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Describing Lot

by Tim O'Hearn

When I started work at a new job some years ago, my new boss and several other people warned me that a certain person in the marketing department and a certain leader in customer service were especially difficult to deal with. Both of these people supposedly had distinctly negative attitudes. As it turned out, I had frequent dealings with both individuals and never had a problem with either. Fortunately, I had reserved judgement until I could experience these people on my own. How often do we judge people based on the opinions of others? When we do so, do we get the expected results because our interactions are tainted by our expectations? There is a man in the Bible about whom it might be easy to fall into this trap.

When you ask someone familiar with the story of Abraham to describe his nephew Lot, what responses might you get? Many people will immediately think of his wife who turned into a pillar of salt for looking back at the destruction of Sodom. But we have enough information to judge him independent of her. Some of the words that come immediately to mind might be greedy, drunkard, incestuous, or whining. These may all be true (although the incest was not his doing; he was raped by his daughters). Peter uses a word that would probably not be commonly associated with Lot.

For if God … delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;) The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished. (2 Pet 2:4, 7-9)

The words “just” and “righteous” in that passage are the same word (which may also be translated virtuous). Peter doesn’t jump to the usual conclusions about the character of Lot.

In Genesis, Lot’s actions do not always seem virtuous. When his uncle proposed splitting up, he chose what appeared to be the better land, which is why he is sometimes characterized as greedy. When the men of Sodom demanded that he turn over to them the “men” (really angels) that had come to his house, he offered his virgin daughters to them, causing some to call him selfish and unfeeling. When his daughters wanted to get pregnant even though isolated from other men, they seemingly had no problem getting him drunk on successive nights; hence the accusations of being a drunkard and incestuous. Peter, having only the same information we have, calls him righteous, just, or virtuous. How can this be?

Peter doesn’t address the apparent greed (or are we just projecting our own faults onto Lot?). He doesn’t address the actions of Lot’s daughters, for even the drunkenness was at their instigation. Rather, he concentrates on the visit of the angels. Lot was vexed and distressed over the lives of the wicked. Even the act of offering his daughters to the men of Sodom was a righteous act, because he had learned from Abraham that hospitality was of supreme importance. Lot daily regretted his choice to live in and around Sodom.

Sometimes our actions do not reflect our true character. We make decisions that turn out to be disastrous, but have to live with the consequences. In trying to remove the speck from Lot’s eye, do we ignore the beam in our own? When we jump to a conclusion, do we dash ourselves on hidden rocks? Peter learned to look at who a man was, not just what he did. He had learned the painful lesson about looking before he leaped.