Why was Sodom destroyed? (Genesis 19:1-29)

If God wants to rescue people, why did he destroy Sodom?

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YHWH’s attendants are checking out Sodom, in the guise of travellers. How they are treated will indicate whether this place is as bad as reports have claimed, whether the rot has permeated and corrupted everything.

Their visit starts well. Lot sees them entering the city, and offers hospitality (19:1-2). They assure him they’ll be fine in the town square, but Lot won’t take no for an answer. He hurriedly prepares unyeasted bread for his unexpected guests, perhaps of hint of a quick exodus (19:3). So far, so good.

Genesis 19:4–5 (NIV)
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.”

The NIV is right to translate the Hebrew word yā·ḏǎʿ (to know) as “have sex” in this context. It can be a euphemism for carnal knowledge (e.g. Genesis 4:1, 17, 25), and it is used that way again in verse 8. This is first mention of homosexual desire in the Bible. There can be no doubt that the narrator, as a Torah-abiding Israelite, viewed homosexuality as abuse of God’s gift of sexuality. The New Testament takes the same view. It is part of what’s wrong at Sodom, but it isn’t the main focus of the story.

Lot’s response to the crisis seems incredible to us. He offers them his daughters to “do to them as you please” (19:8). Even if Lot didn’t intend to carry through with this offer (Walton, NIVAC, 477), his suggestion is heinous. He’s clueless about homosexual desire if he thinks providing girls will satisfy these men. The only suggestion Lot has for evil is to do more evil. He was already completely compromised when separated from Abraham and the hope of restoration under God, joining himself and his family to the people who lived in open rebellion against God’s authority (13:12-13).

Lot’s solution is not only irrational; it is ineffective. It may have even inflamed the situation. The residents turn on Lot, threatening him (19:9). “Who do you think you are to judge us?” It’s a favourite tactic of anarchists who resist any law.

The threat of violence is escalating. Lot’s door won’t hold up much longer. Without realizing it, the city has exposed its evil heart to YHWH’s investigators. It is evident that “all the men from every part of Sodom—both young and old” are intent on pack rape, and it is likely to end in murder. There is no safety here, no respect for life. Everything is contaminated.

YHWH’s agents have the authority to destroy this place. It has no place in his kingdom (19:13). Their urgent task is to rescue Lot’s family before the demolition, but Lot is so invested in this place it’s as if its evil has a hold on him too. He has no credibility with his sons-in-law (19:14). He can’t get his family to move. He dithers until the angels physically drag him out (19:16). Even then, they can’t convince Lot to head for the hills: he wants to join one of the little towns on the verge of destruction (19:20). Surely he would have been destroyed if not for Abraham’s prayers. His wife turns back as if her heart is still there, and ends up like her city (19:26).

What a tragedy! The Abraham story is all about King YHWH’s rescue mission, but some things are beyond rescue. Some are so determined to resist his authority that he gives them over to what they desire: destruction. Yet even among them, he works to rescue a few (19:29).

In fact, rescue has become a central theme of the story. From the day when his servants introduced evil into his realm, the heavenly ruler has been confronting evil and working to rescue his people: Adam and Eve in the garden, Cain in exile, Noah in the flood, Abraham among the nations, and Lot in Sodom. As judge, our ruler must decide when to intervene to frustrate evil, but he always works to rescue those who are inclined towards him.

There are two sides to justice: the removal of what is evil, and the rescue of what is good.

 

What others are saying

K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 231:

Each of the four stages is recounted in fewer words, with less dialogue, and hence increasing the pace of the story. The beginning stage (vv. 1–14) is cinematically detailed, recalling at a snail’s pace the arrival and assault against the angels; this convincing portrayal ends in an understandable announcement of destruction. The next stage (vv. 15–22) has its protracted dialogue too, picturing a befuddled Lot, who is saved only because of the insistence of the angels. The final two paragraphs have no dialogue and pointedly describe the destruction (vv. 23–26) and the aftermath (vv. 27–29). … We have noted already two prominent motifs …  (1) the issue of divine justice and (2) the destruction by divine deluge (i.e., the flood imagery).

Claus Westermann, A Continental Commentary: Genesis 12–36 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1995), 301:

The gravity of the sin of Sodom (Gen. 18:20–21) is explicated in 19:4–11 in such a way that the narrative combines two crimes, each of which is serious in itself: unnatural lust (Lev. 18:22) and the violation of the right of guests to protection. Over and above this, and this is typical of the city and determinative of the atmosphere of the event, the crime takes the character of an attack in which the attackers have an absolute superiority in numbers by virtue of which they can give free rein to their wickedness. This is portrayed in bold strokes and has been well thought out. It is something that pertains to human existence, to human potentialities, that remains unaltered to the present day.

Read Genesis 19:1-29.

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Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Discipleship Trainer • Riverview Church

4 thoughts on “Why was Sodom destroyed? (Genesis 19:1-29)”

  1. “YHWH’s agents have the authority to destroy this place”, does this mean: “God is ordering death?” How could God be associated with death when God is life (Jn 10:10)…. Paul is cleared that death belongs to the prince of death (Rm 6:23). Alan, every time when death and destructions is mentioned in the O.T., we want to associate it with the God of life, light, love and truth.

    The book of Hebrews tells us who to look for God’s Final Word: His Son “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.”(Heb 1:1-2) Jesus tells us who is the prince of death, darkness, hate, division, destruction and lies (Jn 8:44; 10:10).

    What does the Son says about Punishment? It’s nowhere in the Bible. In the gospel of Luke, chapter 13 Jesus says: “…unless you repent you will perish like they did […] & do penance, you shall all likewise perish (vv 1-5)” Alana thanks again, sharing your insights. Hope to hear from you soon. Blessings!

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    1. Interesting question, Rafael. The sentence you began with refers to Genesis 19:13 where the YHWH’s angels say, “We are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has send us to destroy it.” How would you understand this verse? Is there a time when God failing to act against evil would be more destructive?
      Jesus certainly is a clearer and more complete revelation of God than anything in the Old Testament. You’d probably enjoy the post we did on John 3:16-17. At the same time, we can’t sustain the view that the God of the OT was incompatible with and replaced by the God of the NT (Marcion’s old error).

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      1. Alan, I’m very aware Marcion’s heresies. Jesus and the Fr. are one (Jn 10:30) and the same: yesterday, today and forever (Hb 13:8). Blessings!

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