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149 Who Destroyed Sodom? Part 3 Genesis 19

We conclude our study of Genesis 19 as we review the Principle of prediction does not mean causation as it relates to this story and realize that God was aware of what would happen and so warns Lot and his family so they could escape. Even though the Bible writer attributes the cause to God it was most likely an event that was a result of natural causes.

149 Genesis 19 Sodom and Gomorrah
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Who Destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah? Part 3

Causation of evil and violence in the Old Testament

We have many passages that suggest that the LORD is the cause of catastrophes. Deuteronomy 29:21–23; 32:39-43 and Leviticus 26:27-35 and Isaiah 45:7 are some passages which reveal God to the Israelites as the agent of both life and death. In turn the Israelites expect the LORD to deal with their enemies violently (Psalm 58:6-11; 137:9). The point that the creation account is the only non-violent creation story we have seems to have been lost on the Hebrews.

1 Samuel 16:14, 23 describes the LORD sending an evil or tormenting spirit to fill king Saul with fear and yet 1 John 4:18 asserts that love removes all fear, and furthermore that God is love.

Exodus 4:24-26 has the LORD attempting to kill Moses on the way to Egypt even though the LORD had sent him to Egypt. This is a puzzling story if the agency of evil is attributed to the LORD as Moses does.

Translators are confused about the character of God even in the New Testament. Who is the “he” in Matthew 10:28? Who can destroy the soul in hell? Some translators replace “he” with “God” indicating their bias. John 1:18 indicates that Jesus is the only eyewitness of God and thus is the best authority on the character of God. Matthew 17:1-5, John 1:17; 10:10; 14:4-11 and Hebrews 1:1-3 confirm the primacy of the witness of Jesus. There are other inspired prophetic voices but none can equal or match the authority of Jesus Christ.

Jesus sets the record straight in Matthew 5:38-39 and 5:43-47 (Luke 13:1-5). 1 John 1:5 is dogmatic. God is light (life) and there is no darkness (death or deceit) in him.

2 Samuel 12:1-13 King David’s self-proclaimed punishment and the public humiliation of David’s wives/concubines all attributed to the LORD.

David’s first son with Bathsheba died soon after birth. Amnon was killed by Absolom for raping Tamar their sister. Absolom was killed by Joab for his rebellion against his father. Adonijah was killed by Solomon for proclaiming himself king as David was dying.

Hebrews 2:14

Lot and His Daughters

30 Afterward Lot left Zoar because he was afraid of the people there, and he went to live in a cave in the mountains; with his two daughters.

The laconic statement, “because he was afraid of the people there” can mean the people were hostile towards him, perhaps blaming him for the catastrophe on Sodom and Gomorrah or it could also mean that he was afraid of the people’s influence on him and his daughters.

To move into a cave in the mountains indicates a sad state for Lot. It means he had lost everything that he had in Sodom.

31 One day the older daughter said to her sister, “There are no men left anywhere in this entire area, so we can’t get married like everyone else. And our father will soon be too old to have children.

What does this statement mean? Does it mean that they do not consider anyone in Abram’s household good enough for them?

32 Come, let’s get him drunk with wine, and then we will have sex with him. That way we will preserve our family line through our father.”

Was this solution a natural one considering the culture of Sodom? Did the daughters have precedent for their behaviour from the history of Abram’s line that we know about? Abram had married his half-sister. This action by the daughters is unthinkable from our idea of ethics and is later forbidden by the laws of Moses. Since incest was declared unlawful at Sinai it meant it was occurring. Laws are generally an attempted solution to a recurring problem.

33 So that night they got him drunk with wine, and the older daughter went in and had intercourse with her father. He was unaware of her lying down or getting up again.

Lot needed to be drunk means that he would not have consented to these acts if he was sober.

34 The next morning the older daughter said to her younger sister, “I had sex with our father last night. Let’s get him drunk with wine again tonight, and you go in and have sex with him. That way we will preserve our family line through our father.” 35 So that night they got him drunk with wine again, and the younger daughter went in and had intercourse with him. As before, he was unaware of her lying down or getting up again.

A one night stand does not always result in a pregnancy. These actions must have continued must have continued for some time.

36 As a result, both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their own father. 37 When the older daughter gave birth to a son, she named him Moab. He became the ancestor of the nation now known as the Moabites. 38 When the younger daughter gave birth to a son, she named him Ben-ammi. He became the ancestor of the nation now known as the Ammonites.

This is an explanation of the origins of the Moabites and the Ammonites. It parallels the account of the origin of the Edomites being the descendants of Esau (Genesis 36:1-9).

The Israelites have three nations on the east side of Jordan who are related to them and at the same time hostile towards them.

Stories like this lead some people to call for the banning of the Old Testament for young children.

Further information

The broader outlines of the story are familiar to most readers of Scripture. It stretches at least from Genesis 18:16-19:38, though the first references to Sodom and Gomorrah begin in 13:10. Historical- critical biblical scholars are convinced that several narrative strands are edited together here. As the text stands in final form it is in part an etiological story meant to explain the catastrophe that wiped out the cities that once existed on the plain near the Dead Sea (cf. 19:24-25). In part it’s a story about the contrast between the character of a holy God and wayward humanity at its worst. Its most interesting dimension, as Walter Brueggemann emphasizes in his commentary on Genesis, is in the revelatory power of the story of Abraham negotiating with God to save these cities from destruction. Here we see the extraordinary role that Abraham is beginning to play as covenant and dialogue partner with God, embodiment of justice and righteousness, and bearer of blessing to humanity. There are notes of grace here that point to Jesus and the gospel.

Abraham is famous in this story for negotiating with God to prevent divine judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. If only 50/40/30/20/10 righteous people are found in these wicked cities, will not the God of justice spare the city? (18:22-33). God repeatedly says yes. Divine retribution on the many will be prevented due to the righteousness of the few.

But when they get to Sodom the two emissary-angels do not find even 10 righteous. Abraham’s nephew Lot, who lives in Sodom, offers exemplary hospitality to the two “men.” But late at night “the men of the city” surround and attack Lot’s house en masse. They want to “know” the visitors whom Lot is sheltering. Lot refuses, leaving the safety of his house to beg the crowd to relent, and even offering his virgin daughters to appease the crowd. But the men refuse, saying, “Stand back! This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them” (Gen. 19:9). Their attack is repelled only with miraculous angelic help. Sodom and Gomorrah are incinerated the next day, after Lot’s family is led away by the angels to safety.

It was once common to interpret this story as a clear indictment on “homosexuality.” Fatefully, of course, the term “sodomy” comes from this story (a term introduced in the 11th century, according to Mark Jordan). The cultural impact of both the story and the term have been enormous. But now few serious biblical interpreters think this story is about “homosexuality” at all. It has certainly receded in the traditionalist argument.

We know before chapter 19 starts that Sodom and Gomorrah are legendarily sinful towns, though we don’t know why. But after the harrowing attack on Lot and his visitors the reader now knows quite a bit about the nature of that sinfulness. This is a horrifying tale about the attempted gang rape of strangers, the shocking violation of Israelite and ancient Near Eastern standards of hospitality, Lot’s willingness to sacrifice his own daughters to the crowd, and the depravity of an entire city — all exacerbated by the fact that the intended targets happen to be angelic emissaries of a holy God. The story is filled with violence and the threat of harm. Notice that when Lot protects his guests, his “brothers” expand their threat to Lot himself: “We will deal worse with you than with them.” The parallel story in Judges makes absolutely clear that it was violence the men wanted, including sexual violence, and violence they inflicted (cf. Judg. 20:5).

Sodom and Gomorrah, their sin and God’s punishment, became resonant symbols. When cited within the rest of Scripture, even the names of these towns become a byword for total human evil and devastating divine judgment (Dt. 29:23, 32:32; Isa. 1:9f., 3:9, 13:19; Jer. 23:14, 49:18, 50:40; Lam 4:6; Ezek. 16:46- 50; Amos 4:11; Zeph. 2:9; Mt. 10:15/Lk 10:10-12, Rom. 9:29, 2 Peter 2:6-10, Jude 6-7; cf. Ps. 11:6). The starkest way to warn Israel or the Church of impending judgment was to drop in a Sodom reference. But never once in these intra-biblical Sodom references is their evil described as same-sex interest or behavior. In Isaiah 1:9-23 a host of sins are named but mainly related to abuses of public justice. In Jeremiah 23:14 it’s adultery, lying and unwillingness to repent. Ezekiel 16:49 describes their sins as pride, excess food, prosperous ease and lack of care for the poor. In Amos and Zephaniah the issues are pride, mocking and oppressing the poor. Intertestamental works Sirach (16:8), 3 Maccabees (2:5) and Wisdom (19:15) still talk about Sodom and Gomorrah, and still don’t connect their sin to sexuality at all.

The only biblical references to Sodom with any possible suggestion of same-sex behavior are Jude 6-8 and the parallel text in 2 Peter 2:6-7, with their references to unholy interest in “other flesh” (Jude 7). In the context of an interpretation of Genesis 19 that was already convinced the story is about same-sex behavior, these two late New Testament texts were read as confirmation. But look closely. They represent fragments of tradition referring to unholy human interest in sex with angels, a theme derived from the book of Enoch, with reference back to the mysterious Genesis 6 story about the Nephilim.

The most illuminating comparison to the Sodom and Gomorrah story is to wartime or prison rape. Think about how one of the first images that comes to mind when thinking about prisons is the fear of getting raped there.

The men of Sodom want gang rape. They are more interested in men than in Lot’s daughters because (as Matthew Vines has pointed out) in a patriarchal society men held greater honor, and thus their violation was viewed as a greater offense than violating a woman. I would also suggest that the men wanted to dominate, humiliate and harm the male visitors precisely by treating them like defenseless women. In sexist social systems, the most outrageous thing you can do to a man is to treat him like a woman. The Sodom story is about the attempted gang rape of men, because they are strangers, because they are vulnerable and because they are a juicy target for humiliation and violation. It is about a town that had sunk to the level of the most depraved battlefield or prison.

Genesis 19 and Judges 19 are narratives with huge implications for the ethics of war, prison, gender, violence and rape. But they have nothing to do with the morality of loving, covenantal same-sex relationships. 9/?gclid=CjwKCAjwseSoBhBXEiwA9iZtxld5Ylmoto5s8jwKh5a4k2W1li9eL5FQg06qTDsHGvLmnytIy yXG5hoCzNoQAvD_BwE

Ian Hartley, April 2023.

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