Not Even Ten


Genesis 19

Abraham finished engaging God on his intended investigation of Sodom to ascertain if the “outcry of Sodom” merited full destruction (18:20, 21). Appealing to God’s character of always acting justly, Abraham elicits from God the promise not to destroy the city and its inhabitants if there can be as few as 10 righteous men. Abraham’s solicitation doubtless was prompted by Lot’s presence; in addition, it could be related to Abraham’s rescue of the possessions of the king of Sodom from Chedorlaomer (Genesis 14:13–24). While Abraham engaged God in an amazing display of intercession on his part and tender mercy and patience on the Lord’s part, the Lord sent the two angels, who appeared as men, toward Sodom. After this, “the Lord departed, and Abraham returned to his place” (18:33). Throughout this striking conversation, we find these assumptions ruling:

  • God will not destroy the righteous with the wicked (23).
  • God is indeed the righteous judge of the whole earth (25).
  • Abraham knows his state as dust and ashes (27).
  • Abraham relies on God’s patience and righteous reasoning.
  • This appearance of the Lord as a man highlights the immense condescension of the infinitely holy One to tend to the needs of his covenant people. Given the overall witness of Scripture concerning revelation, redemption, mediation, and intercession, this was one of several appearances of the eternal son of God (Christophanies) in the Old Testament.


I. “Men” is the word used in 18:22 and now Moses identifies these “men” as angels (19:1).

They have walked perhaps 40 miles in the day, truly a heavenly pace, and have arrived in the evening. From their bearing and perhaps their exquisite physical appearance, Lot recognizes them as far different from the exceedingly corrupt culture of the city. Had they appeared in their original glory this narrative would have been far different. For one thing, the unfolding and insistent perversity of Sodom would not have had this final and epitomized display of wickedness.

A. Lot showed unusual respect by bowing down with his “face to the ground” (19:1).

He knew that the city was not fit to host these men, and perhaps he sensed they were not earthly residents. He offered all he could think that they might need—“spend the night, wash your feet”—and suggested that they rise and leave early. His invitation to come into his house was beyond a mere show of hospitality but a quick realization that beings of such stately beauty would be prime targets for the perversity rampant in the city (2). If we may pry into motives in light of the entire narrative, Lot not only wanted to protect these stately men, but wanted as much as possible to hinder their full knowledge of the perversity of the place in which he resided. Their residence in his home would protect them in the night and give them quick and unperturbed exit in early morning.

B. When they refused the offer and opted to stay in the town square, Lot became more insistent and persuaded them to come in.

We find in this incident two types of intents. The angels want to expose the evil; they had been sent to destroy the city (13), and perhaps to provoke a manifestation of the evil that was worthy of an absolute present judgment. Lot wants to hide it. He prepared a feast for them so as to make their experience in Sodom a pleasant one; he wanted them to avoid tragedy and experience hospitality. Deeply-seated and ostentatious evil cannot be hidden. Frequently it will be exposed this side of eternity by the light of the gospel and/or by the aggressive lawlessness of humanity. If it remains hidden here, it will be exposed without cloaks at the judgment (Romans 2:15, 16).

C. In spite of Lot’s attempts to cover and avoid any manifestation of the rampant and open immorality of the city, the word spread of the presence of these men.

From all over the city and throughout the spectrum of ages, they demanded of Lot that he send out the men for serial homosexual rape. The entire city manifested the ultimate evidenced of complete godless degeneracy as described by Paul in Romans 1:26, 27. In a panic, Lot sought to protect his guests by offering his daughters. Lot’s desperation and his lack of a keen sense of the purpose and power of God, and the great compromises that his environment had provoked in the law written on the heart, made his moral judgment cloudy. He sought to choose one sin over another and should have been revulsed at both. The destroying angels were present in his house and, though he had not discerned it, the favor of God was with him. A sound rebuke and a stern refusal to be party to their wicked schemes in any way might have been dangerous but certainly would have been right. “We will not worship the golden image you have set up,” is without fail the God-honoring response (Daniel 3:18). While straining to be a guardian of righteousness, Lot slipped backwards into a peculiarly revolting proposal.

D. Their threats and attempted assault toward Lot (9) give evidence that he had sought to reprove their moral laxness on other occasions.

2 Peter 2:8 notes that Lot “dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds.” They regarded him still as an alien and as having a judgmental attitude. Clearly, he had not till this time given the two daughters with him into the immoral morass of Sodom. That makes his proposed option even more startling and perhaps adds credibility to his intention.


II. Lot undergoes a divinely mandated rescue.

A. Now an exertion of angelic power opened the door against the crowd furiously pressing on it against Lot either with murderous or rapacious intent.

They pressed open the door, reached out and brought Lot in. At the same time, they blinded those who had crowded the doorway and left them in utter confusion and ineptness (10, 11). Loss of light and sight even briefly creates great confusion and an inability to coordinate physical action with mental purpose.

B. The angels offer an opportunity for any family members in the city to be preserved from the coming destruction.

Their urgency was fueled by the certainty of God’s intent of wrath toward the city (12, 13). The language concerning sons-in-law is unclear. Either they were to be married to the two daughters at home, or they were married to other daughters. Lot was clear and urgent in his warning to them. “The Lord will destroy the city,” Lot announced. So remote was the idea of punishment for sin from their consciences that they thought the old man was jesting. Even so today­—What! Unbelievers go to Hell!? No one can be that deserving of such severe final judgment. Punishment is ever teetering on the edge of doctrinal compromise in the minds of some so-called Christian theologians and is seen as the greatest of absurdities in the thinking of the world. This judgment, however, was “an example to those who afterward would live ungodly” (2 Peter 2:6).

C. With an irresistible urgency, the angels soberly warned Lot that if he did not leave immediately, he, too, would be swept up in the punishment of the city.

His hesitation made the angels use force to achieve their evacuation. Moses, by divine revelation says, “the compassion of the Lord was upon him” (16). God intended to save Lot, and he would use benevolent force to do it.

D. Again we find urgency in the angels and hesitation in Lot.

    1. The command to escape included three factors emphasized by a repetition of warning. 1. Do not look behind you, for you must not indicate any longing for the life of Sodom. 2. Do not stay anywhere in the valley, for all of it is to be engulfed in the fire from heaven (25). 3. Escape to the mountains, for only in that isolated and elevated place will you find safety. The angels repeated the warning, “or you will be swept away.”
    2. Lot recognized that he was a child of mercy (19) but asked for some condescension to his weakness. Perhaps to spare only a small town for a brief time would not thwart the purpose of God in the manifestation of wrath (20). This was granted but haste was necessary. The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was full along with the other cities of the valley. When Lot entered, the fire and brimstone fell. That one city was spared because of the presence of Lot. Lot’s wife lingered behind him, turned to look at her home once more, and was judged immediately. She became a pillar of salt. She approved and loved her life in Sodom above the holiness of God; she lamented leaving more than she felt gratitude for mercy.
    3. Isaiah employed the Mosaic prophecy of Deuteronomy 32:32 concerning the kind of rebellion and evil that would come into Israel by likening them to Sodom and Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:10). Jeremiah compares the prophets of Judah to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (Jeremiah 23:14). Ezekiel compared Jerusalem to Sodom and Gomorrah not only in her filthiness, nakedness, and affairs with lovers, but in her pride, pomp, idleness, gluttony, and failure to care for the poor. One sin never stands alone. Zephaniah likened God’s determination to judge Moab and Ammon (sons of Lot by his daughters) like his judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah—“overrun with weeds and saltpits, and a perpetual desolation” (Zephaniah 2:9).

E. Abraham observed God’s answer to his plea (27–29).

    1. He went to the place of his conversation with God. From there he could see the valley; from there he would recall the great patience of the Lord in listening to his plea.
    2. He saw that God followed through on his intention and that, indeed, there were not ten righteous people in the entire community of cities, with the exception of Zoar, because righteous Lot asked to go there. He would not stay long, however, for he knew that the wrath of God had not been eliminated, but only delayed (30)
    3. More largely than for Lot, for the sake of Abraham, Lot was sent from the destruction zone. In God’s providence, the promise to Abraham’s seed would be dependent on Lot. God was in the process of keeping a promise in the midst of destruction and hopeless despair. Little did Abraham know, nor did Lot intend, that the line of the promise was operating in the sordid event that soon came to pass (19:30–38).


III. A Summary

The narrative shows that Lot, upon seeing the visitors, immediately recognized that they were from God and the beauty of their human appearance would make them prey for the unbridled lusts of perverse men in the city. In seeking to protect them, Lot even offered his daughters to these men, whose aggressive and hostile posture toward him brought on them blindness from an angelic intervention. Lot was unable to convince anyone else of the truth of impending judgment, and, as the morning of destruction dawned, he still lingered and had to be removed from the city by physical intervention, by God’s mercy to him (19:16). His wife so regretted the loss that she looked back at the city and “became a pillar of salt.” After a brief refuge in the small town of Zoar, Lot and his daughters went to the hills and lived in caves. Perhaps his offer of them to the men of the town prompted their willingness to commit incest with their father. Due to their own deceitful contrivance, both daughters became pregnant by their father and bore children whose descendants were enemies of the children of Israel. (Numbers 22:1–6; Psalm 83:7, 8). In God’s merciful providence, these events also served in fulfillment of the covenant promise of Genesis 15:5, 17:19, 22:15–19, Ruth 4:16, 17; 2 Samuel 7:12–17, Romans 1:3.


IV. A theological reflection on Peter’s nomenclature, “righteous Lot” (2 Peter 2:7, 8) and Abraham’s call for a sparing of the city for “righteous” inhabitants.

A. One reason for Lot’s being “righteous” is due to the righteousness of Faith.

No person is justified by his work of righteousness (Titus 3:5; Romans 4:4). Christ alone has kept the laws perfectly and only in union with him are sinners seen as righteous. His absolute, unalloyed, heartfelt obedience to God’s law is the only completed righteousness that exists anywhere in human nature. Like Abraham, Lot believed the promise and was accounted righteous. His children by his daughters received earthly advantage also (Deuteronomy 2:9). “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19 NKJV).

B. The righteousness of Sanctification.

According to the synthesis of Scripture set forth in the Baptist Catechism, sanctification is a process in which, by the word of God under the effectual work of the Spirit of God a sinner is “renewed in the whole man after the image of God and is enabled more and more to die to sin and live to righteousness.” Several observations may help us process this.

    1. The uncompromised command for man is absolute perfection according to the law. The fact that this is given us in justification, does not diminish its relevance for sanctification. That toward which we move morally in sanctification is a complete conformity to all that is contained in action, attitude, heart, and affections in the law of God. The progress of sanctification is a movement toward righteousness.
    2. The fundamental reality of sanctification is the action of the Spirit of God in transforming the heart so that the love of righteousness (which is in itself the principle of holiness) is realized more and more in practice. Lot’s recognition of the holiness of the angels, his hospitality toward them, and his radical actions to seek to preserve them (though ironically they were there to preserve him) even at the cost of any esteem he had gained within Sodom and even the radical solution of giving his daughters to satisfy the inordinate lusts of the wicked men storming his door, showed the element of transformation present in him.
    3. The degree of sanctification is directly connected to the amount of revelation that we have. The Spirit applies revelation’s truth for a continual progress of conformity to the word of God. We may expect a higher degree of holiness in David than we find in Lot, even a higher degree in John the Baptist, and even higher in the apostle Paul. Even the highest degree of righteousness, however, does not justify one before the bar of God’s justice, while each step forward, nevertheless, partakes of the nature of righteousness (1 John 3:4–10).
    4. The righteousness that Peter attributes to Lot, therefore, is the internal reality that he has been brought to see and embrace the principle that God expects his people, in the words of God to Abraham (18:19), to “keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice.” This Lot sought to do when confronted with the unrighteousness of his town and the righteousness of the angels. His soul was “distressed” and “tormented” over the “lawless deeds that he saw and heard” (2 Peter 2:8).

C. Sanctification also is of grace and will finally be completed solely by the power of God (1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24).

Because of its nature, sanctification intrinsically engages the human will and penetrates the energies of mind, soul and body; but it nevertheless progresses in each body and soul by virtue of a divine prerogative and purpose. Spurgeon explained, “It is the Word of God which sanctifies the soul. The Spirit of God brings to our minds the commands and precepts and doctrines of truth and applies them with power. These are heard in the ear, and being received in the heart, they work in us to will and to do of God’s good pleasure.” God placed Lot early in the manifestation of revealed truth and made him come to see the promises as an observer of the direct work of God with Abraham. Even these crumbs, however, that fell from the master’s table brought to Lot the grace of justification and made him live, though ever so haltingly, by the holy influences of the truth of God in his soul.


Poem on Genesis 19


The city putrefied
With frozen wills and rotten hearts,
They clenched soul-suicide,
Provoked the God whose wrath imparts
The fire of death from heaven
To ward off evil’s leaven.

God’s mercy intervenes
So his chosen ones won’t perish.
Repressed by sinful scenes
In the midst of those they cherish,
Judgment hovers over all.
Opened ears hear mercy’s call.

For judgment angels came.
Lot thought they would need protection.
The city was to blame
That Lot’s plea brought full rejection.
Holy Beauty scorned by sin;
Evil reigns, without, within.

Flee from this wicked place!
The fire of God will soon descend,
Consuming every space,
So lives and pleasures all will end.
If you are slow, take my hand;
Vengeance strains to burn the land.

Lot, his wife, and daughters
Slowly trudged from Sodom’s sinkhole.
Scene of sins and slaughters,
Now giv’n to wrath—land, body, soul.
Lot’s wife showed a grievous fault,
Looked toward Sodom, turned to salt.

Why write these sinful deeds?
Why such devastating sorrow?
The promise will succeed
From deep past, today, tomorrow!
Son of David, Son of Lot,
Both are vital to God’s plot.

When for sin we lament,
Not for missing it do we grieve,
But to hate and repent,
Press it away, its evil leave.
E’en its sight should vex our soul.
Look to Jesus; be made whole.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts