I discuss the destruction of Sodom and the rescue of Lot.
Welcome back. Today I am returning to my study on Abraham and his family. In this ninth study, we will be looking at Genesis 19, which is the story of Lot and Sodom.
I have discussed in the past the way in which Abraham and Lot were established, initially as father/son, and then later on as brother/brother. And they are set up in that way as a sort of diptych—as two characters held alongside each other. And as we see them alongside each other, we will understand them better as we view the similarities and the differences, as we see them juxtaposed with each other.
When we get to the beginning of chapter 19, we should read it in the context of what has immediately gone beforehand. There have been three angelic visitors to Abraham. Those angelic visitors foretold the birth of a child to Sarah, making her fruitful. They have been the recipients of great hospitality: a feast and all these sorts of things. And then God, who was presumably the Angel of the Lord, remained with Abraham to talk about the fate of Sodom, while the two other angels go on to the city itself to inspect it.
Now, there are ways in which this helps us to understand what is taking place here. First of all, the two angels have just come from being with Abraham. It says, “Now the two angels”—we are supposed to know who these two angels are. We have been reading the story to this point, and so we have God remaining with Abraham, and then we have the two angels going on. So, there are three altogether. One remains with Abraham—the Angel of the Lord—and two go on to inspect the city of Sodom.
This theme of two going to the city, as I have mentioned before, is connected with themes that we have more generally, of inspection prior to judgment. Christ sends out his disciples two-by-two to the towns and villages of Israel. We have two people going as spies into the city of Jericho. We have two people being sent by the Angel of the Lord into Egypt: Moses and Aaron. And in these sorts of cases, what we are seeing are two witnesses bearing witness to the wickedness of a particular place, and/or the righteous being made ready for judgment.
We have also seen a conversation between Abraham and God, where God has negotiated or talked with Abraham about his plans for Sodom. And Sodom is exceedingly wicked, the outcry against it rising up to heaven. But Abraham says if there are however many righteous—fifty righteous, forty-five righteous, et cetera, all the way down to ten (and I have suggested that the ten figure might be related to Lot and his family)—it is possible that it might be reprieved. Now, the negotiation or the discussion there ends in a sort of abrupt way, and they go their separate ways. Abraham returns to his place. And now, I think we have something that plays out the continuation of that. Can ten righteous be found in the city? Can the household of Lot be gathered together in one place? Are they safe? And what we will see is it does not, in fact, work out.
There are parallels between the reception they get when they arrive in Sodom and the reception that Abraham gives them in the chapter before. They arrive in the evening. Again, a contrast here, the contrast between arriving during the heat of the day, mid-day sun, when they arrive near Abraham. And now, it is near dark. The sun is going down. And Lot is sitting in the gate of Sodom. Abraham was sitting in the tent door. The tent door is paralleled with the city gates. This is a site of judgment. The people who sit in the gates are the judges of the city. These are important figures who will help to rule the city.
And he bows towards them with his face towards the ground. That is exactly what we see in the previous chapter, in the way that Abraham greets the three visitors. And he presses them to stay with him. “Please turn in to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise early and go on your way.” Again, these are very similar themes that we have from the previous chapter. In the previous chapter, we are told that Abraham says, “Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.” They are offered shade and water to wash their feet. They say that they will spend the night in the open square, but he presses them and says that they should go into his house. So, they enter his house and he makes a feast.
Now, we have had a description of a feast in the previous chapter, the bountiful feast that Abraham prepares for them. You can imagine they are stuffed by this point, but Lot offers a meal as well, another feast! But the feast that he prepares is significant. He bakes unleavened bread; this is also an evening meal, a meal in haste. And we will see as we go on that this is the first intimation, perhaps—if you have not been paying attention to certain other details—this might be a first intimation that something is going on here, that there is some exodus pattern being played out. Unleavened bread: this is the first occasion that we have unleavened bread mentioned in the Bible, and there seems to be something going on here. He makes unleavened bread for an evening meal, and they eat.
There are two visitors coming to the city, preparing for judgment. This is a very similar thing to Exodus, a connection strengthened when you go back to the previous chapters and see the reference to the institution of circumcision immediately beforehand. Moses was prepared to go into the city with Aaron: he had to have his son circumcised. This theme of circumcision in preparation for the Passover is important.
There is the suggestion that the angels are going to pass by. And here, I think, that we see other relationships with Passover themes. The angels are associated with Moses and Aaron, but also, in some senses, with the destroying angel that we have in Exodus, and the destruction of the city—although the destroying angel is probably the Angel of the Lord that comes beforehand.
The people of the city come around the house and press it from every quarter. This is a large number of people of the men of the city of Sodom. They say, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them carnally.” We have already discussed the way that within the previous chapters, there is a great emphasis placed upon the taming of the sexuality of Abraham. And this contrast between the vicious, violent sexuality of the men of Sodom and the sort of sexuality that God is establishing in Abraham is an important one. It is connected with circumcision. It has something to do with the taming and the pruning of sexuality so that it is prepared for proper service, so it is not wild, ruthless, and violent in the way that it is here.
And what we see here is the emphasis is on the extremes of inhospitality. They want to violate these men. And they ask who the men are. They may think that they are like spies that have come in, but this is a society that is so violent, that is so closed in on itself that it uses violence against anyone who comes in. And there are other things that might be going on here: they may have some sense that they are different, that they are not just regular men. There may be some theme of sex with angels here—I am not sure—but it is worth bearing in mind that possibility.
They want to bring them out and they want to have relations, to lie with them carnally. And Lot goes out and shuts the door behind him and pleads with them. “Don’t do so wickedly!” And they get angry at him. At this point, he offers his two daughters, who have not known a man; he can bring them out and they may do whatever they want to them. Now, this I have discussed in a previous video. It may not be what it all appears on the surface. On the surface, there may seem to be innuendos going on in this chapter that suggest that Lot is as sexually corrupt as the people of the city. But it may be a twist in the tale, because later on we see the daughters seem to be discovered outside of Lot’s house. So, they were not there. And he may just be playing for time. Whether that would work as a ploy or not I am not sure, but it is a possibility. George Athas has written a piece on this.
He offers to bring them out and says that they can do with the two daughters whatever they want. But then, they try and press in, trying to get into the house. They try to attack the angels. And they say to Lot, “‘This one came to sojourn, and he keeps acting as a judge; now we will deal worse with you than with them.’ So, they pressed near against the man Lot, and came near to break down the door.” Where have we heard this before? This is the way that the people speak about Moses: “Who set up this man as a judge over us?” Lot has been within the door, within the gate of the city. He has been someone who has been judging within the city of Sodom, and they are resenting him for that fact—not just resenting the people who are visiting from outside, but the sojourner within their gates as well. This is an intensification of their inhospitality.
We will see a very similar incident to this played out in the story of Gibeah, where the Levite and his concubine stay with the old man of Ephraim within the city of Gibeah. Again, it is a sojourner within the city that gives them refuge. No one else in the city does that. And in the same situation, they say that “We will stay in the open square” but are pressed to stay with the sojourner. And then, in that situation, he offers to throw out his daughter and the Levite’s concubine, but only the Levite’s concubine is thrown out. There are interesting things going on there. I am not sure what to make of that exactly, but there is some sort of twist in the tale perhaps. And it is not certain who, in fact, is throwing out the Levite’s concubine. Is it the old man of Ephraim, or is it the Levite himself? We are not sure.
The daughters are not, in fact, thrown out here. But there is something going on that I will get to in a moment. “The men reached out their hands and pulled Lot into the house with them, and shut the door.” Now, the threat at the doorway, where does that remind us of? It should remind us of the events of the Exodus. In that story, there is this threat at the doorway, blood has to be put on the door post, and people have to remain inside the house to be safe. We see the same thing in the story of Rahab. In the story of Rahab, they need to remain in the house. They need to gather within that house to be presented from the overthrow. Again, two visitors come to the city, and, again, the visitors end up going to the mountain, and other themes that we will see appear within this chapter.
Then they strike the men who are at the doorway of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they become weary trying to find the door. This does not seem to be a complete blindness. They dazzled them so they do not recognize what they are seeing. They are seeing other things, presumably, but they just cannot recognize the door, and they are struggling to find it. And this is something that we see elsewhere in Scripture, with the men of Syria and the miracle performed with Elisha. I think there is something similar going on there. [Perhaps we should also see parallels with the story of Babel.]
Then they say to Lot, ‘Have you anyone else here? Son-in-law, your sons, your daughters, and whomever you have in the city—take them out of this place! For we will destroy this place, because the outcry against it has grown great before the face of the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it.
And so, Lot goes out and he speaks to his sons-in-law, who had married his daughters, and said, “Get out of this place, for the Lord will destroy the city!” Now, the question is, have these sons-in-law already married his daughters or are they just betrothed to be married? And is it the case that the daughters are with Lot or is it the case that the daughters are with the sons-in-law? This is one of the key questions that the passage turns upon. Athas’s discussion of that is interesting, I think. The sons-in-law think he is joking. They do not take him seriously.
Now, within the story of the flood, we have very similar themes. Noah, his sons, and his daughters-in-law are all gathered within the Ark, and the door is shut. They are protected. But here, we have his failure to gather together his sons-in-law and his sons. He is left with just his daughters and his wife. The morning is dawning. Once again, we encounter themes of haste: the eating of an unleavened bread meal at night and the changing of fortunes in the morning (like crossing over the Red Sea at night). As the morning dawns, it is at that point that the waters start to descend upon the Egyptians. And we have a similar crossing of the water, for instance, and the sun rising in the story of Jacob later on, as he crosses the Jabbok. We encounter the sun rising at other points as a matter of narrative significance. The sun is at its height in the story of Abraham beforehand, but now it is the night, the time of threat and danger. The sun will rise afterwards, ending the darkness and bringing judgment.
“Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away”—or consumed—“in the punishment of the city.” “Swept away” might be flood language. In the New Testament, on several occasions, there are connections between the Flood and the destruction of Sodom. We see such a connection here: there is about to be a flood of destruction that will sweep away the city. And there is going to be the cutting off of flesh. Abraham had to cut off the flesh of the foreskin in preparation for this coming judgment. And now, the flesh of Sodom is being cut off, and Lot must be removed. Lot must be taken out of that place.
God shows mercy to him at this point. There is a way in which Lot seemed to be a very compromised figure. His offering of his daughters, even if a ploy, is something that does not sound good. It is a sign that he has reached the end of this rope. There is no other possibility to save his skin and the skin of his guests. He seems to be prepared to sacrifice his own family. And the question at the beginning of this chapter is “Can ten be gathered?” And what we see here is, no, they cannot be gathered. His sons do not seem to heed him. His daughters heed him, but his sons-in-law think he is just joking. And that is tragic. Why would they think he is just joking? Is Lot someone who they do not take very seriously? Or are they just people who are so inured to seriousness and gravity that they cannot hear when someone is giving them a serious message? Something terrible has happened, one way or another.
There is something very wrong here. He cannot gather ten people. In the end, he can only gather four. And that is part of the tragedy of Sodom, that it is overthrown because ten cannot be found. Ten cannot be gathered. And whereas Abraham is an influence and gathers people around him—a righteous core of people—influencing others within the land and getting others to worship, Lot cannot do that. If God is going to preserve the righteous, it is going to be this lively seed that will gather others to them, that will rise up, and form a new body of people, and overtake the wicked and work like leaven through these cities that are wicked. But no, it cannot be done. And so, they must cut off the leaven of that city, and they must leave, and go to another place.
He is told to escape to, literally, the mountain, “lest you be destroyed.” This movement towards the mountain is something that we see elsewhere in Scripture. The spies go to the mountain after they flee from Jericho. Israel goes to the mountain, Mount Sinai, to worship as they leave Egypt. The mountain is a notable site. Elijah goes to the mountain after the forty days in the wilderness. All of these events might be connected in various ways. Lot must escape for his life, not looking behind or staying anywhere in the plain. He asks if he can just stay in a small city that will not be overthrown, just a little one, and he shall live there. They allow him to do that, and he ends up settling in Zoar. Then the sun rises upon the earth as he enters Zoar and God rains brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah.
This is a signal judgment. This is something that we see referenced throughout the New Testament and the Old Testament at various points. This judgment is an example of final judgment to other places. The fate of the cities of the plain is a fate from which all other places should learn. Their fate might be like that too if they reject the Word of the Lord. God overthrows the cities, all the cities of the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities. That entire area is salted and destroyed.
But the wife of Lot looks back and becomes a pillar of salt. Now, whether this is a miracle, that she turns into salt, or whether there is something that falls on her, or whether something else happens, we do not know. But what is happening here? Well, read it against the background of the previous chapter. We have been reading about the story of Abraham and the promise of dead flesh being made living, Abraham being made living, as his flesh is cut off in circumcision, and he is prepared to bear a child of promise. Likewise, Sarah is made fruitful. Her womb is no longer barren. But what we have here is the wife of Lot turning into the barrenness of salt in contrast to Sarah, the one who was barren being made fruitful.
There is a juxtaposition between Abraham and Lot, and between Sarah and Lot’s wife. These two stories need to be read alongside each other. And there are very clear ways that we can see these being contrasted with each other. There are two daughters, and then there are two sons. There are Ishmael and Isaac and there are the two daughters of Lot. Now, we will read later on the tragic events that are associated with them, but there seems to be something between these two stories that helps us to understand what is going on. The destruction of daughters threatened in the doorway, and then the birth of a son promised in a doorway. We have the tent door at the beginning of chapter 18, and then we have the city gates at the beginning of chapter 19. And we have the promise of the child when Sarah is hearing that in the tent door, and then we have the threat of the death of the daughters in the door of Lot’s house, and then the closing of that door by the angels—just as God closed the door of the ark to destroy and flood all the people outside—and then also the closing of the door around Israel during the Passover, so the people outside, they lose the firstborn. Death of children and then life of children within the house, and there is a theme of new birth in that context. The doors of the house are associated with the doors of the womb, and the blood on the doorpost is associated with blood of birth as well. A birth event is about to take place.
We see that in the story of the Exodus, where immediately before the crossing of the Red Sea and after the Passover events, there is a rite given concerning the firstborn, the setting apart of the firstborn, a rite associated with birth and doorways. And then there is the threat of the death at the doorway too.
So, here we see these two stories, held alongside each other, give us themes of Exodus. There is a sort of exodus that takes place here. Lot is delivered and rescued from a city that is being overthrown, like Egypt would be. But yet, there is a twist on it, because, although he is delivered from the city, he loses so much. This is not a story where he gathers together his whole house and escapes, and a whole new nation being formed in blessing and fruitfulness. No. He is delivered, but he is scarred. He goes down, in many ways, to death. He does not go completely down to death, but there is a perversion of his life, a twisting of his life, something gone very wrong. Something is misshapen in his story. And that play upon the exodus theme is important. It helps us to see positive dimensions, but also negative dimensions too.
So the doorway is significant: the promise of birth in the doorway, the threat of death in the doorway, the event of judgment in the doorway. Then we have the closing of the door by the angels, just as God closed the door at the Flood. We have the destruction of children, the birth of children. And what we see in this story as well is a playing out of something that we have seen before. What happened after the flood? There was a story of drunkenness and an uncovering of the nakedness of the father. And this is something we see here. Lot goes out of Zoar eventually and dwells in the mountain. And his two daughters go with him. He is afraid to dwell in Zoar. This is a very tragic story. He ends up living in a cave, and that is a sign of death. It is tomb-like place.
Now, there are points where people go down to a cave in order to be lifted up again. But going into a cave is not a good thing. It is not somewhere you want to remain. So, David goes to the cave of Adullam, and then eventually is raised up out of that to rule. But here, we see Lot going down into the cave.
The two daughters wonder, “Is there anyone we can marry? I mean, we are living in this apocalyptic scenario; it seems like the earth is completely destroyed.” “There is no man on the earth to come into us as is the custom of all the earth”—“We are the last survivors of this devastation. What can we do? We are the survivors of the apocalypse.” And so, they make their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn goes in and lies with her father, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose.
This is very similar to the story of Noah and Ham. It is a fall story. In the story of Noah and Ham, there is the planting of a garden—the vineyard—eating of the fruit, becoming naked and drunk, and then uncovered, and shame, and all these sorts of things, followed by judgment: sentences upon three people. Positive judgments on two, Shem and Japheth, and then a negative judgment upon Ham.
So, we are seeing a similar thing in this story. There is the judgment that occurs upon the countries that arise from this particular event. So, the first night, one lies with her father, and he does not know when she lays down or rises up. And then, the next time, the next day—maybe not the literal next day, but the next occasion, as it were—the firstborn says to the younger, “Indeed I lay with my father last night; let us make him drink wine tonight also, and you may go in and lie with him.” And so, she lies with him as well, and he doesn’t know when she lies down or when she arises. And the daughters of Lot have two children through this. One is Moab, and one is Ben-Ammi. And one gives right to the Moabites, the other to the Ammonites.
Now, we see similar stories like this elsewhere in Scripture. I have already compared it to the story of Ham. It is also, in some respects, like the story that we have of Tamar and Judah. So, Judah is presumably drunk. He is celebrating in the sheep-shearing season. And then, Tamar goes in and lies with him, and he does not know who she is, and eventually raises up seed for his house that seems to be devastated. His sons are dying, and Onan had already died, and Shelah is not being given to Tamar.
And so, it is a similar sort of situation: the house is going down to death, and then the daughter—in that other case it is the daughter-in-law—goes in to lie with her father to raise up seed, in that desperate situation. So, it is like the story of Ham and the rebellion against the father. It is also like the story of Tamar and Judah.
Now, think back through the story. Lot had offered—or seemed to offer, at the very least—his daughters to the men of Sodom to lie with. And there is a sense in which there is a sort of poetic justice here, that these daughters have brought the way of Sodom with them. These daughters bring with them the way of Sodom, just as Egypt is represented in Hagar being part of the ongoing story. She brings part of Egypt with her, these daughters bring part of Sodom with them. And we will see that connection with Moab and Ammon, and Sodom in Zephaniah 2, for instance, in verses 8, following:
‘I have heard the reproach of Moab, and the revilings of the people of Ammon, with which they have reproached My people, and made arrogant threats against their borders. Therefore, as I live,’ says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Surely Moab shall be like Sodom, and the people Ammon like Gomorrah—overrun with weeds and saltpits, and a perpetual desolation. The residue of My people shall plunder them, and the remnant of My people shall possess them.’
This is a similar account. And here, I think that you have this connection between the people of Sodom and the daughters of Lot.
Elsewhere, we will also see something similar to this, as a descendant of Tamar and a descendant of the oldest daughter, who gave rise to Moab, come together. And that is in the story of Ruth. And Boaz is asleep on the threshing floor, and his feet are uncovered. There are all sorts of sexual connotations within that story, and we are supposed to see those sorts of sexual connotations—not as an sexual event taking place, but as an allusion back to these previous stories, to the story of Tamar and Judah, and to the story of Lot and his daughters. Here is the descendant of Moab, a Moabitess, who goes into a descendant of Tamar and Judah and lies at his feet. There are all sorts of sexual connotations there, and it seems they are replaying these themes that we have in these stories that come earlier.
And in both cases, the bastard offspring are held out of the congregation for ten generations; likewise the descendants of Moab. And so, we have a reversal of that, a healing of two wounds, in that story of Ruth. There is a lot going on there, but we can maybe do that some other time. I have discussed it in various places.
Anything else going on the story? The two daughters and the two sons—there might seem to be a natural connection. Again, this is paralleling the story of Ishmael and Isaac and the story of the two daughters of Lot. And within these stories we are seeing the way in which Lot and Abraham finally part ways. I mean, Lot could have gone back to Abraham at this point; he does not. This is his last chance, in many ways, to go back to Abraham, and he does not take that opportunity. Abraham is mentioned within the story. He goes early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord, in the discussion of chapter 18, “And he looks towards Sodom and Gomorrah, and towards all the land of the plain; and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land which went up like the smoke of a furnace.” This is a great sacrificial judgment on the place. And it is similar to the sorts of the judgments that have to be carried out on the wicked cities in the destruction of Canaan.
These are stories that resemble each other, and they are stories that help us to interpret what happens later. But particularly, in this context, the important thing is to see Lot and Abraham compared and contrasted: the hospitality that both show, which is a great similarity between the two. They have a family likeness there. They have similar contexts of events. There is a feast. There are events at a doorway. But then there are reversals as well. The feast is a midnight feast, a feast that is associated with unleavened bread, a feast in haste. It is connected with deep inhospitality and the failure to gather people together. Lot is losing people from his family. He almost loses his daughters. He loses his sons-in-law. He loses his sons. He ends up losing his wife and his daughters turn against him—or have relations with him in a way that dishonours him. And in all these ways, we see his story unraveling, while Abraham’s is being built up. While Abraham seems to be barren as salt, and his wife’s womb as barren as salt, we see them brought to life. And on the other hand, we see Lot and his family brought down to death.
This story also helps us to see more clearly the significance of circumcision in relationship to being prepared for judgment. There is a flood here, a flood coming to cut off all flesh. And those who do not have their flesh cut off are not prepared for it. Whereas Abraham is prepared for it, there is a cutting off of the flesh of the others. And Sodom is brought with Lot and his descendants. In the story of Moab and Ammon, we see it being played out. Many other things that could be said about this passage. It is so dense with meaning, and significance, and connections with other passages.