Sodom and Gomorrah
Sodom and Gomorrah, two notoriously immoral cities in Genesis, were destroyed by “sulphur and fire” for their wickedness (Genesis 19:24). Sodom and Gomorrah, together with Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar (Bela), were the five “cities of the plain,” and they are mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Quran. In its theme of God’s wrath precipitated by sin, the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah parallels the Genesis flood story.
Abraham and the Three Men
Shortly after the covenant was made between Abraham and God, Genesis 18 tells us that the Lord visited Abraham in person—well in the form of three men, at his home near the great trees of Mamre.
Upon seeing these three men, it would appear that Abraham recognized these three men as a physical manifestation of God himself, and eagerly rushed out of his tent to greet them. He told the men, who he interpreted as God, that he wished to offer them hospitality by washing their feet and providing them with something to eat so that they may be refreshed when they resume their journey. The men—or God—agreed and Abraham hurried to his wife Sarah to make his lord some food.
The three men never actually introduced themselves as God, but it seems Abraham has some higher understanding as to who they were; hence why he goes out of his way to cater to these strangers—something that wasn’t particularly common at the time.
In some interpretations, these three men are angels sent by God, or that two of them are angels and one of them is God himself. We later see them described as angels in Genesis 19 when they enter Sodom in an effort to justify not destroying the place.
The Prophesy of Sarah’s First Son
The three men do appear to confirm Abraham’s theory though, for they speak of Sarah declaring that by ‘next year’ Sarah would deliver Abraham a son. It is understood here that God, through these men, reinforces his promise and now even goes as far as to give Abraham a time frame—a welcome gesture, no doubt, for a man who’d waited most of his life for this moment.
An interesting detail that is often overlooked in the bible here is Sarah’s reaction to hearing that she would give birth ‘next year’, despite being a woman who was long past the age of childbearing. Sarah does not respond with the same elated joy that Abraham might have, but instead appears almost cynical saying,
“After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
The bible describes her as laughing as she says this, perhaps not too convinced about the Lord’s promises after all and probably not really in the right mood to bear a child, on the account that she was like ‘a hundred years old’.
If anything, the promise of having a child wasn’t just ludicrous to Sarah, it was probably inconvenient too. So, I suppose she can be forgiven for laughing as she does—but God doesn’t think so. He asks Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and did she believe that he would come to promise something that he could not deliver on, even if it sounded impossible?’
‘Then the Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Will I have a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.’” — Genesis 18: 13-14
He then reiterates before Abraham can even answer that he will return in a year and that Sarah will indeed have a son. Sarah who overhears God’s questioning of Abraham as to her laughter responds in fear, she is so afraid that God would do something drastic that she lies, telling him ‘I did not laugh’, and God, rather ominously replies, ‘Yes, you did.’
Revealing the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah to Abraham
The three men decided to take their leave as they were heading to Sodom and Abraham decided to walk with them. Then, quite interestingly, God has a little bit of deliberation with himself. The bible tells us,
‘Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”’ — Genesis 18: 17-19
Never has God appear to deliberate on what it is he wants to do—he simply just does it. But here, some might say there is some hesitancy as he appears to consult us, the reader. However, others suggest that God is not asking us anything and is not hesitating at all, but merely sharing his thoughts with us.
It might be said that because God would make Abraham a great and mighty nation and because Abraham was to be a great leader, God determined here that showing Abraham what he would soon do to Sodom and Gomorrah was necessary, so as to prepare him for the burdens of such leadership.
God then reveals to Abraham,
“The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” — Genesis 18: 20
Here, we learn that the offences committed by Sodom and Gomorrah are so great that it warrants a visit from God. It can be gathered that God had heard from multiple sources as to what was going on in Sodom and Gomorrah and that the news of this disturbed him greatly.
As God declares that he will go down and see for himself, it isn’t necessarily because he doesn’t already know but more so to demonstrate how thorough he is when it comes to delivering such extremities. Basically, before he nukes the city, he makes sure they have violated his rules.
The Negotiation Between God and Abraham
The three men, or three angels, made their way into Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord, where he proceeded to challenge God’s plan and his integrity saying,
“Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing-to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” — Genesis 18: 23-25
We see here that Abraham is rather audacious in his questioning of the Lord. You might say he seeks to remind God of his nature and principles and argues that the few good people should not be punished for the sins of the whole nation.
Abraham here shows that he has come to believe God as the most righteous being—a pure judge who is incapable of making an unjust decision, and so, he is dismayed at the idea of God destroying a city without first rescuing those who had done no wrong.
It’s also commendable that Abraham shows compassion to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, in that he asks the Lord to spare those who are pure of heart, especially considering that they were virtually strangers.
Abraham’s efforts to stall God’s wrath forehand are successful because God does indeed humour Abraham’s request by telling him,
“If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” — Genesis 18: 26
The fact that God listens to Abraham also seeks to show believers that God does listen when prayers are made and that in this instance, amongst others, he does grant people the opportunity to change his mind about things.
But Abraham, swindler, and smooth talker that he is attempts to barter with God and, would you believe, he’s successful at it too. He asks God to reduce the number of righteous people to 45 to save the cities, and God agrees.
So, Abraham pushes his luck once more and asks, ‘What if the number was just 40 righteous people?’ and yet again, God agrees.
In the end, Abraham is able to work God down to just a mere 10 people.
You might see this as Abraham being an excellent negotiator that is able to convince God of anything, but it’s also possible that God didn’t really want to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and so, was looking for any excuse to spare the lives of the innocent.
Additionally, you might also say that God was testing Abraham’s capacity for leadership and to see whether Abraham had the bones to ask for more, something he would certainly need to do if he was going to be a great leader.
It can also be said that God was trying to draw out Abraham’s compassion even more, in that he would dare to even intercede on behalf of a city that was about to be destroyed.
Another idea here as to why God is so willing to lower the number upon Abraham’s request is that Abraham was not arrogant when asking, but instead, humble, as he states before even starting negotiations, ‘I am nothing but dust and ashes.’
Of course, it must also be said that God probably already knew there weren’t going to be 10 righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah. So, his acquiescence to Abraham isn’t because Abraham was such a compelling negotiator but more so because God was going to do whatever he wanted anyway, and so, he does.
Lot Met the Two Angels
Genesis 19 so appropriately named ‘Sodom and Gomorrah Destroyed’, reveals to us from the get-go that 10 innocent souls were not found in the cities. So, God nuked them.
The perspective of the story shifts from Abraham to his nephew Lot, who we know was living in Sodom at the time. The bible tells us that he was sitting in the gateway of the city when he saw two angels, again likely, two of the men that Abraham had greeted and welcomed them to the city.
In fact, he responds similarly to them as Abraham had and proceeds to bow before them with his face low to the ground.
‘“My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”’ — Genesis 19: 2
Like Abraham, Lot recognizes the men for their divineness and is keen to please them and show them hospitality. It is unknown if they had wings spanning out of their backs, but if this was the case, I imagine they would not have been as inconspicuous as they probably would have wanted.
Therefore, it is more likely that these angels hid their wings but could not hide their distinguished aura, hence why Lot is so struck by them and wishes to do well by them.
But unlike Abraham, the angels declined his offer and tells him, ‘No! We will spend the night in the square.’ But Lot insisted upon them so strongly that they did eventually end up going to his house with him.
The bible tells us that Lot was persistent enough to win over the angels but it’s also possible that his persistence was not out of a need to offer them hospitality, but instead for their safety, for he knew the sin in the city better than anyone being one of its residents and knew that the men here would come calling for the visitors who were both so obviously striking.
The angels are able to recognize Lot’s urgency and agree to go with him. Though, this was likely to humour him, for the mere men of Sodom could do them no real harm after all.
Men of Sodom and Gomorrah
Lot prepared them a meal which they ate, and they intended to retire to bed. But since their arrival, word of two handsome visitors had spread through Sodom, and it wasn’t long before the angels were tracked down to Lot’s house.
Before either angel could retire to bed, they were met with a disturbance. The bible tells us that all the men from every part of the city of Sodom, both young and old, surrounded Lot’s house. They proceeded to call out to Lot and said, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them!’
So, the bible pretty much tells us that the men who came to Lot’s house have come to have sexual relations with the angels. They are not only demanding here but also demonstrate a total disregard for the principles of hospitality and morality, all so that they can be sexually satisfied.
Notice, they don’t care who the visitors are. They just simply want to have sex with them and are not interested as to whether this is consensual or not. All that appears to be stopping them is the door to Lot’s house.
The bible then tells us that men both young and old surrounded the house, implying that pretty much every man in Sodom was implicit of the sin unfolding in the city. In other words, good luck finding Abraham’s ten God-fearing people in Sodom.
The bible continues that Lot attempts to dissuade the mob, telling them not to do such a wicked thing.
However, Lot attempts to dissuade the mob in a rather questionable way. He tries to bargain with the mob by offering up his two daughters instead. “No, my friends.” He tells the mob, “Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”
Lot’s offering of his daughters is perhaps just as horrible as the sin he is trying to condemn. Sure, the men of Sodom demonstrate alarming behaviour in their gathering to have sex with the angels. But Lot’s willingness to offer up his daughters in the way that he does is just as sickening.
Again, it’s probably argued that because women had such a low place in society at the time, this probably wasn’t considered to be such an outrageous act. In fact, women probably ranked lower than guests of the household when you consider the sacred obligations of hospitality, whereby, guests were to be protected at all costs. Perhaps, even for the sake of one’s own family.
Still, it’s a pretty low moment for Lot, a man who literally appears to play God by trading the innocence of his daughters and compromising their virginity just to save two men he didn’t even know.
The mob doesn’t even take a second look at Lot’s daughters though. They antagonized Lot immediately saying, “Get out of our way. This fellow came here as a foreigner and now he wants to play the judge. We’ll treat you worse than them.”
The mob ridicules Lot and takes no notice of his pitiful efforts to provide a moral perspective. As far as they are concerned, he is a foreigner in their town and his words are worth less than dirt. It can be argued that Lot’s offering of his daughters was the only way he thought he could reach an effective compromise with the mob, but it only agitated them more.
They had no respect for him, and so, were less inclined to listen to anything he had to say. Furthermore, his efforts to pacify them only turn their attention towards him, as he is told that after they have done having their way with the visitors, they will take him next.
But the angels pull Lot back inside the house and before the mob of advance, we are told that the angels struck their men with blindness. The angels then turned to Lot and tell him,
“Do you have anyone else here-sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.” — Genesis 19: 12-13
The angels here seem to recognize Lot as a pious man—the sacrificing of his daughters notwithstanding of course. This isn’t hard for them to determine, given that he’s the only one who’d shown them hospitality and the only one who hadn’t tried to have his way with them. For this, they seek to help him get out of the city and advise him to take everyone he loves with him.
It is here that Lot comes to understand who his guests are—Agents of God, no doubt—and perhaps more pressingly, what it is they intend to do here.
The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
The gravity of the situation weighed on Lot almost immediately, and he went about asking his sons-in-law, those who were pledged to marry his daughters, to leave the city with him because God was about to destroy it.
To their detriment though, the sons-in-law thought he was joking and so they did not go with him.
By the morning, the angels urged Lot to hurry up and leave for the destruction was imminent. This leads us to believe that Lot had spent some time trying to save people, or at least convince them that God was about to destroy the city and that they should flee.
Unfortunately, it would seem that everyone adopted the same attitude as his sons-in-law, either laughing him off or dismissing him as crazy.
In the end, we learn that Lot leaves with only his wife and his two daughters—merely four people as opposed to Abraham’s hopeful ten. We also get some insight into Lot’s thought process in this section, and it can be argued that Lot didn’t want to leave Sodom and that a lot of his heart was in the city for he hesitates.
The bible states,
“When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them.” — Genesis 19: 16
The reason for Lot’s hesitation is not established, but some have argued that he was either trying to make one last-ditch attempt to save his son’s in-law or that he was trying to save his neighbours. Others suggest that Lot was starting to doubt the words of the visitors and because everyone else had laughed off the threat, maybe he ought to have done so as well.
But the angels literally grasped Lot by the hand and there is an implication here that they forced him out of the city. Notice, it is the angels who grasp the hands of not just him but also the hands of his family and are seen to lead them out.
It’s almost as if Lot could not be trusted to go himself or that he lingered in Sodom for so long that the angels did not believe he would make it. So, they took it upon themselves to make sure he got out safely—perhaps as compensation for his earlier hospitality.
‘Never Look Back!’, the Angels Instructed
Once they are out of the city, the angels declare a critical command to Lot and his family saying,
“Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!” — Genesis 19: 17
But Lot proceeds to look a gift horse in the mouth and tells the angels,
“No, my lords, please! Your servant has found favour in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die. Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it-it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.” — Genesis 19: 18-20
One idea here is that Lot did not have faith that the angels nor God knew what they were doing in terms of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction. It can be argued that he thought this whole thing was a mistake, hence his hesitancy, and that without Sodom, he would have no home and would have to live in the mountains thereafter.
This would not be comfortable for Lot and so he sought to ask the angels to spare one tiny city that would become known as Zoar. So that he would have a place to live once the destruction had come to pass.
The angels appear to agree to this request and so they wait for Lot to be on his way to Zoar before the plan is executed.
In Genesis 19: 24-25, the destruction of the surrounding cities of the desert is detailed as,
‘Then the Lord rained down burning sulphur on Sodom and Gomorrah-from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus, he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities and also the vegetation in the land.’
Disobedient Lot’s Wife — The Pillar of Salt
You’ll remember that the angels in Genesis 19: 17 advised Lot and his family to flee for their lives and not to look back. However, Lot’s wife is noted as doing exactly that in Genesis 19: 26, and because of her disobedience, she is turned into a pillar of salt.
There have been several theories as to why Lot’s wife endured this punishment for something that seems so insignificant, but there are those that say that her looking back at the cities was symbolic of her sympathy.
The fact that she looked back despite being told not to was her showing weakness in that she felt sorry for those who were destroyed, even though those very people had been shunned by God.
In a way, some might see Lot’s wife as a sympathizer of God’s enemies, and so, because of this, she was punished. Others believe that her looking back is an example of her being too attached to her old life and that she was looking back in regret for what she was losing and not what God was granting her in a new life away from sin.
Others agree that her looking back is a metaphor for our human impulses and that even when the angels gave her a command she still disobeyed out of curiosity, thus echoing the story of the temptation in Adam and Eve and the Original Sin.
Then, of course, there is the simple and short answer, in that she disobeyed the angel’s instructions and was therefore punished for it.
Lessons from the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
Early the next morning, we see Abraham standing at the same spot he had spoken to God the day before and he stares out towards Sodom and Gomorrah. However, all he saw was dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.
It’s understood in Genesis 19: 29 that God sparing of Lot’s life was not necessarily because Lot had shown the angels security but instead was a favour to Abraham.
Abraham’s observations of the ruins of Sodom contained some lessons for believers; for one, it shows the strength of God, for his power is immeasurable that it can leave cities decimated with no trace of civilization. It also shows believers that they should have a deep sense of gratitude for God, perhaps, the same gratitude that Abraham would have had for God rescuing his nephew.
Ultimately, the story seeks to remind believers of the evils of sin and what awaits those who turn away from God.
Lot and His Daughters — The Abominable Deeds
In the closing chapter of Genesis 19, we see Lot and his daughters living in a cave in the mountains. Seemingly too afraid to integrate into the city of Zoar after the ordeal they had endured.
This comes despite Lot bargaining with the angels to flee to Zoar instead of the mountains, and it’s interesting to see that despite getting their permission, he ironically ends up in the mountains anyway.
However, his daughters begin to realize that if they stayed in the cave, they would not meet men and would not be able to give birth to children and carry on their family’s legacy.
So, one night, the oldest daughter decided to get her father drunk to the point that he was unaware of his surroundings. Once Lot was in this incapacitated state, she proceeded to have sex with him and is impregnated.
The next night, the younger daughter does the same thing and is also impregnated.
Throughout these two nights, Lot appears to have no recollection of these events taking place as the bible states on both occasions, “Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.”
The bible later states that both daughters successfully gave birth in Genesis 19: 36-38.
“So, both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.”
It is certainly an uncomfortable way for the chapter to end—two daughters seducing and essentially raping their father. There’s also an irony here that in his drunkenness, Lot facilitates the same shameful act that he had put forth to the mob in Sodom, by laying with his daughters.
And that concludes chapter 19 of the book of Genesis. Certainly, an exciting, if not morally questionable chapter that demonstrates the good and bad traits in all its characters.
We see Lot offering up his daughters to the mob of men to do with as they wish, and we see these same daughters sexually manipulate him later when he’s too old and too drunk to do anything about it.
We see Lot’s wife disobey God’s angels and bear the consequences for such folly and we see the men of Sodom portrayed in a gluttonous, terrible light, that makes them the clear villains of the story.
Art Credits: Useum, RainbowToken, jw.org.