by Al Maxey

Issue #378 ------- December 14, 2008
We must redeem our minds
before we redeem our bodies.

Judah Leib Gordon {19th century}

Remember Lot's Wife
The High Cost of Looking Back

In Luke 17:32, during a discourse on the various "signs to be observed" [vs. 20] on "the day that the Son of Man is revealed" [vs. 30], Jesus urged His beloved disciples to "Remember Lot's wife." Our Lord clearly believed that the critical choices this woman made during her life, and the consequences that ensued, were greatly instructive for His many followers. The apostle Paul completely concurred, stating firmly, "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" [Romans 15:4]. "Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you're able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it" [1 Corinthians 10:11-13].

Divided loyalties can prove quite costly. In the chapter previous to the one in which He mentioned Lot's wife, Jesus cautioned His disciples, "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon" [Luke 16:13]. "Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" [James 4:4]. Thus, Jesus says, "On that day, let not the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house go down to take them away; and likewise let not the one who is in the field turn back. Remember Lot's wife!" [Luke 17:31-32]. Literally, the verse says, "let him not turn back to those things which are behind." Paul used that same Greek word (spiso) when he spoke of "forgetting those things which are behind" [Philp. 3:13] so that he might press on to what lies ahead. The Greek word rendered "turn back" is epistrepho, which means "to turn back toward; to turn round; return; convert or revert back to." It was against this tendency of some Jewish Christians that the book of Hebrews was written. Jesus demands our total commitment, not a half-hearted commitment where we still have longings for the world we have professed to have left behind. Such longings can be deadly -- "Remember Lot's wife."

Just who was this woman, and what do we really know about her? These are questions that have challenged the thinking of disciples for several centuries. In reality, very little is known. Even her name is a mystery, although according to the Jewish Midrash (an ancient rabbinical commentary) her name was Edith ("Idis" - which was pronounced EE-dis). She was married to Lot, who was the nephew of Abraham (Lot being the son of Haran, Abraham's brother). As to when and where Lot first met this woman, then taking her to be his wife, there is also much speculation. Some suggest he met her in Sodom. Others believe he was already married when Terah (Lot's grandfather) set out with the family from Ur of the Chaldeans to enter the land of Canaan. However, Genesis 11:31 reads, "And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife" and began the journey. No mention is made of Lot having a wife at this time, although that does not necessarily preclude the possibility. "Although it is possible that Lot had met and married her in Sodom, it seems more likely that she had been with him while he was still with Abraham twenty years before" [Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings, p. 356]. Had Lot met her in Sodom, however, this might help explain her later longing for the city as they were fleeing from its destruction. In the final analysis, however, we simply don't know where she came from, or when, and under what circumstances, she and Lot met and married. Even rabbinical tradition is rather silent on the matter. Thus, the specifics of her origin and ancestry remain a mystery.

There is also a substantial difference of opinion as to how many children she and Lot had. Usually, when we recount the story of Lot's family being rescued from the wicked city of Sodom, we declare that there were only two daughters. Although these two were betrothed, the men who were to marry them refused to flee the city with them. Later on we find Lot and these two daughters engaged in a troubling incestuous event that would result in the eventual rising of two nations: the Moabites and Ammonites [Reflections #292 -- The Daughters of Lot: Sodom's Seductive Sisters]. A number of biblical scholars, however, believe that Lot and his wife may have had other daughters. Henry Morris, in the above referenced book (The Genesis Record), writes, "They had at least six children, two of whom we know were married" [p. 356]. Ted E. Bowling, in an article for Forerunner magazine, observed, "Most people assume that Lot had only two daughters, but this is not the case. ... The angels tell him, 'Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here' (Gen. 19:15), implying that he had daughters elsewhere" [January, 1996]. According to an entry in the New World Encyclopedia, "The Jewish Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 50:14) declares that Lot and his wife actually had four daughters at the time of Sodom's destruction, two married and two betrothed. Only the latter escaped death. They also had another daughter named Pelotet, who was married to one of the men of Sodom." This daughter had previously been executed by the people of Sodom. This is all repeated in The Jewish Encyclopedia. One should further note that in Genesis 19:12-13 the angels ask Lot, "Do you have anyone else here -- sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place." Some feel this passage also may imply other children or family within the city.

It is believed by some interpreters of this event, therefore, that Lot's wife may have lagged behind Lot [Gen. 19:26], somewhat reluctant to leave, because she still had family there (possibly even children and grandchildren). Her "motherly instinct," then, might have been her "undoing." Ted Bowling, in his article for Forerunner, wrote, "Lot and his wife ... left more than just material possessions in the city. When God rained down fire and brimstone upon Sodom, their married daughters and sons-in-law, and possibly grandchildren, perished with the rest of the city's populace. What a poignant and tragic test of their faith!" He continued: "Therefore, when Lot's wife fled, ... her wealth, her house and her social circle were not the only things upon her mind. Those concerns were insignificant beside the certain death of her flesh and blood. As a loving mother, her emotions for her doomed family in the city clouded her ability to make proper decisions." Such a view certainly tends to paint this woman in a far more sympathetic light. And yet, our Lord warns: "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me" [Matt. 10:37]. Sometimes one's choice to follow Him will be a painful one, and it may well cause us to have to leave loved ones behind in the world so that we might flee to salvation in Him. To hesitate, to lag behind, to turn back could prove deadly. "Remember Lot's wife!"

The traditional viewpoint, however, is that Lot's wife lagged behind and looked back because her heart was still devoted to the things of this world back in Sodom. Thus, the truth of the quote by Judah Leib Gordon at the beginning of this current issue of Reflections: "We must redeem our minds before we redeem our bodies." The body of Lot's wife may have been headed for the distant hills, but her heart had never left the city. She was indeed well on her way to being delivered from the destruction, but "almost" is not good enough. Going only part of the way leaves one short of the destination. "The world was still more to her than God. She is, then, the type of those who are almost saved, but worldliness gets the better of them, and they are lost" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 16, Luke: part 2, p. 106]. Some, and I believe wrongfully, attribute the "looking back" of Lot's wife to "female curiosity" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, vol. 1, p. 42]. This may, at least in part, be due to the statement by Josephus, who stated she was "continually turning back to view the city as she went from it ... being too nicely inquisitive what would become of it" [Antiquities of the Jews, bk. 1, chp. 11, sect. 4]. I doubt, however, our Lord is really only trying to teach His disciples that "curiosity killed the cat." There is far more going on here than idle inquisitiveness.

The warning conveyed in the example of Lot's wife is the grave danger of a half-hearted commitment to the Lord; of one who seeks the "best of both worlds," only succeeding thereby in losing everything in both. It reflects the "folly of a longing for things left behind; of the desire to retain a transient little in the face of impending judgment, and at the cost of a greater and eternal loss" [Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, vol. 2, p. 76]. In the account of Lot's wife we witness "one convinced, but not converted;" one who "seeks safety, but with a divided aim (James 1:8)" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 1, p. 259]. "Her doom was rendered all the more impressive from the circumstance that she had so nearly escaped. Alas, nearly saved means wholly lost!" [ibid, p. 258]. It is also a rather sad indictment against this woman that she should regard with longing (if indeed that is what she was doing) the lifestyle of those in Sodom and its neighboring cities. For an in-depth examination of this wickedness, I would refer the reader to Reflections #65 --- The Sins Of Sodom -- Their Five Greatest Failings As Revealed In Ezekiel 16:49-50. I would also refer the reader to a very similar story found in Judges 19-20, which has led some scholars to suggest (a suggestion with which I happen to disagree) that both accounts merely stem from a common "legend," and that neither biblical account should be considered historical fact.

There are a number of rather fascinating legends associated with the account of Lot's wife. Some have wondered, for example, how the people of the city found out that these strangers were staying at Lot's house as his guests. Most scholars feel someone saw Lot conversing with them earlier at the city gate [Gen. 19:1] and then reported to their friends that some "new flesh" was in town, and that these men were last seen with Lot. There is a legend, however, that the fault for their discovery lies with Lot's wife. Louis Ginzberg, in his book "Legends of the Jews," writes, "It was she who betrayed him. She went to a neighbor and borrowed some salt, and to the question, whether she could not have supplied herself with salt during daylight hours, she replied, 'We had enough salt, until some guests came to us; for them we needed more.' In this way the presence of strangers was spread abroad within the city." Others suggest she was unable to find any more salt, and thus refused to share their salt with the strangers (and so it was for this reason she was turned into a pillar of salt). Some say she refused to show them hospitality, since Gen. 19:3 states it was Lot who prepared the meal for them instead of his wife. Thus, there is much speculation about what her attitude and actions might have been during the visit of the messengers from God, with most of these speculations reflecting negatively upon her.

Other legends (Jewish, Arabic and Christian) focus upon the tragic demise of Lot's wife, and what the exact nature of that end might have been. Gen. 19:26 simply states that she looked back, "and became a pillar of salt." The traditional explanation is that God instantly "zapped" her on the spot and she turned immediately into a "pillar of salt" shaped like a woman. Legend states that God preserved this lady-shaped salt column, and that it was still visible even into the first century. Josephus wrote, "I have seen it, and it remains at this day" [Antiquities of the Jews, bk. 1, chp. 11, sect. 4]. Clement of Rome, in his Letter to the Corinthians (dated c. 96 A.D.), wrote that Lot's wife "was made an example of, so as to be a pillar of salt unto this day" [chp. 11]. Even well into the following century it's mentioned as still being extant, as per the statement of Irenaeus in his work Against Heresies [bk. 4, chap. 33, sect. 9]. "This pillar exists to this very day. The cattle will lick it all day long, and in the evening it appears to have disappeared, but when morning comes it stands there as large as before" [Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews]. In the Jewish Encyclopedia it is stated that, "according to legend, oxen used to consume every day the pillar of salt by licking it down to the toes, but it was then restored by the morning." Even today, when one visits this area, tourist guides will point out a number of salt formations that some swear are the preserved remains of Lot's wife.

What actually happened to this woman? Did our God instantly transform her flesh and blood body into a literal pillar of salt, preserving it for centuries thereafter as "a monument of an unbelieving soul" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 1, p. 79]? Although our heavenly Father most certainly had/has the power to do such a thing, is this really what happened? Many biblical scholars are somewhat skeptical that we have correctly understood the language of the text regarding this matter, and that the true explanation of the event may be far less dramatic, but no less stunning and tragic (and certainly no less brought on by the power of God). Dr. Charles Ellicott declares, "As regards the method of her transformation, some think that she was stifled by sulphureous vapours, and her body subsequently encrusted with salt. More probably, the earthquake heaped up a mighty mass of the rock-salt, which lies in solid strata round the Dead Sea, and Lot's wife was entangled in the convulsion and perished, leaving the hill of salt, in which she was enclosed, as her memorial. Salt cones are not uncommon within this neighbourhood" [ibid]. In the OT Apocrypha this site is characterized as "a tomb of a disbelieving soul, a standing pillar of salt" [Book of Wisdom 10:7], which may suggest she was not so much transformed into salt as entombed within salt.

The pitiful, and ultimately fateful, reality is that she was following well behind Lot and her two daughters; lagging behind. Her lack of haste may have cost her dearly in that when the cities were overthrown by the "eternal fire" [Jude 7], she was overtaken and buried by the physical effects of the judgment poured out upon them by the Lord God. "Overtaken by the sulphureous storm, she was transfixed where she stood, and in a moment after wrapt in a sheet of saline incrustation" [Pulpit Commentary, vol. 1, p. 258]. The most likely explanation, in the minds of many, though, "is that she was killed by the fiery and sulphureous vapour with which the atmosphere was impregnated, and afterwards became encrusted with salt" [ibid, p. 256]. "Lot's wife held back and was apparently overcome by the sulfur cloud and eruption associated with the sudden destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah" [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3, p. 172]. "One possibility is that the explosions in the region threw great quantities of its salt deposits up into the air, and that some of these fell upon her and buried her under a great pile of salt. Another is that she was buried by volcanic ash or other materials and that, gradually, over the following years, her body became petrified, 'becoming salt' in fashion similar to that which was experienced by the inhabitants of Pompeii and Herculaneum when they were buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius" [Henry Morris, The Genesis Record, p. 356].

Well, quite clearly there's much scholarly speculation as to the various details of this account. But what lessons might we learn from Lot's wife? In what ways does this tragic figure still "speak to us" today? After all, Jesus commanded us to remember her, so there must be some reason for doing so. In the immediate context of our Lord's original statement we know that He intended this woman to serve as a warning against divided loyalties, especially with respect to the question, "Whom will you serve; to whom will you give your undivided devotion as that great Day draws ever nearer?" Those more concerned with the things of this life, than with the blessings of the life still to come; those more concerned with self, than with serving the Savior, need to seriously consider the consequences of the choices made by Lot's wife. "Remember Lot's wife. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it" [Luke 17:32-33]. This means more than just seeking to preserve one's physical life, it can also mean seeking to cling onto the things of this present life; trying to maintain a certain lifestyle. A self-sacrifice, therefore, is more than just laying down one's mortal being; it is also living sacrificially for others and for a cause greater than one's own self.

But, there are clearly other lessons we can learn as well. Lot's wife is an example of one who hesitated; who held back, rather than making a firm and immediate commitment. It is said, "He who hesitates is lost." This proverb would certainly apply to Lot's wife. In fact, it also applied initially to Lot. When told to flee the city, "he hesitated" [Gen. 19:16]. Thus, the angels had to seize them by the hands and literally lead them like children out of the city. Such hesitation also applied to the people witnessing Elijah's confrontation with the false prophets on Mount Carmel. "Elijah came near to all the people and said, 'How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him'" [1 Kings 18:21]. When the Lord has made the choices before us extremely clear, we should act without hesitation. Ananias declared unto Saul of Tarsus in the city of Damascus, "And now why do you delay?!! Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name" [Acts 22:16]. And who can fail to detect the sense of urgency in Paul's plea, "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" [2 Cor. 6:2]? With regard to the jailer in Philippi, Paul and his companions "spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household" [Acts 16:32-33]. There was no hesitancy; no delay; no holding back or lagging behind. When the choice is clear, make it without any hesitation. "Remember Lot's wife."

I have already made mention of the deadly tendency of those to whom the book of Hebrews was addressed. Due to a variety of factors, a good number of Jewish Christians were in danger of "turning back" to Judaism and abandoning their Christian faith. A very similar danger exists within the church of our Lord Jesus today. There are those who are free in Christ who are in danger of "turning back" to the bondage of LAW. The book of Galatians was written specifically to counter this deadly trend among some who were lacking in spiritual discernment. "You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?! ... Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish?!" [Gal. 3:1-3]. I would greatly urge the reader to carefully consider Reflections #202 -- Epistle to the Galatians: Magna Charta of Christian Liberty and then also Reflections #215 -- Embracing Another Gospel: Analyzing Apostolic Authorial Intent in the Admonition of Galatians 1:6-9. The same deadly threat that was faced boldly by the apostle Paul in the first century is being faced today in the form of the many godless, graceless dogmas of the legalistic patternists. Those who abandon their freedom in Christ and "turn back" to this "yoke of slavery" [Gal. 5:1] are repeating the foolishness of Lot's wife, and their destruction is just as certain! "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" [vs. 4]. "Remember Lot's wife."

Many other lessons could be dealt with here. We could talk about the affect of one's companions and associates; of one's friends and neighbors; yes, even of one's very own family members, if they are not following Christ. These may all have a destructive influence upon us if we are not careful. If we are not impacting them for good, there is a good chance they may be impacting us for evil. Let us be alert. We could talk about the need for diligence in pressing forward to our goal, and not focusing on what lies behind. We could discuss the importance of fully obeying God's will, rather than trying to argue with Him or see how far we can "lag behind" without being overcome by the destructive forces all about us. We could expound upon the fact that God always provides us with a "way of escape," and provides us with the ability to overcome ... if we will just take hold of these gifts of His grace. However, we shall bring the study to a close. I only pray that the thoughts and insights presented have generated some constructive introspection. Let us look to ourselves, lest we find ourselves looking back. "Remember Lot's wife."

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

A 200 page book by Al Maxey
Publisher: (301) 695-1707
Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Zambia, Africa:

Dear Brother Al, Your last article on "The Royal Order of Gnats" really touched me and I have printed it out to share with others here. As Christians we should all be very careful how we use our tongues! What we speak really does affect other people. Bro. Maxey, we are all behind your back. Those who are opposing you are fighting a losing battle. Keep going, my brother; we're with you. More than that, God is with you. By the way, I'm using your Reflections with my family as our daily devotional guides in the evenings. Thank you and best wishes.

From a Reader in Australia:

Dear Brother Al, This is just a note to accompany the enclosed 2009 calendar (with scenes from Australia) and to wish you and your family a very blessed season. We continue to pray for you and Shelly. While I have not been in regular contact this year, please be assured that your Reflections ministry is just as valuable to us as always, and they are each read just as diligently. Be encouraged, Al -- you may have knockers, but they are outweighed by those who value your ministry here on earth. May our Lord bless and keep you so that His Truth will continue to be sent out to the world through you! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, I am honored to be a "gnat" in HIS army! Thanks again for your labors, and for the great work you are doing. It is obvious to anyone with even partial brain power that you are striking nerves, and that you have the legalistic "power mongers" with their "shorts in a bind." They are utterly powerless to overcome the Truth, and so they have resorted to these despicable attacks upon your character in their so-called "Christian" publications and web sites. They are like little boys who can't get their way, so they take their ball and run for home in a "snit." These legalists are losing numbers right and left, and this has left the "old bulls" in a real head-butting contest with each other. Keep swinging, brother ... the gnats are swarming!!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Al, In case you don't know, you cannot be an elder in the Lord's church with false beliefs. You can call yourself a bear, but that doesn't make you a bear. Calling yourself an elder in the Lord's church does not make you one. You must obey the Lord's teachings on every subject. Don't you know what the Scriptures teach on divorce and remarriage?!

From Michael Hatcher in Florida:
Minister of Bellview Church of Christ in Pensacola

Al, Nothing you say has any influence on me. I really don't care what you or your mindless robots think. As to your prayers for me: they do not get anywhere past the ceiling of where you "pray" them since God's ears are only open to the righteous, and your teachings are demonic. You have been Satan's servant, by teaching his doctrines, for years. You, along with those who follow your pernicious doctrines, are going to spend eternity in torment. Even though you don't believe in hell, it is still a very real place, which, sadly, you will find out one day. Please do not pray for me, Al, because the only "spiritual father" you have is Satan. You are of your father the devil. You do the works of your father. Like you, he is a liar. Additionally, Al, you are a yellow-bellied, hypocritical coward who is also a liar and a fraud. All you need to do to change that is to change everything about yourself. You need to repent, and our loving God will forgive you for all of your wickedness (and that includes being a yellow-bellied, hypocritical coward who is a liar and a fraud).

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

Dear Brother Al, Please add me to your mailing list for your weekly Reflections. I have studied your debate with Darrell Broking on Patternism, and it has been very helpful to me. My greatest desire is to be a consistently kind, faithful, well-versed Christian capable of leading others to Christ. My worry is that by following unscriptural patterns in the past, I may have hindered myself from being the kind of teacher that simply allowed the Word to draw others to the Lord. May God bless your efforts in His service, brother, and if you have a moment please pray for my understanding! Thank you!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Brother Al, Thank you for your work. Thank you for continuing to teach us, and for giving me spiritual meat to eat. I pray that you and your wife, and also your congregation, will have a blessed Christmas season and a delightfully blessed New Year!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Brother Al, It has been a very long time since I last wrote to you, but I wanted to take a minute to respond to this latest Reflections article of yours. I also believe the winds of change are sweeping over the Churches of Christ, and I am happy to be in the midst of this swarming Royal Order of Gnats. I am a member of the congregation that was mentioned in your reader's comments (where mention was made of a person who wrote to our web page calling us "liberals" and instructing us to tear down our "recreation centers and family life centers" and act more like a Church of Christ). Well, Al, I have to tell you: I am so proud to be associated with our wonderful congregation. I have never before seen such great love and service among a congregation of believers within our faith-heritage! Just yesterday our congregation helped 450+ families with warm coats and toys for Christmas. A couple of weeks ago we had a special contribution to help area children's homes (in excess of $6000 was given -- and this was over and above our regular contribution). A couple of weeks before that, over $12,000 was raised to help fund our Friendship Center, which distributes food, furniture and clothing on a weekly basis to needy families. I am proud to be a member of a congregation that cares about people who are hurting, and to be associated with believers who are "being Jesus" to those in need. In just three years our congregation has grown from about 600 people in attendance to around 900. And all this just since we moved into our "recreation and family life centers." People who come to worship with us see JESUS everywhere they look. We're not perfect, but we love the Lord. There are many people in our community, traditional Church of Christers, who regularly criticize us and try to tear us down. But, we just keep on keeping on, keep on loving the Lord, and keep on loving people around us. It is our prayer that God will continue to bless the work we are attempting to do in His name. May God richly bless you and keep you, Bro. Al.

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