Genesis 19 Bible Commentary

Matthew Henry Bible Commentary (complete)

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The contents of this chapter we have, 2 Pt. 2:6-8, where we find that "God, turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them with an overthrow, and delivered just Lot." It is the history of Sodom's ruin, and Lot's rescue from that ruin. We read (ch. 18) of God's coming to take a view of the present state of Sodom, what its wickedness was, and what righteous persons there were in it: now here we have the result of that enquiry. I. It was found, upon trial, that Lot was very good (v. 1-3), and it did not appear that there was any more of the same character. II. It was found that the Sodomites were very wicked and vile (v. 4-11). III. Special care was therefore taken for the securing of Lot and his family, in a place of safety (v. 12-23). IV. Mercy having rejoiced therein, justice shows itself in the ruin of Sodom and the death of Lot's wife (v. 24-26), with a general repetition of the story (v. 27-29). V. A foul sin that Lot was guilty of, in committing incest with his two daughters (v. 30, etc.).

Verses 1-3

These angels, it is likely, were two of the three that had just before been with Abraham, the two created angels that were sent to execute God's purpose concerning Sodom. Observe here, 1. There was but one good man in Sodom, and these heavenly messengers soon found him out. Wherever we are, we should enquire out those of the place that live in the fear of God, and should choose to associate ourselves with them. Mt. 10:11, Enquire who is worthy, and there abide. Those of the same country, when they are in a foreign country, love to be together. 2. Lot sufficiently distinguished himself from the rest of his neighbours, at this time, which plainly set a mark upon him. He that did not act like the rest must not fare like the rest. (1.) Lot sat in the gate of Sodom at even. When the rest, it is likely, were tippling and drinking, he sat alone, waiting for an opportunity to do good. (2.) He was extremely respectful to men whose mien and aspect were sober and serious, though they did not come in state. He bowed himself to the ground, when he met them, as if, upon the first view, he discerned something divine in them. (3.) He was hospitable, and very free and generous in his invitations and entertainments. He courted these strangers to his house, and to the best accommodations he had, and gave them all the evidences that he could of his sincerity; for, [1.] When the angels, to try whether he was hearty in the invitation, declined the acceptance of it, at first (which is the common usage of modesty, and no reproach at all to truth and honesty), their refusal did not make him more importunate; for he pressed upon them greatly (v. 3), partly because he would be no means have them to expose themselves to the inconveniences and perils of lodging in the street of Sodom, and partly because he was desirous of their company and converse. He had not seen two such honest faces in Sodom this great while. Note, Those that live in bad places should know how to value the society of those that are wise and good, and earnestly desire it. [2.] When the angels accepted his invitation, he treated them nobly; he made a feast for them, and thought it well-bestowed on such guests. Note, Good people should be (with prudence) generous people.

Verses 4-11

Now it appeared, beyond contradiction, that the cry of Sodom was no louder than there was cause for. This night's work was enough to fill the measure. For we find here,

I. That they were all wicked, v. 4. Wickedness had become universal, and they were unanimous in any vile design. Here were old and young, and all from every quarter, engaged in this riot; the old were not past it, and the young had soon come up to it. Either they had no magistrates to keep the peace, and protect the peaceable, or their magistrates were themselves aiding and abetting. Note, When the disease of sin has become epidemical, it is fatal to any place, Isa. 1:5-7.

II. That they had arrived at the highest pitch of wickedness; they were sinners before the Lord exceedingly (ch. 13:13); for, 1. It was the most unnatural and abominable wickedness that they were now set upon, a sin that still bears their name, and is called Sodomy. They were carried headlong by those vile affections (Rom. 1:26, 27), which are worse than brutish, and the eternal reproach of the human nature, and which cannot be thought of without horror by those that have the least spark of virtue and any remains of natural light and conscience. Note, Those that allow themselves in unnatural uncleanness are marked for the vengeance of eternal fire. See Jude 7. 2. They were not ashamed to own it, and to prosecute their design by force and arms. The practice would have been bad enough if it had been carried on by intrigue and wheedling; but they proclaimed war with virtue, and bade open defiance to it. Hence daring sinners are said to declare their sin as Sodom, Isa. 3:9. Note, Those that have become impudent in sin generally prove impenitent in sin; and it will be their ruin. Those have hard hearts indeed that sin with a high hand, Jer. 6:15. 3. When Lot interposed, with all the mildness imaginable, to check the rage and fury of their lust, they were most insolently rude and abusive to him. He ventured himself among them, v. 6. He spoke civilly to them, called them brethren (v. 7), and begged of them not to do so wickedly; and, being greatly disturbed at their vile attempt, he unadvisedly and unjustifiably offered to prostitute his two daughters to them, v. 8. It is true, of two evils we must choose the less; but of two sins we must choose neither, nor ever do evil that good may come of it. He reasoned with them, pleaded the laws of hospitality and the protection of his house which his guests were entitled to; but he might as well have offered reason to a roaring lion and a raging bear as to these head-strong sinners, who were governed only by lust and passion. Lot's arguing with them does but exasperate them; and, to complete their wickedness, and fill up the measure of it, they fall foul upon him. (1.) They ridicule him, charge him with the absurdity of pretending to be a magistrate, when he was not so much as a free-man of their city, v. 9. Note, It is common for a reprover to be unjustly upbraided as a usurper; and, while offering the kindness of a friend, to be charged with assuming the authority of a judge: as if a man might not speak reason without taking too much upon him. (2.) They threaten him, and lay violent hands upon him; and the good man is in danger of being pulled in pieces by this outrageous rabble. Note, [1.] Those that hate to be reformed hate those that reprove them, though with ever so much tenderness. Presumptuous sinners do by their consciences as the Sodomites did by Lot, baffle their checks, stifle their accusations, press hard upon them, till they have seared them and quite stopped their mouths, and so made themselves ripe for ruin. [2.] Abuses offered to God's messengers and to faithful reprovers soon fill the measure of a people's wickedness, and bring destruction without remedy. See Prov. 29:1, and 2 Chr. 36:16. If reproofs remedy not, there is no remedy. See 2 Chr. 25:16.

III. That nothing less than the power of an angel could save a good man out of their wicked hands. It was now past dispute what Sodom's character was and what course must be taken with it, and therefore the angels immediately give a specimen of what they further intended. 1. They rescue Lot, v. 10. Note, He that watereth shall be watered also himself. Lot was solicitous to protect them, and now they take effectual care for his safety, in return for his kindness. Note further, Angels are employed for the special preservation of those that expose themselves to danger by well-doing. The saints, at death, are pulled like Lot into a house of perfect safety, and the door shut for ever against those that pursue them. 2. They chastise the insolence of the Sodomites: They smote them with blindness, v. 11. This was designed, (1.) To put an end to their attempt, and disable them from pursuing it. Justly were those struck blind who had been deaf to reason. Violent persecutors are often infatuated so that they cannot push on their malicious designs against God's messengers, Job 5:14, 15. Yet these Sodomites, after they were struck blind, continued seeking the door, to break it down, till they were tired. No judgments will, of themselves, change the corrupt natures and purposes of wicked men. If their minds had not been blinded as well as their bodies, they would have said, as the magicians, This is the finger of God, and would have submitted. (2.) It was to be an earnest of their utter ruin, the next day. When God, in a way of righteous judgment, blinds men, their condition is already desperate, Rom. 11:8, 9.

Verses 12-14

We have here the preparation for Lot's deliverance.

I. Notice is given him of the approach of Sodom's ruin: We will destroy this place, v. 13. Note, The holy angels are ministers of God's wrath for the destruction of sinners, as well as of his mercy for the preservation and deliverance of his people. In this sense, the good angels become evil angels, Ps. 78:49.

II. He is directed to give notice to his friends and relations, that they, it they would, might be saved with him (v. 12): "Hast thou here any besides, that thou art concerned for? If thou hast, go tell them what is coming." Now this implies, 1. The command of a great duty, which was to do all he could for the salvation of those about him, to snatch them as brands out of the fire. Note, Those who through grace are themselves delivered out of a sinful state should do what they can for the deliverance of others, especially their relations. 2. The offer of great favour. They do not ask whether he knew any righteous ones in the city fit to be spared: no, they knew there were none; but they ask what relations he had there, that, whether righteous or unrighteous, they might be saved with him. Note, Bad people often fare the better in this world for the sake of their good relations. It is good being akin to a godly man.

III. He applies himself accordingly to his sons-in-law, v. 14. Observe, 1. The fair warning that Lot gave them: Up, get you out of this place. The manner of expression is startling and quickening. It was no time to trifle when the destruction was just at the door. They had not forty days to repent in, as the Ninevites had. Now or never they must make their escape. At midnight this cry was made. Such as this is our call to the unconverted, to turn and live. 2. The slight they put upon this warning: He seemed to them as one that mocked. They thought, perhaps, that the assault which the Sodomites had just now made upon his house had disturbed his head, and put him into such a fright that he knew not what he said; or they thought that he was not in earnest with them. Those who lived a merry life, and made a jest of everything, made a jest of this warning, and so they perished in the overthrow. Thus many who are warned of the misery and danger they are in by sin make a light matter of it, and think their ministers do but jest with them; such will perish with their blood upon their own heads.

Verses 15-23

Here is, I. The rescue of Lot out of Sodom. Thought there were not ten righteous men in Sodom, for whose sakes it might be spared, yet that one righteous man that was among them delivered his own soul, Eze. 14:14. Early in the morning his own guests, in kindness to him, turned him out of doors, and his family with him, v. 15. His daughters that were married perished with their unbelieving husbands; but those that continued with him were preserved with him. Observe,

1. With what a gracious violence Lot was brought out of Sodom, v. 16. It seems, though he did not make a jest of the warning given, as his sons-in-law did, yet he lingered, he trifled, he did not make so much haste as the case required. Thus many that are under some convictions about the misery of their spiritual state, and the necessity of a change, yet defer that needful work, and foolishly linger. Lot did so, and it might have been fatal to him it the angels had not laid hold of his hand, and brought him forth, and saved him with fear, Jude 23. Herein it is said, The Lord was merciful to him; otherwise he might justly have left him to perish, since he was so loth to depart. Note, (1.) The salvation of the most righteous men must be attributed to God's mercy, not to their own merit. We are saved by grace. (2.) God's power also must be acknowledged in the bringing of souls out of a sinful state. If God had not brought us forth, we had never come forth. (3.) If God had not been merciful to us, our lingering had been our ruin.

2. With what a gracious vehemence he was urged to make the best of his way, when he was brought forth, v. 17. (1.) He must still apprehend himself in danger of being consumed, and be quickened by the law of self-preservation to flee for his life. Note, A holy fear and trembling are found necessary to the working out of our salvation. (2.) He must therefore mind his business with the utmost care and diligence. He must not hanker after Sodom: Look not behind thee. He must not loiter by the way: Stay not in the plain; for it would all be made one dead sea. He must not take up short of the place of refuge appointed him: Escape to the mountain. Such as these are the commands given to those who through grace are delivered out of a sinful state. [1.] Return not to sin and Satan, for that is looking back to Sodom. [2.] Rest not in self and the world, for that is staying in the plain. And, [3.] Reach towards Christ and heaven, for that is escaping to the mountain, short of which we must not take up.

II. The fixing of a place of refuge for him. The mountain was first appointed for him to flee to, but, 1. He begged for a city of refuge, one of the five that lay together, called Bela, ch. 14:2, 18-20. It was Lot's weakness to think a city of his own choosing safer than the mountain of God's appointing. And he argued against himself when he pleaded, Thou hast magnified thy mercy in saving my life, and I cannot escape to the mountain; for could not he that plucked him out of Sodom, when he lingered, carry him safely to the mountain, though he began to tire? Could not he that saved him from greater evils save him from the less? He insists much in his petition upon the smallness of the place: It is a little one, it is not? therefore, it was to be hoped, not so bad as the rest. This gave a new name to the place; it was called Zoar, a little one. Intercessions for little ones are worthy to be remembered. 2. God granted him his request, though there was much infirmity in it, v. 21, 22. See what favour God showed to a true saint, though weak. (1.) Zoar was spared, to gratify him. Though his intercession for it was not, as Abraham's for Sodom, from a principle of generous charity, but merely from self-interest, yet God granted him his request, to show how much the fervent prayer of a righteous man avails. (2.) Sodom's ruin was suspended till he was safe: I cannot do any thing till thou shalt have come thither. Note, The very presence of good men in a place helps to keep off judgments. See what care God takes for the preservation of his people. The winds are held till God's servants are sealed, Rev. 7:3; Eze. 9:4.

III. It is taken notice of that the sun had risen when Lot entered into Zoar; for when a good man comes into a place he brings light along with him, or should do.

Verses 24-25

when Lot had got safely into Zoar, then this ruin came; for good men are taken away from the evil to come. Then, when the sun had risen bright and clear, promising a fair day, then this storm arose, to show that it was not from natural causes. Concerning this destruction observe, 1. God was the immediate author of it. It was destruction from the Almighty: The Lord rained—from the Lord (v. 24), that is, God from himself, by his own immediate power, and not in the common course of nature. Or, God the Son from God the Father; for the Father has committed all judgment to the Son. Note, He that is the Saviour will be the destroyer of those that reject the salvation. 2. It was a strange punishment, Job 31:3. Never was the like before nor since. Hell was rained from heaven upon them. Fire, and brimstone, and a horrible tempest, were the portion of their cup (Ps. 11:6); not a flash of lightning, which is destructive enough when God gives it commission, but a shower of lightning. Brimstone was scattered upon their habitation (Job 18:15), and then the fire soon fastened upon them. God could have drowned them, as he did the old world; but he would show that he has many arrows in his quiver, fire as well as water. 3. It was a judgment that laid all waste: It overthrew the cities, and destroyed all the inhabitants of them, the plain, and all that grew upon the ground, v. 25. It was an utter ruin, and irreparable. That fruitful valley remains to this day a great lake, or dead sea; it is called the Salt Sea, Num. 34:12. Travellers say that it is about thirty miles long and ten miles broad; it has no living creature in it; it is not moved by the wind; the smell of it is offensive; things do not easily sink in it. The Greeks call it Asphaltites, from a sort of pitch which it casts up. Jordan falls into it, and is lost there. 4. It was a punishment that answered to their sin. Burning lusts against nature were justly punished with this preternatural burning. Those that went after strange flesh were destroyed by strange fire, Jude 7. They persecuted the angels with their rabble, and made Lot afraid; and now God persecuted them with his tempest, and made them afraid with his storm, Ps. 83:15. 5. It was designed for a standing revelation of the wrath of God against sin and sinners in all ages. It is, accordingly, often referred to in the scripture, and made a pattern of the ruin of Israel (Deu. 29:23), of Babylon (Isa. 13:19), of Edom (Jer. 49:18), of Moab and Ammon, Zep. 2:9. Nay, it was typical of the vengeance of eternal fire (Jude 7), and the ruin of all that live ungodly (2 Pt. 2:6), especially that despise the gospel, Mt. 10:15. It is in allusion to this destruction that the place of the damned is often represented by a lake that burns, as Sodom did, with fire and brimstone. Let us learn from it, (1.) The evil of sin, and the hurtful nature of it. Iniquity tends to ruin. (2.) The terrors of the Lord. See what a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God!

Verse 26

This also is written for our admonition. Our Saviour refers to it (Lu. 17:32), Remember Lot's wife. As by the example of Sodom the wicked are warned to turn from their wickedness, so by the example of Lot's wife the righteous are warned not to turn from their righteousness. See Eze. 3:18, 20. We have here,

I. The sin of Lot's wife: She looked back from behind him. This seemed a small thing, but we are sure, by the punishment of it, that it was a great sin, and exceedingly sinful. 1. She disobeyed an express command, and so sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, which ruined us all. 2. Unbelief was at the bottom of it; she questioned whether Sodom would be destroyed, and thought she might still have been safe in it. 3. She looked back upon her neighbours whom she had left behind with more concern than was fit, now that their day of grace was over, and divine justice was glorifying itself in their ruin. See Isa. 66:24. 4. Probably she hankered after her house and goods in Sodom, and was loth to leave them. Christ intimates this to be her sin (Lu. 17:31, 32); she too much regarded her stuff. 5. Her looking back evinced an inclination to go back; and therefore our Saviour uses it as a warning against apostasy from our Christian profession. We have all renounced the world and the flesh, and have set our faces heaven-ward; we are in the plain, upon our probation; and it is at our peril if we return into the interests we profess to have abandoned. Drawing back is to perdition, and looking back is towards it. Let us therefore fear, Heb. 4:1.

II. The punishment of Lot's wife for this sin. She was struck dead in the place; yet her body did not fall down, but stood fixed and erect like a pillar, or monument, not liable to waste nor decay, as human bodies exposed to the air are, but metamorphosed into a metallic substance which would last perpetually. Come, behold the goodness and severity of God (Rom. 11:22), towards Lot, who went forward, goodness; towards his wife, who looked back, severity. Though she was nearly related to a righteous man, though better than her neighbours, and though a monument of distinguishing mercy in her deliverance out of Sodom, yet God did not connive at her disobedience; for great privileges will not secure us from the wrath of God if we do not carefully and faithfully improve them. This pillar of salt should season us. Since it is such a dangerous thing to look back, let us always press forward, Phil. 3:13, 14.

Verses 27-29

Our communion with God consists in our gracious regard to him and his gracious regard to us; we have here therefore the communion that was between God and Abraham, in the event concerning Sodom, as before in the consultation concerning it, for communion with God is to be kept up in providences as well as in ordinances.

I. Here is Abraham's pious regard to God in this event, in two things:-1. A careful expectation of the event, v. 27. He got up early to look towards Sodom; and, to intimate that his design herein was to see what became of his prayers, he went to the very place where he had stood before the Lord, and set himself there, as upon his watch tower, Hab. 2:1. Note, When we have prayed we must look after our prayers, and observe the success of them. We must direct our prayer as a letter, and then look up for an answer, direct our prayer as an arrow, and then look up to see whether it reach the mark, Ps. 5:3. Our enquiries after news must be in expectation of an answer to our prayers. 2. An awful observation of it: He looked towards Sodom (v. 28), not as Lot's wife did, tacitly reflecting upon the divine severity, but humbly adoring it and acquiescing in it. Thus the saints, when they see the smoke of Babylon's torment rising up for ever (like Sodom's here), will say again and again, Alleluia, Rev. 19:3. Those that have, in the day of grace, most earnestly interceded for sinners, will, in the day of judgment, be content to see them perish, and will glorify God in their destruction.

II. Here is God's favourable regard to Abraham, v. 29. As before when Abraham prayed for Ishmael, God heard him for Isaac, so now, when he prayed for Sodom, he heard him for Lot. He remembered Abraham, and, for his sake, sent Lot out of the overthrow. Note, 1. God will certainly give an answer of peace to the prayer of faith, in his own way and time; though, for a while, it seem to be forgotten, yet, sooner or later, it will appear to be remembered. 2. The relations and friends of godly people fare the better for their interest in God and intercessions with him; it was out of respect to Abraham that Lot was rescued: perhaps this word encouraged Moses long afterwards to pray (Ex. 32:13), Lord, remember Abraham; and see Isa. 63:11.

Verses 30-38

Here is, I. The great trouble and distress that Lot was brought into after his deliverance, v. 30. 1. He was frightened out of Zoar, durst not dwell there; probably because he was conscious to himself that it was a refuge of his own choosing and that herein he had foolishly prescribed to God, and therefore he could not but distrust his safety in it; or because he found it as wicked as Sodom, and therefore concluded it could not long survive it; or perhaps he observed the rise and increase of those waters which after the conflagration, perhaps from Jordan, began to overflow the plain, and which, mixing with the ruins, by degrees made the Dead Sea; in those waters he concluded Zoar must needs perish (though it had escaped the fire) because it stood upon the same flat. Note, Settlements and shelters of our own choosing, and in which we do not follow God, commonly prove uneasy to us. 2. He was forced to betake himself to the mountain, and to take up with a cave for his habitation there. Methinks it was strange that he did not return to Abraham, and put himself under his protection, to whom he had once and again owed his safety: but the truth is there are some good men that are not wise enough to know what is best for themselves. Observe, (1.) He was now glad to go to the mountain, the place which God had appointed for his shelter. Note, It is well if disappointment in our way drive us at last to God's way. (2.) He that, awhile ago, could not find room enough for himself and his stock in the whole land, but must jostle with Abraham, and get as far from him as he could, is now confined to a hole in a hill, where he has scarcely room to turn himself, and there he is solitary and trembling. Note, It is just with God to reduce those to poverty and restraint who have abused their liberty and plenty. See also in Lot what those bring themselves to, at last, that forsake the communion of saints for secular advantages; they will be beaten with their own rod.

II. The great sin that Lot and his daughters were guilty of, when they were in this desolate place. It is a sad story.

1. His daughters laid a very wicked plot to bring him to sin; and theirs was, doubtless, the greater guilt. They contrived, under pretence of cheering up the spirits of their father in his present condition, to make him drunk, and then to lie with him, v. 31, 32. (1.) Some think that their pretence was plausible. Their father had no sons, they had no husbands, nor knew they were to have any of the holy seed, or, if they had children by others, their father's name would not be preserved in them. Some think that they had the Messiah in their eye, who, they hoped, might descend form their father; for he came from Terah's elder son, who separated from the rest of Shem's posterity as well as Abraham, and was now signally delivered out of Sodom. Their mother, and the rest of the family, were gone; they might not marry with the cursed Canaanites; and therefore they supposed that the end they aimed at and the extremity they were brought to, would excuse thch. 39:11. Relations that dwell together, especially if solitary, have need carefully to watch even against the least evil thought of this kind, lest Satan get an advantage.

2. Lot himself, by his own folly and unwariness, was wretchedly overcome, and suffered himself so far to be imposed upon by his own children as, two nights together, to be drunk, and to commit incest, v. 33, etc. Lord, what is man! What are the best of men, when God leaves them to themselves! See here, (1.) The peril of security. Lot, who not only kept himself sober and chaste in Sodom, but was a constant mourner for the wickedness of the place and a witness against it, was yet, in the mountain, where he was alone, and as he thought quite out of the way of temptation, shamefully overtaken. Let him therefore that thinks he stands, stands high and stands firm, take heed lest he fall. No mountain, on this side the holy hill above, can set us out of the reach of Satan's fiery darts. (2.) The peril of drunkenness. It is not only a great sin itself, but it is the inlet of many sins; it may prove the inlet of the worst and mast unnatural sins, which may b a perpetual wound and dishonour. Excellently does Mr. Herbert describe it,

     He that is drunken may his mother kill

     Big with his sister—

A man may do that without reluctance, when he is drunk, which, when he is sober, he could not think of without horror. (3.) The peril of temptation from our dearest relations and friends, whom we love, and esteem, and expect kindness from. Lot, whose temperance and chastity were impregnable against the batteries of foreign force, was surprised into sin and shame by the base treachery of his own daughters: we must dread a snare wherever we are, and be always upon our guard.

3. In the close we have an account of the birth of the two sons, or grandsons (call them which you will), of Lot, Moab and Ammon, the fathers of two nations, neighbours to Israel, and which we often read of in the Old Testament; both together are called the children of Lot, Ps. 83:8. Note, Though prosperous births may attend incestuous conceptions, yet they are so far from justifying them that they rather perpetuate the reproach of them and entail infamy upon posterity; yet the tribe of Judah, of which our Lord sprang, descended from such a birth, and Ruth, a Moabitess, has a name in his genealogy, Mt. 1:3, 5.

Observe that, after this, we never read any more of Lot, nor what became of him: no doubt he repented of his sin, and was pardoned; but from the silence of the scripture concerning him henceforward we may learn that drunkenness, as it makes men forgetful, so it makes them forgotten; and many a name, which otherwise might have been remembered with respect, is buried by it in contempt and oblivion.