Christ tells us, in the context of these last days, to remember Lot’s wife. (Lk 17:32) In obeying our Lord, we do well to familiarize ourselves with His account of her life and death, and to ponder her behavior, as recorded in Genesis 19.
We note several key details which help us comprehend the full context:
- Lot has two unmarried daughters (8a) and at least two married daughters with families of their own. (14a)
- Lot is unable to convince any of his extended family to leave Sodom with him. (14b)
- The angels command Lot to depart in haste, to abandon his married daughters and their families, leaving them behind in Sodom to die at God’s hand, and he does not obey. (15-16a)
- The angels take Lot, his wife and both unmarried daughters forcibly by the hand and physically bring them all out of Sodom. (16b)
- God tells Lot again to leave immediately, and to not look back as he goes. (17)
- God informs Lot He will be unable to destroy Sodom until Lot has reached his destination. (22a)
- As Lot, his wife and two daughters enter Zoar, God rains down fire and brimstone on Sodom. (23-24)
- At this point, Lot’s wife looks back from behind Lot and becomes a pillar of salt. (26)
Lot’s wife disobeys a very clear, direct command of God, to not look back toward Sodom as they journey to Zoar, and God kills her in the act, freezing her in time, preserving her as an example for others to observe and contemplate. God is sufficiently displeased with her to make an example of her for all of us and He tells us to remember her. He does so uniquely: there is no comparable command in all of Scripture.
Clearly, we don’t know for sure exactly how this plays out, what all transpires that fateful day, and this ambiguity is evidently intentional. It beckons us to ponder plausible motivations and scenarios in light of the typical human condition, what we ourselves might indeed feel being in her shoes. God is evidently calling us to do so, that we may infer some valuable insights and learn from her example. (Ro 15:4)
It is reasonable to see Lot’s wife loving her family, her married daughters and their families, lingering in the morning twilight (16), reluctant to leave the rest of the family behind to die, though commanded to depart immediately. (15) Yet, as God mercifully warns them both, they take advantage, presuming on the patience of God, evidently loving family more than God, choosing to disobey.
But this initial disobedience does not move God to kill either one of them; we often work patterns of disobedience into ourselves over time, to the point we lose control over ourselves under duress even if we want to do right (Ro 7:21-23); these forces tend to incapacitate us in trials (2Ti 2:26), and God often shows us incredible mercy in spite of what we have done to ourselves. (Ps 103:11)
And as Lot does depart in obedience to God, since God has clearly stated He cannot do anything until Lot makes it to Zoar (22a), is it unreasonable to think Lot’s wife gives herself to deterring Lot in his journey in every way she possibly can? The only plausible way for Lot’s wife to save her children at this point is to prevent Lot from obeying. Does she give herself to this with all her wit, cunning and manipulation? with all the power of her carnal mind? As people devote themselves to disobeying God in a particular manner, they often do so with intensity (Ec 8:11), and we will often do absolutely anything to save our children from harm.
And as she journeys farther and farther away from her loved ones, does the thought that God will be destroying entire communities, including infants and little children, trouble Lot’s wife? Does she ponder the fact that her own sons-in-law weren’t among the wanton offenders at her door? that they weren’t blinded by the angels, that they were all minding their own business, asleep in their own homes? Does she resent that God is bent on destroying them all for the sins of a few? Does she posture herself against God in His desire to purge the entire region? Does she define moral law in terms of human comforts and benefit? Does she commit herself to defying God because she finds His genocidal tendencies unjust and cruel? Does this blind her to the holiness of God? to the harm our sin does to Him? Worldliness has an insidious way of creeping in, rewriting moral law, vexing our souls (2Pe 2:7-8), choking out the Word in us (Mt 13:22); once we lose the fear of God, we tend to turn on Him as His judge.
Finally, as the family enters Zoar, there is one last obvious move Lot’s wife might make in resisting God’s way, to defy Him in His destructive agenda: it is to disobey God’s command to not look back as she goes. This is not a command of the heart, but of the body, a physical command she can easily choose to obey, regardless what she is feeling inside.
This particular command is also a uniquely relational one between her and God alone: Lot cannot keep her from looking back, and since she is trailing behind him as they journey (26) he cannot even observe her if she does turn back — he will not even know.
Since the command does not appear to be relational on the human level, in that looking back will evidently harm no one, it may seem senseless and cruel as she contemplates it, that God requires this, forbidding them all from cherishing their family and friends one last time, turning back to honor their life and family back in Sodom. Looking back won’t save them, but it is a protest, dishonoring God and His sense of justice as He carries it out.
She evidently resists this temptation for a good while, possibly distracted by attempts to rescue her family while there is still hope … until the fire of God actually begins to fall. At this point, she is overcome by temptation and violates God’s plain command, turning herself back to look at what He has expressly forbidden.
Is it love and loyalty to her family and friends? (Mt 10:37) Is it love for the comforts and pleasures of this world? (1Jn 2:15-17) Is it open defiance? or merely negligence, a lack of concern and attention to what God has commanded? (Ps 119:4) Whatever her reasoning and disposition, her decision to look back costs her life. God has had enough.
What do we learn from meditating on these things? There is never a good reason to willfully disobey a clear command of God. Love of the world, love of family, fear and resentment, these are not good motives. In our selfishness we may find God’s commands arbitrary or even cruel, but God is benevolent in all His ways, and we ought not position ourselves as His judges. (Ro 3:4)
When we disobey God, we train ourselves in disobedience such that making the right choice even in very simple matters becomes more difficult. Submitting to God once we have repeatedly committed ourselves in disobedience may become impossible (Ro 8:6), so before hardening our heats it is wise to leverage God’s simple, physical commands to start training ourselves in obedience; we should obey all of them that we can.
As we take the path of obedience it becomes easier to obey the commands of the heart, to love God and our neighbor, and to love God’s Way. As we see our brothers and sisters straying from the straight and narrow, we should ask God to be merciful to them; yet there is a sin unto death, and God’s hand will not be stayed when they commit it. (1Jn 5:16)
And as we remember Lot’s wife and learn from her example, let us also consider what it is like to be remembered, as she is being remembered now. What will it be like for others to ponder the path of our own feet and contemplate our choices and motives? What do our coworkers, friends and family see? Our fathers and mothers, our siblings, spouses and children, and our grandchildren? As we live, we impact others through our example and testimony. (1Ti 4:12) Are we encouraging others to pursue God and obey Him with their whole heart? (Re 14:13)
It isn’t just that key biblical characters shall be remembered, all of us shall indeed be remembered in detail, everything we have ever done or spoken (Lk 12:2-3), every idle word will be analyzed and accounted for. (Mt 12:36) What will others conclude from our patterns of behavior? What will that Day be like? Let us so live that in that Day we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him. (1Jn 2:28)