Love not the World
The story of Lot is one of the saddest in Scripture. It is also very relevant for the day in which we live, for though the truth of our heavenly calling is well known, it is to be feared that many of us are more like Lot than Abraham. ‘Worldly’ is more descriptive of us than ‘heavenly’. The word Lot means ‘covering’ and ‘under a covering’, he is always found––he is never what he appears to be. Outwardly he may be with Abraham, but he is not at heart where Abraham is. Later he may be outwardly linked with the men of Sodom, but he is not a Sodomite either. He is a saint, and therefore not a Sodomite, though in Sodom. He is a saint untrue to his saintship, and therefore Abraham’s contrast, even if he is for a time his companion. His course is, alas, always downward. First with Abraham a pilgrim, then a dweller in Sodom, and finally in a cave disgraced by his own daughters. There is no revival, no effort upward, nothing throughout but mere gravitation, dragging down into still deeper ruin the lives associated with his. His wife’s memorial is a pillar of salt; his daughters’ a more abiding and perpetual infamy, linked with his own shame forever. How terrible this record! How solemn too, when we compare the lives of Abraham and Lot to see how near two roads may be at the beginning which at the end lie far apart. May none of those who read this travel Lot’s disastrous road!
What then was the reason for these two contrasting histories? Wherein lies the reason for Lot’s failure, and, at the same time, Abraham’s spiritual prosperity? Two distinct lines of persons are presented in the book of Genesis: the line of Seth (Gen. 5), and the line of Cain (Gen. 4: 17–24). The first, the line of faith, built altars (seen in Noah and his descendants through Shem). The second, the line of unbelief, built cities––the cities that proved so fatally attractive to Lot. It is Lot’s attitude to the cities of men that reveals the cause of his downfall. Though of the line of faith himself, it is with the line of unbelief that he sees fit to affiliate himself.
The brightest individual in the line of faith was undoubtedly Abraham, and significantly he is recorded as building most of the altars in Genesis. Altars are linked with sacrifice, with giving up. You will only ever give up here if you have something you value elsewhere. Significantly too, Abraham is recorded as leaving a city. He was prepared to leave a city of man’s building because he “waited for the city which has foundations, of which God is [the] artificer and constructor” (Heb. 11: 10). Lot looked for, and found a city here.
So much for the line of faith. What of the line of unbelief, to which, sadly Lot chose to associate himself? In Gen. 4: 16 we read of Cain, the great head of this line, that he “went out from the presence of Jehovah” and in the next verse that “he built a city; and he called the name of the city after the name of his son Enoch”. Cain built his city, not in the presence of God, but when he had turned his back on God. God was not involved in its name; it was named after his son. In Gen. 10 the line of unbelief is continued in Ham and his descendants who went on to build more cities, including Nineveh (vv8–12). The lesson clearly taught is that man’s building of cities was an expression of his own greatness.
Probably the most well-known of example of building in the book of Genesis is what people call the tower of Babel. If you read the account in Gen. 11 you will see that the tower is identified with the city and not viewed as distinct from it, and further that the leading thought is the city, not the tower. What was the object in this building? Gen. 11: 4: “And they said, Come on, let us build ourselves a city and a tower, … and let us make ourselves a name …” Notice the wording ‘build ourselves … make ourselves’. Notice also the materials that the Spirit of God particularly states that they used in its construction: brick for stone and slime for mortar. Bricks are man–made; stones are not. Stones come from the quarries of the hills; bricks are manufactured from the less durable clay of the plain. One last example of the building of cities, not from Genesis, but from Exodus: “… And they built store–cities for Pharaoh, Pithom and Rameses”, (Ex. 1: 11). When the people of God became in bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt they did not build any altars but they did build cities. The lesson is that when saints become in bondage to the god of this world, then they will build for him. Sufficient has been said for you to see the typical meaning of building cities. It is man establishing himself on earth in independence of God, seeking to further his interests here and to ensure their protection. Man making a name for himself and yet really building up the kingdom of the god of this world to which he is in bondage. This is the scene then with which Lot regrettably opted to affiliate himself.
Let us review Lot’s sad course, realising that even the failures of another are written for our learning. If the Spirit of God has recorded Lot’s mistakes it is surely that we might not traverse the same road. “And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had acquired, and the souls that they had obtained in Haran, and they went out to go into the land of Canaan.” (Gen. 12: 5). The man of faith leads, but Lot merely follows Abram, as before he had followed Terah. Abram walks with God, Lot only with Abram. How easy it is for a believer to walk where another’s bolder faith leads and makes the way practicable without conscience or reality of faith as to the way itself! How many such there are, adherents of a cause for which they have no thought of being martyrs. For such, as with Lot, a time of sifting will surely come, and like dead leaves they will drop off from the stem that holds them.
The catalyst for Lot’s fall was Egypt. The attraction it had for him comes out very plainly in his assessment of the plain of Jordan. It was “like the land of Egypt”. The gangrene of worldliness was already working its insidious work in his soul. Outwardly he is still a pilgrim, yet his heart is elsewhere. It is easy to understand of course how Abram’s failure in Egypt had loosened the moral hold he had hitherto retained upon his nephew, and indeed Abram must bear some of the blame for leading Lot to where his soul was fatally tempted. Abram could resist the temptation. Lot, spiritually the weaker, could not. While in Egypt Abram did not build an altar, but recovered from there, he immediately does so (Gen. 13: 4), at the place of the altar that he had made at the first––the point of departure in the things of God always being the point of recovery. Significantly, Lot never builds an altar––his eyes are on the cities of the plain. If we leave the place where God would have us, because of the pressure of circumstances, no matter how grievous, and go down (for one always “goes down” ) to Egypt, which is the world of ease, then while we may be fully recovered, those we take with us may not. Furthermore even if I descend to Egypt only for a short while, it may give me to acquire that which will cause a division in brethren at a later date. This we find with Abram and Lot. Their possessions, increased largely in Egypt, separate them––they can no longer walk happily together. However, Abram manifests his own restoration of soul by the magnanimity of his offer. Lot, though the younger, shall choose for himself his portion, and thus he “lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of the Jordan…”, (Gen. 13: 10).
The names unmistakably reveal what is before us here. Jordan (descending) is the river of death, flowing rapidly down to the Dead Sea, the sea of judgement from which there is no outlet and no escape. There in the plain soon to be visited with fire and brimstone from the Lord, he settles down, at first still in the tent of a pilgrim (though among the cities there), but soon to exchange it for a more fixed abode in Sodom. Tent–dwelling was only an aberration in the life of Lot. He had left Ur of the Chaldees on the faith of another, and now he abandons the pilgrim life for a city, if anything, worse than that from which he had originally departed. Lot–like, he covers his declension with a veil of piety. The plain of Jordan is “as the garden of Jehovah”, like paradise and thus why should he not enjoy God’s gifts in it? He forgets the fall, and that paradise is barred from man, and excuses his worldliness under a cloak of religiousness. The real secret of his motives, however, is found in his words “like the land of Egypt”. The world and not God is before him.
In contrast Abram continues a tent–dweller, and thus a true pilgrim in this scene, awaiting a “city which has foundations, of which God is [the] artificer and constructor” (Heb. 11: 10). He dwells by the oaks of Mamre (meaning fatness), which are in Hebron (companionship, communion). The names speak for themselves sufficiently. May we only know, and live in, the portion of Abram here!
Moving on to Gen. 18, we find God in communion with Abraham (his name being changed in the interval) in a manner never before enjoyed. The Lord not only appears to him, but openly associates Himself with him as one of whom He is not ashamed. No one can doubt the suggestive contrast with the next chapter, in which Lot comes before us for the last time, the very type of one “saved, but so as through [the] fire” (1 Cor. 3: 15).
It should be evident that the foundation of all this contrast expresses itself in the different positions of these two men: the one in the door of his tent in Mamre; the other in the gate of Sodom. In the one we see the consistent pilgrim; in the other, one who has been untrue to his pilgrimship, and has settled down amid the pollutions of a sinful world, and indeed has a place of prominence there.
Striking it is, and most important to remember, that Lot is a righteous man, expressly declared to be so by the inspired Word in 2 Pet. 2: 7, 8: “righteous Lot, distressed with the abandoned conversation of the godless, (for the righteous man through seeing and hearing, dwelling among them, tormented [his] righteous soul day after day with [their] lawless works.)” This is, of course, in complete contrast with the way in which Genesis represents him, though there is no contradiction. In the actual narrative he is spoken of as one of whom God is ashamed: “And it came to pass when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in which Lot dwelt” (Gen. 19: 29). He remembered Abraham, not Lot. He is the God of Abraham certainly, but how could He call Himself the God of Lot? How solemn the treatment of one of His own! Reader, how is it with you this moment as before God? Is He confessing or denying you? This is not a question which you can turn off by saying, I am a Christian. It is on that very ground that He appeals to you. Thus, we find God making Himself strange to Lot. This was what His governmental ways required, the discipline that the need of his soul called for at the time. When the need is past and gone and He looks back upon Lot’s history, God can pick out of it the good He had marked all through, and say how precious to Him, even in Lot, was the trouble of soul which the iniquity of Sodom gave Him. Such is our God!
As already noticed, the tent of Mamre and the gate of Sodom are characteristic and contrasted things. Faith, looking for a city which has foundations, is content to scratch the earth with a tent pole merely. This was Abraham’s place, pattern as he is, and father of all them that believe. Lot dwelt in Sodom, but Abraham had no abiding city here. He sought the coming one (Heb. 13: 14). Thus as a stranger and sojourner on the earth (see Heb. 11: 13), God comes to commune with him in the broad open day, “in the heat of the day” (Gen 18: 1). The style of God’s coming is striking: there is no distance, there is intimacy. It is three men who come, all the more noticeable, because in the next chapter we find the two who had left Abraham still as men appear in Sodom explicitly as angels: “And the two angels came to Sodom at even. And Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. And Lot saw them, and rose up to meet them; and he bowed down, the face toward the ground, and he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and lodge, and wash your feet; and ye shall rise up early, and go on your way. And they said, No; but we will pass the night in the open place” (Gen. 19: 1, 2). Two angels come, not men: there is distance, not familiarity; and the Lord Himself does not come. Hence communion there is not and cannot be. Further, though Lot’s hospitality is as ready as Abraham’s, there is no such readiness of response. They yield only to his urgency: “And he urged them greatly; and they turned in unto him” (v3). Yet even the semblance of communion is not possible for him. The men of Sodom break in upon him, the very attempt to entertain the heavenly guests only provoking an outbreak of evil. Lot may be a judge (he sat in the gate) but he has no power with men. Instead of the good he sought for Sodom, Lot has to listen to a message of judgement which is to fall upon all with which he has chosen to associate himself. How solemn is the lesson here taught, in a day when heaven is allowed to be the final home of the saint, but not his present practical abiding place, when Christians count it no shame to be citizens of this world, to be yoked in every possible way––commercially, politically, socially, and even ecclesiastically with unbelievers (see 2 Cor. 6: 14–18), when Christians sit as judges in the gate of Sodom and try to mend a scene for which the only end is judgement! O for a voice to penetrate the consciences of God’s people before judgement comes to enforce the distinction they refuse to make!
“And the men said to Lot, Whom hast thou here besides? a son–in–law, and thy sons, and thy daughters, and all whom thou hast in the city––bring [them] out of the place. For we are going to destroy this place, because the cry of them is great before Jehovah, and Jehovah has sent us to destroy it” (Gen. 19: 12, 13). Now we find how utter had been the wreck which Lot, though personally righteous, had made of his testimony: “And Lot went out, and spoke to his sons–in–law, who had married his daughters, and said, Up, go out of this place, for Jehovah will destroy this city. But he was as if he jested …”. How tragic! How utterly, unspeakably sad! How bitter the lesson for Lot! Who can wonder that they would reject so strange a story as that God would visit with judgement a place that had proved so attractive to this righteous man! Abraham outside of Sodom has power with God to intervene for Lot’s benefit; Lot inside of Sodom cannot even persuade his own family to leave in the light of impending judgement!
“And as the dawn arose, the angels urged Lot, saying, Up, take thy wife and thy two daughters who are present, lest thou perish in the iniquity of the city. And as he lingered, the men”––notice how in his extreme difficulty the more familiar term is used again––“laid hold on his hand, and on the hand of his wife, and on the hand of his two daughters, Jehovah being merciful to him; and they led him out, and set him without the city” (vv15, 16). More tragedy follows. His wife looks back to that from which she had never really separated, and becomes a pillar of salt. How solemn are the words of the Lord Himself: “Remember the wife of Lot”, (Luke 17: 32). And now we see the shipwreck that Lot had made of faith. Though commanded by the angels to flee to the mountain, he refuses and still fondly clings to the idea of a little city, some little shred of the world. He feared death in the place to which God was mercifully directing him, and could only hope for safety in some little city, some spot of his own devising: “I pray thee, let me escape thither––is it not small?––and my soul shall live” (v20). How sad! There is no casting himself wholly upon God for he had too long walked at a distance from Him, too long breathed the dense atmosphere of the ‘city’ to be able to appreciate the pure air of the divine presence, or lean on the arm of the Almighty. His soul seems completely unhinged: his worldly nest had been abruptly broken up, and he was not quite able to nestle himself by faith in the bosom of God. He had not been cultivating communion with the invisible world, and now the visible was passing away from beneath his feet with tremendous rapidity.
With Lot there is no revival. Soon he leaves Zoar, haunted still by the unbelieving fear which had taken him there at first. Yet if he can no longer settle in the city, he makes no return to the tents he abandoned. A cave becomes his dwelling place. Finally, he is involved in the infamy of his own children, and from then on we hear no more. What a volume of solemn instruction is here! What a commentary is Lot’s history upon that brief but comprehensive admonition, “Love not the world” (1 John 2: 15)! Reader, let not Lot’s tragedy be your tragedy!