It looked like hard rock, but when I grabbed a piece, it easily broke apart and crumbled into ash. I sifted it through my fingers and crushed large chunks with my shoe. It smelled of sulfur. Overlooking the landscape, the topography was far different from the surrounding area. I could make out distinct shapes of buildings, along with religious structures such as a temple and a sphinx. Outer walls enclosed the city. A certain layout of streets and paths was evident.
Incredible. I was standing in what is thought to be the ashen ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah!
In July 2011, I visited this site as part of a delegation from Headquarters. Historical and scientific evidence strongly indicate that these ancient cities are located on the eastern coast of the Dead Sea in Israel.
The Bible recounts God raining “fire and brimstone” on these cities. There are thousands of little brimstone spheres still in the ashes. Lab analysis confirms that they are 95.72 percent sulfur. When researchers lit a sulfur chunk on fire, it burned so hot that it ate through the spoon holding it. They estimated that the original brimstone burned at temperatures of up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit! Archaeologists also found swirling and layering patterns in the rock that do not occur naturally—indicating a superheated traumatic experience.
First-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote this about the region: “Now this country is then so sadly burnt up, that nobody cares to come at it…The nature of the lake Asphaltitis [the Dead Sea] is also worth describing…The length of this lake is five hundred and eighty furlongs, where it is extended as far as Zoar in Arabia…The country of Sodom borders upon it. It was of old a most happy land both, for the fruits it bore and the riches of its cities, although it be now all burnt up. It is related how, for the impiety of its inhabitants, it was burnt by lightning; in consequence of which there are still the remainders of that divine fire; and the traces [or shadows] of the five cities are still to be seen, as well as the ashes growing in their fruits which fruits have a color as if they were fit to be eaten; but if you pluck them with your hands, they will dissolve into smoke and ashes. And thus what is related of this land of Sodom hath these marks of credibility which our very sight affords us” (Wars of the Jews, emphasis added).
God clearly preserved the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah as a witness of the consequences of rejecting His way of life for the world’s ways.
While standing in what is considered to be the site of Gomorrah, I thought of Lot’s wife becoming a pillar of salt. I wondered: Why did she look back? What caused her to forget the terrible conditions in Sodom and Gomorrah and want to return, even if only in her mind? Only hours earlier, her daughters had been offered to a violent mob, guests in her home were nearly abused, her husband had been threatened, her own life was at stake. She should have ran in panic to escape. Instead she turned back, longing for a city—a way of life—that was going up in flames. She permitted her mind to temporarily slip and focus on what to her were the “positive” aspects of her home.
Satan, the god of this world, has clouded the view of society’s bad fruits. Through deceit, he presents the world as enticing, interesting, exhilarating—better than God’s Way. But like an apple that is shiny and red on the outside but rotten to the core, today’s modern world is corrupt. The world is full of emptiness, loneliness, heartache and tragedy.
Christians live in the world but are not of it (John 17:16). We are surrounded by the wrong ways of living, among people walking in the opposite direction. Like salmon during their annual run, we struggle upstream, fighting strong currents in cold water—constantly battling.
It is hard work!
But God wants us to succeed, and He knows we can. To help us gain the victory, Jesus Christ left us a specific reminder—a plain instruction and warning—that helps us quickly recall how we should properly view the world: “Remember Lot’s wife…”
Three Big Words
In Luke 17, Jesus Christ said this of our time: “…as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; but the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it” (vs. 28-33).
The message for true Christians is to not overvalue our physical lives and belongings. We must not get caught up in the cares of this world. A Christian focuses on the main goal: entering God’s kingdom. Holding onto our physical lives with a white-knuckled grip will cause us to lose our eternal lives.
Imagine this planet during the time just before Christ’s Return when all nations will experience the Great Tribulation and Day of the Lord. During this period, God will punish the Israelite nations and pour out His wrath on mankind after 6,000 years of sin. Sodom and Gomorrah is a type of this coming punishment: “And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample [a type] unto those that after should live ungodly” (II Pet. 2:6).
Yet God promises to protect His servants. Other scriptures reveal more about this process, but the context of Luke 17 involves being ready when the time comes to escape. (Daniel 12:12 and other passages reveal this occurs at the 1,335-day mile marker, when “the Son of man is revealed.”)
Let’s follow Christ’s instruction to remember the story of Lot’s wife.
“Cities of the Plain”
Recall from Bible history that Lot was given first choice of the land that was divided between him and Abram. Lot chose to move his family to the “well watered” plain of Jordan (Gen. 13:10). Verse 12 states, “…Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.” Five cities made up these “cities of the plain”—Zeboim, Admah, Gomorrah, Sodom and Zoar. Lot’s choice and the fact that they were “well watered” reveals that these cities were likely pleasing to the eye and had physical attributes such as fertile soil and access to water, which likely drew people to them.
In the end, however, Jeremiah 49:18 reveals that Sodom and Gomorrah along with the surrounding cities were destroyed: “As in the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighbor cities thereof, says the Lord, no man shall abide there…” (Zoar was spared for Lot’s sake.)
Genesis 13:13 tells us that the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were “wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.” Genesis 18:20 states, “And the Lord said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous.” The cities were full of homosexuality, fornication and violence. The apostle Jude wrote, “Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (vs. 7).
II Peter 2 makes clear that Lot was a righteous man living in the midst of a corrupt society: “And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation [conduct] 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 knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (vs. 7-9).
With this context, let’s read the account from Genesis 19. Lot provides shelter to two angels (who appeared as men) when suddenly, “…the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: and they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to you this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them” (vs. 4-5). “Know” is translated from the same Hebrew word used in Genesis 4:1 to describe sexual relations between Adam and Eve. This reference in Genesis 19:5 refers to homosexual rape.
Lot unwisely responds by offering his two daughters to the angry mob: “And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, and said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly. Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do you to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof” (vs. 6-8).
The people of the city then threaten Lot: “And they said, Stand back. And they said again, This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with you, than with them. And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and came near to break the door” (vs. 9).
Notice that they did not see Lot as one of them and quickly turn on him. The world today does not and should not see us as one of them.
The account continues: “But the men [angels] put forth their hand, and pulled Lot into the house to them, and shut to the door. And they smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great: so that they wearied themselves to find the door.
“And the men [angels] said unto Lot, Have you here any besides? Son in law, and your sons, and your daughters, and whatsoever you have in the city, bring them out of this place: for we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the Lord; and the Lord has sent us to destroy it” (vs. 9-13).
After the angels instruct Lot to gather his family and flee the city, Lot hesitates: “And Lot went out, and spoke unto his sons in law [the proper translation reveals they were only engaged to Lot’s daughters]…Up, get you out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law. And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take your wife, and your two daughters, which are here; lest you be consumed in the iniquity of the city. And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the Lord being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city.”
Though we today may “linger” from time to time in following God’s instructions, He is merciful to us nonetheless. That said, we must avoid doing so willfully and repeatedly.
Back to the account: “And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for your life; look not behind you [notice the clear instruction to not look back!], neither stay you in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed” (vs. 14-17).
Recognize that Lot and his family were clearly told to “look not behind you” as they fled. From that point forward failure to comply would lead to grave consequences. After Lot convinces the angels to spare Zoar, the destruction begins, “The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered into Zoar. Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and He overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground” (vs. 23-25).
Turned to Salt
Now for the crucial moment when Lot’s wife is overcome by emotion and longs for her previous life: “But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt” (vs. 26). The Hebrew for “looked” can also be translated “to scan, that is, look intently at; by implication to regard with pleasure, favor or care: (cause to) behold, consider, look (down), regard, have respect, see” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible).
Lot’s wife saw conditions through rose-colored glasses, despite being in danger when the city was threatening her family. The sad irony is that Lot’s wife was longing for a way of life that leads to death—all while looking back at one of the biggest and most famous examples of how the wicked ultimately die. Despite seeing the result of evil conduct and the fate of these cities, she still viewed things incorrectly.
Josephus sheds more light on the sin of Lot’s wife: “But God was much displeased at their impudent behavior, so that he both smote those men with blindness, and condemned the Sodomites to universal destruction. But Lot, upon God’s informing him of the future destruction of the Sodomites, went away, taking with him his wife and daughters, who were two, and still virgins…God then cast a thunderbolt upon the city, and set it on fire, with its inhabitants; and laid waste the country with the like burning…But Lot’s wife continually turning back to view the city as she went from it, and being too nicely inquisitive what would become of it, although God had forbidden her so to do, was changed into a pillar of salt; for I have seen it, and it remains at this day” (The Antiquities of the Jews).
Described as “continually turning back to view the city,” Lot’s wife could not let go of what Sodom and Gomorrah represented. Also note that Josephus reveals that the pillar of salt was still there during his day. It must have been preserved by God for some time as a warning to all who saw it.
How do you view the modern “Sodom and Gomorrah” around you? Do we realize that we cannot have one foot in God’s Church and one foot in the world? We must be fully committed to God, His Church and His way of life to succeed.
Powerful Message from Hebrews
The book of Hebrews contains vital warnings for us from God about rejecting the world’s ways. Hebrews 10:23 instructs Christians to “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering …” We cannot be unsure of ourselves in the commitment we made at baptism. Verses 38-39 state, “Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.”
Think of Moses. He gave up a high position in Egypt and never looked back! His example of steadfast focus is an inspiring for us. Notice: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out”—recall how Lot’s wife looked back continually—“they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He has prepared for them a city” (Heb. 11:13-16).
Instead of being “mindful” of aspects of the world, keep God’s kingdom in the forefront of your mind.
Hebrews 11 reveals more about Moses’ example: “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible. Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them” (vs. 24-28).
When tempted to “look back” at the world, call to mind these two Proverbs: “Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away” (4:14-15), and, “Let not your heart envy sinners: but be you in the fear of the Lord all the day long. For surely there is an end [a reward to sinners]; and your expectation shall not be cut off” (23:17-18).
The New Testament contains many admonitions about rejecting the world. Here are just a few key ones:
Romans 12:2: “And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
James 4:4: “You adulterers and adulteresses, know you not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”
I John 2:15-17: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God abides forever.”
As we approach the spring Holy Day season, the Days of Unleavened Bread remind us to never look back on our lives in spiritual Egypt. We cannot be like the ancient Israelites who lusted after the “good” aspects of Egypt (the leeks, onions and garlic—Numbers 11:4-6). Christians must see through Satan’s deceit and view this evil world through the proper lens.
What will you do when faced with opportunities—big or small—to give up? Will you be ready for the all-important 1,335 mile marker? (Newer brethren who have not yet heard Mr. Pack’s sermon series about the days of the Son of Man should listen to it. It brings much more context and instruction about this subject.)
Finally, notice Christ’s plain warning: “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
Always remember the consequences of longing for this world. Mankind’s 6,000 years of abject failure to bring about peace and prosperity proves this. Satan and this world offer us nothing but death—while God offers us eternal life serving others as part of His Family.
Remember Lot’s wife. Run full speed toward God’s kingdom and never look back!