Lot’s wife was in the middle of making dinner when the angels came to say the city was about to be destroyed. The knock on the door came as she was kneading the bread, readying it for the oven. The angels spoke too softly for her to hear, but her husband’s response was clear:
“I have nothing to fear here.”
Lot’s wife pressed the dough harder. The angels had left. Her husband had spoken for them, for them all, and without consulting with her first. Did he truly know best?
She chose not to doubt him, not now. Her husband was a charitable man, and without him, perhaps the angels wouldn’t have spared anybody from the destruction of Sodom. But they had come, and they had warned Lot. Did this make him a good man, the only one left in the city?
When the angels had first come, disguised as beggars, Lot had protected them from a group of assailants. This honorable and selfless act had no doubt elevated Lot’s status as a man in the eyes of the angels, but had they ignored the manner in which he had rescued them?
By offering their two daughters to these vicious and terrible men, their two daughters who had never known a man, who were each pledged to marry others.
Why had the angels overlooked this? Why emphasize the virtue while ignoring the vice? Was Sodom really so despicable a place that the most admirable man there would freely give his only two daughters away to a group of wicked men?
Sodom was certainly not a pleasant place; Lot’s wife could not pretend to revere this city, to find it a nice place to live. The streets were full of thieves and beggars. In Sodom, what you carried in your hands was not necessarily yours, but was simply in your possession for the time being; nothing in Sodom was incapable of being stolen. Your house, your crops, even your children, could be stripped away at any moment.
The only way to survive in Sodom was by keeping close to those who care for you. For her, Lot had been that person. Lot had been her protector. All throughout their marriage, he had kept her safe. They had raised their two daughters together, taught them how to talk, how to walk, how to be good people. They’d watched them grow up into two beautiful young ladies. Lot’s wife missed the time when they would sit around the dinner table and tell stories about their day.
What right did Lot have to offer them up like that?
In the days before their children, Lot hadn’t been this way. He hadn’t been so afraid to speak to her, to tell her how he was feeling. He used to tell her everything, ask for her advice about the people in the city, how and where to sell their crops. They used to go to bed later in the evening, hold each other close as they drifted off to sleep. Now he slept with his back turned to her.
“What did they say to you?” she asked that night after the girls were asleep.
He turned to her, but looked elsewhere, and sighed without answering.
“Lot, why won’t you tell me?”
“I know what is best,” he said. “Their words are not yours to hear. Do you understand?”
“I am your wife. If something is wrong, you must tell me. I must know.”
Finally, he looked at her. “You cannot know. You cannot understand.”
Lot’s wife did not sleep that night. She contemplated her husband’s words, concluding that he did not trust her. She had no use to him. She had given birth to their children, and that was all she had been meant to do.
No more than fifteen years ago, Lot would have spoken to her differently. He would have told her what was wrong, and they would have tried to find a solution together.
This had happened once, when Lot came home and confessed that he had been robbed and beaten by a gang of men. She remembered the sadness on his face when he told her these things, the way he had emptied his pockets, taking out nothing but air. Lot’s wife had taken him into her arms, telling him that it was not his fault; they would make the money back. They had sat in the kitchen while she bandaged up his wounds, and he had rested his head on her shoulder.
The next day, by his wife’s suggestion, Lot had gone into the city wielding a knife. There had been other instances of attackers trying to steal his belongings, but the knife had warded off most of them. Since that horrible day, when Lot returned home, he would stand in the doorway and, like before, empty his pockets. Only now, coins would spill out and roll across the floor. Lot’s wife would stand there, watching this ridiculous display, and they would laugh together.
When the angels came again, it was the early morning. Lot’s wife had been preparing breakfast. She was slicing fruit on a plate when the knock came. This time, when Lot answered the door, she went over to greet them, too.
“Did you tell your sons-in-law to flee the city?” the angels asked.
Lot nodded. “They are gone.”
“Why do you and your family remain?”
“I’m not ready yet. God hasn’t spoken to me.”
“We have spoken to you,” the angels said. One of them reached out his hand and grasped Lot’s wrist. The other went over to Lot’s wife and did the same; neither of them resisted.
“Get your daughters,” the angels said. “You will leave this place today.”
As soon as their daughters entered the room, the angels pushed the four of them out the door. They walked through the city, slowly at first. Then they saw the fires, and they ran as fast as they could.
“Why didn’t you tell me this would happen?” Lot’s wife asked. Around them, houses were burning down, clouds of smoke hovering over every one. People ran wildly throughout the streets, many of them on fire themselves.
She didn’t think he was going to answer. Lot was silent, his face expressionless as they moved through the city, observing the suffering, the destruction.
Finally, he answered, “I didn’t want you to know. They told me Sodom would fall and there was nothing I could do about it. But the angels made it so we would live.”
“Why us?” she asked. “What about all the other families? What about the children, the other innocents out there?”
“Enough,” Lot said. “There are no innocents. You dwell too much on what is done. Concentrate now on what lies ahead.”
The angels directed them through the city, urging them not to look. But Lot’s wife did look.
The sky was a deep shade of red. Black clouds spiraled and fumed beneath it, trying to mask the flames, the heat, but the fire shone through. Even the Sun looked angry, its rays melting into the sky like slices of cheese on a loaf of freshly baked bread.
Flaming crags the size of houses descended from the sky, each one crashing into the streets or a shop or even a civilian. The fires spread from the crags, raging throughout the city. Everything was burning, everything was bright and without shadow. The smoke had now built up to a point where Lot’s wife could barely breathe.
As they reached the edge of the city, the angels turned to them and said, “Now flee from this place, and never look back.”
Lot nodded and thanked the angels before the four of them started sprinting. They made some good progress. With the intense heat gone, her skin had gone from red back to the light tan she was accustomed to. She looked at Lot, who only paid attention to the road ahead of them.
“We must head for the mountains,” he said as they ran. “We will be safe there.”
She knew his words were true, but something about the way Lot’s eyes were fixed so determinedly forward startled her. Did he not have the urge to look back? Wasn’t he curious? Didn’t he feel even the faintest measure of sympathy for the people dying back there?
“The angels told me that as long as we keep my family’s bloodline alive, all will be well.” There was no fear or anxiety in his voice.
“Your family’s bloodline,” Lot’s wife muttered, and then looked at her two young daughters, who were now both desirable to men, who were now both perfectly capable of bearing children.
Is that all he ever expected of me? she wondered. Is that all I was ever meant for?
She searched for his hand, but Lot was too focused on the mountains ahead to pay attention to her. He had the future in mind; she was too concerned with the past.
Suddenly, Lot’s wife felt the overwhelming urge to look back. She thought about all of the other families out there, burning alive, suffocating, their skin melting in the intense heat. Did they deserve what was happening to them? Was this really meant to be?
She thought about what the angels had said to them, how it was important for Lot’s family to live on. Did that make her expendable now that she had given him two children?
The earth shook. Even at their end of the sky, far away from Sodom, the smoke pervaded. Red and orange flames bled across the sky in streaks, staining it forever.
Lot’s wife tried one last time to reach out to her husband, and when he denied her, she decided, finally, to look back and behold the destruction of Sodom.
Immediately, she felt her body tighten, and she lost control of her muscles. She stood in place, even as Lot and her daughters ran on, finding herself no longer able to move. The angels had warned her not to look back, not to gaze upon the mistakes and the carnage, but she hadn’t listened to them. Her body turned into a pillar of salt then, her grainy eyes still fixed on what lay behind her. Lot and her daughters, meanwhile, ran on, and they never looked back.