The Sodom Series, #5
The inhabitants of Sodom are banging on Lot’s door, demanding that he bring out the mysterious visitors he is hosting.
6 Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him,
7 and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly.”
–GENESIS 19:6–7 NRSV
Lot goes out to them, shutting the door behind himself, thus denying the citizens access to his visitors.
Because of the Eastern code of hospitality, Lot is duty-bound to protect his guests. This code of hospitality among ancient Arab and Semitic peoples was so strict—considered sacred—that no one was permitted to harm even an enemy who had been offered shelter for the night (NIV Study Bible).
(See Deuteronomy 23:3-4 for an indication of how God feels about those who refuse to offer hospitality.)
Lot appeals to them as brothers, in Hebrew, ah, meaning “brother, relative, fellow countrymen, friend, neighbor” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 62a).
He begs them not to “act so wickedly.” The Hebrew ra‘a means “to spoil; to be good for nothing; to be bad physically, socially, or morally; to afflict; to do harm” (Strong’s, H7489).
We can understand the essential meaning of ra‘a by its frequent juxtaposition with the word tob, meaning “good.” Moses said, “‘See, I have set before you today life and good [tob], death and evil [ra‘a]’” (Deut. 30:15 NKJV).
Lot apparently recognizes what the people are really there for. How would he know this, if not by previous experience?
What do the citizens really want?
Apparently, word has spread that two foreign visitors—strangers—have come to their city.
We can’t be sure whether the people of Sodom merely want to know more about the guests, but we learn they are unhappy about the visit and about Lot’s behavior toward the sojourners.
From previous experience, Lot seems to know what the citizens of Sodom want with the strangers in their midst, and he realizes he must appease the people. He says,
“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 19:8 NRSV
Instead of his visitors, Lot offers to send out his two daughters “who have not known [yada] a man [îsh].” In this context the meaning of yada indicates the knowledge of intimacy that leads to sexual relations; Lot’s daughters were unmarried virgins, although they were betrothed (Gen. 19:14).
The word for man here is îsh, meaning “a man as an individual or a male” (Strong’s, H376). (Note that this word îsh was not used previously to describe the “men” of Sodom, because the writer was referring to people in general, enôsh.)
Lot says the people of Sodom could do with his daughters what “is good [tob] in your eyes.” Of these people it could be said, “Woe to those who call evil [ra‘a] good [tob] and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness…” (Isa. 5:20 HCSB).
Lot begs, “Only do nothing to these men,” enôsh (people), referring to the angelic visitors, “for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” For means because. It is translated in the REB as “on this account.”
Because these visitors have taken shelter under his roof, they are protected by the divine code of hospitality by which Lot and Abraham lived.
The Lord was already inclined to punish Sodom before the angels arrived (see Gen. 13:13; 18:20–23). He considered inhospitality toward strangers a serious sin. (See Deut. 23:3–4; Job 29:16; 31:32; Matt. 25:35; Heb. 13:2). Boswell states,
It should be remembered, moreover, that in the ancient world inns were rare outside of urban centers, and travelers were dependent on the hospitality and goodwill of strangers not just for comfort but for physical survival. Ethical codes almost invariably enjoined hospitality on their adherents as a sacred obligation (96).
Church father Origen points out Lot’s only righteous act:
Hear this, you who close your homes to guests! Hear this, you who shun the traveler as an enemy! Lot lived among the Sodomites. We do not read of any other good deeds of his: …he escaped the flames, escaped the fire, on account of one thing only. He opened his home to guests. The angels entered the hospitable household; the flames entered those homes closed to guests. (Homilia V in Genesim [PG, 12:188–189]).
Lot offers hospitality and protection for his guests but offers the brutish Sodomites his daughters. We’ll discover why next time.
- Be Righteous, Do Justice, Show Hospitality (Sodom Series #1)
- Outcry Against Sodom (Sodom Series #2)
- When Angels Arrived in Sodom (Sodom Series #3)
- Sodom’s Welcome Committee (Sodom Series #4)
To read the full story, get my book, The Sin of Sodom: What the Bible Really Says About Why God Destroyed the Cities of the Plain, for Kindle and in trade paperback.