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No. 116: Lot

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 116
Copyright (c) 1999 Biblical Horizons
April, 1999

Meditations by James B. Jordan

Genesis 19, the destruction of Sodom and the rescue of Lot, is part two of a story that begins in Genesis 18. These two chapters happen in one 24-hour period: noon and evening in Mamre, and midnight and daybreak in Sodom.

God and two angels visit Abraham in the heat of the day. Abraham greets them, feeds them, shelters them. After a time the two witnesses move downhill to Sodom; compare Aaron and Moses going to Egypt, and Revelation 11:3 & 8. Lot greets them, feeds them, shelters them.

At midday, Abraham is told he will be given a son. At midnight, Lot offers to destroy his daughters to protect his visitors. Sacrifice is in the air already; eventually Abraham will have to sacrifice his son. But Lot’s daughters are protected at midnight, just as Abraham received his promise at midday.

Yahweh and his two angels depart, and Abraham accompanies them toward Sodom. After the two witnesses head down to Sodom, Abraham remains on his mountain and negotiates with God for Lot’s life. Abraham learns that while God may chastise the righteous along with the wicked, He never destroys the righteous with the wicked; rather, He delivers the righteous.

Abraham and Lot are a contrasting pair, like Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and Judah. Lot was Abraham’s nephew, the son of brother Haran who was sixty years older than Abraham. Thus, Lot may have been older than Abraham, or at least about the same age. (For the chronology, see Acts 7:4 with Genesis 11:32; Abraham was 75 when his father was 205, but father Terah gave birth to Haran at age 70; and thus to Abraham at age 130.)

Each of these pairs is different. Isaac is the redeemed son who carries the seed line; Ishmael is the redeemed son who stands for gentile Godfearers. Jacob is Godly; Esau is ungodly. Judah falls into sin with the daughters of men and has two sons who trade places; Joseph resists that sin and also has two sons who trade places; but both rule in Israel (Genesis 38, 39, 48, 49). In the case of Lot and Abraham: Both are called out of Ur, enter Canaan, go into Egypt, are delivered from Egypt, and are brought into Canaan (Genesis 12-13a). But Abraham is the one to whom the promise is made; Lot is to remain allied with Abraham. Lot and his people chafe under this, behaving like Canaanites and Perizzites (13:7), and Lot separates from Abraham.

God makes it clear to Lot that he should remain with Abraham. When Lot is captured, the more powerful Abraham rescues him (Genesis 14). But Lot does not learn.

Now Lot has an opportunity. The angelic witnesses tell him to go to The Mountain (19:17). This is where Abraham was as he looked down on Sodom (19:28). But Lot does not want to go there. He rejects this final opportunity to realign himself with Abraham, with sad consequences.

Lot wanted the City before its time. Abraham looked for a future city, and was content to dwell in tents (Hebrews 11:9-10). Lot did not want to wait. Lot moved to Sodom, and then, after the crisis, to Zoar. But he did not stay there. Fearful, he moved to the mountains, the wrong mountains (Genesis 19:30), and lived in a cave, returning to dust as God had told Adam all men would. Those who demand the happiness of the City before God is ready, wind up losing everything.

Lot wanted Egypt. He had been there with Abraham, and had been delivered with Abraham (Genesis 12). But he chafed to live with Abraham, and turned his eyes to a place like Egypt. Genesis 13:10 says that Sodom was like Egypt.

Lot’s life parallels Abraham’s. Lot has a wife and several daughters. He loses his married daughters to Sodom (19:14), and his unmarried ones to incest later on. Abraham has sons. Abraham’s sons might have married Lot’s daughters, but that could not be, because Lot had left Abraham. Instead, Abraham went to a more distant relative to get a wife for Isaac.

And anyway, Lot sired his daughters a generation before Abraham had his sons. Isaac might have married a granddaughter of Lot, though. Ishmael also had children well before Isaac did, and Esau well before Jacob. Indeed, Abraham’s younger Nahor had twelve sons at the time Abraham was told to sacrifice his one and only (22:20). Abraham learned to wait until the time was right. The last became first.

So, Abraham waited patiently in the hills, while Lot enjoyed family, children, and prestige in the city (19:1, he was an elder in the gate). But the first became last.

Abraham’s wife was barren, sterile as salt. Lot’s wife was fruitful, but became salt at the very time Sarah became fruitful. The fates of the two wives are at the centers of Genesis 18 & 19, a contrasting pair. Sarah laughed initially, but trusted God afterward. Lot’s wife trusted the angels and left Sodom initially, but looked back afterward.

Abraham did already have one son, and he was rescued from oblivion by circumcision (Genesis 17). That circumcision is a prelude to the destruction of Sodom, as the circumcision of Moses’ son is a prelude to the destruction of Egypt (Exodus 4:24-26). The Israelites took unleavened bread with them out of Egypt and went to The Mountain; Lot also took unleavened bread (Genesis 19:3), but did not go to The Mountain. Some of the Israelites wanted to return to Egypt before coming to The Mountain; Lot returned to Zoar, the only one of the five cities of the Jordan that was not destroyed (Genesis 14:2; Deuteronomy 29:23).

Thus, Lot did not benefit from the greater circumcision he experienced, and neither did his offspring. Abraham’s sons were saved, both of them (21:17-21). Both of Lot’s daughters were lost to corruption.

Now Abraham is to have a second son, this time by his true wife. He leaves the promised land, befouled by the smoke of Sodom, and moves to Gerar. There his son is born (Genesis 20-21). At about this time Lot also has sons, but by his two daughters (Genesis 19:30-38). Marriage of brothers and sisters was not forbidden until Exodus 18, but marriage of parents and children was forbidden from the beginning (Genesis 2:24).

The contrast is not merely moral in the obvious way. The point of incest is to play God. God gives children; we don’t get them from ourselves — that is the message over and over in Genesis. Childbirth is profoundly hetero-sexual: man + woman + God. But when man plays God, assuming the role of God, he seeks to turn his line inward. He seeks to perpetuate himself by having children with his daughters. (See the film Chinatown and Gene Wolfe’s novel The Fifth Head of Cerberus for explorations of this theme.) Incest, like sodomy, excludes the "other," and behind the "other," excludes God.

Incest also excludes the future. Marriage with the "other," man and woman (who is so alien to man!) — and even more, man and a women from somewhere else, brings cross-pollenization and fruition. Marriage with the "same" (homosexuality, or cloning as in Wolfe’s novel) makes for sterility; or if with one’s daughter, makes for children who are intended to be a mere repetition of their father. Incest intends a wheel that spins off the ground, going nowhere, making no progress. 2500 years after Adam and Eve, God told us at Mount Sinai that even brother-sister marriage was too incestuous; formerly it had been necessary — after all, whom did Seth marry?

True, Lot was drunk, but his daughters were not. Like Ham with Noah, they invaded their father’s tent in his sleep and took advantage of his nakedness, bringing on their children the curse visited on Ham’s child Canaan (Genesis 9:21-27). Ammon and Moab became, as peoples, closed and culturally incestuous, not interested in the heavenly marriage to the Divine Other.

(As a note: Ham’s sin was not sexual, but consisted of mocking his father and inviting his brothers to seize the robe of authority, which they rejected by upholding the robe and re-covering their father. But what Lot’s daughters did to Lot was, in its way, equivalent.)

Meanwhile, Abraham has a son, a son given by the Divine Other, a son of God Himself as it were.

Now, Lot’s moved away from Abraham into a strange land was voluntary, while Abraham was forced to move away from the region around Sodom and into a strange land. Like Lot, Abraham had his child in this strange land. And like Lot, someone came to demand that he destroy his child. With Lot, it was the sodomites of Sodom; with Abraham, it was Yahweh! Lot was willing to offer his daughters to the men to protect his guests, but angels protected the girls. Abraham was willing to offer Isaac, but the Angel of Yahweh stayed his hand.

Abraham learned from this that only God is adequate to be our Father, as he offered up Isaac to Him. Lot might have learned the same thing, but he did not. Thus, Isaac moved on to be God’s son, and to carry the seed-line, down to Jesus and then to all the world. But Lot kept his delivered daughters for himself, and they became his daughters is a new, perverse sense; they did not become God’s daughters. Their seed-line became extensions of the Canaanites down through history, implacable foes of Yahweh’s kingdom. And Moab and Ammon exist no more.