LESSONS FROM THE LIFE OF LOT
In the Old Testament stories we are at the springs of great histories. We move among individual men whose lives give character to the nations and all history. We cannot read these stories without being impressed with the likeness there is between those men and the men of today in all the great essential facts of their human nature. Manners have changed, customs have changed, motives have changed, methods of operation have changed, speech has changed; but sin and sorrow and temptation and love and hate and all such things are identical. And we may get lessons from these lives that will touch us at the very point where we are living today; and for that purpose I want you to look at the story of Lot.
Lot has been associated with Abraham from the first move from Ur of the Chaldees. With Abraham he tarried at Haran, and went down into Egypt and returned from Egypt. They became very wealthy men, moving to and fro according to the nomadic life characteristic of the times.
If you take the thirteenth chapter of Genesis and read it at your leisure, you will find it chronicles domestic difficulties. There was a quarrel between the herdsmen of Lot and the herdsmen of Abraham. These difficulties had in them the elements of permanent discord. It was very evident this kind of quarrel would continue, and thus it is that Abraham, with the insight of a great statesman, and the magnanimity of a great soul, counseled separation, and allowed Lot, the younger man, the man dependent upon him, to all outward seeming, to be the one to choose the way in which he shall go.
One word before we look at this choice. Crises never make character; crises reveal character. It is a great mistake to imagine that a crisis makes a man; it rather brings him out in his true colors. You can find out where men stand when they face a crisis.
Another thought. The most searching crises that ever come in the lives of men are not great events, but little ones. Imagine these two men, of great stature morally in that age, being brought to a crisis that revealed both of them in the clearest and most vivid light, because there had been a quarrel amongst the men they employed! Many a man has been revealed in his true light by some little event that might arise at any moment.
Lot has his chance, he thinks. He gets where he can look on the land, and then chooses, and says to Abraham: "There is what I have chosen."
What did he choose? "Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other. Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom."
He chose a well-watered plain in the valley of Jordan, because it was rich and fruitful, a plain that was like the land of Egypt. He had never got Egypt out of his heart since he went down there, and he chose as he did because in that plain were cities—I want you to see that particularly—centers of commerce, places where men were making money very fast.
Study the cities of the Bible, and you will find that they have always been centers of evil; and they always will be until the great city of God is built. God did not start man in a city, but in a garden. It is important for us to remember that.
Lot looked at the cities, where men traded together and made wealth, and chose that. What is he seeking? His own personal advantage. That lies at the root of his choice.
It was as though he had said, "I have found a new way. I believe in God, and believing in God I want to strike a happy medium between godliness and Egypt. I am not going back to Egypt, but that plain is like Egypt, and I will choose it. There are cities there, and I will get near them."
Did you not notice what the verse said: "Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom?" Why not "within Sodom?" Because he knew the wickedness of Sodom; because he knew perfectly well that in those cities there were things that dishonored the God whom he loved, and whom he desired to serve; and he would not enter the city, but would get into its neighborhood. I believe if you could have read into the heart of Lot you would have found he was saying something like this: "Well, I will go near to these cities because they will be advantageous to me, and it will not do me any harm; and I may be able to do Sodom some good."
So, not in, but toward, Sodom, Lot pitched his tent.
Now let us see the sequel. Turn to Genesis 14:12: "And they took Lot, Abram's brother's son, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed."
He has got in since we saw him last! Sometime has elapsed since that day he made his choice, and he is no longer in the neighborhood of Sodom, but right inside. "He pitched his tent toward"; "he dwelt in Sodom”;—that is advancement.
Now look still further: In chapter 19:1, we read: "Lot sat in the gate of Sodom." In those eastern cities the men who sat in the gate were the chief judges. If you were to translate this into the language of the present day, you would say Lot is mayor of Sodom. He sits in the gate, the administrator of justice in all small and petty quarrels; a representative of the city to entertain visitors who come to it and to ask them to share the hospitality of the city. That is where he is in this 19th chapter. It is no fanciful interpretation. The phrase "sat in the gate" marks the position of the judge and the civil governor.
What a wonderful case this is! How wonderfully he has got on! He was quite right that day, was he not, when he made his choice? Try him by some tests of the world and of business today. Was he not a keen, shrewd man? Look at Abraham! He has not got out of his tent yet; he has pitched his tent and altar up and down those valleys and that is all he has amounted to! But this man Lot, how wise a thing he has done! After a while he moves into the city to be nearer the heart of the business, the trade, the commerce, and the wealth. Men say what a keen, shrewd, wonderful man of business he is, and so at last they make him the mayor of the city, and he is sitting in the gate. Is not that wonderful?
Now let me ask: What is the real result of Lot's choice that day? I am going to test it by these four questions:
First, what has his choice done for himself?
Secondly, what has his choice done for his family?
Thirdly, what has his choice done for Sodom?
Lastly, what is the end he was seeking, and how much has he really made out of the transaction in worldly wealth?
1. What has he done for himself? You do not get to know all by reading this Old Testament story. So beautifully is the Old linked to the New, so incomplete is the Old without the New, and the New without the Old, that you must always take them together. In the New Testament a great ray of light shines back upon Sodom and the man who sits in the gate, and we learn that he vexed his righteous soul day by day. Is that a condition to live in—his house in the city, his wealth in the city, his place in the gate, and possessed of authority among the men of Sodom, but no peace, no satisfaction? What is the inner story? He was a good man in many senses. He believed in God and would like to see Sodom go right and be right; but he took the wrong way to accomplish a right work, and the result is that all through the years of his successes, when men are saying how well he was getting on, in his heart of hearts he never had half an hour's peace. He vexed his righteous soul, and all success to him was but wormwood and gall.
I do not think he made much out of it. Abraham pitched his tent yonder, and lit his altar fire, and worshiped God, a sojourner and stranger; but he got a good deal more peace than Lot.
2. Now consider his life as tested by his children. And I do not know any place to test a man more than that.
You know the story, the awful story, of corruption, and sin, and wrong that came out of that life. One evening two angels came and warned Lot of the doom coming upon Sodom. "And the men said unto Lot, Hast thou here any besides? Son in law, and thy sons, and thy daughters, and whatsoever thou hast in the city, bring them out of this place: for we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the Lord; and the Lord hath sent us to destroy it. And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, get up, get you out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law."
That shows the influence he had over his family. Next morning when he fled the city, only his wife and his two daughters accompanied him.
3. What about Sodom itself? How far has Lot been able to influence Sodom? Not to the making of five righteous men in that city! Mark that. A man who has lived there long enough to rise to be mayor of the city, and yet has not influence enough to make five righteous persons in that city! In spite of that he has vexed his righteous soul about the iniquity of the place, he has not been able to stem the iniquity to the extent of five persons, though he has been there all these years.
I will tell you why. The men of Sodom knew perfectly well he came to Sodom first, not to bless them, but to get wealth for himself. And when a man starts out to enrich himself first, he paralyzes his power to influence any one for God. A man says, "I am going to take up this business and engage in it in this neighborhood with all its disadvantages religiously, but I may be able to influence people." If they know you start out, not to influence them, but to enrich yourself, that very fact will rob you of all power to influence men.
4. One word about the result. What result did he have in the way he wished it? He wanted to make money, but how much did he make?
I do not know. His bank book was burned and everything else he had made was swept away in the devouring fire of God, and when he got out of Sodom he was the poorest man in the district. Yet I believe richer then than he had been ever since he had made that awful choice.
PITCHING TOWARD SODOM
These are the lessons I want to impress upon your heart. I want you to see that whenever a man begins to choose for himself along the line of his personal advantage he is pitching his tent toward Sodom, and is in danger.
I go deeper into it than that and say the choice was all wrong. He had no business to have chosen thus. Yet men still choose along this line. There are Christian men today in our churches—I do not deny the fact of their Christianity—who are perpetually pitching their tents toward Sodom.
Men pitch toward Sodom with regard to their children over and over again. A father says, "What am I going to make of my boy?" He makes up his mind what business his boy is to have, and then he sets himself with full purpose to endeavor to find the college or situation where that boy is most likely to receive the best preparation for his business or profession.
You say that is right.
That is not right! His first business is to put the boy where his character will be kept right and pure. His first business is to see where he can best secure his child's eternal interests, even though he may have to sacrifice something in temporal things. Men are pitching toward Sodom with their children over and over again, and to secure them a competence in earthly things and bring them to places of success in life, they are risking and ruining their eternal welfare.
Another way in which a man pitches toward Sodom is this: He lives in one of our large cities. God prospers him in his business. But what is he moving for? His children are growing up. He is looking for the best suburb, and when he makes up his mind, he looks for the best house, and soon tells you he has found what he wants.
"But where are you going to worship?"
"I never thought of that. I must go and see."
In scores of instances men have blighted the spirituality of all their family by taking them away from the city house and the old home sanctuary into a neighborhood where there is nothing to help them spiritually. You are pitching toward Sodom by going to a new house unless you have taken into account what spiritual food you are going to provide for yourself and your children.
I have taken these cases at random to show how subtly men may choose watered plains near cities because of selfish advantage, and run risks stretching beyond the burning of the earth into the eternities that lie beyond.
I take this story of Lot, in the second place, as an illustration of the futility of attempting to compromise with God.
I say it solemnly and with all earnestness, that if your heart is toward Sodom, you may just as well pitch in Sodom at once, as toward Sodom. You cannot compromise with God. He never made a compromise with a soul yet, and He never will allow you to compromise with Him. And if, right down at the root of your choice, there is this desire to advantage yourself in matters that are material and earthly, all your religiosity is of no avail. Not only are you ruining your own prospects, but also your power to influence other men Godward.
SUCCESS ENDING IN FAILURE
Thirdly, this story is an illustration of success on lines that finally bring most dismal failure.
Man can do a very great deal without God. You can pitch your tent toward the city, you can get into the city. Men may flatter you, and you may become mayor without God. But when you have done all, what value is it? What is the worth of every bit of success if you have put God out of your calculation in practical matters? Did that pious and godly man—and he was a good man in some senses, for he could not have lived with Abraham so long without knowing something of the will of God, and the New Testament speaks of him as righteous,—and so the man was wrong, though feeling right, because down in his heart there was simply this desire for selfish aggrandizement, and he made his choice upon that and nothing more;--did he gain in the long run?
LET GOD CHOOSE
That day when the quarrel came, Abraham did not choose at all. He let the Lord choose. Lot selfishly "lifted up his eyes"—you remember the phrase. How high? As high as the plain. He chose, and when he had done his choosing he went out. After he was gone, God said to Abram, "Lift up now thine eyes." Do you see? Lot lifted up his eyes of his own choosing, and when he had made his choice, God said to Abram, "It is your turn now to lift up your eyes."
"Look to the north, and south, and east, and west.” Abraham does as he is told, and God says:
"That is yours."
"But, Lord, that is Lot's!"
"That is yours, Abraham. Lot can do his own choosing, but he has no title deeds for the land, and the day is coming when it will all revert to the man to whom God has given it."
There you have the heart of this incident. Instead of choosing yourself, let God choose. He will say, Lift up thine eyes north, east, south, and west, over the whole land. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. The man who chooses for himself loses all he chooses; the man who lets God choose gets everything, and says, All is mine, because God is mine.
Cease your choosing, and let God choose. Amen. What an end to this mess of Lot.