Sodom and Gomorrah #9 (Genesis 19:2)
What are the messengers (or angels, as we have seen in the previous post) doing in Sodom? Are they testing Lot to see if he deserves rescuing, or are they in the city to confirm, firsthand, if there is a way to save the city of Sodom?
Lot, who made himself known to the messengers (מַּלְאָכִים), is now inviting them to his home. Some believe that his deep bowing with his face to the ground, and then inviting them to his home are signs that he recognised them as angels, and that he would have treated them differently if they were ordinary people. But is this really the case?
Hospitality is a most fundamental, sacred principle in cultures that live in harsh, isolated conditions, like the Kurds of Iraq or the Bedouins of the Middle East deserts. For them, hospitality is not only a custom, not only good manners, or kindness. For them hospitality is a sacred obligation, a holy bond between a host and a guest. If you break this bond, you will be punished.
It is easy to understand how hospitality has become so important in such places. After all, hospitality can be the difference between life and death. If you are not offered food, water and shelter, you many not survive the day. Hospitality equals life.
Some cultures take it even further. In such cultures, the bond between host and guest extends to your mortal enemies. That is, if someone you are sworn to kill comes as a guest, you will protect them and treat them as a respected guests until they leave your place.
This culture existed around the Dead Sea for thousands of years. We can assume that this was the culture of Lot when he greeted the visitors , whether or not he recognised them as angels.
The other point worth paying attention to in this verse is the use of the phrase
The expression סוּרוּ נָא means to take a round route, not the direct way. Viewing it together with his next sentence וְהִשְׁכַּמְתֶּם, וַהֲלַכְתֶּם לְדַרְכְּכֶם (and wake up early and go on your way ) it becomes clear that Lot is aware that the people of Sodom do not adhere to the tenet of hospitality. He is aware of the risk he puts himself and his family. But as a righteous man, a man who grew up on the ways of the desert, he feels compelled to invite the men to his home, whatever the personal cost might be.
But what were the Mal’achim doing in the city? Why did they refuse Lot’s invitation and insist on sleeping in the street? Isn’t it obvious that they are testing if Lot’s invitation is genuine, if he is truly willing to risk himself for their sake? But could there be another reason?
Could they have also come to give Sodom one last chance? As we have seen in Genesis 18:21 God promised to go down and check the situation in Sodom. Could one of the messengers have been more than an angel? Was he the human manifestation of God?
As it is often the case in the Bible, every word, phrase, or verse have level upon level of meanings. So it is likely that here too, their visit is not for a single purpose. In most likelihood they came to test both Lot and Sodom. And as we already know, Lot will pass their test, but Sodom will not.