The Kindness and Severity of God
by Warren Gage
One of the darkest chapters in the Bible is Genesis 19. The sin of Sodom and the sordid account of Lot and his daughters constitute the two parts of the unhappy record. Much later in redemptive history, however, the chronicles of the judges of Israel redeem
the account of Sodom and Lot to instruct us about the Gospel. How do they do this? Let’s begin by rehearsing the familiar story of Sodom from Genesis.
The account of Sodom begins when Lot offered two angelic strangers the protective hospitality of his house so that they would not have to spend the night in the city square (Gen. 19:2–3). Nonetheless, the men of the city surrounded the house and demanded the surrender of the strangers for deviant sexual purposes (Gen. 19:4–5). Lot protested this wickedness (Gen. 19:6–7) and offered his two daughters as substitutes, but the men of the city refused (Gen. 19:8–9). As a consequence, divine judgment fell upon Sodom (Gen. 19:24), and smoke ascended from the city that was burned with fire (Gen. 19:28).
Much later in redemptive history, in one of the most shocking stories in all of Scripture, we are told that in the days of the judges of Israel a Levite and his concubine were passing through Gibeah of Benjamin. An old man from the city offered the two strangers the protective hospitality of his house so that they would not have to spend the night in the city square (Judg. 19:20). Nonetheless, the men of Gibeah surrounded the house and demanded the surrender of the man for deviant sexual purposes (Judg. 19:22). The old man protested this wickedness (Judg. 19:23) and offered his daughter and the Levite’s concubine as substitutes, but the men of the city refused (Judg. 19:24–25). As a consequence, divine judgment fell upon Gibeah (Judg. 20:28–29), and smoke ascended from the city that was burned with fire (Judg. 20:40).
What a reversal of expectations! The sacred chronicler could not be more frank in telling us that Gibeah of Israel in the days of the judges had become like Sodom, and so, because God is no respecter of persons, they had suffered the judgment of Sodom (see Deut. 29:23). But the chronicles of Israel continue the pattern of correspondences in a still more unexpected way. To appreciate this better, let’s first return to the Genesis account of Lot and his daughters after the judgment of Sodom.
After Lot’s family was rescued from Sodom, his two daughters plotted to preserve the seed of the family (Gen. 19:31). Their father Lot was drunk (Gen. 19:32), and his daughters sought him out to lie with him (Gen. 19:33). The daughters received the seed of their father (Gen. 19:36), and each of them conceived a son (Gen. 19:37–38). The eldest son born of incest was named Moab, and he was the father of the Moabites (Gen. 19:37), who were among the greatest enemies of Israel (see Num. 22:1–6; 25:1–3).
The sordid account of Lot and his daughters, just like the story of Sodom, has a reflection in the later history of Israel, and once again, it is a great reversal of expectations. Let’s continue by recalling the account of the Moabite Ruth, who likewise lived in the days when the judges ruled in Israel (Ruth 1:1).
Naomi conceived a plan with Ruth to seek covenant marriage in order to preserve the seed of the family (Ruth 3:1). Boaz, an older man (Ruth 3:10), had drunk and was “merry” (Ruth 3:7). Ruth, like her ancestress, sought him out and lay at his feet (Ruth 3:7). Unlike her ancestress, however, Ruth waited until Boaz awoke to ask for covenant marriage (Ruth 3:9). Nothing improper passed between them in the night. Boaz honored Ruth’s proposal and promised her that she would have a husband. Then he filled her apron with barley seed (Ruth 3:15). Ruth bore her grain-filled cloak home to Naomi, and in the silhouette of the morning shadows Ruth would have had the appearance of being with child, a symbolic preview of the son that was afterward born to her. When that son was born, he was given to Naomi, so that once again two women “received” the son (Ruth 4:13, 17).
Naomi’s plan in retrospect was clearly crafted to demonstrate to Boaz that Ruth was a woman of virtue because Ruth’s behavior was so utterly unlike that of her ancestress, the daughter of Lot. The text tells us that Boaz had already detected Abrahamic faith in Ruth when he heard that she had left her kinsmen and the land of her birth to go to a people she had not previously known (Ruth 2:11; see Gen. 12:1). In fact, just as God had promised a seed to Abraham, so He gave Ruth a seed, too, for she was an ancestress of Christ, the true Seed of Abraham (Matt. 1:5; see Gen. 12:3).
The two accounts from the days of the judges are remarkable when considered together, for when juxtaposed they anticipate the Gospel. On the one hand, the natural branch of the Benjamites of Gibeah act like Sodomites, and they are cut off from Israel. On the other, a Moabite widow acts according to the faith of Abraham, and so she is grafted into Israel (Ruth 4:11; see Rom. 11:17–24). By this means all true Israel is saved. This Gospel of the particularity of Israel instructs us that none can presume upon God’s favor and yet that none
of us need despair of His grace.