The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

Green (commenting on Jude 7) calls this ‘the most graphic example of judgment to be found in the whole of the Old Testament’, adding that overtones are heard throughout the Bible (Dt. 29:23; 32:32; Isa. 1:9; 3:9; 13:19; Jer. 23:14; 49:18; 50:40; Ezek. 16:46ff.; Amos. 4:11; Matt. 10:15; 11:24; 25:41; Luke. 10:12; 17:29; 2 Pet. 2:6; Rev. 11:8; 20:10.)

19:1 The two angels came to Sodom in the evening while Lot was sitting in the city’s gateway. When Lot saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face toward the ground.

Duguid reminds us of movies such as the Airport! series and Titanic.  Everyone knows that disaster is going to strike.  The only questions are ‘When?’ and ‘will anyone be saved.’  The reader of Genesis has known since Gen 13:10 that Sodom and Gomorrah were doomed, and has known from Gen 13:13 why this was so.  Now we are given the details of their fate, and are told who (if any) would get out alive.

We have learned quite a bit about Lot.  He was Abraham’s nephew, and accompanied Abraham in his journey from Ur to Harran, then through Canaan, to Egypt and back to Canaan.  Gen 13 records how Abraham and Lot, having both become prosperous, separated in order to find sufficient pasture for their respective herds.  Lot chose to pitch his tents in a well-watered area ‘among the cities of the plain’ near Sodom (Gen 13:12).  In Gen 14 we find Lot actually living in Sodom.  Captured during a time of war (Gen 14:12), Lot had to be rescued by Abraham.  In this ‘prequel’, flaws in Lot’s character already appear.

Lot passes out of the OT story after Gen 19, although his descendants are mentioned in Deut 2:9, 19; Ps 83:8.  HIs two daughters seduced their drunk father, and the resulting children became the forerunners of the Moabites and the Ammonites (Gen 19:30–38; cf. Deut 2:9, 19; Ps 83:8).  He is mentioned in the NT in Lk 17:28–32 and 2 Pet. 2:7f.  This latter reference described Lot ‘a righteous man’ (echoing Abraham’s prayer for any ‘righteous’ who might live in Sodom).  He was ‘righteous’ in that he did not share in Sodom’s wickedness; however his was a weak and flawed character, lacking Abraham’s moral strength and godliness.

This passage has strong comparisons and contrasts with others:-

(a) with the account of the Flood.  ‘God’s destruction of the wicked and the deliverance of the righteous in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah versus Lot finds striking parallels with the story of Noah—two cataclysmic acts of divine “destruction” on outrageously sinful communities with only the righteous and their family spared because God “remembers” the saint. In both narratives the Lord “rains” down his judgment from heaven. He or his angels shut a door to separate the righteous from the wicked (7:16; 19:10), and in both a hand is stretched out to provide protection (see 8:9; 19:10). Both narratives draw to a conclusion with drunkenness and sexual immorality. These parallels emphasize that, when God judges the wicked, he mercifully spares the righteous. They become a paradigm for God’s judgment on sin (see 2 Peter 2:5).’ (Waltke & Fredricks)

(b) with the account of Abraham’s three visitors.  ‘However, whereas Abraham was the model host, Lot is the sincere but fumbling failure.’

  1. Abraham’s exemplary hosting is epitomized by his speedy exertion—“hurried,” “quick,” “ran”—to serve his guests and by the lavish meal he offers. In contrast, Lot “rises” to greet his guests, “hurries” them away from the rape gang at his door, and can only offer bread without yeast (cf. 18:6 and note).
  2. After Abraham’s meal, the angels ask where Sarah is; after Lot’s meal, the angels ask if he has any additional relatives besides those in the house. Sarah laughs when she hears that she is to bear a child, but Lot’s sons-in-law, when told that the Lord is about to destroy the city, think he is joking.
  3. Sarah repents of her laughter of unbelief and receives only a rebuke. Lot’s sons-in-law do not repent and lose their lives. In contrast to them, Lot’s immediate family is saved.
  4. Scene 3 concluded with Sarah humbled but promised a son; Scene 4 ends with Lot’s wife turned to salt.
  5. Abraham’s leadership and oratory skill in Scene 3, even to debate with God, markedly contrast with Lot’s excruciating hesitancy and inability to convince even his own family to leave the doomed city.
  6. Abraham pleaded for the righteous of Sodom and Gomorrah on the basis of justice; Lot pleads for Zoar on the basis of his self-interest (19:18–20, 30). Lot plays a counter role with respect both to land and seed. He chose by sight and now ends with a cave and descendants by incest.

(Waltke & Fredricks – formatting added)

(c) with the account of the Levite and his concubine, Judg 19:10–30. ‘In both stories, there is a strong contrast between hospitality and the brutality of a violent sexual attack.’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)

The two angels – Clearly distinguished from the Lord.  This identification shows the absurdity of the popular notion that Abraham’s three visitors in chapter 18 represent the Trinity.

Calvin notes that one of the three who visited Abraham has disappeared from view.  Taking the view that the third visitor was the preincarnate Christ, Calvin suggests, plausibly, that it was the Lord’s will to reveal himself more obscurely to Lot than to Abraham.  This would then be just one of a number of contrasts between the two accounts, all of them placing Lot’s character and experience below that of Abraham.

Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city – Inside this gateway, business would be transacted during the day, and in the evening the senior men of the town would gather to discuss matters of interest and concern.  However, Lot is alone here, perhaps suggesting that he alone is concerned about the affairs of the city.

Candlish conjectures that Lot was sitting here precisely to be on the look-out for those who might need his hospitality and protection.

Hartley notes that Lot had originally camped near Sodom (Gen 13:12), and then moved into the city (Gen 14:12).  Now he is sitting in the place the leading citizens.  Unlike Abraham, Lot had pledged his daughters in marriage to local men.  Clearly, ‘Lot’s ambition to join the people of Sodom had caused him to compromise his values. Little did Lot realize that his ambition had placed him in mortal danger.’

It is ironic that the gate, when shut at night, was meant to protect the city from danger.  But, in Sodom, the greatest danger is within.

19:2 He said, “Here, my lords, please turn aside to your servant’s house. Stay the night and wash your feet. Then you can be on your way early in the morning.” “No,” they replied, “we’ll spend the night in the town square.”

Lot felt sufficiently at home in Sodom to offer hospitality to these strangers.  Hartley comments on the lack of offer of hospitality from the more established citizens – another indication of their perverted values.

“You can be on your way early in the morning” – Hinting that Lot is concerned for their safety.  After all, it is probable that the men of the city had a ‘track record’ of abusing visitors.

“We will spend the night in the square” – This would have been just inside the city gate, and a recognised place for spending the night.  But Lot seems to have acknowledged that in Sodom it would have been a dangerous place to stay.

19:3 But he urged them persistently, so they turned aside with him and entered his house. He prepared a feast for them, including bread baked without yeast, and they ate. 19:4 Before they could lie down to sleep, all the men—both young and old, from every part of the city of Sodom—surrounded the house. 19:5 They shouted to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!”

He urged them persistently – perhaps anticipating the threat from the citizens of Sodom.  Lot knew that the streets of Sodom were not safe places to be at night.

He prepared a meal for them – But this meal was frugal compared with the feast that Abraham had spread before them.

Bread without yeast is bread made in haste.  The honoured guests are provided with an inferior meal.

‘There is an effective contrast between the hospitality of Lot, who “pressed” (v. 3—Heb. yiptzar) the visitors to stay with him, and the inhospitality of the townspeople who “pressed” (v. 9—Heb. yiptzeru) against Lot in their attempt to break into his house.’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)

Both young and old – lit. ‘both young and son’, emphasising that many, and not just a few, of the men of the city were involved.  (The two sons-in-law were, possibly, not involved, however).  How the warning of Ex 23:2 is needed today, as it would have been then!

“Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!” – Lit. ‘so we can know them’.  They are intent on sexually abusing the visitors.

We presume that most or all of these men had wives and children (how else would Sodom have remained populated?).  Yet they had a taste for homosexual relations too.

‘No greater flouting of oriental conventions of hospitality can be imagined than to make guests submit to homosexual rape. Ancient societies often condoned homosexuality between consenting adults, but rape, especially of guests, was always regarded as wrong.’ (NBC)

‘All homosexual practice is regarded by OT law as a capital offense (Lev 18:22; 20:13; cf. Rom 1:26–27), but the attitude of Israel’s neighbors is less clear, for it is not often discussed in their legal collections. It seems likely that they allowed homosexual acts between consenting adults, but here homosexual gang rape is being proposed, something completely at odds with the forms of all oriental hospitality.’ (Wenham)

Wenham again: ‘Homosexual acts between consenting adults, though condemned in the OT as incompatible with the creator’s plan, were tolerated in most other societies in the ancient Orient. But homosexual rape was not: in Assyria it attracted the death penalty, and elsewhere it was used as a demeaning punishment for prisoners of war. But Lot’s visitors were not prisoners but guests, and all the rules of oriental hospitality demanded their protection, not abuse. The men of Sodom are thus portrayed as transgressing not simply Israelite moral standards but the universal rule of behavior accepted throughout the ancient Orient.’

The pervasiveness of sexual sin in Sodom is seen not only in the homosexual passion of these men, but also in Lot’s willingness to offer his virgin daughters as substitutes, and those daughter’s seduction of their own father.

‘The description of a rage so brutal, tends to teach us that punishment was not inflicted upon them, until they had proceeded to the last stage of wickedness.’ (Calvin)

What was the sin of Sodom?

What was the sin of the Sodomites, as recorded in Genesis 19?

Three main views have been taken.

1. (In)hospitality

In 1955 Sherwin Bailey published Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition, in which he argued that the phrase in question refers to a desire on the part of the Sodomites to ‘get to know’ the strangers.  In other words, it is to do with the issue of hospitality.  This view is also taken by J. Boswell in Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality.  In support of this view:

(a) it is pointed out that of the 943 occurrences of the word translated ‘to know’ in the OT, only ten refer to sexual intercourse.  We must respond by insisting that the meaning of the word must be determined by its context, and the context here (with the word definitely having a sexual connotation in v8) requires that we understand this a sexual sin: Lot’s ensuing offer of his daughters shows that they were consumed, not by a wish to provide hospitality, but by sexual passion.

(b) It is further argued that other biblical references to the sin of Sodom (Isa 1:10ff; Jer 23:14; Eze 16:49ff; Mt 10:15; 11:24; Lk 10:12) do not refer to sexual sin.  But then they do not mention inhospitality either!  Moreover, Gen 13:13 has already defined Sodom as a generally wicked city, and it is perfectly reasonable to see the sin described in Gen 19 as one (and perhaps the most heinous) of its evils.  Moreover, ‘the adjectives “wicked”, “vile” and disgraceful” (Gen 19:7; cf. Judges 19:23) do not seem appropriate to describe a breach of hospitality’ (Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today, 4th ed., 448ff).  Additionally, we have the very definite reference to ‘sexual immorality and perversion’ in Jude v7.

‘In Judges 19:22–26, a narrative clearly modeled after Genesis 19, the Benjaminites of Gibeah who want to “know” a Levite guest, accepted as substitute his concubine whom they proceeded to rape and abuse all night.’ (Sprinkle, in DOP:P, art. ‘Sexuality, sexual ethics’)

‘According to Ezekiel 16:47–50, the richness of Sodom (“like a garden of the LORD,” Gen 13:10) led to pride and callousness in committing “abominations” (tôʿēbâ; probably an allusion to the “abomination” of homosexual sex in Lev 18:22 and 20:13) and injustice to the poor.’ (Sprinkle)

We conclude that although the issue of hospitality is relevant within this account, the issue of sexual behaviour is inescapable.

As Kostenberger remarks: ‘Lot’s offering of his two daughters to the men of Sodom makes absolutely no sense if the men knocking at his door were merely asking to be introduced to his houseguests. Why not just introduce the angels to the inquisitive townspeople if that was all that was requested of him?’

Kostenberger finds further problems with this theory:

  1. If Lot was the one who sinned by breaking the local hospitality codes, then why was his life spared by the angelic visitors while the law-abiding townspeople were destroyed by the divine judgment?
  2. Considering that Lot was a resident of Sodom, why were the inhabitants of Gomorrah killed for a sin in which they had no part?
  3. If the residents of Sodom were so peaceable and honest that they came to Lot’s house late at night to enact the local hospitality codes, then why could God not find ten righteous people in the whole city (Gen. 18:23)?
  4. Why does Lot seem to have felt threatened by the appearance of the townspeople (Gen. 19:6) or why the mob declared their intent to harm both Lot and his visitors without provocation (Gen. 19:9).
  5. This interpretation is at odds with every interpretation of this passage prior to the middle of the twentieth century, as well as with…Jude 7 (cf. Luke 17:26-29; 2 Pet. 2:6-7, 10). (Numbering added and very slightly abbreviated)

Hamilton regards the theory that this passage focuses on the issue of hospitality as ‘wild and fanciful’.  And Davis wryly remarks, ‘We’re not talking about handshakes and introductions and smiles all round here.’

Referring specifically to the work of Bailey, Stott finds a number of weaknesses:

    • The adjectives “wicked”, “vile” and “disgraceful” (Genesis 19:7; Judges 19:23) do not seem appropriate to describe a breach of hospitality.
    • The offer of women instead “does look as if there is some sexual connotation to the episode”.
    • Although the verb yada‘ is used only ten times of sexual intercourse, Bailey omits to mention that six of these occurrences are in Genesis and one in the Sodom story itself (about Lot’s daughters, who had not “known” a man, v. 8).
    • For those of us who take the New Testament documents seriously, Jude’s unequivocal reference to the “sexual immorality and perversion” of Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 7) cannot be dismissed as merely an error copied from Jewish pseudepigrapha.

2. Intended homosexual rape

Matthew Vines claims that

‘the men of Sodom threaten to gang rape Lot’s angel visitors, who have come in the form of men, and so this behavior would at least ostensibly be same-sex. But that is the only connection that can be drawn between this passage and homosexuality in general, and there is a world of difference between violent and coercive practices like gang rape and consensual, monogamous, and loving relationships.’

Stott (Issues Facing Christians Today, 4th ed.) cites the work of Gagnon:

‘Robert Gagnon, in what must be the most comprehensive and encyclopaedic treatise on the Bible and homosexuality, entitled The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, comments that though hospitality may be part of the story, the focus of it is on the demeaning and dehumanizing act of homosexual rape. Commenting on the sins of Sodom, he says of homosexual intercourse itself that it treated a man “as though his masculine identity counted for nothing, as though he were not a man but a woman. To penetrate another man was to treat him like an assinnu, like someone whose ‘masculinity had been transformed into femininity’. Thus three elements (attempted penetration of males, attempted rape, inhospitality) and perhaps a fourth (unwitting, attempted sex with angels) combined to make this a particularly egregious example of human depravity that justifies God’s act of total destruction.”’

3. Intended homosexual relations

But were the Sodomites only intent on homosexual rape?  Hamilton sees four problems with this interpretation: (a) the text does not use the language of violence or abuse; (b) the OT uses unmistakable language when rape is referred to (e.g. Gen 34:2); (c) this interpretation forces one meaning (‘abuse’) on the word ‘know’ in v5, and another (‘have intercourse with’) just three verses later; (d) it draws incredible words from Lot’s mouth – ‘Don’t rape these men – rape my daughters instead!’  Hamilton concludes that the issue here is homosexual relations, not homosexual rape.

Jude 7 has been cited to indicate that ‘it was the homosexual nature of their desires, and not just the violent expression of them, that is highlighted in the New Testament.’

We ourselves do not find these arguments entirely convincing, because of (a) the number of men involved (‘all the men’), and the violence that is indicated in the text (‘they shouted’; they demanded sex without any hint of seeking consent from the strangers).  Hamilton find’s Lot’s offer of his daughters in place of the strangers does indeed seem incredible, but that is part of the point of the story – Lot lacks the strength of character to find a moral solution to a moral problem.

Calvin distinguishes between the stated intention of these people and their actual intention.  He thinks that the word ‘know’ is used in an ordinary (non-sexual) way here: the men of the city are asking to be introduced to the visitors.  But, suggests Calvin, this request was only an attempt to hide their true intention, which was to sexually abuse the strangers.

The contributor to Harper’s Bible Commentary regards this passage as relevant to the discussion about homosexual behaviour generally:

‘Homosexual acts, which threaten proper family relationships and boundaries (Lev 18:22; 20:13; 1 Cor 6:9–10; Rom 1:26–27), run counter to the divine command to procreate (Gen 1:28; 9:1, 7), a command that is part of the order of creation.’

We are, therefore, not convinced of the relevance of this passage to discussions on homosexual behaviour between consenting adults.  Whereas other biblical passages do uniformly condemn such practices, this particular account is about intended sexual violence.

4. General wickedness, with intended sexual violence as one aspect.

Walter Barnett maintained that ‘the sin of Sodom does not necessarily lie in homosexuality or homosexual behavior. Rather, this wicked thing that Lot enjoins the townspeople not to do is rape, pure and simple, and gang rape at that.’ (Homosexuality and the Bible: an Interpretation)

But we should not exclude the homosexual element from the sin.  If we are to follow Jude 6-8, then ‘the offenders at Sodom and Gomorrah did not just have uncontrollable sexual desires, but unnatural sexual desires.’ (Kostenberger, God, Marriage, and Family, 2nd Edition)

Moreover, this incident is symptomatic of general wickedness in Sodom, including but not limited to the threat of sexual violence.  Note: the threatened violence never took place, making it that much more important that we should take into account these more general features of Sodom’s wickedness.  Gen 13:13 says that ‘the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.’  We may infer from the present passage that ancient standards of hospitality were being flouted.  According to Isa 1:10ff  and Eze 16:49 sins of pride, greed, laziness, and ignoring the needs of the poor were included.  Jer 23:14 includes adultery, dishonesty and general immorality.  2 Pet 2:6-8 speaks of the ‘filthy lives of lawless men’, and Jude 7 and ‘sexual immorality and perversion’.

It will be clear from the above discussion that this last interpretation best reflects the biblical data.

19:6 Lot went outside to them, shutting the door behind him. 19:7 He said, “No, my brothers! Don’t act so wickedly! 19:8 Look, I have two daughters who have never had sexual relations with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do to them whatever you please. Only don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

Shutting the door behind him – still trying to protect his guests.

“I have two daughters who have never slept with a man” – making them more attractive to the would-be rapists.

Wenham notes that ‘his offer no doubt shocked the narrator and first audience as much as it does us.’

‘When we remember the outcome of the Levite’s concubine in the hands of a brutal city gang (Judg 19:25–26), we can only conclude that Lot jeopardized the lives of his daughters, even any hope for a heritage—all for the sake of the strangers. ‘ (Matthews)

The Bible does not condone everything that it records.  Certainly, we are not expected to approve of Lot’s offer.  Throughout the narrative, he appears as a well-meaning (‘righteous’, in comparison to the Sodomites, and ‘righteous’ is respect of his giving hospitality to the visitors when the Sodomites would not; cf. 2 Pet 2:7f), but weak individual (in contrast to Abraham).

‘Lot’s attempt to defend his guests presents him positively, but his sanctioning of the rape of his daughters sounds more “Sodomite” than “Israelite.”’ (Matthews)

‘He found himself in an impossible situation. The only way he saw to fulfill one sacred obligation, to protect his guests, was to betray an even more sacred obligation, to protect his daughters. He was caught between a rock and a hard place, with no way out. How often does that happen to you? You find yourself in an impossible dilemma because of past compromises with sin. Sin has a way of doing that to you. It complicates everything and puts you into untenable situations. Too late, you say to yourself, “How on earth did I get myself into this—and how can I get myself out?”’ (Duguid)

‘That Lot sanctions the rape of his daughters indicates a moral compass gone awry; he places hospitality above the protection of his own children. It is difficult to conceive of such a custom that would put a guest’s well-being over family. Such treatment by a father was despicable in the eyes of Israel; forcing a daughter into prostitution is specifically forbidden in Mosaic law (Lev 19:29). Yet offense against aliens was also grievous in the Mosaic tradition (e.g., Exod 22:21[20]; Lev 19:33–34; Deut 10:19). Lot is caught in a web of the most vile of circumstances, and he opts for a way out that can never salvage any good. He surely offends his own sense of right behavior while attempting to save face with the strangers. For a moment it is Sodom that has taken up residence in Lot’s soul.’ (Matthews)

Kidner observes how easily a virtue (in this case, protection of his visitors) can become a vice (placing his own daughters in jeopardy).

Hartley comments: ‘Faced with a great moral dilemma, Lot placed the protection of his guests above the honor of his daughters; the code of hospitality motivated him to think first of these guests. Unfortunately, Lot was willing to concede the integrity of his own daughters. He viewed his daughters as a means of his own advancement, as is evident in his pledging them to citizens of Sodom. Thus he had moved far from the standard God desired. What other course Lot could have taken is a matter for conjecture.’

‘It is true, of two evils we must choose the less; but of two sins we must choose neither, nor ever do evil that good may come of it.’ (MHC)

‘He reasoned with them, pleaded the laws of hospitality and the protection of his house which his guests were entitled to; but he might as well have offered reason to a roaring lion and a raging bear as to these head-strong sinners, who were governed only by lust and passion.’ (MHC)

19:9 “Out of our way!” they cried, and “This man came to live here as a foreigner, and now he dares to judge us! We’ll do more harm to you than to them!” They kept pressing in on Lot until they were close enough to break down the door.

All of Lot’s efforts to be recognised as a citizen of Sodom come to nothing.  He finds himself alienated, mocked, and threatened.

If we are morally weak, as Lot was, we shall exercise little moral influence over others.

“Out of our way!” – Lot’s is unable to reason either with the men of the city or with his two sons-in-law.  Abraham, in contrast, was able to reason with God himself.

“This man” – lit. ‘the one’.  ‘By replacing his name with a contemptuous, indefinite “one,” they aim to strip him of identity and significance’ (Waltke & Fredricks).  Time and again depersonalisation excuses or even legitimates abuse.

“Now he wants to play the judge!” – Cf. the rebuke to Moses, Ex 2:14.  How many believers, down the ages, have been dismissed with such words?  In our own day, ‘thou shalt not judge’ has become, for many, the first and greatest commandment.

‘It is common for a reprover to be unjustly upbraided as a usurper; and, while offering the kindness of a friend, to be charged with assuming the authority of a judge.’ (MHC)

“We’ll do more harm to you than to them!” – Suggesting, perhaps, that they are lining Lot himself up for sexual abuse.

They kept pressing in on Lot – ‘Presumptuous sinners do by their consciences as the Sodomites did by Lot, baffle their checks, stifle their accusations, press hard upon them, till they have seared them and quite stopped their mouths, and so made themselves ripe for ruin.’ (MHC)

19:10 So the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house as they shut the door. 19:11 Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, from the youngest to the oldest, with blindness. The men outside wore themselves out trying to find the door. 19:12 Then the two visitors said to Lot, “Who else do you have here? Do you have any sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or other relatives in the city? Get them out of this place 19:13 because we are about to destroy it. The outcry against this place is so great before the LORD that he has sent us to destroy it.”

In one of the many ironies in this story, those whom Lot sought to protect end up protecting him.

As Hamilton observes, there is an act of salvation here (they pulled Lot back into the house) and also an act of judgement (they struck the Sodomites with blindness).  But these are merely preliminary to what was to come.

The men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house – ‘Angels are employed for the special preservation of those that expose themselves to danger by well-doing.’ (MHC)

Blindness – Kidner says that the rare word used here may suggest the kind of dazzling that Paul experienced on the Damascus Road.  See also 2 Kings 6:18.

They could not find the door – Wenham comments on the almost comical nature of the scene.  However, when he wonders why they did not go straight home when they were struck with blindness, has he forgotten that if they could not find the door to Lot’s house they would scarcely be able to find their way back to their own houses?!

“He has sent us to destroy it” – At last the intention of these strangers is made clear.

‘The holy angels are ministers of God’s wrath for the destruction of sinners, as well as of his mercy for the preservation and deliverance of his people.’ (MHC)

19:14 Then Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law who were going to marry his daughters. He said, “Quick, get out of this place because the LORD is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was ridiculing them.

His sons-in-law thought he was ridiculing them – ‘Those who lived a merry life, and made a jest of everything, made a jest of this warning, and so they perished in the overthrow. Thus many who are warned of the misery and danger they are in by sin make a light matter of it, and think their ministers do but jest with them; such will perish with their blood upon their own heads.’ (MHC)

Kidner suggests that the failure of Lot to persuade his sons-in-law may reflect on both his character and theirs.

As Matthews says, ‘Lot’s rejection by his future sons-in-law, who were most likely themselves Sodomites, accentuates the little regard the community had for him’.

‘When offered a way of salvation, they turn it down, proving once more that they fully deserved judgment.’ (Wenham)

19:15 At dawn the angels hurried Lot along, saying, “Get going! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or else you will be destroyed when the city is judged!” 19:16 When Lot hesitated, the men grabbed his hand and the hands of his wife and two daughters because the LORD had compassion on them. They led them away and placed them outside the city. 19:17 When they had brought them outside, they said, “Run for your lives! Don’t look behind you or stop anywhere in the valley! Escape to the mountains or you will be destroyed!”

‘The angel’s use of force is an act of mercy.’ (Wenham)

No reason is given here for Lot being spared.  Two factors, however, will become evident: (a) Abraham’s intercession; (b) the Lord’s mercy.

Lot hesitated – having urged his sons-in-law to flee, he himself hangs back.  Another example of his inconsistency and weakness of character.

Lot lingered, and, as Kidner remarks, not even brimstone will make a pilgrim out of him.  His lack of urgency is written all over these verses.

Lot lingered

  • Lot knew the awful condition of the city in which he stood. “The cry” of its abominations “had waxen great before the Lord.” (Gen. 19:13.) And yet “he lingered.”
  • Lot knew the fearful judgment coming down on all within its walls. The angels had said plainly, “The Lord hath sent us to destroy it.” (Gen. 19:13.) And yet “he lingered.”
  • Lot knew that God was a God who always kept His word, and if He said a thing would surely do it. He could hardly be Abraham’s nephew, and live long with him, and not be aware of this. Yet “he lingered.”
  • Lot believed there was danger,—for he went to his sons-in-law, and warned them to flee. “Up!” he said, “Get you out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city.” (Gen. 19:14.) And yet “he lingered.”
  • Lot saw the angels of God standing by, waiting for him and his family to go forth. He heard the voice of those ministers of wrath ringing in his ears to hasten him:—“Arise! take thy wife and thy two daughters which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city.” (Gen. 19:15.) And yet “he lingered.”

There are many children of God who ‘linger’:-

‘They believe in heaven, and yet seem faintly to long for it;—and in hell, and yet seem little to fear it. They love the Lord Jesus; but the work they do for Him is small. They hate the devil; but they often appear to tempt him to come to them. They know the time is short; but they live as if it were long. They know they have a battle to fight; yet a man might think they were at peace. They know they have a race to run; yet they often look like people sitting still. They know the Judge is at the door, and there is wrath to come; and yet they appear half asleep.’

(Ryle, Holiness)

The Lord had compassion on them – Two factors stand out in the deliverance of Lot and his family: (a) the Lord’s mercy; and (b) Abraham’s intercession.

“Don’t look back!” – ‘Lot must not stop to argue, nor must you. You have objections, to which my one solitary answer is, “Escape, escape, escape for you life!” That drowning man will not clutch the rope until I have explained to him the doctrine of specific gravity. O fool, what do you have to do with specific gravity when you are drowning? Lay hold of that rope and live.

‘So there are some who must have election or predestination explained to them. They must have this or that opened up to them and made clear as daylight. I beseech you, do not be such madmen. Do not trifle with your souls, but escape for your life. That is the one business of the present hour. See to that first, and let other matters wait awhile till you are in a fit condition to consider them.’ (The Best of Spurgeon, 229)

19:18 But Lot said to them, “No, please, Lord! 19:19 Your servant has found favor with you, and you have shown me great kindness by sparing my life. But I am not able to escape to the mountains because this disaster will overtake me and I’ll die. 19:20 Look, this town over here is close enough to escape to, and it’s just a little one. Let me go there. It’s just a little place, isn’t it? Then I’ll survive.”

Note Lot’s lack of urgency.  When he should be fleeing, he is talking.

“It is small” – and therefore more sparable.

In the event, Lot does flee to the mountains (v30) – another indication of his indecision.

19:21 “Very well,” he replied, “I will grant this request too and will not overthrow the town you mentioned. 19:22 Run there quickly, for I cannot do anything until you arrive there.” (This incident explains why the town was called Zoar.)

“I cannot do anything until you arrive there” – ‘The very presence of good men in a place helps to keep off judgments. See what care God takes for the preservation of his people. The winds are held till God’s servants are sealed, Rev. 7:3; Eze. 9:4.’ (MHC)

The town was called Zoar – The site is not known to archaeologists.

19:23 The sun had just risen over the land as Lot reached Zoar. 19:24 Then the LORD rained down sulfur and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah. It was sent down from the sky by the LORD. 19:25 So he overthrew those cities and all that region, including all the inhabitants of the cities and the vegetation that grew from the ground. 19:26 But Lot’s wife looked back longingly and was turned into a pillar of salt.

The Lord rained down sulphur and fire (NIV: burning sulphur) on Sodom and Gomorrah – these places becoming bywords for utter destruction, Amos 4:11.

The narrative offers both a theological (‘the Lord rained down…’) and a physical explanation (fire and brimstone).  As Waltke and Fredricks remark, it would be ‘theologically mischievous’ to dismiss one explanation because of the other.  Nevertheless, it is the primary cause (the Lord) that is emphasised here.

This looks very much like a volcanic eruption.  If so, then the miracle is one a timing, as a number of other OT miracles appear to be.

Another, and related, possibility is that these phenomena occurred as a result of an earthquake, involving the release and combustion of noxious gases.  Deposits of bitumen and a sulphurous smell can be found in places around the Dead Sea.

‘The twin calamities of Noah and Lot illustrate Jesus’ teaching on the suddenness of the coming of the Son of Man (Luke 17:26–30). The Sodomites carried on their usual activities, “eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building,” on the day of their destruction, unaware of the imminent end. The Son of Man’s appearance will likewise surprise the unexpecting world.’ (Matthews)

He overthrew those cities and the entire plain – According to Hartley, Hamilton and others, this wording is suggestive of an earthquake.

‘See what a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God!’ (MHC)

The vegetation – According to Gen 13:10 this area had been as lush as Egypt.

No escape?

Is there no hope for those who engage in the kinds of extreme wickedness associated with Sodom?  As Dale Ralph Davis comments, the answer is both ‘No’ and ‘Yes’.

Paul, in 1 Cor 6:9f, makes it clear that ‘Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.’  That is precisely what some of them had been.  ‘But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.’

‘But,’ concludes Davis, ‘where is Jesus going to get his church except from the wrecks in Satan’s landfill? There is washing for your defilement; there is purifying for your pollution; there is acquittal for your guilt.’

Worse than Sodom?

The name of Sodom has become a by-word for wickedness and corruption.  No city, we might think, could be more ripe for divine judgement than Sodom.  Our Lord, evidently, thought otherwise:-

Mt 11:23f – “And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.  But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

The reason for this is that Capernaum had been more highly privileged; – had been blessed with greater opportunities; – than Sodom.

As Davis comments: ‘Sodom, Jesus says, still faces the last judgment, but there is something worse than Sodom’s premier offense related in Genesis 19; the ‘something worse’ is being engulfed with the privileges of the presence and power of Jesus, as Capernaum had been, and being unmoved by it all.’

There is a lesson here for us all to value our God-given privileges and opportunities.  Neglected blessings can become curses.

Lot’s wife looked back – even more attached to Sodom, it would seem, than her husband was.  Matthews thinks, quite reasonably, that she was a native of Sodom herself.  Williams (The Bible Application Handbook) plausibly suggests that she was grieving over the loss of her family, but perhaps also over the trinkets she was leaving behind.

She became a pillar of salt – Covered, we presume, with the material that was falling from the sky.  It is often assumed that this is an aetiological story; i.e., that the existence of rock formation gave rise to this story.  But, as Wenham points out, although this cannot disproved, the narrative makes good sense as it stands.  She does not figure in the story from this point onwards, and Lot’s daughters would scarcely have seduced him if their mother had been around.

‘Lot’s wife, who is nameless…invites comparison to Sarah. Both women fail to believe the word of God. Sarah’s unbelief was one incident in the life of a woman who showed her faith and godliness by calling her husband “my lord” (see 1 Peter 3:1–6). The Lord’s verbal rebuke of her was remedial. She later names Isaac “Laughter,” not in unbelief, but in the joy of faith. By contrast, the unbelief of Lot’s Sodomite wife, expressed in turning back towards Sodom, is probably exemplary of a life lacking faith. The Lord’s palpable rebuke of her is penal; she becomes a pillar of salt.’ (Waltke & Fredricks)

A spiral of sin

‘The story in Genesis 19 quickly degenerates into a spiral of sin. The attempt at sexual violation by the entire male population, the offer of Lot’s daughters in the messengers’ stead, the mocking of his future sons-in-laws, Lot’s hesitation to leave Sodom and his plea not to have to flee far away, and the fateful backward glance of his wife fill out this portrait of rejection of God’s ways (Gen 19:4–26).’ (DBI)

Remember Lot’s wife!’ (Lk 17:32)

‘As by the example of Sodom the wicked are warned to turn from their wickedness, so by the example of Lot’s wife the righteous are warned not to turn from their righteousness.’

  1. She disobeyed an express command, and so sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, which ruined us all.
  2. Unbelief was at the bottom of it; she questioned whether Sodom would be destroyed, and thought she might still have been safe in it.
  3. She looked back upon her neighbours whom she had left behind with more concern than was fit, now that their day of grace was over, and divine justice was glorifying itself in their ruin. See Isa. 66:24.
  4. Probably she hankered after her house and goods in Sodom, and was loth to leave them. Christ intimates this to be her sin (Lk 17:31, 32); she too much regarded her stuff.
  5. Her looking back evinced an inclination to go back; and therefore our Saviour uses it as a warning against apostasy from our Christian profession.


‘Come, behold the goodness and severity of God (Rom. 11:22), towards Lot, who went forward, goodness; towards his wife, who looked back, severity.’ (MHC)

‘Since it is such a dangerous thing to look back, let us always press forward, Phil. 3:13, 14.’ (MHC)

19:27 Abraham got up early in the morning and went to the place where he had stood before the LORD. 19:28 He looked out toward Sodom and Gomorrah and all the land of that region. As he did so, he saw the smoke rising up from the land like smoke from a furnace.

As Davis remarks, ‘these three verses could not be left out of the story—the writer simply had to tell what happened to Abraham’s prayer!’

At this point, Abraham would not have known of Lot’s escape; he would not have known if his intercession had been successful.

‘When we have prayed we must look after our prayers, and observe the success of them. We must direct our prayer as a letter, and then look up for an answer, direct our prayer as an arrow, and then look up to see whether it reach the mark, Ps. 5:3.’ (MHC)

19:29 So when God destroyed the cities of the region, God honored Abraham’s request. He removed Lot from the midst of the destruction when he destroyed the cities Lot had lived in.

God…remembered Abraham – It is not said that ‘God remembered Lot (for his righteousness) but, rather, ‘God showed mercy to Lot on the basis of Abraham’s faithfulness and his intercession for Sodom. Abraham, therefore, was the reason for Lot’s deliverance (Gen 12:2–3).’ (Hartley)

Wenham makes essentially the same point: ‘The substitution of Abraham for Lot in this sentence makes an important theological point. Lot was not saved on his own merits but through Abraham’s intercession.’

‘When “God remembered Noah,” the flood started to abate; when he remembered Abraham, he rescued Lot. This is just one of many allusions to the flood in these chapters. Clearly, Genesis sees the two events as parallel: two cataclysmic acts of divine judgment on outrageously sinful communities, with the only righteous man and his family spared.’ (Wenham)

What’s the main point?

Referring to chapters 18 and 19, Wenham observes that for some, this passage proves the barbarity of the God of the OT, and for others, the heinousness of homosexual practice.  But we must read it, first and foremost, ‘in the light of what precedes and follows it, and relating it to the theme of Genesis as a whole: the partial fulfillment of the promises to the patriarchs, promises of land, descendants, covenant relationship, and blessing to the nations (cf. Gen 12:1–3).’

Justice and mercy

Scene 3 established that God does not punish the righteous along with the wicked. Quite the contrary, he spares the wicked for the sake of the righteous. Scene 4 establishes that God does not bring judgment without careful investigation (Gen 18:20–21; 19:13), that he most certainly avenges the oppressed by punishing all oppressors (Gen 19:4, 24), that the prayers of the faithful are the conduit of judgment, and that before judging sinners he gives them opportunity to repent (Gen 19:7–8). God’s judgment on saints is remedial (see Prov. 3:11–12), but when his final judgment falls on the unrepentant, like those in the Flood and Sodom, it is penal.’ (Waltke & Fredricks)

A failure saved

‘Lot tries to be a blessing but instead appears as a bungler and buffoon. He fails as a host, as a citizen, as a husband, as a father. He wants to protect his guests but needs to be protected by them; he tries to save his family, and they think he is joking; afraid to journey to the mountains, he pleads for a little town, but afraid of the town, he flees to the mountains. His salvation depends on God’s mercy (Gen 19:16) and Abraham’s blessing (Gen 19:29).’ (Waltke & Fredricks)

‘As judgement rains down on Sodom, the author focuses on Lord’s rescue more than on the city’s destruction.  The God who saved Noah at the end of his world rescues a fallible believers from a predicament he should never have got into.’ (Williams, The Bible Application Handbook)

‘From the narrative is might seem that Lot was not worth saving.  His weakness amounted to wickedness, and yet again and again God bore with him, waited for him, pleased with him, urged him, and at length did not bring down the Divine judgement until he was safe out of Sodom.  Is there anything in this world so wonderful as the mercy that waits for us, follows us, hedges our path, and short of compulsion does everything to keep us from ruin.’ (Griffith Thomas)

How many of us are like Lot?

‘How many of us are like that? We’re Christians, yes. But we also want to have our part of the world. We must have our slice of the action. We feel that we can’t possibly give it up completely: that would simply be too great a cost to bear. So, like Lot, we seek instead to do our best in a hopelessly compromised situation, trying to maintain dual citizenship in the world and in heaven.’ (Duguid)

How shall we escape?

‘Societies that flout standards of decent human behavior and spurn God’s messengers, says the rest of Scripture, cannot hope to escape divine judgment, whatever promises were made to Abraham. The Pentateuch suggests that the destruction of Sodom is a foretaste of the judgment that will befall other inhabitants of Canaan for their sins (Lev 18:3–30; Lev 20:22–23). Even Israel, the very descendant of Abraham, is likened to Sodom and Gomorrah in the prophets and in the Book of Deuteronomy (Isa 1:9; 3:9; Jer 23:14; Amos 4:11; Deut 29:23; 32:32). Indeed, Ezek 16:46–47 says that Jerusalem’s sins are worse than Sodom’s, and Lam 4:6 declares her “chastisement … has been greater than the punishment of Sodom.” And the prophets warn that Israel’s neighbors can expect a judgment like Sodom’s because of their sin (Isa 13:9; Jer 49:18; Zeph 2:9).’

Thus the OT seems to view the overthrow of Sodom as a paradigm of divine judgment: any nation, Jewish or gentile, can expect such treatment if it flouts God’s standards and spurns his call to repentance. Similarly, Jesus warns that towns that rejected him or his messengers are more to blame than Sodom: “Truly, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (Matt 10:15; 11:23; Luke 10:12). Indeed, he compares his own coming in judgment to the flood or the overthrow of Sodom (Luke 17:26–32). Yet even in a society as corrupt as Sodom, Scripture affirms, the LORD has his own people, a remnant who attempt, however imperfectly, to live by divine standards (1 Kgs 19:18). The Abraham or Lot of every age “who is vexed in his righteous soul day after day with their lawless deeds” is urged to remain faithful to God and “to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (2 Pet 2:8; Heb 13:2).’ (Wenham)

Into the New Testament

In Mt 11:21–24 (= Lk 10:13–15) our Lord pronounces a series of woes on the unrepentant towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum.  Concerning the last-mentioned, he cries: “will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be thrown down to Hades! For if the miracles done among you had been done in Sodom, it would have continued to this day. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for the region of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you!” (Mt 11:23f).  ”This city was not only Jesus’ base (Mt 4:13), but he performed many specific miracles there (Mt 8:5–17; 9:2–8, 18–33).’ (Carson)

In Lk 17:26-32 (cf. Mt 24:37-39) Jesus, having compared conditions in the days of Noah with those at the time of the coming of the Son of Man, says something similar with respect to the days of Lot.  People with be carrying on with ‘business as usual’, oblivious of their need of repentance and the shortness of the time.  Days of ordinary activity – eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building – were followed by a day of catastrophe.

In 2 Pet 2:6-8 (see also Jude 7) Sodom and Gomorrah are portrayed as hotbeds of iniquity.  Lot, in contrast, was a ‘righteous man’ who distanced himself from the sins of Sodom, and was saved from destruction.  Although we are surprised to hear Lot, weak of character as he was, being described as ‘righteous’, it was precisely on behalf of ‘righteous’ people that Abraham had interceded.

In Rev 11:8 John relates a vision of the temple, and of two witnesses whose prophesying will lead to them being attacked and killed.  ‘Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.’  In the words of Hamilton, Sodom here functions as ‘a city, an epoch, a story, and a typological symbol’.  Sodom illustrates the rejection of God’s messengers (Lot), and the completeness of God’s judgement.  Sodom is also linked with Jerusalem, which had killed the prophets and crucified the Messiah.

The destruction of Sodom and the final judgement

Fudge regards the destruction of Sodom as an important ‘window into the nature of final judgement’.  Later biblical usage draws out seven aspects of Sodom’s destruction:-

  • Inclusive––Isaiah is impressed by the destruction of the entire wicked population. Not one person escaped! (Isa 1:9). Paul quotes Isaiah’s words for the same point (Rom 9:29).
  • Sudden––The suddenness of the judgment catches the attention of Jesus. When God comes against the wicked, the righteous are wise to drop everything and run (Luke 17:26–33.) Godly survivors are like sticks snatched from the fire (Amos 4:11; Jude 23).
  • Complete––Even the agent of destruction becomes a biblical symbol for divine punishment. This is the origin of “fire and brimstone” in the Bible, with brimstone (sulfur) to suffocate by its fumes, and fire to consume completely. God’s wrath struck, “burning them to ashes,” and made them “an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly” (2 Pet 2:6).
  • Quick––The actual burning of Sodom was notably quick, in that regard even merciful (Lam 4:6).
  • Devastating––In keeping with other passages on the end of the wicked, Sodom’s destruction also resulted in a barren and empty land void of human inhabitant. Moses later stresses this point (Deut 29:23), as do Jeremiah (Jer 49:18) and Zephaniah (Zeph 2:9).
  • Perpetual––Even more significant, this desolation is perpetual. Centuries later God foretells Babylon’s punishment of everlasting ruin, and Sodom is the example he gives (Isa 13:19–22; Jer 50:40). Jude emphasizes the perpetuity of Sodom’s desolation when he says that Sodom serves “as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7).
  • Accomplished––The next day after Sodom’s destruction, Abraham went out to view the site below. All that remained was a dense smoke rising from what a day earlier had been a bustling city. Now all was quiet, the smoke a grim reminder of the severity of a divine retribution now fully accomplished. Biblical writers use this symbol in connection with later judgments (Isa 34:10; Rev 14:11; 19:3).

Fudge, Edward William. The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition (pp. 63-64). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

19:30 Lot went up from Zoar with his two daughters and settled in the mountains because he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters. 19:31 Later the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man anywhere nearby to have sexual relations with us, according to the way of all the world. 19:32 Come, let’s make our father drunk with wine so we can have sexual relations with him and preserve our family line through our father.”
19:33 So that night they made their father drunk with wine, and the older daughter came and had sexual relations with her father. But he was not aware that she had sexual relations with him and then got up. 19:34 So in the morning the older daughter said to the younger, “Since I had sexual relations with my father last night, let’s make him drunk again tonight. Then you go and have sexual relations with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.” 19:35 So they made their father drunk that night as well, and the younger one came and had sexual relations with him. But he was not aware that she had sexual relations with him and then got up.
19:36 In this way both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. 19:37 The older daughter gave birth to a son and named him Moab. He is the ancestor of the Moabites of today. 19:38 The younger daughter also gave birth to a son and named him Ben-Ammi. He is the ancestor of the Ammonites of today.

Today – This expression (also found in Gen 22:14; 32:32; 47:26) is ‘a formula of personal testimony added to, and confirming, the received tradition’ (Childs).  Walke and Fredricks add that ‘the narrator’s evidence…shows that he intended to write real history, not myth or saga or legend.’

A sad career

‘Leaving Ur with Abraham and sharing his wealth, and by association at least the blessings promised to Abraham, Lot separated from Abraham to enjoy greater affluence in the Jordan valley. But when last seen he has lost his home, his goods, and his wife and is being shamefully treated by his daughters.’ (Wenham)