July 6, 2015

Mercy at the Gates of Sodom


This is not a name we generally associate with mercy.

In Genesis 18:23-33, one reads a conversation between Abraham and God. God decides to share with Abraham the divine plan to destroy the city of Sodom because extreme wickedness has been attributed to the inhabitants of that place. In response, Abraham wonders aloud if God would destroy the good and honest people who just happen to live in Sodom.  In the conversation, Abraham asks the question: "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?"

As the conversation progresses, God tells Abraham if fifty righteous people can be found in Sodom, the city will not be destroyed. Abraham, knowing his nephew Lot lives there, bargains God down to ten.

That was an expression of God's mercy.

In other words, if ten righteous people could be found in the city (historians estimate the population of the city was between 600 and 1200), God  would not destroy it. For the sake of ten righteous people, God would allow at least several hundred unrighteous to continue on.

That is the height of mercy. That is a massive expression of love for the righteous and tolerance for the unrighteous.

As many of us who are familiar with the story know, when angelic visitors arrive at Sodom to evaluate the situation, a series of events unfold:

1) Lot convinces the visitors to spend the night at his home. Originally, the visitors planned to spend the night in the town square. Visitors spending the night in a town square was a common practice at that time.

2) A mob (all of the men of the city, says the text in Genesis 19:4) gathers outside of Lot's house, demanding Lot bring out the men for sex.

3) Lot refuses, offering his virgin daughters to the crowd as sex substitutes in place of the angelic male visitors.

4) The mob, enraged by Lot's offer, attempts to enter Lot's house by force.

5) The visitors securely return Lot to the inside of his house and strike the mob with blindness. Lot is warned the city will be destroyed.

Lot then attempts to warn the young men engaged to his daughters that the city will be destroyed by God, and they must soon make their escape. The young men refuse to come with him. The text states they thought he was joking. Genesis 19:14: "So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, 'Up! Get out of this place, for the LORD is about to destroy the city'. But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be joking."

By dawn, the visitors were urging Lot to get out of town. It is possible Lot was completely disoriented by the events of the previous twelve hours.

In verses 15 and 16 of Chapter 19 of Genesis: "As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying 'Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city'. But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the
hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city."

Another expression of mercy.

Lot was warned to escape to the hills. In response to this, Lot complains he can't get that far, and asks if he could instead escape to a smaller, nearby city. The angelic visitor responded "...Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. Escape there
quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there." (Genesis 19: 21 and 22).

Another expression of mercy.

Lot finally makes it to the small city of Zoar as the destruction of Sodom is underway. Lot's wife ("behind him" says the text in Genesis 19:26), looked back at Sodom and became a pillar of salt. She was destroyed, having met the same fate as those who physically remained in the city.

Some have said the destruction of Sodom wasn't very merciful, but was a picture of the actions of an angry, unloving God.

I suppose one could read it that way. Still, I am mindful that ten righteous people could not be found in a city of several hundred or a thousand. I am mindful that even the few who escaped had to be dragged away (did not go willingly or quickly)  and one of them (Lot's wife) stayed so far behind (physically or emotionally)that she was consumed in the destruction she turned back to witness.

Finally, I believe God showed much more mercy than many of us have shown to those who act wickedly. Do you doubt this? Read the comments section of any major news source when a horrendous crime is committed. There you will find no shortage of cries to "hang them", "fry them", and other suggested punishments I won't recite.

Actually, God shows much more mercy than we show to those who have done the wrong thing.

It did not end well for Lot. Read the rest of chapter 19 of Genesis. After the escape from Sodom, Lot fell into drunkenness and incest with his two daughters. Sodom left its stain on them, even though they escaped physically. Those who remained behind were destroyed. But in each case,
destruction was a result of the choices made by those who could have chosen good over evil.

Mercy was offered, even at the gates of Sodom.

From 2 Samuel 22:26-28:

"With the merciful you show yourself merciful;

with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;

with the purified you deal purely,

and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.

You save a humble people, but your eyes are on the the haughty

to bring them down."

Scripture quotations are from the ESV (English Standard Version), Kindle edition.

No comments: