Jesus’s “Exhibit A” to illustrate “Whoever tries to keep one’s life will lose it, but whoever loses one’s life will preserve it” (Luke 17:30–32) is Lot’s wife. We find the tragic end of this woman, married to Abraham’s nephew, in Genesis 19.
As the story goes, two angels arrive at evening in Sodom, where Lot is sitting at the city gate—doubtless because he holds judicial office there. In Proverbs 31 we see a similar reference, as the “husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land” (Prov 31:23). This detail about Lot suggests he is deeply embedded in Sodom and fully aware of what goes on there.
When Lot sees the two figures approaching, he gets up to greet them, bows his face to the ground, and urges them to lodge with him. Hospitality was a core value in the ancient Near East.
The visitors decline, saying they’ll stay in the town square. But Lot insists. So they enter his house. And Lot cooks them a feast. But before they can rest, the unthinkable happens. Old and young men from Sodom surround Lot’s house demanding access to these visitors. “Where are the men who came to you tonight?” they ask. “Bring them out to us so we can ‘know’ them!” “Know” here is a Semitic idiom for sex. So, the men of all ages in Sodom want to have forced sex with Lot’s visitors.
Imagine Lot’s horror! Gang rape? Attack guests? But Lot shows he’s no Boy Scout, either. He steps outside his house beyond the angels’ earshot, calls the men of Sodom “brothers,” and offers an alternative: “I have two daughters who have never ‘known’ a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do to them whatever you please” (v. 8). Great dad, huh?
But Lot’s proposal fails. The men of Sodom don’t want women. They want men. So they attack Lot, insulting him by calling him a “foreigner” and threatening to hurt him even more than they planned to hurt his guests (v. 9). And they press in on Lot so much that they almost break down his door.
Fortunately for him, the ones inside quickly rescue Lot by pulling him in, shutting the door, and striking the attackers with blindness. At this, the visitors urge Lot to grab his family and get them to safety, because God has sent them to do what the city elders have apparently failed to do—bring justice. The angels say “The outcry against this place is so great before the Lord” that they have come to destroy it (v. 13).
But Lot sees a complication. His daughters are betrothed, so he delays long enough to go urge his future sons-in-law to escape with the family. But they accuse Lot of mocking them.
At dawn, the angels tell Lot to hurry up and get his family out, or they’ll be destroyed along with the cities in the area. But Lot hesitates. So his visitors grab the hands of Lot and his family, “because the Lord had compassion on them” (v. 16). And the angels lead the group outside the city.
Once outside Sodom’s gates, the angels urge, “Runfor your lives! Don’t lookbehind you or stop anywhere in the valley! Escape to the mountains or you will be destroyed!”
But Lot digs in his heels and negotiates to go to a nearby town rather than all the way to the mountains. So God agrees to spare this one town for Lot.
Finally, when the sun has risen, the Lord rains down sulfur and firefrom the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 24). In fact, God overthrows the entire region except the town where Lot and his family have taken refuge.
God has shown mercy on mercy to this family. And they have one job—run without looking back! But what does Lot’s wife do? She flagrantly disobeys by looking back. And what’s more, she does so with longing.
That’s why she is destroyed along with that which she desires. She dies with her old life rather than experience the rescue and new life mercifully offered.
Jesus said that “in the days of Lot, people were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building” but suddenly one day when they least expected it, they were destroyed (v. 29). Jesus added, “It will be the same on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, anyone who is on the roof, with his goods in the house, must not come down to take them away, and likewise the person in the field must not turn back (vv. 30–32). No delaying to talk to the future sons-in-law. Because he will appear suddenly: “There will be two people in one bed; one will be taken and the other left.” And “There will be two women grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.” Jesus exhorted his listeners, “Remember Lot’s wife!”
God had spared Noah’s family. Similarly, God plucked Lot’s family out of destruction. But Lot’s wife chose, with longing, to look back rather than forward. She preferred a community that accepted gang rape over a chance to start over with her family. And Jesus told his followers to remember her—to let her serve as a warning. She tried to keep her life, but she lost it. She longed for what destroyed, and ultimately it destroyed her.
What are your longings? Do they bring life or death? Do they contribute to your ultimate flourishing or to your ruin? Will you keep looking back? Or will you fall on the mercy of God?