Destruction comes one tiny compromise at a time

Megiddo City Gate

Ruins of the city gate at Megiddo (Selena Whitley photograph).

Whatever you do, don’t sit in the wrong city gate.

Maybe you know the troubling story of Sodom and Gomorrah. If not, read it. It’s right there in the first book of the Bible (Genesis 19), written in ink manufactured from a sewer of disgraceful behavior.

But instead of paying attention to the fire, brimstone and Lot’s salty wife, let’s focus on Lot. For of all the lessons in this passage, Lot’s personal  story is the one that probably matters the most to you.

Lot knew the Lord. He had grown up in a good family.[1] Abraham was his uncle. He had the foundation he needed to live a righteous life. This foundation never left him. The evidence? When the two angels disguised as men arrived in Sodom, Lot recognized them for who they were. Bowing with his face to the ground before them, it’s obvious that the fear of God was still there.[2]

But how in the world did Lot ever find himself sitting in the city gate of Sodom?

Maybe a quick lesson on city gates would be helpful. In ancient cities, the city gate (and there was usually just one) was something like City Hall. This is a perch for city leaders. Remember the love story of Boaz and Ruth? Boaz went to the city gate to take care of business. These were the city leaders, and if a decision was made here, it stuck.

Somehow the boy from a good family and the nephew of God’s friend had gone from settling in the lush Jordan River Valley,[3] to moving close to Sodom,[4] and finally moving his family into the city itself.

City Gate Cutaway

This cutaway illustration shows the compartment-like structure of a city gate. In times of war, soldiers filled every inch of the space, protecting the city’s most vulnerable point. In peaceful times, the gate served as a place for city leaders to meet and for community supplies to be stored.

Every move was a compromise of values, for Lot knew well how wicked Sodom was. In the end, he would pay a terrifying and heart-breaking price for his choices. But when he was making them? It probably seemed no bigger deal than letting out a big sigh, and assuming you can do nothing about the culture around you.

Let’s face it. Lot would see the rapid degeneration of traditional values as an inescapable fact of life. And if it didn’t directly affect him, he’d just keep his mouth shut and try to live in a culture of death.

His family got the message loud and clear.

His wife loved Sodom. The Hebrew of her “looking back” at Sodom as they ran for their lives lends the idea of “longing for” Sodom.

His daughters were engaged to be married to two men of the city, a move that would have ended his generational legacy of raising godly children. Before this story is over, they panicked at the idea of never having children, so they got their father drunk and had sex with him.[5]

To me, that’s the sickest and saddest part of what may be the sickest and saddest story in the Bible. The faith lesson? Lot had not taught his daughters anything about faith. They had no concept that God would care for them, if they would only care for God! They weren’t even willing to wait a few months to see what God might do!

And Lot had been compromised, too, of course.

When men demanded that Lot hand over the visitors for their sexual pleasure, he offered instead to hand over his daughters![6]

God help us.

No one in Sodom listened to Lot’s warnings, including the two men who were about to become his sons-in-law. They thought the old man was joking![7]

So instead, Lot and his daughters alone escape, and the culture they left behind suffered a horrible end.

And for all practical purposes, we never heard from Lot again.

Now listen to the first verse of the first psalm in your Bible:

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers. (Psalm 1:1)

If you’re a follower of Jesus, you’ve been challenged to “run a good race.”[8] Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is the person who doesn’t stop running and start walking with the wrong people. And blessed is the person who doesn’t stop walking and simply stand with the wrong people. And above all, blessed is the person who has not stopped running the race of a godly life, walked with the wrong people, stood with the wrong people, and then taken a seat in the wrong places.”

Lot had taken a seat in the company of mockers.

It cost him his family. It cost him his possessions. It cost him his good name. It created for him a legacy he never wanted.

No one ever wakes up one morning and says, “Hey, today I think I’ll ruin my life!”

Lot did not take his first look at Sodom and think, “Hmmm … I think I’d like to run for mayor of Sodom.”

We get to the wrong places the same way we get to the right places. We get there one small step at the time. We develop relationships with the wrong people the same way we develop relationships with the right people. It all happens one day at a time.

It’s so slow, you might not even see the progression.

So here’s the test. Look around you. Who are the people you’re with? What “city gate” are you in?

If it’s the wrong gate, get out of there! If they are the wrong people, leave!

Is it difficult to make such changes? I suppose it is.

But it’s much more difficult to watch everyone you’ve loved, and everything you’ve worked for, be destroyed because you slowly moved toward a godless environment.

Sometimes we make the idea of living a life of “righteousness” seem too complicated. But it’s not an impossible task. Be around people who have the spiritual values you’d like to have. Call it “church,” a “small group” or a “Bible study.” The people attending such events won’t be perfect any more than you’ll be perfect.

But it’s the right city gate.

When you read instructions from the Bible, follow them. If you sense God has directed you toward a specific action, do it.

And above all else, if you lay eyes on Sodom, steer clear of it. Don’t ever come close to taking a seat inside the City Gate of Destruction.

[1] Genesis 11:27

[2] Genesis 19:1

[3] Genesis 13:10-11

[4] Genesis 13:12

[5] Genesis 19:30-38.

[6] Genesis 19:8.

[7] Genesis 19:14.

[8] 1 Corinthians 9:24 – “Run in such a way as to get the prize!” Galatians 5:7 – “You were running a good race.” Philippians 3:14 – “I press on toward the goal to win the prize …”