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At dawn the next morning the angels became insistent. “Hurry,” they said to Lot. “Take your wife and your two daughters who are here. Get out right now, or you will be swept away in the destruction of the city!”
When Lot still hesitated, the angels seized his hand and the hands of his wife and two daughters and rushed them to safety outside the city, for the LORD was merciful. When they were safely out of the city, one of the angels ordered, “Run for your lives! And don’t look back or stop anywhere in the valley! Escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away!” – Genesis 19:15-17 [NLT]
Dennis and Robert were in my 6th grade class, when they befriended me. They left a note on my desk that ended, “Zattd!” The rest I don’t recall, except that it was a jumble of letters that did not make sense to me. They had to tell me that it was code, a cypher actually. “Zattd!” meant, “Hurry!” They helped me understand that once I had figured out a few things (word lengths, spacing, punctuation, etc.), I would be able to break the code. I think they actually helped me decode the message. It was an invitation to be a member of their club.
They were merciful. I didn’t have many friends in 6th grade. And their kindness to me was more merciful than they or I realized. They were good boys, not troublemakers. They were studious and relatively smart. I was not a troublemaker, but I was adrift when it came to my studies. They may not have realized I was in a difficult situation, but they were kind enough to be my friends.
Grace is undeserved love and kindness. Mercy is a kindness in response to someone’s pain and withholds punishment we do deserve. We see both played out in this encounter between Lot and his family and the angels who will rescue him and destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. In fact, Moses even uses the word, “mercy” to describe the LORD’s attitude toward them that led him to wait for their escape before raining down destruction on these cities.
Sometimes we’re aware of our need for mercy. When we’re in the throes of sickness and pain, we call out, “Lord have mercy!” Sometimes, however, we may not even be aware of our need or the dire straits we’re in. Like Lot and his family who wanted to delay their flight from Sodom, we might not be aware of the danger we’re in before we are rescued.
A traffic delay prevents a more serious accident. A sick and absent co-worker preempts a relational meltdown over office politics. A job transfer removes the possibility for an illicit office romance. These may seem coincidental. But if a sparrow does not fall to the ground apart from the Father’s knowledge, then why would we remove his providential engagement in the everyday affairs of men and women?
On one occasion Paul and his mission partners were prevented from entering into Asia Minor by the Spirit of Jesus (cf. Acts 16:6-12). That was to make possible the entry of the gospel into Europe. Here in Genesis, God’s mercy delays the city’s destruction to allow Lot and his family to escape. Ours may not be as dramatic or obvious. But one thing remains: God’s mercy is a precious gift. If grace is receiving something we don’t deserve and mercy is being exempted from punishment we do deserve, we can rejoice in both. We see it here in Genesis. We ought to look for it every day of our lives and give thanks to God for it.