26 But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.

The moment where Lot’s wife looks back to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and is turned to a pillar of salt is extremely abrupt and confusing. This one, fifteen-word sentence is crammed between two completely different paragraphs, dropping a shocking detail with absolutely no context! Clearly there is more to this story, but all that survives for us today is an extreme abbreviation.

Of course, we do know that the Lord’s instruction to them was “escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain.” Lot’s wife was clearly disobeying the middle instruction there, to not look back, but it seems likely that it was more than just that. The Lord was not just saying “don’t look over your shoulder,” he was saying “don’t hesitate, don’t falter, don’t contemplate returning.” And so when this verse says she “looked back” it may not mean that she was just curious to see the destruction of the city, but that she was affixing herself to return to it.

This interpretation is supported by the words of Jesus in Luke 17:26-33. Here Jesus refers to both the flood in Noah’s time and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and he stresses that when the moment of reckoning comes, one must run to safety without trying to return to their house for their belongings. And in that context he tells his listeners “remember Lot’s wife.”

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