When God Destroyed the Cities of the Valley

Sermon preached on Genesis 19 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 10/01/2023 in Petaluma, CA.

Sermon Manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.

We’ve been working through our sermon series on Genesis and most recently on the life of the patriarch Abraham. But there has also been a substory within the account of Abraham about the life of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. That substory finds its conclusion here in Genesis 19. Lot’s story in Genesis began well in that he clung to Abraham and went with him when God called Abraham out of Haran and into the Promised Land. But back in chapter 13, when conflict began to arise between Abraham and Lot’s people, Lot made the decision to move away from Abraham to the fertile cities of the valley, cities which included Sodom and Gomorrah. While Lot was morally free to make such a decision, hindsight shows that it was not the wisest decision. Lot settled in Sodom, a city already then known for its wickedness (Genesis 13:13). Then in Genesis 14, those cities of the valley were attacked and defeated from foreign kings from the east, resulting in the loss of many possessions and the capture of many of their people, including Lot. But God used Abraham to deliver Lot and the captured people and possessions from the cities of the valley. Today’s passage picks back up that story line, where we find Lot again living in Sodom. So then, while we see Lot’s story come to an end in today’s passage, we also see the end of the story for these cities of the valley.

Let’s begin in our first point to consider how God rescues Lot from the destruction that was to come here upon Sodom and Gomorrah. This begins with verse 1 where the two angels arrive in Sodom. These are the two angels that were with the LORD last chapter when they visited Abraham. Recall that these two angels went on ahead to visit Sodom while the LORD continued to speak with Abraham. That is when Abraham interceded for Sodom and effectively for Lot, asking God if he would sweep away the righteous with the wicked. The answer was that the righteous Judge of all the earth would not. This rescue of Lot from Sodom is proof of that.

So then, the two angels arrive in Sodom in the evening, we find that Lot is at the city gates. Back then, it was common for the elders of a town to sit at the city gates and act as judges to help people resolve conflicts. That is probably what is Lot is doing here, given how the men of Sodom in verse 9 scorn Lot for acting as a judge among them, even though he was a foreigner. When the two angels arrive, Lot shows them hospitality. We would note that in context, they appear as men, and so Lot would not have known they were angels when he offered such hospitality. This incident is surely in mind when Hebrews 13:2, says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” That is an ongoing application that Christians are called to be hospitable people. So then, Lot opens his home to the two men for the night.

That hospitality then becomes the context for Lot’s rescue. Lot thought he was blessing these men in showing such hospitality, but it turns out that they were actually angels there to bless him in rescuing them. In fact, we learn down in verse 22 that the destruction of Sodom won’t even be able to commence util Lot is escaped from the city. First these angels save Lot from this mob of Sodomites, which I’ll talk about more under our second point. But then they save from the city itself, before the destruction happens.

Notice how this flight from Sodom unfolds. In verse 12, the men warn Lot that they need to flee the city and that Lot should gather all his family, including in-laws, and have them flee with him. We see Lot try to do this in verse 14, that he tries to warn his daughter’s fiancées, yet they won’t believe him. They think he is only joking, and they sadly ignore the warning. Then, we next find a concern in verses 15-16, that Lot himself has been lingering. There is an interesting tension here that on the one hand, God won’t destroy the city until Lot is escaped, and on the other hand, there is the very real threat that if Lot doesn’t hurry and flee the city that he will be swept away in the punishment of the city, verse 15. Yet, for some reason, Lot did not heed the warning with enough haste, resulting in the angels finally grabbing him by the hand, he and his wife and two daughters, and taking them out of the city. As they get out of the city, they tell Lot and family to escape quickly for the hills, and don’t look back. This emphasizes the haste needed, how serious things are, and how they just need to leave it all behind. Amazingly, Lot then negotiates with the angels to let them flee not to the hills but to a small city that was apparently closer than the hills, the city of Zoar. The angels, amazingly, grant the request, resulting in the city being spared, but still with the emphasis to them to hurry.

Sadly, Lot’s wife looked back. She somehow becomes a pillar of salt through the perils of the destruction that was happening. This probably did not mean that she went “poof” and God turned her into salt, but rather that the destruction that was falling on the city fell on her and resulted in her becoming a pillar of salt. There is actually a pillar of salt at Mt. Sodom today that is known as Lot’s wife, though it would be hard to know if that was the actual one, as one might expect it could have been since destroyed. Though several ancient Jewish and Christian writers claimed to have seen the actual Lot’s wife pillar, including people like Josephus.

So then, when all is said and done, God saves Lot along with his two daughters. Why did God save them? Yes, it is true that the New Testament speaks of God saving Lot as a righteous person being saved out of a wicked city. There is truth there. And that can be implied to a certain degree from last chapter where Abraham interceded to God that God not destroy the righteous with the wicked. But two other things in this chapter should also stand out. One, is verse 16. There, the LORD’s mercy toward Lot is referenced in their saving. While Lot was more righteous than these wicked Sodomites, we see he is far from perfect, and would need God’s mercy if he is to be spared. The second thing is in verse 29 and it is the climactic reason given here. It says that Lot is saved from this destruction because God remembered Abraham. For Abraham’s sake, Lot is saved. As we move forward into redemptive history, we see this for the wonderful typology that it is. Humans today are saved from God’s judgement for the sake of the seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ. For Christ’s sake, we who are in Christ, are saved from God’s wrath. If we are connected to Christ in faith, we will receive such mercy from the Lord.

Let us now turn in our second point to consider this destruction of Sodom and the surrounding cities of the valley. What I want us to understand is Sodom is so destroyed as God’s judgment and wrath upon them for their great wickedness. We’ve already mentioned how this area was known for their wicked ways, even before Lot moved there. But last chapter, we saw God explain to Abraham that the cry concerning the city’s wickedness had so come to him, that he would inspect it to see if that was true. What was implied was he would bring judgment if it were found to be the case. So then, we see God’s messengers, these two angels, experience firsthand some of the wickedness of Sodom. Look at verse 4. After the angels come into Lot’s home, all the men of the city gather together and come and surround their house. Notice how it mentions that this included both young and the old and that it says it was all the people from all the city. They come as this scarry mob and demand the two guests to be given to them so they could abuse them in their homosexual lusts. These men clearly unnaturally crave the men over the women here, even threatening Lot himself. Their sin has become so infamous that nowadays we can refer to such sin of unnatural relations as simply “sodomy”.

God clearly condemned their sodomy and related violence as wicked and worthy of punishment. An initial expression of that is in verse 11 when the angels struck the men with blindness, and provides an initial rescuing of Lot from them. But ultimately, God’s terrible judgment here upon Sodom and Gomorrah is because God, the Judge of all the earth, declared such depravity was so sinful. As Romans would teach us, they even knew better, but they suppressed such truth in disobedience. God’s word speaks so clearly against such sins, yet, such depravity continues today. Indeed, such depravity seems to be on the rise, growing in support. As an example of its growing support, while there are still some governments that have laws against sodomy, many such laws have been done away recently. When those sodomy laws have been removed, it has been touted as progress. But progress in supporting sin is not progress. Rather, we should be greatly concerned at the increase of such blatant sin in our world. And this is not just to say this for homosexuality, but all for forms of sexual immorality, including things that are even more common, like pornography, fornication, and adultery.

Let us also remember, that Sodom and these cities had been given time to repent back in Genesis 14, but had not. That’s when God delivered them from the foreign kings through Abraham. That was God’s kindness and salvation to them, and it should have made them thankful to God. That chapter ended with Abraham and Melchizedek worshipping God to thank him for such a victory over those foreign kings from the east. But the kings from these cities of the valley did not join in on that worship. Instead, they continued on in their various forms of depravity, until their sin came to the full, and God brought this judgment.

Let us notice the scope of this judgment that God put upon them. In verse 24, we see that God somehow rained fire and sulfur upon these cities of the valley. Also, somehow salt was also involved in the destruction, as we read with Lot’s wife. The whole valley ends up being destroyed. This would have included at least Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, with Zoar being spared. All the people living in these cities are killed. It even mentions how all the vegetation in the valley becomes destroyed. Archeologists aren’t certain the exact location of these cities. It is generally thought they would have been just south of the Dead Sea, and that possibly they are now under water in the current southernmost section of the Dead Sea, known today as the Lisan Peninsula. That is a rather distinct part from the rest of the Dead Sea, and shallow in contrast to the very deep main part of the sea. That whole area in and around that Lisan Peninsula is still desolate and covered full of salt formations. It also has various areas with tar seeping up, which Genesis already noted such existence of tar in this area. So, while we can’t be certain about the location, that general region seems like a likely candidate, and the area’s current condition may surely be related in part to this very judgment by God.

Of more importance, the destruction of these cities of the valley become a warning yet today of a coming final day of judgment. The New Testament explicitly warns us of such, as in Luke 17. In other words, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah becomes typological of a final coming judgment when Jesus returns to this earth. As such, this chapter continues as a warning to all the world that we need to flee the wrath of God to come.

In our third point, let us briefly consider Lot and his two daughters. Let me begin by noting that our chapter is actually bracketed with this topic. We first read of Lot and his two daughters in verse 8 when he tries to offer his daughters to the mob of Sodom instead of his two guests. Then we read of them again at the end as we learn about how they come to be with child. Lot’s interactions with his two daughters surround today’s passage. Both scenes are horrendous.

Sadly, both scenes show someone trying to accomplish something godly with ungodly means. Lot does it at the expense of the potential abuse of his daughters while his daughters do it at the expense of abusing their father. In the first scene, in the name of hospitality, Lot tries to protect his two house guests by offering his two daughters to the scarry mob instead. In the last scene, in the name of childbearing, Lot’s daughters have children by committing incest and rape. Hospitality is a godly thing. Having children is also a godly thing too. But how they were all trying to achieve these things was terribly wrong.

Stepping back then, let us then note an obvious point in these two scenes with Lot and his daughters. The end does not justify the means. Godly goals ought not be pursued with ungodly means. I wonder if this does not further illustrate Lot’s problems in general. He moved away from Abraham by making a choice that seemed right in his own eyes. Hindsight suggests his choices were not what were best for him or his family.

Even now, at the end of the chapter, why is he there in some cave in the hills? He had got permission to go to Zoar, but then he became afraid for some reason in verse 30. Was it because the people of Zoar were so wicked too? Did he worry that God would also one day destroy them too? The angels had originally told him to flee to the hills, so was his going now to the hills a late attempt to honor that? But if that was the case, I propose to you he chose the wrong hills. He should have headed a little farther, back to the hill country of Hebron, where his uncle Abraham was. Surely the best thing Lot could have done is gone back to Abraham and pled to rejoin him and his house. But that is not what he does, and we see how his story ends up. Sadly, Genesis ends its account of Lot by mentioning the two nations that would come from his line, the Moabites and Ammonites. Both of these groups would later become thorns in Israel’s side, and here we learn of their shameful origins. Indeed, their future is later prophesied, in Zephaniah 2:9, saying, “Moab shall become like Sodom, and the Ammonites like Gomorrah, a land possessed by nettles and salt pits, and a waste forever.”

Trinity Presbyterian Church, let me sum up the application for today. There is a judgment coming. We could try to use our own man-made wisdom to try to escape that judgment. Or we could use the wisdom of God to find salvation from that day. Indeed, God calls us to flee the wrath of God to come. We learn something of that fleeing here. Think about two aspects today of such fleeing. The ultimate aspect is about when Christ returns. When the God’s wrath comes on that final day of judgment, there won’t be any hills high enough or far away enough that we can flee to. But the good news is that if we are in Christ, when he returns, he himself will catch us up into the air with him. He will save us from that final destruction of this world so he can usher us into the new creation in safety and peace. So, the ultimate escape from the coming judgment is about what Jesus will do for us to save us.

But the other aspect, is the call to flee spiritually right now. Think of the applications we can glean about such spiritual fleeing from this passage. First, we need to hear and then believe the call to flee. Don’t be like Lot’s sons-in-laws who that it just a joke. If we don’t believe the judgment is coming, we will never flee from it. Second, we must flee away from the wicked and their wickedness. The clarification is that God does not yet call us to flee out of this world. So, we need to flee in such a way from the wicked world so that we are still in but not of the world. Third, we must flee with haste. Don’t linger or dawdle like Lot did here. The judgment could fall at any time. If Jesus returns today, and you aren’t ready, you will know God’s wrath. Or if you were to die today, and you aren’t ready, you will taste God’s judgment of hell. If you have fled the wrath of God, don’t wait a moment longer. Fourth, don’t look back. Jesus counsels us in Luke 17:32 to remember Lot’s wife, then saying, whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. To not look back, means that we let our old life without Christ go, and we keep our eyes fixed on our new life of following Jesus. Finally, fifth, we need to flee to the right place. Lot was told to flee to the hills. I suggested he should have ultimately made his way back to Abraham. We need to flee to Jesus Christ. We will not find a refuge anywhere else. We have all sinned in so many ways. Our wickedness shames us and condemns us. But Jesus has offered us forgiveness of sins. We can know the mercy of the Lord if we flee to Jesus Christ.

Let us indeed keep running in faith toward Jesus, keeping our eyes on him, until the end.


Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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