The Bible gives many examples of God’s position concerning those who do not have faith or do not believe that his laws are just and necessary, but only a few shows the extreme extent of his capabilities to punish amoral behavior and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is one of them. These citizens lost faith and turned to the evil practices of pagan vice and homosexuality. The book of Jude states:
Now I desire to remind you, though you are fully informed, that the Lord, who once for all saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe . . . . Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities . . . indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire (Jude 5, 7, NRSV).1
Read about Lot and his family, along with the pending destruction (c. 2000 BC) of the kingdoms of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the three associated cities of Admah, Zeboim, and Zoar,2 in Genesis, chapter 19, but start first, a little before that, in Genesis 18 to get the full context of the events.
Our story begins after men appear before Abraham and one tells him that he and his wife, Sara, would conceive and deliver a child in their old age (Genesis 18:9). There are three different ideas about whom these men were. According to the Jewish Talmud, they were three angels, Raphael, Michael, and Gabriel,3 but according to some Christians, they were seen as an appearance of the Trinity — all three men, they say, represented the one true God,4 but that seems like far too much of a leap for this author. Using a direct translation, it is only stated that one of them was the LORD and the other two were angels.
Many Christians, who do not believe in the Trinity, infer that the men were two angels, along with Jesus in his previous existence, which seems like a logical consideration. Lending credibility to this idea, is that some translations of Jude 5 (the verse quoted above) state “Jesus” instead of “Lord.”5
Whatever the case, the two angels move on to Sodom, while the LORD stays behind talking with Abraham about the impending destruction of the cities of the plain around the Dead Sea.6 The LORD said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin!” (Genesis 18:20). Abraham knew part of his extended family was in the area, so he was greatly concerned; Lot is the son of Haran, the brother of Abraham and Nahor (Genesis 11:27). During a discussion over the impending destruction of the evil cities, the LORD agrees not to destroy Sodom if as few as ten people are righteous.
The two angels arrive at Sodom in the evening during the time of highest wickedness.7 After eating, while in Lot’s home, a large crowd of men came and surrounded the house, calling to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them” (Genesis 19:5). They even tried to break down the door. Just so there is no misunderstanding, “know them” is a translator’s polite way to say they wanted to rape them. (The NAS says “have intimacies,” the NEB says “have intercourse with them,” the NKJV says “know them carnally,”8 and the popular NLT says “have sex with them.”)
Bible scholar Matthew Henry wrote, “They were sinners before the Lord exceedingly. It was the most unnatural and abominable wickedness that they were now set upon; a sin that still bears their name, and it is called Sodomy . . . It was now past dispute what Sodom’s character was and what course must be taken with it.”9
Trying to appease the rioters, Lot stepped out and attempted to reason with the mob 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” (Genesis 19:6–9).
But this tactic was of no avail and the angels had to pull Lot back into the house to save him from harm. Then they struck the men with blindness, so they couldn’t find the door. In the book The Genesis Record, the author believes this was a special kind of blindness, not one that left the victims sightless, “but rather was a blindness of confusion, so that they could see but could not identify where they were. Somehow they were unable to find the door to break it in.”10 This type of blindness was also mentioned, at a later time, when God struck the Syrian army in 2 Kings 6:18.
Was Lot Righteous or Unrighteous?
Authors and scholars debate the actions of Lot and try to justify, somehow, that he was a righteous man. His actions, however, don’t seem to warrant the definition of being moral and upright. Why did he settle in such an evil location and remain there? Why did he offer his daughters up for abuse, possibly before he learned the visitors were angels? It seems that he was pretty reconciled with his life in Sodom, until he heard the news of its coming destruction and, even then, he dillydallied before leaving. It appears that, at first glance, Lot was not a champion of righteousness. For example, even several thousand years ago, who in their right mind would offer-up his own daughters for gang rape?
Could it be that Lot and his daughters escaped only as a favor? Could the truth of the matter be that Lot and his family were spared, not because they were righteous, but because God remembered his uncle and their good fortune was due to God’s undeserving kindness to Abraham?11 Some writers believe differently and say that the few members of Lot’s family, escorted to safety, were the only righteous ones in the city, even though the Bible does not actually say that during the account. Was he righteous or unrighteous?
To help us decide, let’s consider what is written elsewhere in the Bible. At 2 Peter 2:4–8, Lot is used as an example of a righteous man, but explains that he was “greatly distressed by the licentiousness of the lawless, for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by their lawless deeds that he saw and heard.” It would seem that Lot was “in over his head” in possibly preaching to the evil citizens, although able to righteously live his own life. God saw that and decided to rescue him from his torture.
Lot is also mentioned as righteous within the Septuagint,12 in the secondary canon book of Wisdom. “Wisdom rescued a righteous man when the ungodly were perishing; he escaped the fire that descended on the Five Cities” (Wisdom 10:6).13 Let’s not forget, too, that Abraham argued with the Lord about not destroying Sodom. Besides the fact that it was his nephew living there, part of his reasoning may well have been because he also believed Lot was a righteous man.
According to the Islamic view, Lot (Lut) was commanded by Allah to go to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to preach about monotheism and stop their homosexual acts. Since his messages were ignored, the cities were destroyed.14 Of course, this is a conjectural narrative written in the Quaran by a man more than 500 years after the death of Jesus. Actually, Mohammed created his religion somewhat based on Judaism, because he had some knowledge of it.15
So, yes, Lot was righteous. He probably heard of the vice and sexual perversion of the area before settling in Sodom and tried to set an example for change, but failed; in modern vernacular, we would say that he ‘bit off more than he could chew.’ The evil of the area was just too much to overcome and his household staff, herdsmen, and maybe even some of his own family, deserted their godly ways and gave in to the temptations and vices of the pagans. This is why God decided to destroy the cities; they were given a last chance with preaching by Lot, but failed to listen and turn away from evil practices; probably not unlike many places in our world today.
At least he must have had an influence on his two single daughters, for they were still virgins. When he postulated that his daughters were acceptable substitutes for his visitors, he probably knew that the gang outside his door had no interest in them, but was trying to illustrate the importance of leaving his guests alone. They were only interested in having sexual relations with the men, because they were homosexuals.
How Were the Cities Destroyed?
The angels found not even ten righteous people and Lot discussed the pending destruction of the five cities with them. It was agreed upon that the smaller city, Zoar, would escape complete devastation, so Lot and his family could safely relocate there, and at the angels’ urging, they left the city.
According to Jewish literature, Lot had four daughters of which two were married and two unmarried but betrothed. The two married daughters and their husbands, as well as the two future bridegrooms refused to leave and were destroyed in Sodom. Lot, his wife Ado,16 and the two unmarried daughters17 fled the city, and traveled toward Zoar, but his wife didn’t make it to safety. They were all instructed to move swiftly and not to even look back. According to the Bible, somewhere along the way, Lot’s wife disobeyed this specific order and looked back. She was instantly turned into a pillar of salt.
The Genesis account indicates that fire and brimstone rained down on the cities; some versions say fire and sulfur, or a similar description. And although there are plenty of suggestions concerning how this all happened, the most scientific explanation is an earthquake, along with heavy lightening, causing an explosion and forcing dust, rock, and burning sulfur to rise and rain down on the area. Since this was the Dead Sea area and the five cities of the plains probably had a large economy based on the mining, sale, and transportation of the vast quantities of salt there, the explosive eruption must have rained down tons of salt, also.
Hebrew scholars postulate that the word for salt, מלח (malah II), can also be a verb meaning to absorb, to make dry, or extract moisture, which could explain why Lot’s wife became a pillar of salt. The heated salt falling upon her could have removed all moisture from her body, if she dallied and watched the destruction.18
Modern archeological research indicates this area is very unstable and bordered by fault lines. Earthquakes are common and there was an earthquake about the time of the cities’ destruction. It was concluded, too, that combustible materials from the area included bitumen, petroleum, natural gas, and sulfur. Evidence was also found suggesting residents fled in a hurry.19
Lot and his daughters continued to Zoar and, although Zoar was not completely destroyed, perhaps that city, too, was rained upon by burning debris. The Bible says that because of fear, they then settled in a nearby cave. What a traumatic experience this must have been. They had to leave their home in haste, their city and relatives and friends were completely destroyed, the wife/mother was killed — what a brutal physical and psychological experience, all in a very short period of time.
Over time, the daughters began to assess their situation. For women in that time period, children were necessary, not only to help them, but to secure an ability to live through their old age in comfort. Knowing no men were available and, maybe believing their chances to ever have offspring were nonexistent, they subsequently conceived a plan to become pregnant by their father. They knew their father would not willingly participate in their scheme, so they took matters into their own hands by getting their father drunk with wine and, over a period of two nights, they each raped him.
It is stated that Lot did not realize this happened — I guess that may have been true, at least until the time he noticed his daughters were growing in size. The Bible does not cover this part of the story and only mentions that two sons were born who became ancestors to two nations. “The son of the older daughter was named Moab (meaning “from the father”), and was the progenitor of the Moabites. The younger daughter’s son was named Benammi (meaning “son of my people”), and from him were descended the Ammonites.”20
Before we pass any moral judgement upon the daughters, let us examine a few other things. There was, as yet, “no actual scriptural ordinances against incest, and close marriages were common (e.g., Abram and his half-sister Sarai); so this could not have seemed as serious a crime to them as it would to us today.”21 Also, “according to the sequence of events described in the Bible itself, Lot and his daughters were not subject to any formal law against incest, since the legal codes found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were not handed down until God revealed them to Moses several centuries later.”22 Even the first-century Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, in his work The Antiquities of the Jews, defends Lot’s daughters for their deeds. He states that they thought all had perished, so had intercourse with their father, taking care not to be discovered, so as to prevent extinction of the clan.23
A thought pointed out by author Henry Morris comes to mind. Today, in our world, “after two thousand years of Christian teaching to which the Sodomites never had access, what must God think of the current revival of homosexuality, manifest in gay liberation movements and political organizations, and even gay religious societies, not only among liberals, but even among some evangelicals?”24
The cities of the plains in Lot’s time are similar to many cities in the United States and elsewhere in the world today. There is a moral breakdown in the larger progressive and socialist ruled cities; they are like magnets, attracting sin and hate. They can be very enticing places to those who love their own sin and reject any natural moral law. Like Lot did in Sodom, some people are leaving and moving to smaller towns and rural areas, because they believe those large cities are evil and will be destroyed, before the downward slide into wickedness goes much further.25
Copyright © 2018, Dr. Ray Hermann
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References & Notes
- Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), ©1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- “Sodom and Gomorrah,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 21 June 2018), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodom_and_Gomorrah
- “Three Angels,” (Ask the Rabbi, aish.com, retrieved 29 June 2018), http://www.aish.com/atr/Three_Angels.html
- Wayne, Luke, “Who were the three men who appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18?” (CARM, Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, 7 June 2016), https://carm.org/who-were-the-three-men-who-appeared-to-abraham-in-genesis-18
- The New Living Translation (NLT), the English Standard Version (ESV), and The NET Bible (NET), all translate “Lord” as “Jesus.” The Message Bible translates as “Master.” The Revised Standard Version translates as “he.” The Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) translates as “Adonai.”
- Dead Sea: a salt lake bordered by Jordan to the east and Israel and Palestine to the west. Its surface and shores are below sea level and is earth’s lowest elevation on land. The Dead Sea is the deepest hypersaline lake in the world.
“Dead Sea,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 23 June 2018), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Sea
- Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), Genesis to Deuteronomy, vol. 1, p. 98-99.
- Lint, Gregory A., (Ed.), The Old Testament Study Bible, Genesis, (Springfield, MO: World Library Press, Inc., 1994), vol.1, p. 157.
- Henry, Matthew, (see #7 above).
- Morris, Henry M., The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1976), p. 349.
- Kirsch, Jonathan, The Harlot by the Side of the Road, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1997), pp. 37-38.
- Septuagint: a Greek version of the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament), including the Apocrypha, produced in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC.
Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th ed., (USA: Oxford University Press, 2008 [revised]).
- The book of Wisdom (or Wisdom of Solomon) is one of the seven wisdom books included within the Septuagint and also included in the deuterocanonical books by the Roman Catholic Church. Verse quotation is from the NRSV.
- “Lot (biblical person),” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 24 June 2018), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lot_(biblical_person)
- Hermann, Ray, “My Knights Templar Sword: A Story from Abraham to Muslims, the Crusades, and Pirates,” (The Outlaw Bible Student, 5 May 2018), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/my-knights-templar-sword-a-story-from-abraham-to-muslims-the-crusades-and-pirates/
- “Lot’s wife,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 24 June 2018), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lot%27s_wife
- Kadari, Tamar, “Lot’s Daughters: Midrash and Aggadah,” (Jewish Women’s Archive, retrieved 28 June 2018), https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/lots-daughters-midrash-and-aggadah
- “Salt in the Bible,” (Abarim Publications, retrieved 28 June 2018), http://www.abarim-publications.com/Dictionary/m/m-l-ht.html
- Wood, Bryant G., “The Discovery of the Sin Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah,” (Associates for Biblical Research, 16 April 2008), http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/04/The-Discovery-of-the-Sin-Cities-of-Sodom-and-Gomorrah.aspx
- Morris, Henry M., The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1976), pp. 358-359.
- Kirsch, Jonathan, The Harlot by the Side of the Road, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1997), p. 43.
- Avioz, Michael, “Josephus’s Portrayal of Lot and His Family,” Journal for the Study of the Pseuoepigrapha, (Sage Publications, 2006), vol.16.1, p. 11.
- Morris, Henry M., The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1976), p. 348.
- Koenig, Don, “Herdsmen of Lot corrupted by cities of Sodom and Gomorrah,” (The Prophetic Years, 16 September 2017), http://www.thepropheticyears.com/enddepravity/herdsmen-of-lot-corrupted-by-cities-of-sodom-and-gomorrah.html