:40; Lam. 4:6; Amos 4: 1; Zeph. 2:9; Lu. 17:29).

Lot and his wife left the city at dawn, and probably felt the earth shaking under their feet and the rocks falling around them.  Lot then said to the angels, “I cannot flee to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me, and I die.”  He asked to flee to a small city (later on named Zoar), and as the angels let him and his family go there, they reached that city at sunrise.  Immediately, “the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities and all the valley and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground” (Gen. 19:23-25).

After excavating the Dead Sea area that encompasses those cities, geologists now say that the region had witnessed a devastating earthquake about 1900 B.C., accompanied with explosions, thunder-storms, and emission of gases from the earth which caused widespread fires.  Even today, one can see the remains of ancient volcanic eruptions in the form underground fires, hot water springs, and sulfur gases coming of cracks in the land, as well as layers of salt covering rocks.  No plant life exists in the Dead Sea, and no fish lives there.  If you happen to sail in a boat close to the shore, you can see the remains of forests covered by sea water, leaving the tops covered with salt and thereby preserving their shapes for thousands of years.

6- Lot’s wife

Lot’s troubles did not come to an end even when he reached Zoar, because his wife stopped behind him for a moment to look at the burning city.  That moment was more than enough, for the brimstone rain changed her immediately to a pillar of salt.  We should be careful not to judge a woman whose life is unknown to us.  We should in fact distinguish between what happened to her as a result of not following the angel’s advice and her becoming, spiritually speaking, a warning example to others (Wis. 10:17; Lu. 17:32).  In this connection, Origen  wonders6 “Do you think that this disobedience was an evil act for which the woman who looked behind got the punishment she was so far spared by God’s will?  Was it a big crime to look back when she was frightened by the fires burning around her?”

Origen answers that “The law is spiritual” (Ro. 7:14), and “These things happened to them as a warning” (1 Co. 10:11).  According to his interpretation, Origen believes that ‎Lot represents the human soul seeking salvation, and his wife represents the body, which looks back, desiring the pleasures of the world.  Therefore the Lord says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lu. 9:62) and adds, “Let him who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife” (Lu 17:31,32).

7- Escape to the mountain

Whereas some interpreters speak of the sad end of Lot’s life after leaving Sodom, looking at it as an unfortunate event worthy to be covered up, the early fathers of the Church of Alexandria find it a rich source for contemplation and spiritual benefit.  The following is a synopsis of their views7:

St. Athanasius the Apostolic considers that Lot’s flight from Sodom up to the mountaintop through Zoar represented his gradual elevation in the life of virtue:  1- Sodom resembles non-Christians, whose attention is centered on food, drink and sensuous pleasures.  These, like Sodom, are doomed to a wretched eternity.  2- Zoar stands for the life of an ordinary Christian, or a beginner, who has not accomplished exemplary virtues – like mountaintops – but disdains worldly passions.  He deserted the city with its glamorous banquets (Ez.16:49) and headed toward a small town where he would lead a moderate devout life.  3- The top of the mountain signifies the case of a believer who leads a life of full spiritual poverty and purity.

According to Origen, climbing the mountain is a symbol of the life of contemplation.  We find this teaching in the Christian mystical writings over the ages.  In speaking of Lot, Origen refers to the Old Testament, quoting, “Flee to the hills, lest you be consumed.” Although Lot was spared destruction because he hosted the two angels, he was not that perfect man who was able to climb the mountain immediately after fleeing from Sodom.  If perfect, one could say, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come?” (Ps.120:1).  Lot was not convicted to die in Sodom, nor was he as holy as Abraham, to live with him in the heights, but he was in between the two, so he said to the angel, “I cannot flee to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me, and I die.  Behold, yonder city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one”.  He was given salvation after he entered the city, and then he and his daughters climbed the mountain.

8- Lot and his daughters

Lot and his two daughters dwelt in a cave in the mountains. In two successive nights, the girls gave him wine and were pregnant by their father.  The first-born bore a son and called him Moab (which means, “from my father”).  The younger bore a son and called him Ben-ammi (which means, “from my kinsman”), who is the father of the Ammonites.  These two kingdoms were to the east of Jordan, and were in constant war with the Israelites after they entered Canaan8.

Origen believes that Lot was the victim of a plot, and that he was not aware of what happened according to the scriptures.  Origen states, “But he is at fault because he could be trapped because of his indulgence in wine, and this was not once but he did it a second time.  Hear what drunkenness does. … Hear and beware, you who do not hold that evil to be a fault, but practice it.  Drunkenness deceived him whom Sodom did not deceive.  He whom the sulphurous flame did not burn was burned by the flames of women”.

There is no doubt that the two girls knew that what they did was wrong, and that their father would never agree to it in his full consciousness.  We cannot justify their deed in light of our Christian moral principles, but the tradition we received from the Jews and the early Church says otherwise.  Philo the Alexandrian philosopher, Josephus the historian (both Jews from the 1st century), and Origen (Principal of the school of Alexandria in the early 3rd century) mentioned that the two girls had learned that the end of the world will come through fire, and they thought that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire meant the end of the whole world.  As in the case of the Flood, the girls thought that it was their responsibility to save humanity from annihilation.  Origen comments saying, “And although their crime appeared great in lying with their father by stealth, nevertheless their impiety would have appeared more serious if, in preserving their chastity, they had, as they supposed, abolished the hope of human posterity”.

9- Lot’s offspring

Origen contemplated the results of this human plot in light of the Law given by God to Moses regarding Lot and his two daughters, “No Ammonite nor Moabite shall enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none belonging to them shall enter the assembly of the Lord forever”9 (Deut. 23:3).  Origen says that “Lot signifies the Law.  Those daughters desiring to preserve carnal offspring to fill the earth, depriving their father of sense and made him sleep, that is covering and obscuring his spiritual understanding, draw only what is carnal from him.  Thence they conceive; thence they give birth to such sons as their father neither perceives nor recognizes. … Such posterity might be begotten which ‘shall not enter the church of the Lord’”. “For the Ammonites”, Scripture says, “and Moabites shall not enter the church of the Lord”, signifying that those who take the Law literally rather than spiritually, shall not enter the Church of Christ …until “the fullness of the Gentiles should have come in and so all Israel should be saved” (Ro. 11:25,26).

Origen ends his homily on Lot and his daughters with a moral lesson in which he says, “For you ought to watch lest perhaps even when you have fled the flames of the world and have escaped the fires of the flesh, even when you have risen above Zoar the city, and you have ascended to the height of knowledge, as to some mountain peak, beware lest those two daughters lie in wait for you, who do not depart from you, but follow you even when you ascend the mountain.  They are vain glory and her older sister pride.  Beware lest with their embraces those daughters constrict you, deprived of sense and sleeping, while you seem neither to perceive nor know.  They are called daughters because they do not come upon us from outside, but proceed from us.  Be vigilant, therefore, as much as you can, and watch lest you beget sons from these daughters, because those who have been born from them ‘shall not enter the church of the Lord’.  But if you wish to beget, beget in the spirit, since ‘he who sows in the spirit, of the spirit shall reap life everlasting’ (Gal. 6:8).  If you wish to embrace, embrace wisdom and ‘say wisdom is your sister,’ (Prov. 7:4) that also Wisdom may say of you: He ‘who shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.’ (Mt. 12:50).  Jesus Christ our Lord is this wisdom, ‘to whom be glory and sovereignty forever and ever. Amen.’ (1 Pt. 4:11).


[1] – This region has been covered by water later, and at present it is the southern part of the Dead Sea.

[2] – F. B. Meyer, “The Biography of Abraham”, translated to Arabic by Hegomen Morcos Dawood, pp. 178, 179.

[3] – Thomas A Kempis, in “The Imitation of Christ”, Third book: XLII:1,2.

[4] – Thomas A Kempis, in “The Imitation of Christ”, Third book: XXVII:3.

[5] – See Noah, Bible Character 4 in this series (Sept. 2000).

6 – Origen’s 5th sermon on Genesis, translated to english, 1982, in vol. 71 of “Church Fathers” published by The Catholic University Press, Washington, DC.

7 – Origen, p.112-120 of the above reference;  St. Athanasius, Sermon on the righteous life, in: Athanasius and the Politics of Asceticism, by Daviv Brakke, Oxford Press, 1995.

8 – These wars are mentioned in Numbers, Judges, Samuel, Kings and Chronicles.

9 – It seems that this commandment applies only to men.  Ruth the Moabite was married to Boaz, from whose descendants came our Lord and all the kings of Jude.  King Solomon married many wives from Moab and Ammon, king Rehoboam’s mother among them.

Saint Mark’s Orthodox Fellowship urges you to study the Bible and encourage others to do the same. Please feel free to make any copies from these notes and distribute them to your relatives and friends.  The fellowship welcomes any questions, comments or additional references, whether for publication in these “Short Notes” or in private correspondence. Write to us: PO Box 6192, Columbia, MD 21045


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