Published: 24 January 2022

Righteous Lot?

Righteous Lot

7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); (2 Pet. 2:7–8 ESV)

Three times in two verses Peter says that Lot was righteous. Yet, if the only commentary we had on Lot’s life came from Genesis, I doubt that we’d describe him as a righteous man. His “accomplishments” include:

  • Choosing to live in what was probably the most wicked place on Earth (Gen 13:12)
  • He sat in Sodom’s gate (Gen 19:1) which suggests he had status in a city full of extreme sinners (Gen 13:13).
  • He offered his virgin daughters to a mob of rapists in an effort to protect his angelic guests (Gen 19:8).
  • He became drunk to the point of passing out after which his daughters fathered children by him (Gen 19:30-35).

Poor choices

In spite of all these things, Peter says Lot was a righteous man! Perhaps we can attribute much of Lot’s “lot in life” to poor decision making. We can say with certainty that Lot made an unwise decision to take his herds to the vicinity of Sodom. He made another poor choice when he decided to prolong his stay even to the point of participating in their society. He should have listened to the vexing and tormenting of his soul which was the result of witnessing the lawless deeds of the Sodomites.

Notwithstanding, his choice to offer his virgin daughters to a rape gang in exchange for the protection of the angelic visitors is disturbing to say the least. In the ancient Near East, hospitality demanded protection for visitors under your roof. However, it strains the imagination to think this protection came at the expense of a man’s own family. If Lot truly was willing to go to this extreme, he was a fool (at least by modern standards). I suspect the inhabitants of the ANE would probably have said the same. Surely this is not something a righteous man could do.

Bluffing?

Therefore, I assume Lot offered his daughters, knowing that the deviants of Sodom wouldn’t want them. It may have been a desperate attempt to defuse the situation hoping they’d go away leaving both the visitors and daughters alone. In other words, he was bluffing hoping the mob still had a conscience left. This seems to have been the position of Josephus, the first century AD Jewish historian.

“and when Lot exhorted them to sobriety, and not to offer anything immodest to the strangers, but to have regard to their lodging in his house; and promised, that if their inclinations could not be governed, he would expose his daughters to their lust, instead of these strangers—neither thus were they made ashamed” (Antiquities of the Jews 1:201).1

Based on Josephus’s remarks, it appears it was his opinion that Lot was trying to shame this mob into turning away from their intended actions. If Lot was counting on a vestige of morality in this gang, he miscalculated.

What is righteousness?

When Abraham was speaking to God about sparing the righteous of Sodom, he used the Hebrew word tzaddiq (צַדִּיק) (Gen 18:23). Tzaddiq means:

1. of a thing which is examined and found to be in order
2. juridical; persons whose conduct will be checked and found irreproachable, innocent, in the right
3. morally in the right, innocent
4. a. social justice, i.e. in respect of the community, true to the community
5. in a religious sense, just, upright, devout

HALOT, s.v. “3:1002”, tzaddiq.2

In a nutshell, a righteous person is one who treats those around them with fairness, honesty, and respect. This is the same idea that is communicated when we say, “Tom has always done right by me.”

Righteous doesn’t mean perfect

It is possible that Lot was a righteous person even though his errors in judgement were profound – even legendary. Likewise, Abraham is held up as an example of righteousness, yet he wasn’t perfect. He pimped out his wife on two occasions (Gen 12:10-20, 20:2-14) and he attempted to “help God” expedite His promise by fathering a child through a concubine (Gen 16). We don’t know the entire context which drove these decisions so we don’t want to be too hard on Abraham (or Lot). I mention these failures to show that even a man who is righteous has plenty of flaws.

Why did Peter say Lot was righteous?

Being an inspired biblical author, prophet, and apostle, Peter had greater insights than anyone alive today. However, it is possible even for us to make the same determination about Lot even without Peter’s miraculous knowledge and insight from the Holy Spirit. How can we know this? Because God promised Abraham that He would save anyone in the city who He deemed to be righteous (Gen 18:22-33). Since God saved Lot, we know Lot was righteous.

The angels could not destroy the cities of the Plain until Lot was a safe distance away (Gen 19:22). God keeps His promises and He promised Abraham that He would spare the righteous.

So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived. (Gen. 19:29 ESV) 

Lot’s legacy

Even though we know that Lot was a righteous man, this has done little to redeem his reputation. We will always remember Lot as the man who endangered his daughters and then had incestuous relations with them. Of course, the latter was not entirely his fault. It would seem that Sodom had influenced his daughter’s morals. 

This last “mishap” resulted in two sons/grandsons. His daughters named them Moab and Ben-ammi. Their descendants would become the Moabites and the Ammonites and would be enemies of Abraham’s descendants. The last time the Genesis narrative mentions Lot, it leaves us with an unflattering picture of him:

Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. (Gen. 19:36 ESV)

Righteousness does not equate to wisdom, nor skillful living. As people of God, let us strive to have all three, and learn from Lot’s mistakes.

References

  1. Josephus, Flavius, and William Whiston. The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged. New updated ed, Hendrickson Publishers, 1987.
  2. Koehler, Ludwig, Walter Baumgartner, and M. E. J. Richardson, eds. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Accordance electronic ed., version 3.6. Leiden: Brill, 2000.