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Remember Lot’s Wife
Witnessing Tools
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Wendy Wippel

The story of Lot's wife in Genesis appears to be one of the more fanciful of Biblical accounts: Family Lot flee the coming destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah but, alas, the wife looks back, and God, seemingly incensed, turns her into a pillar of salt.  But is that really what happened?

The Skeptics Annotated Bible (a Bible commentary written by an atheist) has a field day with the story of Lot’s wife—slapping no less than six incriminating icons on that verse.  The icons label the verse variously as violating modern standards by first of all, just being absurd.

And by that they mean scientifically implausible.

Then there is;

B)  violating family values

C) portraying intolerance

D) portraying injustice

E) portraying cruelty and violence. 

Let’s just ignore B through E as the typical irrational liberal venom towards all things Biblical (injustice? A violation of family values? )

Let’s focus on A, scientific implausibility.

What exactly does the bible say about this infamous event?

"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, 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.”

Then Lot said to them, “Please, no, my lords! Indeed now, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have increased your mercy which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, lest some evil overtake me and I die. See now, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one; please let me escape there (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live.”

And he said to him, “See, I have favored you concerning this thing also, in that I will not overthrow this city for which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there. For I cannot do anything until you arrive there.”

Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar.

The sun had risen upon the earth when Lot entered Zoar. Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens. So He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.

But his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt." (Genesis 19:15-26 NKJV)

Notice it doesn’t say Mortons.  It’s not Mrs. Lot on that package with the umbrella.

So what could have been happening here? 

If you want to understand the Bible, you need to put the passage in question into its context-- historical and geographical.  What do we know about the area in question? 

Sodom and Gomorah were in the area surrounding the Dead Sea.  The Dead Sea is an unusual geographic formation, being more than a quarter mile below sea levels, and having one inlet (the Jordan River) but no outlet.

These unusual characteristics create a lake that is also "hypersaline:, meaning it has lots of salt.  LOTS of salt. So much salt that no fish can live in it.  (Hence the name Dead Sea.)

In fact, the hapless fish that swims too far up the Jordan finds itself instantaneously crusted with salt, and soon finds itself dead.

It's not just table salt (sodium chloride) that the Dead Sea is full of.  There are lots of minerals in the Dead Sea and thus lots of other salts.  Potassium chloride.  Calcium chloride.  Magnesium chloride.  You get the idea.  In fact, the Dead Sea is 31.5% salt, more than three times normal medical saline solutions.

The other piece of geographical context that we need is that the Dead Sea lies atop a vast reservoir of flammable, dare I say explosive, materials: potash and petroleum.  Potash, particularly when mixed with potassium chloride is powerfully explosive.

It’s used for blasting. 

God rained fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah, most probably the result of a subterranean explosion of the petroleum and potash below the Dead Sea.

An explosion that would have rained water containing potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, sodium chloride, and calcium chloride on the surrounding area, mixed with vaporized rock and ash.

Very similar to what happened at Pompei, actually.

And what happened to Lot and his family?  Lot and daughters escaped the destruction, and lived out their natural lives.

"But his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt."

Scientists have discovered, from studying all the bodies when Vesuvius unloaded its explosive contents on Pompeii, what happens when a human being is instantaneously encased in ash and mineral salts.  The mixture covers the body, forming a crust, which preserves the body as it itself also turns into a mixture of salts.

Lot’s wife, the Scripture says, looked back behind him.  She hung back, and then she looked back.  And got encased in ash, though the rest of her family escaped.  Lot's wife’s body, literally, through an entirely natural process gradually turned into a salt mixture itself.

Why did she look back?  We don’t know.  Maybe she looked back wistfully, already bemoaning the loss of her house and her friends.  Maybe she wavered in unbelief, doubting the promise of God, and looked back to see if He was as good as His word.

What we do know is that just as God, the Creator of the natural world, used natural geographic features to work salvation for the Israelites when they crossed the Red Sea,  that Creator again used natural geographic features to work judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah.

And Lot’s wife, who apparently doubted either God’s good pleasing and perfect will for her, or His ability to do what He had promised, or both.

With entirely natural consequences.

And don’t we all find ourselves doubting one or the other sometimes? 

Remember Lot’s wife!

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: The End of the World as We Know It



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