Parashat Vayera – Spiritual Deception
Last week we considered how ‘mercy wins out over judgement’ as the core concept that lies behind the spiritual reality of the physical universe. Through Avraham, the route to redemption begins to take hold, revealing the power and ability of God to turn around any situation, however evil, for good. Those whose spirits are regenerated will see the tension between the spiritual and the physical and will see the triumph of the spirit over the flesh through submission to God on a daily basis.
We see such a tension today in Lot and Avraham. As Sodom had grown and experienced the corresponding decay of righteousness that so often accompanies it, two men made decisions that had generational impacts. We find Lot sitting in the gates of the city as the two ‘men’ arrive – an interesting place to sit as it denotes power and authority. Indeed as Gen 19:9 says, it seems he was acting in some way as a judge and was attempting at least to stop the moral decay. It may be this that ultimately allows the Messianic Writings to designate him as ‘righteous’ despite his wrong life choices.
Lot had sought the false security of the physical strength of numbers and material fortifications. In such a ‘secure’ place people thought they could be free to do what they wanted – not only to pursue the obvious pleasures and desires but also according to the Prophets, to abuse people materially and socially: the weak and vulnerable were exploited and the poor were made even more destitute; the injustice was so great that the cry had reached unto heaven. And yet, they thought, surely God couldn’t touch them there?
Yet in Lot we discover the truth of the deception listed by Rav Shaul in 1 Corinthians 15:33: ‘do not be deceived, evil company corrupts good habits’. Lot could have chosen the path of faith, the life that isn’t dependent on external circumstances. But instead, his security was with the unrighteous. And it rubbed off. Although the text of Torah makes it clear that the men were angels, Lot certainly hadn’t discerned this.
Up to that point with Avraham the three ‘men’ were described and discerned by Av as from the Lord. As two of them approached Sodom they are now called angels to highlight the fact that Lot was already unable to discern the Lord’s hand and intervention in his life. His ‘cause and effect’ world view was already jaundiced by the culture and environment within which he had chosen to live. Lot tries to protect them from attack, but then goes on to suggest an even greater crime: the replacement of the ‘men’ with his daughters. Lot in his increasing desperation sought to avert sin by committing sin.
I mentioned that the impact of these choices made were trans-generational. Later on we read that the daughters of Lot, feeling desperate for offspring, rather than praying in faith and trusting God as Avraham had taught, they committed incest with their father, attempting to use sin to fulfil a righteous command. The later results of that union were Moab and Ammon (the Ammonites were the ones who ‘invented’ child sacrifice), both sworn enemies of Israel. The daughters were far from righteous themselves and reflected their upbringing. Truly the sins of the fathers were visited on the children.
Lot’s choices took him to places he should never have been. We too can end up in bad spiritual places because of choices and decisions we make every day which, if continued over time, will place you in the wrong city (metaphorically speaking). Despite all this, our overarching theme of mercy prevails. Incredible that despite it all, God’s mercy is still shown to Lot and his family. Once again, we see God’s strategy of overcoming evil with mercy. He literally pulls the family out, even though Lot hesitated because Sodom’s sin had so deeply corrupted him – whatever his original intent to fight against it had been.
So often we think we can fight for righteousness from within unrighteous environments, wrong relationships or wrong soul ties. The corrosive effect is simply too strong. Being in the world, but not of it, has never been as difficult as here and Lot clearly got the balance wrong. We play with fire and expect to walk away unhurt but that is deception. Nevertheless, keep hold of this: even in his most compromised position God still showed Lot mercy and saved him. No pit is too deep for the Lord to reach in and grab you out of it, if you are truly His. Lot belonged to God and the Lord was not about to be shown to be unfaithful and unreliable in this.
What can we learn from this? Firstly, when the time for deliverance came Lot was not ready and didn’t recognise the hand of the Lord in the intervention. What we so often fail to realise is that God also acts in ‘human’ ways to set us free, ways that we may not immediately realise are from Him, but actually if we were more attuned to Him we would know His hand at work. While God in His mercy dragged Lot away, we certainly should not rely on this for ourselves but understand that as we wander into spiritual danger we begin to lose that connectivity which allows us to see God at work in our lives and so when He does act, we may not see it.
Secondly, Lot had confused ‘getting close’ with ‘being like’. Closeness with a lost world is not an issue for the righteous who walk firmly in the Lord, but being like the world will always fail. While it might be too strong to accuse Lot of compromise (or maybe not), he certainly acquiesced and was guilty of silent complicity. Failure to speak up or act at the right time for righteousness will lead to a rot in your own righteous fabric and eventually will pull you away from the Lord.
Globally, there is one more message from this scenario. Avraham prayed for judgement to be averted on the basis of God’s mercy. He did this as one with perspective and distance, not as one with involvement – tacit or otherwise. Avraham knows that his compassion for the people is real and genuine because it seeks change and repentance – not to keep the status quo. Yeshua’s words to the woman caught in adultery are apt in this context: he said ‘go and sin no more’, not ‘go and carry on regardless’.
Real compassion, drawn from the Lord, leads to righteous challenge – which in turn leads to change in people. Lot was busy making excuses but this is NOT compassion. To lead someone to a place of repentance and real change is all about compassion, not a sentimental fake that seeks to massage damaged souls rather than heal them. Saying ‘go and sin no more’ is not sentimentality, it’s change.
It’s this idea of spiritual distance that finally makes the difference between the two men. Avraham prays for the people of Sodom; Lot doesn’t. In fact he can’t. To pray for them would be to acknowledge his own complicity in their sin because he has grown too close. With a sense of suppressed guilt he cannot pray effectively because to do so would be to pray for himself. Herein lies the problem if we allow our connection with the lost to be too close: we lose distance and our ability to reach into a genuine situation with God’s own compassion is weakened. It becomes difficult to pray for a person when we have allied ourselves to them and begun to be like them.
So where are you living? In the place of faith or physical security? Will you compromise so ‘your soul may live’, or will you stay loyal to the Lord and fulfil for Him what your life is here for?