For the week of November 3, 2012 / 18 Heshvan 5773
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 18:1 - 22:24
Haftarah: 2 Melachim / 2 Kings 4:1-37


Absorbing Values

The two angels came to S'dom that evening, when Lot was sitting at the gate of S'dom. (Bereshit / Genesis 19:1; CJB)

This week's parsha (Torah portion) includes a most disturbing incident. God sent two angels to rescue Abraham's nephew Lot and his family. While they were in Lot's house, a large contingent of males of the city arrived, demanding to have sex with the angels. The Hebrew word for angel is "malach", meaning "messenger". Their appearance was human- like. So the men of the city had no idea with whom they were dealing. To them the angels were simply strangers.

The moral decadence of that city is further illustrated through Lot himself, who to protect his guests, offered his daughters to the men. That Lot sought to protect his guests at all is honorable. His unwillingness to give in to the specifics of his neighbors' demands shows he had not fully succumbed to the level of their depravity. But that he would offer his daughters in order to pacify them shows that Lot was no better than they.

We may wonder at how the New Covenant Scriptures could describe Lot as "a righteous man who was distressed by the debauchery of those unprincipled people" (2 Peter 2:7; CJB). Doesn't his behavior reveal otherwise? What might be going on here is disturbing, but instructive. It is easy to write off Lot. His actions are deplorable, but if we miss how he got to this place, we will also miss God's warning to us.

The first Psalm contrasts the wicked and the righteous (see Tehillim / Psalm 1). The righteous have blessed, fruitful lives; the wicked come to nothing. The difference between how these two live helps us see what might have happened to Lot. According to the Psalm, the wicked spend their time in the company of the wicked; the righteous are focused on God's Word. It's not that the righteous choose better company; it's that they derive their lives from the Scriptures.

Lot was part of Abraham's entourage. He conceivably could have remained in close relationship to the man called to be a blessing to the world (see Bereshit / Genesis 12:1-3). He could have remained in community with the man regarded as God's friend (see James 2:23), who lived life based on God's Word and not derived from the surrounding culture. But for some reason Lot was drawn to the city of Sodom, thus rejecting the life of faith to which his uncle was called. His reaction to the men of the city shows that he retained some sense of right and wrong, but it appears that his society had significantly worn off on him. We read at the beginning that when the angels arrived, Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. Unlike the righteous in Psalm 1, he was hanging out with the wicked. It eventually got to him, and he may not have even been aware of it.

Even people who know better yet immerse themselves in the company of evil will absorb the values of those they hang out with. But a truly righteous man like Abraham doesn't immerse himself in anything but God's Word. That doesn't mean we are not to be in relationship with people. Far from it! Rather our relationships need to be, first and foremost, grounded in Scripture. That's the only way to be free from the expectations and values of others and be the kind of blessing to others we (and they) need us to be.

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