sermon: Life in Sodom
As in the Days of Lot
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 03-Nov-12; 71 minutes
A news story passed along the newswires earlier this week, and it brought a little levity to the otherwise grim atmosphere surrounding the passage of Hurricane Sandy through that area between Washington and New York City. It seems that filming on a March 2014 movie by Producer-Director Darren Aronofsky about the biblical story of Noah and the Ark, starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly, had been delayed (of all things) by flooding. The ark was built to film exterior scenes, and they had made it biblically accurate; it was 75 feet tall, 450 feet long, and 45 feet wide—generally what God says there in Genesis 6 and 7 about what the Ark should be and how big it should be.
This structure that looked like an ark was moored, it was actually floating in Oyster Bay (which I thought was also kind of ironic), which is an inlet on Long Island Sound, and it was directly in the storm’s path. But, evidently, it weathered the storm, just like Noah’s Ark weathered the storm, but they could not get to it because of all the flooding on the land side of things.
So the irony is really hard to miss, and perhaps God was suggesting that they need to rethink the plot which, from what I have read, departs quite a bit considerably from the biblical account.
Let me just give you a little idea of the story here of this Noah’s Ark movie. (Russell Crowe is going to be great, I am sure.) But the plot is quite fantastical. Evidently, Noah and his family are cast out of society after he preaches environmentalism, of all things. So he then seeks help from a group called ‘The Watchers’ who are six armed angelic creatures (evidently, those are the ones mentioned there in Genesis 3 that guard the way to the Tree of Life). But I think it is that bad. It is not going to be anything like the biblical story.
Clearly, the writers of the film did not trust the Bible’s account of what happened with Noah and the Flood. We have gone through that in my sermons on the Great Flood, and we saw that the information there in Genesis 6, 7, 8 and on into chapter 9—the descriptions are spare, but they are straightforward and they are consistent. And once you look into them, they actually provide a significant amount of information about what was going on at the time.
Now I grant you that you have to use a little bit of imagination to fill in some of the gaps, but it is ludicrous to go so far as to talk about six armed angels if you are going to talk about Noah and the Ark. But if we stay within the bounds of reality—and I think most of us have the ability to at least attempt that—we could use the Bible’s revelation in Genesis 6, 7, 8, 9 to reconstruct a realistic approximation of that society before the Flood and some of the events that took place. I do not think it is that hard but, evidently, Darren Aronofsky did. So he had to invent things.
Let us go to Genesis 6, if you would. This is all part of my introduction. I am actually not going to talk the whole sermon about Noah and the Ark because I already did that in my series. I do not need to do any more on Noah and the Ark. But I do want you to get an understanding of what I am talking about here, that from what the Bible reveals to us, we can reconstruct that time period pretty well.
Genesis 6:1-12 Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God. And Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.
I think it is pretty clear what we are dealing with here. But we do not have time to go into it in such detail, as I went through it in those sermons. It took me several sermons to get this far in that series. But I did so because I really felt that the information was so fundamental to understanding what was going on, and understanding God’s reasons for sending the Flood on the earth. With just a quick reading of these 12 verses, we can get a good general idea of what was going on then.
Let us list a few of these things. We can see that the population was increasing. Men were multiplying on the face of the earth and people were beginning to bump into one another. It seemed like the room was growing smaller with all the increase of the people. We see an indication here that marriage was a big problem; it was becoming perverted in one way or another. This comes out in verse 2 where it says that “the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful, and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose.” It seemed that they would take wives just out of whim, and who knows how far this went. But, obviously, for God to be grieved over it, it went quite far.
Another thing which is mentioned several times is that humanity had become so depraved that every thought was evil. All they wanted to do was evil, and they were just totally corrupt. So then violence and bloodshed filled the world. And we find that certain mighty men (they are called “giants” here) were making names for themselves. They were men of renown; they were men who were known far and wide.
As was mentioned before, it was a society rampant with crime and vice. And righteousness was so rare that only Noah found grace. That is the indication that comes out of verse 9, that he was “perfect in his generations.” The idea behind that phrasing in Hebrew is that he was the only one in his generation, of the generations that were alive then, that had any real righteousness; it is not talking about a clean pedigree necessarily, but it is talking about the fact that he was a very rare individual among those who were alive at the time. So only he was living a godly life.
So, overall, we can see that what we have here in Genesis 6:1-12 paints a dark, bloody, perverse, and tragic picture. The proverbial “things were going to hell in a handbasket” was being lived out here at this time, and God had to put a stop to it.
This is not the only information we have about what was going on before the Flood. So let us go into the New Testament where Jesus comments on it, and we can trust what He says about what was going on before the Flood because He was there; He was the God that was grieved at all the crime and things that were going on, and so He comments then upon it to us, in Matthew 24, as a warning. He is talking about His return. So, in verse 36, He says:
Matthew 24:36-39 But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.
This is revelation to us about the way it was before the Flood. And He wants us to get an indication of this, or have an idea of this, because He says it will be important for us to know what it will be like before the end comes when He returns to earth. So He shows that there is a comparison that can be made for the time before the Flood and the time before His return. They are going to have some similarities; He is going to come back for similar reasons. The people in the earth—and the earth itself to some degree—are going to be in such a time of distress, just as it was before the Flood came. There is going to be the great sin and the perversion, and we can then say, “Hey, our time looks a lot like the time He is describing here.”
What He adds to our knowledge here in Matthew 24 that is not said back there in Genesis 6 is that the pre-Flood world was a time of spiritual ignorance and apathy. We could get an indication of that back there in Genesis 6, but it does not come right out and say so. We know that they were full of sin and doing sinful things, and then we could assume that because they were doing that, they were spiritually apathetic and ignorant of what was going on. But Jesus shows us by His phraseology that that is exactly what was going on—they did not have a clue what was going on. Because they were so busy doing sinful things, they were not at all keyed in to God’s way of life and what was happening in the world.
So most people, then, before the Flood, were unaware that they were living at a time when nearly all human life was going to be swept away in the waters of the Flood. They were going merrily along thinking that life would just continue, and that they would continue in their society in the way that it was going; that it was not going to change; there was not going to be any reckoning for their way of life. They did not even think about a reckoning; they were just thinking of living their lifestyle.
So Jesus describes them here, in Matthew 24, specifically in verse 38, as “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.” What He shows is kind of like the merisms we have been talking about (in John Ritenbaugh’s Ecclesiastes Resumed series) because He shows two extremes. Eating and drinking are things that we do every day. We normally do it; only on the Day of Atonement we do not do this sort of thing. But it is an activity that is normal and mundane, and we just do it and do it and do it over and over and over and over again, and we hardly think about it. But then He goes to the other extreme and talks about “marrying and giving in marriage.” That is something that happens very rarely in one’s life—that one gets married or that one gives away a daughter or a son.
So what it shows is that He is talking about the whole spectrum of life here—from the most mundane things to the most exceptional things—that they were just going on doing these things almost by rote; and they were just continuing on, and they thought it would always be this way. And so they were unaware, when the Flood came, of what was happening because they were just interested in living their lives in a workaday kind of way in this society—this very evil society.
Jesus kind of presents an entire people who are clueless about what was really happening. They thought their lives were what was really happening, but God was saying, “Uh-uh.” What was going on then was a huge symptom of something very wrong and that He was bound to react to it. But they did not have Him in mind at all and so they were not aware, that when the Flood came and killed them all, why it had happened.
So, as I said before, Jesus shows us then a culture of spiritual ignorance and apathy. Nobody seemed to want to know what was going on; they did not care. That is where the apathy came in. And only Noah was really preaching it, and I am sure he was sidelined by the culture in one way or another. So it was a whole culture that was apathetic to what was actually going on, and as He says here, they were shocked when God’s judgment came upon them, and then they died.
Overall, then, we get a picture of a society in which renowned and powerful men buy predominance. That is what those giants were doing. Life was cheap. It was a very violent society. A person was either a predator or prey at that time.
Women were objectified. It says that “the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful” and that was the only thing that they cared about. So they objectified these women as sexual objects for their beauty.
People either had multiple marriages one after the other, which some people have called ‘serial polygamy’, or they were just outright polygamous. Men took multiple wives, and who knows, maybe at that time women took multiple husbands. We just know that there was a perversion of marriage, and there seemed to be a lot of it because Jesus mentions that here—they were “marrying and giving in marriage.”
But, from what Jesus says here, it seems that the people had become so accustomed to such a violent and perverse lifestyle that they were living as if their corrupt society was normal and perhaps even desirable. They were so spiritually ignorant. We can maybe even say that they carried on as if their lifestyles were what human society was supposed to look like. They were so proud of their advancements and their thinking—maybe even in their technology—that they did not even consider what God was thinking of them (meaning, their advancements) because they had totally pushed God to the side and out of their lives.
Jesus wants us to take this information—this picture—that we can get of pre-Flood society, not just the individual sins. We should not really focus on the individual sins. We should rather focus on the whole picture because the individual sins will occur in just about every culture in every age, to a greater or lesser degree. There have always been homosexuals; there have always been people who perverted marriage; there have always been violent people; there have always been murders; there has always been, you know, name your sin.
Those things pretty much always have occurred since the time of Adam and Eve. The first person that was born was a murderer, so violence has been around since the beginning. And I am sure sexual perversion has been around since the beginning, and all those other things. So it is not the individual sins that we need to focus on, but the bigger, broader picture of the general society, the general culture that was happening at the time.
What Jesus wants us to do is to take this picture and use it to compare to our own time. How does this general picture of life before the Flood fit our own experience in the world or today’s culture’s way of doing things? And, when we do this—when we take what life was like before the Flood and compare it to our own—we kind of construct a general barometer that gauges our proximity to Christ’s return. The more and more that our society looks like pre-Flood society, then we can feel that Christ’s return is imminent (or maybe ‘more imminent’ would be better because we are just creeping toward it one second at a time); it is going to happen.
So we need to keep our eyes on this world so we can continually make this comparison between life out there and life as it was about 4000 years ago before the Flood.
While we are here in Matthew, let us read on, starting in verse 42. So He tells us what to do here.
Matthew 24:42 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.
The ‘therefore’ there tells us that He is reaching a conclusion, and it is good for us to take note of what that conclusion is. So He is saying, “Okay, because of this—because of what you know about the days of Noah and what you know about your own time—watch” because we do not know when Christ is going to come. It is up to each one of us to make these comparisons and gauge the immanency of His return. And He says:
Matthew 24:43-44 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
In that paragraph, which runs between verse 36 and verse 44, He says three times “You do not know” when He is coming back. So we need to watch, we need to be aware. We cannot be like those pre-Flood people who were ignorant and apathetic about what was going on in the spiritual realm. So we have to keep our eyes open. We have to be like this master of the house who is on guard—vigilant—so that the thief will not come and break into his house and cause destruction, and maybe take his life. So we need to be aware.
Let us go to Luke 21 and see a similar paragraph or a part of a paragraph (actually it is pretty much a whole paragraph). These passages that we are reading, in Matthew 24 and in Luke 21, are roughly parallel; they are not exact. They may be on the same subject of watching, but they are not in the same exact context. But the conclusion that He reaches is the same.
Luke 21:34-35 But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.
It sounds very similar to what He was saying in Matthew 24. So His conclusion is:
These passages advise us to watch. Not to warn the world (that is not in here); He is not talking about warning the world. He is telling us to watch, to keep ourselves and our houses (as Matthew puts it) from unexpectedly coming under judgment out of our own ignorance because we are too busy involving ourselves in what is going on in the world or distracted by things that are going on in society.
That is why He says, in verse 34, “Take heed to yourselves” that you do not be drunken and carousing and worried about the cares of this life. He is coming down to a very personal level and saying “You watch what is going on” because Christ is going to come at a time you do not know. But He gives us the indication that if we are watching, it will not be completely unexpected. Otherwise why would He warn us (if it is going to be unexpected to everybody, well, might as well just not warn us)? But He does warn us and says, “Keep your eyes open. Focus on what is going on, what I am doing [He means ‘what He is working out’ as well as ‘what is going on in the world’],” and if we do that, then we have a chance to be ready, to say “Ah, I’ve seen these things—these parallels with the days of Noah. They’re lining up. I better get on my toes here and pray.”
‘Pray’ is, kind of, a code word for “strengthen your relationship with God” because He is the one you are talking to. So we are watching, and we pray that we are worthy, which means “God, work on me, work with me so that when Christ comes, I’ll be ready to stand with Him and be on His side” (Who is on the Lord’s side—that sort of thing).
He is saying that if we are aware of what is going on, if we are making these right comparisons, then we can be ready for the return of Christ. But it takes some work. We have to watch and we have to pray.
So we do not want to be like the people who were living before the Flood who were so distracted by what was going on—with their eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, and all the other things that they were doing, all their crimes and all their violence and all their sexual perversions or whatever they were doing—that we, like them, become trapped in this world when the destruction falls. We want to be on the Ark, as it were. We want to be safe because God has separated us from the world. We do not want to be lured by apathy and distraction into practicing the ways of this world and then ending up like this world and under the condemnation of this world. Instead, we want to be caught, as it were, imitating Christ, not this world. That is pretty straightforward, I think.
Most of you have been in the church long enough to understand this principle. I do not think I have said anything very new. We have often considered the conditions of the pre-Flood world, either personally or through sermons, and then compared those conditions with the way it is today. So, like I said, nothing new.
But in Luke’s account of the Olivet Prophecy, Jesus did not stop with describing the conditions before the Flood, but He also went on to compare the end-time with the days of Lot. So I want to spend the rest of my time considering life in Sodom right before its destruction, so that we can plug that into our thinking as well. I hope it will be interesting to you, and hopefully it will give you a few more things to think about and maybe scare you a little spitless.
Just to get this out of the way before we go any further, and just in case you are curious, the word ‘Sodom’ (which is actually pronounced ‘Sedome’ in Hebrew) comes from a root that means ‘to scorch’ or ‘to burn’, and that is what happened when God sent fire and brimstone down upon it and all the cities of the plain.
However, the area where Sodom was (that area of the southern Dead Sea) once contained a lot of tar pits, and it may be that the name derives from the occasional burning of tar. Every once in a while, a lightning storm would come through and light the tar and it would burn, or perhaps there was a lingering burnt smell in the area because of the tar—the asphalt—that was there; so it smelled like burning, and they called the city ‘burning’. Who knows, I am not sure, it was just an interesting etymology that might go with the way the area is. Other scholars think that ‘Sodom’ means ‘vineyard’ or ‘an enclosure’, but the ‘burning’ one sounds better.
Now this area—this southern part of the Dead Sea—is called the Valley of Siddim and that means ‘the valley of the plain’ or ‘the valley of the flats’ or ‘the valley of the fields.’ You get the idea that it was a very flat area. It was not THE valley, like we think of it, but it opened out and it was very flat and therefore very fertile because there was a river going through it (the River of Jordan). This area—the Valley of Siddim—is the southeastern most extent of the control of the Canaanites; this was the southeastern part of the land of Canaan. Most of us think that it stopped at the Jordan River, but actually it went across the Jordan River at this point to include the Valley of Siddim.
Most of the inhabitants of Sodom and the other cities were Canaanites. I just mentioned these ‘other cities’; later historians called it the ‘Pentapolis’ (they are five): Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela. And that Bela later became known as Zoar, which you probably have more familiarity with. Zoar is currently at the very southern tip of the Dead Sea.
Like I said, most scholars think that these five cities lie somewhere under the southern part of the Dead Sea, or perhaps in the low hills around that area, and that seems to make a lot of sense because they would not build the city on this fertile flatland. They probably tried to put the city up where it could be better defended (up on a rise at least) and leave that fertile flatland for agriculture, which was how they made their money and how they stayed alive. So it is much more likely that these five cities were up on the more rocky highlands around there.
As I mentioned earlier, there is a pretty good possibility, at least in my mind, that the Jordan River flowed through the valley and down into the eastern arm of the Red Sea at that time, before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. And so there was not a salt sea there. It just flowed right through and it was nice sweet water that they were able to enjoy. But then, when God rained fire and brimstone on Sodom, that outlet was closed off and the Jordan River now ends in the Dead Sea. That is a little background on the area.
Let us go to Genesis 13 where we have this area introduced.
Genesis 13:1-11 Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South [meaning, they went up northward to the Negev, which is just adjacent to the area of Sodom or the Valley of Siddim]. Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he went on his journey from the South [from the Negev] as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abram called on the name of the Lord. Lot also, who went with Abram, had flocks and herds and tents [so he was fairly wealthy too]. Now the land was not able to support them that they might dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together [Can you imagine that! How much did they have to have! How many people were supporting them! How big were their flocks and herds!] And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land. [So, it was not a totally open land; they had to share it with all these other people too]. So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left [totally your decision, Lot; you make it].” And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar [This is another Zoar, by the way. It is not the Zoar that we were just mentioning, but one that is off to the west on the border of Egypt]. Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east [Just to mention, when you journey east, you usually go away from God]. And they separated from each other.
The ‘plain of Jordan’ is introduced in verse 10, and Moses then immediately makes a ‘before’ and ‘after’ comparison. He says before God rained down fire and brimstone on Sodom, the plain of Jordan was well-watered everywhere. It had springs and brooks all through it and it was very fertile and very desirable. Obviously, Lot said, “This is where I want to go. I don’t want to be here on these hills of Canaan. I want to be down there in the valley where my men can put the sheep and the cows out and they would have plenty of grass. We could plow the valley and raise all the grain that we want, all the vegetables. We’ll make a killing down there.” And so he chose the plain of Jordan.
If you know the area—the geography—at all, you will know that there were highlands on both sides of the Jordan valley; there were the mountains of Canaan on the one side, and then on the other side there is the plateau of Moab and Ammon, and those were highlands compared to the plain of Jordan. So everything flowed down into the Jordan valley and then went down the river. There was plenty of good sweet water coming down the Jordan River and it made that area very fertile. The vegetation was so abundant that the area is compared there in verse 10 to “the garden of the Lord”—to Eden. It was so lush and green.
In other words, to these people, it was paradise. It was the place to be. And he also compares it, in fertility at least, to the area of the Nile Delta. That is why he talks about “like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar.” It is that very fertile area right at the end of the river where all the silt, with all its nutrients, has been deposited on the land. You just flick a seed out and it grows to be Jack’s Beanstalk in a day-and-a-half.
Like I said, Lot saw this and he thought there was no choice at all (“I’m going to take the plain of Jordan”). So he saw it was beautiful and verdant; it had an abundance of food and water; it was a bread basket; and anybody in his right mind, he thought, would choose the Valley of Siddim. So he did.
Then you have chapter 14 here, verses 1 and 2.
Genesis 14:1-2 And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations, that they made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar).
This just gives us an indication. Chapter 14 now makes sense. Why were they coming down here against these five cities of the plain? Because it was like Eden; it was like the garden of God; it was prime territory; and anybody in his right mind—any king with any kind of an army behind him—would want to march down there and take this over because that did give him great wealth and power.
So the first thing we see is that Lot had put himself in a place that was going to be fought over time and again. It was a very tempting land for any person of authority to try to take. And there was more than likely (I could say this with pretty much absolute certainty) that there was a trade route that wound through that area, and if you got control of the hub there of that trade route, you could make oodles of money. Whoever controlled that hub would control trade from Egypt, trade from Arabia, trade from the north. You could just see the spokes of this wheel going out. And you could charge your little tax as everything came through; you could make your money on side deals; you could do whatever it is that those kinds of people do and just make an absolute killing. So these kings from the north, they wanted the area of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Let us go down to verses 11 and 12. What happens?
Genesis 14:11-12 Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot [he finds himself a prisoner of war], Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.
So now his decision is not making a great deal of sense. Because he is a prisoner of war, he is headed north with all these kings of the north and all the goods of Sodom. These kings have destroyed the cities down there and they are taking all the loot home. And we can just imagine how much loot there was in these very prosperous cities. It was not just silver and gold, it was not just flocks and herds, but it was all those provisions—all the foodstuff—that they were taking back with them. It was a lot of goods. I think just saying “all the goods and all their provisions” is a vast understatement of the wealth that these kings were taking back to their people. It was exceptional wealth.
And so when Abram (as he was at the time) refused to take any of this loot for himself, it was really an exceptional act on his part because he was staring at a mound of wealth there. Of course, he had more than he could use in his lifetime already, but he was really giving up a lot by refusing to take anything for his rescue of Lot.
So, up to this point, in chapters 13 and 14, we have two major factors that we need to consider in terms of the society or the area of Sodom:
It was well-watered fertile country. It was prime land. It was, as I said, the bread basket for that area of the world. They could grow anything there with seemingly hardly any problem.
It was fabulously wealthy—wealthy from agriculture, wealthy from trade—and it was a highly desirable land.
Now the king of Sodom, then, knowing this—that his land was very fertile and that one could be very rich—could very easily say, “Abram, take what you want” because he knew that it would not take long before he would be very very wealthy once again because this was a land of opportunity. As long as you control the little bit of it, you were going to make a lot of money.
On to Genesis 18. This is of course Abraham’s bartering with God about Sodom. We will not go through the whole thing, but I want to start in verse 20.
Genesis 18:20-22 And the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very [grievous], I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.” Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord.
I believe the Hebrew actually says “the Lord still stood before Abraham”, and the Jews changed it because they did not think it was right to say that the Lord stood before Abraham because they thought things were turned around there. But, actually, it says “the Lord still stood before Abraham.”
Genesis 18:23-25 And Abraham came near and said, “Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
And so God says, “I will spare them.”
Genesis 18:32 Then he said, “Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak but once more: Suppose ten should be found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it for the sake of ten.”
So he got Him down to ten righteous people and Abraham was satisfied (“The city will be spared”, he probably thought. “Lot is okay”.)
Let us set a few details here. The first one is that there was a great outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah. This suggests that not only was God offended by all their sins (of course He knew what was going on there; He had been given a lot of reports from there, I am sure), but it also suggests that the cities of the plain had become notorious as a perverse place that there was an outcry against it that people were complaining about it; people were getting very upset about it. It is not just God, but people too. It had gotten so bad that people were aware of how bad the city was.
It is kind of like how various cities today have a reputation and people know it. We joke about Las Vegas as “Sin City” and “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas . . . ha ha ha!” or Chicago. Unfortunately, Chicago has a reputation for the Mob and for crime. Then there is, well, San Francisco. It has a reputation as being the capital of homosexuality in America. The same thing with Sodom and Gomorrah. There was an outcry against them because they had a reputation of being very bad places; not just that God noticed, but that the whole world was noticing.
So the outcry was great, it says, meaning that it had increased to the point that it was an abomination, not just to God but to many people. And the ‘outcry’ part of it suggests that it was an appeal for justice or an appeal for vengeance. People were saying, “God (or ‘King’), we've got to do something about this. They are getting so bad that they are hurting a lot of people.”
What I think was happening was people were beginning to feel the penalties of sin—things were starting to happen in their lives that they even could trace to the immorality in Sodom—and saying, “This is getting so bad, it’s beginning to affect us already, and we want something to happen. It’s so bad!”
It also says that the sin of Sodom was very grievous (or grave), and this is reminiscent of what God says about the time toward the Flood (that He was grieved in His heart over their corruption before the Flood in Genesis 6:6-7). What it suggests then is that their sin was both abundant (there was a lot of sin going on) and that it was heinous sin (it was not just your everyday white lie; it was very, very, very bad sin). And God was grieved. When you can grieve God, you know that you have gone way over the line because He has seen a lot. So they were very heavy sins that were causing a great deal of pain and misery to a lot of people, and so there was an outcry. Genesis 19 provides the details.
Genesis 19:1-4 Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground. And he said, “Here now, my lords, please turn in to your servant's house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise early and go on your way.” And they said, “No, but we will spend the night in the open square.” But he insisted strongly; so they turned in to him and entered his house. Then he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. Now before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both old and young, all the people from every quarter, surrounded the house.
So what we are getting here is that this was pretty much the whole city—all the men—coming there to the square near Lot’s house.
Genesis 19:5-8 And they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them carnally.” So Lot went out to them through the doorway, shut the door behind him, and said, “Please, my brethren, do not do so wickedly! See now, I have two daughters who have not known a man; please, let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you wish; only do nothing to these men, since this is the reason they have come under the shadow of my roof.”
He is saying they have the protection of hospitality.
Genesis 19:9-11 And they said, “Stand back!” Then they said, “This one came in to [sojourn], and he keeps acting as a judge; now we will deal worse with you than with them.” So they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near to break down the door. But [the angels] reached out their hands and pulled Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. And they struck the men who were at the doorway of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they became weary trying to find the door.
Interesting scenario here. Lot is the most interesting of all, and it is very sad. We find him sitting at the gate. He is in a place of respect. He is evidently an elder of the city. Perhaps he had gotten that position because of what Abraham had done in rescuing them. And so, because of his connection with Abraham and his heroics, because he did it going after Lot (Abraham felt great affection for Lot), they made him one of their chief men in the city.
He knew what was going on in the city, Lot did. That is why he warned the men to stay at his house. He knew how corrupt it was. He knew how bad the people were—how they were just a bunch of homosexuals. And as we saw there, they were very violent too; if they did not get their way, they would kill whoever stood in their way of getting what they wanted.
He also recognized (Lot did) that these men (angels) were lords. Now, did he know that they were angels? I do not know; maybe he did. But he treated them the same way that Abraham treated them. He gave them a feast and unleavened bread. He washed their feet. So perhaps there was a recognition on Lot’s part that these were not just men, they were something more than men—someone that he had to call a lord, a master. So he treated them appropriately.
So what we see here is Lot standing between two sides. He is in the middle. He sees what is going on in Sodom and he sees the angels and knows that they are from God. And he is kind of like Elijah who talks about the Israelites—hopping one way and the other; does not quite know what to do. He is trying to appease one side while he is trying to flatter the other, or to do what he can to honor the other. Yet Peter calls him “righteous Lot who is tormented and oppressed by the filthy lawless deeds of the people in Sodom.”
But the picture that we get of Lot here is not that way. He was trying to do everything to appease these sinners in Sodom. So we see their corruption; they want to have carnal relations with the angels—with these visitors—and rather than being shocked and offended, Lot goes out to them and calls them “Brethren” and tries to reason with them. And there is no reasoning with them because they are just full of this lust that they have (I mean, reasoning with them by trying to offer his virgin daughters in the place of the men—is that something a righteous man would do? It really makes you wonder). Maybe he was righteous after this, after he repented. But right now he is not looking very righteous. Not at all. He had obviously lost a great deal of spiritual integrity in living in Sodom. He had compromised a great great deal.
So here we see these Sodomites in all their perversion. This is the classic understanding of the sin of Sodom—an insistent, violent homosexuality. Let us go to Jude 7 to see how Jude describes it.
Jude 7 As Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these [meaning, similar to the angels not staying in their proper domain and the Lord striking down Egypt] having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
So Jude kind of says that they are sexually immoral and gone after strange flesh. Like I said, that is the classic understanding of the sin of Sodom. That is about as far as I want to go in Genesis because I think we have got a pretty good idea of how Sodom is described there.
But we would be making the mistake to limit it to just this because the Bible goes on to reveal more about Sodom, and this is where it begins to make a connection with the sins of the nations of Israel. Let us go to Jeremiah 23.
This is where it starts coming home because these prophets—especially Jeremiah, and maybe Ezekiel even more so—begin to compare the sins of Israel with the sins of Sodom.
Now notice this is addressed to Judah primarily (that is when Jeremiah lived, as Judah was falling) but he addresses it specifically to the preachers here, which is really interesting.
Jeremiah 23:14 Also I have seen a horrible thing in the prophets of Jerusalem: They commit adultery and walk in lies; they also strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns back from his wickedness. All of them are like Sodom to Me, and her inhabitants like Gomorrah.
So he includes, not just the prophets, but all the inhabitants there with Sodom and Gomorrah. This is Judah at her worst. Again we see sexual sins leading the list; and not just homosexuality, but all kinds of sexual immorality.
Now perhaps Israelites are not so inclined to homosexuality as the Canaanites, I do not know, but they certainly feel free to engage in all kinds of heterosexual perversions as well. So what we have here is the term ‘adultery,’ rather than any kind of homosexuality, that he mentions. So he is talking a lot about adultery within marriage; that they go along with the forms, but there is a lot of adultery going on as well.
He also mentions “walking in lies”, which is a very interesting phrase, which suggests not just lying, but living a lie—you walk in it. It is a deception as a way of life.
This is a real crude example, but think about Christmas and Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Those are lies that we live with. People raise their children to believe this lie, and it just continues, and they live this lie. We can expand it out to the people living the lie of evolution, living the lie of pushing God out of the way as if He did not create them.
This then includes self-deception where we have convinced ourselves that a lie is true because it makes us feel better—like going to heaven. Millions of Christians have convinced themselves they are going to go to heaven when they die because it is easier to think of that than lying in a grave, allowing your body to molder away and then come up in a resurrection at some time in the future. So they will make a lie about what God says in the Bible about the afterlife because it is easier for them to think of grandma as with them when they need her, or whoever it is they think is watching over them.
Finally, he accuses them of strengthening the hand of the evildoers; meaning, that they give their support or give their backing to sinners over the righteous; that they would much rather back somebody who is powerful, yet a sinner, than someone who may be weak but righteous because there is more to be gained from backing the powerful sinner.
All this does is confirm that sin is the way to get ahead in this world, not righteousness, because you have got all the important people backing the sinners. And so if you want to get ahead, be a sinner.
In Ezekiel 16, we find the same thing happening. This is where God compares Israel and Judah to Sodom, and He says that they are sisters. Israel, Judah, and Sodom are sisters; they are all peas in a pod; they are all alike in many ways. Now notice what He points out here. He says:
Ezekiel 16:48-52 As I live,” says the Lord God, “neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you and your daughters have done [He is talking to Judah again]. Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit. Samaria did not commit half of your sins; but you have multiplied your abominations more than they, and have justified your sisters by all the abominations which you have done [He is saying, “They were more righteous than you”]. You who judged your sisters, bear your own shame also, because the sins which you committed were more abominable than theirs; they are more righteous than you. Yes, be disgraced also, and bear your own shame, because you justified your sisters.
That is pretty awful when you are compared negatively to Sodom. We think Sodom was really bad, but by the time Judah fell, it was worse.
Now notice what He says here about Sodom. There are four things.
She was proud (He is talking about Israelite society too because the comparison goes to Judah). She thought she was special and untouchable in her position, in her wealth (meaning, her position under God—she thought she was God’s people, so she could do what she wanted); and she was very wealthy. So she was arrogant and thought herself better than others. It was a great deal of vanity there. And the way some of the Israelitish countries push themselves all over this world and their ways over this world, shows this pride coming out.
She had fullness of food. This is an interesting one. Remember I kept going over the fact that the Valley of Siddim was a very fertile, rich area? Well, Judah here, and Israel in the antitype, had fullness of food. She had so much that she never worried about lack and she therefore overindulged herself, not just in food (that is just the type), but in everything. She was so wealthy that she could indulge in whatever pleasure or whatever that she wanted.
The next one is really interesting.
She had time to spare. The way He puts it here, she had “abundance of idleness.” They had so much that they did not really need to work very hard. She had too much spare time or idle time on her hands. So she filled it with worthless pursuits and sinful activities and pleasures. She had the wealth and the time to do whatever she wanted; so she went to entertainments, lots of distractions; she essentially wasted her time on stupid things.
She failed to help the poor and the needy. She was too busy indulging herself to give thought to others. So she was, again, vain and self-centered and oblivious to the difficulties that others were experiencing. So it shows a people who were without compassion. Oh, they would probably give money to the Red Cross, but they would not lift a finger to take the burden from a neighbor.
So this is quite an indictment of what was going on in Judah. It flushes out, then, the life of Sodom because this (describing Judah), God says, is what Sodom was like. So now we have a really clear picture of what was going on in Sodom, and I think we can begin to see that it is a picture of a society that looks a great deal like our own.
Let us go to Luke 17. Let us see what Jesus says. Remember, I mentioned in my introduction there that He did not stop with Noah’s time, but He then went on to Lot and Sodom.
Luke 17:26 And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man.
Luke 17:28-30 Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.
Here is Jesus’ description of Sodom, and He describes it differently from how He describes life before the Flood. Both places—verses 27 (I did not read verse 27) and 28—say that they ate and drank. Jesus says of Noah’s time that they married and gave in marriage. But, for Sodom, He says that they bought, they sold, they planted, they built. He is describing a different society with a mindset on a different thing.
The people before the Flood were all interested in eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. Something about that society, they were all into that sort of thing. But the society of Sodom was busy working. They were engaged in agriculture and industry. They were making money. They were building homes, offices, factories, and shops. They were industrious people out to make a buck. But their busyness (as He says here—buying, selling, planting, building) distracted them from the more important spiritual truths and pursuits that might help them be aware of what is coming.
This society that He is describing here as Sodom, is very much like Daniel 12:4 describes: Of people scurrying to and fro and increasing in knowledge. The Sodomites were not just very insistent, violent homosexuals. They were busy people who made a lot of money, who built a lot of things. They pulled in huge crops and huge wealth. But they did not care a lick about God. They were distracted. Does that not sound similar to what we are living in? Does it not sound familiar?
Let us finish in Titus, the second chapter. As Jesus said, we have to be watching and comparing; watching our society—seeing what is going on out there—and comparing it to the days of Noah and the days of Lot. Paul tells Titus here:
Titus 2:11-13 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
So our job (the one that we need to get doing) is to make sure that we, as individuals ourselves, are living soberly and righteously despite the evils of this world that look a lot like Sodom and a lot like the time before the Flood, and watching—looking forth—in hope of the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ.