God’s Acts of Providence (12)

John_Martin_-_Sodom_and_GomorrahThe Chief End of Man (11)

The Destruction of Sodom

Genesis 19:1-26

19 1The two angels came to Sodom in the evening; and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed himself with his face to the earth, 2and said, “My lords, turn aside, I pray you, to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the street.” 3But 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.

Lot also responds to the Angels of Destruction (though he clearly does not know their purpose or likely even their status) with generous hospitality.  It’s possible that he knows the fate that awaits them should they spend the night exposed in the public square.  The others, assuming that the idea of a violating sexual assault was already in their minds, would have noted Lot’s protective stratagem with disapproval, if not anger.  One can only wonder why Lot would chose to allow his family to live in such an environment.

4But 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; 5and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.”

The telling detail, “both young and old,” is truly chilling.  The contagion of evil was so pervasive and powerful that the young men were already full participants.  For this to be the case the old would have to have practiced evil openly, in pride, as opposed to shamefully, in the shadows.  The words of our Lord and Savior and His great Apostle come burning into mind as warning.

“It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.”

(Luke 17:2, NIV)

… they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

(Romans 1:32b, NIV)

The sin at issue here is homosexual gang rape of the most extreme nature.  Surely two men subjected to such an assault by this many men would die as a consequence.

Sodom has earned a special place in our lexicon of evil, and, given the monstrous nature of this unprovoked attempted crime, deservedly so.  Even our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, used Sodom as an example of evil.  Our thoughts and usage should be tempered though by how He used this city.

“And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.”  (Matthew 11:23, NIV)

“I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.”  (Luke 10:12, NIV)

Though Sodom is surely a standard of evil, it also clearly does not represent its nadir.

6Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, 7and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8Behold, I have two daughters who have not known 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.”

Lot starts well.  He courageously goes out to meet the mob, placing himself between them and the objects of their lust.  He then proceeds to plead with them as friends, seeking out the “better angels of their natures.”[1]

But what are we to make of his counter proposal?  I can read a dozen expositions on the sanctity of the host-guest relationship in ancient society and still recoil in horror at Lot’s suggested resolution.  By what moral standard did the honor and very lives of his own daughters count for so much less than that of his houseguests?  Note also the use of his daughter’s virginity as an additional incitement to lust within this despicable offer.  It would have been so very much the better had Lot’s speech stopped at the end of verse seven.  We can sometimes make allowances for decisions made in the heat of the moment.  I don’t believe that this is one of those instances.

We cannot move on without considering the impact that this offer would have had on Lot’s daughters.  Although the door was closed, we can safely assume that the entire household was following the outside events with the keen interest that fear motivates.  Are we to suppose that Lot’s daughters, upon hearing his stunning offer, said to themselves, “Well, given the relative value of the host-guest and parent-daughter relationship in this culture and the situational mortality here at play, our father is making an astute counter-proposal to the mob.”?  I think not.

It is far more likely that Lot’s daughters viewed his proposition as nothing short of total betrayal.  Though women in these ancient societies were treated as second-class citizens or worse, they could not but have felt the reality of God’s love and value in their hearts.  To be treated thus by their very own father would have struck deep into their souls, creating wounds from which would flow terrible consequences.

9But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, 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 drew near to break the door.

Lot’s strategy is backfiring and the situation grows direr.  In particular, his appeal to fellowship has been rejected and he now stands outside the circle of protection as an alien, just like the houseguests who he sought to protect.

10But the men put forth their hands and brought Lot into the house to them, and shut the door. 11And they struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they wearied themselves groping for the door.

The Angels of Destruction take control of the situation, saving Lot and neutralizing the mob’s ability to do any future harm.

12Then the men said to Lot, “Have you any one else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or any one you have in the city, bring them out of the place; 13for 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.”

It now becomes clear that it is only Lot and his extended household who will be offered salvation.  I am left to wonder if these are the only righteous people in Sodom.  Given Lot’s behavior towards his own daughters there is some doubt concerning his own righteousness (at least to my modern mind).

Were Lot and his household spared as a consequence of Abraham’s righteousness being conferred upon them?  After all, Lot had chosen to live in what surely has been revealed to be an evil culture and I have already commented on his failure as a father.  Perhaps the LORD God, in deference to Abraham’s feelings, or because Lot had yet a role to play in the redemptive plan, spared him and his own from this terrible fate.

14So 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.

The presumption is that his sons-in-law were not part of the mob.  I can but wonder what would be their reaction had they fled and found out about Lot’s offer of their fiancées to the rabble.

We can easily understand their skeptical response.  Our everyday world appears so secure.  And, to be frank, the notion of the LORD coming down to destroy is far from our conception of the likely.  We should, though, ask ourselves, is there an outcry against our society that is so great and our sin so grievous that the LORD may go down and see if what we have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached Him?

15When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the punishment of the city.” 16But 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 forth and set him outside the city. 17And when they had brought them forth, they said, “Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley; flee to the hills, lest you be consumed.”

Whatever their motives, the Angels of Destruction clearly have the strongest orders to see that Lot and his family are spared.  The sense of near panic in the angel’s exclamations gives the impression that the timetable of destruction is out of their hands, though further on we will find that this is not the case.  Perhaps their exhortations were so strong in order to impress the seriousness of the situation on these confused people.

18And Lot said to them, “Oh, no, my lords; 19behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life; but I cannot flee to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me, and I die. 20Behold, yonder 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!”

Once again Lot utterly fails the test.  There he stands with his wife and two daughters, and what comes out of his mouth – “me great kindness,” “my life,” “I canot,” “overtake me,” “I die,” “me escape,” and, finally, as if to land the final blow of cruelty and selfishness, “my life will be saved.”  What can Lot’s wife and daughters be thinking of him by this point?  I mourn for these women to have been so dehumanized, so devalued.  But I also mourn for Lot, that this crisis has revealed a stark reality of his weakness that otherwise might have been surmounted over time.  It is a terrible thing to be devalued.  It is also a terrible thing to be exposed so nakedly as a moral failure.  My God have mercy on our souls.

21He said to him, “Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. 22Make haste, escape there; for I can do nothing till you arrive there.” Therefore the name of the city was called Zo’ar.

The angels continue to overlook Lot’s moral failures and accommodate his requests.  Surely these are acts of mercy.

23The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zo’ar.

24Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomor’rah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; 25and he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.

26But Lot’s wife behind him looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

And so destruction arrives.  To the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah it would have appeared as an inexplicable, arbitrary, sudden catastrophe.  We know nothing of the sin of Gomorrah, though surely it was similar at least in seriousness.  These cities will stand as eternal examples of both standards of evil and the possibility of sudden divine judgment upon it.

We too easily externalize these symbols, applying them to the other in place or person.  We would do well to consider the Sodoms and Gomorrahs that exist within our own selves.  Places yet unredeemed by Christ’s Kingship, where envy, avarice, anger, lust and cruelty still hold their sway.  To contemplate these dark cities of the soul is to be driven to your knees in prayer, and, to be lifted up in joy at the knowledge of Christ’s forgiveness and mercy.

At the last, almost as an afterthought, we find Lot’s wife succumbing to the temptation to look back at their lost life, and paying with her life.  It is her only act in the entire story.  But her loss enables the awful retribution played out by Lot’s daughters that is to follow.

[1] “the better angels of our nature.” Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, Monday, March 4, 1861

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