The Mask of Zoar

12 Then the men said to Lot, “Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city, bring them out of the place. 13 For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it.” 14 So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up! Get out of this place, for the Lord is about to destroy the city.” But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.

15 As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.” 16 But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. 17 And as they brought them out, one said, “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away.” 18 And Lot said to them, “Oh, no, my lords. 19 Behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life. But I cannot escape to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me and I die. 20 Behold, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there—is it not a little one?—and my life will be saved!” 21 He said to him, “Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. 22 Escape there quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there.” Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar. Genesis 19:12-22 ESV

As the crowd of blinded deviants groped helplessly outside Lot’s door, his angelic guests warned him of the seriousness of the situation. They wanted him to know that the most pressing problem he faced was not his sex-crazed neighbors but the wrath of a holy God.

“…we are about to destroy this city completely. The outcry against this place is so great it has reached the Lord, and he has sent us to destroy it.” – Genesis 19:13 NLT

Despite Abraham’s aggressive negotiation efforts and God’s promise to spare the city for the sake of 10 righteous residents, destruction was coming. The moral situation in Sodom was so bad that there was less than half that number of righteous individuals living in the city.

The angels ordered Lot to gather his family and prepare to leave the city before the wrath of God fell. It is interesting to note that they posed this command in the form of a question.

“Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city, bring them out of the place. – Genesis 19:12 ESV

As messengers of God, they would have known exactly who was on the divine list of designated survivors. Yet, they give Lot an opportunity to choose those whom he would consider worthy of salvation. And Lot included the two Sodomite men to whom he had betrothed his daughters. Considering Moses’ earlier revelation that “the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13 ESV), and that “the men of the city…to the last man, surrounded the house” (Genesis 19:4 ESV), it is difficult to believe that Lot’s two son-in-laws-to-be were righteous. And when he attempted to warn them of God’s pending judgment, they refused to take him seriously.

As the morning sun broke over the horizon, the angels pleaded with Lot to take his wife and two daughters and escape for their lives. For the second time, they warned Lot of the looming judgment of God. The entire city and all its inhabitants were to be completely destroyed. “But he lingered” (Genesis 19:16 ESV). Consider the gravity of that three-word sentence. And to truly appreciate its implications, one must take into account their meaning in Hebrew. The word “lingered” is מָהַהּ (māhah), and it carries the idea of reluctance or doubtful hesitation. This wasn’t a case of Lot delaying his exit so he could pack another bag. It’s almost as if he too found the words of his two guests to be a bit hyperbolic and overblown. Or perhaps he couldn’t bring himself to believe that God would actually destroy all his friends and neighbors. But whatever his reasons, Lot’s hesitation revealed a reluctance to obey the word of the messengers.

So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. – Genesis 19:16 ESV

Once again, consider the implications of that sentence. In the face of divine judgment, Lot hesitated. He couldn’t bring himself to accept the gravity of the moment or the veracity of the warning. So, in His mercy, God had the two angels drag Lot and his family out of Sodom. We’re not told how the angels managed to navigate their way through the city streets undetected and unmolested. But there is a hint of the miraculous in this scene. And for the Jewish audience to whom Moses had written this book, the salvation of Lot would have reminded them of the liberation of their ancestors from Egypt.

When Moses declares that the angels “brought him out,” he uses the Hebrew word יָצָא (yāṣā’), which means “to bring out” or “to lead out.” It is the very same word that God had spoken to Moses when He delivered His plan to redeem Israel from their captivity.

“Look! The cry of the people of Israel has reached me, and I have seen how harshly the Egyptians abuse them. Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out (yāṣā’) of Egypt.” – Exodus 3:9-10 NLT

The other word Moses used was יָנַח (yānaḥ), a word that means “to cause to rest.” Lot and his family were led to a place of rest and security – outside the city walls and away from the pending judgment of God. They had been delivered from imminent danger and destruction and awarded with redemption and rest.

Standing outside the gates of the city, Lot found himself in a strange predicament. One doesn’t get the impression that he felt a sense of peace or rest. He had just packed up his belongings, dragged his wife and two daughters out of their home, and was now facing an uncertain future. And, once again, the angels were forced to deal with Lot’s continued reluctance to leave Sodom behind.

“Run for your lives! And don’t look back or stop anywhere in the valley! Escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away!” – Genesis 19:17 NLT

Their message was crystal clear. Lot was not safe as long as he remained anywhere in the vicinity of Sodom or Gomorrah. He may have been standing outside the gate but he remained well within the impact zone of God’s judgment. Time was running out and it was time for Lot to run for his life. God had done His part by mercifully delivering Lot out of harm’s way. But now Lot needed to leave Sodom behind.

Lot found himself facing the most important decision of his life. He had been saved by God, but now he needed to live out that salvation by taking advantage of the freedom he had been graciously given. His situation is similar to that of every Christ-follower. The apostle Paul provides a powerful admonition that could have proved beneficial to Lot.

…throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. – Ephesians 4:22 NLT

Lot could have used the word of warning that Paul gave to his young protege, Timothy.

Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts. – 2 Timothy 2:22 NLT

But rather than running for the hills, Lot delayed his departure once again by running his mouth. He chose to bargain with his rescuers. Instead of taking their advice and seeking refuge in the mountains, Lot expressed his preference for a less primitive and desolate destination. He had grown accustomed to the city life and feared that exile to the mountain wilderness would be the death of him.

“You have been so gracious to me and saved my life, and you have shown such great kindness. But I cannot go to the mountains. Disaster would catch up to me there, and I would soon die. See, there is a small village nearby. Please let me go there instead; don’t you see how small it is? Then my life will be saved.” – Genesis 19:19-20 NLT

What Lot failed to realize was that the same God who had just rescued him was fully capable of protecting and providing for him in the wilderness. Lot had grown comfortable living in the city, where all his needs could be easily met. He found the thought of returning to his former nomadic lifestyle unappealing and unacceptable. So, he bargained for an alternative landing place. And the angel of the Lord agreed to Lot’s request.

All right,” the angel said, “I will grant your request. I will not destroy the little village. But hurry! Escape to it, for I can do nothing until you arrive there.” (This explains why that village was known as Zoar, which means “little place”). – Genesis 19:21-22 NLT

Lot got his wish. But there is a profound lesson to be found in Lot’s little victory. He had chosen a small village as his final destination. He even emphasized its diminutive size. It wasn’t really a city, it was just a small, insignificant village. But there lies the lesson. Through his bargaining to escape to Zoar, Lot was relegating himself to a life of insignificance. In Hebrew, the name, Zoar, comes from a root word that means “to be brought low, to grow insignificant.” By choosing Zoar over the mountains, Lot was dooming himself to irrelevance. By refusing God’s will for his life, Lot would never experience the power and provision of God for his life. To Lot, the mountains had appeared unattractive and foreboding. But the little village of Zoar seemed to offer just enough of the pleasures and comforts he had grown to love and appreciate. But God’s people were not meant to live lives of insignificance in Zoar. And it would be just a matter of time before Lot learned the painful reality of that truth.

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