In childhood, my imagination was an ever-expanding net, seemingly capable of holding an infinite number of curious things. And when it came to reading the Bible, it was all the big stories that became entangled like marlins in the stuff of my thoughts. Noah’s ark, David and Goliath, the fish that swallowed Jonah whole—these took up a lot of room. But distracted by their largeness, what I missed were the small, obscure stories—tiny minnows escaping through the holes.
Last year, as I read through the Bible for the first time, I found myself cupping these minnows in my hands and eyeing them intently. I savored them, and as the psalmist suggested, began to hide them in my heart. How had I had missed these?
The story of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, who burned “strange fire” in the tabernacle and lost their lives immediately afterward when flames from God’s presence consumed them (Lev. 10:1-2). The passage in which Gideon, that revered man of God, created a golden ephod, and Israel worshipped it (Judges 8:22-27). The man in the parable of the wedding feast, who failed to dress for the occasion and was punished ever so severely for his fashion faux pas (Matt. 22:1-14).
Another minnow surfaces in Genesis 19, which chronicles the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—a whopper of a story if ever there was one. But before my project of in-depth reading, I hadn’t noticed the same chapter contains a short but strange exchange between two angels and Abraham’s nephew, Lot. I suspect the billowing smoke from the two scorched cities on the Jordan plain eclipsed this odd passage in Sunday school.
Before God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah, the aforementioned angels visit Lot and tell him to escape the impending destruction by fleeing to the mountains. Instead of immediately obeying, Lot asks to take refuge in the nearby tiny town of Zoar.
Instead of immediately obeying, Lot asks to take refuge in the nearby tiny town of Zoar.
“I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die,” he says, his desperation evident. “Now behold, this town is near enough to flee to, and it is small. Please let me escape there (is it not small?) that my life may be saved” (Gen. 19:19-20). I can hardly believe that Lot had the audacity to negotiate with angels.
Even more incredible, however, is that God honors Lot’s request. The Creator of the universe grants Lot a detour, allowing him to hide in a Podunk town instead of where he was originally told to go.
In what strikes me as a humorous turn of events, Lot reaches his proposed place of shelter only to find himself frightened by it. Genesis 19:30 says, “Lot went up from Zoar, and stayed in the mountains, and his two daughters with him; for he was afraid to stay in Zoar.” The Bible doesn’t say why he was afraid—only that he was.
In the end, Lot winds up in the mountains, where God wanted him all along. Why, then, did God allow Lot to go to Zoar at all? Why even allow this pit stop? Did he know Lot would ultimately obey Him anyway? Or did Lot actually succeed in changing God’s mind?
I couldn’t shake this passage, mulling over it as one picks at a popcorn kernel wedged between tooth and gum. As with all the other minnows I’ve come across, the smallest stories often give me cause for the longest pauses.
In the end, Lot winds up in the mountains, where God wanted him all along. Why, then, did God allow Lot to go to Zoar at all?
Perhaps I could understand God granting someone’s request if it were a noble one made in honorable circumstances. But accommodating a man who fails to heed simple instructions from angelic beings—words that ultimately came from God Himself? Well, I’m at a loss. Maybe even the most ridiculous requests don’t go unheard by the Almighty’s ears.
I tend to think of God’s will as being a bit like a glacier—carving u-shaped valleys throughout the land, deviating from its intended course for no animal, man, or tree. One person cannot persuade a glacier to do anything.
Although I petition God in prayer, sometimes I wonder whether I’ll get a response from Him. More often than not, I feel as though I might as well be telling a chunk of ice to do my bidding.
The way God accommodates Lot suggests that even prayers breathed out of fear or foolishness matter. With this minnow swimming in my mind, I soon found myself praying with fresh confidence to the One who is greater than any glacier—hopeful that He who listened to Lot might entertain my petitions, too.
Illustration by Jeff Gregory