Peter is both warning and encouraging his readers in regard to the tough times that are ahead in 2 Peter 2:1ff. The warning aspect is seen in phrases used to describe the false teachers who will surface from among them. Peter speaks of their “destructive heresies” and “depraved conduct.” He also reminds them that God brought judgment upon angels who sinned, the world of Noah’s time, as well as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 4-6). The encouragement flows from His protection of the righteous Noah and Lot. This leads him to the concluding principle that “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment” (v. 9).
All of this is straight-forward except for the inclusion of Lot with Noah as an example of a person who was righteous. Noah we certainly understand—he lived heroically in some of the world’s worst days. But Lot? At his best, he gets lost in Noah’s shadow. Anyone familiar with his story in Genesis knows that he was . . . well, something much less than what Noah was. He was a train wreck of bad decisions and poor choices (choosing to live in Sodom, offering his daughters to people who wanted to gang-rape his guests, being hesitant about fleeing from Sodom when it’s about to be destroyed, etc.). Yet Peter says not once, or twice, but three times that he was righteous. And, it’s obvious that Abraham regarded him as righteous when he asked God to spare the city on account of the righteous people there. By the mouth of two or three witnesses everything must be confirmed so if Peter and Abraham agree that Lot was righteous—well, then he was!
How can that be?
To state the obvious, his righteousness didn’t exist because of the things we’ve noted—it existed despite them. Righteousness can be present in someone despite poor choices or performances. After all, Noah got drunk. Moses (who wrote Genesis) disobeyed God in striking the rock instead of speaking to it, and David—well, David sinned in such a manner that he showed “utter contempt for the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:14). Nonetheless, all of them were righteous despite their sins.
How can that be?
They were righteous because they acknowledged they were sinners and put their trust in God and His righteousness rather than their own. Genesis 15:6 says, “Abraham believed God and He credited to him as righteousness.” Abraham’s faith was credited to him for the righteousness he couldn’t give. But it’s important to note that he didn’t have faith in his faith—he had faith in God.
Faith manifests itself in obedience but also in penitence when sin is committed. David expressed his penitence in 2 Samuel 15:13 and Psalm 51. Again, he didn’t trust in his penitence to make him right with God—rather his penitence was an outgrowth of his faith in God. This is where Lot’s righteousness fits into the discussion. Peter tells us that Lot was “distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless” (2 Peter 2:7); and “living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the law less deeds he saw and heard” (v. 8).
When the angels come to Sodom in Genesis 19, Lot is there at the gate of the city and insists on taking them to his home. It seems possible that knowing the wickedness of the people, Lot stationed himself at the gate in order to protect anyone who came to the city. He was willing do anything to protect his guests from the sexual predators in Sodom. And being Lot, he took this to the extreme of offering his daughters to them. This is so shocking, revolting and inexcusable that we lose sight of the good he was trying to do.
But he showed poor judgment in choosing Sodom as a place to live, poor judgment in remaining there and poor judgment when it was time to leave. In the end, God not only saved him from the judgment coming upon Sodom—he saved him from himself as well. (And in the end, isn’t that the humbling truth for all of us?) He saves us from our lesser selves and we’re profoundly grateful that He does!
That’s what Peter wants us to see. Do you ever get overwhelmed at the bad things happening in the world today? It happens to everyone on occasion. Peter wants us to understand that being overwhelmed doesn’t mean we have to be overcome because God knows how to protect and deliver us. It does mean that we need to be smarter than Lot and welcome His protection and deliverance rather than resisting it as he did. It’s also worth noting that Lot paid dearly for his poor choices and bad decisions. He lost everything he had in Sodom, he lost his wife and his daughters later engaged him in a gross act of immorality that he must bear some responsibility for.
There’s a lot (good and bad) to learn from Lot. He was a righteous man who also serves as a cautionary tale.