Genesis 19 is unseemly stuff! The kind of thing we don’t want to be found reading in public on Sunday mornings when our mothers are present! Sodomy, rape, and who knows what else? Do we close our eyes and think nice thoughts rather than dwell on what this story is really about? And coming so quickly after the moving prayer of chapter 18 — what in the world are we to make of it?
Assumptions are that the sin here is homosexuality of a violent nature. Genesis 19:5 simply says that the men of Sodom demanded, “Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” Modern attempts to ameliorate the text have suggested that the verb “to know,” which occurs almost a thousand times in the Hebrew text, rarely implies sexual contact (some estimate less than ten occurrences). It might therefore be no more than a “let’s get acquainted!”
Hardly! Moses has set this passage up to create the expectation of something sinister. In chapter 13 we have been informed that the men of Sodom are “wicked” and “great sinners” (13:13). And what had instigated Abraham’s moving prayer for his nephew in the previous chapter had been the fact that the sin of the men of Sodom had been “very grave” (18:20). And the nineteenth chapter ends with the total destruction of the city of Sodom together with “what grew on the ground” (19:25). This is hardly a setting for a misunderstanding in fraternal relations! Something really bad happens here that necessitates the unusual response of God’s holy judgment. And Jude makes it clear: they “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire” (Jude 7).
Like the incident in Judges 19 (at Gibeah), Genesis 19 is a record of homosexual rape. True, we cannot get from here to an outright condemnation of homosexuality itself — even though this is something that the Bible condemns elsewhere (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:26–27). The incident here is violent and merciless. Lot’s offer of his daughters only shows how ethically compromised he had become in choosing to live near this city. Perhaps he had reasoned that the men of Sodom would not be interested in them and leave it at that, or that his need to protect his visitors at all costs outweighed his fatherly concern for the sanctity of his daughters. Either way, Lot is a man not to be trusted! He had become shaped by his culture, and Moses’ description of the incident highlights the danger of cultural accommodation.
Nor did Lot’s folly end with him. The chapter closes with the pathetic details of his life in a cave in the hills of Zoar with his two daughters. His wife had capitulated to the surrounding culture and her sentiments for it calcified her longing forever. In desperation for male succession, Lot’s daughters engage in acts of incest, further compromising ethical guidelines. Sin had passed from father to children in a context where the home had long since abandoned any semblance of ordered worship and devoted behavior. The deed conceived two of Israel’s future enemies: the Moabites and the Ammonites. Sin has passed from one generation to another.
What are we to learn from this sordid tale? Several things: First, the calcification of Lot’s wife teaches us the lesson Jesus reinforced: that those who attempt to save their lives in this world will lose it: “Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.”(Luke 17:32–33). Her lusting for a city doomed to destruction by God showed that she had lost sight of God entirely, blinded by the allurement of the big city. Second, unlike the tale of Orpheus and Euridice, Lot did not turn back to glimpse his wife’s longings for Sodom. He survived the ordeal, though he would thereafter pay a heavy price for the seed (literally, as it so happens) he sowed in his daughters lives. God saved him from the conflagration of Sodom, but the consequences of his parenting were allowed to continue. He had himself initially hesitated to flee (Gen. 19:16). The beguiling environment in which he had sojourned had weaved its potent spells on him too, and it was only the mercy of God that delivered him. Sin is a powerful enemy that robs us of clear vision and clear thinking. Extricating ourselves from it is both painful and costly. But extricate from it we must! Lot’s dalliance with the ungodly world had reaped a harvest of pain. It is ever thus. Third, the tale is a vivid portrayal of Paul’s words: “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness” (Rom. 11:22). God is kind to Lot and severe to Lot’s wife. The two attributes are twin realities ensuring that both aspects of His nature, love and holiness, are given due consideration. We dare not play one off against the other. And on the cross, we see both: Jesus dying under His wrath because of God’s love for His people.
It is this, at the end of the day, that we dwell on: God’s unimaginable grace to a sinful world in raising up Abraham, a faithful intercessor, for the purposes of a story that has yet to unfold in all its wonder and glory!