March 14, 1993

SETTLING DOWN IN SODOM

“So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan…  Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom” (Genesis 13:10,13).

Once upon a time, there was a man who had to make a choice.

The man and his uncle had been together for a long time.  Both had left their old country at the same time and journeyed together to a new land.  Each had his own enterprise, but they stayed very close and often worked together.  They were successful in their new environment.  They accumulated more and more holdings and had command of more and more employees–so many, in fact, that they finally had to part ways.  There just wasn’t enough room for both enterprises to be in the same place at the same time.

There had been some friction between their respective employees, some rivalry and competition between the two groups, and so the old man and his nephew decided to split up before things got out of hand.  Each respected the other, and they wanted to part on friendly terms.  All they had to do now was decide where each would live, and to what sector or area each would restrict himself.

The uncle was a generous old man.  He was the senior partner, and he could have insisted on the first choice in the matter, but instead, he told his nephew, “There’s no need to quibble about who should settle where.  It’s your choice.  You choose where you want to live and carry on your business, and I’ll just make sure I settle somewhere else.”

Well, the nephew was only too happy to choose first.  He knew prime location when he saw one.  He had in mind a city that had a thriving business community, and it was surrounded by land that was fertile and well-watered, perfect for agriculture.  The place was brimming with opportunity;  anyone with a few brains and a willingness to work was almost bound to succeed.  He couldn’t miss.  And so the man made his choice.

And that’s how a young entrepreneur named Lot decided to settle in the vicinity of a city called Sodom (Genesis 13).  One look at the flourishing economy of that area and Lot’s mind was made up.  That was the place for him.  Meanwhile, his old uncle Abraham settled near the small town of Hebron.

Fast forward a few years.  Lot is realizing his dreams.  He started out living on the outskirts of Sodom, but within a few years he’s living right downtown–he’s got a place in Sodom itself (Genesis 14:12).  In fact, Lot is one of the most prominent men in the city.  He has the honor of holding a seat in the city gates (Genesis 19:1).  That’s where the members of the city council make policy and settle disputes.  There he is: a financial success and even a member of the city council–not bad for an immigrant!  Lot had indeed chosen well;  he’d made it big in this land of opportunity.  And he lived unhappily ever after.

Fast forward again.  The picture has changed, and it’s a grim one.  Sodom is a shambles.  There’s nothing left but ruins.  The twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah have been obliterated;  the suburbs and the surrounding countryside have also been wiped out.  Lot’s wife is dead.  The men his daughters were engaged to marry are dead.  Lot himself is still alive, but barely.  He and two daughters escaped death, but the three of them are miserable.  Lot no longer has a wife, his daughters have no husbands, and they have nothing else, either.  When they left Sodom, there was no time to spare, and they had to leave everything behind.  It’s all gone up in flames.

Lot’s daughters are feeling pretty gloomy, to say the least.  They have no husband, no children, no money, and no future.  They’re stuck living with their aging father in the mountains.  These women have no prospects for marriage, they’re not getting any younger, and it looks like their family line will simply disappear.  Finally, they come up with a plan.  If you want a child, you don’t really need a husband.  Any man will do.  And so they decide to get pregnant by the only man available–their father.  The sisters give Lot plenty of wine, and the sad old man drinks himself into a stupor.  Then the two women take turns going to bed with him, and Lot is so drunk he’s not even aware of what’s happening.  Both women get pregnant through their incest and have babies.  The last we see of Lot, he is spending the rest of his life out in the middle of nowhere with his two daughters and his two grandsons who also happen to be his sons.  Not exactly a happy ending (Genesis 19).

That’s the sad story of Lot, and the trouble all began the day he decided to settle down in Sodom.  In Genesis 13 the Bible describes that fateful choice.  Genesis says, “Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the Lord…”  To Lot the place looks as rich as the garden of Eden.  Like any astute farmer or businessman, he has an eye for a location with a potential for profit.  “So,” says Genesis, “Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan…  Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.”  But then the Bible adds this ominous sentence:  “Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.”

Lot chose Sodom based purely on the economy of the region. He had dollar signs in his eyes, and he didn’t see anything else.  He paid no attention to the fact that Sodom was a cesspool of sin.  Lot himself believed in the Lord and was a righteous man, but he settled in Sodom anyway.  And when he found out how bad it really was, he didn’t move away, and he didn’t try to change it.  He stayed put, he kept his mouth shut, and he learned to live with it.  And the result was disaster.

It’s all a very sad story, and what makes it even sadder is that history is repeating itself.  Sodom is making a comeback in our own society.  Increasingly, wicked people who care nothing about God are doing their own thing, becoming more open and shameless and aggressive in their sin.  And what are righteous people doing?  Too many are imitating Lot: they’re trying to settle in and get ahead financially and make the best of living in the middle of this immoral mess.

The sin that is perhaps most often associated with Sodom is sexual perversion.  The Bible makes clear that this wasn’t Sodom’s only sin, but it was certainly one of them.  Scripture says, “Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion” (Jude 7).

And to make matters even worse, their perversion was accompanied by a taste for violence and brutality.  Genesis 19 tells how two angels came to visit Lot disguised as ordinary men.  That night the men of Sodom surrounded the house, and wanted to break in and rape the two visitors, to “sodomize” them.  It took a miracle to drive the would-be rapists away.

Now, when it comes to an appetite for sex mixed with degrading violence, our own perverted and pornographic age is doing its best to keep up with Sodom.  I haven’t seen the movies The Silence of the Lambs or Basic Instinct, but film critic Michael Medved’s comments tell me all I need to know.  These films portray horrifying brutality and sexual perversions too sickening to describe here.  These same films grossed millions of dollars in theater tickets and video rental, and I do mean grossed.  Our society has a strong appetite for what is gross.  We seem to enjoy watching rapists and murderers and sexual perverts in action–our movies and TV shows are full of such characters.

And speaking of perversion, Madonna continues in her role as the world’s highest-paid prostitute, with the Time-Warner corporation serving as her pimp.  It’s a matter of sex for money, a lot of money.  Madonna’s book Sex was filled with pictures of every perversion Madonna could think of, and the first printing of a million copies sold almost immediately.  At a cost of $49.95 per book, that’s about $50 million for Madonna to split with her corporate pimp.  When Time-Warner isn’t making money off Madonna, it spends its time explaining why it has every right to sell Ice T’s “Cop Killer” album, which recommends murdering police officers.  The other major corporations that supply our entertainment and news aren’t much better.

These media conglomerates are amazing.  First, the entertainment division produces movies and albums and books that whip up the public’s appetite for perversion and violence, and then the news division complains that there are too many unwanted babies, too many people dying of AIDS, and too many rapes, too much violent crime and murder.  First, glorify perversion and torture–fill the people’s minds with images of Sodom–and then complain when you don’t like some of the results.

Perversion is not only profitable, but it is becoming politically correct.  Homosexuality is just fine.  Whether forcing military personnel to live in close quarters with avowed homosexuals, or kids in primary school having the book Gloria Goes to Gay Pride as part of the recommended reading, or church study committees trying to get beyond the old-fashioned morality of the Bible, there is a concerted effort to redefine a sinful perversion as normal, to help us settle down in Sodom.

The media is also doing its part.  Four out of five people in the media are pro-gay, and they are doing their best to get everyone else to approve as well.  Just one example:  A recent episode of the popular TV show “Doogie Howser” introduces us to an appealing, well-adjusted college student who happens to be gay.  This student has just become a roommate of Vinnie, one of the show’s main characters, and when Vinnie first finds out his roommate is gay, he wants to move out.  By the end of the show, however, Vinnie sees the light.  Of course, there’s no problem having a gay roommate.  This young man doesn’t have any sexual interest in Vinnie.  He’s just waiting till he eventually meets the right gay man, and the two of them will be committed to each other and live happily ever after.

Contrast that bit of propaganda with a research study conducted a while back by Bell and Weinberg, shortly before the AIDS epidemic began.  In their survey of homosexuals, the researchers found that 92 percent had engaged in sexual behavior with between 25 and 1000 partners in their lifetime.  Of the remaining 8% who had fewer than 25 partners, none had had only one or two, and only 1% had three or four.  The others had between 5 and 25.  Once again:  Of the homosexual people surveyed, 1% had less than five partners, and 92% had more than 25 partners.  Not exactly what you’d have gathered from watching “Doogie Howser.”

When you think about Sodom, though, don’t just focus on homosexual sin.  The number of abortions and of babies born out of wedlock these days is ample proof that many heterosexuals aren’t exactly saving themselves for marriage.  We’re living in a situation where you could almost say that people are adopting the morality of alley cats, except that you wouldn’t want to insult the alley cats.

And sexual immorality isn’t the only way that our society resembles Sodom.  Another of Sodom’s most grievous sins was the way it was willing to crush the weak and exploit the poor.  The Bible says,

“‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom:  She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned;  they did not help the poor and needy.  They were haughty and did detestable things before me.  Therefore I did away with them as you have seen” (Ezekiel 16:49-50).

In Sodom, the economy is the only thing that matters, and you do whatever you have to in order to get ahead.  It doesn’t matter who you step on.  If you get filthy rich while others live in grinding poverty, so be it.  If you drive a competitor into bankruptcy, great!  That’s all the more for you.  “It’s every man for himself.”  “It’s healthy competition.”  “It’s survival of the fittest.”  If you evict a widow from her house or drive a small farmer off his land, it’s all in the name of profit.  If you get rich by exploiting cheap labor or charging exorbitant interest rates, so what?  “Business is business.”

Sound familiar?  If you settle down in Sodom, you may find yourself thinking that Sodom’s way of doing business is the only sensible way.  According to the Bible, sodomy isn’t just sexual.  When a business crushes the weak or exploits the poor, it is doing what Sodom did.  It is sodomizing them.

Sodom was sex-crazed and money-hungry;  it was a society driven by lust and greed.  Today these are still the two driving forces in so much of society, and these two factors have helped to make even bloodshed seem almost normal and unavoidable.  I’m not just talking about skyrocketing crime rates or the danger of riots, although that’s part of it.  No, the bloodshed I’m talking about is officially approved.  I’m talking about abortion.

You can’t have unbridled sexual promiscuity unless you’re willing to kill some babies, and you can’t focus exclusively on getting ahead economically unless you’re willing to destroy a child who might interfere with your plans.  Any society that gets accustomed to lust and greed simply must get used to abortion, and ours has.  We’ve become dependent on it.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently made this very clear in the case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld the right to abortion.  The court majority stated that one reason the court had to support abortion on demand was that in the past 20 years, people had come to rely on access to abortion.  Here’s a quote from the majority’s opinion:  “To eliminate the issue of reliance … would be simply to refuse to face the fact that for two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices … in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.”  In other words:  people have come to rely on the right to kill unwanted babies, and if that were no longer an option, they might have to stop sleeping around, or start thinking of something besides having the money to maintain their lifestyle.  The machinery of this society is powered by lust and greed, and it is lubricated by the blood of unborn babies–more than thirty million in the United States and Canada in the last two decades.

And we’re getting used to it.  We’ve settled down in Sodom.

We take the perversion, the ruthless economic practices, and the bloodshed for granted.  It’s time we realized that settling down in Sodom is ultimately disastrous.

Some people have no interest in God at all.  If confronted about their behavior, they shrug, and if they are warned about the wrath of God and his judgment, they laugh.  That’s what the men engaged to Lot’s daughters did.  When Lot learned that the city was doomed, the Bible tells that he urged his sons-in-law, “‘Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!’  But his sons-in-law,” says the Bible, “thought he was joking” (Genesis 19:14).

They stopped laughing permanently a few hours later, when the fire of God destroyed the city.  And still today, the judgment of God hovers over every sinner and every civilization that refuses to repent.  When you choose Sodom and ignore God’s warnings, there is hell to pay.  The Bible says that the people of Sodom “serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7).  Those who imitate the practices of Sodom will meet the fate of Sodom.  Their society will be overthrown, and they themselves will burn in the fires of hell.  The unrighteous who reject God will perish.

God will not be mocked, and his wrath is nothing to laugh at.  If you do laugh, it won’t be for long.  You’ll find yourself weeping and grinding your teeth forever in the place where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.  That’s how Jesus describes hell, and that’s where unrepentant sinners will find themselves.  If you reject God and you’re living a godless life, you will perish in hell.  But you can still escape the fate of Sodom if you repent of your sins and trust in Jesus Christ to forgive you.  That’s the only way you can be saved.

And now a word for those who are already Christians.  If you belong to God, you will be saved from punishment in hell, but you’ll still pay a heavy price if you choose to settle down in Sodom.  Just look at Lot.  Lot saw the economic opportunities of Sodom, and chose to settle there despite its wickedness.  And he lived unhappily ever after.

Lot’s unhappiness actually began long before the destruction of Sodom.  Even as he grew rich and important, Lot was often miserable.  You see, Lot believed in the Lord, just as his uncle Abraham did.  Lot knew the difference between right and wrong.  The Bible says that Lot was “a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)” (2 Peter 2:8-9).  It’s miserable to know what’s right, and to find yourself surrounded by moral filth.

And yet Lot stayed.  He could never quite bring himself to move away from Sodom, and he never tried changing it, either.  Sodom was full of sexual immorality and homosexual perversion (Genesis 19, Jude 7).  Apparently, Lot found all of this disgusting, but he wanted to remain on friendly terms with his neighbors, and so he never told them that they were wrong.  Also, Lot was no doubt grieved by the heartless oppression of the poor and helpless.  He didn’t like the ruthless business practices of his associates, but he couldn’t afford to alienate them.  His contacts were making him rich and prominent, and so, although he secretly felt disgust, he never dared to confront them or tell them to change.  Lot learned to keep his mouth shut and to fit in as much as possible.  It seemed the only sensible option.

Lot paid a terrible price for settling in Sodom and refusing to challenge the status quo.  He was miserable all the years he tried to fit in.  He ultimately lost all the wealth he loved so much, and worse yet, there was the cost to his family.

Look at what Lot’s decision cost his family.  His sons-in-law were so accustomed to seeing Lot acting at home in Sodom that they thought he was joking when he suddenly told them the city was about to be destroyed.  They perished in the flames.  Lot’s wife became so attached to the city that, even when they were fleeing, she just had to turn back one last time, and she died and became a pillar of salt.

And then there were Lot’s daughters.  They grew up in the middle of Sodom’s moral filth, and their father even sank so low that he once offered them as sex objects to appease an angry mob.  The girls were spared from that horror by the intervention of angels, but I doubt they forgot it.  If their father could treat them like bargaining chips, they could treat him like a sperm bank.  As we’ve already see, after their flight from Sodom, Lot’s daughters got him blind drunk and had sex with him so they could have children.  What an ugly mess!  Lot’s daughters were no longer in Sodom, but Sodom remained in them.  And it all happened because a righteous man wanted to get ahead in an unrighteous situation without offending anyone or ruffling any feathers.

When you’re a Christian trying to settle down in Sodom, you may still be saved, but you will pay a price.  In 1 Corinthians 3, the apostle Paul says, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”  The only way to be saved from our sin is to trust in Jesus.  But once we belong to Jesus, Paul goes on to say, we must be careful how we build on that foundation.  We must live by the teaching of God’s Word, and stand up for what is right.  The person who fails to do this, says Paul, “will suffer loss;  he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).  Like Lot escaping from the flames of Sodom, the half-hearted Christian may be saved from hell, but barely;  and he will suffer loss.

Everyone who belongs to Jesus Christ will be spared from hell, but that doesn’t mean that if you’re a Christian, it’s safe for you to just settle down in Sodom–to absorb its entertainment uncritically, to train your children in its godless education system, to make your way up the ladder in a dog-eat-dog business environment.  If you’re a Christian, you need the courage to confront the situation and try to change it, or else simply walk out.  One thing you must not do is settle down and try to make the best of it.

Christians must dare to speak out against evil, to challenge it, to boycott those who encourage it, and above all, to call people to repentance and faith in Jesus.  Someone has said that the only thing necessary for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing, and Lot is proof of that.

This is the season of Lent.  Lent is a special time for Christians to reflect on the suffering of Jesus for our salvation.  It’s also a time to humble ourselves before our holy God, and to examine our lives for evidence of sin and compromise.  It is a time for repentance and renewal.  It is time for non-Christians to come to the cross of Jesus to receive salvation for the first time, and for Christians to rededicate themselves to holiness.  Lent draws us close to the cross of Jesus.  And the closer we get to the cross, the farther we move from Sodom.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.