Catching Minnows

Sometimes the small tales hint at much larger truths.

In childhood, my imagination was an ever-expanding net, seemingly capable of holding an infinite number of curious things. And when it came to reading the Bible, it was all the big stories that became entangled like marlins in the stuff of my thoughts. Noah’s ark, David and Goliath, the fish that swallowed Jonah whole—these took up a lot of room. But distracted by their largeness, what I missed were the small, obscure stories—tiny minnows escaping through the holes.

Last year, as I read through the Bible for the first time, I found myself cupping these minnows in my hands and eyeing them intently. I savored them, and as the psalmist suggested, began to hide them in my heart. How had I had missed these?

The story of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, who burned “strange fire” in the tabernacle and lost their lives immediately afterward when flames from God’s presence consumed them (Lev. 10:1-2). The passage in which Gideon, that revered man of God, created a golden ephod, and Israel worshipped it (Judges 8:22-27). The man in the parable of the wedding feast, who failed to dress for the occasion and was punished ever so severely for his fashion faux pas (Matt. 22:1-14).

Another minnow surfaces in Genesis 19, which chronicles the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—a whopper of a story if ever there was one. But before my project of in-depth reading, I hadn’t noticed the same chapter contains a short but strange exchange between two angels and Abraham’s nephew, Lot. I suspect the billowing smoke from the two scorched cities on the Jordan plain eclipsed this odd passage in Sunday school.

Before God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah, the aforementioned angels visit Lot and tell him to escape the impending destruction by fleeing to the mountains. Instead of immediately obeying, Lot asks to take refuge in the nearby tiny town of Zoar.

Instead of immediately obeying, Lot asks to take refuge in the nearby tiny town of Zoar.

“I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die,” he says, his desperation evident. “Now behold, this town is near enough to flee to, and it is small. Please let me escape there (is it not small?) that my life may be saved” (Gen. 19:19-20). I can hardly believe that Lot had the audacity to negotiate with angels.

Even more incredible, however, is that God honors Lot’s request. The Creator of the universe grants Lot a detour, allowing him to hide in a Podunk town instead of where he was originally told to go.

In what strikes me as a humorous turn of events, Lot reaches his proposed place of shelter only to find himself frightened by it. Genesis 19:30 says, “Lot went up from Zoar, and stayed in the mountains, and his two daughters with him; for he was afraid to stay in Zoar.” The Bible doesn’t say why he was afraid—only that he was.

In the end, Lot winds up in the mountains, where God wanted him all along. Why, then, did God allow Lot to go to Zoar at all? Why even allow this pit stop? Did he know Lot would ultimately obey Him anyway? Or did Lot actually succeed in changing God’s mind?

I couldn’t shake this passage, mulling over it as one picks at a popcorn kernel wedged between tooth and gum. As with all the other minnows I’ve come across, the smallest stories often give me cause for the longest pauses.

In the end, Lot winds up in the mountains, where God wanted him all along. Why, then, did God allow Lot to go to Zoar at all?

Perhaps I could understand God granting someone’s request if it were a noble one made in honorable circumstances. But accommodating a man who fails to heed simple instructions from angelic beings—words that ultimately came from God Himself? Well, I’m at a loss. Maybe even the most ridiculous requests don’t go unheard by the Almighty’s ears.

I tend to think of God’s will as being a bit like a glacier—carving u-shaped valleys throughout the land, deviating from its intended course for no animal, man, or tree. One person cannot persuade a glacier to do anything.

Although I petition God in prayer, sometimes I wonder whether I’ll get a response from Him. More often than not, I feel as though I might as well be telling a chunk of ice to do my bidding.

The way God accommodates Lot suggests that even prayers breathed out of fear or foolishness matter. With this minnow swimming in my mind, I soon found myself praying with fresh confidence to the One who is greater than any glacier—hopeful that He who listened to Lot might entertain my petitions, too.

 

Illustration by Jeff Gregory

Click to read more articles in the “Wholly Scripture” series.

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What happens to my notes

1 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them.

2 And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.

22 Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son's son, for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian."

23 But Gideon said to them, I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you."

24 Yet Gideon said to them, I would request of you, that each of you give me an earring from his spoil." (For they had gold earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.)

25 They said, We will surely give them. " So they spread out a garment, and every one of them threw an earring there from his spoil.

26 The weight of the gold earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple robes which were on the kings of Midian, and besides the neck bands that were on their camels' necks.

27 Gideon made it into an ephod, and placed it in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household.

1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying,

2 The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.

3 And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come.

4 Again he sent out other slaves saying, `Tell those who have been invited, Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast."'

5 But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business,

6 and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them.

7 But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire.

8 Then he said to his slaves, `The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.

9 Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.'

10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.

11 But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes,

12 and he said to him, `Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?' And the man was speechless.

13 Then the king said to the servants, `Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

14 For many are called, but few are chosen."

19 Now behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have magnified your lovingkindness, which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die;

20 now behold, this town is near enough to flee to, and it is small. Please, let me escape there (is it not small?) that my life may be saved."

30 Lot went up from Zoar, and stayed in the mountains, and his two daughters with him; for he was afraid to stay in Zoar; and he stayed in a cave, he and his two daughters.

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