Starting in chapter 12, the book of Genesis develops several revealing portraits of various lifestyles. As we steer ourselves by our daily decisions, it is worthwhile to consider the end of each.
Even the casual reader of Genesis will note that Abraham was far from perfect. However, taken as a whole, his life was one of remarkable faith, and, by making choices that a worldly observer would consider ludicrous, he showed that he consistently relied on God’s promise of a son, a nation, and a land (Genesis 12:1-3).
Though he had never seen the land, though he would not live to see the nation that would descend from him, and though the promise of a great name and universal blessing were intangible, Abraham left his home, his kindred, and his father’s house in response to God’s call (Acts 7:2-4; Hebrews 11:8-12). He renewed this choice to renounce everything in a time of crisis in Genesis 13. At that time, the inadequacy of the pasture in Canaan forced a split between Abraham and his nephew, Lot, with their respective large herds of livestock. Abraham generously offered the first choice of direction to Lot, who “lifted up his eyes and saw” (Genesis 13:10) the rich and well-watered lands of the valley near Sodom, and determined to make them his home. In contrast, Abraham walked by faith, not by sight, and continued his wandering lifestyle.
Lot may have been a God-fearing and righteous man (2 Peter 2:7-8), but he lacked Abraham’s pilgrim spirit. He chose the things that are seen. However, the insecurity of material things was made quickly evident to him, as Sodom became embroiled in a sprawling interstate conflict in Genesis 14, and Lot, his family, and the possessions he treasured so much, were carried away by the invaders.
Though God permitted his rescue at that time, Lot persisted in living in Sodom. The long-term results were even more disastrous. The destruction of Sodom in chapter 19 may have been cataclysmic and spectacular, but the gradual build-up of judgment due to corruption in Lot’s own household is no less crushing. For having lived in a heinous society, his wife learned to love material things so much that she could not bear to leave them as the calamity erupted, and she perished; Lot’s daughters indulged in similar perverted sexual behaviors to those around them and shamed their father with incest; and the grip of the world held Lot himself so tightly that he begged the angels trying to save him from the destruction of the city to let him stay in a nearby city, Zoar. “Not even brimstone will make a pilgrim of him” comments Derek Kidner (Genesis, p. 135).
Ultimately afraid to even live in Zoar, Lot ended up living in a cave with his daughters. So much for trading his uncle’s tents for a permanent house! What’s worse, Lot lost custody even of his body, as his daughters, following the ways of Sodom, plotted to get him drunk and then impregnate themselves by him. The resulting descendants were to plague Israel far into the future, as the nations of Moab and Ammon seduced the people into terrible carnal sin (Numbers 25) and cruel religious practice (Leviticus 18:21).
To quote Kidner again: “So much stemmed from a self-regarding choice (Genesis 13:10ff) and persistence in it.”
Little remains to be said of Sodom, the city that promised so much — security and wealth — and ultimately delivered none of it. Its people knew no bounds in chasing after lust (Ezekiel 16:49; Jude 7). Abraham sought to intercede for them, but not even ten righteous men could be found among them (Genesis 18:16-33).
Lot was foolish to place his faith in Sodom’s worldly promise. Abraham was wise to trust in God’s promises. He had refused to take the smallest bait from the king of that land (Genesis 14:17-24). In the final scene, he stands at his place of intercession for Sodom and Gomorrah and surveys the end of its ways: a burning ash-heap (Genesis 19:27-28). His choice to live by faith must have been fully confirmed to him by what he saw.