In this week’s Torah Portion, there are quite a few things that take place. First, Abraham is relaxing at the entrance of his tent and three men appear. The Hebrew text states that God had shown himself to Abraham at this time (וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו יְהֹוָה בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב פֶּתַח-הָאֹהֶל כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם) (Bereshit / Genesis 18) We are then told that Abraham prepared food and drink for these men, and brought water so they could wash their feet. (Bereshit / Genesis 18:4-8) They gave Abraham and Sarah a prophetic message that Sarah would have a child when they return. (Bereshit / Genesis 18:9-15) Then two of these men went to Sodom to see if the wickedness that was reported in this place was true. The Lord God then discussed what would happen to the city and its inhabitants. (Bereshit / Genesis 18:16-33). The narrative then shifts to the Angels who are going down to the city, and Lot, his wife, and children. (Bereshit / Genesis 19) The men of the city try to sexually abuse the angels, and Lot takes them in and the angels protect lot and his family from these wicked men. (Bereshit / Genesis 19:1-11) Lot went and warned his son in laws who were going to marry his daughters, and they did not believe him. (Bereshit / Genesis 19:12-14) Morning came and the Angels urged Lot to leave Sodom because the Lord was going to rain down fire to destroy the wicked men of this city. The text states וּכְמוֹ הַשַּׁחַר עָלָה “When morning dawned” describing how the angels had delayed destroying Sodom and saving Lot and his family. The angels delayed due to their fondness for Abraham. The angels seized their hands and forced them to leave the city because of the impending destruction. It is an important observation how Lot choosing to draw near to the godless society of the plane that he lost everything he had, all of his livestock and cattle and his home. All that remained was the cloths on his back.
We find ourselves here in the text with Lot and his family fleeing from the destruction in Sodom according to Bereshit / Genesis 19:15-30.
Bereshit / Genesis 19:15-30
טו וּכְמוֹ הַשַּׁחַר עָלָה וַיָּאִיצוּ הַמַּלְאָכִים בְּלוֹט לֵאמֹר קוּם קַח אֶת-אִשְׁתְּךָ וְאֶת-שְׁתֵּי בְנֹתֶיךָ הַנִּמְצָאֹת פֶּן-תִּסָּפֶה בַּעֲוֹן הָעִיר: טז וַיִּתְמַהְמָהּ | וַיַּחֲזִיקוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים בְּיָדוֹ וּבְיַד-אִשְׁתּוֹ וּבְיַד שְׁתֵּי בְנֹתָיו בְּחֶמְלַת יְהוָֹה עָלָיו וַיֹּצִאֻהוּ וַיַּנִּחֻהוּ מִחוּץ לָעִיר: יז וַיְהִי כְהוֹצִיאָם אֹתָם הַחוּצָה וַיֹּאמֶר הִמָּלֵט עַל-נַפְשֶׁךָ אַל-תַּבִּיט אַחֲרֶיךָ וְאַל-תַּעֲמֹד בְּכָל-הַכִּכָּר הָהָרָה הִמָּלֵט פֶּן-תִּסָּפֶה: יח וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹט אֲלֵהֶם אַל-נָא אֲדֹנָי: יט הִנֵּה-נָא מָצָא עַבְדְּךָ חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ וַתַּגְדֵּל חַסְדְּךָ אֲשֶׁר עָשִֹיתָ עִמָּדִי לְהַחֲיוֹת אֶת-נַפְשִׁי וְאָנֹכִי לֹא אוּכַל לְהִמָּלֵט הָהָרָה פֶּן-תִּדְבָּקַנִי הָרָעָה וָמַתִּי: כ הִנֵּה-נָא הָעִיר הַזֹּאת קְרֹבָה לָנוּס שָׁמָּה וְהִוא מִצְעָר אִמָּלְטָה נָא שָׁמָּה הֲלֹא מִצְעָר הִוא וּתְחִי נַפְשִׁי: [רביעי] כא וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו הִנֵּה נָשָֹאתִי פָנֶיךָ גַּם לַדָּבָר הַזֶּה לְבִלְתִּי הָפְכִּי אֶת-הָעִיר אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ: כב מַהֵר הִמָּלֵט שָׁמָּה כִּי לֹא אוּכַל לַעֲשֹוֹת דָּבָר עַד-בֹּאֲךָ שָׁמָּה עַל-כֵּן קָרָא שֵׁם-הָעִיר צוֹעַר: כג הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ יָצָא עַל-הָאָרֶץ וְלוֹט בָּא צֹעֲרָה: כד וַיהֹוָה הִמְטִיר עַל-סְדֹם וְעַל-עֲמֹרָה גָּפְרִית וָאֵשׁ מֵאֵת יְהוָֹה מִן-הַשָּׁמָיִם: כה וַיַּהֲפֹךְ אֶת-הֶעָרִים הָאֵל וְאֵת כָּל-הַכִּכָּר וְאֵת כָּל-ישְׁבֵי הֶעָרִים וְצֶמַח הָאֲדָמָה: כו וַתַּבֵּט אִשְׁתּוֹ מֵאַחֲרָיו וַתְּהִי נְצִיב מֶלַח: כז וַיַּשְׁכֵּם אַבְרָהָם בַּבֹּקֶר אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר-עָמַד שָׁם אֶת-פְּנֵי יְהוָֹה: כח וַיַּשְׁקֵף עַל-פְּנֵי סְדֹם וַעֲמֹרָה וְעַל כָּל-פְּנֵי אֶרֶץ הַכִּכָּר וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה עָלָה קִיטֹר הָאָרֶץ כְּקִיטֹר הַכִּבְשָׁן: כט וַיְהִי בְּשַׁחֵת אֱלֹהִים אֶת-עָרֵי הַכִּכָּר וַיִּזְכֹּר אֱלֹהִים אֶת-אַבְרָהָם וַיְשַׁלַּח אֶת-לוֹט מִתּוֹךְ הַהֲפֵכָה בַּהֲפֹךְ אֶת-הֶעָרִים אֲשֶׁר-יָשַׁב בָּהֵן לוֹט: ל וַיַּעַל לוֹט מִצּוֹעַר וַיֵּשֶׁב בָּהָר וּשְׁתֵּי בְנֹתָיו עִמּוֹ כִּי יָרֵא לָשֶׁבֶת בְּצוֹעַר וַיֵּשֶׁב בַּמְּעָרָה הוּא וּשְׁתֵּי בְנֹתָיו:
19:15 When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city.’ 19:16 But he hesitated. So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters, for the compassion of the Lord was upon him; and they brought him out, and put him outside the city. 19:17 When they had brought them outside, one said, ‘Escape for your life! Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away.’ 19:18 But Lot said to them, ‘Oh no, my lords! 19:19 ‘Now behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have magnified your lovingkindness, which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die; 19:20 now behold, this town is near enough to flee to, and it is small. Please, let me escape there (is it not small?) that my life may be saved.’ 19:21 He said to him, ‘Behold, I grant you this request also, not to overthrow the town of which you have spoken. 19:22 ‘Hurry, escape there, for I cannot do anything until you arrive there.’ Therefore the name of the town was called Zoar. 19:23 The sun had risen over the earth when Lot came to Zoar. 19:24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven, 19:25 and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. 19:26 But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. 19:27 Now Abraham arose early in the morning and went to the place where he had stood before the Lord; 19:28 and he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the valley, and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land ascended like the smoke of a furnace. 19:29 Thus it came about, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot lived. 19:30 Lot went up from Zoar, and stayed in the mountains, and his two daughters with him; for he was afraid to stay in Zoar; and he stayed in a cave, he and his two daughters. (NASB)
Reading through the narrative, we see and interesting statement the angels make to Lot and his family saying, יז וַיְהִי כְהוֹצִיאָם אֹתָם הַחוּצָה וַיֹּאמֶר הִמָּלֵט עַל-נַפְשֶׁךָ אַל-תַּבִּיט אַחֲרֶיךָ וְאַל-תַּעֲמֹד בְּכָל-הַכִּכָּר הָהָרָה הִמָּלֵט פֶּן-תִּסָּפֶה: 19:17 When they had brought them outside, one said, ‘Escape for your life! Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away.’ (NASB) Why do you think the angels told them to escape to the mountains (הָהָרָה הִמָּלֵט)? Is there any significance to this statement to head to the mountains? It appears as if the angels are telling Lot to return to Abraham. The mountains is the dwelling place of Abraham. Remember how in the mountains, one would rely upon God by faith trusting the Lord God will bring the rains as opposed to the valley. These two regions illustrate different levels of faith, Abraham remained in the mountain region because he had great faith. The angels were most likely urging Lot to return to Abraham the man of faith. This is how Rashi interprets these passages.
Rashi on Genesis 19:17 Part 4
ההרה המלט ESCAPE TO THE MOUNTAIN — Flee to Abraham who is dwelling in the mountain — as it is said, (Genesis 12:8) “And he removed his tent thence unto the mountain”. He was still dwelling there, as it is said, (Genesis 13:3) “[And he went unto] … the place where his tent had been at first”, and although it is stated (Genesis 13:18) “And Abraham moved his tent etc.”, he had many tents and they stretched as far as Hebron.
Lot however did not return to Abraham indicated by his statement, יח וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹט אֲלֵהֶם אַל-נָא אֲדֹנָי: יט הִנֵּה-נָא מָצָא עַבְדְּךָ חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ וַתַּגְדֵּל חַסְדְּךָ אֲשֶׁר עָשִֹיתָ עִמָּדִי לְהַחֲיוֹת אֶת-נַפְשִׁי וְאָנֹכִי לֹא אוּכַל לְהִמָּלֵט הָהָרָה פֶּן-תִּדְבָּקַנִי הָרָעָה וָמַתִּי: כ הִנֵּה-נָא הָעִיר הַזֹּאת קְרֹבָה לָנוּס שָׁמָּה וְהִוא מִצְעָר אִמָּלְטָה נָא שָׁמָּה הֲלֹא מִצְעָר הִוא וּתְחִי נַפְשִׁי: 19:18 But Lot said to them, ‘Oh no, my lords! 19:19 ‘Now behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have magnified your lovingkindness, which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die; 19:20 now behold, this town is near enough to flee to, and it is small. Please, let me escape there (is it not small?) that my life may be saved.’ (NASB) Lot seems to be emphasizing the size of the town to the angels, possibly trying to argue their sin is not so great as Sodom? Strangely Lot did not want to return to Abraham where he would have been taken care of and drawn closer to the Lord God of Abraham. He chose instead to go to the small town of Tzoar (צוֹעַר). We note something here how Lot intentionally chose to not return to righteousness (by returning to Abraham) and this is the effect of sin in one’s life. If we draw near to our culture, its effect is to draw us away from the Lord and away from His ways. This functions as a significant warning for us today!
We are told that Abraham the next day went to look at the region of Sodom from his elevated position (mountainous region) and saw the destruction of the city as it went up in smoke. We noticed something about the discussion that Abraham had with God in regards to the destruction of Sodom. We are told how Abraham argued for the salvation of the city for righteousness sake. The fact that God took the time to discuss this with Abraham and specifically to reexamine what he had known or heard about Sodom, is a revelation to both Abraham and to us. (Akeidat Yitzchak 19:1 Part 13) This revelation is concerning how the Lord knows the state of man, whether one is leaning towards righteousness or wickedness. We read according to Bereshit / Genesis 6 that God was aware of both the actions and the thoughts of men saying “God saw that man’s wickedness upon the earth had become widespread, and that thoughts of evil preoccupied man all day long.” These things reveal to us how prayer is so important. Abraham illustrates this by praying for the people of Sodom in his discourse with God over their destruction. The Lord God was willing to have mercy if there were ten men who were willing to repent. This provides us with an early picture of the mercy of God, in the lives of both Abraham and Lot.
This story from Abraham and Lot becomes a teaching moment for Yeshua and his disciples according to Luke 9:51-10:2.
9:51 When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem; 9:52 and He sent messengers on ahead of Him, and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him. 9:53 But they did not receive Him, because He was traveling toward Jerusalem. 9:54 When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ 9:55 But He turned and rebuked them, [and said, ‘You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; 9:56 for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.’]And they went on to another village. 9:57 As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, ‘I will follow You wherever You go.’ 9:58 And Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’ 9:59 And He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.’ 9:60 But He said to him, ‘Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.’ 9:61 Another also said, ‘I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.’ 9:62 But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’ 10:1 Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come. 10:2 And He was saying to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. (NASB)
Notice how we are told in Luke 9:52 how messengers were sent ahead to a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Yeshua. The people of the city rejected him. The disciples then think about the angels in Parashat Vayera going to Sodom and the kind of hospitality they received. They then ask Yeshua if they should call down fire from heaven to consume them. Yeshua rebuked them saying that he did not come to destroy lives but to save them. The idea is Yeshua is preaching repentance, just as Abraham did seeing the salvation of those who are lost. Lot on the other hand seems to have been content with his surroundings and the people he lived with, i.e. he was not preaching repentance as Abraham was.
Note one additional aspect about the narrative which states that Yeshua and his disciples destination was for Jerusalem. Yeshua sent messengers ahead of him to a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him. The people of the village would not receive him, and it says because they were traveling towards Jerusalem. This idea of going up to Jerusalem has much spiritual meaning, such as drawing near and seeking the God of Israel. This could indicate there may have been some sort of religious differences that prevented the people from receiving him. The following list is what we do know about the Samaritans.
- Both Jews and Samaritans believed that they came from the seed of Abraham and that they were the Chosen People.
- Both groups worshipped the same God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the one true God according to the Torah.
- Both considered Moses the law-giver and prophet of God.
- Samaritans made their sacrifices and celebrated their high holy days on Mt. Gerizim, while Jews considered Jerusalem the Holy City and any other site was blasphemous.
Like Jews, Samaritans are monotheists. The God of Abraham was and is the one true God. Also like Jews, the five books of Moses comprise their sacred text. Unlike the Jewish people, Samaritans have only one prophet, Moses. They believed the later prophets created a revolution within Judaism which they reject. They built their Temple on Mount Gerizim, spiritual center of the Samaritan religion. Abraham’s binding of Isaac and Jacob’s dream of heaven took place on Gerizim, not Jerusalem’s Mount Moriah, according to Samaritans, who also dismiss rabbinical interpretation of the Torah. The Mishnah and Talmud are also excluded from the Samaritan religion. The priests rule the Samaritan system. They ignore holidays and celebrations not mandated by the five books. Based upon this analysis, it is not surprising they rejected Yeshua’s coming to their village.
The disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven to consume these people, and Yeshua said no rebuking them. He said that He did not come into the world to destroy men’s lives. There is a parallel here to the angels that were sent from God to Sodom who were there to both rescue the righteous and destroy the wicked. The narrative continues with men coming to Yeshua saying they will follow him, and he speaks to them about what one must give up in order to follow him and be saved. Again there is a parallel here to what the Angels said to Lot, to flee towards the mountains. Abraham was dwelling in the mountains. Why did Lot refuse to return to Abraham? Returning to Abraham would be to return to the righteous and to the way of righteousness. The effects of the culture and people of Sodom on Lot may have been greater than we realize. This is when Yeshua then said, 9:62 But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’ (NASB) What exactly does this mean? Is there a connection to what Lot’s wife did, she turned to look back upon the city and she was turned into a pillar of salt?
The idea of putting the hand to the plow is a proverbial expression that illustrates one is breaking ground to plant. In the case of the one who puts his hand to the plow this means that one is dedicating his life or committing his life to God. Yeshua lived in an agricultural age, his audience was familiar with the one who plows. He speaks of the plow in this way knowing that if one looks back the plowman may go off course being distracted by the things that are behind him. This illustrates that looking back causes the plow line to become crooked. When this happens one will not be able to properly fill up the field and reap a proper harvest. This is illustrated as representing what happened to Lot’s wife, they were being delivered from a wicked and sinful place, and she looked back and died. Was she longing for the place she was leaving? Was she worried about her son in laws? We are not given a reason why she looked back. What we do know is Lot was not interested in returning to the faith and righteousness of Abraham. Instead, he went to another city rather than to a place of faith (in the mountains) with Abraham. In parallel fashion, the Lord God calls us out of this world to turn from the sinfulness of this world and its pleasures (i.e. the lust of the flesh ,the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, etc). The one who looks back upon the plow is the one who tends to look back and is regretful of his or her calling. When this happens, Yeshua says such a person is not fit for the kingdom. How significant do you think these passages are from the Scriptures? Could this be so significant that it is a salvation issue? When the Lord calls us we are expected to give all of our heart, soul, and strength to Him (Devarim / Deuteronomy 6). We are called to love God with all of our heart, soul, and strength. Looking back prevents this from happening. The danger is letting go of the plow and taking hold of the old sinful ways. The conclusion is the one who does not finish what God has called him to do is not fit for the kingdom. Paul wrote to the Philippians saying let us do our best to “forget those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead!” (Philippians 3:13). Like we see in the Story of Abraham and Lot, we are called to be disciples and representatives of God in heaven. We are to walk in a worthy manner by setting a priority on the forward motion, not looking back to our old former sinful lives. And most importantly, we need God’s Help and the empowering of His Spirit in our lives to achieve this end. By faith in the Messiah Yeshua, his sacrifice, and our receiving the Holy Spirit of God are what helps us overcome the world!