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“The Fog of Sin”

Genesis 19:1-38
Bob DeGray
October 22, 2006

Key Sentence

The world’s sin is so insidious that even the rescued are susceptible.


I. Sin Blurs Righteousness (Genesis 19:1-14)
II. Sin is Met with Judgment and Mercy (Genesis 19:15-29)
III. Sin Clings to the Rescued (Genesis 19:30-38)


                I’m sure most of us have experienced a really thick fog. I tried to run Tuesday morning, the day after the heavy rains, and found my vision blurred by dense fog and my glasses blurred by 100% humidity. The fog was so bad I stumbled without even noticing it into six inch deep water on a street in the Emerson’s neighborhood. Sin is like fog: it blurs our vision, it clings to every surface, it distorts every image, so that we’re much more likely to stumble into trouble. That fog is strongly at work in Genesis 19. This familiar account of the destruction of Sodom shows us not only God’s judgment of sin, but also the power of sin over the hearts and thinking even of those who are being rescued. Sin blurs their actions, sin clings to their lives, sin makes them stupid so that only the outright mercy of God can rescue them, and even after they’re rescued sin continues to cling to their thinking and behavior. And that can be true of us in our sin-filled culture, even after we are rescued by Jesus. Bottom line: the world’s sin is so insidious that even the rescued are susceptible.

        Before we start I probably ought to define the word ‘insidious’. It sounds like something from Star Wars, but Miriam Webster says it comes from the Latin for ambush and means ‘awaiting a chance to entrap: treacherous; harmful but enticing: seductive.’ Also ‘having a gradual, cumulative effect; subtle’ That’s a profound description of sin: it ambushes us, awaits a chance to entrap; it’s harmful but enticing; it has a gradual, cumulative effect. Sin is so insidious that even the rescued are susceptible.

I. Sin Blurs Righteousness (Genesis 19:1-14)

        Genesis 19 is another long passage, and again we won’t be able to look at every detail, but we start with evidence that sin blurs righteousness. Genesis 19:1-14 The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2"My lords," he said, "please turn aside to your servant's house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning." "No," they answered, "we will spend the night in the square." 3But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. 4Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom--both young and old--surrounded the house. 5They called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them." 6Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7and said, "No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. 8Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof." 9"Get out of our way," they replied. And they said, "This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We'll treat you worse than them."

        They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. 10But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door. 12The two men said to Lot, "Do you have anyone else here--sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it." 14So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, "Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!" But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.

        Lot shows evidence of righteous desires blurred by prolonged exposure to a sinful culture. Even the fact that Lot is found at the city gate may imply a cultural compromise. The gates of those cities would have been the focus of cultural life, both business and social. Further, the fact that Lot immediately offered hospitality to the men may indicate he’d become one of the leaders of the city, since hospitality would have been their responsibility. All of which implies he was uncritically identified with the city’s culture. On the other hand, his hospitality is obviously intended to be parallel to Abraham’s hospitality last week, which was evidence of righteousness. Lot insists the men come to his house, showing righteous concern for their safety in a depraved culture. Like Abraham, he fixes a meal. His use of unleavened bread bly indicates haste, though it could imply less hospitality than Abraham’s. The rest of the meal is not specified: it’s called a feast and almost certainly included drinking.

        But even before the household can bed down for the night, the observant sinners of Sodom gather at the door to attempt to impose their sinful desires. Verse 4 and 5 show the massive depravity of the culture, so that not only were they willing to practice these homosexual sins, but they were willing to do so publically. Lot’s defense of the men is evidence of his desire for righteousness. Peter confirm this, saying that God “condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7and he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men 8(for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard). Peter confirms three times that there was righteousness going on here. Also courage, as Lot steps into the riotous crowd, shuts the door to protect those within, and confronts the men with their wickedness.

        But if there is righteousness here, there is also much fog. Lot’s offering his daughters is a failure of righteousness caused by long exposure to a sinful culture. It may be he knew the culture so well didn’t expect them to take his daughters when they wanted the men. But even if we give him the benefit of the doubt, and allow for the fact that hospitality was prized, it’s still an offer of desperation rather than faith. It’s a human expedient, comparable to throwing the weakest one in the sled to the wolves.

        Lot was willing for the sake of one principle to throw righteousness to the wind: “Look, I have two virgin daughters. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof." Lot may have thought he had some influence, but he was mistaken. The sinners of Sodom see him as a foreigner, and resent what is probably his first criticism of their behavior. Verse 9: "Get out of our way," they replied. And they said, "This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We'll treat you worse than them." Finally the two angels have to step in to protect Lot who had stepped out to protect them. They reveal God’s power by afflicting the whole crowd: “they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.”

        Despite his long residence Lot has had no godly influence on this sinful population. Sadder still, he’s had almost no impact on his own family. In verses 12 to 14 the angels urge Lot to gather his relatives to be rescued: “sons-in-law, sons or daughters”. If Lot had any impact for righteousness, there should have been people from all these categories. But there aren’t. He has compromised his righteousness and his own family has been stained by sin rather than drawn to faith. Lot doesn’t even make an attempt with his sons, and when he tries to convince his sons-in-law, they know so little about a righteous God they think he’s joking. And they stay behind.

        Lot may have a personal commitment to righteousness, but the fog of sin has blurred his vision for righteous behavior; the culture of sin clings to him and has clouded his witness. And the same thing can happen to us. There is no doubt we live in a culture rampant with sin. In fact our culture reeks with the same sins that caused Sodom to be a stench in God’s nostrils. If you’ve read the Houston Chronicle recently you’ve seen many examples. We’ve all heard way too much about Congressman Mark Foley’s sins and history. And at the same time that Foley is rightly decried, some are eulogizing the late Gerry Studds, who was the first openly homosexual congressman, even though he also had a problem with house pages. Then there’s a report that Houston is becoming a mecca for homosexual couples with children. This sin is pervasive in our culture, and if we let it, it will cling to our thinking and blur our righteousness. It will become accepted.

        Do you think I’m wrong? Look what’s happened to divorce in the church. Where once every divorce was rightly a tragedy, and every effort made to save marriages, now in most churches divorce is accepted as inevitable and often subtly encouraged as the only reasonable answer to most marriage conflicts. Sin is insidious, and if we aren’t strong, we’ll find acceptance of homosexuality is even faster than acceptance of divorce has been. Already there are some churches and so-called believers who say that the Bible - despite this chapter, despite Romans 1, despite 1st Corinthians - does not consider homosexuality a sin. That’s fog - and we need clarity.

II. Sin is Met with Judgment and Mercy (Genesis 19:15-29)

        The next section shows us that sin is met with judgment - and with mercy. Verses 15 to 29: 15With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, "Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished." 16When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. 17As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, "Flee for your lives! Don't look back, and don't stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!" 18But Lot said to them, "No, my lords, please! 19Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can't flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I'll die. 20Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it--it is very small, isn't it? Then my life will be spared." 21He said to him, "Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. 22But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it." (That is why the town was called Zoar.) 23By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. 24Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah--from the Lord out of the heavens. 25Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities--and also the vegetation in the land. 26But Lot's wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. 27Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace. 29So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.

        At some point a righteous God responds with judgment to entrenched sin. Yet even in the midst of that judgment, he shows mercy. We’ve already seen that the righteousness of Lot left a lot to be desired. But as the destruction of Sodom drew near, the angels insisted on rescuing him. And even under their strong urging Lot and his family still resisted. In the end the angels had to take them by the hand and lead them out. If you don’t notice anything else in this text, notice the end of verse 16: “for the Lord was merciful to them.” In the midst of judgment God shows mercy or compassion. This Hebrew word, not very common, is used of the emotion associated with sparing someone from something. The exact form of the word we have here is used only one other place, Isaiah 63:9, in recounting the works of the Lord: “In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.” God isn’t a God of cool uncaring judgment: he is a God who feels compassion and desires to rescue. For example, in Hosea 11 God makes it clear that Israel deserves judgment but says“How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger.” Even when judgment is deserved, God offers mercy.

        That truth leads us to Jesus. Paul writes “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love for us, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” We deserve judgment for our sins. But while we were still sinners God loved us and sent his Son to die in our place on the cross, to show mercy by rescuing those who can not rescue themselves. It’s salvation by grace, through faith: like the angel he takes your hand and urges you to trust him, to flee with him and to him. Even in Sodom God offers mercy.

        But woe to those who will not flee, for destruction does come. Lot and the remnant of his family are led out of Sodom and urged to flee to the mountains without stopping or looking back. But Lot begs the angel to let him stop in the small city of Zoar, a name which means ‘insignificant’ and to spare that city. And again, God mercifully grants this request. And “By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. 24Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah – from the Lord out of the heavens. 25Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities--and also the vegetation in the land.” These are the verses from which we get ‘fire and brimstone’. Sodom and Gomorrah are an eternal reminder that sin brings judgment. Often delayed, often shot through with mercy, but never compromised, God’s very nature demands that sin be judged. This was the truth of the flood; it’s the truth of Sodom; it’s a truth we need to take seriously, surrounded as we are by sins greater than Sodom’s. God will not forever withhold judgment: only his scales can tell when the weight of sin is full, but I for one can’t understand why our country and our culture has not been judged. It can only be because in his grace and patience God wants to rescue from the fire.

        Now many have speculated about the physical means God used to enact this supernatural judgment. Even in the miraculous God often uses natural means: an earthquake or volcanic activity. We know the area was full of tar pits, a sign of such activity. And the resulting conflagration not only consumed the cities, but destroyed the fertility of that plain, which is to this day one of the deadest places on earth. God radically changed the area’s ecology. Verse 26: “But Lot's wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” The angel had warned them not to look back. But sin blurs: Lot’s wife could not leave behind all she had had in Sodom. She apparently delayed on the road, lagged, even turned to watch the destruction, so that finally it overtook her on the plain. She may have been suddenly, miraculously transformed into the salt laden rock that still dominates the area. Or maybe she was overwhelmed by the fumes and gases and ash, and in a short time her body became petrified, as happened near Mt. Vesuvius.

III. Sin Clings to the Rescued (Genesis 19:30-38)

        Sodom and Gomorrah, Zeboiim and Admah and all that fertile plain are destroyed. From his vantage point in the mountains, Abraham sees the smoke rising from the land. He cannot yet know that God answered his prayer for mercy by saving Lot. Sin has been met with judgment, but also with mercy. Yet the world’s sin is so insidious that even the rescued are vulnerable. The final scene brings this truth home. Verses 30-38: Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave. 31One day the older daughter said to the younger, "Our father is old, and there is no man around here to lie with us, as is the custom all over the earth. 32Let's get our father to drink wine and then lie with him and preserve our family line through our father." 33That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and lay with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up. 34The next day the older daughter said to the younger, "Last night I lay with my father. Let's get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and lie with him so we can preserve our family line through our father." 35So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went and lay with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up. 36So both of Lot's daughters became pregnant by their father. 37The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. 38The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.

        Lot apparently didn’t stay long in Zoar. I suspect this was because though spared, it was no longer a pleasant little city. Devastated Sodom and Gomorrah on one side, Admah and Zeboiim on the other, continuing earth tremors and fires probably made it most unpleasant. So Lot followed the original instruction of the angels, to go to the mountains. With all possessions gone, they went to a cave, in which the area abounds, as shown by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in nearby caves.

        But though the family has left the plains, the sins of the plains still impact the family. Lot’s two daughters look at their situation and resort, as is the pattern in Genesis, not to faith but to human manipulation. They want children to preserve the family line, and rather than trust God to provide, they use the methods of Sodom to get what they want by sexual sin. Now some say incest wasn’t a moral or genetic issue; after all Abraham married his half sister. But Lot would have refused - otherwise why did they have to get him drunk? And knowing he would disapprove, why did they go ahead? Maybe being offered to the Sodomites jaded their view of their father. They don’t feel like his treasured possession any more. So they don’t scruple to get their father drunk two successive nights and have their way with him. And as they hoped, both give birth to sons. The first was Moab, meaning ‘from the father’. The second was Ben-ammi, ‘son of my people.’ The Moabites and Ammonites settled in the mountains east of the Dead Sea, and were often at war with Israel. But even then God showed mercy: Ruth, from Moab, was one of the ancestors of Jesus, and so was Naamah, an Ammonite, who was Solomon’s wife, the mother of Reheboam.

        So what do we see? The world’s sin is so insidious that even the rescued are susceptible. This family has been rescued, they have come out of Sodom, but Sodom has not completely come out of them. They continue the sinful ways of Sodom, continue to rely on human approaches rather than trusting God. Like fog, sin clings. I see this most mornings this time of year: the thing that really obscures my vision is the fog clinging to my glasses. Sin clings: Lot and his daughters can come right out of the cities, but the habits of drunkenness and sexual immorality cling to them.

        And the final question of course is, what about us? If we are among those who have been rescued by faith in Christ, what areas of life are still a fog for us, sin blurring our vision, clouding our judgment and allowing us to do what we would never do if our sight were clear. We live in a culture in which the mud of sexual sin is up to our eyeballs: divorce, the homosexual agenda, pornography, the presumption that people will live together without marriage, and the presumption that unwanted babies will be killed by abortion. Some of the fog clings even after we’re rescued so that we hear excuses like ‘I can’t help myself, I’m just programmed for this kind of attraction’ and ‘God can’t mean me to continue in a loveless marriage’ and ‘we wanted to wait until we were married but we just couldn’t’ and ‘I only dabble in that stuff when I’m frustrated’ and ‘It’s not really sin because it doesn’t hurt anyone’ and every other excuse you can think of.

        But we shouldn’t limit ourselves to sexual sin when we think of the sins of Sodom. There is a Sodom verse in Ezekiel that broadens our perspective: “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.” Arrogance, abundant food and careless ease: that’s our culture in a nutshell. The result, God says, is neglect of the poor and needy. Can we be so arrogant that we would let some of our own slip into poverty, fall into despair, live like beggars while we continue in abundance? I hope not. Do we allow arrogance to make us angry, judgmental people, cliquish people who push away those who most need to hear the Gospel or grow as believers? I hope not. Do we hide secret sins behind the doors of our suburban homes, sins of abuse and anger and financial foolishness, of pride, selfishness and indifference? I hope not. The world’s environment of sin wants to fog your vision so that you do not see clearly, so that you do not recognize your sin, so that you do not fully repent, but rather excuse. But those rescued from Sodom should leave Sodom behind. Those rescued from sin should leave sin behind. Jesus, in pure compassion, has rescued you from certain judgment by taking that judgment on himself. But the world’s sin is so insidious that it wants to ambush you. You and I need to depend on the power of God’s Holy Spirit to see sin clearly in our lives that we might throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and run with perseverance the race marked out for us.