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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 19

 

 

Verse 1-2

‘And the two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom. And Lot saw them and rose to meet them, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth.’

Compare Genesis 18:1-2. What a contrast. Abraham sat in the door of his tent, a place of thought and meditation and repose. Lot sits in the gate of Sodom, a place of evil thoughts, sensuousness and perverted activity. Abraham runs to meet his guests. Lot merely stands up for them, although both bow themselves to the ground in welcome. While Lot is not to be faulted he is shown as lacking the effusiveness of Abraham. This is surely not accidental. It is intended to bring out their differing attitudes of heart towards God which is brought out in their attitude to distinguished strangers.

Sitting in the gate of the city suggests Lot was involved with the ‘elders’ who helped to rule Sodom (compare Ruth 4:1-2). He would have obtained much reflected credit from Abraham’s activity in Genesis 14. He is now well settled in Sodom and had put down his roots, regardless of the behaviour of its inhabitants. After all it was ‘business’. By many that is taken as excusing anything.

The gate of the city is probably a tower gate, possibly with two gates (compare 2 Samuel 18 24) so that there is a space between the gates, protecting the way in. During the day it would be used for business and as a courtroom for the trial in public of local offenders. In the evening men would gather there, especially the elders of the city.

His concern for them constrains him to welcome the new arrivals. He even hopes to save them from the fate worse than death that he knew might await them.

Some point to the speed of the men’s passage. In the middle of the day they are at the oaks of Mamre. By evening they are at the gates of Sodom, forty miles away along a difficult road. But it may not be the same day. They may well have travelled through the night and even the following night. The mention of evening is to bring out that they will spend the night there rather than to stress the time. However, it is true that angels are not constrained like others.

Genesis 19:2 a

‘And he said, “Behold now my lords, turn aside I beg you into your servant’s house, and stay all night, and wash your feet, and you shall rise early and go on your way”.’

This again compares with Abraham’s welcome. Much the same hospitality, but in what different circumstances. Unlike Abraham he dare not leave them outside.

“My lords” contrasts with ‘my lord’ (18:3). Lot only has angels to address. He is not ‘the friend of Yahweh’ (compare James 2:23).

Genesis 19:2 b

‘And they said, “No but we will abide in the street all night”.’

The men are making clear that they had not come specifically to see Lot. They were there to check out the city. Again this is in contrast to the personal approach to Abraham. The test is to be a genuine one. Sodom is being given a chance, even though a slight one.

Perhaps they were also testing out Lot, for Lot knew what a dangerous place the street in Sodom was for strangers. It is to his credit that he would not be restrained. There is still much good in him. This is in deliberate contrast to the men of the city. He does not realise that he is passing God’s test and proving himself the only one who is ‘righteous’.


Verse 3

‘And he urged them strongly, and they turned in to him and entered into his house, and he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread and they ate.’

It is in Lot’s favour that he persists in his attempts to help them, even though he does not know who they are. The constant parallels with Genesis 18 demonstrate the unity of the whole passage.

“Baked unleavened bread”. Lot does all that is right but lacks the effusiveness of Abraham.


Verse 4-5

‘But, before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every section. And they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you this night? Bring them out to us that we might know them.” ’

The enthusiasm for evil that epitomises Sodom is brought out here. ‘Before they lay down’. They did not even wait for full darkness. It is then stressed that they had all gathered for the sport. They intended to take the men and practise their sexual perversions on them as both participants and spectators. There was no limit to their evil.

How many innocent strangers in the past had suffered in this way, including children? We will never know. But, in the light of this, who can doubt that God’s way was right? These people had no redeeming feature.

“The men of the city, even the men of Sodom”. The repetition brings out the emphasis on who these men are. They represent the whole city, and they are Sodomites.

(In later times to be compared with Sodom was to have reached the lowest level of behaviour. But the idea even then is not that such people commit the sins of Sodom. The prophets had in mind the sins of their own times and possibly could not even conceive the total perversion of the Sodomites - see Isaiah 1:10; Isaiah 3:9; Jeremiah 23:14; Ezekiel 16:49).


Verse 6

‘And Lot went to the door and went out to them, and he shut the door behind him.’

Lot is no coward. He goes to meet the thirsting crowd. The picture is vivid. His slow approach to the door. Then slipping through a gap in the door and quickly pulling it to behind him. Then facing the crowd, many of whom he will know.


Verse 7-8

‘And he said, “I beg you, my fellow-citizens, do not behave so wickedly”.’

It is no easy task to face such a baying crowd. Lot was unquestionably a brave man. But he has given hospitality to the strangers (and deliberately) and custom meant it was his responsibility to protect them. The laws of hospitality were strongly ingrained, but it is further evidence of the evil of the men of Sodom that they ignored them completely. They had no saving virtue. But Lot was determined to do his best to save the men. He knows he cannot appeal to their consciences and succeed so he falls back on desperate devices.

Genesis 19:8

“See now, I have two daughters who have never been to bed with a man. Let me, I beg you, bring them out to you, and do to them what seems good in your eyes, only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shadow of my roof”.’

It could well be that he does not intend to let them have his daughters (he has not brought them out with him). It may be he is giving them occasion to face up to their atrocious behaviour, and is giving them pause for thought. He perhaps hopes they will dismiss such an idea as unacceptable and thus cool down.

But whatever is the situation there, he is stressing the laws of hospitality. He is pointing out vividly that he has taken the men under his protection and has a sacred duty therefore to protect them, as the men of Sodom know well. Under the laws of hospitality he has an even greater duty to them than to his daughters. He is desperately using every method to stem the wave of bestial feeling that has gripped the town. Lot has no illusions about his fellow-citizens but he is doing what he can. Yet if you live among, and compromise with, totally evil people, but do not become totally evil yourself, you can be sure that one day they will turn against you. And so it proved.


Verse 9

‘And they pressed sore on the man, even Lot, and drew near to break down the door.’

The writer has a fine touch. ‘The man’. No longer ‘Lot’ to them, only to the reader. He is now a stranger. Previously they have held back slightly in deference to their fellow-citizen, but now they are unrestrained, for he is no longer that. Lot is about to be sexually assaulted and worse.


Verse 10

‘But the men reached out their hand and brought Lot into the house to them, and shut to the door.’

The door opens sufficiently for Lot to be dragged in to safety by the men within. Through them the hands of Yahweh reach out to protect him.


Verse 11

‘And they smote the men who were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they wearied themselves to find the door.’

Perhaps it was a temporary blindness brought on by an exceedingly bright light. We do not know. (The Hebrew word does not indicate permanent blindness but a problem with the sight. Compare 2 Kings 6:18-20). But it was sufficient to deter their efforts, and, it seems, to persuade them eventually to leave the vicinity, at least for the time being.


Verses 12-14

‘And the men said to Lot, “Have you any other relatives? Son-in-law, your sons and your daughters, and whoever you have in the city, bring them out of this place. For we will destroy this place because their cry has grown huge before Yahweh , and Yahweh has sent us to destroy it”.’

Lot is offered the opportunity to save any who are related to him. His behaviour has earned them a reprieve. We are left to infer that this is because they are also therefore related to Abraham. ‘This place’, repeated twice, may be seen as derogatory. It has lost its identity.

“Yahweh has sent us to destroy it.” The truth is now out. Although the visit of the angels did give Sodom a last chance, the ‘huge cry’ that had previously arisen from it had really decided its fate. Now its fate is made known to Lot, and he becomes aware that these are no ordinary strangers. They are here to arrange the destruction of Sodom.

There are times in history when God cries ‘enough!’. The Flood was one such. Here is another. Later the exile will be a third. Sin contaminates, and grows, and spreads and then becomes all pervasive - and then God acts.

Genesis 19:14 a

‘And Lot went out and spoke to his prospective sons-in-law who were to marry his daughters, and said, “Up, you get out of this place, for Yahweh will destroy the city”.’

Lot’s two daughters had not yet cohabited with a man (verse 8), so that if they are the daughters in mind any marriage is clearly not yet finalised. However, it may be that Lot had other daughters who were married, in which case we must read ‘his sons-in-law who had married his daughters’. Thus the appeal to the men is then an appeal to the family.

“Yahweh will destroy this city”. Lot still holds to a belief in Yahweh, and knows his sons-in-law will know it.

Genesis 19:14 b

‘But he seemed to his sons-in-law as one who was being ridiculous.’

They looked on his words as a huge joke. The poor fellow had always been a bit narrow minded with his belief in this strange God. Now he had gone over the top. If you compromise your religion and make family associations with those who do not believe as you do, you lose your credibility. If he had more daughters, Lot had now lost them. That is the price of compromise.


Verse 15

‘And as the morning began the angels put pressure on Lot to hurry up, saying, “Get up. Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the punishment on the iniquity of the city.’

As first light arises the matter is now urgent and there is no time to lose. ‘Who are here’ suggests he may well have had further daughters. On the other hand Genesis 19:31 calls one of them ‘the firstborn’.


Verse 16

‘But he hung back, and the men seized his hand, and the hand of his wife, and the hands of his two daughters, Yahweh being merciful to him, and brought him out and placed him outside the city.’

Lot was still not sure. He did not want to leave behind what he had gained through years of toil and effort. But Yahweh had mercy on him. He would not leave him to die. The angels took the family forcibly to the outside of the city. And there Yahweh Himself speaks to him. The change from ‘they’ to ‘he’, as in Genesis 18, demonstrates a moment of revealing. Now Yahweh Himself takes over Lot’s fate.


Verse 17

‘And it happened that, when they had brought them out, he said, “Escape for your life. Do not look behind you. Do not stay in all the Plain. Escape to the mountain lest you be consumed.” ’

The ‘he’ has been prepared for by the phrase ‘Yahweh being merciful to him’. He is now directly aware of the voice of Yahweh. Probably there is too a theophany of some kind, possibly in the form in which Yahweh had appeared previously in chapter 18. Lot now knows he is not just dealing with angels. Yahweh is involved. The message is clear. The whole plain of Jordan is to be destroyed. The mountains are the only place of refuge.


Verses 18-20

‘And Lot said to them, “Oh! Not so, my Lord. Look, your servant has found grace in your sight and you have magnified your mercy, which you have showed to me in saving my life. But I cannot escape to the mountain in case evil overtake me, and I die. See, now, this city is near to flee to, and it is a little one. Oh, let me escape there, is it not a little one, and my soul shall live”.’

We must remember Lot’s state of mind. He is not thinking straight. Events have overwhelmed him. He cannot bear the thought of going into the mountains. Perhaps he is aware of dangers lurking there from thieves and outcasts, and he has grown used to civilisation. He forgets that if Yahweh has protected him up to now He can continue to protect him. All his assurance has gone.

Yet even in his extremity his habits come through. In business he has always been used to treating his associates with great respect when dealing with them, flattering them and making them feel worthy (compare the business transaction in Genesis 23). Now he uses the same approach to Yahweh. ‘Your servant has found grace in your sight and you have magnified your mercy which you have shown to me --’. Yet it is also from the heart. He does know that God has been good to him.

He then pleads that Yahweh will spare a small city, probably more like a village, so that he can escape there. He stresses how small it is.

“Lot said to them. The angels are still standing there, but they have been joined by Yahweh. This time Lot’s ‘my Lord’ carries its full implication (compare Genesis 18:3 for the sudden move from plural to singular). He is speaking to the Lord of the earth. It is significant that the judgment on Sodom is in the angels’ sphere, but the deliverance of Lot in accordance with God’s covenant with Abraham is Yahweh’s concern. That cannot be left to angels.


Verse 21-22

‘And he said to him, “Look, I have accepted you about this as well, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. But hurry up. Escape there. For I can do nothing until you are come there. ” Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar (something insignificant).’

Yahweh’s patience is boundless. Just one small family and yet for Abraham’s sake He delays His judgment until that family is safe, (sadly with one exception). Because of Abraham and his intercession He will not act until then. He grants Lot the concession he pleads for. So does He show to Abraham that He is prepared to spare a city for the sake of a small group of the ‘righteous’.

In Genesis 14:2 Zoar is called ‘Bela, the same is Zoar’. It may well have been the fact that it was all that was left of the destruction that resulted in the change of name to ‘insignificant’. The writer sees the irony of the situation.


Verse 23

‘The sun was risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar.’

It is tempting to read into these descriptions of time some spiritual significance. The dawn of a new life, and then the arising of the sun. But what follows demonstrates that this is not so (as do similar references with regard to Abraham (Genesis 18:1; Genesis 19:27)). They are commonplace indications of time, vividly remembered in an account which is otherwise full of darkness, which suggest close acquaintance with the events. It does not actually say it is sunrise, only that sufficient time has elapsed for sunrise to have passed and the sun to be clearly visible in the sky.


Verse 24-25

‘Then Yahweh rained on Sodom and on Gomorrah brimstone and fire from Yahweh out of heaven, and he overthrew those cities and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and all that grew on the ground.’

The possibility from the description is that we are to see here volcanic action. But we are to recognise that it had been restrained by Yahweh until that very moment. Another strongly suggested alternative is that of a tectonic earthquake resulting in the release of inflammable gases, asphalt and petroleum, ignited by the heat. It may have resulted in the expansion of the Dead Sea at the Southern end. The Dead Sea area is today rich in deposits of asphalt and sulphur. There are references in later extra-Biblical literature to some kind of disaster in this area.

The sites of these cities are as yet unknown although some postulate them as being under the Southern tip of the Dead Sea. We must consider that the configuration of the land may well have altered drastically as a result of the disaster and the passage of time. Suggested mention of the cities at Ebla is still very much open to question.

The suggestion that ‘and Gomorrah’ is a later addition overlooks the fact that Sodom is being centred on because of the presence of Lot, and that they are regularly seen as a pairing (Genesis 13:10; Genesis 14:10-11, compare how only the king of Sodom is mentioned later, Sodom is clearly the primary city; Isaiah 13:19; Jeremiah 49:18; Jeremiah 50:40; Amos 4:11). In fact the whole Plain of Jordan clearly comes under judgment. Yahweh knows the true condition of all the inhabitants. Lot was the exceptional feature that required testing.

If Lot still possesses servants, flocks and herds, they too perish in the conflagration. But his failure to consider them may suggest that by this time Lot is a merchant and no longer involved with herding. The incident with the five kings, when his possessions were all appropriated, may have led him to invest in things which could be more closely watched and hidden. If he does still have servants the indication is that they too have become involved in the perversions and religion of Sodom.


Verse 26

‘But his wife looked back from behind him and she became a pillar of salt.’

The final footnote increases the tragedy for Lot and warns against complacency. His wife was possibly a native Sodomite and could not bear to leave her home and family. As they hurry on she lingers behind, refusing to stay with them, and perhaps even turns back to return to her family home (‘looked back’ is a euphemism. It is not to be taken strictly but as signifying a heart that looks back resulting in further action). She does not believe Yahweh and she does not want to leave her people. We are to understand that Sodom is still in her heart for Yahweh allows it to happen. He knows the thoughts of the heart. Had she been like Lot she would have been spared for Abraham’s sake. Whatever the case her delay means that she is caught in the conflagration and is overwhelmed by a deluge of bitumen.

“She became a pillar of salt.” By being overwhelmed with a deluge of bitumen which would soon dissolve her body.


Verse 27-28

‘And Abraham went up early in the morning to the place where he had stood before Yahweh, and he looked towards Sodom and Gomorrah, and towards all the land of the plain, and saw, and lo, the smoke of the land went up as the smoke of a furnace.’

We do not know what made Abraham realise that something dreadful had happened, although he was of course half expecting it. Perhaps it was the unearthly glow in the sky, or a minor tremor which they experienced in the camp. Or perhaps he was going in order to see if his plea had been successful. Either way he rose early in the morning and made his way to the mount where he had spoken with Yahweh and there he looked down on the desolation below. What he saw was like a great furnace with smoke billowing up to the heavens.

We are not told what he thought, that is left to each imagination. The writer’s concern is that we know that Abraham finally witnessed the judgment that God had warned him of, and to depict the awfulness of it.


Verse 29

‘And so it was, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot dwelt.’

Throughout the whole account the writer has spoken of Yahweh, for it has had continually in mind the deliverance of Lot who has a part in the covenant because of his relationship with Abraham and his faith in Yahweh, and the writer wants us to know it. But in this solemn summary the writer refers to ‘God’. He is now viewing the disaster as a whole from a world viewpoint, with emphasis on the disaster. It was God, the judge of all, who spared Lot, and He did it for Abraham’s sake.

“God remembered Abraham”. In all His dealings God remembers those who are faithful to Him, and His actions ever have them in mind. In the end it was because of His love for Abraham that Lot was delivered. Lot owed Abraham more than he ever knew. But the use of the name ‘God’ suggests that especially in mind is Abraham’s intercession before ‘the Judge of all the earth’. We are assured that the Judge bore in mind his pleas and his arguments and acted accordingly.


Verses 30-38

Lot’s Subsequent Career (Genesis 19:30-38).

By choosing the well-watered Circle of Jordan with little regard for the consequences and the fact that it was outside the land chosen by Yahweh for His people, resulting first in being taken prisoner by the five kings, and then in his gradual absorption into the life of Sodom, Lot has taken the path that led to his own impoverishment. His future now is bleak.

He finds himself with nothing, and with nowhere to go. That his choices have resulted in the lowering of his daughters’ morals comes out in this passage. And yet he is not entirely forsaken. From his seed will come fruitfulness, nations will be descended from him. Thus there must have been some restitution of the fortunes of his family, for the whole nations of Moabites and Ammonites could not be totally his direct seed. As with later ‘Israel’ they would be made up also of descendants of servants and tribal members.

Genesis 19:30

‘And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountains, and his two daughters with him, for he was afraid to dwell in Zoar, and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters.’

Lot’s sorry state is emphasised. He is traumatised with what has happened, and it is clear that the devastation was so much beyond what he was expecting that he no longer has any confidence in his situation. Who knows whether Zoar will be next? He dare not risk it. Yahweh was right after all. There is only one place of safety, and that is in the mountains.

We must not underestimate the tumult in Lot’s mind. He is not thinking straightly. Had he been he would have fled to his uncle. But he is totally devastated. He may also have been too proud to admit his mistakes. No doubt Abraham had had words to say on the subject of his choices.

“He dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters”, emphasising how low he has sunk. No civilisation for him now. And his daughters had sunk with him.

Genesis 19:31

‘And the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old and there is not a man in the earth (or land) to come in to us after the manner of all the earth”.’

The despair and dreadful condition the girls are in comes out here. They have possibly seen their husbands (o their sisters’ husbands) destroyed in the conflagration, they have seen all that they have known violently destroyed. Possibly they were not welcomed in Zoar but seen as bringing the curse on Sodom and Gomorrah with them. They are traumatised. We must not judge their behaviour as normal. They feel that no one will want to have anything to do with them after this. They are alone and deserted.

Genesis 19:32

“Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him that we may preserve seed of our father.”

It is an act of desperation. They feel totally estranged from the world outside. Yet the importance of seed to keep the family in being becomes the one thing that totally absorbs their minds. It takes possession of them above all else. Can we doubt that they are clinically depressed and behaving accordingly? The firstborn has one fixation, to have a child, and she persuades her sister to the same. Her tortured mind sees it as the only means of hope. We must not judge too harshly for they were in a sad condition, and relationships were not quite as clear cut in their day, especially in Sodom.

Genesis 19:33-35

‘And they made their father drink wine that night, and the firstborn went in and lay with her father, and he did not know when she lay down, nor when she arose. And so it was on the next day that the firstborn said to the younger, “See, I lay last night with my father. Let us make him drink wine as well tonight, and you go in and lie with him that we may preserve seed of our father”. And they made their father drink wine that night as well, and the younger arose and lay with him, and he knew not when she lay down and when she arose. Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father.’

The sorry incident brings out their state of mind and the fact that they had something of Sodom in them. Gladly do we learn that Lot knew nothing of the matter at all. He was probably glad to drink himself into unconsciousness, and never dreamed what his daughters were up to. But depression, and desperation and despair drove them to it. It may be that they even had to repeat the experiment, for they would not be satisfied until they were with child. Whatever the case, in the end they were successful.

It is clear that the writer totally disapproves of what they are doing, for he vindicates Lot. There is little doubt that this would later influence the attitude of the Israelites to the Moabites and Ammonites. This incident may have been partly in mind in the prohibition of Deuteronomy 23:3-6; Nehemiah 13:1 although the primary reason is there given. But their actions are never actually condemned.

Genesis 19:36

‘And the firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab. The same is the father of the Moabites to this day.’

Loose etymology can make it mean ‘of his father’, and with names loose connection was all that was asked for. In her depressed condition she has a fierce pride that she has begotten a man from her father. He is pure seed, not a Sodomite. That he became the ‘father’ of the Moabites suggests that he inter-married with a local tribeswoman and that eventually his descendants gained ascendancy over the tribe which takes his name.

Genesis 19:37

‘And the younger, she also bore a son, and called his name Ben-ammi. The same is the father of the children of Ammon to this day.’

Ben-ammi means ‘son of my kinship’. She too exults in bearing seed to her father, although not quite so blatantly. The same applies as with Moab. That this ascendancy is seen as Yahweh’s doing comes out in Deuteronomy 2:19 where Yahweh is seen to make clear that He has given their land to them as ‘the children of Lot’.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 19:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/genesis-19.html. 2013.

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