Abraham had remained, interceding before the Lord, not so much for the guilty cities of the plain as for the ten righteous that, as he hoped, were to be found in Sodom. Two "men" of the three had turned their faces toward Sodom and as we start Genesis 19 we find them arriving at the gate of Sodom, and now they are plainly disclosed as "two angels." As they approached, Lot sat in the gate of Sodom; which signifies, of course, that he had accepted magisterial office in that exceedingly wicked city. This enables us to understand more fully how he "vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds," as recorded in 2 Peter 2: 7, 8. He not only saw and heard fearful evils as a private person but came into contact with it all as a magistrate.
Bearing this in mind, our chapter is full of the most solemn warning for us all. He may have regarded his election as a judge as an elevation; it was in truth a sad fall, entailing dire consequences. We saw him at first pitching his tent toward Sodom. Then he dwelt in it, and shared in its defeat, as recorded in Genesis 14. Now he has become a leader in it. And with what effect? Has he prevailed to clean up its degraded morals, to improve its ethical standards? Not in the least! He has, as we shall see, only involved himself and his family in its evils.
He had preserved however patriarchal politeness and hospitality, as we see in verses 1-3. He too entertained angels unawares, but with a very different result as compared with Abraham. As night came on his house was beseiged by godless men, bent on monstrous evil. Lot's attempt to pacify them by the sacrifice of his two unmarried daughters shows how low in his own mind he himself had sunk by reason of Sodom's contamination. Lot's position as judge now counted for nothing, indeed they flung it back at him as though he had been a mere usurper of the office. If he had flattered himself that he could exercise an influence for good, he was now undeceived.
As the contest reached a climax the angels intervened and took charge of the situation. Blinded by angelic power the evildoers were baffled for that night, preliminary to their destruction on the morrow. Having disposed of them, the angels plainly told Lot that Sodom was to be destroyed, and he was given opportunity to get out together with his family and all that he had. In this a full answer was given to the intercession of Abraham earlier that day. The contrast between Abraham interceding as a friend with God on the heights, and Lot, defiled and impotent in the worldly cities of the plain, may well be thoughtfully considered, and sink into all our hearts.
Lot now saw everything in a very different light, and went forth to his sons-in-law to warn and deliver them. But to them he seemed "as one that mocked." Notice, it does not say that they mocked him, but that they thought he was mocking or making sport of themâ€”that really he was joking. Having come into Sodom and invested all he had in it, they could not believe he was serious, when suddenly he declared the whole place was to be destroyed in a moment. His previous course of life wholly contradicted his present testimony. We shall do well if we each ask ourselves this questionâ€”If I testify that the second Advent of Christ draws near, involving the judgment of the present world system, will they take me seriously, or will my manner of life lead them to think that I am joking?
The judgment was not going to slumber, so escape was urgent, and without the married daughters and sons-in-law the angels constrained Lot, his wife and two daughters to flee, such was the mercy of God to this true saint, who nevertheless had fallen so low. Moreover his request to be allowed to shelter in the fifth and smallest city of the plain, instead of fleeing to the mountain, was granted. Sodom would have been spared if only ten righteous persons had been in it. Zoar was spared because only one righteous man entered it. Such is the abounding mercy of our God, and His slowness to judge.
The word of the angel in verse 22 is worthy of note, "I cannot do anything till thou be come thither." Why, "cannot"? Not because power was lacking to act in judgment, but because it is a fixed principle of God's ways that penal and eternal wrath is never to touch His people. The judgment of these cities was not merely a matter of governmental wrath, for penal wrath also was involved, as we see in Jude 7. The "vengeance of eternal fire" could not possibly touch Lot, since he was a righteous man, though a misguided one.
Lot having been withdrawn, the judgment fell from heaven. Those who have examined that region, in the light of modern discoveries as to oil and bitumen-bearing sites, tell us it is quite easy to visualize what happened. Perhaps so, but the miracle consisted in fire from the Lord out of heaven starting the mighty conflagration and eruptions that blasted these four cities out of existence, and left their sites to this day as "an example to those that after should live ungodly." (2 Peter 2: 6). The thought of the evil and its judgment has persisted, for the word "sodomy" is found in our language as designating sin of a specially vile and unnatural sort. This judgment, moreover, was a sample of what is yet to come on a much greater scale in "the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men" (2 Peter 3: 7)
Four persons came out of Sodom, practically dragged out by the angels, as we saw in verse 16, but only three entered Zoar. Lot's wife evidently left her heart in Sodom, and her eyes following her heart, she looked back, became involved in the disaster and perished under a deluge of salt. One of the shortest verses in the Bible records our Lord's words, "Remember Lot's wife" (Luke 17: 32). We may well remember and let the lessons of her end sink into our hearts. She was married to a true saint, she was prayed for by an eminent saint, Abraham, she came under the constraint of angels from heaven; yet she was lost. She had the unclean nature that loved the filthy garbage of Sodom. What vexed Lot evidently had attractions for her.
Verses 27-29, shows us that Abraham was a man who watched unto prayer. He did not just ejaculate his desires and think no more about it. He resorted the next morning to the spot where he had prayed, and saw that God had fulfilled His word. Presently he was to learn that God had remembered his prayer, and though ten righteous persons had not been found, Lot had been delivered. The fervent prayer of a righteous man does indeed avail much, and it had been answered though not in the way he hoped and expected.
Lot's faith was very feeble. Though Zoar had been spared for his sake, his fear was such that he forsook it for the mountain region that formerly he had dreaded. There he found a cave and in it, having lost all his substance, he dwelt with his two daughters. We take a sad farewell of him in the closing verses of our chapter. The two daughters were saved physically but were lost morally, for we are permitted to know that they had become infected with the immoral ways of Sodom. They brought dishonour on themselves and on their father, and brought into the world both Moab and Ammon, both of whom gave their names to peoples, who in after days became opponents of the people of God.
The failures of God's saints are not hidden from us in the Scriptures, as we have just seen in very pronounced fashion as to Lot. We pass on to Genesis 20, and we get a glimpse of Abraham on a very much lower level than he was in Genesis 18. He moved to Gerar and before Abimelech the king he resorted to the same device as he employed years before in Egypt. This time it was even more serious for Sarah was just about to bear the child of promise. Abraham's defection might have compromised what God had promised and was about to perform. Hence God took what we may call drastic action to protect Sarah, not dealing with Abraham who had failed, but with the heathen king.
When faced by Abimelech with his deception, Abraham confessed that fear for his own safety, in a place not marked by the fear of God, had led him into it. In result however the fear of God was more marked in Abimelech than in Abraham. It was a definite rebuke to Abraham that God, who so frequently had appeared to him should now pass him by and deal with the king in a dream, exposing the true situation to him direct. Abraham was a prophet and an intercessor in prayer, as the king is told, yet in this matter he is ignored by God.
Responding to the word of God Abimelech acted very rightly, and as regarded Abraham, very handsomely; rebuking him in this fashion. Sarah too came in for his rebuke, as verse 16 records. Speaking of Abraham as her "brother" added a touch of irony to his rebuke. It is a sad situation when an upright man of the world can rightly rebuke the saint of God. But it is a state of affairs all too often reproduced. Abraham evidently accepted the rebuke and, as God had said, he prayed for the king and his household, and the hand of God which had been upon them in His government, was removed.
Genesis 21. After this lapse on Abraham's part, God fulfilled to him and Sarah the promise of a son. That which humanly was impossible came to pass and Isaac was born, as we may say, on the principle of resurrection: a living child springing from parents, who from a reproductive standpoint were dead. Now Sarah could laugh indeed, and feel that all others would laugh with her. This time her laughter had in it nothing of incredulity, but was rather a note of triumph in that which the power of God had brought to pass.
The sign of the covenantâ€”circumcisionâ€”was duly put upon Isaac, and when he was weaned a great feast was made, which to Ishmael was a subject of mockery. This led to the casting out of the bondwoman and her son, which has an allegorical significance as we learn in Galatians 4. Four centuries had yet to pass before the covenant of law was established at Sinai, and many more centuries later the basis on which the new covenant of promise rests, was laid in the death of Christ. But thus early in the world's history do we get presented in an allegorical way the supplanting of the former by the latter. The law only produced bondage, since it addressed itself to the flesh; that is, man's fallen nature, which is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can it be. The son of the freewoman came into being by an act of God in grace, and therefore aptly typifies the new covenant. We believers are "the children of promise," as Isaac was.
The initiative sprang from Sarah, and to cast out Hagar and Ishmael was very grievous to Abraham. This feature too we may apply to ourselves. To give up all hope of blessing on the ground of law, and to dispossess the flesh is not something that naturally pleases us, but the reverse. Still it is the course that is according to God. Sarah may not have had much thought of God in her demand, nevertheless God endorsed it. God said in effect to Abraham, You have got the promised seed in Isaac so let not the departure of Ishmael be a grief to you. We see the same thing in principle in 1 Samuel 16: 1, where the prophet is bidden to stop grieving over Saul, whom God had set aside, for there was a far better king in view, even David. God takes away the first, "that He may establish the second" (Heb. 10: 9). If Christ the Second Man fills our vision, the first man and the covenant of law, that applied to him, are set aside.
Bidden thus by God, Abraham acted with decision. Early in the morning he rose up and dismissed the bondwoman and her son, giving them bread and water for the start of their journey. True to her name the poor woman became a wanderer in the wilderness and soon all their slender resources- were gone, and the lad was brought almost to the point of death. The Apostle James tells us in connection with Job, that the Lord is "very pitiful, and of tender mercy." We see it exemplified here. Though Hagar and Ishmael had this unhappy allegorical significance, and personally belonged to the world rather than the house of faith, they were needy creatures, and as such objects of mercy.
Years before an angel had been dispatched for her succour. Now again poor Hagar is at the end of her resources and weeping in her misery. A second time God intervenes by an angel for deliverance. It is rather remarkable that while the record runs that she "lift up her voice and wept," it adds that, "God heard the voice of the lad." Ishmael must now have been about fifteen years old and he had raised his voice for help, since he was dying for lack of water. The deliverance came in a simple yet unexpected way. God opened Hagar's eyes so that she saw a well of water. It was there all the time but she had not had eyes to discern it.
Is there not in this a parable for today? Ishmael was dying of thirst within a stone's throw of the life-giving water. There are many today going down to spiritual death with the means of spiritual life right before them. The trouble is they have no eyes to see it. God opened her eyes and immediately the need was met. We need to pray for men, that no longer may the god of this world blind their minds to the light of the Gospel, as indicated in 2 Corinthians 4: 4.
Thus Ishmael was granted life in spite of the fact that his descendants would be inimical to the people of God. And not only that, but God was with him, enabling him to maintain himself in the wilderness by his skill as an archer. His mother came from Egypt, and out of Egypt she took a wife for him. In this we see the stamp of the world riveted upon him.
In the latter part of our chapter Abimelech again appears, and once more we behold him in a favourable light. He was a man of discernment and he perceived that God was with Abraham in all that he was doing, in spite of the fact that his doings in Gerar had not been right. When our first contact with a man is unfavourable, it takes some discernment to see him subsequently in a favourable light. Abimelech and his chief captain had evidently been watching Abraham very closely, and this was the conclusion they had come to. Let us remind ourselves by this incident that thoughtful men of the world do observe very narrowly the professed saints of God, and we may well desire that the conclusion they draw may be as favourable as in this case. Too often, alas, it is otherwise.
In result a covenant was drawn up, and the well, Beer-sheba, was made sure to Abraham, a well that in later days became famous as the southern boundary of the land. There for some years Abraham made his dwelling, and there he called on the Lord as the everlasting God. When the promise of Isaac was given, God made Himself known as the Almighty. Now that the promised heir is born and the promise redeemed, Abraham recognizes Him to be the Everlasting as well as the Almighty. Abraham had to wait for the promise to be fulfilled, and man being a creature of brief years, this waiting is to the flesh a very trying business. But to God as the Everlasting One, time is not of prime importance. He moves with deliberate yet certain steps, to the accomplishment of that which He has counselled and promised.
In the Psalms we hear the godly man more than once crying out, "How long?" How long shall the wicked flourish; how long before righteousness be vindicated? We in our day may cry out "How long?" as we desire the promised advent of the Lord Jesus. But with Isaiah we have to know that, "the everlasting God . . . fainteth not neither is weary; there is no searching of His understanding." (40: 28). His way and time is perfect. With this let us be content.