A Selfish, Greedy, Righteous Man
In Genesis 13 we find that the herdsmen of Abraham and Lot were quarreling about where their herds should graze, so Abraham, a man of peace and good will, gave Lot the choice of which way they should go. Then we read in Gen. 13:10, "And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar." Most of us who have spoken of Lot in this connection have characterized him as a selfish, materialistic man who had little concern for others or his own spiritual welfare. There is little doubt that he wanted for himself the best he could get of material things. Do you? Who does not? Is there anything especially reprehensible about that? If someone offered you a choice of a hundred-dollar bill or a dollar bill and he would take the other, which would you choose? If you had been in Lot's shoes, what would you have done? It is easy for us to say, "He should have left the choice to Abraham," but Abraham already had the choice, and gave it to him.
It is generally assumed, and, in my judgment highly probable, that Lot knew of Sodom and its wickedness. It is easy for us to say, "He should have considered what disadvantage there would be in living so close to such wickedness." Of course he should, as each of us should always consider the consequences of any action we may take, especially one that leans toward or leads toward wickedness. A parent who sends his child to a secular, ungodly university instead of to a Christian college or university should consider the consequences. A parent who sends his child to a Christian college or university where many of the teachers promote the idea that the denominational world is about as well off as the Lord's church, and that doctrinal matters are unimportant and that the church of Christ is merely an outgrowth of the Restoration Movement should consider the consequences. A businessman who moves to Detroit, New York or San Francisco from middle Tennessee to get a better paying job should consider the consequences. A Christian who dates a person who is not a Christian or does not have high moral standards should consider the consequences.
However my point here is that the fact that Lot made the wrong choice did not indicate that he was an ungodly, selfish, unusually materialistic wretch. As we see in chapter 19, even after he lived in Sodom he still showed courtesy, hospitality, shame at ungodliness, loyalty, gratitude and other good attributes. He was basically a righteous man. The outstanding lesson is: Regardless of how good or righteous one may be, the wrong choice can reap unexpected horrible consequences. The fact that Lot may have reasoned, "I know the city is wicked, but I do not have to participate in its wickedness" did not change the consequences. The fact that a young girl goes with a boy who is not a Christian or who has questionable morals and thinks, "We love each other enough that I will change him when we get married" will not change the consequences of her actions. Nelson's Bible Dictionary says, "Lot's character is revealed by the major decisions which he made throughout his life. He chose to pitch his tent with the worldly sodomites, seeking riches and a life of ease rather than a path of obedience to God. He prospered for a while, but this decision eventually led to his humiliation and the tragic loss of his wife and other members of his family." That may be true, but it is merely an assumption that he "chose a life of ease rather than a path of obedience to God." There is nothing in the story that indicates that he did not think he could obey God and still pitch his tent toward Sodom. There is nothing in the story that shows that he was disobeying God by moving closer to Sodom. The tragedy is that millions of others have followed his example. They have not chosen a path of deliberate disobedience to God. They have merely chosen a path that indicates an improper attitude toward sin and its influence and consequence. In 2 Peter 2:7-9 Lot is called a righteous man. Matthew Henry says, "This he was as to the generally prevailing bent of his heart and through the main of his conversation. God does not account men just or unjust from one single act, but from their general course of life. And here is a just man in the midst of a most corrupt and profligate generation universally gone off from all good. He does not follow the multitude to do evil, but in a city of injustice he walks uprightly."
Barnes suggests, "Perhaps it was one purpose of his remaining to endeavor to do them good, as it is often the duty of good men now to reside among the wicked for the same purpose. Lot is supposed to have resided in Sodom -- then probably the most corrupt place on the earth -- for 16 years; and we have in that fact an instructive demonstration that a good man may maintain the life of religion in his soul when surrounded by the wicked, and an illustration of the effects which the conduct of the wicked will have on a man of true piety when he is compelled to witness it constantly. (1) He will not be CONTAMINATED with their wickedness, or will not conform to their evil customs. (2) He will not become INDIFFERENT to it, but his heart will be more and more affected by their depravity. (3) He will have not only constant, but growing solicitude in regard to it -- solicitude that will be felt every day: 'He vexed his soul from day to day.' It will not only be at intervals that his mind will be affected by their conduct, but it will be a habitual and constant thing. True piety is not fitful, periodical, and spasmodic; it is constant and steady. It is not a 'jet' that occasionally bursts out; it is a fountain always flowing. (4) He will seek to do them good. We may suppose that this was the case with Lot; we are certain that it is a characteristic of true religion to seek to do good to all, however wicked they may be. (5) He will secure their confidence. He will practice no improper arts to do this, but it will be one of the usual results of a life of integrity, that a good man will secure the confidence of even the wicked. It does not appear that Lot lost that confidence, and the whole narrative in Genesis leads us to suppose that even the inhabitants of Sodom regarded him as a good man. The wicked may hate a good man because he is good; but if a man lives as he should, they will regard him as upright, and they will give him the credit of it when he dies, if they should withhold it while he lives."
We think Barnes is mostly right, but to say that a good man will not be contaminated by the wickedness of those with whom he lives for sixteen years is to go too far. We cannot but wonder why he even moved into the city if it "vexed his righteous soul" as Peter said it did. The only reason that makes sense to us is that he must have assumed that he was so righteous that it would not be worth the effort to stay outside, for he would not be influenced or contaminated by their evil ways. It may be that his family had friends there whose company they enjoyed, or that his wife was so attracted to the sights and shops in the city that she nagged at him until he moved there. Whatever the reasons are, the lesson is the same: The wrong choices we make can have far- reaching and disastrous consequences, not only for ourselves, but also for our families and others.
We cannot argue with the statement that he was a righteous man, at least compared to those about him, for the Bible says so. But we can recognize that even a righteous man can have improper motives and certainly unwise choices and take care that we do not follow in his steps. This is true with every choice we make, whether it is in the political realm, the business arena, scholastic choices, marriage or even where we will spend our vacation. Choose to live in such a way that all you do in word or deed will be to the glory of God.
T. Pierce Brown
Published in The Old Paths Archive