Then Jesus began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you." (Matthew 11:20-24)
Alfred Kinsey's research reports in 1948 and 1953 purported to show that 10% of Americans were permanently committed to a homosexual life style. Recent more careful studies and surveys indicate that the number is probably only 3 to 5% of the population.
But, what has happened in the last half-century is a world-wide sexual revolution. It is not only gays who have come out of the closet and loudly announced their presence, heterosexual men and women are now taught even in school that regular sexual expression with any number of partners is normal and natural. The importance of marriage and the family as the nucleus for a healthy society, and the Biblical standard of refraining from all sexual expression except within marriage have been thrown by the wayside.
Unfortunately a good many preachers and self-appointed "Christian" moralists have taken it upon themselves to denounce homosexuality and abortion while saying not a word against fornication or adultery. If 5% of the population is actively gay, then it is likely that 20-25% of the population is actively fornicating and sleeping around without benefit of marriage. No mentioned by many preachers these days is the fact that God "hates divorce"--partly because of the life-long damage done to children:
You cover the LORD's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor at your hand. You ask, "Why does he not?" Because the LORD was witness to the covenant between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Has not the one God made and sustained for us the spirit of life?
And what does he desire? Godly offspring. So take heed to yourselves, and let none be faithless to the wife of his youth. "For I hate divorce, says the LORD the God of Israel, and covering one's garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless." You have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet you say, "How have we wearied him?" By saying, "Every one who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them." Or by asking, "Where is the God of justice?" (Malachi 2:14-17)
The pulpits of the land are silent about hypocrisy, spiritual pride, self-righteousness, love of money and the pursuit of the American dream of affluence and ease. Blatant worldliness has permeated every level of Christ's church in America today. This goes unmentioned and unnoticed. What about drinking too much, pornography, child and spousal abuse? Sin is not a popular topic in church--unless it can be preached about to outsiders and to the marginalized in society who are not our kind of people. Does the church pray for the lost? Not generally. Is there any sense of urgency anywhere in the church to do everything possible to reach people who do not know Jesus? Not really. Jude, the Lord's brother passionately urges,
...keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And convince some, who doubt; save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen. (Jude 17-25)
The purpose of this short paper is to examine how the Bible shows that the judgment and destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their (largely) homosexual promiscuity is not the most important issue the church of Jesus Christ has to deal with today. The place where deep repentance and reform is most needed is within the church. This becomes crystal clear simply by following the thread of references to Sodom through the Bible. No attempt is made to minimize what the Bible says about the moral conduct of Sodom and Gomorrah and her neighboring cities. They "serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire." There is no way one can tone down the strong language the Bible uses when it speaks against grossly immoral behavior.
But what is wrong with America today has very little to do with the outspoken public behavior and lobbying by a few militant homosexuals, and their "rights" or even their behavior. Their behavior is unacceptable to God, but that is not the real issue which needs our attention. Our focus needs to be directed elsewhere.
seven which are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies, and a man who sows discord among brothers.
Leviticus 18:22 and 10:13 says that homosexual acts between two men are deeply abhorrent to God, repugnant to Him--and worthy of death. Under the law of Moses sex between two unmarried persons (fornication), or sex outside of marriage (adultery) were also (in most cases), capital offenses as well.
The purpose of the Law was not to produce good moral behavior or to send sinners cringing in terror away from the presence of God forever. The Law reveals the kind of Person God is--His holiness and moral perfection. The Law is diagnostic as far as mankind is concerned: the Law shows us our deep need for God's grace. The Law was designed to bring us to God for mercy and help to overcome the morally bankrupt state of affairs we were all born with. Behind the Law is a loving Creator and Redeemer who desires to heal and to restore any one of us who will but call out to Him for help. Wholeness is God's goal for us, but sinful conduct keeps us broken down and unhealed. Jesus fulfills the demands of the Law in us and for us when we grant Him the freedom to rule our hearts and lives.
The absolute nature of the ethical code prescribed by the Old Covenant is carried over into the New Testament. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says,
"Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and adulterous." (13:4).
The Apostle Paul lists a wide range of lifestyles which disqualify individuals from entering heaven. In doing so, he sharply contrasts the transformed state of such persons after they have come into the family of Christ. The list is even-handed and without an hierarchy.
"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor (active) homosexuals, nor (passive) homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
The New Testament does not address sinners in the harsh words the prophets spoke to God's people Israel prior to the coming of Jesus into the world. It is still true that "the wages of sin is death," that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," but the New Testament spends most of its time urging people everywhere to avail themselves of God's grace, forgiveness, kindness and mercy. Notice the compassionate heart of the Apostle Paul towards all manner of sinners in the following passage:
"For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)
Sin came into the world because our first parents chose to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowing of Good and Evil. Not only did this result in their temporary total estrangement from God, but their bodies began to die because the fatal disease of sin had taken root in their hearts. No doubt it was to their shock and horror that Adam and Eve watched all kinds of sinful behavior spring up spontaneously in the lives of their sons and daughters--beginning with the murder of their son Abel by his older brother Cain. Adultery, homosexuality, violence, lying, stealing, cheating are as old as mankind.
Jesus was well aware of the depths of human depravity and the full potential for evil in ever human heart,
When He had called all the multitude to Himself, Jesus said to them, "Hear Me, everyone, and understand: "There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. "If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!"
When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. So He said to them, "Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, "because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?" And He said, "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, "thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. "All these evil things come from within and defile a man." (Mark 7:1-23)
In the Old Testament God chose one small nation, Israel, to be a light to the Gentiles and to represent Him by the way they lived: in their relationship to Him, to one another, to the land, and to their neighbors. Because God's holy name and reputation were at stake, He continued to protect Israel and to deliver them in spite of their constant waywardness and disregard for their God. Isaiah said this clearly:
Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and who came forth from the loins of Judah; who swear by the name of the LORD, and confess the God of Israel, but not in truth or right. For they call themselves after the holy city, and stay themselves on the God of Israel; the LORD of hosts is his name. "The former things I declared of old, they went forth from my mouth and I made them known; then suddenly I did them and they came to pass. Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass, I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, `My idol did them, my graven image and my molten image commanded them.' "You have heard; now see all this; and will you not declare it? From this time forth I make you hear new things, hidden things which you have not known. They are created now, not long ago; before today you have never heard of them, lest you should say, `Behold, I knew them.' You have never heard, you have never known, from of old your ear has not been opened. For I knew that you would deal very treacherously, and that from birth you were called a rebel.
"For my name's sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not like silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.
"Hearken to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am He, I am the first, and I am the last. My hand laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand forth together Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: "I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go. O that you had hearkened to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea; your offspring would have been like the sand, and your descendants like its grains; their name would never be cut off or destroyed from before me" (Isaiah 48:1-19)
Ezekiel repeats the same information to Israel at the time of the Babylonian captivity, this time promising that God would fulfill Israel's final destiny by making them chief of all the nations--in spite of themselves, and only because His name was attached to them. Like us Christians, they deserved nothing from God and yet they received grace and mercy from the God who keeps His promises forever.
In the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month, certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD, and sat before me. And the word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD, Is it to inquire of me that you come? As I live, says the Lord GOD, I will not be inquired of by you. Will you judge them, son of man, will you judge them? Then let them know the abominations of their fathers, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: On the day when I chose Israel, I swore to the seed of the house of Jacob, making myself known to them in the land of Egypt, I swore to them, saying, I am the LORD your God. On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands. And I said to them, Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.
But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me; they did not every man cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. "Then I thought I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.
But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they dwelt, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt. So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them my statutes and showed them my ordinances, by whose observance man shall live. Moreover I gave them my sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I the LORD sanctify them.
But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness; they did not walk in my statutes but rejected my ordinances, by whose observance man shall live; and my sabbaths they greatly profaned. "Then I thought I would pour out my wrath upon them in the wilderness, to make a full end of them.
But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out. Moreover I swore to them in the wilderness that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands, because they rejected my ordinances and did not walk in my statutes, and profaned my sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols. Nevertheless my eye spared them, and I did not destroy them or make a full end of them in the wilderness. "And I said to their children in the wilderness, Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, nor observe their ordinances, nor defile yourselves with their idols. I the LORD am your God; walk in my statutes, and be careful to observe my ordinances, and hallow my sabbaths that they may be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I the LORD am your God.
But the children rebelled against me; they did not walk in my statutes, and were not careful to observe my ordinances, by whose observance man shall live; they profaned my sabbaths. "Then I thought I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the wilderness.
But I withheld my hand, and acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out. Moreover I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them through the countries, because they had not executed my ordinances, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers' idols. Moreover I gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances by which they could not have life; and I defiled them through their very gifts in making them offer by fire all their first-born, that I might horrify them; I did it that they might know that I am the LORD. "Therefore, son of man, speak to the house of Israel and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: In this again your fathers blasphemed me, by dealing treacherously with me. For when I had brought them into the land which I swore to give them, then wherever they saw any high hill or any leafy tree, there they offered their sacrifices and presented the provocation of their offering; there they sent up their soothing odors, and there they poured out their drink offerings. (I said to them, What is the high place to which you go? So its name is called Bamah to this day.) Wherefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: Will you defile yourselves after the manner of your fathers and go astray after their detestable things? When you offer your gifts and sacrifice your sons by fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. And shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, says the Lord GOD, I will not be inquired of by you. "What is in your mind shall never happen --the thought, `Let us be like the nations, like the tribes of the countries, and worship wood and stone.'
"As I live, says the Lord GOD, surely with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out, I will be king over you. I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out; and I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face. As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you, says the Lord GOD. I will make you pass under the rod, and I will let you go in by number. I will purge out the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against me; I will bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD. "As for you, O house of Israel, thus says the Lord GOD: Go serve every one of you his idols, now and hereafter, if you will not listen to me; but my holy name you shall no more profane with your gifts and your idols.
"For on my holy mountain, the mountain height of Israel, says the Lord GOD, there all the house of Israel, all of them, shall serve me in the land; there I will accept them, and there I will require your contributions and the choicest of your gifts, with all your sacred offerings. As a pleasing odor I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples, and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered; and I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I bring you into the land of Israel, the country which I swore to give to your fathers. And there you shall remember your ways and all the doings with which you have polluted yourselves; and you shall loathe yourselves for all the evils that you have committed. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for my name's sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O house of Israel, says the Lord GOD." (Ezekiel 20:1-44)
A Short History of Sodom
About four thousand years ago, five small cities in the Jordan River Valley south of the Dead Sea were destroyed by a sudden catastrophe. The region was originally lush and green. Most of the inhabitants of the entire region were descended from Noah's grandson, Canaan, the son of Ham.
"And the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon, in the direction of Gerar, as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, as far as Lasha." (Genesis 10:19)
"The Cities of the Plain" were not exclusively populated by homosexuals or they would have soon disappeared from history. The various Canaanite tribes all had abandoned the God of their forefathers not long after the Flood of Noah. The people had gone after the worship of pagan gods, and they were highly sexually promiscuous. (For archaeological evidence concerning the Cities of the Plain see http://www.christiananswers.net/q-abr/abr-a007.html and http://www.people.virginia.edu/~pm9k/Writings/sodom.html)
God called Abraham, who lived in Ur of the Chaldees, to travel West and settle in what is now the land of Israel. He was accompanied by his nephew Lot. When the extended family of Abraham increased in numbers it was necessary for Lot to move to a different part of the land so that his animals would have ample grazing land. Lot unwisely chose to live in Sodom:
And Lot lifted up his eyes, and saw that the Jordan valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar; this was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan valley, and Lot journeyed east; thus they separated from each other. Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, while Lot dwelt among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.' (Genesis 13:0-13)
God's judgment and destruction of the five cities of the plain is covered in Genesis 18 and 19. It is important to read the actual text because of the embedded important details. (Text of Genesis 18-19)
It is from the Apostle Peter in the New Testament that we learn that Lot was in fact a believer--this is not at all obvious from the account in Genesis:
"For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment;
if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven other persons, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;
if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction and made them an example to those who were to be ungodly;
and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the licentiousness of the wicked (for by what that righteous man saw and heard as he lived among them, he was vexed in his righteous soul day after day with their lawless deeds),
then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. (2 Peter 2:4-10)
Jude, the brother of Jesus gives us several additional facts about the destruction of the Cities of the Plain:
"Now I desire to remind you, though you were once for all fully informed, that he who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels that did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling have been kept by him in eternal chains in the nether gloom until the judgment of the great day; just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire." (Jude 3-7)
In the Book of Acts, a man named Ananias and his wife Sapphira were struck dead for lying to God and to the church about their real estate dealings. (Acts 5:1-11)
These two very different Biblical accounts involving sudden and violent judgment from God are illustrations of God's attitude towards sin--in the above examples two very different types of sin.
Sodom is a city which illustrates what Paul describes in Romans Chapter One: a culture with blatant sexual immorality, promiscuity, violence and open debauchery. One has only to read a bit further in Romans to discover that Sodom's sin is but one class of evil which God condemns and opposes.
God does not judge every instance of sin immediately, but we can find examples of His judgments in the Bible which clearly show us what we deserve. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah serves as an eternal warning to everyone everywhere. God "made them an example to those who were to choose an ungodly way of living." The behavior judged in this case was "ungodliness." Jude is clear that the sexual behavior of these peoples was in addition "contrary to nature," that is, in violation of the order of creation: sexual relationships only between man and wife in marriage meet with God's approval.
It was regarding Israel in her disobedience--not in regard to Sodom--that Moses said,
"For they are a nation void of counsel, and there is no understanding in them. If they were wise, they would understand this, they would discern their latter end! How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had given them up? For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges. For their vine comes from the vine of Sodom, and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison, their clusters are bitter; their wine is the poison of serpents, and the cruel venom of asps." (Deuteronomy 32:28-33)
Warning of God's displeasure with His chosen people Israel more than 1300 years after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the prophet Isaiah openly addressed the leaders of Jerusalem by letting them know that their "religious" behavior was far more serious sin in God's eyes than the sins of ancient Sodom:
If the LORD of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah. Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! [Jerusalem is in view here].
"What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats. "When you come to appear before me, who requires of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and the calling of assemblies--I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.
"Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
How the faithful city [Jerusalem] has become a harlot, she that was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. Your silver has become dross, your wine mixed with water. Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Every one loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the fatherless, and the widow's cause does not come to them.
Therefore the Lord says, the LORD of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: "Ah, I will vent my wrath on my enemies, and avenge myself on my foes. I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy. And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city." Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness. But rebels and sinners shall be destroyed together, and those who forsake the LORD shall be consumed. For you shall be ashamed of the oaks in which you delighted; and you shall blush for the gardens which you have chosen. For you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water. And the strong shall become tow, and his work a spark, and both of them shall burn together, with none to quench them. (Isaiah 1:1-31)
The sin of Jerusalem--which God said was more serious than the sexual immorality of Sodom--was religious hypocrisy and spiritual adultery.
One hundred fifty years after Isaiah the prophet Ezekiel used the same language--Jerusalem was more evil and more guilty than Sodom as far as the Lord was concerned.
Again the word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations, and say, Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite, and your mother a Hittite. And as for your birth, on the day you were born your navel string was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor swathed with bands. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you; but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. "And when I passed by you, and saw you weltering in your blood, I said to you in your blood, `Live, and grow up like a plant of the field.' And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full maidenhood; your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare. "When I passed by you again and looked upon you, behold, you were at the age for love; and I spread my skirt over you, and covered your nakedness: yea, I plighted my troth to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord GOD, and you became mine.
Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you, and anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with leather, I swathed you in fine linen and covered you with silk. And I decked you with ornaments, and put bracelets on your arms, and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose, and earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown upon your head. Thus you were decked with gold and silver; and your raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and embroidered cloth; you ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful, and came to regal estate. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor which I had bestowed upon you, says the Lord GOD.
"But you trusted in your beauty, and played the harlot because of your renown, and lavished your harlotries on any passer-by. You took some of your garments, and made for yourself gaily decked shrines, and on them played the harlot; the like has never been, nor ever shall be. You also took your fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the harlot; and you took your embroidered garments to cover them, and set my oil and my incense before them. Also my bread which I gave you --I fed you with fine flour and oil and honey --you set before them for a pleasing odor, says the Lord GOD. And you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your harlotries so small a matter that you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them? And in all your abominations and your harlotries you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, weltering in your blood. "And after all your wickedness (woe, woe to you! says the Lord GOD), you built yourself a vaulted chamber, and made yourself a lofty place in every square; at the head of every street you built your lofty place and prostituted your beauty, offering yourself to any passer-by, and multiplying your harlotry. You also played the harlot with the Egyptians, your lustful neighbors, multiplying your harlotry, to provoke me to anger. Behold, therefore, I stretched out my hand against you, and diminished your allotted portion, and delivered you to the greed of your enemies, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior. You played the harlot also with the Assyrians, because you were insatiable; yea, you played the harlot with them, and still you were not satisfied. You multiplied your harlotry also with the trading land of Chaldea; and even with this you were not satisfied.
"How lovesick is your heart, says the Lord GOD, seeing you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen harlot; building your vaulted chamber at the head of every street, and making your lofty place in every square. Yet you were not like a harlot, because you scorned hire. Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! Men give gifts to all harlots; but you gave your gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from every side for your harlotries. So you were different from other women in your harlotries: none solicited you to play the harlot; and you gave hire, while no hire was given to you; therefore you were different.
"Wherefore, O harlot, hear the word of the LORD: Thus says the Lord GOD, Because your shame was laid bare and your nakedness uncovered in your harlotries with your lovers, and because of all your idols, and because of the blood of your children that you gave to them, therefore, behold, I will gather all your lovers, with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved and all those you loathed; I will gather them against you from every side, and will uncover your nakedness to them, that they may see all your nakedness. And I will judge you as women who break wedlock and shed blood are judged, and bring upon you the blood of wrath and jealousy. And I will give you into the hand of your lovers, and they shall throw down your vaulted chamber and break down your lofty places; they shall strip you of your clothes and take your fair jewels, and leave you naked and bare. They shall bring up a host against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords. And they shall burn your houses and execute judgments upon you in the sight of many women; I will make you stop playing the harlot, and you shall also give hire no more. So will I satisfy my fury on you, and my jealousy shall depart from you; I will be calm, and will no more be angry. Because you have not remembered the days of your youth, but have enraged me with all these things; therefore, behold, I will requite your deeds upon your head, says the Lord GOD.
"Have you not committed lewdness in addition to all your abominations? Behold, every one who uses proverbs will use this proverb about you, `Like mother, like daughter.' You are the daughter of your mother, who loathed her husband and her children; and you are the sister of your sisters, who loathed their husbands and their children. Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite. And your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. Yet you were not content to walk in their ways, or do according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. As I live, says the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, surfeit of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them, when I saw it. Samaria has not committed half your sins; you have committed more abominations than they, and have made your sisters appear righteous by all the abominations which you have committed. Bear your disgrace, you also, for you have made judgment favorable to your sisters; because of your sins in which you acted more abominably than they, they are more in the right than you. So be ashamed, you also, and bear your disgrace, for you have made your sisters appear righteous.
"I will restore their fortunes, both the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters, and the fortunes of Samaria and her daughters, and I will restore your own fortunes in the midst of them, that you may bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all that you have done, becoming a consolation to them. As for your sisters, Sodom and her daughters shall return to their former estate, and Samaria and her daughters shall return to their former estate; and you and your daughters shall return to your former estate. Was not your sister Sodom a byword in your mouth in the day of your pride, before your wickedness was uncovered? Now you have become like her an object of reproach for the daughters of Edom and all her neighbors, and for the daughters of the Philistines, those round about who despise you. You bear the penalty of your lewdness and your abominations, says the LORD.
"Yea, thus says the Lord GOD: I will deal with you as you have done, who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant, yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish with you an everlasting covenant. Then you will remember your ways, and be ashamed when I take your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and give them to you as daughters, but not on account of the covenant with you. I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done, says the Lord GOD." (Ezekiel 16)
The prophet Amos brought God's word to the Ten Northern tribes as follows:
"Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are in the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, `Bring, that we may drink!' The Lord GOD has sworn by his holiness that, behold, the days are coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks. And you shall go out through the breaches, every one straight before her; and you shall be cast forth into Harmon," says the LORD. "Come to Bethel, and transgress; to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days; offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened, and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them; for so you love to do, O people of Israel!" says the Lord GOD. "I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me," says the LORD.
"And I also withheld the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest; I would send rain upon one city, and send no rain upon another city; one field would be rained upon, and the field on which it did not rain withered; so two or three cities wandered to one city to drink water, and were not satisfied; yet you did not return to me," says the LORD. "I smote you with blight and mildew; I laid waste your gardens and your vineyards; your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me," says the LORD. "I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I slew your young men with the sword; I carried away your horses; and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me," says the LORD.
"I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me," says the LORD. "Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!" For lo, he who forms the mountains, and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought; who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth --the LORD, the God of hosts, is his name!" (Amos 4)
Clearly other sins than homosexuality were the cause of God's grave displeasure with His people in the days of the prophet Amos.
The fact that man's accountability to God, and the punishment we deserve are based on the amount of truth we have rejected--the light we are sinning against--becomes even clearer in the Gospels. In instructing His disciples to spread the word about His coming kingdom to the cities of Israel, our Lord told them,
"And preach as you go, saying, `The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay. Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it, and stay with him until you depart. As you enter the house, salute it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if any one will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town." (Matthew 10:7-15)
Even more startling than this severe condemnation of Jewish cities which would reject the gracious good news preached by Jesus' disciples, were the Lord's words to the cities of Galilee where He Himself had spent so much time and energy during His ministry.
He began to upbraid the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you." (Matthew 11:21-24)
Finally, in the Book of the Revelation, when all the nations of earth are judged by Jesus at the time of His return to rule the earth, the city of Jerusalem still is found as sinful as Sodom:
"...the great city which is allegorically called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified."
In conclusion, the sexual immorality and ungodly lifestyles found in ancient Sodom and Gomorrah were serious enough to warrant their eventual eternal destruction. However, sins of the spirit: hypocrisy, pride, legalism, self-righteousness, spiritual adultery--are more serious. Greater light and knowledge given to an individual or to a nation brings greater accountability.
The most serious sins of all are related to misrepresenting God--to be found naming His name but living a counterfeit spiritual life. All sin is a violation of the two great commandments which are to love God with one's whole mind, heart, strength and will, and to love one's neighbor as oneself. All sin can be thought of as spiritual adultery.
Non-believers are dead in trespasses and sins and can not change their behavior so as to please God. They are not off the hook at all. However they are offered the good news of God's acceptance and mercy--Christ has paid for all their sins and died in their place. All they need do is to take His free give of forgiveness and allow Jesus to rule their lives as Lord and Healer. Jesus, "the friend of sinners," is the only one who can save and make broken people whole. People who are unwilling to be forgiven and healed remain lost in this life and the next.
|"Finally, though I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and back-biting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither." (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)|
God's main purpose in the world today is to call out a people for His name. While the building of the true church of Jesus Christ is underway, God greatly restraints sin all around us--on a daily basis. He is withholding judgment until the calling out of the church is finished. All of mankind benefits from God's grace every day we live. We are all showered by what is called God's "common grace." He makes His rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike. "God's kindness is meant to lead us to repentance," says Paul--not His threats of impending doom and judgment.
Nowhere in the Bible has God promised to save America. He has made no covenant with any nation but Israel and with the church. The New Testament is all about the calling out and building up of the church. Most of the judgment due to sinners and to nations is reserved for the end of the age. At the time of the return of Jesus Christ, all nations will be judged. In the meantime it is true that individuals reap the consequences of their sins. Nations come onto the stage of history and frequently disappear from history because of their sinfulness-usually in a few hundred years at most. God silently judges men and nations all the time. Sometimes this process of temporal judgment from god is obvious, often it is not. Often the judgments of God are silence and may go unnoticed. The prophets of Israel warned that nation in advance because they have a covenantal relationship with God.
The church enjoys a covenantal relationship with God--but America does not. The church's covenant with the God of Israel does not center on the Law of Moses but upon life-changing personal relationships with the living Christ. What matters most in this day and age is knowing Jesus personally--and deeply. We can not speak for nor represent a God we do not know. We can only speak about Him to the extent our knowledge of Him is accurate, thorough and well thought out. It can not merely be head knowledge. When we intrude our own ideas into the interpretation of history and take it upon ourselves to hypothesize how God is supposed to be running things we run the serious risk of misrepresenting God.
For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God;
and if it begins with us,
what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?
And "If the righteous man is scarcely saved,
where will the impious and sinner appear?"
(1 Peter 4:17-18)
There is only one group of people on the planet earth who has the power, the resources, and the responsibility for changing things in society which need fixing. That group is the church of Jesus Christ. Ray Stedman wrote,
Contemporary views of the church today are anything but complimentary. One of the nicer things said about the church is that it is irrelevant as far as saying anything to today's world is concerned.
There are many who look upon the church as nothing but a collection of religious creeps who are colorless, sterile, and dull, and who come to church only to sit with blank stares on their faces. They have no life to them at all. They remind me of the remark by the pagan philosopher, Nietzsche: "If you want me to believe in your Redeemer, then you'll have to look a lot more redeemed." Others think of the church as a group of religious bureaucrats who are forever issuing pronouncements to which no one pays any attention.
Some think of it as a group of plastic hypocrites who are forever trying to play water boy to the game of life; whenever real issues are faced the church is there to say, "Me too." Some view the church as a group of "good time Charlies" who never have a serious thought and are little concerned about life. They do not care enough even to get their hands dirty. I know a former hippie (now a Christian) who resisted accepting Jesus Christ for years because he thought he also had to buy Pat Boone.
In all honesty, we do have to admit that the church has often been guilty of these things. There is much justification for these charges. But they are true only because the church so easily forgets what it really is. When the church acts as what it really is then it is not like these distorted views at all. The church, operating as it was intended to operate, is the most important body of people in any age -- far above and beyond anything else. It is actually the secret government of earth. It radically alters the status quo wherever it is found. As Paul the apostle says, it is "the pillar and the ground of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15 KJV), i.e., the source and support of all realistic knowledge of life. That is what the church is supposed to be. Ray C. Stedman, http://raystedman.org/acts/0412.html
We--the church--are not called on to rail against sinners, but to be busy helping individuals from all classes of society come to know the Lord Jesus Christ. Secondly, it is our job to help build up the church in the knowledge and holiness that come from God.
The disobedience of God's people to God's calling and purpose--whether it is Israel's disobedience or ours--has grave consequences. We could find ourselves left behind. Jesus alluded to this in the following story:
"A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, `Come; for all is now ready.' But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, `I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.' And another said, `I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.' And another said, `I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.' So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, `Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.'And the servant said, `Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.' And the master said to the servant, `Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.'" (Luke 14:16-24)
When God Comes to Dinner, Genesis 18:1-15, by Ray Stedman
How Prayer Works, Genesis, 18:16-33, by Ray Stedman
The Wasted Years, Genesis 19, by Ray Stedman
Addendum: The Literal Cities and History
Sodom and Gomorrah
Invasion of the Four Kings
Genesis 14:1-16 tells about an invasion of Canaan by four Mesopotamian kings. Their names are given in verse 14:1. They followed the normal route up the Euphrates to near Haran, turning westward then southwesterly, down along the King's Highway on the east side of the Jordan River to the cities of the plain. They made war with the kings of those five cities, whose names are given in verse 14:2. They met in the Valley of Siddim (also called the Ghor), and the Mesopotamians conquered those cities and took tribute. But after 13 years the five cities rebelled, and refused to pay taxes.
In the 14th year, the Mesopotamians came back, conquering several other places along the way. These are listed in 14:5-9. Again the Valley of Siddim was a battleground, and again the invaders won. This time they took a rich bounty from Sodom and Gomorrah, and also a group of hostages including Lot. In accord with common practice, shown by archaeologists elsewhere, the invaders must have burned the cities after they looted all their valuables. They began their trip back to the Tigris-Euphrates Valley.
Someone escaped, ran around the southern end of the Dead Sea (called the Salt Sea in those days) to Mamre (Hebron), and told Abram what had happened. (See Genesis 14:13-16.) He quickly made up an army of 318 trained servants (guards for his caravan business? -- see the discussion earlier in this chapter about the likelihood that Abram was a caravaneer) and also some of his neighbors. He set out along a different path, to ambush the returning invaders in the northern parts of Canaan. See the map "Invasion of the Four Kings," on the next page.
Near the city of Dan, he divided his forces, surprised and attacked them at night, and the battle raged for miles, reaching to north of Damascus. Abram won the battle, retrieved his nephew Lot, the other hostages, and all of the bounty that had been taken from Sodom and Gomorrah. Then they turned south and returned toward home. They got as far as the King's Valley, near Salem (that's today's Jerusalem). Melchizedek, the priest/king of Salem met them there, and also Bera, the king of Sodom, who offered Abram all of the bounty he had recovered. All Bera wanted were the people who had been taken from Sodom. But Abram refused all of the spoil except the food they had eaten, and the share for his neighbors who had helped him. Apparently also the tithes he had given to Melchizedek were from this bounty.
The 14th chapter of Genesis has long puzzled scholars. Many critics have said that it must be simply legendary, and another evidence that the Bible isn't true, because they had found no evidence of the four kings mentioned in verse 1, and also had no evidence of the five "cities of the plain," (See Genesis 13:12, 14:2,3, and other spots.) But this lack of evidence was temporary -- it didn't prove anything, and once the evidence was found, it showed the lack of substance in those critics' claims. It's very poor logic to base a serious criticism merely on the lack of positive evidence -- critics who do this show that they really don't have much evidence. Research has by now refuted these scoffers, and verified the Biblical account.
Later in this chapter, we'll describe the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and tell how that account, and modern archaeological developments, link with, and complete, this account of the Invasion of the Mesopotamian Kings. It all ties together, and provides a strong indication that the Biblical account is true.
Geography of the Cities of the Plain
Much fascinating archaeological work has been done in the area of the five "cities of the plain." The Dead Sea (or Salt Sea, as it was called in Abraham's day), at present has a finger of land (the Lisan) extending into the sea from the eastern shore, about two-thirds of the way down from the north end. North of the Lisan, the water is very deep, up to 1400 feet, while the southern portion (the Ghor) is flat and less than 30 feet in depth. In recent decades water levels have lowered, and much of the southern part today is more like a chemically rich mudflat. The Dead Sea is the lowest body of water in the world -- its surface is about 1200 feet below sea level.
In 1924 archaeologist W.F. Albright found a large ruin at Bab edh-Dhra, just east of where the Lisan tongue protruded into the water. There was a huge cemetery just east of the main ruins. But he didn't find any other signs of occupation or any ruins of Bronze Age cities there. He concluded that this ruin was just a cultic center, and the five "Cities of the Plain" must have been all under water. Many people have thought that "cities of the plain" meant the cities were built on the flat part that later became covered with water. But linguists have said the Hebrew words really mean "associated with," rather than "built upon." It turns out that Albright's conclusion was wrong, but many books still perpetuate his error.
Yet that error didn't completely add up -- some evidences contradicted it. In the middle 1960's Paul Lapp led expeditions to check the huge cemetery at Bab edh-Dhra. Results were "mind-boggling." Conservative estimates placed the number of corpses at a half-million, with some two million pieces of pottery! Lapp died in 1970, and his notes passed down to R.T. Schaub and W.E. Rast. They checked out some "hills" they thought might be tells, south of Bab edh-Dhra. They were amazed to find other cemeteries as big as the one at Bab edh-Dhra, along with obvious ruins of Bronze Age cities.. Bryant G. Wood, "Have Sodom and Gomorrah Been Found?", in Bible and Spade, Vol.3, No.3, Summer 1974, pp.65-89.
They found ruins of four more Bronze Age cities in a line stretching south at spots with the modern names of Numeira, Safi, Feifa, and Khanazir. Further excavations established that these were related as a group, that the northern two had been violently destroyed by fire, and that each of the five had stood by a wadi (seasonal waterway) and had extensive irrigation systems stretching down to the plain below -- the Ghor -- that had been a fertile farmland.
It is now almost certain that these cities are Sodom, Gomorrah, Zoar, Admah, and Zeboiim, the "cities of the plain," (naming them from north to south). There is evidence that, during past millennia, the level of the Dead Sea has risen enough so that what is now the Ghor was formerly flat dry farmland -- what they called "the plain." The water level has now dropped again.
The five cities lay in a straight north-south line, about 4 to 8 miles apart, and each one is located by the side of a wadi. Verse 14:3 refers to the "valley of Siddim." That word comes from a Hebrew verb meaning "to harrow," or cultivate. Genesis 13:10 describes this region as being very well-watered (the two Hebrew words translated "well watered" suggest a complete irrigation system), and modern archaeological work has found the remains of irrigation ditches and dikes.
Verse 14:10 says the Valley of Siddim had many "slime pits." Several historians including Josephus, Strabo and Tacitus have written that, in their times, masses of asphalt sometimes rise to the surface of the waters of the Ghor. Here's another confirmation that the Valley of Siddim was really what is now called the Ghor.
The modern picture that emerges, of these five ancient cities and of their surroundings, shows that the Ghor was a very rich agricultural plain that was watered by good irrigation whose source was the seasonal rainfall in the hills to the east, and that was carried by the wadis. The people who worked the farms and operated the irrigation dikes lived in those five cities. These were also built as fortifications to protect the source of the valuable water.
Paleoethnobotanists have studied the pollens and plant remains in the soil around Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira (Sodom and Gomorrah).. taken from Susan Balderstone, "New Science Helps in Search for Biblical City of Sodom," in the Jordan Times, March 1, 1978. As cited in Bible and Spade," Vol.7, No.3, Summer 1978., pp.93-94. They found remains of wheat, barley, dates, wild plums, peaches, grapes, figs, pistachio nuts, almonds, olives, pine nuts, lentils, chick peas, pumpkin, and watermelon. Some of these were evidently imported from higher altitudes, 20 or 30 km. to the east. They also found evidence that flax and castor-oil plants were raised there. They found much evidence of well-organized and efficient irrigation systems.
Today, the Lisan and especially the Ghor region is being utilized as a tremendously rich source of minerals. The Dead Sea is the lowest body of water on earth, some twelve hundred feet below sea level. The Jordan River and a number of seasonal gullies empty into it, but there's no exit -- that's why it's called "dead." Natural evaporation removes much water, leaving the mineral-rich sediments. Extensive strip-mining is being done today. This furnishes a large fraction of modern Israel's economic income.
Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
In Genesis 18 three men appeared to Abraham, who showed much hospitality, washed their feet, and prepared a hearty meal for them (Gen. 18:4-8). The text sounds as if one of these was actually Jesus Himself, accompanied by two angels. The LORD again promised that Sarah would bear a son. Sarah, hiding in the tent, heard this and laughed, thinking it to be ridiculous because she was so old. See Genesis 18:9-15.
We sometimes wonder why Abraham and Sarah were so surprised that God would promise them a son when Abraham was so old -- at this point Abraham was 99 and Sarah was 89. But after all, Abraham had been born when his father Terah was 130.
But consider this -- the Bible often tells the age of the father when a son is born, but usually doesn't even mention the mother's name, much less her age. We know that a man can father a child when he is very elderly, but a woman is biologically different -- women can't usually bear a child after about age 50. But multiple wives were quite common in those days (see Genesis 20:12 for example). It's quite likely that a man would take on an added wife, maybe a very young one, when he wanted more children. So we see that the reason for their surprise must have been Sarah's advanced age, not Abraham's.
Proof of this idea is in Genesis 25:1-7. After Sarah died, Abraham married Keturah, and had six sons. He also had sons by concubines. He finally died at age 175. So Abraham was still quite fertile, even long after Isaac's birth.
Then the LORD said that Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed because of their great sin. Abraham pleaded, "If there's a few good people there, will you save them?" The Lord said He would but, as it turned out, there were less than ten righteous people there, so the two angels went on to Sodom. The LORD then "went His way."
Genesis 18:16 - 19:29 describe the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The two angels were offered hospitality by Lot, but the men of Sodom proved their extremely depraved state by trying to rape the angels.
To this day homosexuality is still called sodomy. It's still a crime in many places. As this is being written, "gay activists" are doing all in their power to legitimize this sinful practice. (Don't be deceived by nice words such as "gay;" God still condemns homosexual activity in the strongest terms -- see Romans 1:24-27.)
Lot knew the men were angels sent by God. So when the Sodomites threatened to tear down the door to his house, to take the angels and rape them, Lot took the desperate measure of offering his two virgin daughters to them, if they would leave the angels alone. This was a most graphic demonstration of the deep respect for God's angels that he must have had. To even think of giving his own daughters as substitutes for the angels is hard to imagine. In the New Testament (2-Peter 2:6,7) the apostle referred to Lot as a righteous man who was tormented by the sinfulness of the Sodomites.
But the angels had a better plan -- they pulled Lot back inside, and zapped the crowd outside with blindness, so that they groped around in the dark.
The angels warned Lot to take his family and leave town and not even look back, but the only ones who would go with Lot were his wife and his two betrothed daughters (their husbands-to-be chose not to believe Lot or the angels). They went to Zoar (the center one of five cities along the southeast shore of the Dead Sea), but on the way Lot's wife disobeyed, looked back longingly, and became a "pillar of salt."
Today, there's a small mountain, almost solid salt, near the south end of the Dead Sea. From ancient times it's been called "Lot's Wife." It's far too large to be the actual remains of that poor lady, but the origin of its name is buried in antiquity. That name certainly originated with this story.
As Lot and his daughters entered Zoar, fire and brimstone rained down on the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah, bringing total destruction. All the inhabitants died, and the surrounding land burned. Dark smoke rose high in the air, so that when Abraham looked across the Dead Sea, from 35 miles away at Hebron in the Judean hills, it looked like a huge furnace.
In Genesis 19:30-38 we read how this catastrophe so frightened Lot's two daughters that they apparently thought that all the men of their ancestral line, who were acceptable to their father to become their husbands, had been killed. After all, the two men to whom they had been espoused had certainly died in Sodom, after they chose to not believe the angels, and thought that Lot was joking with them. So the two daughters used their own conniving scheme to ensure descendants. They each, in turn, got their father drunk, slept with him, and they each conceived. Their offspring became the founders of the nations of Moab and Ammon, two nations that gave much trouble to the Israelites in later times.
Archaeologists have found strong evidence that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah's destruction is true. Stones and bricks are fire-blackened, wood is charred, and ashes cover all that's left.
The remains of Bab edh-Dhra (Sodom) are in poor condition, eroded and having few artifacts left, but those of the next ruin to the south, Numeira (Gomorrah), have yielded a lot of information. Each place that the archaeologists have dug at this site they've encountered a thick layer of destruction debris, including charred timbers and ash layers. Beneath this destruction debris are well-preserved remains.2. & . taken from Bryant Wood's article "Sodom and Gomorrah Update," in Bible and Spade,Vol.12, No.1-2, Winter-Spring 1983, pp. 22-33. It's obvious that the destruction was sudden and unexpected, since there are human bone fragments in some rooms, together with mortars and pestles with barley still in them, and cooking implements with food residue still contained in them.
The huge cemetery at Bab ed-Dhra yielded a surprise. Three styles of burials were found. One showed the use of "charnel houses." One that was well excavated was about 25 x 45 feet, made of mud bricks and having wooden roof beams topped with reed matting and mud. Many pottery objects and piles of human remains were found. The interesting thing (at least to Bible scholars) is that the roof beams had been burned from the top, and had collapsed inward. If this destruction had been done by an enemy, why would they have burned a charnel house? This seems to be good evidence of the truth of the Bible's statements about "fire and brimstone from above."
It is well-known that this area is a "rift valley", prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity. The rift extends from north of the Sea of Galilee, down the Jordan River, through the Dead Sea, down through the Gulf of Aqaba into the Red Sea, then into the continental regions of Africa, where it is known as the "Great Rift Valley." There are vast deposits of asphalt (Genesis 14:10 calls them "slime pits") in the southern Dead Sea portion. There are also underground deposits of petroleum and methane. A combination of earthquake and lightning could certainly set off a fiery explosion that would rain fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah, as described in Genesis 19.
There are many times that God uses natural means to achieve supernatural results. Many answers to our prayers are handled this way. But this does not detract from His miraculous interventions. At Sodom, God sent angels to warn people; He led Lot to safety, and when people disobeyed, then He destroyed the cities just as He had said He would. He may have used natural processes, but His timing was miraculous.
Archaeological Confirmation of the Biblical Account
We have described in some detail two separate destructions of Sodom and Gomorrah -- one by four invading kings from Mesopotamia, and one by God, who "rained fire and brimstone" on those evil cities. Let's compare these with findings of archaeologists. We'll see that they fit together with the Bible very well.
Dr. William H. Shea wrote an article "Numeirah: Was this Gomorrah?" . William H. Shea, "Numeirah: Was this Gomorrah?" in Archaeology and Biblical Research, Vol.1, No.4, Autumn, 1988, pp. 12 - 23. He notes many of the same things we've described above, and then discusses the archaeological excavations and their results. They found evidence of two separate destructions -- the first was of mud-brick walls and roofs, while the second included stone walls and a large tower. He quoted an archaeological journal as follows:
"This earliest phase of occupation was destroyed by fire: the walls and rooms that collapsed over the ashy destruction debris consisted of considerable mud brick detritus, many large wooden beams, and carbonized grasses and reeds still tied by the ropes that had held them together as thatch. On the occupational surface of Room V was the skeleton of a mature male who had perished in the destruction of this earliest phase." (BASOR 225:79)
That first one was the work of the Mesopotamians. After that happened, it must have been natural for the occupants to try and prevent another such tragedy -- they used stone for the outer walls instead of mud-brick, and built a lookout tower.
A later report referred to the second destruction, in the living areas, and said:
"The major occupational surfaces, with minor variation from room to room, were sealed by thick destruction debris, including charred timbers and ash layers. ... [Rm. 3 contained] thick destruction debris, including burnt wooden beams that had collapsed on storage jars." (BASOR 240:43,44)
The question arises -- how many years elapsed between the two destructions? This can be answered by the results from an unroofed area just inside the walls, beside the tower, which had been in use between the two destructions. Shea quoted the excavators as follows:
"Within the city, the area adjacent to the inner (west) face of the defensive system in both phases [of destruction] was an outdoor activity area. More than 20 alternating layers of chaff and carbonized material, ... suggest seasonal activities. Over the final layer was a thick (0.1 - 0.5 meter [or 4 to 20 inches]) layer of ashy debris, in which were found the skeletons of the two mature males who perished in the final destruction of the town" (BASOR 225:80)
It's not clear whether these 20 layers represent chaff from annual grain harvests or annual repairs to the thatched roof of the tower. In either case, this seems to show that somewhat more than 20 years elapsed between the two destructions.
Let's see what the Bible says about this time interval. Yes, several times the Bible mentions Abraham's age. He was 75 when he left Haran to first go to Canaan. He was 86 when Ishmael was born, after the Mesopotamian invasion. He was 99 when the three angels announced that Isaac would be born the next spring, and then went on to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Simple arithmetic shows that the time between the two destructions must have been somewhere between 14 and 24 years. That matches the archaeological evidence very closely.
There's another bit of evidence that gives some correlation. Several of the archaeologist's reports made mention of the large number of carbonized grapes found in the debris at Numeira. From their non-wrinkled shape, it seemed clear that they were fresh at the time they were burned. This showed that the destruction occurred in the spring or early summer of the year, when grapes are harvested in that area of the world.
At what time of year does the Bible say that the angels came to Abraham? In the King James Version, Genesis 18:10 & 14 say that Sarah's conception would be "according to the time of life." This phrase seems unusual, but the Revised Standard Version simply says "in the spring." That's probably the most likely and best modern phrase. So we see that there's another confirmation of Biblical truth here.
Here's a listing of the resources that Dr. Shea used for writing his article:
BASOR means "Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research."
AASOR means "Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research."
Rast, W.E., and Schaub, R.T., "Survey of the Southeastern Plain of the Dead Sea, 1973," Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 19 (1974):5-53.
"Bab edh-Dhra, 1975," AASOR (1978):1-60.
"Preliminary Report of the 1979 Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain, Jordan," BASOR 240(1980):21-62.
"The Southeastern Dead Sea Plain Expedition: An Interim Report of the 1977 Season," AASOR 46 (1981):1-190.
Rast, W.E., "Settlement at Numeira," AASOR (1981):35-44.
McCreery, D.W., "Flotation of the Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira Plant Remains," AASOR (1981) 46:165-170.
Coogan, M.D., "Numeira 1981," BASOR 255 (1984):75-82.
Added June 27, 2002. Special thanks to the author.
ADDENDUM: The story of Sodom and Gomorrah: "There are several known facts about this situation which might prove relevant. S&G lived in a good land (Gen. 13.10-12). Abraham saved their cities once, in a masterful military maneuver (Gen. 14), after which Abraham 'witnessed' to them. They were exposed to/had access to the pure message of God through Melchizedek--the priest-king of Salem--(who probably led Abraham to the true knowledge of God!). Nonetheless, they were extremely evil people (and who were proud of it--Is 3.9: The look on their faces testifies against them; they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it.), and their crimes were both against God (Gen 13.13) and against people (Gen. 18.20). Some twenty-five years after Abraham/Melky encounter, and several years after Lot had apparently been trying to 'moralize' the people (cf. Gen. 19:9), the outcry to God is so great that He sends two angels to destroy the city and its environs (Gen. 19.24ff). God had announced His intentions to Abraham in Gen. 18, and agreed to spare the city if a few righteous could be found. Apparently, only Lot and his family (less than the required ten!) fit the description adequately, so the entire culture was judged and destroyed by God. The encounter involving Lot, the angels, and the men of the city is a vivid description of the evil of the city (Gen 19), and the NT refers to it as an example of judgment-future (2 Pet 2.6) with a special emphasis on sexual perversion (Jude 7). The fact that 'all the men of the city' were involved in the intended assault on Lot, indicates that the 'outcry' must have come from surrounding areas--hence, the 'international' scope of their evil. The destruction was immediate and total, including the surrounding cities and the vegetation (Gen 19.25), and is even used as an example by our Lord in Luke 17.29.
It is important to note that (1) they had plenty of access to 'truth' (at LEAST 25 years); (2) their crimes were perverse, public, and the cause of international protest/outcry to God(!); (3) the annihilation was a judgment; (4) God was willing to spare the innocent people--if any could be found; (5) children living in the households of their evil parents apparently died swiftly in the one-day event (instead of being killed--as homeless orphans-- by a combination of starvation, wild beasts, exposure, and disease; or instead of being captured and sold as slaves by neighboring tribes, for the older ones perhaps?); (6) the one innocent man and woman are delivered (along with their children of the household).
From Glenn Miller's web site: How could a God of Love order the massacre/annihilation of the Canaanites?
Originated June 26, 2001.