One of the defining characteristics of any true follower of Jesus is that of a person who is always looking ahead and moving forward. They are always pressing on to new things, new opportunities, and new depths in their relationship with God. It does them no good to look backwards for a person who looks backwards is likely to go backwards.
So it was for Lot’s wife. Here was a woman who was almost saved. God had rescued her and her husband from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. She was in the process of flight and almost safe, snatched from the flames. But there was something in her heart that pulled her back to Sodom. God showed her the way of deliverance and life, but she wasn’t willing to leave her old life behind. And God turned her into a pillar of salt. Today there is even a pillar of salt named “Lot’s Wife” near the Dead Sea, the place where Sodom once lay.
If the Genesis account is all we had, we might raise an eyebrow at this or add it to our weird things in the bible list, but that’s about the extent of it – if it weren’t for Jesus’ words in Luke 17. That changes everything. Jesus is speaking about his second coming and the judgment that is to come upon the world. He is describing the state of things when that happens – people eating and drinking and going about their business and being totally unprepared. And so when he says, “Remember Lot’s wife” he suddenly has our attention. There is something about this woman that Jesus wants us to learn from.
1. Consider her privileges
During the days that Lot’s wife lived there were no bibles, no churches, no preachers, no tracts, and no missionaries. Knowledge of the true God was confined to a few favoured families. Lot’s wife belonged to one of those families. When Abraham came with his little army back in chapter 14 and achieved a mighty victory and delivered her family from captivity, she was there. When the angels came to Sodom and warned her husband to flee, she saw them. When they urged them to flee the judgment to come, she heard them. She even became one of the few people in the world who has ever held an angel’s hand.
Yet what good effect had all these privileges on the heart of Lot’s wife? It appears, none at all. The eyes of her understanding were never opened, her conscience was never quickened, her will was never really brought into a state of obedience to God, and her affections were never really set on things above. The world was in her heart and her heart was with the world. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” Jesus said (Matt 6:21). This is the state she lived in and in this state she died.
Let this lesson sink into you today: the mere possession of privileges will never save a person’s soul. You may have an abundance of spiritual advantages. You might have grown up in a Christian home where the bible is taught and people pray; you may enjoy great preaching and soul-moving worship. You can even have an active role serving in the church. Yet you yourself can remain unregenerate; your heart unchanged and be lost forever. Take note: it is possible to be surrounded by the most wonderful Christians in the world and still remain unrepentant and spiritually lost. Heed the words of Jesus. Remember Lot’s wife.
2. Consider her error
Earlier that day, Abraham had pleaded with God to spare the cities if just ten righteous people could be found there (Genesis 18). When two angelic messengers arrive in Sodom at nightfall, it seems only one man is worth saving: Abraham’s nephew Lot. The men of the city surround Lot’s house and demand the angels come out so that they can abuse them. The angels urge Lot and his family to run – to flee, lest they be swept away in God’s judgment upon the city. We are told one of the angels grabs his wife’s hand. Come on Mrs Lot, it’s time to go. You need to get moving. But Sodom’s hold on her was great. The angels kept urging and pulling on her hand. Come on Mrs Lot. You need to flee. But why? “Because of the Lord’s compassion,” we are told in verse 16. Because of the Lord’s mercy. Because God cares for people like Lot’s wife.
The angels cry out, “Don’t look back and don’t stop anywhere on the plain!” (Gen 19:17) You might say to yourself, “Well that seems a bit severe. Like, one backwards glance back and ‘poof’ – you’re gone? That hardly seems reasonable.” I don’t believe it was like that. John Walton, in the NIV commentary, points out that Lot’s wife’s “looking back” was more than a backward glance. She had turned back to the city. That becomes even clearer when we consider Jesus’ words in Luke 17:
“But on the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be like that on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, a man on the housetop, whose belongings are in the house, must not come down to get them. Likewise the man who is in the field must not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife!” (Luke 17:29–32)
This wasn’t a curious backward glance over the shoulder. She turned back. The voice of the angel was urging her onwards, yet she turns back. And what was it that her heart longed for? Was it some treasure she had left under the bed? Was it the glitter and city lights of Sodom – the markets, the street food, the music, the atmosphere? Whatever it was, she turned back. She ignored the angels warning. She disobeyed God’s Word. And she became a pillar of salt. God wanted to deliver her from that wicked city and give her a new life. But she wasn’t willing to pay the price.
3. Consider her end
Picture the scene from a movie camera. Dark clouds swilling in the sky above. Anxious faces in Sodom glance upward. Lot and his daughters have almost reached the gates of Zoar. And there, in between, a lone figure on her way back to Sodom is Lot’s wife. The earth begins to shake, sulphur and molten rock begin to rain down. The last thing she sees is a swirling inferno of ash and sand and then the hot gasses envelop her. The smoke lifts and there she is – incrusted, hard, immovable – frozen in time; her gaze in the direction of Sodom, for all to see. Whether that was the way it happened or not; whether it was volcanic eruption or some other way, be sure of this: it was the judgement of God.
Listen to these sobering words from J.C. Ryle in A Woman to be Remembered:
To die at any time is a solemn thing. To die amid kind friends and relations, to die calmly and quietly in one’s bed, to die with the prayers of godly men still sounding in your ears, to die with a good hope through grace in the full assurance of salvation, leaning on the Lord Jesus, buoyed up by gospel promises — to die even so, I say, is a serious business. But to die suddenly and in a moment, in the very act of sin, to die in full health and strength, to die by the direct interposition of an angry God — this is fearful indeed. Yet this was the end of Lot’s wife.
To come so close to salvation, and yet be so far away. To be on the way to the gates of Zoar, and only to turn back. To have your husband and daughters reach safety while you come under the judgement of God – that is a tragic, tragic end. The worst thing about the perishing of Lot’s wife lay in this: that she perished in the very act of sin, and no time or space for repentance was given to her.
Think of the parable Jesus told of the rich man whose goods had amassed so much he had no room to put them. He said to himself, “I will do this – I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones… and then I will say to myself, ‘You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy, eat, drink and enjoy yourself.’ But God said, “You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you” (Luke 12:16-20). God was not part of his life. He gave no thought to eternity or where he was going. He died, unprepared.
It is this state of unreadiness – of being unsuspecting and unprepared that Jesus gives the warning he does in Luke chapter 17: “Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to make his life secure will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.”
He relates this to two time periods: the days of Noah and the days of Lot. In both examples, people were completely unprepared for the disaster that was coming upon them. They were busy with their lives – eating and drinking, planning weddings and buying and selling. Then suddenly and unexpectantly, the water came. Suddenly and unexpectantly, fire and molten rock began to fall from the sky. Up until that point, their lives had one single purpose: just living. All their actions, all their days, each little moment of their existence was spent on themselves. They lived as though God never existed. All that mattered was their next meal, their next purchase, or their next little project.
And so it is with deep love and urgency that Jesus gives us this warning: Remember Lot’s wife.
Perhaps you are one here who does not know what it means to be saved, to be forgiven and to be assured of eternal life. And you are thinking, “What must I do?” The answer is very simple. It is not complicated. You must take God at his Word. You must believe in the gospel. You must turn from the world and become a follower of Christ. Turn from the way you are living and begin a journey of living the truth.
If you are following Christ, this warning is for you also. Beware of the pull of the world. Be careful what your heart becomes attached to. When judgement comes, you don’t want to be found on the plain.
This post is based on a message from a series on the life of Abraham. You can listen to that message here.