Sodom’s Hatred of Strangers

The Sodom Series, #7

Even if the citizens of Sodom did want to have sex with Lot’s mysterious visitors, what kind of sex is in question? The attitude of the mob gives us a clue.

But they replied [to Lot], “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow [Lot] 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.
–GENESIS 19:9 NRSV

They cry, “Get out of our way!” These people are pushy, demanding. They accuse Lot of being an outsider, an alien, a foreigner.

Lot was an alien, an outsider

Alien is the Hebrew gûr, meaning “to turn aside from the road (for a lodging or for any other purpose), i.e., sojourn (as a guest); also to shrink, fear (as in a strange place); also to gather for hostility (as afraid)” (Strong’s, H1481).

The root word means to live among people who are not blood relatives; thus, rather than enjoying native civil rights, the ger was dependent on the hospitality that played an important role in the ancient near east; someone who did not enjoy the rights usually possessed by the resident(TWOT, 330, emphasis mine).

Remember what we originally learned from Abraham in episode 1?

  • Being hospitable to strangers is one way to demonstrate righteousness.
  • If you want to be righteous, make it your duty to establish rights for those who don’t have them.

Lot played the judge

The people of Sodom criticized Lot for “playing the judge.” Judge is shapat, meaning, “to pronounce sentence; by extension to govern” (Strong’s, H8199), and “to exercise the processes of government; to act as ruler; to decide cases of controversy as judge” (TWOT, 2443).

It seems the citizens of Sodom resent Lot because he is making decisions, taking authority where he has none. He is showing hospitality to and protecting sojourning strangers—AGAINST THE CUSTOMS OF THE CITY. The people of Sodom don’t like this.

Lot’s insistence on protecting his visitors according to the divine code of hospitality angers the residents of Sodom. Their values are obviously at odds.

They point out that he came to their city as a sojourner—someone who has no rights in their estimation—but who is now putting on airs to act as a judge and ruler by setting policy concerning how visitors are treated (by preventing them from being mistreated).

Note well their mistrust, hostility, and disrespect of foreigners and their prejudice against outsiders—the antithesis of Abraham’s and Lot’s behavior toward strangers. It seems the people plan to treat these visitors as violently as they have treated all other visitors, perhaps those whose anguished outcry God had heard.

A possible scenario

Lot whisked two visiting strangers from the city gate to his home. He refuses to turn them over to the mob.

The people of Sodom perhaps perceive the visitors as hostile, consider them to be spies. Maybe they think Lot is trying to subvert their city. (They appear to have been at odds with Lot about the subject before this.) They want to learn who the visitors are and examine their credentials.

They are highly disturbed upon hearing the rumors that apparently spread like wildfire through the city. Because of this, they become violent and threaten to “deal worse” (ra‘a, evil) with Lot than with his visitors.

What do the people do?

The mob “pressed hard”—with exceeding vehemence—against Lot, attacking him to break down the door.

What do the citizens want? If they are simply lusting for recreational sex, why are they so menacing?

Why do they threaten to harm Lot? If he has lived there for some time, why haven’t they harmed him before this? (Or have they?)

These people are angry, abusive, and violent. But for what reason?

The crucial questions to ask about this passage are:

  • Why do the inhabitants of Sodom threaten to harm Lot and abuse his guests?
  • What is their motivation?

We can discover answers by looking closer to home, at least in time.

If only we could say the answer to Sodom’s behavior is a thing of the ancient past. Unfortunately, it is still happening today. We’ll learn more next episode.

More information:

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.
The Sin of Sodom cover

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