In Genesis 13:12, we read: “Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.” To get the full gravity of Lot’s act of having pitched his tents near Sodom, one must read the following verse, Genesis 13:13: “Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.”
Most readers, I am sure, remember the sad consequences of Lot’s choice. Lot and his family eventually came to live in the wicked city and became a part of it; only Lot, his wife, and his two daughters were rescued from Sodom before God’s judgment came upon the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot’s wife was left behind on the way while fleeing, when she became a pillar of salt because she disobeyed the angel’s command not to look back. (Genesis 19)
The words: “while Lot pitched his tents near Sodom,” I believe, have significant lessons for us. Lot’s first move of placing his tents in close proximity to the wicked city of Sodom was a dangerous position which he should have avoided for himself and his family.
The Bible tells us to flee from sin. Pitching one’s tents near Sodom is doing the opposite. Sometimes we pitch our tents in a seemingly safe place or circumstance but fail to inventory the Sodom lurking nearby, into which we can easily be drawn. Pitching tents near Sodom may place a person in a questionable or perilous area but not yet into the full-blown evil of it. God in His Word has said that when we are tempted, He always gives us a way of escape. (I Corinthians 10:13b) We often can escape or avoid a temptation to sin by not locating our tents near the sinful area in the first place.
When our tents are carelessly pitched near Sodom, the thing in which we are involved, in and of itself, may or may not be innocent; but it is the first step toward the next move—the slide into Sodom, which makes pitching nearby so seriously dangerous. If Lot had properly evaluated his campsite, he could have spared himself, his family, and his household much physical and spiritual loss. For the Christian, checking one’s spiritual campsite location is of great importance for one’s own Christian life and that of one’s family.
In this article, examples will be given of some areas which are danger areas or beginning points to avoid, because they lead too easily and subtly into a modern Sodom. The discussion will include only some “near Sodom” campsites. As a reader, think of your personal avoidance of these and other “pitching tents near Sodom” to protect yourself, your family, and/or friends from entering a “Sodom” today.
One area in which some Christians are pitching their tents near Sodom is in their lack of discretion in choosing entertainment and recreation. Choices too often are not for wholesome and Christ-glorifying TV programs, movies, magazines and books, music, and of my Christian high school teachers gave us this advice: “If you wouldn’t be comfortable in that place or participating in that activity if Jesus came, don’t do it.” That warning has helped me decide a number of times whether that really was an acceptable place for a Christian to be or an acceptable thing for a Christian to do. The more we let our guard down on our entertainment, the more we move closer and closer to the Sodom of the entertainment world - filthy and God-defying language, corrupt morals, and arrogant and ungodly attitudes, philosophies, and teachings.
Cal Thomas writes this about our present culture’s entertainment:
Oozing from every pore of our society, from the rhetoric of some political “leaders” to the garbage masquerading as entertainment that arrests the attention of the young (and too many adults), is incontrovertible evidence of our public affair with evil.” (Grand Rapids Press; “Date abuse a signal of cultural decay”; 8/17/01)
Another place Christians can pitch their tents near Sodom is in their language. Some church members glibly use words such as “gosh,” “gol” or “golly,” and “gee” or “geez.” These words may appear quite innocent; but, I believe, they can be classified as “danger” words. One often fails to think about where the next vocabulary step is and what a negative Christian witness this may be to others.
On more that one occasion I’ve heard a Christian use the expletive “Gol!” which sounded like the Christian had said the word “God.” Do you want to use words that are so close to misusing God’s name that they give that kind of witness from your mouth when misunderstood? Also, how effortless it can become for a person to slip into the habit of misusing God’s name by substituting a “d” for the “1” at the end of the word.
The expression, “Oh, my Gosh!,” is used by many people who would never think of using the words: “Oh, my God!” This form of taking God’s name in vain is so common today as it rolls off the tongues of people on TV, people in the marketplace, people in the common sector of our society, as well as in music, movies, and literature. Recently I heard the exclamation, “Oh, My Gosh!” said by a woman on TV when her antique was given much more value than she had expected. Her voice tone, voice inflections, and pause effects were done precisely as those using “Oh, My God!” So much so, that I thought that was what she surely was saying until she reached the last phonetic sound of “sh.” Why use words so similar - only the ending “sh” digraph needing to be replaced by the consonant “d”? That’s about as close as one can get without specifically using God’s name - only a baby step away.
As a child, I was taught not to use the word “gee” because it had the sound of the first syllable of Jesus. I wondered at that time if it were a real danger. One hears “geez” being used much more today. Why was the “z sound” added to “gee” rather than another of the many consonant sounds in the alphabet? All the Christian’s tongue has to add is the “uz” sound, and it sounds the name “Jesus” as an expletive.
Dictionaries included the following in their definitions for some commonly used expressions today, which, I believe, makes good food for thought for the Christian:
The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition defines “gee”: “interj. Used as a mild expletive or exclamation of surprise.
“[Alteration of JESUS.]”
Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition included the following in its definitions:
1. “gee”: interj. [euphemistic contr. <JE(SUS)] [Slang] an exclamation of surprise, wonder, etc.
2. “golly”: interj. an exclamation of surprise, etc.: a euphemism for God
3. “gosh”: interj. an exclamation of surprise, wonder, etc.: a euphemism for God
4. “goodness”: ... interi. an exclamation of surprise or wonder: a euphemism for God [for goodness’ sake!]
5. “Sam Hill”: euphemistic slang term for HELL
6. “darn”: ... interl. [Colloq.] a euphemism for DAMN (the curse)
To better understand the given definitions, euphemism is defined: “1. the use of a word or phrase that is less expressive or direct but considered less distasteful, less offensive, etc. than another 2. a word or phrase so substituted.”
Using danger words, I believe, pitches one’s tents too closely to the Sodom of breaking God’s 3rd commandment, both by the Christian’s tongue and in the hearing of others. We must closely evaluate our speech. Is it God—glorifying and edifying for others?
Not only in speaking but also in hearing God’s name taken in vain, how dulled has your adverse reaction or conscience become when hearing God’s name misused today? As a child, hearing God’s name taken in vain was so rare, a Christian bristled at the sound of it.
Today one cannot be in the marketplace, in a restaurant, or listening to TV for any length of time without hearing God’s or Jesus’ names used as expletives rather than being used in prayer or praise. It’s said so glibly today that many do not even realize they have used God’s sacred name so blasphemously. Christians must guard their listening in entertainment and in their contacts, lest hearing God’s name misused becomes so familiar to their ears that they fail to have the capability to spiritually react and hate the sound of God’s name taken in vain.
A third consideration of pitching tents near Sodom is the practice of social drinking and being with drinking friends and acquaintances. The Sodom of alcoholism is never far away for any occasional drinker. No one plans to become an alcoholic. Through social drinking, drinking with friends, drinking in the bar, or drinking in the home, one slips into it. One guarantee or promise can be made: “If you never take the first drink, you can be assured you will never become an alcoholic.” This promise also holds true for not becoming a smoker or a drug user.
The first try of alcohol, smoking, or drugs pitches one’s tents nearer to the Sodom of addiction. If one is fighting any of the addictions now, or has in the past, keep yourself out of areas where you would be tempted to drink, smoke, or use drugs again. Guard both your location and availability. Keep your tents pitched far away from any of the substances.
Tents are being pitched near Sodom in one’s spiritual life when a church member shows laxity in Sabbath observance, church attendance, Bible reading, and/or prayer. It begins slowly with only neglecting any or all of them infrequently. It then is easier for the person to move from only infrequent negligence of any or all of the above, to more often, to habitual or complete negligence. The process of moving from being faithful, to frequent negligence, to the Sodom of habitual or total lack of churchgoing, Sunday observance, Bible reading, and prayer begins rather slowly. It continues with an increased momentum of laxity until one is in the Sodom of bold and defiant withdrawal from concern for God and His commandments.
Not only has the churchgoer pitched his own tent in Sodom by then, but if a parent, he or she has taught his or her family tragically well how to do the same. Beware of the movement you are making if you are moving away from God, and into the Sodom of a law unto yourself, which is a very dangerous, downward spiral.
Another campsite which gives proximity to the Sodom of moving away from God is relocating one self and/or one’s family away from an area of believers and a strong biblical church. This makes it easy to move into less church attendance, less Christian fellowship, and accountability. This again does not occur as a blowout but rather as a slow leak of spiritual negligence and weakening.
Watch your tent setting also when it comes to your relationships regarding friends, dating, and marriage. Evaluate the nearness these personal relationships may bring you to a Sodom. Choose Christian friends; and in dating, don’t place yourself in the temptation of being unequally yoked by dating someone whom you, as a Christian, should not be considering for a marriage partner. Wrong friends and unbelieving spouses provide an easy path to the Sodom of following them rather than God. Also, poor dating choices places one closer to the eventual Sodom of divorce. In dating, concern yourself with whom you date, where, and how. The person you date, the place you are with a date, and how you date that person may be pitching you near the Sodom of fornication. Spouses, be alert to where and how you allow relationships to be set up and developed. Most infidelity could have been avoided if the initial steps of tent setting had been done with more discretion, care, concern, and commitment to one’s marriage. Divorce is a “Sodom” result, but the spouse who strayed likely pitched his or her tents near Sodom long before the divorce occurred.
Compromising or broadening biblical doctrine to make it include what one wants it to approve is on a slippery slope to accepting questionable interpretations of Scripture and on a pathway to blatant heresy. One tent pitching prevalent today is broadening the interpretation of Genesis 1 (literal days to long periods of time), which leads more easily to the acceptance of evolution. I believe history confirms that this road has been traveled in Christian institutions of higher learning. Asking the question: “Did God really say that?” easily puts one into a Sodom area by broadening a host of verses in Scripture. As a result, even though God did not say as such, one makes it include that which one wants for biblical approval such as: evolution, women in office, homosexual behavior, divorce, euthanasia, abortion, embryonic stem cell destruction, universalism, and more. When Scripture is distorted to make it inclusive in its interpretation, it becomes an umbrella to include anything one wants. It begins with a small inclusion and then broadening to an umbrella which is willing to encompass and endorse most anything.
White lies pitch one’s tents nearer to becoming an avid liar. Taking little things moves one closer to becoming a habitual thief. Materialism puts one’s campsite nearer to the Sodom of greed. Playing for money, even small amounts in card games and betting in sports, opens the gate to the Sodom of all types of gambling.
In conclusion, please evaluate where your tents are pitched in entertainment, use of language, relationships, attitudes, behaviors, habits, biblical interpretation, and spirituality. If your tents need to be moved away from or out of Sodom, please pull up stakes quickly and make the changes that are necessary, rather than continuing to edge closer or deeper into sin. Where your tents are not pitched near Sodom, guard yourself in your Christian life. Always survey the territory and see the “Sodom” that could be near. Let Lot’s tragic choice help you avoid the sad consequences he and his family experienced. Don’t be like Lot, pitching your tents near Sodom! “Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.” (Genesis 13:13) DON’T JOIN THEM! FLEE FROM THEM!
Jan Groenendyk is a retired Christian School teacher. She is the wife of Rev. Marion Groenendyk. They are members of the Bethany URC in Wyoming, Michigan.