It’s that time of year when the news and other media organizations like to do retrospectives on the past year. Typically, this is a fun reminiscence because we forget about all of the drama that has occurred even a few months ago, let alone throughout the entire last year. It’s is incredible that we spend so much time on some things during the year, yet can’t remember the outcome even months later. Whether it is sports, politics or even family and personal events – it’s hard to remember so sometimes we spend time looking back.
Interestingly though, from a Biblical perspective, we are warned in more than a few places that we should be careful looking back. The first warning that I can remember comes in Genesis when Lot and his family are warned by Angels of the Lord to leave their city of sin behind and never look back.
17 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 19:17
26 But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
– Genesis 19:26
Do we need a bigger warning than being turned into a pillar of salt? If you look more deeply at the situation, the result for Lot’s wife makes sense. According to the original text, she was looking back with longing (vathabbet) for the sinful life she had in Sodom and Gomorrah. Most people know the cities’ names, but they don’t understand the depth of the depravity that was occurring there (Genesis 19:1-14) and that Lot’s wife and his daughters did not want to leave, but were drug away by Lot and some Angels.
But wait, Abraham also looked back at the destroyed cities in Genesis 19:28 and he was not destroyed. The important distinction between these two people and the differing result is because of what was in their heart. The warning is not about just looking at what happened in the past – The warning is about longing for a former life of sin. Abraham was not killed because God knew his heart was not lamenting the loss of the sin.
Lot’s daughter’s also did not end up being turned into salt, but they probably should have. In the very next story, they perpetrated horrible sin against their very own father. They figuratively “looked back” and continued their horribly sinful lives as if they had never left Sodom. The result of this sin created two people groups that impacted the Isrealites for a long time to come (Genesis 1:30-38).
Verses later in the Bible confirm this distinction between lamenting sin verses remembering sanctification. Wise words from Isaiah, Solomon, Paul and even Jesus make this point very definitively. Today, we will not typically be turned to salt, but longing for a former life of sin is not only a waste of time, but also very dangerous.
18 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
– Isaiah 43:18-19
10 Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
– Ecclesiastes 7:10
13 But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead
– Philippians 3:13b
62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
– Luke 9:62
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
– Ephesians 2:8-13
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians perfectly reminds us that we should not look back with longing for our previously sinful lives, but that we should remember with gladness how far we have come and thankfulness for Jesus who has brought us all this way.