The Potency and Problems of Genesis 18-19
Fine. Let's talk about Sodom & Gomorrah and stuff.
*Content warning: this post will mention themes of sexual assault and rape as they occur within the Biblical canon. Please consider the care you require as you decide whether or not to engage with this piece.
I think Genesis 18-19 gotta be one of the densest, most potent, and most mishandled passages in all of scripture. In these two chapters, we have the promise of a child being born to Abraham and Sarah (or at least on of the promises), Abraham pleading on behalf of his nephew (Lot) and the town of Sodom, fire and brimstone falling on the towns of Sodom & Gomorrah, and Lot’s daughter’s getting him drunk so they can be impregnated by him.
A whole lot goin’ on in this lil chunk of text. Let’s walk through it a little more slowly:
In Genesis 18:2, Abraham meets two dudes of mysterious origin. And when he meets them, he’s like… the nicest host imaginable. He reeeally rolls out the red carpet. We talkin’ foot washing (18:4), and feedin’ folks (18:5) with freshly baked bread (18:6) and newly slaughtered & cooked steak (18:7) just for them. Fine spreads & stuff for the bread too. Aaaaaand he stands by and waits on them in case they need anything else. (18:8) Five star service all around.
The guests seem pretty blown away. So much so that they’re pretty much like “dang… we gotta bless this dude right back.” Cuz in Genesis 18:10, they say, “we’re gonna come back in a year, and I bet y’all have a brand new baby boy when we see you again.” Which is a crazy thing to say, because Abraham and Sarah are super old by now.
But these guests are so impressed by Abraham that they wanna do as right by this gracious host as they can. So one of the three (who has apparently been GOD the whole time according to Genesis 18:16-22?!?!) tells him about this region around the towns of Sodom & Gomorrah that is so raggedy that it needs a hard reset. Like… wipe all the living things in the region off the face of the planet type reset. (18:20) This is relevant info for Abraham, because his nephew Lot lives in Sodom. And Lot is actually more like Abraham’s brother, because Lot’s father (Haran) died pretty young, and so he was raised by his grandfather (Abraham’s grandfather) along with his uncles Abraham (formerly known as Abram) and Nahor. (Genesis 11:28-31) So, destroying that region and everyone in it is pretty bad news for Abraham. And he gets to pleading something fierce. (18:23) He negotiates with God, saying “c’mon… you can’t destroy EVERYONE… what if you find a few good ones down there???” God says, “Fine. If if I can find even 10 non-raggedy people there, I won’t destroy the place.” (Genesis 18:23-33).
I like to imagine that Abraham is feeling a little better by this point. He knows how Lot was raised. They were raised together. Surely, if they’re impressed by Abraham, then they should find Lot decent enough to not be destroyed.
And so the story tells us that after the two guests who weren’t God leave for Sodom to check things out (Genesis 18:22), God leaves too (18:32). Abraham goes back to home bein’ all blessed and stuff, presumably sorting through this whole baby prophecy with his very aged wife (and maybe getting some practice in, just in case).
Meanwhile, in chapter 19, the two guests who weren’t God (who were apparently ANGELS the entire time?!?!) finally get to Sodom. And, as fate would have it, Abraham’s nephew Lot is the first person they meet at the entrance of the city (19:1). Lot immediately starts passing the test. Abraham’s father raised these folks right. Lot is every bit as hospitable as his uncle Abraham , whose company these angels just enjoyed. He offers to let them lodge with him for the night.
At first, the angels are like “nah, we just gon’ sleep outside” (19:2). Remember, they're there on a recon mission. But Lot is like “c’mon, I insist (19:3)!” So the angels relent, and Lot breaks out another fine dining experience. Shoot… maybe Abraham was right, and God shouldn’t destroy this place? But we don’t really have any time to think that, because WHILE THEIR FOOD IS STILL DIGESTING, the entire male population of Sodom comes to Lot’s crib and was like “yo! who you got in there? bring ‘em out! we gon’ run a train 😈.” (19:3-5)
Lot is like “C’mon y’all… you’re embarrassing me in front of company… what if y’all run a train on my daughters instead? Y’all just can’t be out here tryna gang-rape my guests… I’m tryna be a good host….” (19:6-8)
But the townspeople aren’t having it. At all. “Oh? You think you better than us? You not even from here. If you don’t go on somewhere with that mess, we gon’ run a train & some more on YOU!” (19:9)
Now, remember, Lot’s guests ain’t no regular dudes. After having heard enough of the townspeople’s threats of gang raping all the dudes in that house, the angels snatch lot back in the house & then hit the Sodomites with a lil’ razzle dazzle. Then they tell Lot to grab all his family and dip. (19:10-13)
I’ll brush over verses 14-29, because they’re not too relevant to the point here, but it’s still pretty packed. In that passage, Lot’s sons-in-law don’t take him seriously, fire & brimstone hit the hard reset on Sodom & Gomorrah, Lot loses a wife who turns into a pillar of salt, and it’s all pretty devastating.
But on the other side of that?
Lot’s daughters realize that their men are dead. Whole town destroyed. Mom is a pile of salt now. This is the end for them. Unless….
They devise this plan to get their father super drunk and then have sex with him (rape, by just about every definition of the word) so they can have children. (19:31-32) Then they execute that plan. They take turns getting their father drunk and raping him. (19:33-35)
Lot’s daughters had children by their father. Lot was his own sons’ grandfather. (19:36) These sons/grandsons—born of nonconsensual incest—would become the ancestors of the Moabites and the Ammonites, perpetual nemeses of the Israelites. (19:37-38)
Now, there’s a lot of sex stuff going on in this story (and in the Bible in general), but sexuality isn’t really the focus of this story. Sex is used pragmatically throughout. In Sodom, the people used sex as a means of dominance & control. That’s why they only threaten to rape and brutalize Lot after he stands in their way. Lot’s daughter’s use sex as a means of survival. We’re not talkin’ about the hot & steamy stuff, here. This is not aroused passion. This is not romance. Sex for pleasure is not the point of this story.
The distinction between the righteous and the wicked is not between homosexual and heterosexual. If it were, then the story would not go out of the way to point out that the products of the only heterosexual relations in this story were the ancestors of the enemies of God’s chosen people.
The distinction is between the hospitable and the inhospitable. The lengths that Abraham and Lot are willing to go to honor strangers stands in direct contrast to the the people who want to dominate and brutalize these same strangers. And Abraham and Lot both know what it’s like to be a foreigner in a strange land. They’re exhibiting the importance of welcoming the stranger. They’re embodying the Golden Rule. And the people of Sodom do not take care of strangers. They want to dominate, exploit, and brutalize them. And when Lot tries to stop that from happening by pleading for kindness to strangers, the men of Sodom remind him that he is a foreigner too, and he can get the same treatment. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is about how people treat strangers & foreigners.
But the impact of the men of Sodom lasts past their end. Two young women who were (unsuccessfully) offered up to appease the wicked quest for dominance and brutality of the town saw their future’s erased by the penalty of that town’s transgressions. And when it came time to chart a course forward… the only path to survival they could imagine was wickedness.
The full story is a presentation of God rewarding and blessing hospitality to strangers. Abraham and Sarah were promised a son, because they literally served God when they cared for strangers. Lot’s care for these same strangers is what rescues him from the fate of the people around him. But God is so repulsed by the wicket mistreatment of strangers that entire cities and regions are wiped clean because of it.
How we treat different people, strangers, and foreigners matters.
Hospitality might save you and yours.
But being inhospitable can doom generations.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to The Son Do Move to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.