No one likes Genesis 19. It’s never contained anyone’s “life verse.” Sexual violence and widespread judgment don’t make for good greeting cards or bedtime stories. But God knows what he’s doing and included these gut-wrenching stories on purpose. By reading carefully, we come to see the story of Lot’s rescue from Sodom as an introduction into intercessory prayer on behalf of the church, following the example of Abraham. We come to see the justice of God and should delight to see how his justice magnifies the grace shown to Lot and his family in answer to Abraham’s prayer.
But Genesis 19 doesn’t end with Lot’s rescue. It doesn’t end with a “happily ever after.” It stumbles and trips over itself and leaves us feeling disgusted, questioning the point of telling stories that only make us uncomfortable. Was it really necessary to tell us of Lot’s drunkenness and his daughters’ desperate plunge into incest?
Well, yes. Moses knew what the wandering Israelites needed to remember; God knows what we need to hear. And it’s basically this: The worse things get, the easier it becomes: as evil mounts, so does self-righteousness.
How easy it would have been for Lot and family to point a self-righteous finger at Sodom and Gomorrah, praying like a true Pharisee, “Thank you God that we’re not as bad as those violent deviants!” How easy it must have been for Israel to recollect Egypt’s gross idolatry and God’s judgment at the Red Sea and be glad they weren’t that bad. They were the chosen. How easy it is for those in the church, who’ve been rescued by the sheer grace of God alone, to look at the wicked world and be puffed up with self-righteous indignation.
Except for the fact that sin followed Lot and his family. Wickedness wasn’t buried in the rubble of Sodom, but quickly came to life in the wife whose heart turned her back toward the world. Evil wasn’t something that remained behind, but took hold of Lot’s life as he dived into fear and drunkenness. Unthinkable immorality isn’t something that was down in the valley with those sinners, but came charging right into the cave of those God had saved.
Sin also followed Israel. Wickedness wasn’t drowned in the Red Sea with the armies of Pharaoh, but sprung up quickly as the Israelites longed to return to the place of their slavery. Evil wasn’t something left behind in the temples of Egyptian gods, but took hold of the people of God as they hammered their gold — their proof of God’s rescuing grace — into animals worthy of worship. Unthinkable immorality wasn’t something kept beyond the borders of Israel, but marked almost every generation of the chosen people until God sent them into exile.
Sin also follows us. Yes, we’ve been rescued from the burning city (only by God’s grace!). But we brought our sin with us. Yes, those who’ve been born again have been freed from the ultimate guilt and some of the presence of sin, but not totally. And the story of Lot’s daughters is there for us, as a warning — not just of drunkenness and incest, but of spurning the grace of God in self-righteousness. The fact is that Lot and his family managed to do something far more ugly and perverse than anything that was going on in Sodom. They managed to achieve heights of wickedness in the face of God’s rescue and grace.
The fact is that, while we wring our hands over our nations’ dive into evil, greater wickedness is done within the household of God whenever we fail to cling to our savior for salvation. And the first step on this dangerous path is self-righteously believing that sin is “theirs” and “them” and not “ours” and “us.” This certainly isn’t to justify the sins of Sodom or our world (Scripture clearly condemns both), but it is to put our attention where the text of Scripture puts our attention: our constant, abiding, unending need to be saved and rescued by Jesus Christ. Further, the more we feel and act on my ongoing need for salvation, the less we will be able to look down on those who’ve often failed to love.
Why do God’s people still fall? Because we believe this lie, that somehow we are better than the world now that we’re saved. That somehow we don’t need as much help or as much saving. We fall because we stop clinging to Christ in faith and start believing in ourselves. We fail because we cut the chords on our parachute, believing we only needed it the moment it opens.
These terrible stories are here not only to defend the justice of God but also to call the faithful to faith. The gospel is every bit as true and needed for the long-time believer as it us for the unbeliever: Trust in the Lord and you will be saved. Whether you’re still in the doomed city or running to the hills, trust in Jesus and be saved. And then again tomorrow, trust in Jesus and be saved. And again…
[This post was inspired by a couple things. The first is Rosaria Butterfield’s recent and extraordinarily helpful post at the gospel coalition, “Love Your Neighbor Enough to Speak the Truth.” The second are the two recent sermons I’ve preached in Genesis 19 about Lot, Sodom & Gomorrah, and Lot’s daughters.]