In Genesis 19:26 we read that during the destruction of Sodom, Lot’s wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt. Many have questioned why such a gruesome fate befell her for having committed such a small crime. However, I believe there is 1 theory that can explain her demise without resorting to accusing God of giving a punishment that does not fit the crime. In fact, this theory suggests that God never even punished her at all but that she was a victim of her own bad behavior.
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A Literal Warning
The explanation begins with the family still in Sodom. In verses 15-17 we read.
5 When the morning dawned, the angels urged Lot to hurry, saying, “Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the punishment of the city.” 16 And while he lingered, the men took hold of his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. 17 So it came to pass, when they had brought them outside, that he said, “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be swept away [in the destruction].”
So far, what we know is that the family lingered in Sodom even after they were told to get out, lest they be swept away in the destruction. This seems to indicate that whatever type of destruction was going to befall the city, it was not a targeted smiting. Anyone within the blast radius was going to get destroyed. Thus, the warning to escape is one of utility.
Additionally, we read in Gen 19:22 that God will hold off destroying the city until Lot reaches Zoar which is a safe zone. God states to Lot, “Hurry, escape there. For I cannot do anything until you arrive there.” Therefore, there seems to be a geographical safe zone and danger zone.
Now, lot arrives to Zoar and God commences the destruction and we hear about his wife in verse 26 “But his wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” But that is not actually what the Hebrew text says. The word used for “she looked back” (וַתַּבֵּ֥ט-hifil of נָבַט) is in the hifil verbal stem which in Hebrew means it’s a caused action. This conjugation of the root word (נָבַט) is rarely used in the Hebrew Bible but when it is, it’s usually referring to a desire or a lust, conveying a sense of reflexiveness. Something internally caused the person to look. A literal rendering would be “she caused herself to look, from behind him (Lot)”. Her own desires were at work.
Location, Location, Location
But this is only half the problem. The second half of the problem is that whatever she was doing, she was doing it from behind her husband. The Hebrew text says that she looked desirably “מֵאַחֲרָ֑יו” (from behind him). Meaning she was located somewhere behind Lot. Suggesting that she remained physically behind her husband and her family, not fully committed to leaving. In other words, she remained in the blast radius because she did not heed the command to “escape, lest you be swept away.”
This is further evidenced by the fact that the phrase (from behind him) “מֵאַחֲרָ֑יו” only 12 times in the OT and it almost always means someone is trailing behind someone else or chasing them at some distance. This would seem to fit because a more common usage of this phrase exists in the Bible just as “אַחֲרָ֑יו” which translates simply as “behind him” or “after him” but in most cases denotes a close proximity of object. However, then you ad the prepositional Mem to the phrase and make it “from behind him” it conveys a sense of distance and I believe that that is exactly what happened to Lot’s wife.
Being that she was likely a native of Sodom, herself, she probably did not want to leave the city and perhaps, like her sons in law, did not even believe that the city was going to be overthrown. She was probably the reason that the family lingered there to begin with and why the angels had to take them by the hand and lead them outside the city in haste. It would appear that she lingered a great deal behind her husband and was a victim of not heeding the angel’s warning to get out of the blast radius, lest they be swept away.
This was not a case of God smiting someone in punishment for wickedness, but a case of someone not heeding a very real warning.
In reference to the destruction of Sodom, Peter stated the following:
7 and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless 8 (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— 9 if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment…. (2 Peter 2:7-9)
If Peter is to be taken authoritatively while speaking on this matter, we must conclude that Lot’s wife was simply not of the same righteous character as Lot and that her disobedience costed her life.