The Sun of Righteousness Will Rise

1 “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.

“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:1-6 ESV

God has just informed the small remnant of the faithful whose names are written in the scroll of remembrance that they will be spared from future judgment.

“On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient child. – Malachi 3:17 NLT

Now He provides greater details concerning that coming day of judgment from which they will be so graciously spared. He describes it as a burning oven in which “the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all” (Malachi 4:1 ESV). But the remnant of the righteous will be spared.

Jesus also provided His disciples with a graphic depiction of this coming day of judgment and left no doubt as to the final fate of the unrighteous.

“…these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25:46 ESV

And that is exactly what God communicates to the faithful few living in Malachi’s day.

“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. On the day when I act, you will tread upon the wicked as if they were dust under your feet,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. – Malachi 4:2-3 NLT

Centuries later, the apostle John would provide further insight into this great day of judgment, placing it on its proper place along the divine redemptive timeline so that we can better understand the future nature of its fulfillment.

And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire. – Revelation 20:11-15 NLT

According to John, this coming day of judgment will take place after the second coming of Christ and at the end of His 1,000-year reign as the King of kings and Lord of lords. After His return to earth, Jesus will set up His kingdom in Jerusalem, where He will sit on the throne of David. This Millennial (1,000-year) Kingdom will be marked by peace and perfect righteousness as the Son of God reigns over the entire earth. One of the unique features of Christ’s earthly kingdom is that it will be inhabited by believers and unbelievers just as the world is today. But it will be devoid of any influence from Satan because he will have been defeated and imprisoned.

He seized the dragon—that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand years. The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward he must be released for a little while. – Revelation 20:2-3 NLT

With the great deceiver safely locked away, he will be unable to tempt the ungodly or attack the righteous. His influence on the world will be eliminated. During this remarkable period of time, the people on earth will be allowed to live under the leadership of a perfectly righteous ruler whose kingdom will be marked by justice and equity. For the first time in human history, mankind will experience what it is like to live under the righteous rule of God Himself. But at the end of Christ’s earthly reign, Satan will be released from his confinement and allowed to peddle his evil influence once again, and the outcome will be both predictable and unfortunate.

When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison. He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth. He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore. And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city. But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them. – Revelation 20:7-9 NLT

Those millions of unbelieving people who will be given the opportunity to live under the righteous reign of Christ will turn their backs on Him once again, choosing instead to align themselves with the enemy. This will include all the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles living on the earth at the time. And in the vision he was given of this apocalyptic event, John describes seeing fire coming down from heaven and consuming all those who join Satan in his last futile attempt to dethrone and replace God. And, as a result of his failed rebellion, Satan will meet his final fate.

Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20:10 NLT

And at at that point, the final judgment will take place. Every human being who has ever lived will appear before the throne of God and give an account for all that they have done. But absent from this judgment will be all those who make up the church, the body of Christ. They will have been raptured long before the seven years of Tribulation and the 1,000-year reign of Christ. But everyone else, including all unbelievers, the Old Testament saints, those who come to faith during the Tribulation, and anyone who places their faith in Christ during His millennial reign, will stand before God to be judged.

In his vision, John “saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books” (Revelation 20:12 NLT). That will be the time when the righteous remnant living in Malachi’s day will find themselves standing before Yahweh. But God assures them that they have nothing to fear because “you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall” (Malachi 4:2 ESV). They will be spared the fate of their wicked neighbors, which will be eternal separation from God. In fact, God declared assures them that “you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet” (Malachi 4:3 ESV). 

The tables will be turned. In Malachi’s day, the righteous were being trampled down by the wicked. The faithful found themselves few in number and overwhelmed by the pervasive presence of unrighteous rulers, priests, and fellow citizens who mocked and minimized their faith in God. But God will one day restore justice to the earth and reverse the fortunes of His faithful followers. But in the meantime, God pleads with His people to remain faithful.

“Remember to obey the Law of Moses, my servant—all the decrees and regulations that I gave him on Mount Sinai for all Israel. – Malachi 4:4 NLT

They were not to give up or give in. Instead, they were to place their faith in the faithfulness of God. He will one day avenge and reward them. Their faithfulness will be worth it all.

Malachi, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, closes his book with a promise regarding the coming of Elijah, the great prophet of Israel who never faced death, but was removed from the earth by God (2 Kings 2). God states that it was necessary for His prophet to return “before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 4:5 ESV). In other words, long before the final day of judgment takes place, there would be a reappearance of Elijah. But Luke records in his gospel that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of this prophecy. An angel appeared to Zechariah the priest, informing him that his barren wife, Elizabeth, would bear him a son. And this son would play a vital role in God’s redemptive plan for mankind.

“…he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:16-17 ESV

John would later deny that he was Elijah (John 1:21-23). It seems that his role as Elijah was dependent upon whether the people of Israel would listen to his words and accept Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah. When John the Baptist declared of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV), he expected the Jews to believe his words and accept Jesus as their Messiah. But they refused to do so. And later, Jesus would later report that John had simply been repeating the same message as the prophets and law had declared.

“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” – Matthew 11:13-14 ESV

If they would have listened to his message and accepted Jesus as their Messiah, John would have been the Elijah they had anticipated. And they would have enjoyed the blessings associated with Elijah’s message. But sadly, during Jesus’ day, the hearts of the fathers were not turned to the children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just. Instead, they demanded the crucifixion of the one who had come to save them. But God is not done with Israel. His redemptive plan still includes a rescue of a remnant of His chosen people. And it’s interesting to note that the book of Malachi closes out the Old Testament but the New Testament opens with the gospel of Matthew, which begins with the words, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1 ESV). Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah of Israel, and His coming to earth began the next phase of God’s grand redemptive plan for Israel and the world.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Faithful Few

13 “Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ 14 You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? 15 And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’”

16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. 17 “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. 18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. – Malachi 3:13-18 ESV

The returned exiles found life in Judah difficult and far below their expectations as God’s chosen people. After having made the arduous journey from Babylon to their former homeland, things had not turned out quite as they had hoped. From their perspective, God had not done His part, having left them relatively defenseless and struggling to make ends meet while the nations around them prospered and threatened their very existence.

As a result, they had taken matters into their own hands, compromising their convictions by worshiping the false gods of their pagan neighbors. They defended their actions as just and necessary, even convincing themselves that they were better off because of the things they had done. To them, God was part of the problem, because they believed His laws to be too restrictive and any attempt to keep them to be far from beneficial.

“What’s the use of serving God? What have we gained by obeying his commands or by trying to show the Lord of Heaven’s Armies that we are sorry for our sins?” – Malachi 3:14 NLT

This attitude led them to minimize their need for obedience or repentance. They refused to alter their behavior or even admit that they were out of step with God’s will. Instead, they arrogantly boasted about their decision to live their lives in a way that was antithetical to the commands of God.

“From now on we will call the arrogant blessed. For those who do evil get rich, and those who dare God to punish them suffer no harm.” – Malachi 3:15 NLT

They had come to the conclusion that God was either powerless to do anything about their behavior or altogether indifferent as to what was going on in Judah. Having wrongly determined that God was not keeping His end of the covenant agreement, they had chosen to go their own way. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

But years earlier, God had delivered a powerful indictment against such flawed thinking. This was not the first time that the people of Israel had decided to establish a code of conduct that was diametrically opposed to God’s law. Long before God brought the Babylonians to destroy Judah, He had warned His people about their arrogant tendency to establish their own standard of righteousness.

What sorrow for those who say
    that evil is good and good is evil,
that dark is light and light is dark,
    that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes
    and think themselves so clever. – Isaiah 5:20-21 NLT

Spiritually speaking, things were looking bleak in Judah. But according to Malachi, things were not yet hopeless. He indicates that there were a faithful few who remained committed to maintaining their covenant relationship with Yahweh. Evidently, this righteous remnant regularly met together to encourage and motivate one another to remain faithful. While everyone around them was compromising their convictions and joining in the spiritual apostasy of the prevailing culture, these few were determined to stand their ground in the face of overwhelming odds. And God took notice.

God was anything but indifferent or distant. He heard their discussions and took note of their plight. And Malachi indicates that He had each of their names recorded for posterity.

In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and always thought about the honor of his name. – Malachi 3:16 NLT

These people stood out from the crowd. They were outliers in the midst of a nation that had sold out and given in to moral compromise. While everyone else was calling evil good and good evil, this small contingent of believers remained dedicated to God, choosing to show Him reverence and honor by living according to His will rather than their own. They too were suffering, but they refused to blame God. Their lives were just as difficult as anyone else’s, but they were unwilling to turn their backs on God or blame their circumstances on Him. He had repeatedly proven Himself to be faithful and they were willing to continue placing their trust in Him.

And God responded, “They will be my people” (Malachi 3:17 NLT). Having recorded their names in His scroll of remembrance, God assures that their faithfulness will not be forgotten or go unrewarded. He doesn’t promise immediate deliverance or a timely display of compensatory blessings. No, He indicates that their reward will come in the form of deliverance on the coming day of judgment.

“On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient child. – Malachi 3:17 NLT

Malachi opened this chapter with a reminder from God concerning the coming “messenger of the covenant,” stating, “who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap” (Malachi 3:2 ESV).

And God vowed that, in that coming day of judgment, He will hold the people of Israel accountable for their actions. Their conduct will be exposed, judged, and condemned.

“At that time I will put you on trial. I am eager to witness against all sorcerers and adulterers and liars. I will speak against those who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive the foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear me.” – Malachi 3:5 NLT

God is warning of a future day of retribution and reward that will take place at the second coming of Christ. The tiny remnant who honored and revered His name in the face of growing opposition will stand before God and be rewarded for their faithfulness. But all those who chose to treat His law with disdain and dishonor the holiness of His name will be held accountable.

Before His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus provided His disciples with a vivid description of His return and the day of judgment that will take place for all mankind, Jew and Gentile alike.

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. – Matthew 25:31-33 NLT

There will be a separating of the sheep and the goats, the righteous and the unrighteous. This judgment will not involve those who came to faith in Christ after His ascension. But it will include all the Old Testament saints and everyone else who has lived since the beginning of time. That small remnant of faithful Yahweh followers will be included in the vast crowds that will stand before the Lord. And they will find that their names have been recorded in God’s scroll of remembrance, deeming them free from condemnation and worthy of the reward of eternal life.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.’” – Matthew 25:34 NLT

The key differentiator between the sheep and the goats will be their behavior. But it will not be their behavior that saves them. It will be their faith in God as illustrated by their willingness to live in keeping with His will. These individuals will have displayed a trust in God that manifested itself in a selfless display of care and concern for others. Rather than putting their own needs first, they will have sacrificed their security and comfort for the benefit of others. These people are the ones who offered the full amount of their tithes and offerings so that all the oppressed among them, including the widows, orphans, and foreigners might be cared for. And that is exactly what Jesus describes in His depiction of the day of judgment.

“For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” – Matthew 25:35-40 NLT

The righteous remnant will be rewarded. Not because they have a righteousness of their own, but a righteousness based on their faith in the promises of God. Their unfailing belief that God was faithful and true motivated them to live their lives in keeping with His commands and trusting in His future reward.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Cleansed As By Fire

1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. – Malachi 3:1-5 ESV

The Israelites had dared to question the justice of God. They had willingly violated His commands and had suffered no consequences. So, in their minds, He was either impotent or indifferent to their behavior. But they were in for a rude awakening. Just because God had not yet punished them for their sins did not mean He was powerless to do so. He was the very same God who had sent them into exile 70 years earlier for having committed many of the very same sins against Him. He was gracious and merciful, but He was also righteous and just and determined to hold His people to their covenant commitments. God could not and would not leave their sins unpunished.

These verses deal with the present spiritual condition of the people of Israel by pointing to a future judgment to come. Through His messenger, Malachi, God warns of another messenger who will appear on the scene in the future, declaring the coming of the Lord.

“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. – Malachi 3:1 NLT

The God they seem to believe was distant and disinterested was going to show up in their city and make an appearance in the temple.

Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. – Malachi 3:1 NLT

The Lord was going to make His presence known in the very place where they were offering blemished and unworthy offerings to Him. Malachi warns the people that the day was coming when Yahweh would make a personal appearance in His holy temple. And it’s important to note that the people of Israel had expressed their sorrow and confusion over His seeming absence and silence when they had offered their sacrifices to Him.

You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. – Malachi 2:13 ESV

God would not always remain silent or hidden. He would one day respond to their sins and reveal Himself in all His might and power. But God states that His appearance will be preceded by “my messenger” (malʾakhi). While this is a variation of the prophet’s name, it does not refer to Malachi. Verse 5 of chapter 4 reveals this messenger’s identity.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. – Malachi 4:5 ESV

Malachi is recording a prophetic pronouncement from God that has a now-not-yet aspect to it. The reference to this future messenger and his designation as Elijah are all cleared up by a series of statements made by Jesus concerning John the Baptist.

“This is he of whom it is written,

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way before you.’” – Matthew 11:10 ESV

And Jesus went on to explain that John the Baptist was the “Elijah” of whom the prophets spoke.

“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. – Matthew 11:13-14 ESV

In a later exchange with His disciples, Jesus further clarified John the Baptist’s role as the “messenger” of God who would prepare the way for His coming.

And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. – Matthew 17:10-13 ESV

And even before John the Baptist’s birth, an angel of the Lord had appeared to Zechariah the priest, declaring that his barren wife would bear him a son.

“And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:16-17 ESV

The people of Israel longed for a divine “messenger” who would appear on the scene and reestablish the glory days of Israel. They were familiar with all the prophetic passages that spoke of a coming one who would be a son of David and set up His kingdom on earth. They dreamed of the day when this mighty warrior-king would make his appearance and put Israel back on the geopolitical map. They had no king and were living in the shadows of their more powerful pagan neighbors. So, they would have understood Malachi’s mention of  “the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight” as a reference to this long-hoped-for Messiah or savior.

And while God assures them that the Messiah is coming, He warns that His appearance will not be quite as joyful for them as they had hoped.

“But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord.” – Malachi 3:2-3 NLT

Their idea of the messenger of the covenant was a deliverer who would fulfill all of the blessings that God had promised as part of His covenant commitment. But they failed to remember that the covenant was bi-lateral in nature. God’s blessings were contingent upon their obedience.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV

But as Malachi has already pointed out, they had not kept their part of the agreement. Like their ancestors, they had continued to disregard God’s laws and dishonor His holiness by bowing down to false gods. So, when this messenger of the covenant appears, He will come to purify and cleanse the people. He will be like a refining fire that purges all the dross from the gold so that what remains is pure and undefiled. This agent of God will perform a miraculous cleansing of God’s people so that they are able to come before Him in sinless purity.

“Then once more the Lord will accept the offerings brought to him by the people of Judah and Jerusalem, as he did in the past.” – Malachi 3:4 NLT

God will do for them what they were incapable of doing for themselves. He will purify and cleanse their hearts. The prophet Ezekiel spoke of this coming day of the Lord and the miraculous life-altering ministry of the Messiah.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” – Ezekiel 36:22-27 ESV

In order for cleansing to take place, judgment will have to be leveled against all those who stand before God as impure and defiled by their sins. That is why God warns that, in the future, when the Messiah comes, He will “draw near to you for judgment” (Malachi 3:5 ESV). This cannot be speaking of Jesus’ first coming because Jesus clearly stated, “I did not come to judge the world but to save the world” (John 12:47 ESV). But at His second coming, Jesus will come as judge. In His righteousness, He will expose all sin and deal a blow to Satan and his demons.

In the present, Malachi is warning the Israelites that their sins are offensive to a holy God. And in the future, those sins will be exposed and dealt with. In order for cleansing to take place, all their sins will need to be revealed, confessed, and burned away. God wanted His people to understand that their current sins will one day face a future judgment. Their unrighteousness was a problem that needed to be addressed. They couldn’t ignore it or continue to justify it. Because God’s judgment of sin is inevitable and inescapable.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

When We Pitch Our Tent Toward Sodom

23 The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar. 24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. 25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. 26 But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

27 And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.

29 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.

30 Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters. 31 And the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth. 32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” 33 So they made their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn went in and lay with her father. He did not know when she lay down or when she arose.

34 The next day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Behold, I lay last night with my father. Let us make him drink wine tonight also. Then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” 35 So they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose and lay with him, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. 36 Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. 37 The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab. He is the father of the Moabites to this day. 38 The younger also bore a son and called his name Ben-ammi. He is the father of the Ammonites to this day. Genesis 19:23-38 ESV

Lot departed from Sodom and made his way to the small village of Zoar, with his wife and two daughters accompanying him. And Moses provides a rather sterile and sketchy description of the life-altering experience this small family had to endure. Their world had been rocked by the arrival of the two strangers. Lot and his family had been enjoying their comfortable life in Sodom until the night the two visitors showed up unexpectedly. Lot had been a well-respected city leader. His wife had probably been busy planning their two daughters’ pending weddings. Both girls had been betrothed and fully expected to celebrate and consummate their marriages. But all that had changed.

Now, they were running for their lives. And Lot’s two daughters must have been devastated by the news that their future husbands had chosen to remain behind in Sodom. It seems likely that both young women would have wrestled with thoughts of returning to Sodom but they had an allegiance to obey their father. They may have harbored doubts about the veracity of the message of doom delivered by the two visitors. And the thought of abandoning their home and their futures must have left them confused and conflicted.

Moses provides only a small glimpse into the tumultuous emotional state of Lot and his family. As he briefly describes the devastating destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he mentions Lot’s wife turning back to look at the shocking scene. Moses provides no explanation for her actions. But one can only guess that her curiosity was piqued by the sounds that accompanied the massive display of firepower that rained down from heaven. The destruction of these two cities was an unprecedented event of cosmic proportions.

…the Lord rained down fire and burning sulfur from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah. He utterly destroyed them, along with the other cities and villages of the plain, wiping out all the people and every bit of vegetation. – Genesis 19:24-25 NLT

One might describe her interest as nothing more than a simple case of “rubbernecking.” There are some commentators who read more into her actions and label her backward glance as an expression of longing and regret. Moses simply states that, as Lot made his way to Zoar, his wife “looked back, and she became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26 ESV). The Hebrew word that is translated “looked back” is נָבַט (nāḇaṭ) and it can mean “to look intently; to gaze.” The thought is that, in looking back, Lot’s wife displayed sorrow for the destruction of her former home. She still harbored strong emotional ties to Sodom.

But it seems more likely that this poor woman, shocked by all that had just happened over the last 24 hours, was distracted by the earth-shattering sounds of God’s divine judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah. But regardless of her motivation, her actions violated the warning of the two angels. They had clearly warned Lot: “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away” (Genesis 19:17 ESV). 

Once again, Moses provides little in the way of explanation. He mentions nothing about Lot’s reaction to his wife’s sudden and gruesome death. One minute she had been right behind him, alive and well. The next, she was a lifeless pillar of salt. Had Lot turned back? If he did, why was he not struck down by God? Had he continued to run, not realizing his wife’s fate until he arrived in Zoar? Moses provides no answers to these questions. In fact, he changes the subject altogether. In a rather frustrating and seemingly ill-placed aside, Moses refocuses the narrative on Abraham.

Abraham had been the one who negotiated with the Lord, hoping to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction. But as he stood on the hillside overlooking the valley, he saw the smoke rising up from the burning ruins of the two cities. He must have been shocked at the sight because God had clearly promised to spare the cities if He could find ten righteous individuals living in them. Abraham’s thoughts must have gone to Lot and his family. Were they still alive or had God destroyed there? Moses does not reveal whether God shared with Abraham the fate of his nephew. He simply states that “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). Abraham had believed that the cities would need to be spared in order to keep Lot alive. But God had something else in mind. He was going to visit judgment upon the wicked while providing a way of escape for the righteous. There had not been ten righteous people living in Sodom. According to the apostle Peter, there had been only one.

God also rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him. Yes, Lot was a righteous man who was tormented in his soul by the wickedness he saw and heard day after day. So you see, the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their trials, even while keeping the wicked under punishment until the day of final judgment. He is especially hard on those who follow their own twisted sexual desire, and who despise authority. – 2 Peter 2:7-10 NLT

God rescued Lot but refused to turn a blind eye to the wickedness of Sodom and its sister city, Gomorrah. And delivering Lot, God was demonstrating His faithfulness to fulfill the wish of Abraham. God delivered and destroyed. He demonstrated grace and justice at the same time. He spared the righteous and punished the wicked.

But the story doesn’t end there. When Moses turns the narrative back to Lot and his fate, he has him leaving the village of Zoar and moving into the hills. There is no mention of Lot’s wife. He is now a widower, trying to raise two adult children on his own. For some unexplained reason, Lot felt unsafe living in Zoar. Perhaps the inhabitants saw this stranger’s arrival in their village as some kind of omen. After all, he had been the only one to escape the devastation that had happened in the valley. And these people lived near enough to Sodom and Gomorrah to know all about what had happened. But regardless of his reasons, Lot relocated his dwindling family to a cave. And there the action takes another dark twist.

These two young women now found themselves as damaged goods. They had been betrothed but now their fates were uncertain. In that culture, betrothal was tantamount to marriage. It was based on a binding contract between the two families. A betrothed couple was considered to be married. The only thing missing was the final consummation of the marriage that would take place on their wedding night. So, Lot’s daughters probably considered themselves to be damaged goods. That likely played a part in their fateful decision.

There are no men left anywhere in this entire area, so we can’t get married like everyone else. And our father will soon be too old to have children. Come, let’s get him drunk with wine, and then we will have sex with him. That way we will preserve our family line through our father.” – Genesis 19:31-32 NLT

Everything about this decision is wrong. It reveals their fatalistic and flawed outlook on life. According to them, their best years were behind them. There was nothing good that could come out of this latest chain of events. Their husbands were dead. Their home had been destroyed. They had lost all their friends in the destruction of Sodom. And their mother had been turned into a pillar of salt by their father’s God. So, faced with the prospect of an uncertain future, they decided to take matters into their own hands. They followed through with their perverse plan. And over the course of two consecutive evenings, each of the girls committed incest with their drunken father.

Moses did not relate this rather X-rated story to titillate and arouse his audience. He was providing them with a history of the Moabites and Ammonites. The unholy union between Lot and his daughters would produce two people groups that would become the perennial and persistent enemies of Israel. It is interesting to consider that God had spared Lot because of the pleadings of Abraham. But His rescue of Lot resulted in the creation of these two nations who would become perpetual thorns in the side of Abraham’s descendants. The Moabites and Ammonites were idolatrous and immoral. In fact, the book of Numbers reveals the sordid story of how the Moabite women lured the men of Israel into immorality and idolatry.

While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove, some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people. – Numbers 25:1-3 NLT

For the people of Israel, this recounting of Lot’s rescue was meant to remind them that the actions of the righteous have implications. God considered Lot to be a righteous man, but he made some very unrighteous decisions. He had no business living in Sodom. He should have never agreed to betroth his daughters to two Sodomite men. Lot had been driven by “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16 ESV). Even when he had become “sick of the shameful immorality” (2 Peter 2:7 NLT) in Sodom, he had remained. He didn’t flee immorality. He cozied up to it. He compromised his convictions and ended up paying severe and long-lasting consequences. Yet, Moses ends the story of Lot with the last verse of chapter 19. One man’s decision to settle among the cities of the valley and move his tent as far as Sodom (Genesis 13:12) had produced a lasting legacy of immorality and idolatry that would haunt the descendants of Abraham for generations to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

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.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

How Many Righteous Does it Take to Save the World?

22 So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” 26 And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

27 Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28 Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 30 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” 31 He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” 32 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” 33 And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place. Genesis 18:22-33 ESV

As Abraham prepared to say goodbye to his divine visitors, two of them made their way to the city of Sodom, while one stayed behind. And Moses indicates that the one guest who stayed behind was actually Yahweh Himself, in human form. Abraham found himself standing face to face with God Almighty, and he decided to take full advantage of this unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The two angels who had left were headed to Sodom, and Abraham knew the purpose of their mission. God had make it perfectly clear.

So the Lord told Abraham, “I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant. I am going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I have heard. If not, I want to know.” – Genesis 18:20-21 NLT

It seems highly likely that Abraham was well aware of the goings on in Sodom and Gomorrah. These two cities had a well-deserved reputation for being “dens of iniquity.” So, he was had little doubt that the two angels were going to find ample evidence of wickedness and full justification for God’s judgment. But Abraham had a problem. His nephew Lot was a resident of Sodom.

This passage reveals a lot about Abraham’s concept of God. He understood God to be holy, just, and righteous. He viewed Him as a just judge who sits in judgment over the affairs of men.

“Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” – Genesis 18:25 NLT

And Abraham also knew that mankind was made of two basic groups of people: The godly and the ungodly. Or, as he put it, the righteous and the wicked.

Abraham approached him and said, “Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked?” – Genesis 18:23 NLT

Though by this time, the world consisted of a variety of diverse ethnic-based cultures and people groups, there were really only two categories of humanity: Those who believed in God and those who did not. The righteous (צַדִּיקṣadîq) were the just and lawful, the ones who lived in keeping with the will of God. They were considered Yahweh worshipers. We first learn of them in Genesis 3, when Eve gave birth to a son who would serve as a replacement for Abel, who had been murdered by his brother, Cain. Moses records, “When Seth grew up, he had a son and named him Enosh. At that time people first began to worship the Lord by name” (Genesis 3:26 NLT). Through the line of Seth came a group of people who would call upon the name of the Lord. The apostle Paul explains that ,because God’s “eternal power and divine nature” had been made visible through His creation (Romans 1:20 NLT), mankind had no excuse for failing to recognize and reverence their Creator. But Paul goes on to state that, despite their recognition of God presence, they chose to withhold their worship of Him. 

…they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:21-23 NLT

So, by the time this event takes place in the life of Abraham, there were those who considered themselves Yahweh worshipers, and there were those who had chosen to turn their back on Him. They were the righteous because they were aligned with the “right God.” This does not mean that their behavior was pure and sinless. The apostle Paul would later state that “No one is righteous— not even one” (Romans 3:10 NLT). And his less-from-flattering evaluation was based on the Old Testament Scriptures.

Only fools say in their hearts,
    “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
    not one of them does good!

The Lord looks down from heaven
    on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
    if anyone seeks God.
But no, all have turned away;
    all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
    not a single one! – Psalm 14:1-3 NLT

So, when Abraham differentiates between the righteous and the wicked (רָשָׁעrāšāʿ), he is really acknowledging that there are two kinds of people: The innocent and the guilty. And he is concerned that, in His determination to punish the guilty living in Sodom and Gomorrah, God is going to inadvertently take the life of Lot.

Of course, it is easy to question Abraham’s assessment of his prodigal nephew. After all, Lot is the one who made the fateful decision to trade in his tent in the Jordan Valley for the comforts and conveniences of Sodom. And, in doing so, he exposed his entire family to the wickedness that marked this godless community. Shouldn’t he be held responsible for his poor judgment and the unwise stewardship of his family?

And yet, the apostle Peter provides a rather surprising revelation concerning Lot.

God condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and turned them into heaps of ashes. He made them an example of what will happen to ungodly people. But God also rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him. Yes, Lot was a righteous man who was tormented in his soul by the wickedness he saw and heard day after day. – 2 Peter 2:6-8 NLT

Peter is not suggesting that God saved Lot because he was a sinless and perfectly blameless man. No, he is differentiating between the “ungodly people” of Sodom and the “godly” or Yahweh-worshiping Lot. It was Lot’s relationship with Yahweh that formed the basis of his salvation.

Abraham wants to know if God is going to spare the innocent or allow them to die along with the wicked in Sodom and Gomorrah. In doing what was just – punish the wicked – will God end up doing what was unjust – destroy the innocent? And to drive home his point, Abraham puts a number to his question.

Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? – Genesis 18:24 NLT

There is no way to determine how many people lived in the two cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, but it is safe to say that 50 people would have made up a small percentage of their overall populations. Abraham wanted to know if there were as few as 50 innocent people in Sodom, would God spare the city? Notice that Abraham doesn’t ask whether God would save the 50. For some reason, he expected God to spare the guilty for the sake of the innocent. In his mind, the presence of even as few as 50 innocent people would justify the preservation of town’s entire population.  He is not denying the fact that the wicked deserve what’s coming to them, but he is questioning the potential destruction of those who are undeserving.

This passage has always fascinated me. I have wrestled with the motivation behind Abraham’s repeated requests, and I have wondered why God was willing to play this ridiculous game of “What if…?” But there is something very significant going on here, and the key to understanding it begins in verse 19. Consider what the Lord said to the two angels.

“I have singled him [Abraham] out so that he will direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.” – Genesis 18:19 NLT

God had set apart Abraham and his descendants for a special purpose. They were to be His chosen people, and were expected to live distinctively different lives than all the other nations on earth. But at this point in the story, Abraham’s family was small in number. He had one son, Ishmael, born to him through his wife’s handmaid, Hagar. He had male and female servants. But compared to all the other people groups on earth, Abraham’s clan was quite small and insignificant.

Now, consider what must have been going through Abraham’s mind. As he thought about Sodom and the pending judgment of God, he couldn’t help but think about the insignificant, yet innocent family of Lot. And it seems highly likely that Abraham began to ponder his own family’s status as the innocent few living among the guilty masses. If God was willing to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, what would keep Him from wiping out the rest of Canaan and its godless inhabitants? Abraham wanted to know if God was going to spare the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah so that a righteous remnant might be spared.

Abraham would have been well aware of the flood story. And while he would have known about God’s promise to never destroy the earth by flood again, he would have understood that this left God a lot of other options for bringing judgment against the wicked. So, this led Abraham to question just how few of the “righteous” it would take to prevent God from wiping out humanity again. And he used Sodom as a case study.

But notice how Abraham keeps moving the goal post. He starts out with a quantity of 50 and then slowly works his way down. And notice that each time, as Abraham lowers the number, God continues to assure Abraham that He will spare the city.

“If I find fifty righteous people in Sodom, I will spare the entire city for their sake.” – Genesis 18:26 NLT

He will spare the city, including all the wicked within it – all for the sake of 50 righteous people. But, hedging his bets, Abraham reduces the number from 50 to 45, from 45 to 40, from 40 to 30, and then, ultimately, all the way down to 10. And, once again, God confirms His commitment.

I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten.” – Genesis 18:32 NLT

Again, Abraham’s emphasis is on the city itself. He wants to know how many righteous it will take to save the city. And what appears to be driving his line of thinking is his awareness that the world in which he was living was growing increasingly wicked while the size of his family remained remarkably small. Abraham knew the story of Noah and would have recalled that he too had been a righteous man.

Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. – Genesis 6:9 ESV

And yet, despite that fact, God had ended up destroying the entire earth, sparing only Noah and his family. It seems that Abraham feared this happening again. Would he, like Noah, be forced to begin again? Or would the presence of a faithful few spare the earth from judgment?

As this story unfolds, it will become clear that there were far fewer innocents in the city of Sodom than Abraham could have known. Things were far worse than he thought possible.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Battle is the Lord’s

1 In the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, these kings made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). And all these joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled. In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him came and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim, and the Horites in their hill country of Seir as far as El-paran on the border of the wilderness. Then they turned back and came to En-mishpat (that is, Kadesh) and defeated all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who were dwelling in Hazazon-tamar.

Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out, and they joined battle in the Valley of Siddim with Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar, four kings against five. 10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the hill country. 11 So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. 12 They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way.

13 Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner. These were allies of Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people. Genesis 14:1-16 ESV

Abram and Lot have separated, with Lot taking up residence near the city of Sodom, while Abram continued his nomadic lifestyle, setting up a temporary camp by the oaks of Mamre in Hebron. But Abram’s separation from Lot would not last long. His nephew’s presence in the land would come back to haunt him.

This new season of Abram’s more independent life was going to be rocked by unexpected events that were outside of his control. What chapter 14 reveals is that Abram was far from alone in the land of Canaan. Up to this point in the narrative, there has been little mention of other nations, but the story recorded in this chapter will reveal that Abram has company and lots of it.

The chapter opens with news of a coalition of four kings whose nations lie outside the boundaries of Canaan. It’s difficult to determine with any certainty the exact locations of these ancient realms, but it seems that they each were located within the fertile crescent, an area known as the land of Shinar. It is important to recall that Shinar was the location of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11). It was there that God decided to confuse the language of the people who attempted to build a tower that would reach to the sky. As a result of the confusion caused by the proliferation of new languages, the region became known as “Babel,” a word that literally means “confusion.” This region would later bear the name of “Babylon” and play a vital role in the history of the Hebrew people.

These kings all hailed from the region of Mesopotamia that stretched from the northern tip of the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf.  One of these kings, Chedorlaomer, had earlier invaded southern Canaan and forced its occupants to become his vassals. The people living in Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela (Zoar), had found themselves subjugated to a foreign power for 13 long years. But at one point their kings had decided to throw off the yoke of this foreign oppressor. And their decision had forced King Chedorlaomer to form a coalition with three of his fellow kings from Mesopotamia and invade Canaan yet again.  

This entire scene is meant to display the interconnected nature of all that has gone on before. Every event that has happened up to this point is linked together in God’s plan. There are reasons for everything. And there are repercussions for every decision made by men and consequences for every act of a sovereign God. Nothing happens by chance. The ill-fated decision of the people to disobey God and construct a tower to glorify their own greatness had produced a myriad of nations that were dispersed across the earth. And the confusion created by their disparate languages would eventually turn into conflict.

In chapter 13, Moses recorded God’s reiteration of His promise to Abram.

“Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. – Genesis 13:14-15 ESV

And yet, here we have nine different kings vying for the right to control the land that God had given to Abram and his descendants. Ever since the gates to Eden had been slammed shut, mankind had been busy trying to grab up the remaining territory. Rather than steward that which belonged to God, they had been attempting to claim it as their own. Instead of acknowledging God as King, they had chosen to set up their own petty kingdoms here on earth. And here in this story, nine of these would-be gods were facing off in a battle of will and weapons, all in an effort to control what really belonged to God.

This coalition of four Mesopotamian kings slowly made their way south, defeating various clans, tribes, and nations along the way. They were successfully demonstrating their superior strength and telegraphing to the five kings of southern Canaan that their prospects for victory were dim. But refusing to consider surrender, the five kings joined forces and faced their enemy in the Valley of Siddim. Things did not go well. The tar pits that covered the valley floor proved to be their undoing. Many of the soldiers became mired in the sticky muck and were captured. As a result, the five kings were unable to put up a fight and their forces were easily defeated. And Moses provides a summary of this demoralizing debacle.

So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way. – Genesis 14:11-12 ESV

What makes this rather brief recap of the battle stand out is its focus on Sodom and Gomorrah, and its mention of Lot, the nephew of Abram. If you recall, chapter 13 chronicled Lot’s decision to choose the well-watered lands near Zoar as the place to pasture his flocks. But he actually “settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom” (Genesis 13:12 ESV). This nephew of Abram made a determined choice to seek refuge among “the men of Sodom,” who “were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13 ESV).

Somewhere along the way, Lot had given up his tent and sought shelter within the walls of Sodom. Moses makes it clear that he “was dwelling in Sodom” (Genesis 14:12 ESV). And that decision would prove to be far from wise. When the four Mesopotamian kings looted Sodom, Lot was taken captive along with all his possessions. He was enslaved.

But news of his capture eventually reached the ears of his uncle. Abram was about to discover that his separation from Lot had been anything but permanent. And his decision to give Lot his choice of the land as his own had probably been a mistake. Now, Abram had a decision to make. Would he intervene and rescue Lot from his predicament or allow him to suffer the consequences? Moses records that Abram spent no time deliberating over his decision.

When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. – Genesis 14:14 ESV

One can debate the wisdom of Abram’s decision, but there is an overwhelming sense of God’s sovereignty woven throughout this entire event. The actions of the five kings, while autonomous and self-determined, are actually the byproducts of God’s providential will. Nothing happens outside His control or in opposition to His predetermined plan. These events came as no surprise to God. They were simply part of the sovereign strategy He was orchestrating so that His will might be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). What He had preordained was coming to fruition, just as He had planned.

Abram and his 318-man army went to battle against the coalition of kings and their superior forces, and he won. That outcome would have come as no surprise to Moses’ readership. They knew that, for them to exist as a people, Abram had to have won. His victory was assured because God had promised to make of him a great nation. And nothing was going to stand in the way of that promise being fulfilled. Whether the number of enemy kings was four or forty, it didn’t matter. Regardless of the size of the foe, God could give victory.

This story should bring to mind another battle fought by a servant of God against superior forces. Years later, Gideon, one of the judges of Israel, would find himself going up against the Midianites. He was outnumbered and outgunned. But much to Gideon’s surprise, God informed him that he had too many soldiers. In a series of bizarre events, God whittled down Gideon’s force until he only had 300 men left. And with that diminutive army, Gideon defeated the Midianites.

And, in a similar fashion, Abram defeated the five kings of Mesopotamia. His “surprising” victory allowed him to rescue Lot and bring back all the possessions that had been stolen. Lot had been redeemed by Abram. He didn’t deserve it and he hadn’t earned it. Abram simply extended unmerited mercy and grace to his young nephew. And this story provides a foreshadowing of another undeserved rescue that will take place in the lives of Abram’s descendants after another army from the north will invade Canaan and take God’s people captive. God will graciously and dramatically rescue them, returning them to the land and fulfilling the promise He had made to Abram.

This event is simply one of many illustrations of God’s goodness, grace, and sovereignty as displayed in the life of Abram. And there are many more to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Flawed Hope of Self-Salvation

11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.

17 But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.  Genesis 12:11-20 ESV

Due to a severe famine in the land of Canaan, Abram was forced to seek refuge in Egypt. But upon his arrival, Abram immediately began to second guess the wisdom of his decision. He was far from home and way out of his comfort zone. Find himself in unfamiliar surroundings yet again. Abram quickly recognized that his new neighbors looked and sounded nothing like him. And his reaction to these uncomfortable circumstances reveals a great deal about Abram’s current mindset.

Even before arriving in the land, Abram began to develop a plan for dealing with what he believed would be a far-from-friendly welcome. Just as he was about to cross the border into Egypt, he came up with a strategy for dealing with what he expected would be a culture of questionable morals.

he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live.” – Genesis 12:11-12 ESV

Abram feared that his wife’s stunning beauty would make her an object of desire to the Egyptians. And he feared that once they discovered that Sarai was his wife, one of them would simply kill him so he could have her as his own. In ancient cultures, women were often seen as little more than the personal property of their husbands. It was usually considered illegal to take a man’s wife. But if the husband were to die “unexpectedly,” then she would become available for purchase.

So, fearing the worst, Abram orders Sarai to tell anyone who asks that she is his sister.

“Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” – Genesis 12:13 ESV

Notice Abram’s self-obsessed outlook. He can’t stop talking about the need to protect his personal well-being. He wanted things to “go well” for him, but he shows little concern for how his little ruse might impact the life of Sarai. And as soon as they crossed the border into Egypt, Abram’s worst fears were realized.

When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. – Genesis 12:14-15 ESV

Now, to be fair, when Abram commanded Sarai to say that she was his sister, it was technically true. According to Genesis 20:12, Sarai was Abram’s half-sister because they shared the same father but different mothers. And Abram would use this convenient half-truth as a clever means of self-protection when dealing with those of less scrupulous character. But little did Abram know that his plan would backfire in such a dramatic fashion. Pharaoh himself developed an eye for the lively Sarai and had her taken into his house. And, strangely enough, Abram actually benefited from his self-centered strategy.

And for her sake he [Pharaoh] dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. – Genesis 12:16 ESV

Believing Abram to be Sarai’s older brother and official guardian, Pharaoh offered Abram what was essentially a bride price for having taken Sarai into his harem. She became Pharoah’s property and Abram was reward for it. All along, it had been Abram’s hope that things would “go well” for him, and now it had. He had benefited greatly from Sarai’s compromising situation.

But, as has been the case all along in the book of Genesis, God was operating in the background, unseen by Abram, Sarai, or Pharaoh. But it wasn’t long before He made His presence known.

…the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. – Genesis 12:17 ESV

This leader of the nation of Egypt had used his great power and wealth to purchase another trophy for his harem. And Abram had experienced a sizeable boost to his financial net-worth. But both of these men were in for a shock. Pharaoh suddenly found  his royal house facing a series of devastating plagues. Unknowingly, he had taken the bride of Abram and enslaved her as one of his servants. She had gone from being the wife of Abram to just one of the many concubines in Pharaoh’s royal harem.

Once again, the original Jewish audience to whom Moses wrote this book would have sat up and taken notice upon hearing this story from the lives of Abram and Sarai. They would have immediately seen the parallels between the enslavement of Sarai and that of their ancestors. Years later, 70 descendants of Abram would seek refuge in the land of Egypt, attempting to escape a famine in the land. They would enter Egypt as the “bride” of Yahweh. But in time, they would become the personal slaves of Pharaoh. And God would bring upon Pharaoh and his royal house a series of ten plagues, each designed to force the release of His people. The prophet Isaiah would later remind the nation of Israel of their unique status as God’s bride.

For your Maker is your husband,
    the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
    the God of the whole earth he is called. – Isaiah 54:5 ESV

So, there are tremendous similarities between the story found in Genesis 12 and that of the Israelites recorded in the book of Exodus. Unlike his successor, the Pharaoh in Abram’s day proved to be teachable and ready to rectify the grave mistake he has made.

So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” – Genesis 12:18-19 ESV

Pharaoh, suffering under the judgment of God, was ready to repent and make restitution. Rather than punishing Abram for his deceitfulness and the pain he had brought upon the royal house, Pharaoh released Sarai, and sent Abram on his way with his wife restored and his newly acquired wealth intact.

You would think that Abram learned a valuable lesson from this potentially devastating encounter with Pharaoh. But, amazingly, he would live to lie another day. Just a few chapters later, Moses records yet another incident where Abram pulled this highly flawed strategy out of his bag of tricks. Despite its highly questionable efficacy, Abram would utilize this same plan  years later when dealing with Abimelech, the king of Gerar. He seems to have learned nothing from his former attempt at self-preservation.

And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. – Genesis 20:2 ESV

As before, God intervened and delivered a terrifying message to Abimelech in a dream.

“Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” – Genesis 20:3 ESV

Fearful for his life, Abimelech declared his innocence to God and was told to return Sarai to Abraham. Essentially, God told the petrified king, “No harm done.” He had sovereignly protected Abimelech from doing anything to Sarai. But when the king confronted Abram and demanded to know why he had done such a thing, Abram was quick to justify his actions and explain his warped rationale.

“Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife. And when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, I said to her, ‘This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, “He is my brother.”’” – Genesis 20:12-13 ESV

And like the earlier story, Abram walks away blessed rather than chastened by God.

Then Abimelech took sheep and oxen, and male servants and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and returned Sarah his wife to him.  And Abimelech said, “Behold, my land is before you; dwell where it pleases you. – Genesis 20:14-15 ESV

God was not rewarding Abram for his deception and dishonesty. Nor was He condoning Abram’s methods. He was simply fulfilling the promise He had made to bless Abram (Genesis 12:2). And he was slowly teaching His stubborn servant a much-needed lesson about divine sovereignty and providential care. Even Abram’s ill-fated attempts to act as his own god could not jeopardize God’s plans or prevent God’s promise from being fulfilled. This was so much bigger than Abram. He was simply a conduit through whom God would bring a blessing to all the nations of the earth. And God was not going to allow Abram to derail the divine plan for mankind’s redemption.

Mankind’s constant attempts at self-salvation will always fall short. But God’s promise of future blessing will never fail to come to fruition.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Legacy of Autonomy

18 The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed.

20 Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. 21 He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. 23 Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. 24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,

“Cursed be Canaan;
    a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”

26 He also said,

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem;
    and let Canaan be his servant.
27 May God enlarge Japheth,
    and let him dwell in the tents of Shem,
    and let Canaan be his servant.”

28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29 All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died. Genesis 9:18-29 ESV

God has pronounced His blessing upon Noah and his family. He has issued His mandate to multiply and fill the earth. And He has communicated His covenant commitment to never use a worldwide flood to destroy mankind again.

At this point, Noah’s three sons “went forth from the ark” (Genesis 9:18 ESV). They left the safety of the ark behind because they had a new assignment. No longer were they to seek refuge in the massive boat they had helped their father build. The floodwaters had receded and the threat of death had passed. Now, they were to obey the Lord’s command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28).

There is a hint of irony in the statement that these three young men “went forth,” because it doesn’t appear that they went very far. Even their father appears to have stayed within close proximity of the ark’s final resting place. But Moses relates that from the three sons of Noah, “the people of the whole earth were dispersed” (Genesis 9:19 ESV). The Hebrew word translated as “dispersed” is נָפַץ (nāp̄aṣ) and it was used to refer to something that smashed and its pieces abruptly scattered. It conveys the idea that these “people” did not disperse willingly but were forced to do so by God. God had commanded Noah and his sons to “fill the earth.” And yet, we read that Noah “began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard” (Genesis 9:20 ESV).

Why did Moses feel this detail was pertinent to the story? Of course, it becomes painfully clear that the fruit of Noah’s vineyard eventually produced the wine with which he became drunk. But there seems to be more to the story than that. Noah made an executive decision and chose to settle down and become a farmer. There is nothing inherently wrong with his career choice, but nowhere in the passage does Noah receive a directive from God to become a farmer. This appears to be an autonomous decision on Noah’s part. Perhaps he wanted to ensure that he and his family would have enough food to eat. One of the consequences of the flood was that all vegetation had been destroyed. So, it made sense that Noah would see farming as a viable and logical pursuit in the denuded post-flood landscape. But Moses’ choice of words is significant. He states that Noah “began to be a man of the soil.” The Hebrew word for “soil” is אֲדָמָה (‘ăḏāmâ), the very same word used for the “ground” from which God had formed Adam. And it’s important to note that, when God cursed Adam, He stated:

“…cursed is the ground (‘ăḏāmâ) because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground (‘ăḏāmâ),
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.” – Genesis 2:17-19 ESV

In his decision to become a farmer, Noah had chosen to embrace the curse. He had returned to the ground from which Adam had been formed. In a sense, he had returned to his roots. But that ground had been cursed by God. It would produce fruit, but only through hard work and accompanied by thorns and thistles. Noah had chosen the difficult path. He had decided to feed his family by working the cursed ground rather than enjoying the “clean” animals that God had graciously provided.

It’s important to recall what God told Noah immediately after releasing him from the ark.

“Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” – Genesis 9:3 ESV

God had expanded man’s diet by providing the “clean” creatures as a food source. Noah had been instructed by God to place seven pairs of these animals on the ark and, now, in the post-flood world, they would have needed Noah’s care and protection. So, it would have made more sense for Noah to become a keeper of flocks and herds. And it shouldn’t be overlooked that Noah chose the career path of Cain. Chapter four revealed that “Cain was a worker of the ground” (Genesis 4:2 ESV), while his brother Abel “was a keeper of sheep.” 

Again, there is nothing about sheepherding that makes it more righteous than farming. The question is whether Noah was following the will of God in his choice of profession. And the context tends to indicate that Noah’s decision was not according to God’s will because it produced bad “fruit” that would have long-term implications for mankind.

Noah planted a vineyard and then waited for his first harvest. This process would have taken time, and while Noah waited for the vines to grow and the eventual grapes to ripen, he was failing to fulfill God’s mandate to “fill the earth.” And rather than disperse, Noah’s sons stayed right by his side. They created a little commune in which to live. There is mention of Noah’s grapes, but no word regarding Noah’s grandchildren.

And in time, Noah harvested the fruit of his labors. He turned his first season of ripened grapes into wine, and then drank himself drunk.

He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. – Genesis 9:21 ESV

Over the centuries, there has been a lot of speculation as to what this verse actually means. What exactly happened that fateful day? Moses simply states that, in his drunken stupor, Noah left himself uncovered in his tent, and his son, Ham, saw him in this compromised state. There are those who suggest that Ham committed an immoral act with his father. They make this determination based on the phrase, “Ham…saw the nakedness of his father” (Genesis 9:22 ESV). There were occasions when those words were used to refer to immoral acts. But there is nothing in the context of Genesis 9 to suggest that Ham committed a homosexual act with his father. There is also nothing that would support another purely speculative conclusion that Ham committed incest with his mother. The most logical explanation for what happened is that Ham, a grown man who would have been 100-years-old at the time, walked into his father’s tent and saw him lying drunk and naked. But rather than show his father respect by covering his nakedness, Ham decided to have fun at his father’s expense.

“Literally, the ancient Hebrew says that Ham “told with delight” what he saw in his father’s tent. He determined to mock his father and underminine his authority as a man of God. ” – Guzik, David. “Study Guide for Genesis 9.” Blue Letter Bible. 21 Feb, 2017. Web. 3 Jan, 2022. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide2017-Gen/Gen-9.cfm&gt;

Ham shamed his father. He maliciously maligned the patriarch of the family in front of his two brothers. And these two sons, rather than joining Ham in his ridicule of their father, choose to salvage their father’s dignity by covering his sin.

Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. – Genesis 9:23 ESV

Notice the emphasis on their refusal to see their father’s nakedness. This seems to eliminate any thought that this phrase carries hidden meaning. They simply chose to respect their father’s privacy and maintain his dignity, while he was in a compromised state. And when Noah eventually sobered up, he discovered Ham had done and was incensed. Moses states that Noah “learned what Ham, his youngest son, had done” (Genesis 9:24 ESV) and immediately leveled a curse against Ham’s son.

“Cursed be Canaan;
    a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” – Genesis 9:25 ESV

As retribution against Ham, Noah pronounced a curse upon his own grandson. This action by Noah does not suggest that God was punishing Canaan for his father’s sin. Noah was unwittingly declaring a prophetic declaration that the sin of Ham would be passed down to his future generations. Ham’s propensity for wickedness would be inherited by his progeny.

For Moses’ original audience, the mention of Canaan would have been a sobering reminder of the Canaanites who had occupied the land of promise. These people were particularly wicked and immoral, and they proved to be a constant source of temptation and trials for the Israelites as they attempted to occupy the land given to them by God. The descendants of Ham would be cursed to live in constant opposition to the descendants of Shem and Japheth. And Noah prophesied about this ongoing state of internecine conflict.

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem;
    and let Canaan be his servant.
May God enlarge Japheth,
    and let him dwell in the tents of Shem,
    and let Canaan be his servant.” – Genesis 9:26-27 ESV

But all of this could have easily been prevented. Had Noah not made the fateful decision to settle down and plant a vineyard, no grapes would have grown, no wine would have been made, and no drunkenness would have taken place. Had Noah followed the path of Abel and become “a keeper of sheep” (Genesis 4:2 ESV), none of this would have happened. But even in Noah, the man who walked with God, we see a post-fall propensity for doing things his own way. He had spent years faithfully constructing an ark and now he was ready to settle down and enjoy the “fruits” of his labors. But the flood had not cleansed the curse God had placed on the ground. This new Adam (āḏām) would find the soil (‘ăḏāmâ) just as difficult to cultivate as the first Adam. And the fruit it produced would be accompanied by difficulties and heartache.

From this point forward, the Genesis account will display mankind’s consistent trajectory away from God. The temptation to “be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 ESV), will grow stronger with each passing generation. And even the righteous and blameless Noah proved to be a man who struggled with a desire to live life on his own terms. After the flood, Noah would live an additional 350 years and then die. He would experience the very fate that God had prescribed for Adam and his descendants.

“By the sweat of your brow
    will you have food to eat
until you return to the ground
    from which you were made.
For you were made from dust,
    and to dust you will return.” – Genesis 3:19 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Just and the Justifier

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” Genesis 9:8-17 ESV

God had just destroyed the majority of the human population because “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 4:5 ESV). Yet, because “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 4:8 ESV), he and his family were spared. And after delivering Noah from the floodwaters of judgment, God had “blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’” (Genesis 9:1 ESV).

God was beginning again. He had preserved a remnant of His original creation in the form of a single human family and an assortment of living creatures, all of whom He had protected on the ark. Now, it was time to restart the process of repopulating the planet. So, God reiterated His kingdom mandate a second time.

“And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.” – Genesis 9:7 ESV

Noah, “a righteous man, blameless in his generation,” who “walked with God” (Genesis 6:9 ESV), was given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become the new father of the human race. This descendant of Adam was charged with the responsibility of procreating and repopulating the earth with more of his kind. And because Noah had proven himself faithful to God by doing everything he had been commanded to do, the future for humanity seemed bright. Surely this man would fare better than his ancestor. But as “righteous” and “blameless” as Noah may have been, he was far from perfect. As a descendant of Adam, Noah had inherited the same sinful disposition. He was faithful but still fallen.

In the Adamic genealogy recorded in chapter five, it opens with the words:

This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. – Genesis 5:1-2 ESV

“Adam”(אָדָםāḏām) had been the name God gave to all mankind, and all mankind had been created in God’s likeness. When He had formed the first man and woman, they bore His image. They were intended to reflect His glory and to spread His image all across the planet by creating more of their own kind. More image-bearers. But Adam and Eve were not content to be mirrors reflecting God’s glory. Instead, they succumbed to the temptation of Satan and the desires of their own hearts. Rather than obey God, they chose to rob Him of glory by declaring themselves to be gods, with the sovereignty to decide for themselves what was right and wrong.

Adam and Eve dishonored God by disobeying Him. They rebelled against His divine authority and attempted to preempt His sovereign power with their own. And the apostle would later describe the nature of their crime.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:21-23 ESV

And Paul goes on to sum up the sin of Adam and Eve in far-from-flattering terms.

they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator… – Romans 1:25 ESV

This predisposition for self-worship was passed on to the next generation. Their son, Cain chose to play god and took the life of his brother, Abel. And the genealogy recorded in Genesis chapter five reveals that Adam and Eve attempted to fill the void left by their murdered son.

When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. – Genesis 5:3 ESV

But something has changed. It’s subtle but highly significant. More than a century after God had created Adam to bear His image, Adam fathered a son in his own likeness. Seth proved to be the spitting image of his father, Adam. He was born under the curse and, as a result, inherited his father’s sinful disposition. Adam’s “one trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Romans 5:18 ESV), including his own progeny.

All those who descended from Adam were guilty of exchanging “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man…” (Romans 5:23 ESV). And that list included Noah and his sons. They had been delivered by God but still remained damaged goods. And God was well aware that the future of mankind was far from bright. He knew exactly what was going to happen. This is why He declared His covenant commitment to Noah and his sons.

“Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” – Genesis 9:9-11 ESV

Inherent in this promise is God’s understanding of mankind’s condition. He knew that humanity would continue to rebel against Him. It was only a matter of time before the wickedness of man spread through the earth like an infectious disease. Noah and his sons would soon father children, made in their own likeness. And the pre-flood moral conditions would be replicated all over again. But God made a covenant commitment to not repeat the judgment of the flood.

God is not suggesting that mankind will never again deserve His judgment. He is simply giving His commitment that He will never again punish mankind’s inevitable wickedness through a cataclysmic, worldwide flood. And what sets this covenant apart is that it is universal in scope and unconditional in nature. It applies to all humanity, and not just Noah and his sons. And it comes with no conditions or requirements on man’s part.

This covenant is based on the faithfulness of God. He knew all along that Noah and his descendants would fail to live up to their calling as His vice-regents. He had given them authority to rule over His creation as His stewards. But like Adam, they would prove to be less-than-faithful in their oversight of God’s kingdom. Inevitably, the descendants of Noah would repeat the sins of their ancestors. It was only a matter of time before God looked down and saw “that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5 ESV). And while humanity would deserve God’s righteous judgment, He would refrain from destroying them.

And as a symbol of His covenant commitment, God provided Noah with a sign. He established the rainbow as a reminder of His glory and goodness. When the storm clouds of God’s judgment appeared in the sky, the rainbow would form, providing a powerful sign of God’s covenant commitment. Man would continue to sin, but God would refrain from meting out the full measure of His righteous indignation against them. Why? Because He had a plan in place that would one day resolve the problem of mankind’s obsession with sin and the divine requirement to deliver justice. Once again, the apostle Paul provides insight into this divine strategy for mitigating the problem of sin and the need for judgment.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. – Romans 3:23-26 NLT

According to His covenant with Noah, God would hold back and not pour out His judgment on sinful humanity. It would be well-deserved but God was willing to delay it until He could send His Son as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In sending Jesus, God would prove Himself “just and the justifier” (Romans 3:26 ESV). Through the sacrifice of His Son’s innocent life, God would satisfy His righteous judgment against sin and provide a way for sinful men to be made right with Him.

He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

The sins of mankind would continue, and God’s obligation to judge sin would remain. But He was willing to delay that judgment until such a time that He could pour it out on His Son. Adam’s sin left humanity under the curse of God’s wrath. But God had a plan in place that would fully satisfy His need for justice and His desire to justify.

For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. – Romans 5:16-17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.