These words of our Savior Jesus Christ, spoken in Luke 17:32, are an admonition to His disciples about how they should react to the conditions that would be prevalent before His second coming. His first-century disciples are long dead, but the warning still applies to us today as we see the end of this age approaching. If we are to remember Lot's wife, we need to review what happened in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Five cities, Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Bela (Zoar) dotted the Plain of Jordan, now a desolate waste at the southern end of the Dead Sea (Genesis 14:2, 8). Evidently, Sodom and Gomorrah were the chief two of these five cities, situated in a beautiful, verdant valley "like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar" (Genesis 13:10). In this fertile plain, Lot chose to settle after he had separated from his uncle Abraham, even though he knew "the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the LORD" (verse 13).
Several years later, God visited Abraham and revealed His intention to destroy the cities of the plain because their sin had grown "very grievous" (Genesis 18:20). As He had done at the time of the Flood, God knew that His only just and merciful recourse was to destroy them. Abraham pleaded for the lives of Lot and his family, and God graciously agreed to spare Sodom if only ten righteous people were there (verse 32).
Lot, being a righteous man (II Peter 2:7), recognized the angels whom God had sent and offered them his hospitality, knowing how dangerous it was for strangers to be in public once the sun went down. His fears were well founded, for the perverted men of the city surrounded his house and brazenly demanded that Lot surrender the two angels to them so they could molest them (Genesis 19:4-5). Their depravity was so deep that both old and young, rich and poor, participated in this grotesque riot.
In a moment of weakness, Lot tried to appease the mob by offering his own daughters to them, but this only roused them against him. When they became physically violent, the angels pulled Lot inside and struck the Sodomites with blindness. After a while, tired of searching for the door to Lot's house, the crowd dispersed (verses 6-11).
Having witnessed Sodom's depravity, the angels advised Lot to take his entire family out of the city. "For we will destroy this place, because the outcry against them has grown great before the face of the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it" (verse 13). However, though Lot tried to convince them, his sons-in-law thought he was joking and refused to leave (verse 14).
Although he had seen the perversions first-hand, Lot failed to grasp the urgency of his situation, and the angels literally had to pull him, his wife and two daughters out of the city by hand (verse 16)! Still hesitant, Lot convinced the angels to allow them to flee to Zoar rather than the nearby mountains because he was afraid "some evil" would befall him (verses 19-22). One of the angels charged him, however, with two commands: 1) "Do not look behind you" and 2) do not "stay anywhere in the plain" (verse 17).
When Lot entered Zoar, "the LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the LORD out of the heavens" (verse 24). All the cities of the plain were destroyed except Zoar (verse 25), maybe because of Lot's faithless request. Yet just before she reached her place of safety—though she had made some effort to escape the impending disaster—Lot's wife disobeyed the angel's command and looked back. "She became a pillar of salt" (verse 26).
Why Look Back?
Why did she look back? The context does not specifically give a reason, but she probably had an inordinate love for the world and the material things she had in Sodom. Obviously, Lot was a wealthy man who had enough livestock and servants to cause a problem while he lived with Abraham (Genesis 13:5-7). He and his wife may have had a palatial house with many fine furnishings, servants to do her bidding, fine clothes, sumptuous food and frequent entertainment.
Also, Lot had achieved prominence among the citizens of Sodom beyond his wealth. Genesis 19:1 shows him sitting in the gate of the city, a place usually reserved for the elders and judges. Lot's wife may have been reconsidering her decision to forsake the privileges of her high social status and her prominent friends.
Maybe she just loved the ways of this world more than God. John writes:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (I John 2:15-17)
There may be more to it, however, than we have thought. Most people assume that Lot had only two daughters, but this is not the case. He says to the Sodomites, "See now, I have two daughters who have not known a man" (Genesis 19:8). He had two unmarried daughters. Later, in verse 14, he "spoke to his sons-in-law, who had married his daughters," meaning he had other married daughters who were not virgins. Finally, the angels tell him, "Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here" (verse 15), implying he had daughters elsewhere.
Since Lot and his wife had more than two daughters, they left more than just material possessions in the city. When God rained down fire and brimstone upon Sodom, their married daughters and sons-in-law—and possibly grandchildren—perished with the rest of the city's populace. What a poignant and tragic test of their faith!
Thus, when Lot's wife fled for little Zoar, her wealth, her house and her social circle were not the only things on her mind. Those concerns were insignificant beside the certain death of her flesh and blood. Perhaps she did not believe that God would follow through on His threat. As a loving mother, her emotions for her doomed family in the city clouded her ability to make proper decisions.
Jesus makes a pertinent comment in this regard in Matthew 10:37-39:
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.
Though it goes against our human nature, God requires us to have more allegiance to Him than to the members of our own families. For His disciples, leaving family members behind to do God's will may be the most common hardship that they have to face as they come out of this world (Revelation 18:4). Perhaps this is why He reminds us to "remember Lot's wife." The day may soon come when we will have to heed God's warnings without hesitation to flee again.
"In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back" (Luke 17:31). When God commands His elect to flee to a place of safety, many of us will be required to entrust unconverted family members to God's mercy. Without doubt, this will be the greatest test of our spiritual lives. We will know that before us lie life and hope and behind us death and destruction, just as Lot and his family experienced in fleeing Sodom.
We live in a land today where sin is discussed and displayed daily. Some of our own major cities could easily compare to Sodom or Gomorrah because of their blatant depravity. Even some of our smaller cities and towns have homosexual mayors and commissioners who flaunt their perversions in public. "Gay rights" is a major social concern to those who practice such degeneracy.
Though sexual corruption is the sin most associated with Sodom, the people of that city displayed other evil traits. Ezekiel 16:49-50 lists some of their other sins:
Look, this is the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.
The Sodomites also resorted to violence quickly when they were crossed. In a December 3, 1995, article in The Charlotte Observer, Linnet Myers reported:
Within the Western industrialized world, the United States not only is the undisputed leader in murder, but in rape as well.
According to the International Criminal Police Organization's 1990 statistics, England reported 6.7 rapes per 100,000 population; France, 8.1; the Netherlands, 8.9; Switzerland, 6.2; Germany, 8.2; Poland, 5.9.
The United States reported 41.2.
Former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, author of the popular Book of Virtues, spoke of other shameful categories in which the U.S. leads the world:
But, during the same thirty-year period [1960-1990], there was a 560 percent increase in violent crime; more than a 400 percent increase in illegitimate births; a quadrupling of divorces; a tripling of the percentage of children living in single-parent homes; more than a 200 percent increase in the teenage suicide rate; and a drop of 75 points in the average SAT scores of high school students. . . .
Consider, too, where the United States ranks in comparison with the rest of the industrialized world. We are at, or near, the top in rates of abortions, divorces, and unwed births. We lead the industrialized world in murder, rape, and violent crime. (Imprimis, November 1995, p. 3)
Our society is certainly similar to the one into which Lot led his family. In his selfishness and greed, he purposely chose to expose his children and servants to the depravity of Sodom where Satan lay in wait like a hungry lion (I Peter 5:8). We, already living in Satan's world, are commanded, "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues" (Revelation 18:4). God wants us to make strides to overcome the ungodly practices that we have absorbed from "this present evil world" (Galatians 1:4, KJV).
A Future Test?
Sometime in the not-too-distant future, we will be tested as Lot and his family were. When God calls for us to flee, we may have family members living hundreds of miles away. Children may be at college in another state. A spouse may be away on a business trip—or a few miles away at work. Will we have the faith to put those family members' lives in God's hands and leave without hesitation? Are we convinced that God will provide a way of escape for us as well as them? If we really trust God, even though we cannot see the future clearly, we have nothing to fear.
Today, on Jebel Usdum (Hill of Sodom) on the Dead Sea's western shore, stands a pillar of salt known as "Lot's Wife." This monument is a perpetual reminder of a woman who allowed her human nature to turn her from the express command of God. In a critical moment she took her eyes off the goal. Christ warns that we cannot allow the same to happen to us.
We have an even greater goal than our physical safety, and because our eternal life is at stake, we must always keep it as our first priority. As Paul says in Philippians 3:13-15:
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind.