As a child, the backdrop of almost all Bible stories consisted of a big, light blue felt board on which paper characters were moved about, stuck here and there, as my Sunday School teacher(s) told the story of the week. In my memory bank, I can still see comet-like fire balls hurling from heaven to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah while Lot and his family ran away to the opposite edge of the blue square. But, alas, midway, one particular member was removed and replaced with a white statue, slapped to the board with a certain emphasis. Lot’s wife had lost her life because she dared to take a little peek back and was immediately turned into a pillar of salt.
Lesson for the day: Disobedience can kill ya! God’s watchin’, and He’s gonna getchya!
Truthfully, I don’t ever remember my teacher saying those things, at least not in that way, but it was what my little heart latched onto. And from that day forward, mixed with an awesome love for God was also an awesome fear. I can’t say it’s been all bad, but I wonder if maybe there isn’t a better way to understand the warning of God that brought about the salty transformation. What if, instead of a stern warning that demanded obeisance with punishment for defection, God had sent a word of advice and encouragement for the journey? How we read the directive changes how we view the One who uttered it.
“When the morning dawned, the angels urged Lot to hurry, saying, ‘Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the punishment of the city.’ And while he lingered, the men took hold of his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters, and the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. So it came to pass, when they had brought them outside, that he said, ‘Escape for your life! Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed.’ . . . But his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.” (Genesis 19:15-17, 26, NKJV)
People who remain too long in arid places, where the sun burns high in the cloudless sky can quickly descend into dehydration and delusion. This lack of hydration causes their lips and tongue to swell and their skin become cracked and dry, turning white and crusty, rendering them “salty.” Their bodies shut down, and they can die, exposed to the elements. For those who may be somewhat disinclined to believe the more outrageous claims in the Bible (like people becoming salt statutes), maybe it’s not such a farfetched idea that Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt out there on the plain after all.
What if God knew that the journey across the plain would be arduous and that any stopping or slowing down along the way would likely lead to ruin? What if His words to them on that day of destruction were a token of love rather than a test of their loyalty? You see, I had it wrong for so long; the truth about God is plainly written in the story: The Lord is merciful. He’s not waiting for us to fail so that He can prove His power. His words weren’t a rebuke, they were a nudge (albeit a strong one!).
In each one of our lives, at some time or another, we will experience transitions that require us to enter the wilderness. We will be forced beyond ourselves to endure the unknown, where the elements are difficult, where the future seems bleak, and where what has been relinquished or lost causes us pain and sorrow and grief. And yet, giving in to that grief may cause us to atrophy in the desert, never to inhabit a new safe space. Like Lot’s wife, we, too, can lose focus on the goal ahead. We can fail to persevere and maybe even forget, completely, the kind words of God meant to encourage us on the way. We can so easily get stuck where the saltiness of the situation ends up destroying us and negatively impacting those around us.
Paul says the following in Philippians 4:13 “Brothers, I do not count myself to have apprehended: but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Whatever you may be going through . . . Whatever tragedy has befallen you . . . Whatever obstacle you face . . . Whatever wilderness lies before you . . . Don’t give up. Keep going. Keep moving forward. It’s not wrong to look back on the past and think of the good times, to grieve any losses you may have experienced. But don’t get stuck there. Press on! Walk in Faith and shake hands with Hope; they will aid you on your journey to the other side.
May the priestly blessing be your benediction today and always: “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift His countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).