I do believe. I don't. I do. I don't. (Genesis 19-20)
The Bible is painfully honest about human nature. That’s what we get in Genesis 19-20--close ups that show us just how messed up Abraham and Lot actually were.
Lot is no longer living near Sodom (Genesis 13:12). He’s moved inward through the gates of Sodom (Genesis 19:1) and is now living in the inner city. When you and I hear the words “Sodom and Gomorrah,” we think darkness, fire, and destruction, but surely it was a beautiful, wealthy, comfortable city by day. Why else would Lot have hesitated to leave? Why else would he complain at the prospect of taking refuge in the mountains--even as he is being rescued?
Lot had spent years caravanning in the wilderness. He could handle the mountains. But instead of being grateful for God’s miraculous and merciful intervention, Lot has grown picky, begging for a small town in which to live. He says he will die without that convenience. (No, Lot. You’ll die if you stay in Sodom. Years of moral compromise have made him dense.)
By night, Sodom shows us the telos (the end) of humanism—greed that demands whatever it desires. In unison, the men of this wicked city convene to demand homosexual rape of two heavenly visitors. Lot defaults to compromise, offering his own two daughters for the rape fest instead.
Imagine what it’s like to be one of these two young women, hearing the crowds rage outside, then hearing your own father offer you to a riot. These women have grown up in a godless town with a self-indulgent and spineless father, as well as a mother who doesn’t fear God’s commands (Genesis 19:26). Is it any wonder that these girls (who I seriously doubt were virgins, BTW, Genesis 19:8) eventually get their own dad drunk and impregnate themselves by them?
But Lot’s family isn’t the only one that’s messed up. We also see Abraham stumble in fear. In fact, he makes the same exact mistake that he made in Egypt, worried that King Abimelek is going to be overwhelmed by his gorgeous wife, Sarah, so he plays the “sister” card again. We thought he’d learned better by now, right? Big fat backslide.
Don’t forget that she’s at least 90 at this point and post-menopausal (Genesis 18). In my mind’s eye, I’m seeing this little old couple wobbling into Gerar--a white-haired man who still believes the wife of his youth is a total catch...
Also, don’t forget that God has been talking with Abraham directly, providing stunning evidence that Abraham won’t die until he’s produced an heir with Sarah. He’s one of very few humans who has ever had a guarantee that he won’t die—and yet, Abraham blanks on all that, trying to take charge of his own protection and trading away the very woman who is an essential part of God’s promise.
I wish I could know what Sarah felt here. Is she angry about his passivity or was she old enough at this point that she shook her head like a little old woman who is resigned (at last) to the fact that her husband is never going to shut the toilet seat? Is she giggling to herself that she’s now 90, married to a husband who is still convinced that she’s a major hottie? (<<That would be me. “You just go ahead and worry about that, honey. BTW, somebody bring me some Aspercreme.”)
Abimelek receives Sarah but doesn’t sleep with her, which is actually pretty important because the whole line of Abraham could have been threatened by Abraham’s lack of faith here.
It’s all kind of funny, and pretty dark, and also achingly sad. Here we have the crème of the crop, the best of the people of God. Abraham was willing to be circumcised as a grown man (which would have been excruciating and bloody), so he’s already banked on God to an extreme that I’ve never had to attempt. Still, he believes like a sputtering candle, all in, sometimes out, threatened by the winds.
God is so patient and so proactive here, as he was with Lot. Over and again, we see a God who rescues men against their belief and trust, and even against their own desires. Yet he doesn't dominate them fully. After making extreme attempts to save Lot's family, God eventually allows Lot's wife to chase what she loved more than God.
When does God intervene, and when does he let us find our own end? This image is complex, just like modern theological attempts to reconcile free will and predestination.
God lets this story stand instead of reducing it to a single axiom, but by it we are at least shown this much: key figures in the narrative of the Old Testament are human beings with emotional and spiritual traits very much like our own. These are real people who sometimes got it right and often got it wrong, humans who could eke out a mustard seed’s worth of faith now and then—but who stumbled, too.
God is used to dealing with our type. He's loved us despite us for thousands of years, knowing us well enough to realize that even for those who love God most fiercely, even for those who commit most radically, our only hope could be a Savior stronger than any promise we ever make.