Monday, February 17, 2014
Remembering Lot's Wife
[A friend asked me for this. It was originally CRM's Reaping Success, Vol. 31 (April 2004).]
Most of the important lessons in life we get from people. We learn how to talk by imitating our parents. They also show us how to learn almost anything providing only that someone else has already learned it. Just think how dull it would be to live among people devoid of experience! Experience also has the interesting power to operate in reverse. It can teach us to avoid those activities that have already been proven to be unprofitable.
I have always felt very sorry for Cain, who lived when the world was so new that very little actual experience had been accumulated. When Cain became jealous of the success and righteousness of his brother, Abel, he was unable to properly solve his problem, partly because there was no such evil experience to warn him of his danger. And of himself he was not strong enough to obey God’s law without some actual illustrations of the dangers of disobedience. From this point of view, we who live in this present age might feel very fortunate, as we have had the profitableness, as well as the unprofitableness of every situation demonstrated and proven over and over again. We know for ourselves which fruit will come from a given seed. Right shines out more clearly in contrast with wrong. It is easier to distinguish between important or unimportant experiences when they are arranged side by side.
Our appreciation of the virtues of the tortoise are more meaningful when set in opposition to the faults of the hare. The deeds of the good Samaritan are more memorable when viewed alongside the self-interest of the priest and the Levite. Everyone makes a contribution to our welfare. The villain serves our success, quite as well as the hero. One shows us the experiences to be avoided while the other is setting up the examples for us to follow.
We owe a great deal to the scholars, saints, and heroes, but owe an equal debt to the failures, fools, and sinners. When the first man put his hand on a red hot stove, he made all future pain from that source unnecessary. In the same way, the villain teaches us to hate unfairness, the sinner makes evil more repulsive, and the reverse action of failure motivates greater ambition in us. If we love righteousness, the tragedies, mistakes, and sins of others tend to put us in a position to score for good.
One of the most helpful of the negative performers to play upon the stage of the scripture was Lot’s wife. Lot was the nephew of Abraham, and when the Lord moved Abraham away from the idolatry of his homeland, Lot went along. The Lord had promised to make of Abraham a great nation with Lot and his wife included as beneficiaries. And it was not many years before they were both enjoying great prosperity, with large holdings of livestock, lands, and goods. In order to simplify their operations Abraham was appointed to divide the land, and when Lot was given his first choice, he selected the will-watered Jordan plain lying eastward toward Sodom, which the Bible says “looked like the garden of the Lord.” (Gen. 13:11)
But apparently the Lot family were a little too harmonious with the Sodomites, as they moved into their city to live with them. This is where their trouble began, inasmuch as the people of Sodom were extremely wicked. The Bible says that they sinned exceedingly before the Lord. When their wickedness reached its climax, God decided that Sodom and her equally wicked sister city of Gomorrah must be destroyed.
Abraham tried to intercede, on the grounds that the righteous should not be destroyed with the wicked. So the Lord offered to spare Sodom if 50 righteous inhabitants could be found. Abraham bargained a little further, and finally the Lord agreed to call off the destruction if only ten righteous Sodomites could be located. But they sealed their own doom when even ten righteous were not forthcoming. Then two angels were sent to get Lot and his family out of the city. Because there was not much time, Lot was urged to hurry. The angels said, “Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.” (Gen. 19:17) But Lot had some difficulty even with his own family. The idea of destruction seemed so ridiculous to the sons-in-law that they refused to leave. Then the record says, “And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters, which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city.” But even Lot hesitated, and the record says, “And while he lingered, the angels laid hold upon his hand and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters, and set them without the city.”
Then we read, “The sun was risen upon the earth when the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all of that which grew upon the ground.” (Gen. 19:16-25) But when Lot’s wife left Sodom, she left her heart behind her. And she was not quite strong enough to carry out the commandment of the angels against looking back. Finally when she could stand the strain no longer, she moved to the rear of the line. Then when no one was watching, she looked back. The record says, “But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.” (Gen. 19:26)
Luke indicated that this idea of looking back on sin would also be a part of our own problem. While he was making a comparison between the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the destruction that will attend our own society at the second coming of Christ, he said, “Remember Lot’s wife.” (Luke 17:32) Because Lot’s wife disobeyed she became a pillar of salt. But she has also become the emblem of this trait of vacillation and indecision that is never quite sure of itself. It’s pretty hard to go ahead very fast when one is interested in what is happening behind us. To “remember Lot’s wife” may keep us from making her mistake. We may not always look where we are going, but we can be pretty sure that we will usually go where we are looking.
Back in the old days on the farm, the horses’ bridles were equipped with blinders to give their attention a forward focus. When the horses were without blinders, the distractions from right and left caused them to step on too many plants or to make a crooked furrow. A good pair of blinders on Mrs. Lot’s emotions might have saved her life.
But looking back still causes some of our biggest problems. Jesus probably had “blinders” in mind when he said, “Keep your eye single.” He meant, keep your vision focused and your mind on your duty. When we listen to the voices enticing us from behind, the power of our forward purpose is usually lost. Looking back to their old ways was one reason why people failed to follow Jesus. And he said to them, “No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) In other words, he said, “Remember Lot’s wife.”
A teacher was once telling her Sunday School class this story about how Lot’s wife had looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. A young member of the class volunteered the information that while his mother was driving the family car she had looked back and had turned into a telephone pole. But when some other people look back they turn into vacillators, procrastinators, failures, and sinners. The Apostle James points out that “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” But Lot’s wife had a double interest with a serious conflict–one interest was ahead and the other was behind.
One can’t very well hang onto his past in Sodom and avoid the fire and the brimstone that God rains down upon it. In addition, some of the greatest prizes of life are lost while we are hesitating and reconsidering, with one eye on the rear. Even in asking God for wisdom, James says, “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” He says, “...let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.” (James 1:5-7) Uncertainty, indecision, and double interests always cause wavering, and wavering is always bad business. When we try to keep one eye on the past, we not only waver in our faith, but we also waver in our occupations and in every other thing.
It has been said that no farmer ever becomes very wealthy by watering last year’s crops. Yet with many regrets and often with freely flowing tears, we continue to water the irrevocable past. Frequently we expand our greatest effort and waste our most powerful emotions on events that are forever dead. No one can live effectively in the challenging present or face an unknown future with confidence, while his thoughts are buried in the musty past.
It is one of the marks of immaturity to moan over what cannot be helped. Shakespeare had the right idea when he said “things without remedy should be without regard.” This applies not only to our mistakes but also to our failures and sins. One of the great laws of God promises forgiveness to anyone who genuinely repents. But God’s forgiveness is often nullified because the sinner does not forgive himself. What good does it do for God to blot out our evil from his mind if we continue to let it dominate our thinking by rerunning it in our own?
Sometime ago I talked with a woman 53 years of age who had committed a moral transgression at age 18. She understood that her sin was very serious, but because she had repented a thousand times we can depend on the Lord’s promise that he had forgiven her. But she had never forgiven herself. Because she felt unclean and inferior, she withdrew from her friends, refused to marry, and became a kind of social and spiritual recluse. For 35 years she downgraded herself with bitter regrets and accusations. Her life of looking back upon her sin has turned her into something far below the wonderful person that God intended her to be. Her sin at age 18 was very serious. But for 35 years she has been adding to her sin by wasting the most valuable thing in the world, which is a splendid human life.
We must learn to forgive ourselves and clean the evil out of our memories. We need to unburden our lives of the heavy load of guilt and inferiority that can prevent accomplishment in any department of life. As we cling to our sins we multiply them. By looking back on failure we confirm it and make it permanent. Only after we repent, reform, and forget, are we in a position to set our hand steadily on the plow to develop new ground.
We cannot even afford to look back on our successes for longer than it takes to confirm their lessons. For as someone has said, “You can’t win this year’s ball games by reading last year’s press notices.” When our minds are so fully occupied with last year’s victories, we have too little room for present accomplishment. When we look ahead from age 25, we must expect forty years of experience in a working lifetime. When we look back we may merely get the same year’s experience repeated forty times. George Washington once said, “Never look back except to derive useful lessons from past errors and profit from our dearly bought experience.”
But, the motto, “Remember Lot’s wife,” may also help us profit from her dearly bought experience. Her service to us is similar to that of the baseball player who makes a sacrifice hit, enabling the team to score the winning run. And by practicing the experience of Lot’s wife in reverse, we can turn ourselves into wonderful successes.
It seems to me to be very appropriate to think carefully of those who have failed, in order that we might better install the opposite as a part of our own successes. Therefore in the negative section of my own mental hall of fame, I have placed the statues of some of life’s benefactors whose mission is to show us what not to do. Against the dark background of their fate we can see our own destiny more clearly. Jezebel stands for colorful wickedness. Cain is the emblem of fratricide. Judas represents betrayal. The rich man who traded his soul for bulging barns filled with goods that he couldn’t use personifies foolishness. The early life of the prodigal son is a visualization of a wasted soul. And then standing there alone on the mountainside, high above the plains of Sodom, is the pillar of salt, reminding us of those defects of vacillation and hesitation that are bred in our souls when we permit our eyes or our spirits to turn backward.
Sterling W. Sill, “Lot’s Wife,” in , What Doth It Profit?, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc., 1965), pp. 179-184.