THROUGHOUT Scripture and in countless extrabiblical works, Sodom and Gomorrah and the other cities of the plain (Genesis 13:12) stand as a symbol of divine judgment for collective wickedness. What was once a well-watered, fertile region is today barren, full of tar pits, mounds of asphalt, and marsh. These ill-fated cities remind us that wickedness will not go unpunished. They also show that God not only judges sinful individuals, such as Lot’s wife (Genesis 19:26), but also entire cities and their surroundings.
However, the story is not all bad news. After the tragic end of Sodom and Gomorrah, “God remembered Abraham.” – Genesis 19:29. When we remember the patriarch’s righteous example, several lessons of the story become clear:
- Prayer makes a difference. Abraham shows us that it is legitimate to pray for cities, as he did (Genesis 18:22–33). We may not always be able to go to a city, but we can still pray for it. Abraham prayed more for a place than for individual people. He prayed persistently for an entire city, believing that nothing was too hard for the Lord (Genesis 18:14). Moreover, he prayed for justice in the city, as well as for its peace and salvation. His example challenges us to ask: Are we praying for cities today? If so, what are we asking God to do? Save the city, or judge it?
- People count. Ten believing persons living in Sodom could have saved it (Genesis 18:32). In other words, the presence of righteous persons acting as salt and light can preserve places where evil runs rampant. Even though Sodom was filled with wickedness, God would have saved it if He had found even a handful of righteous people. He spared Zoar, for the sake of one righteous man—Lot (Genesis 19:16–22; 2 Peter 2:6-7). As God’s people, are we living righteously in the places to which He has called us?
- God is sovereign. God’s decision to destroy four cities of the plain but to preserve the fifth, Zoar, shows that He is ultimately in control. Let there be no mistake: God does not want to destroy cities or their systems and people (2 Peter 3:9); but He can, and will. He decides when, where, and how judgment will fall. On the other hand, God can rescue people from evil places when and if He wishes. We might ask: Do we trust and respect the sovereignty of God? Do we live with a perspective that He is ultimately in control? Do we act as though we are accountable to Him?
- Pride goes before a fall. Sodom was destroyed not only because of sexual sin (Genesis 19:1–17; Jude 7), but because it had pride and a surplus of wealth, yet failed to care for its poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:48–50). Its example challenges us: What are we doing with the resources God has put under our control?
Fleeing from the city does not avoid sin; it only spreads it around. The behavior of Lot and his daughters after fleeing from Sodom shows that sin is not confined to the city; they exported Sodom-like immorality to the hinterlands (Genesis 19:19–22, 30–36). Are we running from the city in order to “escape” its problems and evils? Is it possible that God wants us to stay and live as His representatives of righteousness?