A Question Concerning Lot’s Wife

I received the following from the Question Box:

Is there any connection between Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt in relation to what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah? Is there a special reason God chose this type of punishment?

                         I greatly appreciate this question because it caused me to turn my attention to Lot’s wife, whom I have not studied in a while, nor had I studied her case enough to be able to answer this question. And now, after closer study, I hope I can relate the text and other biblical references in such a way as to satisfy the inquirer. Some things about the account of Sodom and Gomorrah seem to be well established in the knowledge of many, so I will not retell every detail, my focus will be on the details found in God’s word that will shed some light on Lot’s wife, what she did, and what actually happened to her.

Lot’s wife, whose name is unknown to us, had many connections to Sodom, as it was her home after all. Many like to bring up the idea that she probably had family members and other children still in the city when she departed, and that is certainly a probable cause for “looking back” to Sodom. But I would also like to highlight the fact that Sodom was a most pleasant place, that is, from a worldly perspective. We often only think about the flood of unnatural sexual immorality that plagued the city (Jude 1:7), but the sins of Sodom were piled even higher. God provides a more detailed list of Sodom’s sins in Ezekiel 16:49-50, saying, “Behold, 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. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them when I saw it.” Here, God reveals that their downfall was in their pride and excess; a concerning word that we and our own country must heed. From a worldly perspective, Sodom was pleasant and desirable because it was so prosperous and its citizens lived a life of ease and pleasure. Maybe it was for this and many other unknown reasons that Lot’s wife looked back. We don’t know what was in her heart, but we do know that she looked back, and this was no accident.

It wasn’t just Lot’s wife who was having difficulty leaving Sodom, for the text also points out that Lot was also “lingering” in the city through the night and even after morning dawned on the day that the city would be destroyed. Notice what the two men (angels) do in Genesis 19:16-17, “But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. And as they brought them out, one said, “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away.” Thus, Lot and his wife were both struggling with the idea that Sodom would be destroyed. But the angels were adamant in their warning and detailed the swiftness that must be achieved to escape the death and destruction, saying “escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley”.

Has anyone else seen children’s bible story books that picture balls of fire falling in the background and Lot’s wife glancing back while Lot is holding her hand while they travel with their two daughters? That is not what happened! The biblical record paints a different picture. Lot had already made it safely to the agreed-upon city before any fire coming down from heaven (Genesis 19:23-24). Even the angel had told Lot earlier to “Escape there quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there.” (Genesis 19:22). So what about his wife? The record says this about her: “But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” (Genesis 19:26, ESV). Unfortunately, many English translations do a poor job here, but the ESV does a commendable job of translating the Hebrew in a rational way that harmonizes with the surrounding context. The idea is that Lot’s wife was not with Lot, she had not followed him to safety. He was safe in Zoar, she was behind him, not in the city. It is impossible to say exactly how far behind she was, but she was certainly still in the valley. And why was she still in the disaster zone? Because she “looked back”. No, this does not mean that she glanced behind her shoulder while the fire was falling. This “looking back” is a direct reference to why she was not in Lot’s accompaniment. The Hebrew word implies that she showed regard and care for Sodom. Bible picture books show her as if she was a safe distance away from the destruction, but turned to salt because she glanced at the disaster, but again, there is no truth to that. Look again at what the angel said: “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away.” The destruction would come swiftly, so if they did not act with urgency to get to safety, they would be “swept away”. This is precisely what happened to Lot’s wife, she was still within the blast zone, she was swept away, and she became only a heap of powder, a lump of salt.

Jesus is an enlightening witness to this scene when He warns his disciples of the first century to flee from the destruction of Jerusalem, a warning most similar to the one given to Lot’s family so long ago. Jesus warned, “On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife.” (Luke 17:31-32). Jesus’ witness gives us the fullest understanding of what Lot’s wife did when she “looked back”, for He calls her to mind when He tells his disciples not to “turn back”, that is, not to head back to the city if they are already in the field. This reveals that Lot’s wife did not merely rubberneck, but appears to be returning to Sodom. Lot had left her behind, and she became of the salty ground. The true story is not that God turned her into a statue of salt on a hill overlooking Sodom; the Bible does not say that God turned her into salt, but that, because she went back, “she became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26).

Finally, as to the question of if there is a special reason she became salt, the answer is not really. It is a matter of what rained down from God that day, a matter of geology, of minerals, and of reactions. Although we can’t say exactly where Sodom was located, the likeliest location would be the very salty region of and around the Dead Sea. When God warned the Israelites of disobedience, He described to them a destruction that He likens to Sodom; look closely at the details of  Deuteronomy 29:23,  “the whole land burned out with brimstone and salt, nothing sown and nothing growing, where no plant can sprout, an overthrow like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, which the LORD overthrew in his anger and wrath”. Thus, sulfur and salt are all that is left of the people and possessions of Sodom, which does not make Lot’s wife unique in becoming salt. The biblical text seems to infer that Lot’s wife was numbered with the transgressors of Sodom, who pridefully loved selfish prosperity, and did not love the Lord.

Ultimately, Lot’s wife is a good example of an account that evolves as it is told from person to person until the idea of it is carried far from the way God tells it. It is a good reminder that we should always be diligent to hear what God has said and consider every detail.

Article by Tanner Campbell.