Sunday, 7 December 2014

Lot's wife

“Remember Lot’s wife!”  Luke 17:32

I think I first learned the story of Lot’s wife as a child in Sunday school. I found it quite frightening, and I couldn’t help feeling sorry for this unfortunate woman.

Just in case you don’t know the story, here’s the background. 

Lot, Abraham’s nephew, and his wife are living in the wicked city of Sodom. This is right by the Dead Sea, which to this day is an area of semi-toxic chemical deposits; not at all a healthy place to be, in spite of the luxurious life-style it seems to have given Lot. God decides the time has come to destroy the city by what seems a kind of volcanic eruption. Lot is told to get his family out of the city before the disaster falls - quick! now! there’s no time! So they start to run.

And then... “The Lord rained down burning sulphur on Sodom and Gomorrah... But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26).

This seemed a bit harsh to me. Here is this poor woman, forced to flee from her home and leave behind all that was precious to her, just taking a quick glance over her shoulder, and pow! - God zaps her and turns her into something fit for the British Museum. 

Actually, I suspect it wasn’t really like that. In all probability Lot’s wife lingered, unable to tear herself away. I can imagine the rest of the family, further up the path, urging her to move: “Come on!” She hesitates. She dithers. And then it is too late; while they look on in horror she is engulfed by this deadly stuff falling out of the sky. A living woman becomes a pillar of salt.

Impossible? Well, if ever you visit the ruins of Pompeii, in Italy, you can see plaster casts of victims of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. They are caught, frozen in time, in the physical posture they were in when the ashes fell. Like Lot’s wife they too had had warning of what was to come, but they were either unable or unwilling to get away to safety.

Whatever... Jesus in our passage chooses to use Lot’s wife as a warning to the people of his own time. He is speaking of disaster to come on “the day of the Son of Man”: “On that day no-one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no-one who is in the fields should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife!” (Luke 17:31-32).

Disaster is coming. It came for Jerusalem some forty years later when the Romans invaded the city, destroyed the temple and carried out mass slaughter. And it will come at the end of time when Jesus returns in glory. 

There are times for running away. Joseph ran away from Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39). The prophet Jeremiah urged his people to “run away from Jerusalem” before the Babylonians came (Jeremiah 6:1). Paul told his friends in Corinth to “run away from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14), and his young friend Timothy to “run away from” materialism (1 Timothy 6:11) and from “the evil desires of youth” (2 Timothy 2:22).

So how does Jesus’ warning apply to us today?

In essence it is a word about urgency. We imagine there is all the time in the world to get right with God and to ensure that we will be right on the final day of judgment. But, sorry, there isn’t. We imagine that we can put off making a clear decision to follow Jesus until tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow... But, sorry, we can’t. Jesus certainly didn’t think so - just take a look at Luke 9:60-62.

Two future events are absolutely certain - and they could happen today. One is death, the other is the return of Christ. The wise person will live daily in the light of both.

The warning of Lot’s wife is also a warning about looking back. We find as we go on in the Christian life that perhaps it isn’t quite as easy and enjoyable as we had imagined. And so we find ourselves looking back, hankering after the days when we were secure (as we thought) in this world - rather as the Israelites did when they were delivered from Egypt and found themselves in the grim desert. How tempting to give it all up and merge back into the world!

Yes, there are various circumstances in life when we need to hear the voice of Jesus echoing down the centuries: “Remember Lot’s wife!”

Is this a word you need today?

Lord God, help me please never to make the same mistake as Lot’s wife. Amen.

Has there been a time in your life when you heeded this warning - or a time you wished you had?

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