Please grab yourself a cup of tea or coffee before you dig into this. I also suggest you grab a Bible or e-Bible and a concordance. I will not be brief. When a section of the Book I love is used as a condemnation on the a group of people I love, I want to be as detailed as needed for clarity. Hopefully, at the end of this reading, your understanding will have reached a higher level of clarity at minimum.
I think the verses from Genesis 19 are in the top two selections that people use when they cite homosexuality as the sin seemingly so egregious to God that He would destroy the city. This is certainly one of those sections of the Scripture that I believed was proof enough that God held the GLBT community at bay. I held that belief before I cared to look into it for myself. Please go to this video for the back story. I certainly did not care enough to independently study these verses until I was faced with a real person and real relationship.
When we look at this section of Scripture together, it may become clearer that the crime in the event was actually a brutal rape and not a “homosexual act”. And the “sin of Sodom” may not be homosexuality as we are often told. So, let’s look at the verses, the common interpretation, the implications within the culture of the times and perhaps, a new view on the verses:
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. 2“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.”3 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. 4 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 5 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.”6 Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7 and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. 8 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.”9 “Get out of our way,” they replied. And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, 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.10 But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11 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.12 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, 13 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.” “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.”
The traditional interpretation of these verses is as follows: the people of Sodom intended to engage in homosexual activities with the visitors. Not just some of the men of the city, but “all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house.” Is this a city so filled with gay men that all of them descended on Lot’s home with the intent of fulfilling sexual lusts? Did the men of the city really all have a homosexual bent?
Sodom was a wicked city indeed; the angels’ were assigned by God to go see if ten righteous people could be found in Sodom. Looking back to Genesis 18: 20-30, we see the account of the exchange between Abraham, Lot’s uncle, and Lord God Jehovah. Abraham pleads with God to spare Sodom, the city in which his nephew Lot lives with his family, and its inhabitants if God can find men of righteousness.
It is essential when looking at any section of Scripture to try as best we can to get into the culture, time and audience of the message. We need to place these verses in context. The time frame for Genesis 18 and 19 is about 1900 BC. This is over 400 years before God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and well before the coming of Christ. So how then do we define “righteous” before the death of Jesus? Righteous means just and lawful.
Also important to note is that the events in Genesis 18 and 19 precede Levitical Law by 400 years, and the Book of Deuteronomy by over 450 years. This is noteworthy because many people will quote Leviticus 18, 20 and Deuteronomy 23 as “rules” that define righteousness. “The people of Sodom were breaking God’s law,” they will say. Not possible; those guidelines and God’s Law were not yet written down.
What was in place however was a covenant made by God with Abraham over a thirty years prior to the Sodom incident. God would protect the descendants of Abraham and bring a blessing to the world via that progeny. These people were to follow a different God; they were to act justly and morally. Abraham was deemed righteous by God because he had faith in the God that had given this message, this God that Abraham had followed out of the Chaldeans. Abraham then took his family on a journey of 300 miles and settled in Haran.
Three years after emigrating to Haran, the land could not support the growing families and flocks. To halt the ensuing quarreling between the herdsmen, Abraham and Lot decide to separate. Lot moves about 30 miles away with his family and flocks to outside the gates of Sodom.
Do I hear fifty?
And thus the stage is set. It is now over twenty years later and the angels visit Abraham and the bargaining for Lot and the city begins. The angels say they will not destroy the city if they can find fifty righteous people. Abraham is likely counting in his head and recalling his last visit to the city thirty miles away. He negotiates the angels down to the number ten. In a culture where women were not of equal import , the number ten surprisingly was to include them. The word “people” here does includes women. The angels head to Sodom seeking ten people who had the faith to believe in the promises of God to the descendants of Abraham.
Lot is sitting in the gates of the city (he is no longer on the plains outside the city) when the angels arrive. It was evening and rather than allow the visitors to stay in the town square for the night, Lot invites them to come to his home. Remembering that Sodom was know for evil, what we can imagine here is a town square filled with danger and violence much like the worst cities we can envision. Lot brings the men to his home for the night. Culturally, ensuring the safety of the strangers is highly valued. It brings honor or shame to a family. In the middle of the night, after Lot and his guests had eaten and gone to sleep, the men of the city call to Lot to bring the men outside so that they might know “ya-daw” them.
I have seen “ya-daw” interpreted many ways. What I see in the Strong’s concordance is the most common meaning is to “see” or to “ascertain proof by seeing”. The word appears 943 times in the Old Testament and, of those, there are ten times when the word has a sexual connotation. In both verses 5 and 8, there are sexual connotations. Surely, when Lot offered his daughters as not having “known” a man, he is not stating a triviality such as they have never met a man.
Oh, those people of Sodom were a baaaaad bunch
Common in that time period, male rape was used as a means to discourage strangers from coming near a home or a city. Statues of gods with phallic symbols, or simply phallic symbols, were erected to protect the gardens and doorways of citizens’ homes in Ancient Greece and Rome. The god Priapus evoked that protection and the message was clear: “you come in here to our space and we will rape you.” People entering an area would stroke the god for protection. I do not imagine the angels complied with that tradition that evening. They had the protection of the I AM God.
After dinner, the townsmen descend on Lot’s home demanding to know them. And Lot does something culturally insane to us; he makes the offer of sending out his two virgin daughters. The women of the house in that era were owned by the head of the house, in this case, the father. They were his property and in total submission to him. Knowing that the daughters would be “unmarryable” after being used by the men of Sodom, the father still preferred to offer the rape of his own daughters rather than let the men of the town abuse his house-guests. The laws of hospitality were held with utmost respect, another thinking so foreign to us.
What was going on?
Putting together these pieces, the townsmen wanted to rape the strangers for coming into their city; it was a warning and an act of utter humiliation. Knowing that women were property, there was a further intent to treat them like women making them passive in the sex act and further insulting them. Being a receiving/passive person in the act of anal sex was considered unmanly and effeminate.
So, what was the sin of Sodom?
This is the time and culture in Sodom in Genesis 19. No Levitical Laws, no Book of Deuteronomy, not an act of consensual sex. This is rape; it is violence. It the sexual violence in the city the only reason the city was destroyed? Even if one were to believe the sexual violence and activity is akin to modern day same sex, committed loving relationships, we need to look to Ezekiel 16: 49-50:
Eze 16:49 Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.
Eze 16:50 And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.
So, is the sin for which Sodom was destroyed homosexuality? God chose to destroy Sodom because it was full of arrogance, abundance of resources but showing greed, fully lazy, and doing nothing to help the poor and needy. They were also proud and committed abominations in the face of God. “Wait a sec!” , you may say. “Aha! There it is! That word abominations, there is the homosexuality.” The word is for abominations is “toebah”. “Toebah” means something morally disgusting, especially associated with idolatry. The men of Sodom were invoking the protective power of their idol gods in rape to protect their city. Idolatry, humiliation and rape. Does this reflect any of the same sex relationships you know? Does this passage have any similarity to the committed homosexual couples you may live near or work with?
I know over a thousand gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (glbt) Christian people. Not one of them, that I know, is involved in sex for idolatrous worship or has the intent to rape and inflict violence. Can we maybe rethink the simple traditional view of Genesis 19 of Sodom having been destroyed for homosexuality? Can we, at minimum, move away from the belief that Sodom was destroyed because it was a city filled with homosexuals and that is what God saw as the evil begging its destruction?
And, further is you ever get tempted to use the word “sodomite” in a slandererous attack or in a joke against a GLBT person, consider this: Biblically, a “sodomite’ is one from Sodom. Further, they were guilty of not sharing with the poor and needy, greediness, inhospitality, idol worship and arrogance. I see a lot with those traits floating around in our society today. Amongst all sexual orientations and people. Unfortunately, the word “sodomite” has come to mean “homosexual”, but, for those of you who aim to follow the Bible, this is not the Biblical meaning. Even several translations of the Bible have taken the term “people from Sodom” and changed it to “sodomites” and then to “homosexuals”. Oh, we have done a grievous thing to a group of people! And we hold our traditional view as “truth”. I offer that the above is a more Biblical view.
Blessings, peace and wisdom to you, Kathy
No part of this original work may be quoted in part without permission. Entire article with author name, Kathy Baldock, must be linked or appear with text. www.canyonwalkerconnections.com