The Story of Sodom: Compassion in time of Tragedy

Sodom and Gomorrah #21 (Genesis 19:16)

The fire of hell is about to hit the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. An entire land is to be wiped out. Whenever I read this part of the Bible, I cannot stop sadness from gnawing inside me. Sadness not only for the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who are to be incinerated.  For me deep sadness also raises its head when I realise how rare compassion is among those who read this passage together with me.

So many of the discussions about the passage are about things like the exact nature of the sin of the people of the Sodom; how little of it is thinking about Lot and how he must have felt when he had to evacuate and leave everything behind. Wasnโ€™t he a man? A human?

If we, the Bible followers, fail to feel compassion when reading about a tragedy at the comfort of our own homes, will we fell compassion towards others when we ourselves are facing hardship?  Can we even feel it at all?  Moreover, is compassion a luxury when a mass tragedy takes place? Verse 16 comes to teach us that our compassion is never a luxury, it must always have place in our hearts.

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Hypocrisy of the Believers – Student’s Frustration

Some time ago, following a lesson about Lot’s wife, I got a letter from a student who was outraged about the hypocrisy of the believers in the Bible. We had a long discussion about how believers in the Bible, that claim to believe in Love and Compassion, judge others so easily without any compassion at all, as though they were the Inquisition aiming to condemn people and find the most horrendous way to punish them, all in the name of Love.

I could not disagree with her. I had to admit that I, too, see great hypocrisy among believers. And it pains me that judgement is more prevalent than compassion. So I decided to bring her letter here, as is, uncensored. I think we can all learn from it.

Hypocrisy of the believers, who prefer harsh punishment on compassion in case of Lot's wife who had to leave her other children in Sodom.
The punishment of Lot’s wife
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Escaping Sodom, Desperate and Broken Hearted – Leaving Loved Ones Behind

Sodom and Gomorrah #20 (Genesis 19:15)

Today, after producing a few YouTube episodes of #50DaysOfGenesis series, I return to the story of Lot and his family escaping from Sodom. As you know, I am greatly disturbed by the harsh ways many believers judge Lot and his wife. There are many reasons for that. But most do it just because Lot and His wife lived in Sodom (as if those judging live in the land of righteousness).

We judge Lot and his wife as if they were robots, not as though they were humans with feelings, emotions, and pains. We judge them as if we would have behaved any better if we found ourselves having to leave everyone and everything behind. So why does it disturb me? Because, like many other places in the Bible, this chapter gives us a chance to learn compassion, but instead, we choose only to practice judgment.

So now we are back in chapter 19, and we’ll continue with verse 14.

After the mob attacked his house, Lot went to his sons-in-law to talk them into escaping with him from the doomed city of Sodom. As we often see with doomsayers nowadays, his relatives mocked him, and he returned home empty handed. But when morning comes, shortly before the destruction of Sodom begins, Lot and his family must leave. There can be no further delays.

Lot is escaping Sodom. He and his family are getting ready, leaving loved ones behind. 

This is translation and transliteration of the Hebrew Bible; Genesis 19:15

Escaping while leaving family behind

We now know that Lot had other daughters, married ones. He also had sons in law, maybe grandchildren, and maybe (as we have seen in verse 12) even a few sons . But, despite the unavoidable pain of separation, his broken heart, and despite knowing that he survived and they did not, he would have to leave them behind.

They mocked him. Understandably, they did not listen to his words, and they chose to stay with what they knew, rather than venture into the scary, and unfamiliar (most people I know would have stayed. Would you have listened to him?) Lot and his wife will have to carry in their hearts the burden and the guilt of the survivor, not only while escaping, but for the rest of their lives:  

Why did they die while we stayed alive? 
If we tried just a bit harder, we could have convinced them to come with us.
We could have saved them.  
We should have stayed to die with them.

These thoughts have been described over and again by survivors that had left behind loved ones, family, and friends. No reasoning, logic or words of comfort can ever ease their pain and burden of guilt, even if it was not their fault; even if it was their only option; even if they had no choice. 

Adam and Eve were made to leave the Garden of Eden; Cain was forced away from his land, and so did Abraham. Lot and his family are now escaping their home. These are only a few of the many such Biblical examples. But it does not end with the Bible. Our entire history is filled with people forced away from their homes, leaving others behind.

How many times throughout history have those that could foresee danger had to flee, broken heartedly, leaving behind friends, family and loved ones, who remained blind to the situation until it was too late? How many more times will humanity continue to face such horrors? It is not far from home. As we see the refugees in Ukraine nowadays, can we imagine ourselves in such a situation? Is there a guarantee we will never experience such horrors?

Many I have spoken to seem to harshly judge Lot and especially his wife. But can we put ourselves in their position and try to understand the pain that they must have suffered when they had to leave family and friends behind? Can we be sure we will not find ourselves in a similar situation? Can we find a little sympathy for them within ourselves?

New Lessons in our Hebrew Bible Academy in June 2022 – Come and Join


In June we will start into a new series of Hebrew Bible lessons in our Online Academy www.academy.hebrew-bible.net.

I will teach the Biblical Hebrew of the Story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4) and the Story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18 and 19).

You will be able to discover and to discuss the less-known interpretations of these well-known stories. You will be surprised to figure out the spiritual depth is hidden in the text.

In our Hebrew Bible Academy lessons you will get to know the original Hebrew text so that you can seek YOUR truth, completely unrelated to any religion.

Discover our new lessons here:


The Story of Cain and Abel – New Lessons

We all know that Cain was the very first murderer. As the story is commonly told, Cain was jealous of his brother who, unlike Cain, made his offerings to God wholeheartedly. But is this really what the original text tells us?

By delving into the Hebrew text, word by word, we will explore undisclosed and unknown subtleties in the Biblical text.

Lesson #1:
Does God Discriminate?

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ 11 June 2022, 10:00 AM CEST

https://www.academy.hebrew-bible.net/course/cain-and-abel-1-does-god-discriminate

We know from Genesis 4:4-5 that the two brothers are making offering to God. Cain brings from his labour in the field, and Abel, the shepherd, from is herd. Does God discriminate Cain by preferring one profession over another?

  • What does it mean that God regards or does not regard an offering? Was it as simple as in Carl August Zscheckel engraving, in which Cainโ€™s smoke did not go up while Abelโ€™s did?
Cain and Abel making offerings to God. Cainโ€™s smoke did not go up while Abelโ€™s did
  • What was Godโ€™s reason for discriminating against Cain?

Lesson #2:
Are we Rewarded for Our Good Deeds?

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ 18 June 2022, 10:00 AM CEST

https://www.academy.hebrew-bible.net/course/cain-and-abel-2-are-we-rewarded-for-good-deeds

After rejecting Cainโ€™s offering, God speaks to him and gives him a paradox to contemplate, a paradox that should guide him, and every person, throughout our lives. This verse, as we will see in a following up post, also defines sin, and instructs us how we must deal with it.

Verse 7 presents to us a paradox. It has two contradictory meanings, each of them consistent with the text. The contradiction stems from the double meanings of the word ืฉึฐื‚ืึตืช.

Lesson #3:
Why did Cain Kill Abel?

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ 25 June 2022, 10:00 AM CEST

https://www.academy.hebrew-bible.net/course/cain-and-abel-3-why-did-god-save-cain

The commonly told story tells us that Cain killed Abel because he was jealous that God accepted Abelโ€™s offering but not his own. But does the original text support this story?

  • Can we safely conclude that it was jealousy? Can there be other interpretations?
  • There is another important issue to consider: Was it a murder?

Lesson #4:
Who was Cain?

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ 2 July 2022, 10:00 AM CEST

https://www.academy.hebrew-bible.net/course/cain-and-abel-4-who-was-cain

In Gen 4:16-17 Cainโ€™s trial is over. He is leaving God a free man, finds a place to settle, have a son and builds a city. But what about Godโ€™s punishment?

  • Wasnโ€™t Cain destined to be a wanderer, a nomad forever?
  • How can a wanderer settle and build a city?
  • Can Cain defy God?
  • How did the life of Cain continue?
New lessons in our Hebrew Bible Academy in June 2022: The original Hebrew Story of Cain and Abel
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The Story of Sodom and Gomorrah – New Lessons


On the surface, or at least the way most of us have learned it, it is a simple story: God decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for the sins of their people and save Lot, the only righteous person in the city. But delving into the original Hebrew text nothing is simple: What were the sins they were punished for? Why did Lot’s wife had to die?

You might be surprised to learn that the common interpretation that the sin was sexual abomination is only one of many interpretations and based on a single word. The sins of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah may be more horrific, even though they are more subtle.

It is a story divided into 3 episodes.

Lesson #1:
Let the Fair Trial Begin

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ 11 June 2022, 11:00 AM CEST

https://www.academy.hebrew-bible.net/course/sodom-gomorrah-let-the-fair-trial-begin

We will start with the first episode, the story of a trial, in which Abraham, the defence, is doing all in his power to stop the unavoidable destruction of the two cities. 

The three messengers that visited Abraham are now leaving the court to investigate the situation down in Sodom. Once they have left, Abraham, representing the cities, approaches the bench. Whether it is a human acting as a judge or God Himself, justice and proper trials must come first. 

Lesson #2:
The Outraged People of Sodom and Gomorrah Demand to Knowthe Angels. What does KNOW mean?

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ 18 June 2022, 11:00 AM CEST

https://www.academy.hebrew-bible.net/course/sodom-gomorrah-furious-people-2-angels-lot-and-law

The second episode of the story takes place in a different setting. Now we see Lot inviting two strangers to his home in Sodom.

  • Did he recognize them as angels?
  • Why did the people of Sodom come to Lot’s house in a rage when they found that Lot was harbouring strangers?
  • What were the real intentions of the people of Sodom when they demanded to know the strangers? Could it have been anything but Sodomy? 
  • What were the angels doing in Sodom? Were they testing Lot to see if he deserves rescuing, or were they in the city to confirm, firsthand, if there is a way to save the city? 
  • How did Lot act? Did he deserve to be saved? 
New lessons in our Hebrew Bible Academy in June 2022: The original Hebrew Story of Sodom and Gomorrah
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Hebrew Bible Private Online Lessons – One on One

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ Choose your favourite lesson time

https://www.academy.hebrew-bible.net/course/hebrew-bible-one-to-one

One on One we will be going through the Hebrew text. Take the chance to explore the original scripture with an open mind, without assumptions, as if we read and translate the stories for the very first time.

Screenshot 2022 06 03 at 22.27.31

The Story of Sodom: The Humane Side of the Bible

Sodom and Gomorrah #19 (Genesis 19:14)

How many children did Lot and Lotโ€™s wife have in Sodom? This humane question, although critical to understanding of the story, is mostly ignored by the many who judge Lotโ€™s wife harshly, those who believe she deserved to die. Verse 14, however, reveals the most intriguing fact โ€“ Lot’s wife also had married daughters that did not live with them.

I have discussed many times why she had to die. It seems that many of those who, from the comfort of their sofa, judge how a woman escaping for her life should behave, do not even know how many children she had, and how many children she is about to leave in Sodom to die.

But why is this verse hidden when they tell us the story?

Bible Genesis 19:14 talks about the married daughters of Lot in Sodom, those who did not live with them. Why does this humane side of the story of Lot's wife hardly get mentioned? Old Testament in Hebrew with translation and transliteration

Why is this verse kept secret?

Those who follow me regularly know that in the past few months I have been obsessed with Lotโ€™s wife and why she had to die. I have written about it in a previous blog post, discussed it in a video, and yet I have no good answer.  

I have discussed this question with many students and Bible followers. Many seem to have clear answers to why she had to die: “She disobeyed God,” they say. “She could not let go of the past”. And the harshest one: “She was missing the sinful pleasures that Sodom offered.”  

Then I ask, โ€œWhat would you have done in her place?โ€

The answer is nearly always said in great confidence: โ€œI would have followed Godโ€™s word!โ€

Unfortunately, I know, firsthand, how impossible it is to know how you would behave when facing real danger, panic, distress, combined with physical exhaustion. I also know that most people need far less than losing their entire city and everyone they know to forgo their commitment to a righteous life. Sometimes, missing a meal or losing some money is enough to throw a person off the path of God. 

But I hardly ever argue it.

Instead, I ask, “And if you left your children behind, what would you do then?”

It seems that most people are not aware that Lotโ€™s wife also had married daughters, daughters who did not live with her, daughters she is about to leave behind to perish in Sodom.   

I canโ€™t help but ask myself why they don’t know?  After all, verse 14 is there for everyone to read together with the rest of the story.

The answer is obvious, most people never delve into the text of the Bible by themselves. They mostly know the Bible second-hand. They mostly know only what those who tell them the Bible want them to know.

But why do theses Bible teachers and leaders do not mention this verse and this fact to us when they tell the rest of the story? What else do they hide from us?

The Human und Humane sides of the Bible

Here I can only guess. And my guess is that telling such details would raise the awareness of how complex the Bible is, and the subtle human existence it describes. It would also highlight the complex decisions we have to make, the pains and suffering that real people undergo. That is, they do not want us to be exposed to the human and humane sides of the Bible.

The people in the Bible are real people, with real feelings, thoughts, ideas and emotions. But when was the last time you tried to think how Abraham felt when he stood in front of God, arguing to save Sodom? Every story of the Bible is about real people, and therefore carries subtle complexities.

This is what many of our religious teachers want us to forget. The Bible is not black and white. It is complex, just the way we, human, are.

So make it a habit to read the Bible carefully by yourself. Put yourself in the mind of the people of the Bible. See what they see, feel what they feel. Only then will you start to understand the true beauty of the Bible and why it is a holy text.  It is not because someone told you so.

The Story of Sodom: Morality is it Absolute or Relative?

Sodom and Gomorrah #18 (Genesis 19:13)

I have now returned from the Italian Alps. So, this time the photo for this post is from there โ€“ for your enjoyment โ€“ and not, as normal, related to the story of the chapter. I hope you are ready to go back to the Bible and discuss morality in our story, the story of Sodom.

We will continue with verse 13 in chapter 19.  As we have seen in verse 12, the angels are warning Lot and asking him to leave the city. We know that they did not have to give Lot any explanation. After all, Lot already knows they are Godโ€™s angels, and he will obey them with or without a reason. Still, they explain. They know that if a person understands the reason for an order, they will obey faster and better. This is a simple secret that many in command nowadays have forgotten. Godโ€™s angels remembered.

The angels explain to Lot why they are destroying Sodom. Translation and transliteration of Genesis 19:13. We learn that morality is absolute, not relative.

Is Morality absolute or relative?

During my years of travels, I have met different people from various cultures. Each culture has its own morals, habits, and customs.  Some habits and customs acceptable in one culture can be unacceptable or even considered abomination by another. For example, while in some cultures telling lies is an acceptable behaviour (and when you are caught you simply shrug your shoulders and laugh) in other cultures it is a big shame to be caught lying. In some cultures, killing for the honour of the family is not only acceptable, but demanded; other places will consider it like any other murder.

Every time I encounter such a discrepancy, or when I see behaviours that deeply bother me โ€“ like the way women are treated by some cultures โ€“ I cannot help but ask myself if I am sure I am right, and whether morality should be judged relative to the culture, or whether it absolute and universal.  The story of Sodom clearly gives us an answer. At least some morals are absolute.

The people of Sodom will be punished, even though they are not familiar with the laws of the Bible, maybe not even with the morals and behaviour code of the desert. Ignorance of morality will not save them.

The angels do not ask if the people of Sodom abide by the laws of their country or the laws of their city โ€“ the city of Sodom. It does not matter. The cry coming from the city is sufficient justification for the severe punishment they are going to face โ€“ the destruction of their city. In the words of the angels:

Because their cry has grown in the face of God, they will be punished, and Sodom will be destroyed. 

Translation of Genesis 19:13

According to this verse, a sufficient criteria of moral judgement is that many people suffer in the hands of others, that many people cry and beg for Godโ€™s help because no human is going to help them. The prophets kept warning that it is how we treat others that God cares the most about and judges us by. To quote Isaiah (1:17). Justice and compassion is what God is asking of us:

Learn to do good.
Devote yourselves to justice;
Aid the wronged.
Uphold the rights of the orphan;
Defend the cause of the widow.

Is this the morals our society is built upon? Is that how WE see our duty to God?

Lot’s Predicament: Abandoning his Family in Sodom

Sodom and Gomorrah #17 (Genesis 19:12)

Hi everyone. It has been a few weeks since my last โ€˜regularโ€™ post that explored the story of Sodom and Lot.  From my other posts you could have guessed that I had been travelling in Israel, mostly in Jerusalem and the desert, including the area around the Dead Sea and Sodom. Luckily my car had a great aircondition, as it was so hot, over 40C (100F) that I could barely survive 20 minutes away from it. The time around Sodom was when the story of Lot became vivid in my mind. I could clearly see why hospitality was a matter of life and death in such conditions. I could imagine how Lot and his wife must have physically felt as they ran away up the mountain in this heat. And I could feel great compassion towards them and their suffering. They were real people suffering a horrendous tragedy.

So now I am ready to go back to the Bible and our story of Lot. We will continue from verse 12 in chapter 19.

Godโ€™s angels instruct Lot to save his extended family, the family in Sodom that does not live with him. He must take the horrific decision to abandon them.

Lot and His Family

Lotโ€™s guests have just blinded the people of Sodom with immense light. Their act not only saved Lotโ€™s life, but also ensured he knew they were angels and not just ordinary guests. If until now he treated them because they were guests, now he will follow their instructions.

What is the first thing they do once their identity is revealed? They ask Lot a question: โ€œWho else do you have in this city who does not live with you? Sons in law? Sons? Daughters?โ€

Why do they ask? Donโ€™t they know already? Of course they do. They are angels, after all. So their question must have another meaning. Actually, three I can think of.

The first is the obvious. Lot must still be in shock after his experience outdoors. Giving instructions to a person in shock, a person still confused, there is no guarantee he would follow properly. The angels first need to ease his mind, make him think and tell them about his family, so when he goes out to save them, he will not forget anyone out of confusion.

The second reason is to emphasise, once more, that a single righteous person can make all the difference. Lets count: Lot and his wife and the two daughters living with them – 4, two married daughters (at least) and their husbands – 4, and at least two son make at minimum ten people. But we already know that there were no ten righteous people in Sodom. So at least one of the people to be saved is not righteous. They are to be saved thanks to Lotโ€™s righteousness. Righteousness always benefits and saves others.

The third point is to make us, the readers aware, that Lot and his wife will be leaving a first-degree family behind when they escape the incineration of Sodom. This understanding alone may give us some sympathy with the mental burden he and his wife must be carrying during the escape. Hopefully it will make us think about them as people in unbearable pain, and not just Biblical characters with no feelings or emotions that appear in the story for our quick judgement and condemnation.

The Bible gives us many opportunities to learn that compassion, not judgement, is, the mindset of the righteous. Does the fact that they left family behind change anything in the way you see Lot and his wife? Can you feel any compassion towards them?  

Sodom and Gomorrah: New Lessons in Our Hebrew Bible Academy in May 2022 – Come and Join


We have now added lessons about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18 and 19) in our Hebrew Bible Academy www.academy.hebrew-bible.net.

In our Hebrew Bible Academy lessons you will get to know the original Hebrew text so that you can seek YOUR truth, completely unrelated to any religion.
Course overview May 2022

On the surface, or at least the way most of us have learned it, it is a simple story: God decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for the sins of their people and save Lot, the only righteous person in the city. But delving into the original Hebrew text nothing is simple: What were the sins they were punished for? Why Did Lot’s wife had to die?

You might be surprised to learn that the common interpretation that the sin was sexual abomination is only one of many interpretations. The sins of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah may be more subtle, even though not less horrific.

It is a story divided into 3 episodes.

Lesson #1: Let the Fair Trial Begin

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ 15 May 2022

We will start with the first episode, the story of a trial, in which Abraham, the defence, is doing all in his power to stop the unavoidable destruction of the two cities. 

The three messengers that visited Abraham are now leaving the court to investigate the situation down in Sodom. Once they have left, Abraham, representing the cities, approaches the bench. Whether it is a human acting as a judge or God Himself, justice and proper trials must come first. 

Hebrew Bible Academy New Courses May 2022 Sodom and Gomorrah

Lesson #2: The Outraged People of Sodom and Gomorrah Demand to Know the Angels. What does KNOW mean?

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ 22 May 2022

The second episode of the story takes place in a different setting. Now we see Lot inviting two strangers to his home in Sodom. Did he recognize them as angels?

What were the angels doing in Sodom? Were they testing Lot to see if he deserves rescuing, or were they in the city to confirm, firsthand, if there is a way to save the city? 

Why did the people of Sodom come to Lot’s house in a rage when they found that Lot was harbouring strangers? What were the real intentions of the people of Sodom when they demanded to know the strangers? Could it have been anything but Sodomy? 

How did Lot act? Did he deserve to be saved? 

Hebrew Bible Academy New Courses May 2022 Sodom and Gomorrah

Before the lessons, please feel free to send me any questions or insight you may have and want me to raise during the discussion. After all, we are all in this journey together.

I am excited and looking forward to be sharing this amazing journey with you.

Ran

The Mortal Sin of Sodom โ€“ What Was It?

Sodom and Gomorrah recap (Genesis 19:1-11)

So far, chapter 19 has been telling us the story of Lot and the Angels in Sodom. It introduces to us the people of Sodom and their customs.  Verse 11, which we covered in our last post, is the end of the first part of Lot’s story. It is a natural place for us to stop and ask ourselves what do we know about the mortal sin of the people of Sodom, a sin so grave that condemned all the citizens to a horrible death and to a complete destruction of their city.

Those who have been following this blog already know that I believe that everything in the Bible has numerous meanings, and that the โ€˜on-the-surfaceโ€™ interpretation is only one out of many. In the story of Sodom, the common interpretation is that their sin was sodomy and rape.

Continue reading

The Disoriented People of Sodom: Why Temporary Blindness?

Sodom and Gomorrah #16 (Genesis 19:10-11)

Lot, who is negotiating with the people of Sodom outside his home, is in great danger. His guests save his life. Now for the first time, they are revealed to us and to Lot as angels. What can we learn from the way they saved Lot?

Genesis 19:10  translation and transliteration. The angels save Lot from the Sodom crowd

Discussion

Whenever I read these two verses, I canโ€™t help but asking myself why the angles only hit the people of Sodom with temporary blindness (ืกึทึผื ึฐื•ึตืจึดื™ื) . After all, in a few short hours the entire city of Sodom is going to be destroyed by fire, and all these people will die. Why donโ€™t the angels simply kill them now? What difference could a few hours make?

This meditation always raises two insights in my mind. First, it reminds me the easy hand on the trigger of our security forces. No, I am not talking about self-defence or protecting other people. What comes to my mind is the killing of law breakers at times when they do not impose a threat.   

Stop! Says the Bible.

This is not how morality and the law should work. Even if a person deserves to die, it is not for the messenger, nor the police to punish them. Their lives should be in the hand of the judge, and only the judge should have the right to punish.

It was not the role of the angles to kill the people of Sodom, and even as they had a good reason, they chose to disable the people without harming them. Punishment will take place in the morning.

The second question that always crosses my mind is who am I to decide that a few extra hours of life do not matter? 

A lot can happen in a few hours: a famous mathematician, Galois, formed an entire theory the night before he was shot in a duel. The novelist Ryoki Inoue, finished three books in a day, and many ordinary people found their peace, repented, or found God, in a flash. A whole lifetime can take place in a few hours, and a few hours of grace is what the angels gave the people of Sodom. After all, it is possible that being struck with temporary blindness could have helped some of the people see the light.

Every moment of life is of utmost value. So letโ€™s not dismiss a few hours when othersโ€™ life are on the line. Letโ€™s not waste them when our own lives are concerned.