Saturday, September 20, 2014

The City of Lot

We commonly consider the conclusion of Lot's life as a dead end. For some reason, his plans of staying in Zoar changed, making him flee and settle for the hills. Genesis 19:30 in the New International Version explains that "he was afraid to stay in Zoar." Zoar was a little town that shared the economy and military of the more powerful cities in the fertile plain which included Sodom and Gomorrah. Nowhere in the Bible does it state that it led a more righteous lifestyle than its neighbors; this would be an immediate assumption following the fact Zoar was spared from the annihilation. But let us not forget that it was through the request of Lot, in verses 20–22, that Zoar was untouched.

And concerning the matter of its name, verse 22 states that the reason why it was called Zoar was because of its smaller density as compared to the others in the region. It is indicative that Lot, Abraham, and those with them from across the Tigris and Euphrates merely labeled the town "Zoar" among themselves. The king nor the residents of the city were not going to call their little town "small," are you kidding? Genesis 14:2 and 8 called it Bela. If you think of it as a name of a damsel in the latest vampire movie blockbuster, think again. In Hebrew, it means "destruction." It has the idea of being devoured or swallowed by a rapacious beast. It is very ironic that it escaped what its very name suggested when God bathed its region with fire.

Lot may have apparently grown comfortable with this life he invested in Sodom and thought that he could just continue normal life as soon as the sun rose over Zoar. The narrative in the Bible does not say, but probably some aspect of Zoar told him that choosing to live in this small town was a mistake. Or maybe something in Lot changed on the day the angels rescued him and his family from the destruction. Lot arrived at the gates of Zoar and there was no information as to how he was received. But something distasteful was present within its enclosure and Lot reconsidered where the angels had originally offered for his refuge (verse 17). And there he lives out the rest of his days.

The Bible does not say Lot lost his mind. Choosing a life far away from Zoar, the living vestige of Sodom's corruption, does not make the man of God a lunatic (maybe in the eyes of the Zoarites). The Bible does not tell us that Lot, at this point, lived his life as a drunk, wasting his life away. The presence of wine in their earthen home was, in fact, a sign that he and his daughters had moved on. Remember that when the flight from Sodom took place, Lot and his family took off empty-handed. Genesis 19:15 did not say, "Hurry! Take what you can or you will be swept away when the city is punished."

© North Carolina Museum of Art/CORBIS
Lot may have realized the height from where he had fallen. In this cave, his heart was peeled of its calloused layers remembering once again how his spirit was "distressed" and "tormented" by the filthy lives and the lawless deeds that flooded and besieged his righteous life (2 Peter 2:7–8). Lot may have been at a point of repentance this time, a final opportunity to live right, minus the trappings of riches, however.

Lot was no stranger to wealth. He has experienced its accumulation from his days with Abraham, lived in it, was clothed with it, making him resplendent in the eyes of the affluent population of the fertile plains. The commerce of the plains maintained his status as a rich man, in exchange, however, to a turbulent spirit that affected his family, starting with his daughters. Genesis 19:14 tells us that his daughters were married to Sodomite men. How Lot had allowed his daughters to be given to Sodomite husbands can be explained through his desire of being accepted in the Sodomite society. Some studies tell us that these "sons-in-law" were among the men who pressed at Lot's door demanding the surrender of his two visitors, as suggested in the phrase "all of the men" appearing on verse 4—

"Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house" (New International Version).

The New American Standard Bible says it this way. "Before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter" (emphasis mine).

The good ol' King James is not so much different and retains the "all the people from every quarter" ending phrase. Many of the most reliable translations do not relinquish the "all" in this verse. The New Century Version, however, says this: "Before bedtime, men both young and old and from every part of Sodom surrounded Lot’s house"

The riot at Lot's threshold that night plainly shows the utter disrespect the people of Sodom had for Lot. Lot was a man of position in the city. Genesis 19:1 says that "he was sitting in the gateway of the city," indicating, according to Bible scholars, that he was a judge or a member of the city council. Being then an official, Lot had considerable knowledge of the city's laws; he then understood many of the people's customs, their temperament, what they needed, what they wanted, what appeased them. So when he offered his daughters in place of the visitors the Sodomites wanted to rape, he was reaching for what the people would customarily understand as, "if you don't respect me, respect my visitors!"

Throughout the Bible, ancient hospitality is vividly documented and through this we understand the high estimation provided by a host to his visitor. Yet offering one's daughters to a sex-crazed crowd for the sake of a couple of welcomed strangers is downright heinous even in the time of Lot. According to the Jewish Midrash, ancient custom holds a good place for a father laying his life in defense of his wife and children, but never offering the latter group in defense of the father [1]. This act of Lot against his daughters has put his name in a very bad light as a man compromised of his principles and a hypocrite.

Lot's Noble Cause.

© Burstein Collection/CORBIS
In the ninth verse, a noteworthy statement was made by the local men that may have scratched Lot's pride which later led to his leading a reclusive life:

“This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge!" 

Lot came into Sodom in great wealth; it was one of the elements that gained him popularity in this prosperous city. Apparently, Lot's affluence caught the attention of the city's royalty and nobility and drew him into their elite association thereby showing the way to a political position as a councilor. Of course, Lot's star rose higher when Sodom learned of his relation to Abraham, who also drew popularity to himself—inadvertently—when he launched a daring raid against the four kings of the east (Genesis 14:12). The deep gratitude Sodom felt for Abraham for restoring their fortunes and independence cemented Lot's seat over the city's political affairs.

It turned out, however, that Lot's accession to power was not unadulterated with grumbling and resentment. According to the ninth verse, it was over the matter of his being a foreigner.Throughout the period the people of Sodom silently resented Lot's involvement in their political affairs, considering him as a meddling alien who incidentally comes from the same region as the four kings of the east who had enslaved them for twelve years (Genesis 14:4).

It must have been heartbreaking for Lot once he heard his constituents bellow out this sentiment. Yes, they were momentarily out of their minds, but out of all the facts about him that could be said, his being a foreigner was singled out. All the years of dedicating his life in promoting the welfare of the city, wasted. Their words may have caused Lot to grieve his decision to give his daughters in marriage to Sodomite men in hopes that he, his children, and his children's children will be treated as equals in the society he chose to be one with. The term he used to address the men, in 19:7 was "my friends" (19:7); the New American Standard Bible puts it, "my brothers." 

© Jane Sweeney/
It is debatable whether Lot chose to be in Sodom from the time he cast his eyes on the plain, but records show that he did gravitate towards Sodom. In Genesis 13:12 it says that though he lived among the cities of the plain, it was specifically "near Sodom" where he pitched his tent. It took time for him to finally decide to settle in any one city in the plain but he finally chose Sodom (14:12), probably because his proximity gave Sodom the best vista in beholding his great wealth, and by this time, still being under the control of the kings of the east, Sodom may have needed the added support of this stranger by financing a movement for political independence. Suddenly, Lot had a purpose, a noble mission: to be an instrument of freedom for the shackled and the oppressed.

© Christie's Images/Corbis
His role in this movement may have made him a target of abduction for the four kings of the east (verse 12). Probably, Kedorlaomer and his allies saw the same thing the rebel kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar did, which explains why not only Lot was carried away but also his possessions. The eastern kings could have succeeded in compelling Lot to be among their financiers if not for Abraham's daring attack that successfully subdued the eastern alliance and the safe rescue of his nephew and the return of his possessions (Genesis 14:16). Abraham too had his own alliance (14:13), which meant that he would be a great addition to the rebel armies. And the only like the rebel kings had to Abraham was his nephew, Lot. So in an attempt to draw Abraham's confidence, Sodom's king had to pamper Lot with anything he wanted.

© Macduff Everton/Corbis
Today, there are studies claiming that Lot was no mere councilor who sat in a body of his peers. In an article entitled, The Wasted Years, for example, its author Ray C. Stedman claimed that Lot was the chief magistrate of Sodom, which is closely equivalent to today's mayor [2]. We can also consider that Lot was given this position. In the years after the triumph of the Sodom-led revolt for independence, Lot adopted a fatherly objective to watch over the city. He may have felt a belongingness to the city, an embrace that came by his office, like in a parent to a child. The truth, however. was that Lot did not belong in Sodom, though he was working on it up to the day he was dragged out of the city.

The City of Lot.

Choosing to stay and commit himself for the welfare of Sodom was a mistake of Lot. It was a mistake of serious consequences that swept away his wife, the wealth he worked for even the wealth God took care of, his plans, his dreams. All because he gradually lost sight of the path God had for him from the time he parted ways with his uncle.

© Murat Bergi/National Geographic Society/Corbis
From the time Lot hit the road with the choice to head for the plains, the Bible makes no mention of him seeking God's direction. Apparently, he had a plan and he was determined to stick with it. He may have planned it for the short term to stay in the plains and take advantage of the commerce vibrating in the region then move in to one of the cities. Fast-track his business, why not? There was no bad thing in this (if he indeed planned it). He had herds and cattle that strangled the growth of Abraham's prosperity. If Abraham was rich, Lot was just as rich! At this point, the difference he had with Abraham was that his uncle was promised a nation, he was not. So why not be a part of one of the cities of the plain or establish a city himself—which may have been a good purpose he had why he chose to settle outside the cities in the first place!

© Chris Parker/Design Pics/Corbis
For as long as I could remember, Lot has been put in a bad light for casting his face to the plains. But as far as the Scriptures are concerned, Abraham offered the options to Lot and there was no ill feelings between the two except for how the strife born between their herdsmen. The story in Genesis 13:1–13 targets no suspicions at Lot for choosing the fertile plains. Abraham opened the opportunity for Lot to decide first. Furthermore, according to Genesis 13:9, after Lot has made his choice Abraham committed to take the direction his nephew would leave out. The preferences were simple, either left or right:
"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" (Genesis 13:9),

Has it been possible then for Abraham to have chosen the lush green plains near Sodom if Lot ever considered setting out toward the west? Yes, but, knowing Abraham, he could have settled elsewhere, like far from Sodom or Gomorrah. It would have been hard for Abraham not to be attracted to the fertile region east of the Jordan, which was "well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt" (13:10). The question then should be would have it been possible for Lot not to have gravitated toward this wonderful valley and instead head west where there was less? Remember that Lot was loved by Abraham; he knew that one day God would make good His promise of making his uncle into a great nation. Lot did not have this promise and it was up to him to carve out his future for his seed, ideally with God's help.
But there is more to Abraham's offer to Lot than merely to part ways. By this time, it is obvious that God was pleased with both Abraham and Lot. This can be seen in the way He prospered them. Too great was the prosperity, in fact, that the continuous growth was beginning to strangle each other's ability to advance further. Frequent quarreling between their employees began to ensue as they crisscrossed grazing areas. This distressed Abraham. Being a faithful steward of the blessings of God, it was his responsibility to see that nothing on his end would plug up the continuous flow of Divine prosperity which manifested God's delight toward him and Lot.

© Frans Lanting/Corbis
Abraham valued the delight of the Lord; and he understood the importance of the wealth God was piling up in his life. His care for the prosperity of God was an act of his strong faith in the promise of God that He would make him into a great nation one day. It was a proof of his faith. Logically, Abraham understood that if God would make him into a great nation, he'd need a humongous budget to bequeath to his descendants. So in essence, Abraham was already saving up for his children and his children's children, as later explained to us by Proverbs 13:22. And God was pitching in for the finances; Abraham was managing the resources as they came.

Lot was getting blessed too. How he and Abraham wished he was a part of the Promised Nation. We can imagine how the two stayed up late staring at the stars talking about what this nation would be like—the harvest, the seasons, the homes, the families, the laws, the festivals, their future. Abraham would wonder, if he were to live 400 years longer, what it would be like to enter a house of stone once again and watch the years go by in a land he belonged in and that belonged to him. Lot captured these dreams and thrilled him, applying the scenarios to himself as Abraham portrayed. But the dream was not given to him; it was a promise given to Abraham. So though Lot shared with the excitement, he was merely a spectator to his uncle's show. But the promise had something for Lot: that God will bless those who bless Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 12:3).
Then one day, when they were both so rich, Abraham says to Lot: "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" (13:9).

The situation with their properties was a delicate one. Both relatives wanting to keep their companionship intact, yet both were also faithful to the Lord and wanted His blessings flowing to them strong and free as ever. Abraham then took a bold step: a step that sacrificed his companionship with the one whom he has treated as his own son; a step that he would repeat in dealing with his concubine Hagar and her son, Ishmael. In essence, Abraham was protecting two things: his relationship with Lot and the fulfillment of the promise of God.
According to Abraham himself, the separation he proposed would keep their friendship from disintegrating completely—"So Abram said to Lot, 'Let's not have any quarreling between you and me...for we are brothers" (Genesis 13:8). Separation: it will be Abraham's solution to strife. It was a solution he will never enjoy but would catapult him to the most important milestones of his life.

Abraham's story is pillared with separation. In Genesis 11:31, his father Terah takes him, along with Lot, and Sarah to leave Ur of the Chaldeans for Haran across the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. In the Twelfth Chapter of Genesis, Abraham obeys God to leave Haran to settle in Canaan. In the Thirteenth Chapter, Lot leaves Abraham. In the Sixteenth, Hagar escapes Sarah's maltreatment, but returns in obedience to the counsel of the angel of the Lord. In the Twenty-First, he sends away Hagar and Ishmael for good. Yet for every breakaway that occurred, God Himself was present to comfort and assure of a blessing from His hand.

Abraham was not the only one encouraged with a promise, but even his concubine Hagar, for each time she took off, the angel of the Lord, this pre-incarnation of the Messiah, personally appeared to comfort her with a prophecy:

On the first occasion, He told her: "Go back to your mistress and submit to her.... I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count" (Genesis 16:9,10).

And on her final departure, this time with her son Ishmael, the seed of God's assurance: "Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation" (21:18).

For Lot, however, we find no promises. Why? Was it because God knew Lot was going to be alright in the fertile plains, where He was prophetically confident he would head for? Until this time, God's representative of His presence in Lot's life was Abraham. The time he left Abraham's protection, opened a new phase in his relationship with the Lord: it was supposed to be a time of experiencing God's presence for himself, in the same way as Abraham encountered God in 12:1 and later with Jacob in 28:12 to 22. Yet there was nothing for Lot; all he had were Abraham's tales of God's promise and dreams of what would it be like when the Divine prophecies unfold.

© Tom Martin/JAI/Corbis
We never find Lot having any experience with God when he marched down to the plains; we do not find anything remarkable during his days with Abraham, except for the blessings he was gaining then. Did Lot attribute his growing wealth to the Lord at all? We do have reason to believe he did, after all God considered him "a righteous man" (2 Peter 2:7); in fact, when Abraham was pleading for Sodom, God understood that they were talking about sparing Lot. God's not stupid, and so was Abraham. Then one day, two visitors came to Sodom, and there Lot's personal encounter with God unfolds. The theme: God's mercy (Genesis 19:17).
In spite of his good intentions for the city, Lot's was being corrupted in his righteousness during his days in Sodom. The everyday interaction, the stimuli of sin that flooded the city, even when he barred his attention, as best he could, from these, the strings of temptation and compromise were tirelessly, vigorously at work in his soul until he found himself approving many of their ways—all the more, since he was in a position to enforce and interpret Sodomic law, a dispenser of the city's own brand of ungodly justice. One day, he was betrothing his daughters to a couple of local suitors. It did not stop there. When the mob came pounding at his door, he was offering his daughters to appease its carnal frenzy. According to some versions of the story, Lot had four daughters: two he had given up to marriage, while the other two he had betrothed, all, to sons of Sodom. This then will explain the detail in Genesis 19:14 why he had "sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters." [1]. The online documentation in the Jewish Women's Archive on the study on Lot's daughters claimed that only the two unmarried siblings escaped with their father, while the two married ones stayed behind with their Sodomite husbands and were thus swept away in the destruction.

In the end, it was Lot and his two daughters in a cave away from the city of Zoar. Maybe Lot did not want another chance for destruction to overtake him; he had already escaped two—the first was with King Kedorlaomer, the second was the burning of Sodom and the plain region. Plus, was the fact that the city he wanted to restart life in was named, as we studied earlier in the article, Bela, meaning "destruction" by being devoured alive. He must have shuddered to think of himself and his daughters in this situation. The mental images may have been viciously haunting his sleep or every time a vacant gap momentarily comes between thoughts: the sight of men breaking down the door of his home and tearing him and his daughters as a wild beast mangles its prey.

And the prosperity Lot had in Sodom and even before he entered the city was all gone in the calamity. But they moved on as they had wine. Until this point, there is no indication in the Bible that he ever lost his riches. Lot was wise in dealing with his riches. He was faithful with his family as there is no detail of him getting a concubine, or squandering even a bit of it with prostitutes, though he might have been getting there, if the fall of the city took a little longer or never occurred at all. If we were to see his attitude towards his money, he can fit as the first or the second servant in Jesus' parable of the talents (Matthew 25:15–16, 20–22). In the story, we can construe that it will please God a lot if we made good use of His money and make it grow, in a good way, of course. (Well, here's where practicality gets in: if you don't know the first thing in investing your money, then don't! Otherwise, you'll be guilty of squandering His blessings because you've been presumptuous!) It is true now as it has been true back then.

©David Lees/Corbis
Lot was a changed man. He may have watched his life more carefully this time, more sternly in dealing with the influences penetrating his domain. His daughters may have respected him more, feared him more. Whatever liberties and rebelliousness they had before were all burned away in Sodom. But what cannot be taken away from them was the urgency they felt about the future. In Ecclesiastes 3:11 it says that God has "set eternity in the human heart." This is what makes us wake up one day and ponder about the rest of our lives, what a child wants to be when he grows up, what his life is gonna be if he follows a certain decision, or even wonder where the years of our life had gone so fast. In Genesis 19:32, Lot's older daughter spoke to her sister about preserving the family line. Just like any other woman then and now, she wanted to live out the rest of her days in the way she was meant to be: a mother a nurturer, a grandmother. Yet not only did she want more for her future but she wanted more for her family. There was only one problem: she was under the power of her father, a father who to them had no regard for this matter.

In reading the story of Lot, I have always thought of his daughters as promiscuous, rebellious brats who got whatever they wanted, including getting married to those men in Sodom. Maybe through constant nagging, prodding, they pestered their father to concede to this fancy of theirs. In later studies, however, observing how Lot easily volunteered his daughters to be abused by the mad mob made me realize that the culture and society back then was nothing like I have ever understood it to be. where a father considered their daughters, and possibly even his wife, as virtually properties to do whatever he wished of them, whether to give them away to whomever he wanted or have them restricted to domestic servitude. Lot did not consult his daughters privately regarding this; and observing what had happened to the Levite's concubine in Judges 19:25, it looks like Lot was truly determined to make true his offer should the have crowd said okay.
It was either they were afraid of their father or they saw no way to violate the existing culture regarding this matter. It may have been that daughters never spoke to their father regarding this matter but simply waited to be given away to a man whose parents had finished arranging the betrothal. The story of how Rebekah was chosen to be Isaac's wife is a vivid illustration of how marriages were arranged in the ancient days (Genesis 24). In this scope, we now understand how the betrothal of the daughters to the Sodomite men reflected the corruption that was overtaking Lot's righteousness at the time.

There was no doubt that the daughters waited. And waited. Many years have already passed since the monumental destruction of the city they called home and they felt that time was running out on all three of them.

"Our father is old, and there is no man around here to lie with us, as is the custom of all over the earth" (19:31).

Yet culture is like a law in that it provides the opportunities to work around its do's and don'ts; it is how culture grows and adapts to its users and the times. Like her father, the older daughter was clever:

"Let's get our father to drink wine and then lie with him and preserve our family line through our father" (19:32).

Things happened which should not have. This is why Jesus said through a teaching on prayer, "your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). It may surprise some to us to know that God's will is not completely enforced here on earth unlike in heaven. In heaven, there is only one Person who wills and that's God. On earth, there are a lot who will and freely at that, all moving for or clashing against each other. One day, the earth will be one under Jesus, when the New Jerusalem will descend on a new earth, where God will dwell with men "and live with them," where He will "wipe every tear from their eyes" and make all things new (Revelation 21:3,4). Until then, there will be plans consummated aside from those of what God has designed.

In somewhat the same way as Abraham thought he was helping God fulfill His promise of him having a son through the cultural norm of impregnating Hagar, his barren wife's maidservant, Lot's daughters found a workaround to hurdle the limitation of their situation and be back in sync with "the custom of all over the earth." But instead of looking at this scenario as an evidence of God's distance from the post-Sodom phase of Lot's life, we can see it as an opportunity for God to move in the next generation of his house and finally drive His message that He has remembered the one whom Abraham loved.

Both daughters got pregnant by their father. Surprisingly, throughout the list of unlawful sexual relations listed in Leviticus 18, I find such relations between a father and his daughter absent. Singled out are intercourse with between son and mother, brother and sister, uncle and niece, nephew and aunt, father and his son's wife, a man and his sister-in-law, man and a woman and her daughter, and so on. There is nothing mentioned regarding a father and his daughter except for an implication in the sixth verse which begins the list: "No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the Lord."

Yet in the same mercy God had for Lot when He rescued him and his family out of Sodom, he showed his daughters and their sons his love by giving them what Lot may have longed for when he stepped out of Abraham's care. In Genesis 19:37, it says that the older daughter gave birth to a son whom she named Moab, which meant "from father." The younger one also had a son whom she named Ben-Ammi, meaning "son of my people." These two survived the rough life of the mountains and grew strong families who headed into regions east across the Jordan.

The house of Moab chose a region called Ar, populated by an immense race of giants. Deuteronomy described these natives as "a people strong and numerous and as tall as the Anakites" (2:10). To the Israelites who later came with Moses from Egypt, the Anakites were a fearsome race of giants they called the Rephaites, probably related to the Nephilim of the Noachic age. In Moabite tongue, they were called the Emites; and "like the Anakites, they too were considered Rephaites" (verse 11). And with the Moabite sword, the Emites were either decimated or driven away. God later told the Israelites who later approached Ar of Moab on their way to Canaan, "Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war, for I will not give you any part of their land. I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot as a possession" (verse 9).

In the same manner, Ben-Ammi was to face giants inhabiting the region he was destined to possess. The region northeast above the Dead Sea dwelt "a people strong and numerious and as tall as the Anakites" (verse 21) Ben-Ammi called the Zamzummites, or the "murmurers," probably because of the manner by which they spoke, or because they were good battle tacticians out of all natives of the vast district. Yet the hand of God in action was shown to Ben-Ammi, father of the Ammonites, the day they appeared at the border of the Zamzummites. It is recorded that "the Lord" Himself "destroyed [the Zamzummites] from before the Ammonites who drove them out and settled in their place" (Ibid).
God did the same favor for the children of Israel later on. And though it is a known fact that both Moabites and Ammonites were a constant thorn to God's Chosen People, out of one of them would emerge Ruth, a woman of great virtue, to be honored as the grandmother of Israel's greatest king and an ancestor of the Messiah.

Many believe that Lot's life was a dead end. Yet God in His love for him brought his children and their children out of the cave and into opportunities greater than being a part of a city or even building one. And though God though His foreknowledge knew that Lot's descendants would later become a thorn to Israel, He nontheless established them as mighty nations and willingly opened for them the opportunity to be blessed if they but bless the Israelites, the people He chose for Himself.

Additional reference:

[1]   Kadari, Tamar. "Lot's Daughters: Midrash and Aggadah." Jewish Women's Archive: Sharing Stories, Inspiring Change. (

[2]   Stedman, Ray C. "The Wasted Years." ( Copyright ©2007.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Jan Mythos. A wholesome reading are these blogs. The photos give focus, appetite to read on and on ...