Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

The Sodom Series, #14

When Lot and his daughters reach the safety of Zoar, destruction comes. How were the cities of the Plain destroyed?

24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven;
25 and he overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.
26 But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
–Genesis 19:24–26 NRSV

In nearly forty instances of the word rain in the Bible, it “is never to be taken for granted by mankind; it comes from the hand of God… in amounts proportionate to the spiritual condition of the inhabitants of that land” (TWOT, 1187).

In this instance, the Lord rained down not water, but “sulfur and fire… out of heaven.”

Upon the wicked He will rain coals; fire and brimstone and a burning wind shall be the portion of their cup.
–Psalm 11:6 NKJV

The word sulfur (brimstone in the KJV) is the Hebrew goprît (Strong’s, H1614), which occurs seven times in the Old Testament. (See Deuteronomy 29:23; Job 18:15; Psalm 11:6; Isaiah 30:33; 34:9; Ezekiel 38:22.)

The word goprît is a foreign loan word, most likely derived from Akkadian ki/ubritu, which means sulfurous oil (black sulfur) (Gentry 1999). The word accompanying goprît, wc es, simply means “and fire.” In other words, the material that fell on Sodom and Gomorrah and the Cities of the Plain (except Zoar) was a burning petroleum product. (Wood, Bryant G. “Discovery of the Sin Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, The.” 16 Apr. 2008. Associates for Biblical Research (biblearchaeology.org). Web. 05 July 2015. .).

What was the fire? The word esh is used in Job 1:16, where it may indicate lightning: “While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.’” Lightning alone seems unlikely in the Genesis 19 account.

The sulfur, or brimstone, was a burning petroleum product. Genesis 14:10 mentions pits of bitumen, a petroleum product similar to asphalt that “was commonly found in the shallow southern basin of the Dead Sea in antiquity” (Wood).

Natural gas and sulfur, which normally accompany bitumen and petroleum, are also present. These combustible materials could have been forced from the earth by subterranean pressure brought about by an earthquake resulting from the shifting of the bounding faults (Clapp 1936a: 906; 1936b: 40). Geologists who have studied the area in recent times agree with Clapp’s reconstruction (Harris and Beardow 1995: 360; Neev and Emery 1995: 13–14; 33, 37). If lightning or surface fires ignited these combustibles as they came spewing forth from the ground, it would indeed result in a holocaust such as described in Genesis 19. It is significant to note that both Bab edh-Dhra [Sodom] and Numeira [Gomorrah] lie at the edge of the plain, exactly on the eastern fault line! (Wood, emphasis mine)

Abraham, who interceded before the Lord for the deliverance of the cities of the Plain, witnessed the disappointing destruction.

27 Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord;
28 and he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the Plain and saw the smoke of the land going up like the smoke of a furnace.
29 So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the Plain, God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had settled.
–Genesis 19:27–29 NRSV

Abraham saw smoke rising from the Plain, keqitor hakkibsan, like smoke jetting from a kibsan, a pottery kiln (Wood).

Smoke rising from the Plain below the Dead Sea would have been visible from Hebron. Abraham’s description “fits the theory of a conflagration of petroleum products, for such a conflagration would result in a thick black smoke being forced into the sky by the heat and pressure of the burning materials shooting out of the fissure in the earth” (Wood).

This ends the Genesis 19 account of the destruction of the cities of the Plain.

But we cannot form conclusions about the meaning of this account and the reason God overthrew these cities from this passage alone, for Sodom, Gomorrah, and the other cities are mentioned throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments.

Let’s explore those passages and discover more—next time.

More information:

The Sin of Sodom coverTo 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.

Lot and Family Rescued from Sodom

Lot Flees Sodom

The Sodom Series, #13

We left Lot standing outside his door in Sodom, arguing with a violent mob that’s trying to break down the door.

What happens next?

10 But the men [angels] inside reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door.
11 And they struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they were unable to find the door.
–Genesis 19:10–11 NRSV

The angels rescue Lot and strike the mob with sudden blindness.

Again, the word for men here is enôsh, “a mortal, people in general” (Strong’s, H582), both small, qâtân, “little, young” (Strong’s, H6996), and great, gadôl, “older” (Strong’s, H1419)—all the citizens who had gathered from every part of the city (Gen. 19:4 KJV).

Lot’s future sons-in-laws left behind

12 Then the men said to Lot, “Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city—bring them out of the place.
13 For 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.”
14 So 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.
–Genesis 19:12–14 NRSV

There is no record of Lot having sons, but his virgin daughters were both betrothed.

Lot “went out,” meaning he left the house and went to the homes of his sons-in-law. Note that they were not part of the mob outside his door that was struck blind.

Although he told them plainly what was about to happen, they unfortunately did not believe him (righteousness believes in faith) and failed to heed his warning to flee the city.

15 When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Get up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or else you will be consumed in the punishment of the city.”
16 But 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 out and left him outside the city.
17 When they had brought them outside, they said, “Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, or else you will be consumed.”
–Genesis 19:15–17 NRSV

Some hours have passed since the beginning of the trouble, for dawn comes. The angels must urge Lot to take his wife and daughters away.

Yet they hesitate, so the angels seize them by the hand and lead them outside the city walls. They advise Lot to flee to the mountains without looking back.

Lot and family flee south to Zoar instead

18 And Lot said to them, “Oh, no, my lords;
19 your servant has found favor with you, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life; but I cannot flee to the hills, for fear the disaster will overtake me and I die.
20 Look, that 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!”
21 He said to him, “Very well, I grant you this favor too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken.
22 Hurry, escape there, for I can do nothing until you arrive there.” Therefore the city was called Zoar.
23 The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar.
–Genesis 19:18–23 NRSV

Although ten righteous people in Sodom could not be found (see Gen. 18:32), the Lord nonetheless delivers Lot and his wife and daughters before destroying the cities of the Plain.

Lot fears fleeing to the hills, so he is permitted to escape to Zoar instead. When they reach this little town south of Sodom and Gomorrah, destruction comes.

More 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.
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Xenophobia Leads to Abuse

Xenophobia

The Sodom Series, #12

What’s the moral of the story in Judges 19?

Boswell points out that “Jews and Christians have overwhelmingly failed to interpret [the Gibeah story] as one of homosexuality, correctly assessing it as a moral about inhospitality” (Boswell 95–96).

Why is this account not treated the same as the Sodom story in the eyes of believers today?

The Judges 19 passage isn’t considered an indictment of homosexuality because it focuses on the fate of the concubine, a woman.

Her fate shows that the men of Gibeah were not animated by overwhelming homosexual desire. … The men of Gibeah did not turn up to invite the Levite to an orgy, and the concubine had no power over what befell her. There can be no doubt that this story is one about attempted pack rape of a man, which is diverted into the successful pack rape of a woman.

Pack rape of a defenceless stranger is a particularly apt symbol of injustice and abuse of the helpless, which I would argue are the real sins of Sodom and Gibeah—not same-sex desire…. It is not the gender of the victims that is crucial, but their status, that of defenceless aliens. (Carden 25–26, emphasis mine).

The wicked Gibeahites accept only the Levite’s concubine and not the host’s virgin daughter. “To the mob, the Levite is clearly outsider, and the concubine is his woman and shares his outsider status. She is therefore a suitable substitute while the old man’s daughter is not” (Carden 37).

Comparing Genesis 19 with Judges 19

In comparison, the Judges 19 narrative is quite similar to the Genesis 19 account, but includes two serious crimes, one of which is brutal murder.

Both accounts:

  • Begin with a description of sojourners, two outsiders who dwell in the midst of immoral cultures
  • Two sets of visitors
  • Two hospitable households
  • Two confrontations by the local people
  • Two threats of violence
  • Two devastating conclusions

In both accounts, the violent demands of the local people are a way to denigrate the strangers in their midst, outsiders they did not like.

Neither Lot nor the old man of Gibeah defends his visitors to safeguard them from same-sex relations. “Instead,” says Matthew Vines, “they both expressed the concern that their visitors had come under the protection of their homes” (Vines 66–67). Both shielded their guests because of the sacred code of hospitality.

Those who are righteous make it their duty to establish rights for those who don’t have them, especially strangers and aliens.

Why protect guests?

Both accounts include hospitable hosts who believe it is more important to protect their guests over their own flesh and blood (daughters). But why?

Some have argued that Lot’s action revealed his belief that opposite-sex behavior was preferable to same-sex behavior. [It is true] that the gender of Lot’s guests played a role—not because of Lot’s concerns about the bodily “sameness” involved in same-sex behavior, but because of the greater honor men held in ancient times. …[M]en in the ancient world were considered to be of greater value than women, which made raping a man a more serious violation. … The issue in both instances is patriarchy, not the anatomical complementarity of men and women (Vines 67, emphasis mine).

What was their sin?

The sexual sin in Judges, although heterosexual in nature, isn’t fornication. It’s violent abuse and rape. They abuse and rape a woman until she eventually dies.

The accounts differ, however, in their result. Both hosts offer women, in their day considered to be of lesser honor and value than men. The people of Sodom refuse; the people of Gibeah accept, resulting in the sexual abuse and death of the concubine.

Another important difference is how present-day Bible believers interpret the stories and continue to use them to make moral arguments today.

Why are the stories interpreted differently?

In both accounts the locals demand the handing-over of male visitors and threaten violence.

Although actual violence to the visiting men happens in neither story, only the Sodom account is remembered and rehearsed as representing the evils of homosexuality. The Gibeah account, if mentioned at all, is never interpreted this way.

The word Sodomites refers to the inhabitants of the city Sodom. But their crimes, inaccurately interpreted as an indictment against homosexuality, have taken on such proportion that Sodomites is now used to refer to those who practice homosexual acts—sodomy.

Why hasn’t the same process of abstraction happened for the word Benjamites or Gibeahites?

Christian theology did not become preoccupied with a “sin of the Benjamites” (as the inhabitants of Gibeah were called), nor did European countries adopt penal statutes against “Benjamy.”

This is more striking because the incidents at Gibeah are more horrible than the events surrounding Lot’s hospitality to the angelic messengers in Sodom.

The citizens of Sodom do nothing in the end. They are blinded by the angels, who then instruct Lot to hurry his family out of the city in view of its impending destruction.

At Gibeah, there are no angels to rescue the sacrificed woman during the dark night of her torture. Nor does God punish Gibeah with a fiery storm. The Israelite armies must do it themselves, after sustaining heavy casualties.

Why is Sodom so infamous yet so misunderstood?

Why is it then that the story of Sodom had such a long afterlife? How does it come to be misread so systematically and for so many centuries?

The beginning of an answer lies precisely in the dramatic and total divine judgment executed on the city and its neighbors.

The sin of Sodom wasn’t men having sex with other men.

Their sin was xenophobia: the abuse, degradation, and violation of others, STRANGERS—the same sin as the men of Gibeah committed—although the Gibeahites raped a woman.

The Sodom story has taken on a life of its own because of the fiery judgment it ends with. This makes it imperative that it be interpreted correctly and not misread as it has been and continues to be to this day.

So we must get back to Sodom, where we left Lot in the lurch with wicked citizens banging on the door.

What happens when the angels pronounce judgment? 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

The Concubine Was Abused to Death

Concubine on the doorstep

The Sodom Series, #11

A Levite, his concubine, and servant spend the night at Gibeah in the home of a hospitable old man. But wicked citizens surround the house and demand he send out the Levite. The old man refuses, instead offering his virgin daughter and the concubine.

The Levite hands over his wife

But the men [of Gibeah] would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go.
–Judges 19:25 NIV

Men here again is enôsh, “a mortal, people in general” (Strong’s, H582), the same word used in the Sodom account to refer to all the citizens, both men and women.

To save his own skin, the Levite throws the concubine out to them.

The word took is the Hebrew word hazaq, meaning, “to fasten upon, hence to seize; to bind, restrain, conquer” (Strong’s, H2388). The Levite forces his wife outside to appease these people. Because the concubine has to be forced outside, she must not have wanted to go.

This Levite, a man from the priestly tribe of Israel, had traveled to Bethlehem determined to reclaim his slave wife. He convinced her to reconcile with him, and she left her father’s household. Yet here in Gibeah the Levite throws her to the wolves to be abused.

The word abused is alal:

[To] deal with severely, abuse, make a fool of someone, mock. It is used to indicate the exercise of power over another person, generally in a bad sense, hence meaning ‘to maltreat.’ It signifies some great achievement, generally malevolent. This word is used to depict the exploitation of one person by another (TWOT, 1627, emphasis mine).

The woman was a slave, the man’s property. Her husband forces her out, and the people of Gibeah mistreat and abuse her all through the night.

The concubine meets her fate

As morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light.
–Judges 19:26 NRSV

Who knows where the people of Gibeah had taken her, how many of them had been with her, and what shocking crimes they had perpetrated upon her. But she made it back alive.

Perhaps she pounded on the door just as the people who had abused her had pounded on it the evening before. If she did, no one answered.

27 When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold.
28 He said to her, “Get up; let’s go.” But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home.
–Judges 19:27–28 NIV

After a good’s night rest, the Levite steps out of the old man’s house to continue on his way to Ephraim. But there lies his wife on the stoop with her hands on the threshold!

As if nothing has happened, he says to her, “Get up! Let’s get moving!”

She doesn’t answer. He rolls her over and discovers she is dead. He throws her over his donkey and heads for home.

What is the result of this misogynistic crime and travesty of hospitality? Civil war that results in the death of tens of thousands of Israelites.

The moral of the story? 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

Gibeah’s Violence Toward Strangers

Gibeah's Violence

The Sodom Series, #10

A righteous old man, an outsider living in Gibeah, invites the sojourning Levite, his concubine, and servant to stay the night in his home (Jdg. 19:20-21). Yet this good deed meets with violence from the townspeople.

The Levite accepts hospitality

It seems the old man is warning the Levite and his party not to spend the night in the square. Don’t you wonder why?

After exchanging social pleasantries, the Levite accepts the hospitality of the old man and goes home with him. There, the host tends to all the needs of his visitors, even though they already have all they require (19:19).

As mentioned in a previous post, it was the custom of Eastern peoples to provide for their guests as if they were members of their own family or honored dignitaries. If you were an ancient Easterner, whoever came under your roof as a guest could expect your provision and protection, even unto death.

This custom would soon be tried.

The children of Belial arrive

22 As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door. And they said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.”
23 And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing.”
–Judges 19:22–23 ESV

The word men here is enôsh, meaning “a mortal, people in general” (Strong’s, H582), the same word used for the citizens of Sodom who showed up at Lot’s door. It includes both men and women.

The King James Version says that “certain sons of Belial, beset the house round about” (Jdg. 19:22). This phrase “sons of Belial” means “worthless fellows, scoundrels, sons of the devil, children of evil” (Miller and Lane, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, 303).

(See also Deuteronomy 13:13; 1 Samuel 1:16; 2:12; 10:27; 25:17,25; 30:22; 2 Samuel 16:7; 20:1; 22:5; 23:6; 1 Kings 21:10–13; 2 Chronicles 13:17; Psalm 18:4; 101:3; Proverbs 6:12; 16:27; 19:28; Nahum 1:11,15.)

Sons is ben, “not exclusively a reference to the male offspring of human parents,” but an idiom “for children generally, for descendants” (TWOT, 254).

These wicked people, both men and women, are depraved. They discovered someone new in town and determine to dominate and debase him.

This sounds much like the Genesis 19 account of the people of Sodom who demand audience with the angels who visited Lot. We’ll see just how similar the stories are.

The old man negotiates

Bound by the duty of hospitality, the old man slips outside and begs them not to abuse the Levite. He says, “No, my brothers….”

Maybe he is simply trying to be persuasive. Perhaps he has dealt with this group before. In any event, he caters to their unholy spirit and compromises with them in order to protect his guest.

“Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But as for this man, don’t do such an outrageous thing.”
–Judges 19:24 NIV

The old man offers them his own virgin daughter, probably yet a teenager, and the Levite’s concubine. Note that he does not offer the young male servant.

Lot did the same thing the night the citizens of Sodom want to debase the angels. It may be that, because of previous dealings with these Benjamites, the old man knows if he doesn’t appease them, he and his guest will be harmed.

The Gibeahites become violent

Verse 22 says the people surround the house and pound on the door. They mean business.

In the same situation in Genesis 19, the angels with Lot at Sodom rescued him and struck the wicked men with blindness (Gen. 19:11), but there are no angels on the scene at the home of the old man in Gibeah.

For “use them” (v. 24), the KJV says, “humble them.” The word anâ contains the meaning “the idea of looking down or browbeating, to debase, deal hardly with” (Strong’s, H6031).

As in Sodom and with the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib prison, the custom of Gibeah is to interrogate and humiliate foreigners and strangers in their midst as a show of superiority and domination.

But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them….
–Judges 19:25 NRSV

What happens to this unfortunate woman who has reluctantly reunited with her husband? 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.
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A Stranger Comes to Gibeah

Stranger comes to Gibeah

The Sodom Series, #9

Chapters 19–21 of Judges recount one of the most heinous crimes recorded in all of Scripture. Its account of brutal abuse is strangely like that of Sodom, although the only person who ends up being harmed is a woman.

We’ll examine portions of this passage to see how it relates to and sheds light on the Sodom account.

A man wants his wife back

A Levite from the tribal territory of Ephraim had taken a concubine—a second wife. (Concubines were like first wives, only their offspring received no inheritance from the father.)

In those days, having concubines was customary. Both wives and concubines were considered property of the man. The Expanded Bible calls the concubine “a slave woman.”

This Levite’s concubine left him to return to her father’s house in Bethlehem. Why, we don’t know. After four months of separation, the Levite travels to Bethlehem to persuade her to reconcile with him, determined to bring her back.

Father delays their departure

The concubine’s father welcomes the Levite and, showing generous hospitality, convinces him to stay in their home for three days. The Levite wanted to return to Ephraim, but his father-in-law persuades him to stay two extra days.

He would have them remain a sixth day, but on the evening of the fifth, the Levite refuses to stay the night. He takes his concubine and travels to Jebus (later known as Jerusalem).

The Levite refuses Jebus

Jebus was a place where desert sojourners could lodge overnight. But the Levite refuses to stay there.

11 When they were near Jebus, the day was far spent, and the servant said to his master, “Come now, let us turn aside to this city of the Jebusites, and spend the night in it.”
12 But his master said to him, “We will not turn aside into a city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel; but we will continue on to Gibeah.”
13 Then he said to his servant, “Come, let us try to reach one of these places, and spend the night at Gibeah or at Ramah.”
14 So they passed on and went their way; and the sun went down on them near Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin.
15 They turned aside there, to go in and spend the night at Gibeah. He went in and sat down in the open square of the city, but no one took them in to spend the night.
–Judges 19:11–15 NIV

The Levite doesn’t want to stay in Jebus because it is controlled by foreigners. Instead, he desires to sojourn in a city belonging to his countrymen.

Little does he know what lies in store for him from a tribe of his own people.

They arrive at Gibeah

They finally enter Gibeah, a city inhabited by Benjamites (another Israelite tribe).

Gibeah may have had no public inn, for they camp out in the town square.

Like the angels in Sodom’s square waiting for Lot, no one provides them hospitality until an old man comes along.

An old man offers hospitality

16 Then at evening there was an old man coming from his work in the field. The man was from the hill country of Ephraim, and he was residing in Gibeah. (The people of the place were Benjaminites.)
17 When the old man looked up and saw the wayfarer in the open square of the city, he said, “Where are you going and where do you come from?”
18 [The Levite] answered him, “We are passing from Bethlehem in Judah to the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, from which I come. I went to Bethlehem in Judah; and I am going to my home. Nobody has offered to take me in.
19 We your servants have straw and fodder for our donkeys, with bread and wine for me and the woman and the young man along with us. We need nothing more.”
20The old man said, “Peace be to you. I will care for all your wants; only do not spend the night in the square.”
21 So he brought him into his house, and fed the donkeys; they washed their feet, and ate and drank.
–Judges 19:16–21

It’s odd that the Levite chooses to stay in a town of his own people instead of in a city of strangers yet finds no hospitality in that town except from a man (another outsider) from Ephraim who happens to be living there temporarily. The word residing in verse 16 is the Hebrew gûr, meaning “sojourner,” as discussed previously.

Is this simply a nice man? No, he’s more: Showing hospitality is an act of righteousness.

But being a sojourner himself, this fellow may have been subject to prejudice and oppression by the native inhabitants of Gibeah and wanted to spare his visitors mistreatment or violence, as Lot did for the angels.

We’ll find out for certain 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

Sodom’s Hatred of Strangers

Sodom

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