Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” – Hebrews 12: 28-29
Just Live, On (reflections on 20th December from ‘A Slice from the Heart’) was written with two minds: one mind was looking back at what the year 2014 had turned out for me and lessons learnt from all my trials and struggles, and the second mind was making the decision to look forward into the New Year, Just Live, On and continue this journey to seek after the heart of God.
There are two pillars in the biblical narrative that are orchestrated by the only one, true, eternal living God. The first concerns the destruction of two cities named Sodom and Gomorrah. (Genesis 19) Two angels appeared to the nephew of the Patriarch Abraham, named Lot, who lived in Sodom and warned him to flee from the city because God was going to pass judgement and destroy both cities on account of their grievous sin and wickedness. The angels inquired from Lot if he had any other family members who should be warned to which Lot summoned his sons-in-law to join him and the family and flee at dawn. The mercies of God are fresh every morning.
But like most of us, when there is a warning from the Spirit of the Lord through the Scriptures that convicts us of sin and instructs us to guard our hearts, we often rationalize with our own finite minds and in turn reject the word of the Lord and ultimately succumb to the Lord’s judgement. The sons-in-law thought their soon to be father-in-law Lot was joking. They were men who loved the city life and their hearts and lifestyle conformed to the patterns of the world. God is going to destroy a whole city of people? No way, that just cannot be true.
Hearts Revealed: At the break of dawn, despite all the warnings from the two divine visitors, yet Lot hesitated to flee. Why? What was there in the city of evil and sin that Lot should hesitate to flee even with the angels of God leading him by his side? What was the treasure in his heart that he should want to stay even in spite of the Lord’s warning to flee, and that to, urgently. So true in our own lives too. Despite all the warnings from nearly every corner of our own lives, still our sinful cravings of the flesh long for the things of this world that are an enemy to the holy God of Israel. This was the command from the angels of the LORD God:
“Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.” Genesis 19:17, KJV
The First Pillar: A Pillar of Salt: “Look not behind thee” was the command. “Don’t look back” was the instruction from the LORD as judgement was passed on both cities. The heavens opened and burning sulphur rained down and destroyed both cities.
I have dealt with sulphur burns in my plastic surgery practice and it is severe and painful. One can imagine the screams of pain and agony as both cities melted away under the judgement of God. Was God joking? The hand of mercy was extended to Lot’s sons-in-law but their hearts were hardened to reason. Yet another member of the family had her heart revealed too. That was Lot’s wife. “But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26) She turned back and watched the flaming sulfur fall from the sky, consuming everything she valued. Then it consumed her. ‘for our “God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:29
The Hebrew for “looked back” means more than to glance over one’s shoulder. It means “to regard, to consider, to pay attention to.” Instead of paying attention to the Lord’s warnings not to look back at her past life in a sinful city but to escape and flee to safe ground; instead of looking after the welfare of her husband and her two daughters, Lot’s wife looked back at the city that she belonged to. The treasures in her heart was in Sodom not in God and certainly not in the future presence with the one, true living God.
The Second Pillar: A Pillar of Fire: In the second biblical narrative, the redemption theme is one of divine guidance to ‘Move On’. The children of Israel had been delivered out of Egypt and captivity and were now camped at Etham by the wilderness. (Exodus 13:20) ‘By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.’ Exodus 13:21) The Pillar of Fire gave light and protection for the children of Israel so they could travel and move on until they reached their destination that was promised by the LORD God of Israel, the promised land of milk and honey.
The Hebrew for “pillar” refers to a garrison or a deputy, that is, something set to watch over something else. The image of Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt is a poignant reminder to us not to look back or turn back from the profession of faith we have made, but to follow Christ without hesitation and abide in His love. The pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day is an assurance that the Lord will never forsake us but will always be there to watch over with us.
As the year draws near to an end, we look back only to escape and flee into the loving arms of Jesus of Nazareth with gratitude and be thankful for the grace of God upon our lives. We look forward into the year 2015 because in Christ, we have hope for a better year ahead of us. We can choose which pillar we will consider and pay attention to: One brings the judgment of God with consuming fire, the other brings eternal life through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus of Nazareth. Merry Christmas! Amen!
Reflect: Lamentations 3:21-24, NIV