Thursday, December 19, 2013

Lot of the Righteous

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To this day we cannot precisely pinpoint where the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah stood; but thanks to the detail of Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26), we can at most suppose that these two great cities of their time were founded in the region surrounding the Dead Sea, where the midland salt is at its thickest. It is also the vicinity where Jerusalem has always stood. Back in Lot’s time, however, though there was a Salem (Genesis 14:18), there was still no Jerusalem. And the region was not a salt marsh, in case some of us might be thinking it was and then some natural process happened to flood it into a lake. The Bible, in Genesis 13:10, provides that the cities were located in the Jordan plain, “well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt.” It was a description that drew the fancy of everybody seeking to survive the sweltering conditions outside of the Fertile Crescent, including Abram’s nephew Lot, when he cast his eyes east of Bethel and decided to establish his fortunes where the grass would never seem to lose its greenness, so to speak. Unfortunately, among the eyes lured to its enormous prosperity were the voracious and rapacious, such as the Elamite King Kedorlaomer who took control of the twin cities and three more in the region for twelve years (Genesis 14:4). Apparently Lot entered the city of Sodom in the latter years of its government under Kedorlaomer.

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Lot was already famous when he entered the city of Sodom. Just imagine this guy strutting into the gates followed by a seemingly endless train of cattle that might tightly populate the tribal land of Dan, pampered by the hand of God, fed, watered and protected by a God who only knows health and prosperity to anyone allied to Him. Because of the LORD’s obvious prosperity glowing around him, his freshness invited to a city bled by a powerful overlord a vision of a hero, a Messiah, who comes in the Name of One who sends rain to the earth and maketh the sun shineth by day and the moon by night! Later on, he would stand as one of the city’s prominent residents, “sitting in the gateway of the city” (19:1) as an administrator or councilor. But in the days of the city’s war for independence against Kedorlaomer, he would be carried away as a hostage along with “all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food” (14:11–12). Now why one would be carried away along with the vital wealth of a region if he were not vital wealth himself? Everyone, good or bad, valued Lot for at least his Messianic image: the credibility emanating from his image; the charisma that can weld an alliance; the compelling countenance that can spark a revolution. He was definitely not slaughter material, so the four-king coalition of Kedorlaomer takes him away.

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Now Abram the Hebrew (14:13), the real head of the Messianic House, finds out that his favorite nephew was being held hostage. No, really. Lot was his favorite nephew, and not because he was the only nephew in his traveling tribe. In Genesis 12:1, God told Abram to, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household.” So he takes his wife Sarai, all his accumulated wealth, and “his nephew Lot” (verse 5) and sets out for Canaan. He could have left Lot in Haran, but no, Abram felt the need to take Lot along. Why, you say? Because that’s what Terah would have wanted.

When Terah left Ur of the Chaldeans it was his idea to take Lot along because Lot served the memory of Haran. Haran was Terah’s third son and brother of Abram (11:27). In the twenty-eighth verse it says that, “While…Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth.” For some reason, which could be connected to Haran’s death (the Bible makes no mention of this), Terah later on decides to leave Ur, takes Abram and Haran’s son Lot and travels northwest in a region which happens to be named Haran. The Bible gives no details but it is possible that Terah called the region Haran in honor of his son, and it could have been intended as a place for Lot to call his own had not Abram later convinced him to saddle up with him to Canaan.

Terah’s decision to take Lot and possibly to secure the land of Haran for his grandson may reveal how much he loved his early departed son and how much he later lavished this affection upon Lot. Taking Lot along meant treating him in the same way as Haran if he were alive. It would then be no doubt that Terah might have mandated Abram to regard Lot as he would Haran, his own brother. And judging by Abram’s decision to take Lot along the journey to settle in Canaan, it would seem that Abram did consider Lot as his long-dead brother. This meant that Abram treated Lot as an equal. Assess therefore the words of Abram when he offered his nephew the opportunity to be free in Genesis 13:8—

“So Abram said to Lot, ‘Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers.’”

—and notice the equality there was in the manner Abram made his offer:

“Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left” (verse 9).

But was there truly equality there? “Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east” (verses 10 and 11). As far as Abram was concerned, however, the “cities of the plain” which implied trade and commerce, contained all the opportunity for Lot to establish himself into a mighty nation, in the same way as he believed God would make him as such. After some time of living peaceably, Abram catches news of Lot’s life and chances to prosper threatened, so like a good brother, he comes to the rescue to even up the odds, leading a crack troop of “318 trained men born in his household” (14:14).

Abram launches an overnight pursuit (verse 15), routes the enemy, and safely recovers everything, including Lot (verse 16). With a handful of men crushing Kedorlaomer and his confederacy, Abram became an instant celebrity. “The king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley” (verse 17), offering him all the recovered goods; the king of Salem, Melchizedek, likewise emerged bringing out the bread and the wine, blessing the victor who, in turn, gives him a tenth of everything (verses 18–20). Abram, however, decides to keep a low profile. He accepts the latter offer with honor but declines that of the king of Sodom with the words—

“…I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eschol and Mamre. Let them have their share” (verse 23–24)

—which might have even cemented his renown. After this Abram retreated to his home in Canaan and Lot, being the only living memory Abram to the people of Sodom and the realm of its five-king alliance, assumes the popularity of being Abram’s “brother” and becomes ever more famous, being the next big thing on this side of the plain. But since the First Big Thing, that is Abram, was not around, the Second Big Thing, which was Lot, did just fine. It was a “title” that hauled him to the top of the city’s new leadership.

The victory won by Abram for Sodom and its five-king alliance brought unprecedented wealth to the region. The people got fatter but their moral condition became more dissolute. Before the war of independence the Bible already noted the wickedness of the people of Sodom, as they were by then “sinning greatly against the LORD (verse 13). Now, with the element of more fat (Isaiah 6:10), more spiritual stupor had overcome its people until they had become completely blind and calloused of any consciousness reminding them of the presence of God. It now came to a point that the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah has become so great and their sin so grievous (18:20) that it required God to “go down and see” (verse 21). It was in this same manner that God as Jesus Christ descended into Jerusalem thousands of years after Sodom and Gomorrah to “see” what could be done to spare the righteous from receiving the punishment meant for the wicked. The LORD in the guise of flesh promised Abram (now his name revised Abraham) to spare Sodom in the event He found fifty (verse 26), forty-five (verse 28), forty (verse 29), thirty (verse 30), twenty (verse 31), or ten (verse 32) righteous people in the city. In Genesis 19, no ten but four, including Lot, were found righteous in Sodom, and the angels of the judgment urged them to flee the city or be swept away when God destroys it at the break of dawn (19:14). Now the issue was no longer preserving the city on account of the righteous; it was a last-plane-out operation before the first light of day for the few found righteous.

The fate of Sodom and Gomorrah was more like what might have happened if ever the pillar of fire collapsed on the Israelites—and a very small scale sample of this did occur in Numbers 11 when the infamous Israelite grumblings yet again provoked God to anger that He sent “fire…among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp” (verse 1). In spite of the report saying that He “rained down burning sulfur…out of the heavens” (Genesis 19:24), let us keep in mind how the Bible described the presence of the LORD

“For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24); “But be assured today that the LORD your God is the one who goes ahead of you like a devouring fire” (9:3); and in New Testament, “for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).

And we must never forget that in the story when to Abraham God confided His plan of overthrowing Sodom, He promised him, I will go down” (Genesis 18:21). And there was no other fact in Abraham’s mind other than that the judgment on the twin cities lay completely in God’s hands:

“Will you sweep away the righteous and the wicked? Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (verses 23 and 25)

And God repeatedly responded with complete accountability: “I will spare the whole place for their (the righteous’) sake” (verse 26).

And though the angels confessed to Lot that they were sent to destroy Sodom (19:13), and even struck blindness in the eyes of the men pounding on Lot’s door (verse 11), Lot understood that “the LORD is about to destroy the city” (verse 14).

This is a detail we have never cared understanding, after all, all that mattered was the culmination of the excitement of God’s holy a-bomb being finally dropped on the twin cities of wickedness. What we never cared to understand was that there was no a-bomb, no alien force hovering over the region bathing the place with an incinerating ray that resulted in today’s Dead Sea. It was God who broke out against Sodom and Gomorrah.

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The tragedy of Lot, however, did not end there, unfortunately. Lot and his daughters got up after the tragedy and did what came naturally in the aftermath of a calamity. He went to Zoar and sought to regather their lives and rebuild. Genesis 19:30, however, said that Lot "was afraid to stay in Zoar" so he sought solace in the "caves." I never really got this. Why would a man, who was welcomed into the most powerful cities of the plain and upheld as leader and role model, until the angelic visitation, lose it and take off to the hills and prefer desolation over civilization?

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When Lot and his family escaped Sodom, they had nothing with them but their lives. At about halfway to Zoar, Lot loses his wife as she turns back to behold the burning city behind them. Compare the pride, the prosperity, the awe that beheld his entourage from when they entered Sodom many, many years before;  the little town of Zoar saw no one special rushing into their gates that early morning. If anything, here was a man all dusty, sweaty, grimed with his two daughters looking as haggard as well, banging into the Zoarite gates desperately seeking solace from the horror sweeping the plains. Lot entered Sodom a hero out of nowhere; this day, he enters Zoar a pathetic, empty-handed refugee. Genesis 19:30 even plainly states that Lot was "afraid to stay in Zoar," so he finally takes off to the hills and lives isolated with his two daughters in a cave.

What made Lot fear the Zoarites? The Bible is quiet about this, though it is clear that it is one of the cities of the plains that formed the bloc with the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboyim shattered by and regrouped twelve years later against the powerful confederacy under Kedorlaomer of Elam (Genesis 14:1–3, and verse 8). The tight bloc of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboyim, and Zoar prospered together in the plain, fell together into captivity under Kedorlaomer for twelve years, and were liberated together into greater prosperity. And being neighbors, they not only shared prosperity; they shared culture.

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Zoar shared with the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah. And Lot, now with eyes wide open to the result of wickedness which he now sees sprawling before him again, changes his original contingency measure to take solace in this little place and takes off to the safety of the hill caves in the distance. The tragic and traumatic experience of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was too much for Lot and his two daughters that being swept away with the wicked came almost upon them and they were not about to put themselves ground zero again! Hence, the hills. It could have also been that the Zoarites, being wicked, may have lost respect for Lot and his daughters, once honorable and even feared people of influence of Sodom, now helpless and lost, seeking for Zoarite aid and refuge. It could also have been very, very possible that Lot, being a man who once dispensed justice and important decisions of Sodom (Genesis 19:1), might have made some enemies from Zoar, or connected with Zoar, during this high point of his life and may have ran into the same people now as a sorry, desperate, sole survivor of a once-great city. Sharing the same culture and wickedness, it may have been the same treatment Lot received from his neighbors during the last night of the city when all of Sodom's men went into a frenzy over the two angels whom they demanded handed over to them to be raped. Check out how the crazed crowd spoke to Lot as one honored in the city administration as a judge:

“'Get out of our way,' they replied. 'This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge'" (Genesis 19:9).

It is apparent in this passage that the people of Sodom had no regard for this person of honor, whether or not he had done good for the city as a whole or to individuals who were once helpless and harassed. It may have been this way when he stood in the premises of Zoar. It may have been a great day of victory and rejoicing that it was them chosen by destiny—not the mighty Sodomites, not the mighty Gomorrahites, not any one else in that wretched plain—to carry out the distinguished task of bringing  the culture of the perverted plains into the next glorious phase. And they wanted Sodom's favorite son, Lot, out of this! What they never figured out was that if not because of Lot, they would not be alive that morning, for before those hours, while Lot, his family, and the two angels made it through the outskirts of Sodom, Lot requested to flee to this town "near enough to run to" (verse 20), instead of the "mountains" (verse 19) designated by the angels. The angels' reply:

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"He said to him, 'Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it'" (verse 21).

Lot interceded for the Zoarites. By the way he fought for the Zoarites it seemed that they were close to him. They way he presented Zoar before the angels was such that it was likely that he had invested quite a deal of trust in this town. Lot also apparently underestimated the Zoarites; he may have misjudged the size of the town as his basis for how its people would estimate a distinguished man as himself.

"But Lot said to them, 'No, my lords,please! Your 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. Look, 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'” (verses 18 to 20).

Being "small" as he described it to the angel, Lot may have pictured Zoar rolling out the red carpet for him in hopes that his harrowing experience and survival would aid them in preventing the same disaster from overtaking them. He may have thought furthermore that the Zoarites would readily pile their hopes in him to bring their town into the great heights Sodom and Gomorrah had reached. Lot may have had good intentions for the town of Zoar particularly by the time when he was rushing to its gates, hoping that he might change the ways of these wicked people and bring their hearts into total devotion to the God who brought down judgment upon the great cities of the plains. This time, he may have thought, he would be living right for the God of his uncle Abraham, maybe playing the role of a prophet for the Zoarites, a sincerely changed man. Sadly, his sincerity was dashed to pieces as was his hopes when the small town he hoped to convert turned against him.

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So Lot and his girls fled to their final refuge: the hills. And there they lived quietly till the last days of Lot. I don't think so, wish it was though. In Ecclesiastes 3:11, it says that God had set eternity in the heart of man. Simply put, God has made man to set his heart into the future, to plan for his future, to look forward. And this was what Lot's daughters were going through. In Genesis 19:31, "the older daughter said to the younger, 'Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children—as is the custom all over the earth.'" For Lot, however, the cave, where he niched himself in after trying out Zoar, was the future. That was it for him. He launched out from Abraham's protection as rich as Abraham. He entered Sodom a fresh superhero. He was held in high esteem in Sodom. In the end, he lost everything: his wealth he stored up from his days as Abraham's friend, his wife, his friends, his trust, his security. Now, he was about to lose his self respect, for in the thirty-second verse his older daughter was plotting of raping their father to ensure their future—after all, it was dad who dragged us here, let him give us our future!

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"Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father” (verse 32).

The thirty-third up to the thirty-sixth verses showed how the plan was consummated. Two daughters succeeding, taking turns raping their father. The thirty-sixth plainly saying that both girls got pregnant to who would become Israel's most relentless adversaries (verses 37 and 38). Through the sight of his sons-slash-grandsons by his daughters, righteous Lot, who wept for the rest of his life for what was lost to him in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, went on through the last days of his lonely existence tortured by the lurid image of Sodom's immoral spirit.

"The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today" (verses 37 and 38).

"Moab" means "from father," while Ben-Ammi means "son of my father's people."

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To me it was absolutely unthinkable how a daughter could conceive of such a plan to pursue. Considering that the plan came from someone who saw the hand of God miraculously deliver her family and herself from terrible judgment. On the other hand, it was as equally unthinkable for me to read about how her own father offer her and her sister to a sex-crazed Sodomite crowd to save his two visitors from being gang raped. Scholars today, however, explain that Lot may just have been making a point how seriously important these two visitors were. As it was during those days, the scholars continue, ancient folk always used exaggeration to drive a point, to emphasize. But Lot's girls also had a point. And so did Sarah way back in the days when the promise of a son was first disclosed to Abraham which is why she offered her maidservant Hagar as it was the custom in those days to offer the slave because, after all, the slave owned nothing, and whichever you wanted to take from the slave was fine for it was the way in those days, right? Well, Sarah found out that, like today, whichever belonged to anyone belonged to her, whoever she was because when the distinction needed to be made who the real promised son was, the slave girl and her son ended up packing and hitting the dirt road!

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It was the same for these girls. Imagine the horror that bleached them before that lust-sweltering crowd when they heard their father sacrifice his daughters to be gang raped. Was there really any confidence in the obvious that a sex-crazed crowd of homosexuals roaring for the two angels would utterly reject the virgin daughters? The Sodomite men may have had raging hormones during that time but—again, like today— many of the men had homosexual desires and not completely homosexuals. This particular situation seems to have repeated itself in Judges 19, when a Levite and his concubine traveling through the city of Gibeah in the territory of Benjamin were harassed by the "wicked men of the city" (verse 22). Here's how it went down, and tell me if this does not look familiar:

“'You are welcome at my house,' the old man said. 'Let me supply whatever you need. Only don’t spend the night in the square.' So he took him into his house and fed his donkeys. After they had washed their feet, they had something to eat and drink. While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, 'Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.' The owner of the house went outside and said to them, 'No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this outrageous thing. Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But as for this man, don’t do such an outrageous thing'” (Judges 19:20–24).

Previous to this text, the weary Levite and his partner had already reached the outskirts of the city of Jebus and it was nearing nightfall by then. He refused to enter it, however, because in those days, this city which would later be known as Jerusalem was inhabited by pagan Jebusites, which the Israelites could not dislodge, and the holy man had made it a point not to "go into any city whose people are not Israelites" (verse 12). Confident in the safety of his own countrymen, he decided to travel a little bit more towards Gibeah or Ramah (verse 13). By nightfall, the man of God and his partner reached Gibeah, but finding an inn for themselves was a bit tricky—no one wanted to take them in (verse 15). If not for a kindly old man, who by chance was also an Ephraimite like the Levite, the holy man and his concubine would have spent the night in the city square where they would not survive the night, as they were fearfully briefed by the old Ephraimite who took them into his own home. But, as they later found out, it didn't take spending the night in the city square to get "surrounded" by "some of the wicked men of the city" (verse 22):

"Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, 'Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.' " 

The old man who owned the house, kind as he was, did a Lot and pleaded with the drooling crowd, offering his "virgin daughter and [the Levite's] concubine" (verse 24). Right down to the last detail as it was with Lot—and he had to offer two: his daughter and the concubine! But unlike with Lot's daughters, the concubine was not so fortunate. Though the men "would not listen" to good, hospitable old man (verse 25), Mr. Holy Levite Man chooses to save old man's soul:

"So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight" (verses 25 and 26).

While the visiting angels of Sodom reached out to grab Lot from the frenzied mob, the man of God grabbed his concubine and fed her to the howling werewolves.

Was it revenge for Lot's daughters? Did the offer they've heard and witnessed from their very own father trying to appease a swarm of men reduced to creatures of instincts create such a deep hatred that they waited for the right moment to return the favor regardless whether Lot was where they derive their flesh and blood? Or was it the last price he had to pay for choosing to cast lots with the culture of the wicked? END.

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