“God’s anonymous: Lot’s wife”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
You’ve heard of Harry S. Truman? Of course, you have! He was the thirty-third president of our United States, followed immediately by our thirty-fourth president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Not only did he help to rebuild western Europe at the end of World War II, he stood up to Russia in the midst of the Cold War.
That’s Harry S. Truman. You’ve heard of him. But it’s likely that you’ve never heard of Harry R. Truman.
So who was he? Born in West Virginia back in 1896, Harry R. Truman, drawn by the promise of cheap land, moved to the state of Washington to log, hunt and farm. A few years later, at the age of thirty, he built a log cabin grocery store with a gas station and a small boat rental. Then when even that wasn’t quite enough for him, he built a lodge on the shores of Spirit Lake and a string of cabins, with a hundred boats to rent. In the summer, it was one of the most popular places around. Even Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas said it was one of his favorite places to stay.
But in March of 1980, that’s when something strange began to happen. Though the mountain, Mt. St. Helens, had been dormant for more than a hundred years, an occasional quake began to shake the ground.
Did Harry care? Not in the least bit. In fact, he said, and I quote, “If the mountain goes, I’m going with it.” And he said, “This area is heavily timbered, Spirit Lake is between me and the mountain, and the mountain is a mile away. The mountain ain’t gonna hurt me.”
Unfortunately, most everyone else, (including geologists, seismologists, and local law enforcement), begged to differ. Children from Salem, Oregon sent him a banner that read, “Harry--We Love You.” Fifth graders from Grand Blanc, Michigan wrote letters that moved him to tears. Singers even recorded songs for an album called, Your Spirit Lives On. But no matter what anyone said or did, Harry would not leave his mountain.
Then came that fateful day in May of 1980. For in the very moment that Mt. St. Helens blew, Harry, (not to mention his sixteen cats), was never seen nor heard from again.
If only he would have listened. If only he had known.
So it was for one of “God’s anonymous,” a woman we call Lot’s wife.
Listen to the words of Genesis chapter 19: “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.’ 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” (Genesis 19:15-16).
So what’s going on? If you know the story, and I hope you do, two cities--Sodom and Gomorrah--had become so corrupt, so wicked, that God had no choice but to intervene. That’s what He said in chapter 18: “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to their outcry that has come to Me. And if not, I will know” (Genesis 18:21).
So how bad was it? Let’s just say that all those who lived there and worked there had become as bad as bad could be.
But as it always goes, along with sin came judgment. As the angels said in chapter 19: “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” (Genesis 19:13).
But wonder of wonders, along with judgment came grace. So the angels also said, “Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city” (Genesis 19:15). And they said, “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).
And just as soon as they were far enough away, the Bible says “the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from heaven. And He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground” (Genesis 19:24-25).
But as all that fire and brimstone rained down from the sky, what happened? Verse 26: “But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.”
“Lot’s wife,” it said. So who was she and what can we learn from her?
Now we don’t know exactly who she was. The Bible doesn’t even give us her name. But even though we know so little, there are some things we can guess.
For example, we can guess that Lot and his wife had been together for some time. After all, by this time, their union had been blessed with the gifts of not one, but two daughters, who were now old enough to marry (Genesis 19:14).
And since Lot and his wife had been together for all that time, it’s likely that she had once lived in the tents of her husband’s uncle, Abraham. And that means that when Abraham heard and believed God's promises, Lot’s wife was there. When he welcomed the births of Isaac and Ishmael, she was there. And when her husband was captured and taken prisoner, and Abraham sent men to rescue him, she was there. But just as soon as they had the chance, she moved, with her husband, to Sodom.
And in Sodom, even though there were no Bibles or churches or pastors or teachers, and though most everyone lived in superstition and immorality, her husband, (for all his faults and failures), was a righteous man. And though there were so few who had any relationship with or knowledge of the living God, with Abraham as her uncle and Lot as her husband, she was truly one of the most fortunate women of all.
But somewhere, sometime, something changed. She not only grew accustomed to the city of Sodom, she began to love the people of Sodom. She became a part of them, and they became a part of her. And though she was surrounded by such wickedness and corruption, she hardly even seemed to notice anymore.
But as author W. H. Griffith Thomas writes, “A ship in the water is perfectly right, but water in the ship is perfectly wrong. And the Christian in the world is right and necessary, but the world in the Christian is wrong and disastrous.”
So it goes for us. For if we’ve reduced Christianity to little more than a spiritual crutch to help us get through life, and if our dreams and goals are no different from anyone around us, then the world has become us and we have become the world. And we’re not in the least bit better than Lot’s wife.
To put it another way, imagine that you’re moving away from a city with the slim chance you’ll ever go back. Though it never really was perfect, your house had become your home. The people who lived nearby were your friends and neighbors. But after you load up your vehicle with the last of everything, you turn out of the driveway and make your way down the street. Memories flood in and a deep sadness overwhelms you. And the whole time, you can’t keep your eyes off of the rearview mirror. It’s hard to leave and to let go.
Now compare that to leaving a place that was painful. Your landlord made your life miserable, rats were on your doorstep, and your children were always in trouble with the neighbors. And when you load up and turn out of the driveway, you don’t even bother to glance in the rearview mirror. Instead of sadness, you have an intense feeling of relief.
And when it comes to our walk with God, we often face the danger of mixing these two up--love for God and love for the world. But as the apostle John once wrote in his first epistle: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him...But he who does the will of God abides forever” (I John 2:15, 17). And as Paul once wrote to Timothy: “They will act religious, but they’ll reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that” (II Timothy 3:5).
And therein lies the tragedy of Lot’s wife, for when she should have loved God, she loved the world instead.
Then what? In spite of all of God’s watches and warnings, in spite of angels pulling her, pushing her, and even taking her by the hand, she did the unthinkable, the impermissible. She looked back--not so much just a passing glance, but a defiant looking, a longing for the home and the people she loved. And instead of reflecting on the power and the grace and the mercy of God, she sought to remember all of the people and the places she’d loved and left behind.
And in that heart-breaking moment, what happened? It’s really one of the saddest verses in all of the Bible, a one-line biography, one verse that says it all. Verse 26: “But Lot’s wife...looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.”
And in that moment, the very last thing she saw was a swirling inferno of ash and sand and smoke.
For the past eight years, a woman named Kim McClain has served as a research scientist for the Institute for Meteorological Studies. It’s a group that looks at weather and the impact it has on nations and society. And in her tenure, she’s traveled to hard-hit cities and villages, trying to understand why so many people are killed in spite of the fact that the storms were survivable, if only they had gotten to the right shelter.
She said, “We give people days of alert that their general region may be threatened. But they know that even if a region in general is at risk, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’ll be a tornado that hits their house. So people wait until things get close. Then all they can really do is to shelter in place.” And she said, “And they do this on a continuous basis. They’ll be watching, and maybe they’ll go get their children. But they won’t necessarily take shelter until it’s too late.”
There’s a storm coming, the likes of which this world has never seen, nor will ever see again. As Jesus said in the book of Luke: “For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Luke 17:24). And He said: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man” (Luke 17:26).
And as He warned us to watch and to wait, He spoke one of the shortest verses in all of the Bible--verse 32: “Remember Lot’s wife.”
You want to look somewhere? Don’t look to this world and all that it has to offer. Instead, as the writer to the Hebrews once said: “Look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
You are not only a God of justice, dear Father, You are a God of grace and mercy. Keep us ever watchful for Your coming and protect us in the shelter of Your hand, for Jesus’ sake. Amen