The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.” “No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.” But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 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.” Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” “Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door. The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.” So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking. With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!” But Lot said to them, “No, my lords, please! Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die. Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.” He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” (That is why the town was called Zoar.) By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
This is a shocking story and we’re appalled at the behaviour of the crowd and of Lot, Abraham’s brother. Clearly what God had heard about the city being a sinful place wasn’t wrong. For generations, however, commentators have assumed the sin of Sodom was homosexuality – after all the crowds wanted to have sex with the male visitors – older translations have the rather more coy “to know them”. However, things aren’t that simple.
In the ancient world there was an absolute obligation to show hospitality to travellers. This ill treatment of strangers would have been shocking. Then we have the threat of gang rape – and, though the crowds didn’t recongise them as such, threatening to gang rape angels is unlikely to be pleasing unto the Lord. Finally, we have Lot who offers his daughters to the crowds to appease them (the effect of this on their loyalty will be seen tomorrow). What type of father offers his daughters to a crowd intent on rape and sexual humiliation? Of course it’s hard to reason with a crowd mid riot and the angels’ supernatural powers save the day.
We have to be careful with how we interpret Scripture. The generations who assumed this passage was about loving relationships between men missed the rape narrative and the horrific attitudes of Lot. The story does teach us how we can get it wrong and makes us ask how we’d react in Lot’s situation.
Loving God, we are a strange mixture of hero and coward, saint and sinner, strong and weak. Help us as we change from glory into glory, to see our blind spots, strengthen our weaknesses, and follow you more closely. Amen.
The Rev’d Andy Braunston works with four churches in and around Glasgow.
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