Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Surely Moab shall be as Sodom, and the children of Ammon as Gomorrah (Gen 19)

Pardon me for missing a post yesterday. I've started working a second job this week, so I've been really busy. I guess we'll just skip chapter 19, after all, there's nothing interesting there, right? Uh, yeah...

Okay, so two of the three men/angels from the last chapter show up in Sodom, and they meet Lot sitting at the gate. Culturally, this means that Lot was a man considered to be of some authority in the city, which I've always thought a little odd given the rest of the story. The SAB wonders whether angels can have sex, and while this subject was touched upon back at the beginning of the flood story, there are a few different things that ought to be said here. While the question is an interesting one, it's a moot point here, because these angels did not actually have sex with anyone in this story, despite people claiming to wish to do so. Furthermore, even if they did, there's another issue about the terminology. In both the Hebrew and the Greek, the term translated as "angel" is a word that technically means "messenger" (the same word is used several times in Gen 32); these are not necessarily supernatural beings. It's actually possible that these two men are unnamed human prophets that God has sent in His power to deal with the city in a personal manner.

Whoever the men were, they refuse the hospitality of Lot at first, and tell him that they're planning to sleep out on the street that night. This horrifies Lot, who apparently knows this would be a very dangerous thing, and he eventually talks them into staying at his house. Now as I said in yesterday's post, hospitality was a very serious business, and Lot eventually says some things that show he considers their lives more precious than that of his own family, perhaps including himself.

The men of Sodom show up at Lot's door, and insist that Lot turn out these visitors so that they can be gang-raped. Although homosexuality is addressed in the Bible, and it may indeed have been one of the things that God was unhappy about in Sodom, let's face it, this is gang rape, which is wrong regardless of the gender of the people involved. Maybe I'm not good-looking enough, but I've spent many a time in San Francisco, even in public after dark, and nobody ever propositioned me for public group sex. When I was in college, the majority of my close friends were homosexuals, and while we spent many a Friday evening drinking and playing cards, I don't remember anyone ever suggesting we go out knocking on doors in the neighborhood looking for attractive out-of-towners to molest. I know homosexuals, and this is not your standard homosexual behavior.

Well, Lot steps outside and suggests that it would be better for the men to have at his own daughters than at his guests. This is definitely disturbing behavior for a man that the Bible calls "just" and "righteous" in 2Peter. There are a few things that can be said in his defense, but in the end, this is one of those things I have to admit I just can't quite comprehend. One thing is the matter of Middle Eastern hospitality, as I have already mentioned (see the end of verse 8). The other thing is actually from the very passage that speaks so highly of him: that he was "vexed" by the men of Sodom. It seems possible that being a man of some authority in the city (see above) and being unable to do anything about how immoral these men were for so long while living there, he was just so exhausted trying to "fight the good fight" that he was all out of ideas of how to deal with them. Apparently just leaving the door locked wouldn't be enough, as after he spoke with them, they tried to break his door down. In my opinion, that doesn't justify him, but I'd take a plea of "temporary insanity" on his part, so to speak.

The angels cause the men to go blind, and pull Lot back inside, telling him he needs to leave, because the city is going to be destroyed in the morning. The SAB claims that Lot having "sons-in-law" shows that Lot was lying about his daughters being virgins, but this is not the case. While it may be possible that these "sons-in-law" were men that were engaged to be married to his daughters, but had not yet officially married them and consummated the relationship, it's also possible that these men are married to other daughters of Lot. Sure, such daughters are not mentioned, but the two daughters that play an important role in this story are not named.

So Lot leaves with his wife and two virgin daughters, and God destroys the city and nearby region. As for his reason to do so, the SAB gives a link to this article, which I agree is a very good overview of the matter, far better than mine, I'm sure. In leaving, Lot's wife looks back and is turned into a pillar of salt. It happens that the region in which all of this is supposed to have taken place contains several "pillars of salt" which, depending on your view, may either lend extra credence to the story or convince you that it's more of a fable.

After a while, Lot and his two daughters go and live in a cave in the mountains. A friend of mine who was not a Christian always said that the story that finishes out this chapter is Lot's daughters getting revenge on their father for what he did to them by shaming him, and I suppose there may be some truth in it. They get him drunk and when he's apparently so drunk he doesn't even know what's going on, they have sex with him, and get pregnant. This is a weird story, and in no part of the story does God say that he approves of it. The two children are Moab and Bennami (two names that in the Hebrew are suggestive of the incestuous act that conceived them), and their descendants form a couple of nations that would neighbor Israel and cause them trouble from time to time.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

If God doesn't approve of it then what is it doing in the Bible? And if God disapproves why isn't that made obvious?

Brucker said...

Many of the stories of the Old Testament are there not as examples of the way people should act, but the way they should not.

If, as it would seem, your question is in response to the story of Lot's daughters' incest, then there is a very easy response: history. If we are to assume that the events and people in the Old Testament are real (and I do) then it may be useful to understand their origins. The two nations that are descended from Lot and his daughters are important to the overall Biblical story. In particular, Ruth (the great-grandmother of King David) was from the nation of Moab.

In a more general sense, going back to my first point, there is a good reason to share stories of people who did bad things. In the sense of a fable (which I am not saying these stories are, but they do serve much of the same purpose), they make us reflect on morality and the results of the way we make moral choices. A little pig's house is knocked over because he skimped on building materials. A little girl is eaten by a wolf because she was foolish enough to talk to strangers. A young shepherd boy finds that nobody will come to his aid in times of trouble because he is known to be a pathological liar. We tell stories of immoral people, both real and imagined, so that people can be morally educated.

Val said...

ok, I'm reaching here, and I know I'm reaching, because otherwise someone else would have thought of this, but...

Could Lot have been counting on Sodomites refusing to rape his daughters because they weren't strangers/were engaged and had husbands who'd be mad?

Could he have been shaming them, reminding them that it was also bad to rape the men in his house just because they were strangers?

Brucker said...

Actually, there's a lot of sense in that. I could totally see that being the case. Lot offers his daughters because the men know his daughters (if not directly, then through Lot) and if indeed the daughters are married/betrothed to the "sons-in-law" mentioned later, then there may be the factor of shaming these men who they also would know.

This being the case, it might be that Lot offered his daughters thinking that there was no way the men would accept the offer, and for reasons having little if anything to do with homosexuality. Still, the fact that he made the offer and opened up the possibility I think counts against him, even if he felt confident the offer would be refused and/or he wasn't serious. He's putting his daughters in danger.

notvodka said...

Ok. If this story were meant to be a moral tale, there would be a moral at the end. ("...and both of Lot's daughters bore severely handicapped children.") However there is no judgement in the tone of the work, the author treats these acts as casually as one would treat: "...and Lot made a sandwich of bread and peanut butter."

Brucker said...

Unfortunately, there's a certain sociopolitical context that one misses here in the immediate chapter. As I said in a very understated manner in my last paragraph and also subtly implied by the title which is a quote from Zephaniah 2, Moab and Ammon are the names of two nations that would be well-known to the ancient readers of the Torah. If you look through the Bible for mentions of Moab and Ammon, there's not a lot of positivity.

I don't know if it's something that we come to understand in this day in the same manner, but in those days, and in that society it was understood that sinful behavior begat sinful behavior, and a great moral failure such as is seen in this chapter led to the founding of two powerful nations of great evil.

Perhaps the closest that we come to understanding a concept like the one implied here is in the story of Abraham himself, who, having had a child with another woman besides his wife, ended up having to send that child away to prevent conflict between them. Those children of course are Ishamael and Isaac, the forefathers of the Jews and the Arabs, who are still quarrelling to this day over who should have possession of the land promised to Abraham and his descendants.

Anonymous said...

There are a few things that can be said in his defense, but in the end, this is one of those things I have to admit I just can't quite comprehend. One thing is the matter of Middle Eastern hospitality...

So I know I'm 3 years late to the conversation, but I'll give you my $0.02 anyway.

Middle Eastern hospitality is exactly the point. I would have to triple-check a couple history books to make sure the time frames match up on this, but I think I can at least touch on Lot's reasoning here.

At times, ancient Middle Eastern guest laws dictated not only that the host was responsible for the welfare of the guest, but that any injury to a guest could (should and, depending on the guest, would) be visited back upon the host and his family or they could be punished as if they had inflicted the injury themselves.

In light of that, Lot's decision to offer up his daughters is far less disturbing. He offers up his daughters to protect his family as a whole.

This passage is actually something of a pet peeve for me. People use this passage in all sorts of ways and it's always about sex. Christians, atheists, gays, homophobes, etc. Except it's not really about sex; sex is used to illustrate the extremes of hospitality law. (And if I can figure out how to e-mail them, I'll be saying as much to the SAB.)

Brucker said...

Well, you can't exactly talk to the SAB, but you can comment on their discussion board.

Alternately, you could comment on Steve Wells' blog; probably here would be the best entry. (Steve is the SAB's author/editor/whatever.)

tozierpatriot said...

Unfortunate that Lot is called righteous and just, because the point missed here is that God so disapproves of all of the behavior we read about Lot that, if the law of God found not much further along revealed to his people were applied, then Lot would be denounced for the leacherous man that he was. If only this God believed in positive role models...

Brucker said...

Maybe, but I think part of the story that is key to understanding it is that Lot's daughters got him so drunk that he didn't even know what he was doing. That doesn't make it right, but it semi-excuses Lot from responsibility for the worst of it.