Our Multidimensional God.
Genesis 19-20, Matthew 10
So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived. – Genesis 19:29 ESV
Too often, we avoid the Old Testament because the image it seems to portray of God is one we find uncomfortable and seemingly at odds with that of the New Testament. God comes across as harsh, judgmental, vengeful and angry in the Old Testament. Yet, from the more familiar stories of the New Testament, we have come to understand Him to be loving, kind, gentle and full or mercy. But the truth is, the God of the Old and New Testaments is one God, and the two testaments simply portray the multidimensionality of His nature. Together they reveal His divine character in all its glory. They also give us a glimpse into God’s ever-changing and evolving relationship with mankind over the centuries. God does not change, but the manner in which He reveals Himself to mankind and the way in which He responds to their sin does change. God has already had to destroy the earth and all its inhabitants, except for Noah and his family – a devastating event He pledged to never repeat again.
What does this passage reveal about God?
But that does mean God was done punishing sin. He remained righteous and holy and, therefore, was obligated by His very nature to deal with the sin of mankind. God cannot simply tolerate sin or turn a blind on to the rebelliousness of mankind. Because He is righteous, He must always do the right thing. For Him to ignore sin would be for Him to cease to be God. So we have in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, an illustration of God’s righteous and completely justified wrath against the sins of man. When Lot separated from Abraham and chose the rich valley of the Jordan for himself, we are told that “Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom” (Genesis 13:12 ESV). By the time we get to chapter 19, we find Lot “sitting in the gate of Sodom” (Genesis 19:1 ESV).
In chapter 18, Abraham was visited by three angels disguised as men. They informed him that God was going to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, “because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave” (Genesis 18:20 ESV). Abraham, evidently knowing that his nephew and his family had moved into Sodom, intercedes on their behalf and begins to bargain for their salvation. As a result, God agrees to spare the cities if He can find tend righteous people living in them. What we have in the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is a vivid reminder of the inevitable state of man without God. Things had become so bad in these two cities that God was unable to find even ten righteous people. But He does spare Lot, his wife and two daughters.
This story is a reminder of God’s well-deserved wrath against sin and His undeserved mercy toward mankind. It exists to teach us that God can and must respond to sin. As a righteous judge, He must judge righteously. But it also reassures us that God can and does show mercy. Peter tells us, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into helland committed them to chainsof gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials,and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:4-9 ESV).
When we read this stories from the Old Testament, they should reinforce for us the holy nature of God. They should remind us of just how wicked men can be apart from God. But they should also create in us a tremendous amount of gratitude for the grace that God has showered on us who have received His Son as our salvation from judgment. Like Lot, we have been spared. We have been rescued. Like Noah, we have been shown mercy and grace from God. The Old Testament portrays a less-than-flattering portrait of mankind as they continue to reject God and embrace the world. We see revealed a steadily growing stubborn streak, accompanied by an unhealthy self-sufficiency that causes mankind to live as if God does not exist. And the trend continues today. Yet, God also continues to show His mercy and grace to men by rescuing the godly from trials and preserving them from the judgment to come.
What does this passage reveal about man?
From the time Noah and his family stepped out of the ark onto dry ground, men spread throughout the earth, and with them, sin. God’s merciful sparing of a few did not eliminate the presence of sin. So by the time we get to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, things had gotten progressively worse. Once again, God is forced to deal with the sins of mankind. The story of the destruction of these two cities is a reminder to us of just how wicked men can become without God. Left to their own devices, mankind will always degenerate into godlessness of all kinds. Lot, while obviously a worshiper of God just as his uncle had been, had chosen to become part of the world around him. He had moved in and gotten comfortable with the world. And while Peter tells us that Lot was uncomfortable with the sins being committed around him, he was not willing to separate himself from the situation. He chose to remain in Sodom, exposing his family to the constant influence of ungodly people. And while he was there, he had had little influence on the citizens of Sodom. Even his sons-in-laws to be refused to heed his warnings and flee from the judgment to come. Lot was far from salt and light in the city of Sodom.
Lot loved the world. He loved what the world had to offer. Even when given the chance to save his life, Lot begged the angels to let him move to yet another city. He enjoyed all the amenities of city life. In the time he had lived in Sodom, he had grown comfortable and complacent with the world. Yes, he was bothered by the sins around him, but not enough to do anything about it. Such is the picture of far too many of us as Christians today.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
When Jesus sent out the twelve disciples on their first missionary journey, He gave them detailed instructions and told them to be highly selective in terms of the villages they visited and homes they stayed in. Jesus sent them to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In other words, they were to focus their attention on the descendants of Abraham. They were to announce the coming of the Messiah. They were to tell them that the Kingdom of Heaven had arrived. But to those towns where this message was rejected, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, ‘it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (Matthew 10:15 ESV). The pagan, Gentile citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah had been destroyed for their godlessness. The Jewish inhabitants of the towns and villages the disciples visited would be guilty of rejecting the very one who was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. The Jews knew the covenant promise made to Abraham by God. They had been expecting a Messiah for generations. But they would reject Him when He came. And their judgment would be far greater than that imposed on the two cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
I have been given a chance to become part of the family of God through the merciful gift of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been placed into the household of faith and grafted into the family tree of Abraham. And yet, like righteous Lot, I can find myself growing comfortable and complacent in this world, tolerating the wickedness all around me. And while I will be spared ultimate judgment to come because of my relationship with Jesus Christ, I can still suffer the consequences of love affair with the world. Like Abraham, I have been called to live a life set apart from the world. I am a sojourner here, just passing through on my way to someplace far better. I am not to “pitch my tent toward Sodom” and gradually settle into the midst of the wickedness all around me. I must be in the world, but not of it. I must live as salt and light, an agent of change and influence in the midst of the darkness that exists all around me. I must recognize God’s hatred of sin, and appreciate His mercy toward me, a sinner. I am not to allow myself to grow comfortable and complacent with sin, any more than He does. My God is holy, set apart and distinctively different. So should I be.
Father, You are a God of judgment because You have to deal righteously with sin. But You are also a God of love, grace and mercy. In Your love, You came up with a way to deal justly with sin and deal mercifully with sinners. Thank You for sending Your Son as the Savior of the world. Thank You for revealing Your mercy and grace to me. Show me how to live my life in gratitude for Your love by living set apart from the world around me. Help me live in this world but not become part of it. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men