God Being Merciful
The most important thing we need to see in this passage is the mercy of God.
Other important things are happening here, and we’re going to talk about those, but the most important thing for us to see is the mercy of God, great and glorious, front and center — the mercy of God is the theme.
And that might sound a little strange at first because when we read about fire and sulfur raining down from heaven we don’t immediately think about mercy. [Right?] And to be clear, God does execute judgment in this passage. Sodom and Gomorrah are quintessential when it comes to God’s judgment, but still the most important thing in this story is not God’s judgment, it’s God’s mercy. And in order for us to see this, the best way to start is to just back up and get an overview of the chapter.
Chapter 19 Overview
And when we do that, we see that this story unfolds in really four stages, and each of these stages are marked by what time of day the event occurred. And I want to mention those. I’m going to fill in the gaps, but notice the story begins in verse 1 when two angels (or two messengers, they looked like two men) came to Sodom “in the evening.”
So verse 1 starts “in the evening.”
Then in verse 15 we read “as the morning dawned.”
Then verse 23 begins “The sun had risen on the earth.”
And lastly verse 27, “And Abraham went early in the morning.”
So 1) it’s night, and then 2) the next morning at the break of dawn, then 3) when the sun had risen, and then 4) when it’s full morning but still early. That’s the timeline of the events that transpire here, and we don’t know exactly why we’re given these details about the time of day (I read about a couple ideas, but no one is certain). At the very least, though, reading about the time of day helps our imagination.
We’re led to understand this story in a literal span of time, from nighttime when it’s dark to the early morning. So as we’re walking through the text, I think we’re supposed to see the time of day in our minds. [So try to do that.]
At first it is night, and two messengers, two men, come into the city of Sodom. Lot, we’re told in verse 1, was “sitting in the gate of Sodom.” And right away this is meant to show us contrast between Lot and Abraham. Because the chapter just before this, Chapter 18, it opens in verse 1 with Abraham sitting “at the door of his tent in the heat of the day.”
So Abraham is sitting at the door of this tent, and Lot is sitting at the gate of Sodom. And this takes us back to Chapter 13 to remind us when Abraham and Lot separated. Remember that Lot is Abraham’s nephew and they used to live all together until their herdsmen came into some conflict, and so they separated, and Lot left Abraham for the Jordan Valley. Lot looked around and saw that in the east, in the valley, it was lush and fertile and abundant, and so he left Abraham and went there. Chapter 13, verse 12 tells us that Lot “settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom.”
So Lot has been living in Sodom, and now by Chapter 19, Lot has become a bona fide urbanite — he is sitting at the gate of Sodom. Meanwhile Abraham is still living in a tent out by the oaks of Mamre. There’s a contrast.
And while these two messengers come into the city, Lot greets them, and invites them to stay at his house. They at first declined because they said they were going to stay in the town square, but Lot urges them not to do that. (Trust, you don’t want to do that). And so they decide to stay with him, and after dinner, just before bedtime, Lot and the two messengers hear some commotion and yelling outside. And what has happened is that the men of the city have all gathered outside Lot’s door and they are demanding that Lot give them the two messengers because they want to physically harm them. The men of Sodom, as a gang, want to violate these two men.
Lot refuses; and so the mob get angry and they turn on Lot; but then the two messengers make them all go blind; and eventually things settle down, and the two messengers say to Lot,
Look, do you have any other family or friends around here who you want to be saved. Because [verse 13], “For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it.
So Lot tells his sons-in-law. But they think he’s joking.
Then it’s the crack of dawn, verse 15. The sun is just starting to rise and the time has come. The two messengers save Lot and his wife and their two daughters. They let them flee to Zoar.
Then the sun has completely risen, Lot and his family are out of there, verse 23, and so God started raining down fire and sulfur, and the text says that God destroyed everything. God destroyed all the inhabitants of the city and even everything that grew from the ground.
Then it’s later in the morning, but still early morning, and then we see Abraham. Abraham is standing, looking toward Sodom and Gomorrah and the Jordan Valley, and he’s looking at the smoke of what used to be these cities. [And I think about some of the videographers in our church, Tristan and Andrew, and this is the scene when the camera pans out behind Abraham, and you get a shot of his back and then off in the distance you see the smoke of Sodom, and it’s early morning silence.]
That’s what is going on here, and then the chapter ends with the downfall of Lot. That’s Genesis 19 as an overview. But there are three things in particular that I want us to look closer at, and I want us to see them by asking three questions:
- What is wrong with Sodom and Gomorrah?
- What is right with Lot and his family?
- What is true about the mercy of God?
Let’s get started . . .
1. What is wrong with Sodom and Gomorrah?
Now we already should have an idea by the time we get to Chapter 19 that something is wrong with Sodom. Back in Chapter 13, after Lot chooses to go live there, we read this one little verse, just sort of thrown in, Genesis 13:13, “Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.”
Then in Chapter 18, verse 20, the Lord says to Abraham that the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah has become great and their sin is “very grave.”
And then here in Chapter 19, just so we don’t miss it, we read again in verse 13 that the outcry against the people of Sodom has become great before the Lord.
That is why God is sending judgment, because of the outcry, and the outcry is because of the sin — “their sin is very grave,” says Chapter 18, verse 20. But what does that mean? What is going wrong in Sodom and Gomorrah? Two things . . .
First, Sodom and Gomorrah are sexually immoral.
So we already know there is “very grave” sin taking place in these cities, but we’re not shown what that is until the two messengers come to visit in Chapter 19. There is where we are given a glimpse into the depravity. Verse 4 says that every single man in the city, young and old, down to the last man, formed a mob and came to Lot’s door demanding to assault the two messengers. [And I’m being careful with my words, but we understand what is happening here.] There are layers of depravity at work in this story that is meant to get our attention.
It is first same-sex sin, and not by a few men, but by every man in the city, which means we’re talking about a mob. Then it becomes non-consensual, shameless demanding at the hands of this mob (which shows their pride; they are shameless). And then it gets violent. The mob is trying to beat down Lot’s door to get to these two messengers. This is the kind of wickedness going on here in Sodom.
Now it’s not the only sin happening in Sodom. Actually later in the Bible, in the book of Ezekiel, the prophet historically looks back at Sodom and says that Sodom was a city full of “pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy” (Ezek 16:49). So there are more kinds of wickedness going on in these cities, but when Genesis 19 wants to demonstrate how bad the wickedness is, it shows us same-sex gang violence.
There may be lower levels of wickedness in societies — you get to a point where you don’t grade evil — but the combination here of sexual immorality, violence, and pride is as bad as anything we can imagine. This is a society so curved in on itself, so hostile toward God’s design, that it attempts to force every non-compliant individual to join in their debauchery. That’s what is happening here at Lot’s door.
And we should understand that all this didn’t start with mobs trying to break down doors. We don’t know exactly where it started — maybe it started with forcing the non-compliant to approve of the debauchery — we don’t really know. We just know that the sin of Sodom has led here to mobs trying to break down doors … and that’s because rebellion against God is never content to stay where it is.
And that goes for societies and for individuals, and it’s especially true when it comes to sexual deviance. Hear me on this: sexual deviance, even of the smallest degree, is on a trajectory toward mobs beating down doors. That’s not where most people end up, yet, but that is where it wants to take you.
And I know that might sound crazy to you. But it’s true. Rebellion against God does not have guard rails — and if that is true of any kind of rebellion, it’s especially true of sexual rebellion. That’s because our sexuality is where we come into closest contact with God’s design — he made us — and so if we are hostile toward God, it will show up there. That’s why the apostle Paul says that sexual sin is different from other sins because sexual sin is sin against our own bodies (see 1 Corinthians 6:18). It is an attack on ourselves because ourselves carry God’s design.
And this kind of rebellion is all on one continuum. Whether it’s being physically inappropriate with someone or it’s ogling images that should never exist or it’s drunken raves in some abandoned warehouse, it is all on the same continuum, and left unchecked, it will lead to beating down doors. Lust has a bottomless appetite; and that is one thing wrong with Sodom and Gomorrah.
Now the second thing wrong . . .
Second, Sodom and Gomorrah are intolerant of moral valuations.
Notice in verse 6 that at first, when the mob came to Lot’s door, that Lot tried to reason with them. He went out to the entrance of his door and he said, verse 7, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly.” And then they reply, verse 9, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.”
So get what’s happening here: this is a mob of wicked men doing wicked things, and they get enraged when Lot calls what they are doing “wicked.”
As far as we know, according to what the text says, Lot has been getting along fine with his neighbors. Many commentators say, based upon how Lot was sitting at the city gate in verse 1, that he must have accrued prominence in Sodom. He was most likely a leader of some kind in the city. He, apparently, had not been mistreated by the men of the city . . . until he makes a moral valuation. The men of Sodom are okay with Lot until Lot says that what they are doing is wicked.
That is when, in their pride, the men of Sodom turn their focus from violence against the messengers to violence against Lot. This is really significant in the story. It’s another indication of how depraved they were. They refuse for any moral judgment to made of them.
According to their worldview, what is worse than same-sex gang violence is someone calling same-sex gang violence wicked. [Do you see that here?] They were coming for the two messengers, until Lot says they were being wicked. Then they are coming for Lot. Because how dare he call what they are doing wicked!
Sodom and Gomorrah are intolerant of moral valuations. That’s another thing going wrong here, and I should clarify, the men of Sodom are angry with Lot, but it’s not really about Lot. It’s interesting that they use the word “judge” in verse 9 because the last time that word is used is Chapter 18, verse 25, and there God is called “the Judge of all the earth.” So we’re supposed to link these together. These men are taking their anger out on Lot, but they’re really just mad at God. We can see how this goes: They are mad at the God they don’t believe in, and so they displace that aggression toward those who reflect God’s moral law.
This is Sodom and Gomorrah. A lot going wrong there.
Now to the second question.
2. What is right with Lot and his family?
And this is the shortest point of the sermon because the answer is “not much.”
We already had our suspicions about Lot, and then we read this chapter, and we see that Lot is a clown. And I mean that almost literally, because when he warns his sons-in-law about God’s judgment in verse 14, they think he’s joking. They think he’s doing an act. They can’t take him seriously. And so according to Chapter 19, when we’re reading this, Lot doesn’t look very good. I mean, look, in verse 8 he suggested to the mob that they violate his two daughters instead of the two messengers. This is not good.
Now there is one place in the New Testament where Lot is called “righteous,” but that is only in comparison to the wickedness of Sodom, and it really has to do with Genesis 18, the chapter before this one. We are supposed to read Chapter 19 here in light of Chapter 18, because there is where we see Abraham’s prayer.
Abraham prayed in Chapter 18 that God not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of the small number of righteous people who lived there. This is presumably Lot and his family (if we connect the dots), but the story makes a lesser deal about their righteousness and a bigger deal about Abraham’s intercession. We’re supposed to see Chapter 19 as an answer to Abraham’s prayer.
That’s the reason why this little part on the city of Zoar is included. So in Chapter 18 Abraham asked God not to destroy Sodom only because Lot was there. And God answers that. While Lot was in Sodom, God doesn’t destroy Sodom, but then he gets Lot out of Sodom and the judgment comes.
Lot moves to city of Zoar and now the same principle applies. Still in answer to Abraham’s prayer, God doesn’t destroy Zoar because Lot is there. This is what Abraham prayed — that God not destroy a city even if there’s only ten righteous there.
And to make all this super clear, the story ends in verse 29 when the camera pans out, and there’s Abraham standing, looking at the smoke in the distance. And verse 19 says,
So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.
So this story has really been all about Abraham. God answered Abraham’s prayer, and the main thing isn’t judgment, it’s mercy. That gets to our last question.
3. What is true about the mercy of God?
So this story about Sodom’s judgment ends with Abraham in verse 27, and I think that means we’re supposed to be looking at this whole thing through his eyes. We’re supposed to see this story from his perspective. And when we do that — looking from a distance at fire and sulfur raining down from heaven and smoke rising up in the air — when we look at that we’re supposed to see God’s mercy. Now how?
How is that the mercy of God? What is true about the mercy of God?
First, God delights in showing mercy, not judgment.
This first thing here is really a category. In the Bible we see that God shows mercy and judgment. He forgives sinners and he punishes sinners, and everything about that is right. But when it comes to the heart of God, showing mercy is God’s delight, which is different from his wrath. We see this very clearly in the book of Ezekiel, in Ezekiel Chapter 18, verse 23 God says,
Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? . . . [verse 32] For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.
And we see this at work in Genesis 19. God is not foaming at the mouth to hurl down judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. He sends messengers to warn them. He gives Lot the chance to get out of there, and he tells Lot to tell anyone else he wants to. This is because God delights in showing mercy, not judgment.
And we see this also in the book of Jonah. Jonah is he only prophet in the Bible who wanted to withhold mercy from the wicked. He wanted to withhold God’s mercy from Ninevah. And you know what happened to him? God rebuked him, and a whale swallowed him, and the book of Jonah ends with God saying that he pitied Ninevah. God had mercy on Ninevah. Because God delights in showing mercy.
And also in the book of Micah we see this straight up. The book ends, with Micah Chapter 7, verse 18:
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights to show mercy. (NIV)
We need to know this about God. He delights in mercy.
Second, there are untold depths to the mercy of God.
In this story of Genesis 19, just like there are layers to the depravity, there are layers to God’s mercy, and his mercy is more. Let me just point them out to you.
The first layer of mercy is the very fact that God sends the two messengers to warn Lot and his family about the coming judgment.
The text wants us to know this is mercy. It’s not because Lot deserved it. We get a good picture of Lot when we read the chapter. The two messengers are God’s mercy to Lot. God is being faithful to Abraham, and that means Lot gets mercy. So these two messengers come and give him a chance to get out of there before it starts raining fire.
The second layer of mercy comes when the mob turns on Lot. Remember in verse 9, after Lot calls the mob wicked, the mob says that now they are going to “deal worse” with Lot than with the two messengers. (And in terms of how in the world they can do anything worse, we don’t know, but whatever that is they were going to do it to Lot.)
And so they went for him. They “pressed hard against” Lot and tried to grab him in this dramatic scene, but the two messengers reached out from Lot’s house, pulled him inside, and slammed the door. And then the two messengers made every single man in the mob go blind, and eventually they left. This is God’s mercy to keep Lot from becoming a victim of his city’s evil. God rescued Lot here. This is mercy.
And then the third layer of mercy comes the morning of the judgment. The two men are very clear to Lot about what is about to happen. God’s punishment is about to fall on Sodom and Gomorrah. The messengers tell Lot, in verse 15, “GET UP! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.”
And that’s mercy, right? That these men even came here to tell Lot to leave is mercy. Get out of here or you’re going to be destroyed with the wicked. That’s mercy! But then verse 16, maybe the strangest sentence in Genesis, we read: “But Lot lingered.”
Lot, what are you doing, man? It’s about to rain fire. Lava is going to fall from the sky. They told you to get out of here, and to hurry, but he lingers. He stalls. He doesn’t leave.
Then verse 16, “So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, they brought him out and set him outside the city.”
And there it is, great and glorious, front and center, the mercy of God. This is God being merciful to Lot. The text says it! This whole thing has been mercy, but here is another depth of mercy, and one we could not fathom. When Abraham prayed in Chapter 18 he stopped at ten. God said Okay, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it” (Gen. 18:32). But this isn’t ten. This is four. And they are lingering in the city. And when it gets down to just four — and four people who are lingering — God seizes them by the hand and snatches them out of the destruction that is coming.
We’re talking about untold depths of mercy here. This is mercy we never expected. We didn’t see this kind of mercy coming — and get this, there’s even more. There’s even more mercy.
There was another time, much later than Genesis 19, when God’s mercy exceeded our expectations, and it was in an event much more intense than this one.
It didn’t include messengers coming and fire in the sky, but instead it was God himself coming in the person of Jesus Christ and his judgment fell not on us, but on Jesus for us. When Jesus came and died on the cross in our place, he was bearing the fire and sulfur that should have rained down on our heads. When Jesus died on the cross it was God reaching out and seizing us by the hand.
And I want to ask: has God seized you? Has he reached out and grabbed you?
I don’t know where we’re all coming from this morning, but if you put your faith in Jesus and his death for you, God will seize you by the hand. And he will hold you and keep you. Because he delights to show you mercy.
And this Table reminds us of that.
At this Table, as we take the bread and cup and remember the death of Jesus, we are remembering the mercy of God to us. And in that, we experience God’s delight. We enjoy this meal in the joy of God. This is the evidence his grace. This is the work of his mercy. And if that is true for you, if God has seized you, if you trust in Jesus, we invite you to eat and drink with us.