The Crimes of Sodom and Gomorrah
Posted by foryourfaith on January 28, 2011
The angels who visited Abraham took their leave and, with their host showing the way, set out for the city of Sodom. As they walked, God deliberated with himself: “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do . . . ?” (Genesis 18:17). Since he had already chosen the patriarch “top keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice,” God decided to reveal to Abraham his decision to carry out “righteousness and justice.” He informed Abraham that Sodom and its sister city Gomorrah were suspected of grave sins. Their inhabitants were to be judged, and, if found guilty, punished (Genesis 18:19-21). Two of the angels were to be God’s agents of punishment.
Abraham’s response was astounding. Up to now so passive in accepting god’s will and following his commands, Abraham suddenly protested. He defended the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, communities of undoubted wickedness, and sought some way to convince God to spare them. “Wilt thou indeed destroy the righteous with the wicked?” he asked God. Surely there must be 50 righteous people living in these cities. Would not their merit suffice to prevent destruction? Abraham had the effrontery to challenge God, “Far be it from thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
Abraham continued his protest. If there were not 50, were there 45 righteous, or 40? Perhaps 30, or at least 20? Surely there were 10? If even 10 could be found, God conceded, he would not destroy the cities. “And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place” (Genesis 18:33).
As Abraham set out for home, the two angels proceeded to Sodom where, “sitting in the gate,” was Lot, the patriarch’s nephew, who had gone to live there some years before. Lot, unaware that the strangers were angels, rose to meet them. He bowed with his face to the earth, and said, “My lords, turn aside, I pray you, to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise up early and go on your way” (Genesis 19:1-2). The angels accepted his invitation, entered his home, and ate the meal that Lot had prepared.
Up to this point, the Bible has not revealed what sins the Sodomites had committed. But the specific nature of their guilt becomes clear. The visitors had been seen entering Lot’s house, and “the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them’” (Genesis 19:4-5).
In ancient custom, the responsibility of a host to protect guests was considered to be nearly absolute. Genesis could give no more vivid demonstration of Sodom’s depravity than by describing the attempt of “all the people” to assault these guests. The wickedness of Sodom that condemned it to destruction was a lack of basic human decency: infringement on the sacredness of the host’s hospitality.
Lot’s desperate efforts to protect his guests are described in Genesis. He offered his two virgin daughters to the men of Sodom. “Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please,” he said. But the people insisted on the visitors (Genesis 19:8). Angered by Lot’s refusal to let them in the door, they turned their ire against him: “This fellow came to sojourn, and he would play the judge! Now we will eal worse with you than with them” (Genesis 19:9).
Since Lot was Abraham’s nephew, the angelic visitors meant to save him and his family while destroying all the others. They brought Lot into the house, shut the door, and struck the Sodomites with blindness so that they could not see the door. Then they ordered Lot to gather his family before the coming catastrophe. When morning came, the angels pulled Lot, his wife, and two daughters out of the city, advising them, “Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley; flee to the hills, lest you be consumed” (Genesis 19:17).
With Lot and his family safe, the punishment came. “The Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground” (Genesis 19:26).
Sodom and Gomorrah: History and Motif in Biblical Narrative (The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies: Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement)
Lot’s wife, unable to resist the temptation of looking back to see what had happened to her home, “became a pillar o salt” (Genesis 19:26).
Lot and his two daughters were the sole survivors of Sodom’s destruction. When Abraham rose early in the morning, he could see the smoke rising from where the city used to be, “like the smoke of a furnace” (Genesis 19:28).
Archaeologists have discovered that the southern part of the Dead Sea was once dry and fertile, the home of flourishing societies. Scholars have suggested that an earthquake could have caused the Dead Sea to spread southward, covering the existing cities and leaving the land barren. Thus the account of Sodom’s destruction may be based on an actual event. Even today visitors are amazed at the salt deposits in the area, and recall the account of Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt.
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