When it comes to inspiration, short verses often stand tall.
Both Old and New Testaments abound with brief statements that make profound impacts.
Of course, it was never the intention of the biblical authors (we know of approximately 40 human writers) to create “short verses.” The original documents had no chapters and verses. But priests and scholars ultimately concluded that numerical breaks would be highly convenient for reading and reference.
In 1227 Stephen Langton, a professor at the University of Paris, undertook the task of dividing the Bible into chapters. Working as a committee of one, he had no particular authority to decide that Genesis should have 50 chapters and Matthew just 28. But his decisions were never seriously questioned.
More than 300 years later Robert Stephanus, a French printer, took an additional step and divided Langton’s chapters into verses. His work was published in 1551.
The upside of these efforts is that they made Bible study, especially for eager new Protestant believers in the 16th century, considerably easier. The downside is that the division of an originally seamless communication into bits and pieces creates the impression that Scripture itself is fragmented. Imagine if you sent a passionate, personal, handwritten note to a friend – someone who then chose to savor your letter and study it for years by numbering all of your sentences (falling in love with a handful of them while generally ignoring the rest).
There is much to be said for reading each of the Bible’s books straight through in one sitting, refusing to linger over the artificial barriers of chapters and verses.
Nevertheless, it remains fascinating that some verses, for unknown reasons, ended up on the long side (Esther 8:9 being the longest, with about 80 words in most English translations) while others are famously short.
The shortest verses in the Old Testament include Job 3:2 (“And he said”) and I Chronicles 1:21 (“Eber, Peleg, Reu”), neither of which is likely to be underlined or starred in anybody’s Bible. However, Exodus 20:13 (“Do not murder,” at the heart of the Ten Commandments) is one of the most important declarations in history.
So is John 10:35 (“Jesus wept”), which is the shortest verse in all of Scripture. It’s safe to say those two words have inspired millions of sermons.
Two other two-word verses, I Thessalonians 5:16 (“Rejoice always”) and 5:17 (“Pray continually”) actually appear back-to-back. We can spend a lifetime pondering how to live them out.
Then there’s the shortest of all the statements attributed to Jesus. It’s Luke 17:32: “Remember Lot’s wife.”
What’s the gist of those three words?
We know next to nothing about Mrs. Lot, the woman married to Abraham’s nephew. We don’t even know her name. Lot, his wife, and their two daughters lived in Sodom, a name that became synonymous with moral evil. According to Genesis 19, two angels of the Lord warned the family to flee from their home as fast as possible. God was about to destroy Sodom and her sister community, Gomorrah.
“Flee for your lives!” the angels said. “Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain. Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!” (Genesis 19:17)
The family moved haltingly, however, apparently not comprehending the danger. Lot dilly-dallied to such a degree that the angels had to seize him and the others by the hand. They barely got clear of the pyrotechnics that fell upon the two cities (“fire and brimstone” according to the King James Version).
Then we come to verse 26: “But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.”
We really don’t know what she was thinking. Was she longing for the home she was leaving behind? Jesus, warning his disciples about a coming time of judgment, identified her as someone who lost focus on what really mattered at the worst possible moment. “Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it” (Luke 17:32-33).
Imagine someone awakening in the middle of the night to the shrill sound of a smoke alarm. By the time he races down the stairs and bursts through the front door, flames are engulfing the house. Then he pauses. Should he go back in and grab the family picture albums? Shouldn’t he at least rescue that irreplaceable heirloom before it’s lost forever?
But going back would be a terrible miscalculation. He’s the one who would end up being lost.
We must heed the same warning.
If God has told you to go forward, don’t slow down. Don’t long for what you can never have again. Don’t waste time wondering what you’re missing. Has God made it clear that it’s time to leave behind an unhealthy relationship, a destructive addiction, a soul-crushing circumstance?
Don’t look back. Don’t risk becoming petrified. A pillar of salt.
Remember Lot’s wife.
Those three words can mean the difference between life and death.