There are many lessons to be gleaned from Genesis 19. But in the midst if this R-rated passage, there’s another odd detail we did not have time to cover during Sunday morning worship: What on earth was the deal with Lot’s wife?
To refresh your memory of the passage, here is Genesis 19:17, 24-26:
As soon as they had brought them out, one of [the angels] 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!”
Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities–and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
Genesis doesn’t explain this random happening any further.
In some Jewish commentaries, we find speculation similar to what you might find in a common study bible from today. Some believe Lot’s wife was named Edith and perhaps this pillar-of-salt end was punishment for disobeying the angel. Perhaps she “missed” life in Sodom and did not fully want to leave it behind. It is impossible to know since we don’t hear the story from her perspective. John Wesley had a commentary on the bible, and here are some of his thoughts in line with this possible interpretation:
But his wife looked back from behind him – Herein she disobeyed an express command. Probably she hankered after her house and goods in Sodom, and was loath to leave them… she too much regarded her stuff.
Wesley agreed with this Jewish interpretation of the text, that Lot’s wife hesitated about salvation. She “looked back”, perhaps longing to return to the city of Sodom. It is not enough to simply say to others that you will follow God. What matters is following through on that promise.
Another option was that she died simply because she saw God Godself. This interpretation would be fitting with priestly and temple traditions of biblical books like Exodus. For instance, Moses could only see God’s backside, and in another strange episode, appeared to be “radioactive” after speaking with God!
And yet another option might be the sin of voyeurism–that is, deriving pleasure by witnessing the pain of others. Perhaps she had heard the cries of the dying and wanted to see the destruction for herself. This is definitely an important lesson for us to grapple with today, consider how we find entertainment in fictional and actual violence. Oftentimes we tragically gain pleasure by seeing others suffer, and this is most certainly a sin.
As you can see, there is quite a bit of speculation about Lot’s wife and the lesson behind it. Jesus does make mention of her in Luke 17:32-33:
Remember Lot’s wife. Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.
Luke 17 gives us a reminder that it is futile to try to predict or control the future. Jesus tells us it is better to simply follow Christ and seek God’s kingdom instead of worrying about life right now! Jesus appears to hint that Lot’s wife’s problem was pursuing security instead of placing trust in God.
Regardless of how you interpret this detail of the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative, I think the point is clear to keep your eyes fixed on God and away from sin. Consider this well-known verse from Hebrews 12:1-2, which I believe captures this idea perfectly:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.