After repeating His promises to grant Abraham and Sarah a son, the Bible’s story shifts to focus on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Bible is not simply a “feel-good” story of happiness. It also contains demonstrations of God’s holy and righteous judgment. That said, even in the midst of judgment, the kindness and mercy of God are put on display. This story – much like the story of the Flood in Genesis 6-9 – reveals both the righteous wrath of God against sinners and the inconceivable grace of God toward His people.
The story begins with God revealing to Abraham his plan (18:16-21). Abraham – most likely aware that Lot is living close to the cities – pleads with God to turn from His anger, and God promises not to seep away the righteous with the wicked (18:22-33). Then, in keeping with that promise, God ushers Lot and his family away from danger (19:1-22) before pouring out His wrath in judgment – just as He promised (19:23-29). This is a sobering story that reminds us of a number of essential truths.
First, as the Bible often makes clear, God sees and knows all things. The text says God heard the “outcry” against Sodom and Gomorrah – most likely referring to the cries of injustice from those suffering (similar to James 5:4) – and that He knew their sin was “very grave”. Even if it seemed like Sodom and Gomorrah were “getting away with it”, God was watching and knew their deeds. We should remember this: He knows our deeds as well. We cannot escape Him (Ps. 139:7-12) or His gaze (Heb. 4:13), and nothing is hidden from His sight. The One who watched Sodom and Gomorrah also watches us.
Second, God cares about the things we are doing and will bring them into judgment if we are disobeying Him. Not only was God aware of the deeds of Sodom and Gomorrah, but He also brought those deeds into judgment (Matt. 16:27; Rom. 2:6). God is holy, and He will not allow sin to go unpunished. As we read this story, it should serve as a reminder that the wrath of God awaits unrepentant sinners. There is no eternal hope for those who refuse to turn from their sins (John 3:36; Rom. 2:8-9). The same wrath that poured down on a handful of cities in this part of Genesis so many years ago will one day pour forth on all the world’s wickedness (2 Pet. 3:11-13). This story is an example of what will happen to all the ungodly one day (2 Pet. 2:6). If you have not repented of sin and trusted Christ, this should cause you to run to Christ and throw yourself on His mercy so that you can be delivered. If you have trusted Christ, this should make you all the more urgent in calling others to repent and flee from the wrath to come. God’s judgment is real, and it will fall one day. The reason it has not yet done so is because God is patiently granting opportunity for repentance (Rom. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9).
That said, the text also balances God’s hatred against sin with His love and care for His people. First of all, God listens to Abraham and actually heeds his requests (18:22-33). Why would God – the Creator and Ruler of all things – do such a thing? The only possible explanation is that God cares about His people. In an incredible act of condescension and grace, He has entered into real, actual relationship with His people – so much so that our prayers actually matter and accomplish something (James 5:16-18). God loves us and cares for us. Our prayers matter to Him, and He listens to us.
We also see God’s care for His own in his care for Lot. Even though Lot was not perfect, the Bible later makes clear that he was a righteous man who was distressed and tormented by the wickedness all around him (2 Pet. 2:7-8). God saw that heart and knew what Lot was experiencing, and when the time for judgment came, God spared Lot. Instead of sweeping him away with the wicked, God kept him safe and delivered him. Why do we care? It means that God is able to rescue us from our trials as well (2 Pet. 2:9). The God who spared Lot from judgment and ultimately delivered him from his suffering will do the same for us if we belong to Him. This is incredible good news bound up in this story of judgment.
But how can both of these things be true? How can God punish the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah and yet deliver His people from that same judgment when all people are sinners? The story in Genesis raises the question with providing a full answer. The full answer is not revealed until later – when God sent His Son as a wrath-bearing substitute for sinners. This happened so that it might be proven that God is both just and justifier (Rom. 3:21-26). He is “just” because He punishes sin – always. And He is the justifier because He makes a way for sinners to be “justified” – counted righteous and declared not guilty. There is hope in Jesus Christ.
Once again, we see that the stories of the Old Testament – though old – still speak. They tell us of God’s holy and righteous hatred of sin. And they also show us the mercy and kindness that leads to repentance and deliverance.