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B'resheet/Genesis 19:14 And Lot went out and he spoke to his sons-in-law, those married to his daughters, and he said, "Arise! Get out from this place ..."
The messengers have come to Sodom on their tour of inspection and, following a practical demonstration of Sodom's wickedness, have told Lot to gather his family together: "Whom else have you here? Sons-in-law, your sons and daughters, or anyone else that you have in the city -- bring them out of the place. For we are about to destroy this place; because the outcry against them before the L-RD has become so great that the L-RD has sent us to destroy it" (B'resheet 19:12-13, JPS).
How many children did Lot have? The messenger's words in those verses suggest that he may have had many, yet only two daughters came out of Sodom with Lot and his wife and she was lost on the way. The Sages said, "he had four daughters, two betrothed and two married, for it is not written, 'who were married to his daughters', but 'who were taking his daughters'" (B'resheet Rabbah 50:9). The verb they refer to is in the text above: a Qal participle, masculine plural, in construct form; "the ones taking", so here is literally "the takers of his daughters". But a participle in Hebrew usually means ongoing action, rather than past completed action, which is why the Sages talk of two daughters who were betrothed. They then take the previous word, sons-in-law, to refer to the husbands (i.e. completed marriages) of two other daughters. The biblical text seems to support this, as the messengers urge Lot next morning, "Up, take your wife and your two remaining daughters" (v. 15, JPS0, implying that some daughters had gone and some daughters had not.Rashi explains that Lot had "two daughters who were married in the city and two daughters who were betrothed at home." The Septuagint uses the word , a perfect participle, denoting completed action, so is talking of "his sons-in-law, the ones who had married his daughters". Nahum Sarna says, "the Hebrew does not use a defined verb, which leave open the possibility that the reference is only to prospective sons-in-law." Perhaps most tellingly, Rabbi Hirsch observes that "they may have married his daughters, but his sons-in-law they had not become!"
In spite of the lateness of the hour and the recent fracas from which the messengers had to rescue him, Lot heeds the messengers' warning and visits his sons-in-law (presumably both actual and prospective) to tell them about the warning and to urge them to come with him and the rest of the family to escape the destruction about to engulf the city. Bearing out Hirsch's comment, they don't believe a word he says. The Midrash says, "He seemed to his sons-in-law as one that jested. They said to him: 'Organs and cymbals are in the land and the land is to be overthrown!'" (B'resheet Rabbah 50:9). In Hirsch's less poetic comment: "when he came to his sons-in-law and spoke to them of G-d, they simply laughed at him." The tragic result is that Lot's family was split: his two unmarried daughters, who remained at home under his protection and authority, escaped with him; others (unnamed, unnumbered) stayed in their unbelieving husbands' houses and were destroyed in the sulphur and brimstone that was rained down on the city.
Two weeks ago, when we read parasha Noah, we saw that all of Noah's sons and their wives came with Noah to escape the flood in the ark: "Noah, with his sons, his wife, and his sons' wives, went into the ark because of the waters of the flood" (B'resheet 7:7, JPS). These sons and their wives received the warning of impending disaster and so escaped. As Joshua led our people into the Land and conquered the city of Jericho, "the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. And they brought all her relatives and put them outside the camp of Israel" (Joshua 6:23, ESV), because Rahab believed in the G-d of Israel and risked her life by hiding the spies. All her family had heard the warning and huddled together in the room with the scarlet thread hanging in the window: "Rahab ... and her father's household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day" (v. 25, ESV).
Yet the prophets warn that strife within families is to be expected. Micah sounds a chilling note, as he spoke into the increasingly fractured society of the divided kingdoms, saying, "Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms; for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man's enemies are the men of his own house" (Micah 7:5-6, ESV). Father and son would frequently live in the same house, as would the daughter-in-law and mother-in-law as the son's wife would become a part of her husband's family and move into their house with him. Family breakdown, argument and fighting between the generations, make their appearance at times of stress as society comes under pressure and matters of faith come to the fore. There's only one thing to do, Micah concludes: "But as for me, I will look to the L-RD; I will wait for the G-d of my salvation; my G-d will hear me" (v. 7, ESV).
Examples of families that are divided by matters of faith are all around us today. One or more family members believe in Yeshua while others do not. Where a family is united, then all are gloriously saved; where they are not, those who remain grieve over and mourn for those who refuse to receive the gospel, hoping and praying that they may yet turn and be saved before they die. It is hard to think of even one family within our acquaintance that does not have at least one non-believing member and so lives with that impending loss on their hearts every day. Yeshua quotes Micah's word, telling the disciples in very stark words, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household" (Matthew 10:34-35, NASB). It isn't that Yeshua deliberately comes to break up families; rather that the word He brings - that sharp and double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12, Revelation 1:16) - divides between those who do and don't know G-d. Craig Keener1 comments, "Although Yeshua values families, the division His mission brings appears particularly in families ... His mission separates disciples from the values of their society and society responds with persecution." Notice that this is not just a rejection by children of parental values, agonising though that can be in close families, but a rejection of faith itself - an eternal separation (unless healed by coming to faith) of one life that bore, nurtured, educated, sacrificed for, loved and cherished it, from the other.
Recognising that this is inevitable - Yeshua again: "Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for My name's sake" (Matthew 10:21-22a, ESV) - and knowing that G-d Himself feels this when He sees mankind hell-bent on their own destruction, offers an important perspective. Our cries, G-d's cries, will fall on deaf ears and although it hurts more when it comes from close family members, the problem is universal. Isaiah pointed out that "We all, like sheep, went astray; we turned, each one, to his own way" (Isaiah 53:6, CJB). Such were we too, before Yeshua rescued us. Instead, we pray; we seek G-d's face, presence and blessing for those who are in rebellion against not really us, though we are the immediate object of their outpouring, but against G-d. His heart longs for them too and by our faithful and consistent prayer, we enable and empower Him to move in their lives to offer not just an escape from eternal judgement, but life in all its abundance with Him. Sulphur and brimstone doesn't have to be the last word.
1. - Craig S Keener, The Gospel of Matthew - A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids MI, 2009, 978-0-8028-6498-7, pages 329-330.
Further Study: Psalm 141:1-4; Matthew 19:24-29
Do you have family that don't know the L-rd and reject your best attempts
to share life and faith with them? Share that pain with G-d today and
keep praying. Miracles do happen and "nothing is impossible for G-d"
(Luke 1:37, ESV).
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
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© Jonathan Allen, 2012
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