A CAREFUL VIEW OF SCRIPTURE with Regard to LGBT Questions
Sodom and Gomorrah
Sodom and Gomorrah Revisited
We start our study of the Sodom and Gomorrah, by looking at Genesis 14 (not Genesis 18-19). This link takes you to the passage. I also include the passage here. I am doing this so we can better understand the historical and cultural context. (Passages in red are of particular interest … see notes below)
14 At the time when Amraphel was king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goyim, 2 these kings went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboyim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). 3 All these latter kings joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Dead Sea Valley).4 For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.
5 In the fourteenth year, Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him went out and defeated the Rephaites in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, the Emites in Shaveh Kiriathaim 6 and the Horites in the hill country of Seir, as far as El Paran near the desert. 7 Then they turned back and went to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and they conquered the whole territory of the Amalekites, as well as the Amorites who were living in Hazezon Tamar.
8 Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboyim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim 9 against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goyim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five. 10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of tar pits, and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled to the hills. 11 The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. 12 They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.
13 A man who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshkol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.
17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).
18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.”
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”
22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ 24 I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.” Political /social structure...
Here are some key things to observe in this passage. We see from the passage that each of these cities had a king and were, in fact, independent city states. Sodom had a king. Gomorrah had a king. And all these other cities had kings as well (See Gen 14:1-3 ). There was no common overseeing power that provided security or unity between these mini-kingdoms. These cities were likely a smaller version of what Joshua would encounter centuries later ... cities with gates that were closed at night to keep the inhabitants safe and opened during the day so they could farm the surrounding lands. It’s important to remember this for our later analysis.
We see from the passage that at times different mini-kingdoms … (i.e. city/states) ... would ally together to make war against another mini-kingdom and plunder their goods and people. These were very likely small cities … since later we find that Abram and his 318 men were able to rout the armies of four city states that had allied together. So barring some interventional miracle that scripture does not mention it appears that 318 men were more than a match for the armies of four city states. Thus the size of their armies was likely 75 per city or less (unless he had helped from the other city states mentioned in the chapter). My population guess is not critical to the exegesis of this passage … I am just trying to imagine what the sizes of these city states were.
Abram’s attitude and actions...
I think it is important to note here what Abraham does and does not do.
First … What Abram does not do … He does not assume that this hostile action against Sodom and Gomorrah is a judgment from God (though we do know per Genesis 13 that the people of Sodom were sinning against the Lord). He does not cheer it on as if it was something long overdue. He also does not choose to rescue only Lot and his family and leave the rest to captivity.
Second ... What Abram does do... He puts his servants and resources on the line and goes out and acts on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah, to rescue them from their captors and restore them to their town(s). Note: A quick read of the passage gives the impression that only Lot and his family were taken into captivity but Genesis 14:16 shows otherwise.
Melchizedek is considered to be a type of Christ. (See Hebrews 7:1-10 which compares Melchizedek to Christ.) Melchizedek does not chastise Abram for what he has done in intervening for Sodom but blesses him saying that God has delivered his enemies into his hand. While the text does not credit a miraculous intervention by God, it does testify to God’s approval of and direct involvement in this battle to bring victory to Abram.
Note also the interchange between Abram and the king of Sodom (Genesis 14:21-24 )
Sodom is often presented as a crazy, out of control town with morally deranged people. But Abram is able to have a normal conversation with the King of Sodom. The King of Sodom offers to reward Abram with all the goods from the battle but Abram refuses and says he just wants enough for food for his men.
Though not directly addressed … it is worthwhile to think about how this experience may have affected the residents of Sodom.
Those of us who live in America are rather isolated from an invasive event like what the people of Sodom suffered. We have not been involved in a war in which we were taken out of our homes to another nation or kingdom and had our possessions plundered. Our closest parallels would be Pearl Harbor and 9/11. These are both situations where we as a country felt violated and vulnerable.
-The Pearl Harbor attack did affect us. Japanese Americans ... particularly on the West Coast ... were forced out of their homes and into special internment camps. Why? Because we were paranoid that some of our own citizens might be spies. You can read more about this here .
-9/11 was another tragic event which affected us. It resulted in increased negative attitudes toward all Muslims. Why? Because, once again, people became paranoid and did not make distinctions between the radical followers of Islam and the peaceful followers of Islam. Now one might argue that there were some valid reasons to be concerned in both cases… however the response … at times … was extreme.
So we might deduce from all of this that the people of Sodom lived with the knowledge that they were surrounded by hostile kingdoms (cities) which had allied together to take their people and goods and that it could easily happen again. For them (like for us) some of what they thought could never happen had happened and (just as it affected us) it likely affected their sense of security for years to come. The world was now seen as a dangerous place in which bad things could happen without warning, a world where one’s family or family members could be killed or carted off along with their possessions.
Genesis 18 and 19...
We now turn our attention to Genesis 18 and 19. We don’t know exactly how many years have passed since the events of Genesis 14 but we can make some deductions. We do know that the events from Genesis 14 and from Gen 18-19 are in Abram’s life span. We know that he was 86 years old in Chapter 16 (Genesis 16:16) when Hagar bore him a son and that he was 99 years old when the Lord appeared to him in Chapter 17 (Genesis 17:1). So at least 13 years had passed between Genesis 14 and 18.
Genesis 18 tells of Abraham’s encounter with three men ... (apparently two of them are angels and one of them is the Lord). After sharing about Sarah and her (upcoming) miraculous pregnancy the discussion turns to Sodom. The Lord decides not to hold back from Abraham what he intends to do about Sodom because the outcry against the city is great and because God knows Abraham and wants to share what he is going to do about this with him. We are never told what the outcry over Sodom is about ... we are only told that it was great and that their sin was grievous.
So God tells Abraham that he is sending two angles to see if it is as bad as He has heard (obviously, being God, he already knows). Abraham must know how bad it is as well for his response assumes that God will bring judgment. It is important to note that Abraham’s attitude is one of mercy ... not condemnation. He intercedes for Sodom and questions God on whether he will spare the city if there are fifty righteous in it. From there he works down to forty five, thirty, twenty, and finally ten people. Each time God assures him that He will not destroy the city if He finds that many righteous people in it. Again, the same as it was over 13 years ago in Genesis 14, Abraham’s attitude is one of mercy and intercession ... not condemnation and judgment. Whatever conclusions we might reach on what the sin of Sodom is, Abraham’s intercessory response is something worth considering especially if we compare and contrast it with the attitude of many who call themselves Christian today.
The angels arrive at Sodom… We only have a scant eleven verses to tell us of what conversations happen at Sodom (Genesis 19:1-10 )… --- 19 The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2 “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.” “No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.” 3 But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate.
4 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 5 They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” 6 Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7 and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing.8 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.” 9 “Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. 10 But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11 Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.
--- So let’s break this down … (note this outline also explores what happened later in the account for context)
I. The two angels arrive at Sodom. II. Lot goes to greet them and offers them a place to stay in his home. III. Lot prepares a meal for them in his home. IV. Later, the people of the city ... both young and old surround the house. V. They demand that Lot “Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” VI. Lot responds: “No, my friends. 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.” VII. The men of Sodom reply: “Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” VIII. The men continue to pressure Lot to bring the men out and they move forward to break down the door. IX. The “men” that Lot is giving refuge to pull Lot back in and strike the men of Sodom with blindness. X. They subsequently leave Sodom though it takes quite a bit of pleading to convince Lot and his family even after the miracle of striking the people blind. XI. The two suitors for Lot’s two daughters (apparently the only straight people in the whole town if we follow the traditional understanding of this passage) think he is joking and refuse to leave with them. (See Genesis 19:14 ) XII. Lot’s wife looks back and becomes a pillar of salt. (See Genesis 19:26 ) XIII. Scripture shows that God remembered Abraham and his intercession for Sodom (Genesis 19:27-29 ) XIV. Lot’s daughters eventually get their father drunk and sleep with him to have offspring. (See Genesis 19:33-38 )
Now that we have outlined what happens let’s ask some questions of the text…
1. What is the general attitude of the people of Sodom toward Lot?
2. Why is Lot willing to sacrifice his virgin daughters to the crowd in order to protect people he has never met before?
3. Why do all the men (and all the boys in some versions) want to have sex with these two male visitors and what is their motivation/objective?
4. Why do all the men and all the boys of Sodom reject Lot’s offer of his daughters?
Gaining answers to these questions will help us to better understand this story… So let’s review them one by one ...
What is the general attitude of the people of Sodom toward Lot?
We see in Genesis 19:9 that the people of Sodom regard Lot as an outsider. They call him ‘a foreigner’. They question just who he thinks he is that he can come and judge what they do. They threaten him. Keep in mind that Lot has been a resident of Sodom for quite some time… at least I3 years based on our earlier conclusions. I have heard sermons preached that present Lot as being part of the in-crowd in Sodom. But the reaction of this angry mob to Lot would definitely indicate otherwise. There is a significant phrase here in Genesis 19:9 that we should keep in mind. They tell Lot to get out of their way and if he doesn't they warn him: “We’ll treat you worse than them.” We will have more on this passage later.
Why is Lot willing to sacrifice his virgin daughters to the crowd in order to protect people he has never met before?
This is actually a very easy question to answer. We won’t need any external reference books for this one because Lot tells us the answer to this question in Genesis 19: 8 “….But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”
This is the ancient cultural custom of hospitality. We see a similar custom in Judges 19:23-24 when a different household is under a similar threat. In ancient times, when you took a person into your home you were responsible for their safety and well-being. This is what Lot is practicing. He tells us this himself. I think many of us may question whether being willing to sacrifice one’s daughters to an angry rape gang is noble or righteous. But scripture says Lot was righteous. We will discuss why they rejected Lots offer in a moment … but first we need to answer the following question.
Why do all the men (and all the boys in some versions) want to have sex with these two male visitors and what is their motivation/objective?
Once again … the bible text has a clear answer for us if we are willing to accept it without all the bias of the centuries. It is found in Genesis 19:9. They tell Lot to get out of their way and if he doesn't they warn him:
“We’ll treat you worse than them.”
We've already mentioned that this is certainly an indication that Lot is not one of their inner circle.
It is clear that their objective is to cause harm … and if Lot interferes they will do worse things to him. Note: I am stating the obvious here but if they found Lot attractive or desirable they could have pursued him in all the 13+ years that he had been in Sodom. So, again, it is clear that their motive is neither attraction nor romantic desire but to do harm … harm to the visitors and harm to Lot if he gets in their way.
Traditional Christian thinking on this passage is that they were drawn by being attracted to the men … or … it is assumed that this is simply what homosexuals do … rape innocent strangers! But that is not what the text says. And even in modern day times we know of circumstances where someone is sodomized to humiliate them or control them. And in many of those cases the humiliation and control had nothing to do with same gender attractions. Indeed the word ‘sodomize’ comes from these events in Sodom.
Equipped with this knowledge we now ask:Why do the all the men and all the boys of Sodom reject Lot’s offer?
The typical answer given here is that all the men and boys of Sodom are gay and thus have no interest in Lot’s daughters. The problem with this assumption is that the desire to rape and cause harm is not a romantic desire. Rape typically is not motivated by sexual desire but is based on power … control … and humiliation. And we have already noted that they told Lot to get out of their way and if he doesn’t they warn him: “We’ll treat you worse than them.” The object of their anger (and desire to cause harm) is aimed at the visitors and anyone that seeks to protect these out of town foreigners. Lot’s daughters, in that time and culture are, like all women of that day, second class citizens. They have no power. Thus they are not the focus of the crowd’s anger and/or desire to harm. Thus the angry crowd has no interest in them and rejects Lot’s offer. So all of this leads us to a new question:
If the motive is humiliation and control then why do the people of Sodom want to do this? Why do they feel the need to humiliate these strangers? A likely answer is that they felt threatened in some way by these visitors. Humiliating people you feel threatened by through raping them is cruel and evil. But, as we mentioned before … it is not unheard of … even in today’s culture. So, why would they feel threatened? A plausible answer to this is that they may have thought the men were spies from a foreign kingdom (city) … perhaps one that had conquered them before. If this was the case then Lot’s willingness (as a foreigner) to take them in and protect them may have served to heighten the suspicions and concerns of the people of Sodom about these men. Perhaps they wanted to teach them a lesson so that whoever sent them would think twice about attacking and dragging off the residents of Sodom as had been done some 13+ years before. It should also be noted that sending spies into a city before attempting to overthrow it is a known practice in ancient times as evidenced in the account of Joshua and the battle of Jericho. Think about it … The spies that Joshua sent did not have name badges on them that said: “I am a spy.” But somehow the residents of Jericho determined that there were spies in their city and traced them to Rahab’s house. But Rahab hid the spies, otherwise the townspeople would certainly have captured, harmed, or even killed them.
Somehow, in a like manner, it seems the people of Sodom recognized these folks as foreigners … Their suspicions likely heightened when a foreigner took them in. So … similar to what the people of Jericho did …they suspected they were spies and they went after them … In this case they were angels of God and things did not end well for them.
Raping visitors who you think are spies is rather far removed from the traditional interpretation of this passage. And we really don’t know if this is the first time they have done this for this reason … or if this is the way they always treated all outsiders that they found suspicious
What lesson does this story teach us? … Most people who have been victimized have a difficult time learning to trust again. If this was the case with the people of Sodom then they let their distrust get out of control and lead them to do (or attempt to do) some pretty heinous things. The lesson here would be to not let what people have done to you in the past dominate and control your life to the point that you become the very thing you feared.
We may gain further insight into this passage by noting how later writers of scripture and Jewish literature characterize Sodom. When we do so, we find that while much of Christianity focuses on the sexual aspect of this account …. later Jewish and prophetic writings do not. Some examples follow…
The Prophet Ezekiel … The people of Sodom were haughty …. and did not help the poor (Ezekiel 16:48-52).
Jesus … The people of Sodom will be judged more favorably than the people of Capernaum because if the people of Sodom had seen Jesus they would have repented and still be here. (Matthew 11: 20-24) This echoes Ezekiel’s message. With Ezekiel’s message … Israel is portrayed as having done worse than Sodom. Jesus’ message states that Capernaum’s fate will be worse than Sodom’s. Perhaps, if the miracles done in Capernaum had been done in Sodom, the healing work of the blood of Christ would have overcome their bitterness, fears and paranoia and the resulting hostility to visitors would not have happened.
Various midrash’s ... (note ... midrashes are stories told by Jewish rabbinic sages to explain passages in the Tanakh) Per these midrashes, Sodom’s sin is a failure to help the poor and/or be welcoming to visitors. (see link to various Jewish midrashes)
Again ... there is plenty of opportunity in multiple ancient Jewish texts to lay out that Sodom’s sin was homosexuality but this is not what we find when we look through scripture and through Jewish writings. Some writings (such as in the book of Jude) do refer to sexual sin in reference to Sodom ... But what sin are they referring to? Is Jude referring to the known attempted rape of these two visitors to humiliate them or to some imagined sin of Sodom that is based on our assumptions rather than what scripture actually says?
So what conclusions can we draw from all of this?
1. Ancient writings ... both in and outside of scripture … emphasize a very different aspect of Sodom than what is emphasized today. 2. Abram’s response of mercy … not judgment … is a good model to follow regardless of how we interpret the passage. 3. The people of Sodom thinking the two men were spies and wanting to humiliate them is a reasonable conclusion based on the culture and past conflicts in the area. It fits the entire account very well.
4. There is nothing in the text that shows us what the sexual orientation of the men of Sodom was. It seems absurd, for example, to think that only Lot’s daughter’s two fiancés were straight.
5. While we might certainly have a particular belief about the morality of same gender sex it is as ridiculous to use this passage to back that up as it is to use at story of heterosexual rape like what is found in Judges 19 to establish some moral code against premarital sex. A gang of men and boys desiring to rape two strangers is far removed from the questions gay and lesbian people are asking today about the people they love and care about.
6. If the angels had been women I doubt any conservative scholar would conclude a lesson against premarital sex from the passage.
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