religion, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (September 1, 2019) Faithful During Distress / Faith And Doubt Genesis 19:1, 15-26, 29

Faithful During Distress / Faith and Doubt Genesis 19

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week’s lesson is entitled “Faithful During Distress” and “Faith and Doubt”.  I take a look at how God is faithful during our distress and faith and doubt as it relates to God’s faithfulness.  Specifically, in this lesson, I show how God is faithful to Abraham.  Have you ever heard the saying “somebody prayed for me”?  That was Abraham on behalf of Lot.  If it were not for Abraham, Lot and his family would have perished along with everyone else in Sodom and Gomorrah.  In this lesson, God is faithful to Abraham and merciful and compassionate to Lot and his family.  In this lesson, I focus on how hospitality is an important and central theme in this text.  That’s really important because so many people focus on the homosexuality in this text.  Homosexuality isn’t the central issue.  Although Lot shows hospitality to the angels there is little else (in my view, nothing else) to give him credit for.  In fact, given Lot’s offer of his own daughters to the men of the city he was just as guilty of the same violence as the sodomites. 

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed because God heard the outcry of their collective violence and inhospitality and the violence with which they treated aliens in their midst.  Lot was saved not because of his own actions, but because Abraham intervened, interceded, and pleaded on his behalf.  I like how Townsends Commentary explains “with Lot’s rescue, the emphasis is on God’s compassion.  Lot acknowledged that he was saved because he had found favor in God’s sight.  This is also true for us.  If it had not been for the Lord who was on our side, where would we be”?  If you have or had praying parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, perhaps you too can identify with Lot.  If it had not been for God on our side, where would we be?

In this first lesson of the new school year our focus has transitioned from covenants to demonstrating how God is faithful.  The focus of this week’s lesson is faithful during distress and faith and doubt.  It is Abraham’s faith that is highlighted and we see Lot’s doubt as he hesitates to leave a city soon to be destroyed.   Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Faithfulness

Hospitality

Angels

Background: 

This first lesson of the Fall Quarter and the new Sunday School year comes from the book of Genesis.  Genesis is a book of beginnings.  It speaks to the creation of the world, the fall of humanity, the great floods and establishment of Nations. It is the first book of the Bible and the first of the five books known as the Pentateuch.  Townsend Commentary notes that “Genesis was written over a long period of time.  It was probably begun in the time of Moses, but later generations added other material and edited the books together.  The book probably reached its final form around the time of Solomon (970-930 BC)”.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible also notes that Genesis contains narratives from three authors or traditions (1) The Yawist, (2) the Elohist, and (3) the Priestly writer.  These distinct traditions were woven together in the way they appear today by a later editor or by the latest author, the priestly writer.  It’s important to note these writers because it’s important to understand both “the times in which they wrote and the times about which they wrote” (NISB). 

This nineteenth chapter falls within a larger narrative focused on the life of Abraham.  It’s as if the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is parenthetically interjected into the longer story of Abraham, Sarah, and the birth of Isaac. 

Lot is Abraham’s nephew.  The story of Sodom and Gomorrah begins in chapter eighteen.  As Abraham sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day, he looked up and saw three men standing near him.  After Abraham and Sarah show great hospitality to the men (one of whom appears to be the Lord), one of them said “I will surely return to you in due season and your wife Sarah shall have a son”.  When these men leave Abraham and Sarah they set out toward Sodom. 

At this point “The Lord said, shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him”?  After the Lord decides to reveal the plan, Abraham and the Lord engage in a philosophical discussion.  Abraham questions the Lord’s plan asking “will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it?  Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked!  Far be that from you!  Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?  Abraham pleads his case for the righteous in Sodom.  If there is any chance at all to save his nephew, Abraham is going to make the case and plead on his behalf.  This is a powerful plea to the Lord. 

When the Lord agrees that the city will not be destroyed if fifty righteous are found Abraham then asks “suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking”?  When The Lord agrees again, Abraham then asks suppose forty are found there.  When the Lord agrees, Abraham then asks suppose there are twenty.  When the Lord agrees he asks once more, suppose there are ten.  If there is any chance at all to save his nephew Abraham is going to go the distance with the Lord on behalf of his extended family.  It’s important to also note that the NIBOVC explains “God is gracious and merciful, forgiving and slow to anger, but God also does not simply “clear the guilty” without some consequences for their sin (Exod. 34:6-7) or, as here in Gen. 18, without some few righteous ones who will redeem the whole.  That’s an important principle to remember; “A few righteous ones who redeem the whole”.  If there are ten righteous in the city, God will stay God’s judgement.  But of course in this story ten cannot be found.  That principle applies to us through Jesus Christ.  Jesus is our righteousness.

This is where our lesson picks up.  The men who visited Abraham and Sarah are now described as two angels (messengers).  They arrive Sodom in the evening, with Lot sitting in the gateway of the city.  Lot greets them in the same way Abraham did in chapter eighteen and he offers them exceptional hospitality. 

Our lesson this week is entitled Faithful During Distress and Faith and Doubt.  It is a view into how Lot responded to God’s grace. Given the background I’ve just covered it is also a view into how God is faithful to Abraham’s plea for his nephew and family.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Faithfulness

Hospitality

Angels

Review of Last Week.  

Last week’s lesson was titled Marriage: A Covenant of Mutual Love.  The lesson came from the fifth chapter of Ephesians verses twenty-one through thirty-three.  Verse twenty-one was the key verse in the text.  “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”.  Or be subject to one another.  The Greek word for “subject” “is a military term meaning to line up under” (NISB).  I noted how that is a good expression to form the idea of working together.  We line up under each other to support each other and we line up under Jesus Christ to support the cause of Christ.

Verse twenty-two told us that wives ought to submit themselves to their own husbands as unto the Lord and I noted how I have personally witnessed how terribly this verse can be misused by a husband.  It’s important to know that this verse does not make a husband superior, greater, more authoritative, more respected or more valuable in any way, shape or form than his wife.  Nor does this verse put the husband above the wife in any way.  Men are not better than women, husbands are not better than wives. I also noted how much it bothers me that some women will accept being treated inferior as if that is somehow pleasing to God.  It’s not.  Women and wives ought to be full participants in the cause of Christ.   

 Marriage is teamwork.  There are areas where my wife needs to lead.  When she leads, I line up under her and follow her leadership.  That’s one way mutual love is expressed. 

I also noted how life in this first century world revolved around patriarchy.  Every area of life in this first century world centered on a male authority system that oppressed and subordinated women through social, political, and economic institutions and practices.  For Paul to say that women and men should be subject to one another is a radical thought for his time.  Yet, given the oppression women faced in his time and the oppression women still face today I wish that he had gone further to tear down the ideology of patriarchy. 

Verse twenty-five reminded husbands to love their wives just as Christ loved the Church.  Christ’s love for the church was sacrificial.  There was literally nothing greater that Christ could have given other than his own life.

Verse twenty-seven goes even further helping us understand that because of this sacrificial love the church is presented in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle so that she may be holy and without blemish.  While the wife is called upon to submit to her husband, the husband is called upon to love his wife. 

Verses twenty-eight through thirty drive the point home for the husband.  In all of this teaching, “it is the husband who receives the longest instruction” in this household code (NISB).  Just as husbands love their own bodies, they should also love their wives.  Furthermore, “he who loves his wife loves himself”.  Perhaps this is a point that sometimes gets overlooked, but in verse twenty-nine Paul is saying the husband nourishes and tenderly cares for his body.  I see this as a part of our duty both to ourselves and to our wives.  And I noted how toxic masculinity kills men.  Men, it’s okay to get rest when you need it.  It’s okay to take care of yourselves.  It’s okay to take time off from work to see your doctor, your counselor, your psychiatrist, psychologist or any other medical professional.  We have to take care of ourselves or our wives may end up widows. 

Verse thirty-one reminded us of a familiar passage telling us “for this reason a man will leave his father and mother, be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.  In this verse Paul reflects back to Genesis 2:24 where it says “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they two become one flesh.  So, a mutual love covenant is about teamwork, working together, supporting, and loving one another as we line up under one another as unto Jesus Christ. 

In verse thirty-two Paul admits that two becoming one flesh is a mystery.  The point for us to understand is that husbands and wives should work so closely together that they seem to be as one unit.  There should be no daylight between the husband and wife as they both seek to serve God’s purposes. 

This chapter closes with Paul reminding both the husband and the wife of their duties to one another.  The husband should love his wife and the wife should respect her husband. 

This week’s lesson deals with faith and doubt as Abraham pleads for the deliverance of his nephew Lot, and Lot’s family.  This lesson shows us how God is faithful and how Lot responded to God’s grace.  The lesson this week is entitled Faith and Doubt.  The scripture text comes from Genesis 19:1, 15-26, 29. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

Verse one begins with two angels arriving Sodom in the evening.  When Lot sees them from the gates of Sodom he gets up to greet them.  Our lesson text then skips to verses four and five and then fifteen.  Verses two through fourteen are not particularly focused on the topic of faith and doubt but I’ll cover them as a way to more fully understand the entire story.

In verses two and three Lot invites these travelers to spend the night at his house where he shows them great hospitality by providing shelter and making them a feast.  Before they fall asleep all the men from the city, both young and old, surround Lots house and demand “bring them out to us so that we may know them”.  The NISB notes that “since know them is a veiled reference to sexual intercourse (4:1), the men of Sodom must be intent on homosexual relations with Lot’s guests”.  Additionally, the NISB also notes

“While Israelite law prohibited sexual relations between men (Lev 18:22, 20:13); the narrator appears more appalled by other aspects of the Sodomites’ behavior.  This story is particularly critical of their mistreatment of guests and disregard for the inviolable (unbreakable) codes of hospitality and of their mistreatment of an alien in their midst.  This is an instance of the social oppression identified as the cities chief sin (18:20-21)”.

  So this is a story focused on the punishment of Sodom because of inhospitality toward its guests as well as its violence toward aliens in their midst.  The men of Sodom were evidently seeking to gang rape these guests.  And for these transgressions God would destroy this city.  The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary notes that “The obligation to extend generous hospitality to vulnerable strangers is deeply rooted in Israelite law (Exod. 22:21; 23:9; Lev. 19:33; 23:22; Deut. 10:19; 24:17-21)”.  Additionally, it also notes their intention to have sexual relations with these strangers

Signals their intention to commit the violent act of male rape, a technique of humiliation and torture of vulnerable people (both men and women).  The wickedness of Sodom here is not homosexuality.  Sodom’s sin is the lack of hospitality and the threatened violence by heterosexual men against vulnerable people in the community, those considered aliens and strangers in their midst”. 

Again, this text is not primarily focused on homosexuality, but more so the violence and inhospitality.  Ezekiel 16:48 – 50 explains the sin of Sodom.

48 As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 49 This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it. 

Lot begs the men to not act so wickedly.  Then surprisingly he makes the horrible offer to give the men his two virgin daughters instead of the two guests.  Keep in mind that this was a patriarchal society.  Women were often if not always treated as property.  Women had little if any rights at all and were treated at best as second class citizens.  The men refuse Lots offer and then threaten that they will deal worse with Lot than with his guests.  The NISB notes that “this is a desperate act of a man trying to preserve both his life and the ancient codes of hospitality; but it also reveals the perilous place of women as second-class citizens in ancient society”. 

After these two guests rescue Lot by reaching out to bring him in the house and shut the door behind him they strike the men outside the door with blindness.  They question Lot whether he has any sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone else in the city because they are about to destroy the city.  And that brings us up to verse fifteen.

When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot to take his wife and two daughters out of the city so they would not suffer the same punishment of the city.  But Lot lingered so the men took him, his wife, and two daughters by the hand and took them outside the city.  The text does not say why Lot lingered.  But given his choices thus far in the story, both good and bad, any speculation would be just that; pure speculation.

Verse seventeen tells us “When they brought them outside they said, flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the plain; flee to the hills or else you will be consumed”.  These guests are intent on sparing Lot and his family.  They made sure Lot and his family got out of the city and then gave him instructions to include not looking back, in order to avoid the coming destruction. 

Verses eighteen and nineteen show Lot’s gratefulness but they also show his doubt that he could make it to the hills.  Lot had already lingered coming out of the city, now he knows he must flee and cannot look back at the destruction that would rain down on the city in which he had lived. 

In verse twenty, Lot offers an alternative.  Instead of fleeing to the hills he asks to flee instead to a nearby small city.  Lot believes he can make it to this nearby city and there his life would be spared. 

In verse twenty-one the angel says to Lot “very well, I grant you this favor too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken”.  The angels have indeed been gracious to Lot.  Instead of destroying the city upon their arrival they lodged and ate a meal with Lot.  Then they protected Lot from the men of the city.  Then they seized Lot and brought him and his family outside the gates of the city. And now they grant him this additional favor to go to a small city nearby.  God’s compassion and mercy toward Lot has been on display throughout this story. 

In verses twenty-two and twenty-three the angel tells him to hurry because the angel can do nothing until Lot arrives. 

In verses twenty-four through twenty-six the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven and he overthrew those cities and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.  Because of their sins of inhospitality and the mistreatment of aliens in their midst God destroys these two cities, the plain surrounding the cites, all of its inhabitants, and all that grew on the ground therein. Additionally, the angels had warned Lot and his family not to look back.  Lot’s wife looked back and became a pillar of salt. 

Verse twenty-nine restates how God destroyed the cities of the Plain, but remembered Abraham.  Because God remembered Abraham, Lot and his two daughters were saved from the destruction of the cities.  It was Abraham’s faith that God would do justly that saved Lot.  “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is Just”?

Context:

The prayers of the righteous avail much.  It is the prayers of the righteous that are powerful and effective.  If you believe that prayer really changes things you have probably been the recipient of someone else’s powerful and effective praying.  I like Dorothy Norwood’s song Somebody Prayed for Me.  It captures the feeling of knowing that you didn’t make it to where you are on your own.  Many of us have had praying mothers, fathers, and grandmothers and grandfathers.  Without their prayers where would we be? 

Key Characters in the text:

Lot – isAbraham’s nephew.  He is the son of Haran, Abraham’s brother.  He migrates with Abraham and grandfather from Ur of the Chaldeans toward Canaan (Townsend). 

Angel – A scriptural term for heavenly beings who praise and serve God.  They are variously portrayed in Scripture as announcing a child’s birth and destiny (Gen 16:11; Luke 1:11-20), interceding with God (Gen 22:11), executing judgement (2 Sam. 24:16). 

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion): 

Faithfulness – The characteristic of being steadfastly loyal to a person or to promises.  Theologically, it is a basic description of God who is perfectly faithful to all that God promises, in contrast to sinful humans who are unfaithful in their relationships and actions.     

Doubt, religious – Uncertainty, as opposed to denial, or religious truths. 

Hospitality – Biblical concept often used with the terms “guest”, “stranger” and “sojourner”.  It is useful to limit the meaning of “hospitality” to benevolence done to those outside ones normal circle of friends, as is implied in the literal meaning in the Greek word “love of strangers” (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible).

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2) 

2.  Somebody prayed for me. (Abraham pleading for Lot)

Questions

1.  Lot showed hospitality to the men when they arrived at the gates of Sodom.  Why is hospitality so important?       

2.  If the assault on the angels had succeeded, the result could only be described as gang rape, not a private act.  This presents the sins of Sodom more as social than individual, something that characterizes the entire city (Townsend).  Discuss the depth of Sodom’s inhospitality. 

Concluding Thought:

It was the prayers of Abraham that saved Lot and his family.  It can be argued that on his own merit, Lot was not worthy of the deliverance he received.  Having said that, it can likely be argued that I am not worthy of my deliverance either.  I am reminded of the African Bantu term Ubuntu.  It means “I am, because we are”.  In other words, I exist because we exist together.  Somebody prayed for me.  I am who I am because of the answered prayers of those who prayed for me.  In our praying, let’s remember to pray for others. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week the lesson comes from the book of 1 Samuel.  In this second lesson of five exploring how God is faithful, we see God granting Hanna the son she prayed for.  The lesson is entitled God Answers Prayer.    

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