45. Genesis 19:1-16

III. A. 3. a) continued

iii) The Angels in Sodom (Genesis 19:1-16)

God does so many strange things that we are accustomed to not even noticing how strange they are. The other two “men”, the two angels, went on down to visit Sodom in person. The question about the visit to Sodom is: why did it happen at all? God did not need to enter the city in person to find out what was going on, nor did he need to send spies.

One purpose in His going was to show mercy toward Abraham and Lot. By going in person He included Abraham and Lot in the events in a direct manner. It was the Divine Condescension to go in the form of the men, but it was more than condescension; it was a careful attempt to include Abraham in the process. To repeat the point, it is the first and great privilege of being in the Covenant: we are participants in God’s work.

There is also something prophetic and allegorical about the angels walking into Sodom. He visited Sodom because that is the kind of God He is, because this is what He is doing all the time in one way or another. When He judges the world, He does not stand outside of it and pronounce His verdict; He stands up from within the world, and judges by what He has Himself seen and felt as one of us. This is prefiguring the Incarnation, of course. Verse 18:21 reads, “I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.” The omniscience of God does not mean merely that He knows all about everything; the omniscience of God is that He knows everything from the inside, as a participant. The omniscience of God is the full participation of God in all events, the suffering of all events, the taking of all events and all things into Himself. And whenever God brings judgment on any people or place, it is the judgment of One who has sat down among that people and lived with them. Judgment always comes from the inside.

Verse 19:4 says that all the men of the city had come to Lot’s home to molest the strangers. That Lot had once been a stranger and had been allowed to settle there without being molested shows that the men of Sodom were selective in whom they attacked. What was their criterion for choosing whom to abuse and whom to tolerate? Lot had come as a man of substance, a very rich man in fact, and so to tolerate him was the same as sharing in his wealth. But these strangers had just walked in with nothing to speak of in wealth or property, so they were fair game. (Do angels ever appear as rich men, I wonder?) As usual, the poor are the ones who are helpless, the ones who are easy marks.

It is not really clear in this passage what great evil the men of Sodom did to bring about its destruction. They did convene and threaten to rape the angels; that is bad, of course, but it is not likely that they stood out in the ancient world as unusually willing to rape others. Nor was God inspired to wrath by homosexuality, as some have taught. Indeed the evil of Sodom could not have been homosexuality for at least three reasons.

First, the outcry against the city was not the outcry of moral indignation. The outcry against Sodom was the outcry of victims – people who have actually and personally suffered, not people who are merely offended. Those who imagine that homosexuality was the principle wickedness of Sodom against which there was an outcry are transferring conservative American sexual standards back onto the ancient peoples of the Middle East. All the evidence suggests that those people were less shocked at nearly anything than we would be. In the ancient Middle East same sex relationships seem to have been acceptable in many places. Second, if these people were punished for being homosexuals then we are forced to conclude that Sodom (and the other three cities) was composed entirely of homosexuals since everyone in the cities was destroyed; this is also very unlikely. If the totality of the cities were homosexual, who was crying out against them? Third, if they had been homosexuals, in the modern sense of having a same-sex orientation, then it would have made no sense for Lot to offer them his daughters.

On the contrary, the men of Sodom were “ordinary” men who had learned to take pleasure in abusing all defenseless people for whatever gratification they could get, sexual or otherwise. They were truly perverted, not as defined by the specific acts they craved, but in their indiscriminate willingness to violate anyone who didn’t run away fast enough. They were men who were willing to use anyone, male or female, young or old, for whatever pleasure they could get. This is a very different thing from homosexuality per se. But even such sexual perversion was only the visible tip of the iceberg of evil that was the ultimate cause of Sodom’s destruction.

In Ezekiel 16:49,50 we read, “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.” Sodom was an example of the sort of violence that had become so common before the Flood, the rich and the powerful using up the weak and showing no mercy. It is the lack of compassion for the poor that leads directly to all the other abominations God finds so appalling. The root of Sodom’s form of sexual perversion was a culture that had learned to let people starve before their very eyes, to let some people decay in poverty while others spent their days in comfort and pleasure, and to enjoy their suffering. Once a culture is able to view even one person as less than human, and is willing to let him be abased in hunger and poverty, the door is open to every other kind of abuse.

Where were the poor and the needy of Sodom during its destruction? Those people would have long known the danger of staying in that city where no stranger could even rest in the square at night without risk of his life. This is not like the dangers of, say, Central Park in New York City; Central Park is a large and private area, easy to hide in, where it is natural that criminals would assemble in the dark to be unobserved. The square of this city was public, in the center of things, impossible to hide in. All the crimes committed in Sodom were publicly approved. No poor would have stayed in Sodom; they would not have lasted long. The poor of Sodom would have long since fled out to the countryside or died or been debased and enslaved to the point of joining with their abusers. The outcry against Sodom was the outcry of those who had been raped and starved and abused and tortured, the victims who had died or fled. None of the victims of Sodom were left in the city. It was a city in wait for other victims to venture by, a Venus Fly-trap for people, something only modern horror films imagine.

Further, though it had been only a dozen or so years since Abraham had rescued the people of Sodom from being taken as slaves to Elam, and though they knew they owed their rescue to Lot’s connection with Abraham, yet they forgot how much in Lot’s debt they were. They had no sense of morals, no sense of justice, no sense of obligation to do good to anyone, even to someone who had saved them from slavery; they were simply ruthless in using people to gratify or enrich themselves. The angels struck the men of Sodom with blindness, but it must have been more than simple blindness. They seem to have experienced serious disorientation beyond the inability to see; they weren’t able even to think, they weren’t able to see with their minds, and so they could not find the door. The confusion of being in a crowd would have added to their disorientation, but their mental disorientation was emblematic of their total spiritual disorientation.

It should not be missed here that evil and the punishment of evil behaves in a covenantal way, just as grace does. It was the men of the city who came to molest the strangers but it would seem clear that their wives and their children were destroyed in the overthrow. If the oppression of the poor was the basic sin of Sodom, then the families of the oppressors would inevitably have been implicated in that oppression. But whether they were implicated in it or not, things work in a covenantal way, good and evil, and this is only another of many examples from Scripture. No one receives grace for himself alone; everyone around him is touched by it. Similarly, no one sins for himself alone; everyone around him is contaminated and suffers with him.

In 19:12 the angels mentioned a son-in-law and also sons in the plural as possible relatives that Lot might want to bring out with him. It is not clear what sons the angels were talking about since no son of Lot is mentioned anywhere else in Scripture. His two daughters were engaged to be married, but their fiancés thought Lot was joking or drunk. In any case, the sons-in-law seem to have left the house after the incident with the mob because the next morning only the daughters were there to be forced out of the city. Did the sons-in-law see their fathers in the mob and go out to help them home, or hide in case their fathers found them? Whatever sons Lot had, they must also have left his household before the morning.

Lot found it impossible to act on the angels’ warning. It was not through lack of faith that he hesitated. Rather, his hesitation stemmed from being rich and having to leave his wealth behind. It is clear from later events that he lost everything in the destruction; he did not have enough left to set himself up in another city. Most likely his acceptance in Sodom had been based on his wealth all along, and without it he knew all too well what fate awaited him: rape, abuse, the most abased form of slavery. The angels agreed to spare Zoar only because Lot told them he was fleeing there. Zoar must have shared the general evil character of those cities, and so the angels spared that little city for the sake of one man who was not all that righteous and didn’t go there anyway. After the destruction of Sodom Lot was afraid to stay at Zoar, and doubtless because of his poverty and of the character of the people in the city. What Lot was afraid of in Zoar is what God destroyed in Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim. It is interesting that the four cities that were destroyed were four of the five cities that Abraham rescued from the Elamites, and Zoar was another name for Bela, the fifth of the cities that had rebelled against Chedorlaomer.

Lot’s character needs some comment. Mention has already been made of his sharing in Abraham’s spiritual discernment. His recognition of the angels is all the more impressive considering that he had no history of receiving revelations from God nor of seeing angels. Though he apparently recognized the angels as messengers of God, there may be another explanation of his hospitality to the strangers. It could be that he was in the habit of going out into the public square and inviting in any strangers just because he knew the character of the people in the city. He could not single handedly stop the men of Sodom from assaulting strangers (one wonders how he ever came to choose to live there?), but he could protect those likely to be assaulted by getting them out of harm’s way. When the mob said about Lot, “This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them” it suggests that there was already some history of Lot preventing their abuse of visitors, that they had notice his interference. Perhaps it had happened once too often and now the city was determined to put a stop to it. It is another possible indication of his character that Lot’s daughters were still virgins though betrothed, presumably, to men of the city. The moral state of the city was not such as to encourage chastity in any form; and as later events show, his daughters did not have particularly moral instincts.

On the other hand, Lot offered his daughters to the mob as a substitute for the strangers. It is impossible to see this as a righteous offer of a righteous man, even allowing for the savagery of an ancient culture that did not treat women as fully human. This was not a father who loved his daughters in any sense I can understand. It is just possible that his daughters never knew of this offer, and it is possible, if we are inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, that it was part of a ruse to somehow divert the mob or buy him time. It is just possible that he had no intention of making good on his offer.

The New Testament does record Lot as being a righteous man, but it would be a mistake to take this as an endorsement of every thing he did. It would be a mistake to take this as an endorsement of any thing he did. Lot was a righteous man as you and I are righteous men or women: because God has made us so. But on the weight of this one event, if Abraham had argued God into sparing the city for the sake of one righteous man, the city would still have been destroyed. To be counted as righteous, to be pronounced righteous by the Judge of all the earth, is a different thing from being the kind of righteous man who can save others by his righteousness.



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