Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Bible and the Supernatural: The Rescue of Lot

Scripture: Genesis 19:1-21

When God visited Abraham to reaffirm His promise concerning the birth of Isaac, He was accompanied by two men. Partway through the visit, these two men left to go to Sodom. At that time, God revealed His intent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Because Abraham’s nephew Lot lived in Sodom, Abraham bargained with God to save the city as long as ten righteous people were found. Alas, such were not found, but God was already moving. He had sent those two men ahead to rescue Lot. Chapter 19 tells the tale of this rescue.

Observations: With Genesis 19, we get our first detailed picture in Genesis of God’s messengers at work, what we typically call angels. Oh, we briefly glimpsed a cherub in Genesis 3:24. The first two chapters of Job taught us about our supernatural adversary, Satan. Within Genesis 16, we read the first recorded encounter between a human (Hagar) and an “angel” or messenger of the LORD, who may have been God himself, Christ in a pre-incarnate form.

What makes Genesis 19 unique is the breadth of its detailed account of clearly angelic activity (God was left behind in 18:22). As a result, we gain numerous insights into these supernatural messengers of God:

1. Angels can appear human in form, masculine in gender. Genesis 18:2, 18:16, and 18:22 call them “men.” The Sodomites refer to them in the same way (19:5). Genesis 19:1 and 19:15, however, makes it clear these two weren’t mere mortals.

2. Angels can eat human food. Like with Abraham, Lot fixed them a meal, and they ate (19:3). So angels often can and do act like humans.

3. Angels are rational beings with a will. They can be reasoned with, as Lot did to persuade them to enter his home (19:2-3). They also can be bargained with; Lot talked them into letting him escape only to Zoar, rather than to the mountains (19:18-22)

4. Angels issue warnings and commands. No promises of a bright future or words of comfort here. God sent these angels to warn Lot of Sodom’s impending destruction and command him to leave (19:12-13, 15, 17).

5. Angels can act protectively. They were instructed to get Lot and his family safely out of Sodom. So they kept Lot from being harmed by the men of Sodom (19:9-10) and then forcibly removed Lot and his family from the city when they hesitated to leave (19:15-16).

6. Angels can also act destructively. While God was the ultimate source of the destruction (19:24), somehow the angels were the agents through which that destruction came (19:13). Indeed, this was the purpose for which they came. So angelic power can cause harm as well as help.

7. Angels can move supernaturally fast, unimpeded by natural barriers. We don’t know exactly where the oaks of Mamre were (Abraham’s location, Genesis 18:1). Nor are we certain where Sodom was (Lot’s location, 19:1), though one of my resources guessitmates that approximately 34 miles, as the crow flies, separated the two locations, with Sodom on the opposite shore of the Dead Sea. What we do know, though, is that the two locations were far enough apart for the massive herds of Lot and Abraham to not tangle over pasture (Genesis 13), though close enough for Abraham to see the smoke rising from the valley from his more mountainous location (19:27). So the two locations weren’t just a short jog apart. Yet these two angels, without the aid of modern transportation, where able to cover that distance, despite the mountainous terrain and the Dead Sea, in a few short hours: They joined Abraham during “the heat of the day” (18:1), enjoyed a meal there (18:6-8), and yet still reached Sodom before sunset (19:1).

8. Angels can perform supernatural/miraculous acts. They blinded the seeing men of Sodom suddenly and instantly. And though the door of Lot’s home had been just before them, the Sodomites could not find it. Indeed, they wearied themselves in trying to do so. This revealed the angels’ ability to hide or disguise the house, whether through mental “blindness,” confusion, or other means. (19:11)

9. Angels are supernaturally powerful. These two angels physically removed four resistant adults by force (19:16) and were capable of destroying an entire city at God’s command. (19:13)

10. But angels, though powerful, are also restrained/limited. Even though they were sent to destroy Sodom by God’s order, they could not fulfill that mission until Lot reached safety (19:22).

Significance: While angels can be intriguing, God does not tell us these things simply to fascinate us or to entertain our idle curiosity. Rather, He tells us these things for a reason, to instruct us, encourage us, warn us. So what do we learn from this astounding angelic encounter?

God sends angels for the protection of His people. Evil can and does befall the people of God. Even Lot lost all his earthly possessions in his escape. Nonetheless, the passage also makes clear that God can and does send angels to protect—sometimes quite forcibly.

God sends angels also for the destruction of those who oppose Him. We prefer to think of angels as ministering spirits that guide and protect. While they are all that, their work is not limited to such actions. After all, God is protective of His people. But if His people need protecting, then there is also someone actively threatening His people. There is nothing protective about saying, “Don’t do that” and sending the threat away with a pat on the head. Moreover, God is just. He will tolerate sin for only so long before His patience dies and His anger rouses. As a result, not all angelic visits end with good upon the person visited. It all depends on the relationship you have with the One who sends the angels.

So God’s angels are real and aren’t to be trifled with. Angels do exist. They are active in our world, though we may not see or recognize them. Genesis 19 assures us of that. But pop culture sometimes paints the picture of angelic visits as tender, soft moments of comfort and reassurance of God’s love. Genesis 19 contradicts this image. There is nothing soft or tender or comfortable about this angelic visit. They brought tidings of impending annihilation of an entire city. Their presence incited mob rage. They struck men blind. Even their protection of Lot shows no softness but a steely fierceness that eventually results in the bodily removal of Lot and his family from the city.

Most importantly, evil cannot thwart God. We sometimes believe there are places in this world so dark, so despicable, that God would never show there, never go there. Sodom would seem to be such a place, for it, along with Gomorrah, is practically synonymous with total human depravity in Scripture. They did not merely sin but openly encouraged it and celebrated it. Yet even into this place God sent two angels to rescue Lot. And they could not be stopped, though all the men of Sodom came against them. So no matter where we find ourselves, no matter how dark or evil that place may be, there is hope: God is still stronger.

No comments: