Lot’s Daughters—Sodom and Gomorrah, Part 4

***Advisory: This post touches on topics of incest, child sacrifice, and prostitution. You’ve been warned***

In the previous scene, two angels told Lot he and his family needed to run to the hills for safety, because they were about to destroy all the cities of the Plain. Zoar (previously called Bela), however, was spared because Lot asked if he could go there instead of the hills. Lot’s wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. Lot is left now with only his two daughters. We pick up the story from there.

Now Lot went up out of Zoar and settled in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar; so he lived in a cave with his two daughters.

(Gen 19:30 NRS)

He settled in the hills… and lived in a cave. That’s what he was trying to avoid earlier (vv. 19-22). I got the feeling earlier Lot did not want to go back to non-urban living. I imagine his daughters were not thrilled about it either. But he was afraid to stay in Zoar. The people there must have been as bad as Sodom. Now they are living in a cave with no one else around.

Not If You Were the Last Man on Earth!

And the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the world. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, so that we may preserve offspring through our father.”

(Gen 19:31-32 NRS)

I hardly know what to say now. Why does the firstborn daughter propose this to the younger? She says, “There is not a man on earth to come in to us….” Some commentators say this shows how important the command to “be fruitful and multiply” was. It was so important to people in the ancient world to procreate and pass on their name to the next generation, more so than today. Everyone was expected to bear children unless they physically couldn’t. They had to be sure their family would survive after their deaths, even if it meant they had to sleep with their father. All of that is true. But was fooling their father into making them pregnant the only option?

They say there is not a man on earth. True, they had witnessed widespread devastation upon the whole plain of the Jordan. Did they really think this was the whole earth? Even if it was, Zoar survived. Were there no men in Zoar? If not, why was Lot afraid to stay there? Of course there were men in Zoar. Lot moved them out of the city, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t sneak off, hang around and pretend to be prostitutes like Tamar (Gen 38:13-26).

Why didn’t they share their concerns with their father? Could it be they did not trust their father after he almost threw them to the wolves (v. 8)? That would be understandable. But they never voice any such concerns when they hatch this plan. Compare that to the detail about Tamar’s motivations to trick her father-in-law into sleeping with her, because he would not honor his obligations of Levirate marriage to her (Gen 38). And even with that consideration, their only concern appears to be to preserve offspring, even if it has to be through our father.

There are no other men living in their cave, but that cave is not the whole earth. At this point, I am tempted to joke that they must have been teenagers, because they think anything outside the world they know doesn’t exist. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

What if they were correct? Women sometimes say of a certain man they would not date him if he were “the last man on earth.” What if Lot really was the last man on earth? And they were the last women on earth? If he dies without impregnating them, the whole human race dies with them. And they felt pressured to do it quickly, because our father is now old. In that case, their plan probably would be justified. But they are not the last people on earth, are they?

The Daughters’ March to Folly

In her book, The March to Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, Barbara W. Tuchman analyzes some of the greatest acts of folly nations have committed in history. She defines folly as having three characteristics:

  1. The leader/nation pursued a course of action clearly against their self-interests.
  2. The actions prompted warnings from wise people, but they were ignored.
  3. A clear and reasonable alternative existed.

Was this clearly against their self-interest? Yes, but if they were stupid enough to believe their father was the last man on earth, they probably never thought that far ahead. Did they ignore warnings against it? No one could warn them, because they did not share their plans with anyone. Even so, I believe they still had a warning. I believe (this is just me) they must have had a still small voice inside them saying, “You don’t have to do this. The world is a big place. Find another man.” Did a clear and reasonable alternative exist? YES! In fact, several alternatives existed.

For one thing, they could have shared their concerns with their father, as I said before. I don’t mean, “Father, there is no man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the world. Will you do it, so we can have children?” They could have eased into it, like, “It looks like we are the last people on earth. Are we?” Maybe they didn’t know the destruction was targeted against specific cities, not the whole earth, but Lot did. So he could have told them, “No, we are not the last people on earth.”

“But where is a man who can produce offspring for us?”

He could have told them, “There are men beyond Zoar and beyond these hills. In fact, Uncle Abraham and Aunt Sarah are out there in Canaan. They will certainly be able to find husbands for you.”

They could have found men in Zoar, as I said before. If Lot forbade them, they could have got him drunk (first part of the plan). Then instead of sleeping with him, they could have gone back to Zoar for a night and snuck back before he was the wiser. Even that would have made more sense than what they planned. They could have asked to go to Haran, where Uncle Nahor still lived, or to find Uncle Abraham. Either of their great-uncles could have found men suitable as fathers and husbands.

But for some reason, they think the only option to “be fruitful and multiply” is to use wine as a “date rape drug” on their father. In spite of clear and reasonable alternatives, they went through with their folly.

So they made their father drink wine that night; and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; he did not know when she lay down or when she rose.

On the next day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Look, I lay last night with my father; let us make him drink wine tonight also; then you go in and lie with him, so that we may preserve offspring through our father.”

So they made their father drink wine that night also; and the younger rose, and lay with him; and he did not know when she lay down or when she rose. Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father.

(Gen 19:33-36 NRS)

I wonder what they told their father when he saw they were pregnant. Next, we get to the point of this story.

An Origin Story of Two Rival Nations

The firstborn bore a son, and named him Moab; he is the ancestor of the Moabites to this day. The younger also bore a son and named him Ben-ammi; he is the ancestor of the Ammonites to this day.

(Gen 19:37-38 NRS)

This begs the question, what kind of children will come from a union like this? Their names even hinted of ignoble origins. Moab means “from the father,” or perhaps even “from her father.” Whose father? Oh yeah. And it echoes the phrase “through our father” in verses 32 and 34 (Moabinu). Ben-ammi means “Son of my people.” ‘Ammi can refer specifically to a father’s relatives or one’s particular tribe, so it is often associated with close family ties. Only one man there is of her people. What happened when Lot heard the names, remembered the nights they got him drunk, and put two and two together? (AWKWARD!)

So this is an origin story of the Moabites and Ammonites. Moab and Ammon were two ancient enemies of Israel. This story portrays them as being founded in folly and sexual licentiousness, and that was in line with stereotypes the Israelites had of their neighbors east of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea.

Don’t Know Much about Moabites

The territory of Moab lay east of the Dead Sea. The capital was Dibon. The Israelites encountered them during their forty years wandering in the wilderness (Numbers 22-25). Balak son of Zippor was king at the time. To sum up, Balak and the people were afraid of the Israelites, so Balak hired the prophet Balaam to curse them. That backfired. The LORD spoke through him, and the curse turned into a blessing. When Balak was like, “I paid you to curse them, not bless them,” Balaam said, “Must I not take care to say what the LORD puts into my mouth?” (Num 23:12 NRS).

When that didn’t work, they sent their women to seduce them. The Israelite men slept with the women and bowed down to their gods. They yoked themselves to their chief god, Baal of Peor (Num 25:3). Yes, this is after they received the Ten Commandments, and God almost wiped them out when they built a golden calf to be their god. This is what Moses told them after that incident.

You shall not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to their gods, someone among them will invite you, and you will eat of the sacrifice.

(Exo 34:15 NRS)

Yet for all this, they broke the first commandment again in a big way. They did all of that with the women of Moab, most likely the cult prostitutes of Baal of Peor. Not only that, when Moses told them to stop, they refused.

God sent a plague that started killing the Israelites. As it spread, the people came to the tent of meeting to repent before the LORD. But one man, Zimri son of Salu, flaunted God and his people by taking his woman into his tent right in front of everyone. Phinehas, one of Aaron’s grandsons, took it upon himself to stop the plague. He charged into the tent with his spear and killed them both in the same stroke. (So they were having sex right at that moment.) That is when the plague stopped. Once again, Game of Thrones has got nothing on the Bible.

This became a cautionary tale for every generation of Israelites and Jews. What kind of opinion do you think they had of the Moabites? They were treacherous, idolatrous, and sexually amoral. If anyone asked why they were that way, just look at their origin story. They are the product of incest between father and daughter, so what do you expect?

Don’t Know Much about Ammonites

The territory of Ammon was east of the Jordan River, between the valleys of Arnon and Jabbok, in the modern nation of Jordan. They once occupied the fertile eastern banks of the Jordan River, along with the Moabites, but Sihon king of the Amorites drove them out. Perhaps their greatest infamy was that they introduced their god Milcom, a.k.a. Molech, to the Israelites. His image showed the face of a bull and arms outstretched to receive babies for sacrifice. And like their god, the Ammonites themselves were cruel (1 Sam 11:1-2; Amo 1:13). Again, Game of Thrones has got nothing on the Bible.

"The idol Moloch with seven chambers or chapels"), from Johann Lund's Die Alten Jüdischen Heiligthümer (1711, 1738).
You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. (Lev 18:21 NRS)

So when the young generation asked what kind of people would do this, they could remind them of the origin story. The Ammonites, like the Moabites, were the product of incest between father and daughter. Whether or not the story of Lot and his daughters was true or another urban legend, I don’t know. But it was the kind of story they would tell young people to warn them not to intermarry with the Ammonites and Moabites, because they would entice them to bind them to their gods (Exo 34:16; Deu 7:3-4; Jos 23:12-13). The distrust of the Moabites and Ammonites was so great Moses forbade them from joining “the assembly of the LORD” for ten generations (Deu 23:3-4).

The LORD forbade the Israelites from sacrificing children to Molech or to any gods, including himself. That was supposed to be one of the lessons of when Abraham offered Isaac to the LORD. The angel stopped him, saying,

Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.

(Gen 22:12 NRS)

They would use this story to teach their young ones, “This is why we don’t sacrifice our children like people of other nations do.” But there is evidence from the Hebrew Bible they did it anyway (Lev 18:21; 20:2-3; Deu 12:31; Jdg 11:30-31; 1 Kg 11:7, 33). In fact, even the valley of Hinnom outside of Jerusalem had a shrine to Molech.

Blood Is (Still) Thicker Than Water

But in spite of all this, Moses told the Israelites not to harass or make war with Moab or Ammon, because God said, “I will not give you any of its land as a possession, since I have given Ar as a possession to the descendants of Lot” (Deu 2:9; also v. 19 NRS). The Bible does not tell us how and when God made this promise to Moab and Ammon. Why would God do this? God blessed Ishmael and Esau because they were descendants of Abraham. Lot was not Abraham’s descendant, but he was kin by blood.

It’s never stated outright, but God seemed to have a stake in protecting anyone belonging to Abraham’s family. God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendants through Isaac, but God also provided land for the descendants of Moab, Ammon, Esau (Deu 2:5), and Ishmael (Gen 17:20), despite their inhospitable treatment of the Israelites (Num 20:18; Deu 23:4).

This is an example of the grace of God. One definition of grace is “unmerited favor.” We saw how God strong-armed Abimelech in order to protect Abraham and Sarah, even though their behavior was unworthy of a prophet and his wife. Unmerited favor. God granted favor to Ishmael, Moab, Ammon, and Esau, even though they were not worthy.

I said in an earlier post called The Meaning of the Wife-Sister Episodes, “From what I’ve gathered, God appears to Abraham for these reasons:

  1. To make promises to Abraham (usually through a covenant).
  2. To keep promises to Abraham
  3. To protect the bloodline of the Messiah.”

For God to tell Israel certain land did not belong to them because God promised it to someone else is in keeping with a God who keeps promises. And it is also in keeping with protecting the bloodline of the Messiah. Even though they were not Abraham’s seed, Moab would one day become part of the bloodline through Ruth (see below). This has led some Jewish commentators to portray Lot’s daughters in a much more positive fashion. On verse 32, Genesis Rabbah 51:8 says:

R. Tanhuma in the name of Samuel: “What is written is not, ‘So that we may keep a child alive from our father,’ but rather, ‘so we may preserve offspring through our father.’ That is to say, the king-messiah, who will come from another source.”

Sometimes in reading these Rabbinic commentaries, I feel a little stupid. I don’t see the difference between “So that we may keep a child alive from our father” and “So we may preserve offspring through our father,” but an article on The Torah website explained it this way:

According to this understanding, the daughters may not believe that they are part of the only family left on earth, but intuit that it is essential that Lot’s line continues, since the king-messiah is destined to come from this line.

Lot and His Daughters’ Motives for their Incestuous Union

Wow! I did not see that coming. Talk about things getting lost in translation. If they somehow intuited Lot’s line had to continue for the Messiah to be born, that would mean they were not just a couple of silly teenagers who showed extremely poor judgment. They were prophets who knew this unseemly act really was necessary. And (if the Rabbis are correct), it changes everything I said about their folly earlier.

Was it against their self-interest? Yes, but they understood the sacrifice they were making so that the Messiah could come into the world. Were there any warnings against it? No. When that still small voice spoke to them and said, “You can find another man,” they would have answered, “The Messiah has to come through our father. Now that Mother is gone, we are his last chance.” Did a reasonable alternative exist? If the issue was not just whether they would have children but whether all the pieces of the Messiah’s lineage would be in place, then no. And there is even evidence in the Hebrew text that Lot might have taken them away from Zoar to isolate them in a cave, so that the daughters would have no other alternative (Genesis Rabbah 51:8-9).

Jan Matsys's portrayal of Lot with his Daughters
“On the basis of what is said in the following verse: ‘He who separates himself seeks desire’ (Prov. 18:1), it is clear that Lot lusted after his daughter” (Genesis Rabbah 51:9).

Considering how conservative the Rabbis were about sex, I’m surprised they take such a positive view of Lot’s daughters. But one thing is clear. The Rabbis recognize that through Moab, Lot became a branch in the family tree of the Messiah, and they judge Lot’s daughters through that lens. It was because of Ruth that her ancestor, Moab, had to be born, so let’s see how she becomes part of the most important lineage in the Bible.

Forbidden Fruit Is Sometimes a Good Thing

In the time of the judges, an Israelite named Elimelech brought his wife, Naomi, and two sons to Moab to escape a famine (Rut 1:1), which indicates sometimes relations with Moabites and Ammonites were friendly. Ruth, a Moabitess, married one of Elimelech’s sons (despite Moses’ prohibition). When Elimelech and both his sons died, Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, decided to go back to her hometown of Bethlehem, alone. She urged Ruth to go back to her family, because there was no way as a widow she could take care of Ruth. But Ruth wondered who would take care of Naomi, so she insisted on going back with her. Her promise to Naomi has become one of the most famous expressions of loyalty in all of literature.

“Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die– there will I be buried. May the LORD do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”

(Rut 1:16-17 NRS)

Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Jews call this type of conversion being “born again.” Because first, you are born as part of one people, and the gods of your people become your gods. It was that way in the ancient world, and Jews were no exception. Therefore, most Jews are simply born that way. But what if a Gentile wants to convert to Judaism? That means accepting the Jewish people as his/her own people and the Jewish God as his/her God. Thus, a convert is “born again” as a Jew.

Ruth, in effect, has just been born again to be part of Naomi’s people. It meant leaving her family, her nation, her gods, everything she was familiar with behind, so her mother-in-law would not be alone. That takes guts. When they made it to Bethlehem, they encountered a man named Boaz, who just happened to be related to Ruth’s dead husband. Under the rules of Levirate marriage, if a man dies without a son, his nearest male kin (usually a brother or cousin) must take care of his widow. His choices are

  1. Lie with her and give her a son, so she will have a share in her son’s inheritance.
  2. Marry her, and accept the obligations that come with it.

Ruth asks Boaz for option 2 based on his kinship with Naomi. There is one other man who is closer kin and has the first right of redemption. But Boaz convinces him not to claim it, clearing the way for him to marry Ruth.

So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the LORD made her conceive, and she bore a son.

(Rut 4:13 NRS)

And she bore a son, that was always the most important result of a Levirate marriage. However, since she became his wife, their relationship did not end there. And here’s the surprise ending. She became the great-grandmother of David, thus placing her in the chain of ancestry of the Messiah (Rut 4:17). For her loyalty to Naomi, the women of Bethlehem praised Ruth.

Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.”

(Rut 4:14-15 NRS)

More to you than seven sons is truly remarkable praise for any woman, let alone a Moabitess, in such a patriarchal culture.

The next-of-kin, or “kinsman-redeemer” (see Translation Notes) refers to the son Ruth bore through Boaz, who loved Ruth not just for her outer beauty but recognized her inner beauty in how she cared for Naomi, his relative.

May his name be renowned in Israel! Considering his great-grandson would be King David, no one could deny that blessing came true. But it would not have happened if he had not had the courage to defy convention and marry a foreign woman, a Moabite no less.

Undoubtedly, the character of any Moabite or Ammonite would be suspect to the Jews until proven otherwise. They needed a story like this to show them the danger was not in marrying someone of the wrong ethnicity, race, nationality, or skin color. The danger was in marrying a woman who embodied the morality of Moabite or Ammonite culture. Ruth’s actions showed she was a valorous woman (Pro 31:10ff), no matter who her ancestors were.

References

Who were the Moabites?

Who were the Ammonites?

Who was Moloch/Molech?

Lot and his daughters’ motives for their incestuous union

Lot’s Daughters: Midrash and Aggadah

Wikipedia

If you or your library have a subscription to Biblical Archaeology Review, you can read this article: “Ammon, Moab, and Edom: Gods and Kingdoms East of the Jordan.”

Translation Notes



… or when she arose

וּבְק֗וּמָֽהּ׃ (Gen 19:33 WTT; ubiqumah) The dot over the qaph is an editorial mark called a Puncta Extraordinaria. It possibly changes the meaning from “[he did not know when she lay down] or when she arose,” to “[he did not know when she lay down], but he knew when she arose.”




Goel: The kinsman-redeemer.

גֹּאֵ֖ל (Rut 4:14 WTT) (go’el) = “Next-of-kin.”

In form, this is a masculine singular participle of the verb ga’al, meaning “to redeem.” Go’el in the NRSV is translated “next-of-kin,” but in other translations it is rendered “redeemer.” The term was often used in a specialized sense of the obligation of the nearest male kin to redeem a family member from slavery, to buy back family property lost through debt, and—in this case—to deliver a male relative’s widow from childlessness by marrying her and giving her a son. When used in the context of the obligations of the nearest male kin, I believe “kinsman-redeemer” is the best way to translate it.

Hol1362  גָּאַל (ga’al) verb qal participle masculine singular absolute homonym 1

make a claim for a person or thing > reclaim him/it, redeem; — 2. duty of the male relative of s.one who has died leaving a childless widow to deliver her from childlessness by marriage Ru 44•6, the man in question being called go’el, deliverer Ru 220.

-Halladay, p. 53.

Moab = “from (the) father”

The meaning of the name Moab is not certain. The name sounds like the Hebrew phrase “from our father” (‌מֵאָבִינוּ‎‏‎, meavinu) which the daughters used twice (vv. Gen 19:32, Gen 19:34). This account is probably included in the narrative in order to portray the Moabites, who later became enemies of God’s people, in a negative light.

NET Bible, Ref Gen 19:37, sn 102.

Strong’s Data

04124 מוֹאָב Mow’ab {mo-awb}

Meaning:  Moab = “of his father” n pr m 1) a son of Lot by his eldest daughter 2) the nation descended from the son of Lot n pr loc 3) the land inhabited by the descendants of the son of Lot

Origin:  from a prolonged form of the prepositional prefix m- and 01; from (her [the mother’s]) father; (TWOT – 1155 [emphasis mine]).

Usage:  AV – Moab 166, Moabites 15; 181.

Ben-Ammi = “Son of my people”

cf. Lo-Ammi = “Not my people” (Hos 1:9); `am = “people.”

The name Ben-Ammi means “son of my people.” Like the account of Moab’s birth, this story is probably included in the narrative to portray the Ammonites, another perennial enemy of Israel, in a negative light.

NET Bible, Ref Gen 19:38, sn 103.

Strong’s Data:

01151 בֶּן־עַמִּי Ben-`Ammiy {ben-am-mee’}

Meaning:  Ben-ami = “son of my people” 1) son of Lot, born to his second daughter, progenitor of the Ammonites

`Ammon = “tribal”

A nation believed to have originated from Ben-ammi.

Strong’s Data:

05983 עַמּוֹן `Ammown {am-mone’}

Meaning:  Ammon = “tribal” 1) a people dwelling in Transjordan descended from Lot through Ben-ammi

`am = “people”

6342  עַם

I עַם: sf. עַמִּי; pl. sf. עַמָּיו, עַמֶּיהָ, עַמֶּיךָ: [father’s brother, f.’s relative >] relative: sg. in name, Gn 1938; coll. father’s relatives Je 3712; pl. father’s relatives: Gn 258.

6343  עַם

II עַם: עָֽם, הָעָם; sf. 1. (a whole) people (emphasis on internal ethnic solidarity) Gn 116;…people to whom s.one belongs: benê ±ammim fellow-countrymen Lv 2017;… — 3. oft. not a whole people but a portion: people, inhabitants:…people attached to an individual Gn 328….

(Halladay, pg 275)

Run To The Hills! Sodom and Gomorrah, Part 3

Part 2 of this series dealt with Lot inviting two strangers, who turned out to be angels, into his home, and the inhospitable response of the men of Sodom. The two angels who visited Lot told him he must leave Sodom immediately, along with sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city. God is about to destroy not only this city but every city in the Plain of the Jordan. He told his sons-in-law, but they did not believe him. Only his wife and two daughters would go with him (Genesis 19:1-14). We pick up the story from there.

When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Get up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or else you will be consumed in the punishment of the city.”

But he lingered; so the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and left him outside the city. When they had brought them outside, they said, “Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, or else you will be consumed.”

(Gen 19:15-17 NRS)

Lot seemed to recognize the urgency of the situation before. So why did he linger?

And Lot said to them, “Oh, no, my lords; your servant has found favor with you, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life; but I cannot flee to the hills, for fear the disaster will overtake me and I die. Look, that city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there–is it not a little one?–and my life will be saved!”

 (Gen 19:18-20 NRS)

If he runs to the hills, Lot is afraid the disaster will overtake me and I die. How far outside the city do they have to go to be safe? It doesn’t say. But for some reason, he thinks he will be safe in a city (just a little one) nearby (and it’s just a little one). What does he really fear, the disaster that could overtake him, or surviving after the disaster? And why is it so important that the city is a little one? Maybe he thinks the rampant wickedness he saw in Sodom only happens in big cities.

It sounds like Lot has become all “city-fied.” He knew what it was to live as a nomad when he was with uncle Abraham. But he has left the nomadic and herding lifestyle for the glamour, stability, and security of a city. He has gotten so used to city life, he does not think he can survive alone in the hills. I can relate to that. My greatest fear is the loss of civilization. I would not do well living off the land. If God told me to leave my home right now and flee to the hills, because God had sent angels to destroy my city (which really is just a little one), I think I would ask if I could go to a nearby city instead.

He said to him, “Very well, I grant you this favor too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there, for I can do nothing until you arrive there.” Therefore the city was called Zoar.

(Gen 19:21-22 NRS)

Zoar means “little.” Remember, Lot said it’s a little city. Every city back then had a story about how it got its name. It was called Bela before (Gen 14:2), but Lot gets credit for giving it the name Zoar.

I grant you this favor too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. Originally, the plan was to destroy the whole plain and everything in it (v. 17). Lot appears to have saved the city of Bela. If he wants to rename it Zoar, let him.

I can do nothing until you arrive there. Does this mean Sodom would have been spared if Lot had just squatted there? I don’t think so. The city was going to be destroyed no matter what Lot did. The angel is impressing on him he needs to hurry if he wants to escape with his wife and daughters.

The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar.

Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

(Gen 19:23-26 NRS)

The cities in all the Plain were Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela, a.k.a. Zoar (Gen 14:2; Deu 29:23). All but Bela/Zoar were destroyed.

But Lot’s wife…looked back and became a pillar of salt. Today, there is a pillar salt formation on the coast of the Dead Sea called (you guessed it) “Lot’s Wife.”

Salt formation called "Lot's Wife"
Daddy, what is that?

That pillar jutting up at the top is twenty meters high, so very unlikely this is her.

I got to swim in the Dead Sea on my Israel trip back in 1993. If you love floating on your back, this is the place. The salt content is so high you can’t sink, even if you try. That can create some fascinating salt formations. It’s not hard to imagine how people could have seen semi-human looking formations at some point.

Salt pillar by the Dead Sea
Remember Lot’s wife. Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it. (Luk 17:32-33 NRS)

People remember Lot’s wife, even today. Sounds like Lot’s wife would not count among the “ten righteous” either. The angels warned them not to look back (v. 17). What is that about? Did God punish her for her disobedience? That’s a harsh punishment for a small offense. I mean, people stop to look at a car crash or a train wreck. Why not fire raining down from heaven?

Maybe it was the natural consequence of looking on that fire and brimstone raining from heaven. If you stick your finger in an electric socket, God doesn’t punish you with a great shock. That is the natural consequence of it. But how can looking at fire turn you into salt? People have seen fire and brimstone rain down when an active volcano spews it into the air. They don’t turn into a pillar of salt. However, the bodies recovered from Pompei sort of look like they are covered in salt. Could it be that when she stopped to look back, she got covered in volcanic ash? I don’t know how feasible that is. It’s just a thought.

I can see an origin story in this, but I’m having a hard time coming up with any moral lesson from a woman turning into a pillar of salt. When it comes to theological and moral lessons, I’ll take Jesus’ help any day. Does he have anything to say about this?

Jesus’ Commentary

In one episode from Luke, he tells the Pharisees what the coming of the Kingdom of God will not be (Luk 17:20-24). And he says the Son of Man will have to suffer and die first (17:25). Then he talks about what it will be like.

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them.

Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed all of them — it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.

(Luk 17:26-30 NRS)

He compares the coming of the Kingdom of God to the days of Noah, when God sent a flood because all of humanity had become too wicked. And the day Lot left Sodom was the same kind of situation. They were eating and drinking, buying and selling, marrying and being given in marriage, as if they did not have a care in the world. Then in a moment, they were destroyed by flood and fire respectively. This, he said, is what it would be like when the Son of Man is revealed. That actually makes me nervous about praying, Thy kingdom come. But there is a reason I’m referring to this.

 On that day, anyone on the housetop who has belongings in the house must not come down to take them away; and likewise anyone in the field must not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.

(Luk 17:31-33 NRS)

Here we are. He refers not only to Sodom but Lot’s wife. He uses them as a cautionary tale to say, when the Son of Man is revealed, there will first be disaster and total destruction, like Sodom. Do not go back into your house for your belongings. If you are in the field, do not turn back to the city. Do not look back, like Lot’s wife did. Just run away. Get the [&#&^%] away from there as fast as you can! NOW!

Run to the hills, Lot! Run to the hills, people of Jerusalem!

When disaster comes, your only thought should be to run away. Rescue any family members you can, but don’t worry about the possessions you left behind. Don’t worry about the life you built. That life is over. Remember Lot’s wife. She has become an object lesson in what not to do in that situation. Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.

Remember Lot’s Wife

What does this say about Lot’s wife? Verse 33 indicates she was so attached to the life she built in Sodom. Jesus loved to use verbal irony, and this is one of his most famous examples. She looked back because she could not let go of her life and lost it as a result. Normally, I would say this is speculation. The text of Genesis does not say why she looked back. But this is coming from Jesus. When a man predicts his own death and resurrection, and pulls it off, I tend to believe what he says.

Most traditions agree the lesson of Lot’s wife is about not becoming too attached to your life in a particular setting. That place and the life you love—the city, the nation, your neighbors, your home, your job—could be gone in an instant. When disaster comes, run from it and leave everything behind. Don’t cling to your old way of life. Yes, you will have to start over. That is difficult for anyone. But save your life first. Then worry about rebuilding.

70 A.D.

I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.”

[Other ancient authorities add verse 36, “Two will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.”]  

Then they asked him, “Where, Lord?”

He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”

(Luk 17:34-37 NRS)

Okay, I looked for help from Jesus to explain Lot’s wife. He did well up to this point. But I have to admit, he lost me on that last bit. Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather? What is that supposed to mean? I’m not even going to guess, so I’ll only comment on what he said before that.

Some people read this passage as a description of the Rapture. I don’t. He is saying it will be dangerous for anyone who stays in the city. I think sayings like this need to be read in light of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., less than a generation after Jesus’ crucifixion. In the days leading up to that, they should have been preparing to flee the city. Luke points to this elsewhere more explicitly, again quoting Jesus:

“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written.

“Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”

(Luk 21:20-24 NRS)

And again,

As he came near and saw [Jerusalem], he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.

“Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

(Luk 19:41-44 NRS)

It might be hard to understand why Jesus would describe the destruction of the Holy City in such graphic language, but this is what it was like when an enemy broke through the city walls. Jesus keeps warning the people of Jerusalem destruction is coming, because they did not recognize the things that make for peace. They did not recognize the time of their visitation from God. Neither did the people of Sodom.

Throughout its history, Jerusalem killed the prophets and stoned those who were sent to the city to warn it (Luk 13:34). They thought no one could touch them because the temple of the LORD was in their city. They knew God had destroyed cities, like Sodom and Gomorrah, for violence and oppression. The irony is they never believed it could happen to them. So it looks like we have the reason why Lot’s wife looked back, and how Jesus used it to warn the people of Jerusalem what to do when the Romans come to destroy the city.

Sodom and Lot’s wife became cautionary tales for the Jews, lasting to Jesus’ day and beyond.

Origin Myths/Origin Stories/Creation Myths

Everywhere around the world people tell stories about how the universe began and how humans came into being. Scholars, namely anthropologists and ethnologists, call these tales “creation myths”, “origin myths,” or “origin stories.”

Some origin stories are based on real people and events, while others are based on more imaginative accounts. Origin stories can contain powerful, emotional symbols that convey profound truths, but not necessarily in a literal sense.

Khan Academy. “Activity: Intro to Origin Stories

I like to think of them as “imaginative stories to teach a theological and/or moral lesson.” Lot’s wife is not a story about the creation of the universe or of humanity, like Genesis 1-3 or the Babylonian Enuma Elish. But all cultures also have stories of the origins of things like cities, nations, ethnic groups, and natural creatures and wonders.

Why do spiders spin webs?

Greek mythology included a story about the origin of the spider. A woman named Arachne was so skilled at weaving, she challenged the goddess to a contest. Her hubris became so great, Athena could not tolerate it anymore, so she turned her into a spider. To the ancient Greeks, it explained the origins of the spider and why the spider is so skilled at weaving its web. To this day, biologists call spiders Arachnids.

Creation myths like these usually contain a theological and/or moral lesson as well. Like many Greek myths, Arachne is a cautionary tale against hubris. No matter how great you think you are, your power and skill are nothing compared to the gods and goddesses. They are immortal, and we are mortal. To compare your greatness to theirs is not only stupid, it’s deadly. That was the theological and moral point of most Greek myths.

Where did that salt pillar come from?

Hebrews were no different in this regard than Greeks or Babylonians. Their children would have asked questions about that big pillar on Mount Sodom, for example. Stories like these did double duty. They answered questions like, where did that salt pillar come from? They also contained important life lessons for their culture.

“Mount Sodom, a salt rock plug, is located in the South-East corner of the Dead Sea. Its slopes are covered with formations of salt that appear to look like pillars. The pillars are often referred to and pointed out as “Lot’s wife” in reference to the biblical tale.”

The Dead Sea in the Bible: Biblical History of the Lowest Point on Earth

So the question to ask is not whether it really happened. The question is, what is the theological and/or moral point of it? That is true not only for the Bible but many stories from the ancient world. Here are the theological and moral points of the story that I think the original audience would have picked up from the story of Sodom and Lot’s wife.

  1. An origin story for those almost human looking salt pillars.
  2. An origin story of how the once fertile plain of the Jordan became desolate and lifeless.
  3. God will judge a people favorably for hospitality and justice, and unfavorably for injustice and inhospitality.
  4. When the iniquity of a people is complete, God’s wrath is severe (Gen 15:16). But before then, God will take any opportunity to save them.
  5. When it’s time to leave a bad situation, just leave and don’t look back.
  6. Your life can be turned upside down at any moment. Don’t get too attached to the life you have now.
  7. For early Christians, Lot’s wife became a metaphor for one who leaves the faith because of persecution or the cares of this world (cf. Mar 4:16-19; Mat 13:20-22; 19:23-24; Luk 8:13-14; Eph 4:22-24; Heb 10:38-39; Rev 2:10).

More for Writers: A little more irony

When Abraham and Lot split from each other (Genesis 13), Abraham gave Lot his choice.

“If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.”

(Gen 13:9 NRS)

Abraham does not care which land he gets. He only wants peace with his nephew. Lot is more practically minded.

Lot looked about him, and saw that the plain of the Jordan was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar; this was before the LORD had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. So Lot chose for himself all the plain of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward; thus they separated from each other.

(Gen 13:10-11 NRS)

The garden of the LORD, no doubt, refers to the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:8-15). They had just seen how well watered the land of Egypt was along the Nile (Gen 12:14-20). Considering his servants just quarreled with Abraham’s servants over whose waters were whose, a land that is well watered everywhere would naturally be enticing. This seems to imply that Abraham trusted God for his needs, while Lot focused on what looked more naturally favorable.

I may be in the minority, but I don’t fault Lot for that. Any shepherd or farmer would prefer a land that is well watered to one where you can find water, but you have to search diligently for it. I don’t believe trusting God means you don’t choose the land that is better for your flocks and herds.

However, since we have seen this story play out, the irony of that choice is now obvious. His decision turned into a disaster for him and his family. He chose the plain of the Jordan because it was fertile. But that was before the LORD rained fire and brimstone on the whole area (Gen 13:10). After that, the entire land and every living thing, all the people and everything that grew on the ground, was reduced to smoke and ash. Again, this sounds like an origin story. How did a land that was once fertile and well watered become so desolate? God overthrew the cities, because the cry of its victims became too great.

That understanding of God’s justice and righteousness remained important to Abraham’s descendants throughout the Bible. It led God to rescue them from bondage in Egypt. It also led to judgment against them. When the outcry of the poor, the slave, the stranger, the alien, the widow and orphan in their own nations became too great, God passed judgment on Israel and Judah. This became another irony as the oppressed became the oppressors, and God eventually punished them just as God punished Sodom, Gomorrah, and Egypt, the difference being by enemy armies rather than natural disaster.

What’s Next for Lot and His Daughters?

It looks like things have gotten as bad as they can for Lot. His household is not as righteous as his Uncle Abraham had hoped. Six possibly righteous are down to three—Lot and his two daughters.

Next week, I will continue this series on Sodom and Gomorrah. This next scene is one of those moments that has made me say many times, Game of Thrones has got nothing on the Bible. It involves incest. You can decide if that makes you want to read it or not.

Further Study

Origin Stories

Why Was Lot’s Wife Turned Into A Pillar of Salt?

Enuma Elish: full text

Origin/creation stories

The Rapture Is Not biblical

The Rapture Theory Debunked

Debunking the Rapture: Barbara Rossing

Translation Notes

וַתַּבֵּ֥ט אִשְׁתּ֖וֹ מֵאַחֲרָ֑יו  (Gen 19:26 WTT)

But Lot’s wife looked back…

Hol5329  נבט  verb hiphil waw consec imperfect 3rd person feminine singular apocopated … 2. w. prep.: a) w. °aµ­r¹yw look behind onesf. Gn 1917, m¢°aµ­r¹yw 1926;

Natab means to look at. But when paired with the preposition ‘acharayv, it means “to look back” or “look behind oneself.” Some commentators try to make it mean more than that, but I’m not convinced.

Pillar, on the other hand, might have a deeper meaning.

Hol5658  נְצִיב  noun common masculine singular construct homonym 1

I נְצִיב: pl. בִים(י)נְצִ: — 1. pillar (of salt) Gn 1926; — 2. (military) post, garrison 1K 419. (pg 244)

Netzib means pillar, as in pillar of salt (or marble or whatever). It can also refer to a military post or garrison (1 Sa 10:5; 2 Sa 8:6). It can refer to a person, as in a deputy or officer (1 Kg 4:19; 2 Ch 8:10). The website Got Questions says,

The image of Lot’s wife standing watch over the Dead Sea area—where to this day no life can exist—is a poignant reminder to us not to look back or turn back from the profession of faith we have made, but to follow Christ without hesitation and abide in His love. Cf. Eph 4:22-24.

– “Why was Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt?

This story of Lot’s wife turned a natural salt formation into a “sentinel” reminding us not to turn back from Christ, but to “abide in His love,” as the above quote said. I have my doubts about whether it “really happened” but not about the object lesson.

Ancient Hospitality–Sodom and Gomorrah, part 2

***Advisory: This post touches on topics of homosexuality and rape. You’ve been warned.***

The last time Abraham saw Lot, he had to rescue him from enemy kings. Lot settled in what are called the cities of the Plain (Sodom, Gomorrah, Adman, Zeboiim, and Bela). The kings of those cities when to war against the kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam, and Goiim. One battle went badly for the kings of the Plain, and Lot was captured along with others. To get a sense of how wealthy Abraham was, he led his own trained men, 318 of them, in a surprise raid that defeated the four kings, rescued Lot and the other prisoners, and brought back all the treasure the four kings had taken (Genesis 14:1-16).

This is the only scene where we see Abraham as a military commander, but he obviously had some experience in this area. He had hundreds of trained men, so these are not just shepherds and cowboys who pick up a sword or spear only when called to war. They were soldiers. And he successfully led a nighttime raid. Any military expert will tell you that is not easy, especially when you don’t have night vision goggles. I really wish we could have seen more of this side of Abraham.

After that, Abraham probably hoped his nephew would join up with him again. Lot chose to stay in Sodom, and that decision would come back to bite him.

Now, God has come down to investigate Sodom and Gomorrah and determine whether God should destroy them wholesale or spare them. Abraham got God to agree that if there are “ten righteous” in the city, God will not destroy them.

Next stop, Sodom

The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom.

(Genesis 19:1a)

The LORD is no longer with the two angels. We were told the LORD went his way (18:33). It appears the LORD was not there to visit Sodom but to share his plans with Abraham. Why was Lot sitting in the gateway of Sodom? The text does not tell us, but could it be because he wanted to protect any strangers who came to stay in the city?

When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground. He said, “Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way.”

They said, “No; we will spend the night in the square.”

But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.

(Gen 19:1b-3 NRS)

Notice how similar Lot’s invitation to these strangers is to Abraham’s (Gen 18:2-5).

  • Both begged them to turn aside to their house and not pass them by.
  • Both addressed the strangers as “my lord(s).”
  • Both referred to themselves as “your servant.”
  • Both offered to wash their feet.
  • Both offered them sleep or rest.
  • Both prepared a feast for them.

This must have been a standard way of offering hospitality in their culture.

When the angels said, No, we will spend the night in the square, Lot insisted (compare Judges 19:15-20). And like Abraham, he made them a feast. That is still typical of the hospitality the Bedouin.

Bedouin Chief
Don Belt, wrote in National Geographic, he was “short, slim, dark—and had face as fierce as a shrike, with a pointed beak and sharp little beard thrust forward like a dagger.”

He baked unleavened bread (or rather, his wife did) because it was late. There wasn’t time to let the bread rise.

But before they lay down, 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, so that we may know them.”

(Gen 19:4-5 NRS)

The purpose of this scene is to show what it looks like when an entire city of people has become so evil God has no choice but to destroy them all. If there are any righteous in the city, even as few as ten, God will spare the city for their sakes. Now, all the people to the last man surrounded the house. In most any place, you would say there are some good people and some bad. Not in Sodom. There is no one righteous, no, not one (Psalm 14:2).

Men of Sodom demand Lot hand over the strangers to them
Inhospitality in Sodom

Bring them out to us, so that we may know them. In case you have never heard the phrase, “to know someone in the Biblical sense,” they were not asking for an introduction.

I haven’t seen you around here before. What is your name? How long are you staying? Overnight? So you’re traveling. Where are you headed? Beer-sheba? Great! If you see my Uncle Ziklag, say hello.

No! They did not want to know who they were. They wanted to know them “in the Biblical sense.” This has led many people to mistakenly think this story is about homosexuality. It’s not. It’s about inhospitality. That will become clear as we work our way through the story.

Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

(Gen 19:6-8 NRS)

Okay, this is another moment where I have to reiterate, I am not defending his actions or motivations. I am trying to clarify a cultural practice that is significantly different from ours. When the men’s intentions toward his guests are clear, Lot offers his two daughters to them in their place. That is hard for us to understand. Why would he do that? Because, as he said, they have come under the shelter of my roof.

Ancient Hospitality

Remember how Abraham and Lot gave almost the exact same invitation to the angels. Think about the culture that taught its people, when you see a traveler passing by your home, immediately offer hospitality to them. Take them in. If they refuse, insist. Give them the best food you have, wash their feet, and give them whatever they need to refresh themselves.

Their sense of right and wrong in many ways was based on how they practiced hospitality. One corollary of that was when you take a stranger into your home, your duty to protect them was even greater than protecting your family (cf. Judges 19:23-24).

If a conflict occurs the host is expected to defend the guest as if he were a member of his family. One Bedouin told National Geographic, “Even if my enemy appears at this tent, I am bound to feast him and protect him with my life.”

Bedouin Appearance, Customs, and Character

Another sacrifice he is making. His daughters are virgins and betrothed. One of the most sacred duties of a father was to keep his daughters virgins until their wedding night. Men in that society wanted to marry virgins. The contract for marriage would have been rendered null and void. If they survive, the daughters will not only lose the men they are promised to. Their chances of finding any husband would be slim to none.

You may not agree that he should have offered his daughters this way. I don’t blame you. In fact, I hope you don’t agree with it. I’m just saying this is what their culture taught. And their hospitality really is beautiful under normal circumstances. In the next verse, I want you to think of how someone from that culture would view the response from the men of Sodom.

And just in case anyone is thinking this, Lot did not offer his daughters to them because it is morally better to rape women than men. Rape is rape, and it is always wrong.

But they replied, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near the door to break it down.

(Gen 19:9 NRS)

This would be the epitome of evil to those from a culture like Abraham and Lot’s. And it would have been shocking to the story’s original audience, even more than today.

Now we will deal worse with you than with them. Lot, so far, has shown exemplary hospitality to the angels. The men of Sodom, on the other hand, wanted to exploit them to gratify their own base desires. The law of Moses repeatedly told the Israelites to be kind to the alien who lives among them. Now, they despise Lot for being an alien. He tries to meet his duty to protect his guests, and their response is to deal worse with you than them. To see just how bad their intentions were, see Judges 19:25.

This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! But in this case, it is not Lot who will judge them.

But the men inside reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they were unable to find the door.

(Gen 19:10-11 NRS)

The angels came to see if the cry against Sodom and Gomorrah was as great as they heard. There is no more benefit of the doubt. They had heard with their ears. Now they see with their eyes. They rescue Lot and his daughters by striking the men with blindness. The author of Hebrews said not to neglect hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares (Heb 13:2). The men of Sodom showed inhospitality to angels unawares, and that cannot end well for them.

But what about homosexuality?

This is what most people think of when they hear Sodom and Gomorrah. The term Sodomy comes from this story. Kind of makes it ironic that the Village People, a group with such obvious appeal to gay men, would record a song about it. I’d really love to know the “Behind the Music” story on that.

I have avoided linking this story with homosexuality, and that was deliberate. As a reminder, let’s look at that passage again.

But before they lay down, 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, so that we may know them.”

(Gen 19:4-5 NRS)

You’re probably thinking, “You already said they wanted to know them in the Biblical sense. How is that not homosexuality?” The same way when a man rapes a woman, it’s not about heterosexuality. It’s about rape. Rape is wrong no matter what the gender.

This scene follows the hospitality of Abraham and Lot to the angels. What would be the complete opposite of that? Harm, torture, humiliate, then kill. They did not just want to have sex with them. It wasn’t just, “Ooh, those men are so hot!” They wanted to torture and humiliate them. Why? Because they could.

Travelers are vulnerable. They don’t know anyone there. They don’t know the area, the customs, and may not know the language. Taking advantage of someone’s vulnerability to gratify your own urges, and taking pleasure in their suffering, are the worst impulses humans have. This story depicts an entire people who have given free rein to those impulses.

In the world at that time, the greatest humiliation you could inflict on a man was to use him as a woman. There are ancient depictions of conquering armies (I don’t remember who, but I’ve seen them) bending the enemy soldiers over and taking them from behind. The message is clear. We not only defeated them. We utterly humiliated them. We made them our “bitches.” That was what the men of Sodom wanted to do.

WWJD?

My final proof comes from Jesus himself. When he sent the Twelve out to the towns of Galilee and Judea, he told them what to do if they receive them, and what to do if they don’t. Then he described what would happen on the day of judgment to those that don’t extend hospitality to them.

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

(Mat 10:14-15 NRS)

Whenever Jesus talked about the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, he referred to inhospitality, not homosexuality. Refusing hospitality to Jesus’ disciples, he said, was an even greater sin than refusing hospitality to angels. They knew what happened in the latter case.

I know that sounds harsh. But what I want you to see here is in their world, the worst sin is inhospitality, not homosexuality. And not just for the Hebrews. The ancient Greek myth of Baucis and Philemon hits the same themes of ordinary people welcoming Zeus and Hermes into their home, unaware that they are entertaining gods. They are rewarded for their hospitality, while their town is punished for its inhospitality.

As modern readers, this should be a reminder that these stories did not come from a modern world. That means in some ways their values will be different, and in some ways they will be the same. Their ethic of hospitality was much more generous than ours. Their ethic of kindness to the alien and stranger was much more serious than ours. You cannot understand the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah without understanding that.

Did Abraham miscalculate?

Then the men said to Lot, “Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city–bring them out of the place. For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it.”

So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up, get out of this place; for the LORD is about to destroy the city.”

But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.

(Gen 19:12-14 NRS)

In the last post, I raised the question of whether each member of Lot’s household could have counted towards the “ten righteous.” The last time Abraham saw Lot, he had flocks and herds, and servants and herdsmen to manage them. He might not have had his daughters yet. If they were betrothed to men, but never married, they probably would have been in their young teens. Abraham might have been thinking, “Lot, his wife, his servants and herdsmen, and maybe a son or two. That’s at least ten.”

But Lot is no longer a herder. He’s a city-dweller. He did not need the servants and herdsmen anymore, so he let them go. Now, they are down to Lot, his wife, two daughters, and two sons-in law (not married but promised to his daughters). And even among them, there are serious doubts they could count if they were not part of Lot’s household. The (soon to be) sons-in-law think Lot is jesting. If being righteous includes recognizing when and how God is moving, they just failed.

Here is more irony. What Abraham thought must have been at least ten was at most six, now down to four. Clearly, it is time for Lot to leave, and anyone he has in the city: his wife and two daughters are all who have any chance of escaping the wrath of God. In part 3, we’ll see how they fare. Spoiler: Not well.

Translation Notes

האֶחָ֤ד בָּֽא־לָגוּר֙  (Gen 19:9 WTT)

This one came to sojourn…

Hol1494  גּור verb qal infinitive construct homonym 1  

stay as foreigner and sojourner (« g¢r) Gn 2123•34;

Gur is in the infinitive form, which is usually to + verb. To sojourn or to stay as a foreigner, is how that would work in English. However, we don’t always have to be so literal. An infinitive can also be used as a noun. So other translations say, “This man,” they said, “came here as a resident alien” (Gen 19:9 NAB). “This one came in as an alien,”  (Gen 19:9 NAS). “This fellow came here as a foreigner,” (Gen 19:9 NIV). All of these are legitimate translations.