The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground;The Destruction of Sodom
There must have been some very strong justification for an act so terrible. This right of destruction may, I think, be fairly inquired into by human reason, and ought to be well studied as a fact that has been repeatedly realised in human history. Understand, if you please, that there is a Power above us which can utterly devour and consume our life. It is important to feel the whole force of this truth, especially as showing that life is not independent and irresponsible; and as showing that we hold it at the will of God, on certain distinct and intelligible conditions, the violation of which simply necessitates our utter destruction. I wish to point out this the more clearly because it might seem as it in giving life God has put it absolutely out of his own power to reclaim or withdraw it: having once given you life you are as immortal as he himself is, and you can defy him to interfere with his own work! The doctrine seems to me to involve a palpable absurdity, and hardly to escape the charge of blasphemy. Throughout the whole Bible, God has reserved to himself the right to take back whatever he has given, because all his gifts have been offered upon conditions about which there can be no mistake. He takes back the life of the body; he takes away the power of reason; he re-claims our physical strength; by many a severity he asserts that the earth is his own and the fulness thereof; yet we are to suppose that he cannot put an end to our whole existence; it has grieved him, mocked him, defied him, abandoned his sanctuary, violated his laws, slain his Son, quenched his Spirit, given the lie to his promises and heaped up the measure of its iniquity in his very face, but he cannot put an end to it! Not such is the doctrine! find in the Word of God. There the Lord is King; his power is infinite; he only has the right to live; he only does live, and if we live it is because we abide in him, "as a branch abideth in the vine." I believe that the sovereignty of God is as absolute at the end as at the beginning; that "he can create, and he can destroy"; and that we live by his will alone. Furthermore, I can see the infinite reasonableness and justice of this sovereignty; it subdues all things under the Lord's feet, and gives him an undivided throne.
In this case we have an instance of utter and everlasting destruction. We see here what is meant by "everlasting punishment," for we are told in the New Testament that "Sodom suffered the vengeance of eternal fire," that is of fire, which made an utter end of its existence and perfectly accomplished the purpose of God. The "fire" was "eternal," yet Sodom is not literally burning still; the smoke of its torment, being the smoke of an eternal fire, ascended up for ever and ever, yet no smoke now rises from the plain,—"eternal fire" does not involve the element of what we call "time": it means thorough, absolute, complete, final: that which is done or given once for all.
As I look over those burning cities, and see the "smoke of the country go up as the smoke of a furnace"; as I see the sharp, keen tongues of flame piercing the gloomy cloud here and there, and catch a faint breath of the poisoned air, I ask myself, Is this right? Is God himself justified in sending this horrible desolation upon the earth? If this were only an intellectual speculation I would not care to spend a moment upon its settlement. It is, however, an inquiry which proceeds from the conscience, and therefore its settlement is needful to give rest and satisfaction to the moral life that is in every one of us. To find out whether the judgment is right we must find out the moral conditions which called it forth. And first, it is important to observe that this judgment was preceded by an inquiry of the most unquestionable completeness and authority. Hear this: "And the Lord said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know." You see, therefore, that we are only following the Lord's own example, in asking for information as to moral conditions. It is, then, deeply satisfactory to know that the judgment was preceded by inquiry.
In the next place, the revelation made respecting the moral condition of Sodom is appalling and revolting, beyond the power of words to describe. Let us put the case before ourselves in this way: Given a city that is full of corruption which may not be so much as named; every home a den of unclean beasts; every imagination debauched and drunk with iniquity; every tongue an empoisoned instrument; purity, love, honour, peace, forgotten or detested words; judgment deposed, righteousness banished, the sanctuary abandoned, the altar destroyed; every child taught the tricks and speech of imps; prizes offered for the discovery of some deeper depth of iniquity or new way of serving the devil;—given such a city, to know what is best to be done with it? Remonstrate with it? Absurd! Threaten it? Feeble! What then? Rain fire and brimstone upon it? Yes! Conscience says Yes; Justice says Yes; concern for other cities says Yes; nothing but fire will disinfect so foul an air, nothing but burning brimstone should succeed the cup of devils. Just as we grasp the moral condition with which God had to deal do we see that fire alone could meet wickedness so wicked or insanity so mad.
This view is important not only historically as regards Sodom, but prospectively as regards a still greater judgment. It would hardly be worth while to hold inquest upon a deed that took place innumerable years ago if that deed stood alone; but it docs not stand alone; it is part of a great system of providence under which we ourselves live; and it is an illustration of the working of the law by which we ourselves have to be judged. Hence our interest in it. This is no local tragedy. The fire and brimstone are still in the power of God: not a spark has been lost: it is true today and for ever that "our God is a consuming fire"! A careful inquiry into the principles which determined the local and partial judgments of God will give us a clear view of the judgment which is to come upon the whole world. The principles are clearly these: We hold life as God's gift; we hold that gift upon certain conditions; we can choose good or we can choose evil; God loves us, cares for us, has given his Son to save us, and is watching us every moment; he wishes all men to be saved; he promises pardon to the penitent, and foretells the death of the impenitent sinner; by these principles he will judge us, and by these will the wicked go away into everlasting punishment, and the righteous into life eternal. The human conscience must answer, This is right! Such a judgment gives us a sense of rest. With such a judgment to come, the presumption is that the Providence which leads up to it is as equitable and as sublime as itself. I call you, too, to witness that as God is to judge us, he also himself appeals to our judgment! He asks us to consider his ways, and challenges us to tell what iniquity we have found in him. Hence in many parts of the Bible, notably in the Psalms, we have judgments pronounced by man upon the Lord, as if the Lord had placed himself at our bar and asked us to acquit or condemn his providence. He proceeds upon reasons. His principles are ascertainable, and such as can be judged; hear what he says to Jerusalem—"Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good." And in remembrance of all his ways, severe and gentle, the pouring out of the Flood and the visitation of Fire, the Psalmist says, "The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy"; "The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works"; "The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all bis works." In heaven and earth the testimony is the same. "Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints." "The Lord preserveth all them that call upon him, but all the wicked will he destroy." Wonderful is this, that God should allow us to judge his way! He does not silence the Psalmist, nor does he reprove the acclaiming angels; he will be judged by all who are honest in soul. And beautiful, too, is this, that notwithstanding the severity and awfulness of his judgments, the Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works! It does not seem so at the time of the infliction of his judgments. With Sodom and Babylon, Egypt and Tyre, Nineveh and Jerusalem, before us, it does not seem so. But we must look at God's purpose and at great breadths of history, even from the beginning to the end of his ways, and as we see ravages repaired, verdure growing upon the slopes of the volcano, and the blade rising from the dead seed, we too shall say in many a song of thankfulness and joy, "The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy." In the sum total of things we shall see that mercy has rejoiced against judgment, that righteousness and peace have kissed each other, and that all experience says with mighty voice, distinct and far-sounding, God is Love.
Returning to the narrative, Lot was saved from the burning, and in truth I cannot but wonder what he was saved for. Compared with the Sodomites he was indeed a man of "righteous soul." I will not question the goodness of his intentions or detract from the almost Divinity of his relative character; but he was a selfish man, little and mean in his notions, and fickle and timid in general bearing. Poor was the bargain he made when he chose the well-watered plain of Jordan! He did not see his mistake at the time. But as he took to his heels that hot morning when the lightning was astir, and as he was nearly choked with the sulphur that rolled in clouds around the skirts of Zoar, he began to think how foolish he had been and how true it is that "it is not all gold that glitters."