Sodom’s Welcome Committee

Sodom's welcome committee

The Sodom Series, #4

Two angels are invited to Lot’s home for a feast and to spend the night. But there’s a knock at the front door…

4 But before [Lot and his visitors] 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;
5 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.”
GENESIS 19:4–5 NRSV

Before Lot, his family, and his honored guests lie down for sleep, “the men of the city” came.

Although the word men is used, in ancient cultures women, when present, were often not counted. For example, Matthew 14:21 mentions that, when Jesus fed the multitude with loaves and fishes, “The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children” (NIV).

Men in Genesis 19:4 is enôsh, which means “a mortal,” not a male individual (Strong’s H582), “‘man’ in the sense of ‘mankind’” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 136a).

Both old (zaqan), referring to men and women (Strong’s H2205), and young (naar), referring to boys, girls, and servants (Strong’s, H5288) show up.

All the people” means “people (as a congregated unit), collective troops or attendants” (Strong’s, H5971); “from the common Semitic root amam, meaning… people in general” (TWOT, 1640a). See Genesis 14:21.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates the phrase as “the whole population.” The KJV adds, “all the people from every quarter.” Quarter (qâtseh) means “extremity, border, edge, outmost coast” (Strong’s, H7097).

The citizens who showed up at Lot’s house were not only men. EVERYONE was included—the young and old, both males and females. They came from every part of the city, even from its outermost borders and extremities. Whatever reason they came for, it was something that every citizen of the city participated in.

Women and young people, as well men, gathered from the farthest parts of the city surrounded the house. All the people called out to Lot through the door, asking, “Where are the individuals who came to you tonight?”

Why?

So that we may “know” them

The New International Version and other translations use the phrase “so that we can have sex with them.” This is NOT found in other translations, nor is it in the Hebrew.

The correct translation is “so that we may know them,” as is translated in the New Revised Standard Version. See also Num. 31:17,35; Judg. 11:39; 1 Kings 1:4; 1 Sam. 1:19.

The Hebrew word yada, “to know” (Strong’s H3045) is used of knowledge in the vast majority of instances where some form of the word appears in the Old Testament. It “expresses a multitude of shades of knowledge gained by the senses” (TWOT, 848).

It is rarely used to refer to the act of intercourse, and in many of these instances where it is used in this sense, it pertains to intimacy of which sexual relations are only a part.

Knowledge, not sex

The word yada occurs 944 times in the Old Testament. Only ten times—1% of the occurrences—could it be said to refer to intercourse, and only heterosexual intercourse. It means to be acquainted with, to understand. For example, “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand” (Isa. 1:3 NRSV).

In some Bible versions, yada is translated in Genesis 19:5 as “sex” because of the predetermined bias of biblical translation committees. Such bias can be determined by how yada is translated in its other uses, which more clearly refer to intimacy leading to sexual relations.

One such instance is Genesis 4:1: “Now Adam knew [yada] Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain” (NKJV). Most other English translations also use “knew” instead of “sex” in this verse.

Why is yada translated as “sex” in Genesis 19:5 where such a meaning is questionable, but translated as “knew” in its remaining its uses where sexual relations are obvious (Gen. 4:1)?

The Living Bible paraphrases this verse as, “Bring out those men to us so we can rape them.” This perhaps is closer to the intent of the citizens of Sodom, but it is a poor translation for yada.

Why wasn’t shakab used? Shakab means “to lie down for rest or sexual connection” (Strong’s, H7901). Whenever shakab is used in a sexual sense, it refers to illicit relations (TWOT, 2381). (See Gen. 19:32ff; 34:2,7; 35:22; Ex. 22:16; Deut. 22:22; 27:21; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; 1 Sam. 2:22; 2 Sam. 11:4.) But shakab was not used in connection to the citizens of Sodom; yada was used.

Certainly not gay sex

Considering that both male and female, young and old are among those making the request, translating yada in a sexual sense—and primarily as homosexual sex—is puzzling if not ludicrous. John Boswell admits, “[T]he sexual overtones to the story are minor, if present” (Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 93).

Interpreting the citizens’ request as a demand for homosexual relations is not found in any pre-Christian Judaistic writings for the previous 2000 years; the first recorded instance of homosexual sex being connected to the Hebrew word yada is in the Jewish philosopher Philo’s Quaest. Et Salut. in Genesis IV.31–37, and Philo wrote during Jesus’ lifetime.

Since about the twelfth century A.D., this biblical story has been used to condemn homosexuality. The word sodomy was coined after the name of this city and the behavior of its inhabitants.

Today, biblical traditionalists claim and defend that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of homosexual activity. But we must continue to examine this passage carefully as well as look at ALL the verses about Sodom in the Bible, which I do in The Sin of Sodom: What the Bible Really Says About Why God Destroyed the Cities of the Plain.

How does Lot respond to the threatening mob at his door? We’ll find out next time.

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

When Angels Arrived in Sodom

Angels arrive at Sodom

The Sodom Series, #3

God told Abraham He had heard a grievious outcry against the people of Sodom. The Lord sends two angels to investigate.

The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground.
–Genesis 19:1 NRSV

Disguised as ordinary traveling men, the two angelic visitors need lodging. They meet Abraham’s nephew Lot at the city gateway, which indicates that Sodom was fortified—it was surrounded by walls.

Ancient city gateways also served as administrative and judicial centers where legal matters were discussed and prosecuted. Lot may have been courting Sodom’s ruling council.

Regardless of his position, how did Lot act when he encountered these sojourning strangers?

Lot shows the strangers righteous hospitality

1 … When Lot saw [the two angels], he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground.
2 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.”
3 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.
–Genesis 19:1–3 NRSV

When Lot sees the visitors, he rises and bows to them as Abraham did (Gen. 18:2). The word means to prostrate oneself (Strong’s, H7812).

Lot shows these visitors the respect and hospitality his uncle offered them earlier. He addresses them deferentially as “my lords” and calls himself their “servant” as Abraham did. He asks them to sojourn at his home, where he will refresh them and give them lodging for the night.

They decline, saying they want to spend the night in the public square. “Where there are no inns and no acquaintance, it is not uncommon for travelers to sleep in the street wrapped up in their cloaks” (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Bible Commentary, Gen. 19:2).

Lot, however, insists they come home with him, perhaps because the open square is an unsafe place after dark or he knows they will find no hospitality elsewhere.

“Urged them strongly” is the Hebrew word pasar, meaning “to peck at, press, push” stubbornly (Strong’s, H6484). Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible translates it: “he became exceeding urgent with them.”

So the two angels accompanied him home.

As his uncle did earlier, Lot prepares a banquet for them. We see more divine hospitality—righteousness in action—Near Eastern style.

It is Lot’s hospitality to strangers that sets him apart from the other citizens of Sodom. This is important to understand the rest of the story.

Meanwhile, outside the walls of Lot’s house, trouble is brewing.

What happens to the divine visitors? We’ll find out next time.

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

Outcry Against Sodom

Sodom

The Sodom Series, #2

The Bible reports that the Lord heard a great outcry against the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. What was this outcry about?

The notorious people of Sodom

Genesis 13:13 states, “Now the people of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.”

Let’s look closer at the meaning of these three words.

People is enôsh in Hebrew, meaning “mortals,” and is not the word typically used for a male person (’adam) (Strong’s H582). “The basic meaning of enôsh is ‘man’ in the sense of ‘mankind’(Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 582).

The word wicked is ra’a, meaning “bad,” describing experiences which entail physical or emotional pain (TWOT, 2191c). The people’s wickedness caused great anguish.

Sinners is chatta’, meaning “a criminal, one accounted guilty” (Strong’s, H2400).

ALL the people of Sodom—not just the men—were criminally sinful.

In the days of Abraham, a report about these cruel citizens of Sodom had reached heaven. The news was alarming enough that God needed to investigate the situation personally. He confided His plan to Abraham.

The outcry

20 Then the Lord said [to Abraham], “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin!
21 I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”
–Genesis 18:20–21 NRSV

Outcry means an uproar, a shriek, a crying out in despair, a vehement public protest, “a cry for help in the face of distress” (TWOT, 570).

Many had been crying out to God in despair and protest about how they were treated in these cities. This implies that the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah were doing some extremely rotten things to others, and God heard the complaints.

The outcry was not that of an individual, but of many people over time. Apparently, governing authorities in Sodom refused the wronged an audience; perhaps they were party to the oppression. “‘Though I cry, “Violence!” I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice’” (Job 19:7 NIV).

Considering that Israel—God’s own people—cried out to Him in the misery of Egyptian bondage for over 400 years (Ex. 2:23–25), the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah was serious and significant. Their sin was “very grave”: hard, grievous, heavy (TWOT, 943).

They had committed great crimes, so God sends angelic representatives to investigate and make a determination about them.

Two of the angelic visitors depart toward Sodom to experience firsthand if the reports are true, but the one called “the Lord” remains with Abraham, who poses a question.

Abraham intercedes

23 Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?
24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it?”
–Genesis 18:23–24 NRSV

To destroy or sweep away is sapâ, meaning, “to scrape, shave, remove, or ruin” (Strong’s, H5595), and is “usually used in a hostile sense, particularly in contexts of judgment” (TWOT, 1531).

Without waiting, Abraham provides his own answer:

25 “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
26 And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.”
–Genesis 18:25–26 NRSV

The Lord confirms that He will not destroy the city if He finds fifty righteous people there, reassuring Abraham that He is both merciful and just (Gen. 18:23).

Abraham continues to bargain, and the Lord finally promises him, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it” (v. 31).

Reason for the outcry

What were the wicked people of Sodom doing that caused so much pain, resulting in such a grievous outcry against them?

The first post in this series discussed the importance of righteousness and hospitality toward strangers. The lavish welcome Abraham bestowed on his visitors is help up as a paragon of righteous hospitality to strangers.

The outcry against all the people of Sodom pertains to how they were treating strangers—outsiders. Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (NRSV).

The citizens of Sodom failed the test. We’ll learn why next time, when the angels arrive at the city.

More information:

In future posts, we’ll find out what happened and what became of this inhospitable society. 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

Be Righteous, Do Justice, Show Hospitality

Abraham

The Sodom Series, #1

Abraham is the father of three faiths: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity (see Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:7-9). The root of Abraham’s faith is belief in one God—a God who speaks.

The expression of this faith is hearing, believing, and doing God’s word, personally revealed.

22 You see that [Abraham’s] faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.
24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
–James 2:22-24 NIV

To be God’s friend, we must believe what God speaks to us. And then follow this faith with actions that befit the revelation. This is righteousness.

The Bible provides an example of this in Abraham’s reception of the three divine messengers in Genesis 18.

Entertaining angels

The Lord arrives at Abraham’s tent with two angels in the heat of the day. Abraham runs to them, bows low, and prepares a feast in a lavish show of hospitality (18:1-8).

The elaborate and generous hospitality of the Near and Middle East is known the world over, according to the Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler: “For the guest, nothing is too good and nothing too bothersome or difficult.” John Calvin wrote, this is “the hospitality of the holy man.”

Being hospitable to strangers is one way to demonstrate righteousness.

Hebrews 13:2 admonishes us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (NRSV). It specifically says strangers—not family or relatives or friends or other believers.

Promoting righteousness and justice ensures blessings

Abraham did in fact entertain divine messengers.

Because of Abraham’s righteous ministry of hospitality, one of the visitors promises Abraham that his barren wife Sarah—now far past menopause at age 90—will bear him a son, the start of a nation of descendants. This one, called the Lord, takes Abraham into His confidence as a friend.

17 The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do,
18 seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?
19 No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
–Genesis 18:16-19 ESV

To ensure we may receive what God promises, we must promote righteousness and justice.

The blessings of God—prosperity, growth, and expansion—are for those who promote righteousness and justice for everyone else, especially strangers*.

* For further study about strangers, see 1 Chronicles 29:15; Job 29:16, 31:32; Matthew 25:35.

Hospitality, righteousness, justice defined

Let’s define these words.

Hospitality: Webster defines hospitality as “Reception and entertainment of strangers or guests without reward, or with kind and generous liberality.” We see this in Abraham’s treatment of his divine visitors.

Righteousness: Being in right relationship to God by faith. (See Rom. 3:22; 4:5,9,11,13,22; 9:30; 10:6.) It means believing what God communicates to you and acting on it. Abraham believed what God told him and obeyed, and God counted this as righteousness: see Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:9; Gal. 3:6; Jas. 2:21–22.

Justice: Easton’s Bible Dictionary briefly defines justice as “rendering to every one that which is his due.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia explains it like this: “Justice has primarily to do with conduct in relation to others, especially with regard to the rights of others. In a larger sense justice is not only giving to others their rights, but involves the active duty of establishing their rights.”

If you want to be righteous, make it your duty to establish rights for those who don’t have them.

Righteousness and justice are closely related* and are summed up in what Jesus calls the two greatest commandments: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt. 22:37–39 NIV).

*For further study about righteousness and justice, see 1 Kings 10:9; 2 Chronicles 9:8; Job 29:14; 37:23; Psalm 33:5; 72:2; 97:2; 106:3; Proverbs 2:9; 8:20; 21:3; Isaiah 1:27; 5:16; 9:7; 28:17; 32:1,16; 33:5; Jeremiah 9:24; 22:3,15; 23:5; 33:15; Hosea 2:19; Amos 5:24; Wisdom 5:18; 8:7.

Abraham’s lesson to us

What have we learned from Abraham in this encounter?

  • The importance of hospitality to strangers
  • The requirement of being righteous and doing justice to ensure the blessing of a family, nation, city, or any group of people

Who are the strangers in your midst? Look around; they could be the people you never really see.

Strangers could include your enemies. Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? … But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Luke 6:32a; Matt. 5:44-45 NIV).

Pick somebody you consider to be a stranger—outside your circle of friends and family—someone unlike you in social status, intelligence, faith, sexual orientation, political beliefs.

Then show them some love through a friendly smile, a word of encouragement, an expression of acceptance and understanding. For, in showing them righteous hospitality, you are being a friend to God.

Jesus said, “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me'” (Matt. 25:40 NIV).

More information:

This post was adapted from a portion of 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