Today’s guest post is from “Rastis.” Rastis has an undergraduate degree from SEBTS in Biblical Studies and the History of Ideas, and he is currently working on the field-based portion of a Masters in Missiology from SWBTS. He will soon be deploying to the Middle East with the IMB, and, for this reason, posts with a pseudonym. Rastis has served on staff with several churches, and is currently working with a Baptist association, directing local cross-cultural church planting. His passion is for interfaith evangelism and urban missions.
I remember the first time I watched The Village. It was terrifying. Not so much because it was actually scary, but because it reminded me of a church I used to attend. The gist behind The Village is that there is a colony of people who have removed themselves from society in an attempt to keep themselves pure from the evil cities. What keeps people in line and in the confines of this small pseudo wilderness? They are afraid of the unnamable creatures which occasionally haunt the village. This was my church. We separated ourselves from the world (some would go as far as not driving on I-10 through Houston in order to avoid billboards—FYI, there is no way to drive through Houston without I-10) in hopes that we might retain personal holiness.
Enters Lot… He was the favorite whipping boy for evangelists, seminars, and youth camp speakers. After all, he typified everything that we were against. He left the “holiness” of the farm (the noble savage—Rousseau) for the pleasures of the city, becoming a cosmopolitan man, the first metrosexual. He persisted in his sin in spite of angelic warnings. The city corrupted his ability to lead his family spiritually evidenced by his wife adopting his urban values, he offered his daughters to the angry mob, and, finally, committed incest. So went their bombastic crucifixion of Lot.
The problem with this line of reasoning is that the Bible doesn’t actually teach this. Sure, the story goes something like that. But the way we typically cast Lot in the story tells more about ourselves and our view of the world than it does about Lot’s. Scripture explicitly states that Lot was a righteous man who was vexed by the urban sensuality (2 Pet 2:7). I studied twelve commentaries on the Genesis passage and only a few even referenced the 2 Peter passage. Those few commentators who did reference the “righteous Lot” passage did so in a dismissive way as though Peter was referencing something other than the account in Genesis. I am indebted to Ray Bakke’s Theology as Big as the City for pointing me in the right direction concerning Lot. It might be helpful to reread Genesis 18-19 to refresh your memory before continuing.
In addition to Peter’s declaration concerning Lot, I believe that the context of Genesis 18-19 provides insight into Lot’s true character—at least when read through different eyes. The accounts of Abraham in 18 and Lot in 19 are almost perfect parallels.
Both men demonstrated great hospitality.
→In 18, Abraham is visited by three men. He demonstrated great hospitality.
→Likewise, Lot implored the two visitors to stay at his house rather than sleep in the square (he knew the dangers…). They acted as if they would not heed his advice. Lot “pressed them strongly” and they complied. That is Middle Eastern hospitality for you. You refuse three times, and then do it anyway. Implicit in this hospitality is food, which he provided in the form of a “feast” (19:3) and protection, which he provided in the form of a feeble and misguided attempt to ward off the mob (19:7-8). While we would hopefully all agree that offering your daughters to a sexually perverted mob is wrong, his actions demonstrated his concern and dedication to uphold his hospitality.
Both men acted as intercessors.
→ When Abraham learned of the destruction to come upon the cities of the valley he acted as an intercessor.
→ When Lot learned of the destruction to come upon the cities of the valley he too acted as an intercessor. He begged for one of the cities in the valley to be given to him as a residence and not destroyed (19:20). The angels granted his request. In addition to this, he interceded on behalf of his guests (19:7-8) and was common fixture in the gates of the city (19:1).
Both men received sons.
→ The three visitors clarified the earlier promises of a “great nation” through the promise of a son.
→ At the end of 19, Lot receives two sons. While many blame Lot for the incest, I do not believe it is as bad as it sounds. First, Lot was drunk when it happened (a good case for moderation!). Second, the law had not been given yet (If you are going to nail him here, then you have to figure out where Cain found his wife…). Finally, and most importantly, Lot’s daughters were acting in faith. It is hard to read Genesis through puritan eyes. There is just a lot of weird sexuality in Genesis: Lamech starts polygamy, there is the whole “sons of God” and “daughters of men” thing, Lot impregnates his daughters, and then there is Tamar who just gets around and finally makes it with her father in law while playing the harlot. That is not to mention the animosity between Sarah and Hagar, and Rachael and Leah. All of these examples are important because of the promise of a deliverer in 3:15. I believe that all of these women acted in faith thinking that the deliverer would come soon, perhaps in their lifetime. If you haven’t figured it our already, quite a few of these women make it into the line of Christ. Abraham’s son of promise is an obvious favorite for the lineage. But don’t forsake the sordid woman of faith, Tamar. These two chapters are parallel even in these details. The nations from both of Lots sons are in the lineage as well. One became the father of the Moabites (Ruth and Boaz → Obed → Jesse → David) and the other became the father of the Ammonites (Solomon sired a son with an Ammonite). If you are still bent on saying it was sin, then it only goes to show that moving to the suburbs and isolating ourselves (e.g. the cave) from those worldly city dwellers (e.g. the inhabitants of Sodom) does not really protect us from sin!
When one views the account of Lot in the context of the previous chapter, it becomes clear that Lot is not a simpleton wandering about Vanity Fair. Nevertheless, Waltke points out a great irony between the two accounts: “Lot tries to be a blessing but instead appears as a buffoon. He fails as a host, as a citizen, as a husband and as a father. He wants to protect his guests but needs to be protected by them; he tries to save his family, and they think he is joking. His salvation depends on God’s mercy” (Genesis, 270).
What, then, was he doing in the city? The same thing we ought.
The more wicked a place is, the more it should consume our thoughts. Both Abraham and Lot wished to save the city. Abraham interceded on behalf of the whole city, not just for Lot and his family. Had it not been for the whole town rising up against the two visitors I believed God would have spared the city. Jeremiah 5:1 tells us that it only takes one person to save the city. This was also true in Lot’s case, albeit, not with Sodom itself. There were actually five cities slated for destruction (The cities of the valley were Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar—Gen 14:2). While neither Abraham nor Lot saved Sodom, Lot did save Zoar.
There is more to intercession than begging God. There is a need for presence and proclamation. As it relates to presence, we should run to the city rather than away from it. Lot did love the city, on this we agree. But he loved the city for the sake of justice rather than “worldliness”. Lot was found in the city gates (19:1). When he confronted the would be assailants, they were quick to remind him that he was an outsider—they were appalled that he was acting like a judge over them (19:9). We should be the salt and the light to the darkest places first. There is always a relationship between the presence of the godly and the preservation of the community.
There is much talk about tithing money. Can we talk about tithing people? When the Jews were ready to rebuild Jerusalem, the chose one in ten among themselves to go and be part of the project (Neh. 11:1-2). Consider how the unwilling dispersion of the Jews enabled the Apostolic church planting movement. Paul was able to quickly establish churches throughout the Greco-Roman world since the Jews had synagogues in every city.
It seems that Lot had more impetus to go than we do—especially those of us who think our primary purpose is purity. Our desire to live where it is safe, small, and segregated puts us harrowingly close to being guilty of Sodom’s true sin. We always characterize Sodom over the homosexual issue. Since that isn’t really a struggle for most of us, we can feel good about ourselves and relieved that we are not near God’s judgment. However, a quick glance at Ezekiel 16:49-50 will reveal that we commit the same sin for which Sodom was judged. She “had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” Those who lived in The Village learned the hard way that in spite of their separation from the evil cities, sin is ever present within the camp. The idea that one can avoid sin based on proximity is little more than Christianized humanism. The Bible says that sin comes from within.
What then are we to say about facing the danger of going to the city? The answer is found in Lot’s story. Peter used him as an example to demonstrate God’s faithfulness. 2 Peter 2:7-10 makes the point that God is able to separate between the righteous and unrighteous. While the whole earth should tremble before him, “if he rescued righteous Lot… then, the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials.”
Lot wasn’t afraid to go to the “evil cities.” He wasn’t afraid of what other good people would think of him for going there. He stood in the gates and interceded. I hope to be an urban missionary like Lot when I grow up!
Rastis blogs regularly at http://offtheshire.blogspot.com