Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Lot's desolate daughters (Gen 19)

Oh what a terrible set of stories! And what a terrible set of situations we encounter when we read the stories of Lot's poor unnamed daughters.

The context of their introduction to the action is almost unfathomable. We first hear that Lot has "two virgin daughters" when he declares this to a mob of perverse men banging on his door and demanding to rape the visiting men he has offered shelter for the night. He says it by way of an offer, that they may have his daughters if they will just leave his guests alone.

What kind of relationship with his daughters leads a man to consider this? I can hardly imagine it. And this horror occurs right in God's chosen family. Honestly, based on Lot's actions toward his little girls, I am surprised that he is chosen to be saved in contrast with the "wicked men" of the city. To me it appears to be another instance of Abraham's status with God rubbing off on or overflowing in blessing onto his biological family.

Thankfully, Lot's guests turn out to be angels, who are able to block the door, blind the mob, and save the whole family without any of the horrible contingencies occurring. But immediately they warn Lot to take his wife and daughters and leave the city, which will be destroyed for it's great wickedness.

When the angels tell him to leave with his wife and daughters, Lot delays to wait for their fiances even after the men show they aren't taking his warning message seriously. The angels finally grab his and his families' hands to pull them out of the city to safety, (with the beautiful line of explanation, "for the Lord was merciful"). After they are saved from the city and told to run, Lot is still trying to negotiate, and asks to go to a little city nearby instead of the safety of the mountains. The angels agree to his request.

On the way to Zoar, Lot's wife disregards the angels' instruction not to stop for a moment or to look back. When she does look back, she turns into a pillar of salt. This is the only detail of her life we are given. What a legacy! Also, what a contrast of instant judgment against the mercy shown to Lot for all his negotiating.

In v 29, we get confirmation that Lot has been saved because of Abraham, "But God had listened to Abraham's request and kept Lot safe . . ." Let's stop here to note that. This is another example which is similar to the way that Noah's family was saved from a natural disaster because of his faith. There, I wondered about whether as the head of his clan, God entrusted Noah with his family and the future of humanity because of his love for God. Here, it's harder to see that in action with Abraham and Lot as the story continues. But it is still a similar situation to file away as we read through and look for larger patterns.

The Cave
Lot and his two daughters alone make it to Zoar, but don't stay there "because he was afraid of the people there," understandable after his last experience with city living. The family of three leave the city to live in a cave, and here a less exciting, but equally depressing and depraved chapter in their family life unfolds.

The biblically ever important question of who to marry, and how to have children, occurs to Lot's daughters. In other places in the text we have seen God provide spouses and children against the odds, and this pattern will continue moving forward in Genesis. But Lot's daughters do not look to God for help (neither did Sarah, completely). They see that there are no potential husbands around, and immediately conclude that sleeping with their father is the only way to bear children. This family does not have a strong understanding of God's family design and sexual ethic, maybe as a result of the culture where the family grew. Really, it would be astonishing if there were a healthy parental relationship between these daughters and their father, when he was prepared earlier to throw them to a crowd to be gang-raped.

The sisters devise a plan to get Lot drunk and seduce him, each on a different night. We are told that "he was unaware of her lying down or getting up again." And his eventual becoming aware is not noted in the text, though he must have when the boys were born at least! What did family life look like for little "From father" (Moab) and "Son of my kinsman" (Ben Ammi) as they grew up? The family dysfunction only increased from what the Lot's daughters had known, I would imagine. But the story stops when the little boys are born, except for the note that they went on to start the lines of the Moabites and the Ammonites. Remember Ruth the Moabite will be in the line of Jesus.

God is present outside the garden
These are heavy and difficult stories, and even finding a plain theological message or message of the narrative is difficult for me. My best take on a general message is that God really does pluck people out of depravity and work with them in the midst of it. And he does this for an unrighteous person at the request of a righteous one. We see redemption in the first story when the mob is not able to actually get hold of anyone and Lot and his daughters escape. In the second story, we see God working through even this corrupt family line to bring eventual redemption to the world when Jesus will come.

For a message specific to women in these stories, there are two points that both relate to the power dynamic between men and women that is soured after the fall. First of all, we see the exploitation of women by men who possess power ("but he will rule over you"). Lot is only able to think of using his daughters the way he contemplates because he has power over them. (Though you have to wonder what their fiances would have thought of his plan. Perhaps marriage to these townsfolk wouldn't have been a great situation for the girls either). We also find an example of how women suffering from a lack of power over horrible situations in their lives can turn to evil, though desperate, action to help themselves. Lot's daughters later perverse but pragmatic use of their father to bear sons is their attempt to secure sons for themselves when their father is not to be trusted to protect them.

Is it fair to say that this toxic father-daughter relationship has anything to do with the curse, when the "but he will rule over you" was initially pronounced in the context of husbands and wives? In fact, Lot's daughters are the first daughters we know anything about in the Bible (other than "and he lived so long and had so many other sons and daughters").  The male/female conflict so far has been between husbands and wives (Lamech and his wives, Abraham and Sarah and Hagar), but I think these stories are evidence of the power dynamic of men and women in marriage spreading out into family dynamics, and eventually cultural ones.  It doesn't seem to be quite part and parcel with the curse itself but you can see how the scenario of husbands ultimately winning the control battle when wives set out to gain it would influence all male female relationships, especially when women are physically less powerful than men even before they have children (which they are likely to wind up doing in a culture with no birth control or feminist values), and at the height of vulnerability in the world afterwards.

Not a happy set of stories, but one that may be valuable for us who find ourselves in real life outside of the garden, where circumstances can be horrendous indeed. God was there in the midst of it, and he is with us now, mitigating, and working through even the worst of it.

  • Lot is saved from destruction in Sodom and Gomorrah because of God's mercy to Abraham
  • Lot and his daughters are the first father-daughter relationship in the Bible and they display a horrible relationship evidenced by abuse in both directions, though worse from father to daughters. 
  • The power dynamic between husbands and wives after the fall seems to have spread to fathers and daughters, and to the general culture.
  • When Ruth is included in the family line of Jesus as the great grandmother of King David, her heritage begins here. 


  • Why was Lot's wife judged so harshly? What was her experience like in her marriage and motherhood? With Lot's toxic relationship with his daughters, what can we infer about how he felt toward his wife? 
  • Did God's rescue of Lot as a favor to Abraham extend to his spiritual life and salvation? Or was the rescue physical only, temporary until his final death and judgment?

Friday, January 26, 2018

The God who sees me (Genesis 16, 21:8-20)

Interwoven with the story of Sarah and Abraham is the story of Hagar. Though Sarah is the one remembered and honored in the hall of fame of holy women in many places in the Bible (1 Pet 3:6, Hebrews 11:11, Rom 4:19, 9:9, Gal 4:22-23), Hagar's character shows us another a heart-warming picture of God's support for those less honored, less remembered, and in need of help and grace.

The first exile
When we are introduced to Hagar, she is little more than a pawn in Sarai's plan to move God's plan forward. She is from Egypt, but that is all we know about her backstory before she is given to Abram as a wife. We know Abram agreed to this plan, Hagar's feelings about it are not considered in the text. But Hagar's first recorded contribution to the action is the contempt from her that Sarai perceives when Hagar becomes pregnant.

Abram takes Sarai's side in the dispute, and tells Sarai to deal with her as she sees fit. What Sarai sees fit is treatment so harsh that Hagar feels the need to run away. When Hagar is alone, we get a glimpse into her story at what is likely one of it's most profound points over the course of her life.

Hagar receives a visit from an angel, who is very interested in her circumstances, and gives her direction about them, saying "Return to your mistress and submit to her authority." He follows this up with promises to her, that she will have more descendants than she can count, and that her son will be wild, and live in hostility with others. The angel also gives her Ishmael's name (meaning Hagar is the one who names him when they return, probably after sharing this story with her household). It means "God hears" and is a sign to Hagar that the Lord is involved in her stressful life. She, in response, uses a new name for the Lord "the one who sees me."

What a beautiful interaction this is! Hagar's recorded intimacy with God here is in stark contrast with her holy mistress's relationship with God, played out in overheard conversations, attempts to influence him from afar, and doubt about his power. I think we have to observe here that God is involved with different people in different ways, even when each is one of his own people, one of his own women.

Hagar does return, in obedience and in faith in the promise she has received from the Lord, but we hear nothing of her relationship with Sarai until there is more trouble 14 years later. The reconciliation at the end of chapter 16 is recorded that she "gave Abram a son." No information is given about how she or Sarai felt about being back together at that point.

The second exile
After Sarai's relationship with the Lord is resolved in gratitude and laughter, at Isaac's birth, Hagar comes back into the action. She is having a similar problem to what happened in the earlier episode. But instead of Hagar being contemptuous to Sarah, now it is Ishmael making fun of Isaac. Again, Sarah's anger flares, and Abraham allows her to send them away.

The first time God came to Hagar and Ishmael in their difficulty, they were on a road, near a spring of water. This time they are wandering aimlessly in the desert, and their water has just run out. Hagar is desperate now, crying alone, unable to bear watching her son die. She has earlier been promised that God will make a great nation out of Ishmael, which would be precluded by his death. So her faith has to be shaking at this point. Also she is faced with the immediate dire problem of their physical needs. But God "hears" again and comes to her, repeating the promise about Ishmael. He also shows her a well that saves them, and the crisis is apparently solved at that point. Ishmael grows up in the wilderness as a skillful archer an ultimately marries someone from Egypt, where his mother is from.

Perhaps this is a very happy ending for Hagar, to return to her homeland with a son she is proud of who is blessed by God, and to settle there and integrate him back into her people. Though Hagar and Ishmael's story is a bit of a sideline from the story of God's people in the Bible, God does indeed see and hear them, and my heart is warmed at his compassion for them in the midst of his greater plan.


  • In contrast with God's distant relationship with Sarah, he interacts intimately with Hagar in her time of need.
  • God is extremely compassionate with Hagar in the context of her motherhood, rescuing her in the midst of a troubled pregnancy, and then later, when she is unable to provide for her son. This, despite the fact that their own provocation seems to have brought the trouble upon them.

  • Why did God seek out Hagar to help and bless her? Could it have been because of her relationship with God's chosen man, Abraham, and his son?
  • What was the relationship between Abraham, Sarai and Hagar like in between her two departures?