If you took a survey of what people think God is like, there would be a variety of answers. Some people think He is like Santa Claus or a benign grandfather who gives you whatever you want. Others think He is like a stern judge whose goal is to ruin everyone’s fun now and forever.
With that in mind I wish you to join me at Genesis 19:20-21.
In the previous chapter Abraham had a visit from two angels and the LORD. They brought an announcement that God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah and everyone else in the valley where those cities were. That chapter contains the famous negotiation Abraham held with God: if there would be fifty righteous men in Sodom the judgment would be avoided all the way to if there would be ten righteous it would be avoided, and apparently this rescue would have included the entire valley. (Alas, there were not even ten!)
Then in chapter nineteen the angels visited Lot, a resident of Sodom, who needed to flee. He didn’t want to flee, but in the end he did with his wife and two daughters. The sons-in-law did not flee and were destroyed in the fire and brimstone. Lot’s famous wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.
Lot really did not want to leave the area. He did eventually, but that’s another story. The indication had been that God would destroy everyone in that valley with the exception of Lot and his family who were helped to flee. Lot was an exception in that society since he was a righteous man. But just after they had passed through the city gates to the outside of Sodom, Lot had a request. He seemed to think that a city was advantageous over being in the wild, so he spoke in Genesis 19:20, and an angel answered in 19:21:
“Look, this town is close enough for me to run to. It is a small place. Please let me go there—it’s only a small place, isn’t it?—so that I can survive.” And he [the angel] said to him, “All right, I’ll grant your request about this matter too and will not demolish the town you mentioned.” (Holman Christian Study Bible)
In a sense Lot’s request was two-fold. First, he was asking that a city be spared which had originally been slated for destruction. Second, he was asking that he might find refuge in that small city instead of fleeing outside that large valley. We might wonder how he even had the courage to make such a request at this point.
He made his request seem small by emphasizing the insignificance of Zoar, the city in his request. Surely it wouldn’t matter much if God spared Zoar and allowed Lot to go there!
The angel, speaking for God, allowed him to flee to that small city. We are not given the explanation, but apparently that place was not as attractive as it had seemed a bit earlier, or maybe the valley just seemed too dangerous, for Lot soon took his daughters into the mountains and became a caveman! (But, again, that is the other story of which I wrote earlier.)
So what are we to make of God in this episode? God did judge. It would be impossible to be holy and not judge. And God certainly is holy. Jude, that last little book before Revelation, noted what Sodom’s sin was in 1:7: “In the same way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them committed sexual immorality and practiced perversions, ...and serve as an example by undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” God did judge, and God will judge as that foreshadow promises.
But God was kind to Lot. He would not let Lot perish in that destruction. The angels informed Lot and even had to help his family escape. Then Lot made his request. It seems like his request didn’t offer any benefit to God, and yet God granted it. He was merciful to Lot by not making the situation worse than it had to be.
When we look elsewhere in the Bible we discover that God is always eager to rescue those who would be rescued. He goes the extra mile in being merciful. Note 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord ... is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.” That was true in the case of Lot, and it is still true.
Arlie Rauch has retired from forty-one years as a pastor, has been touring on two wheels the scenic roads of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.