Sodom and Gomorrah #13 (Genesis 19:6-7)
With the people of Sodom surrounding his house, demanding to surrender the angels to them, Lot comes out and try to talk them out of their evil way. How can we explain that the very same events and words happens again in the story of Levite’s concubine (Judges 19:23)?
It’s all about the intentions
Why does Lot use the word תָּרֵעוּ (do evil)? He does not say, “don’t kill them”; he does not say, “don’t harm them.” Instead, he says, “Do not do evil.” Why?
One of the most difficult tasks facing any judge, past or present, is figuring out the intention of the person who committed the crime. With good forensic evidence, eyewitnesses, modern science, it is quite often possible to establish the details of many crimes. But once the facts are established, one question always remains, the mindset of the criminal while committing the act: were they aware of what they were doing? Could they comprehend the consequences of their actions? Were they sane? Could they tell good from evil, and did they know they were committing a crime?
Establishing their intentions, would determine the severity of their punishment.
While we may argue what plans the people of Sodom might have had towards the angels (the Bible deliberately does not tell us clearly their intentions), Lot has to establish that the people of Sodom are aware that their plans are evil.
After all, in a society in which murder, for instance, is the norm, killers do not consider murder to be evil. Lot had to bring it to their attention. More than that, the Bible had to bring it to our attention, too. The Bible wants us to be clear beyond doubt that the people of Sodom were aware of their actions, and therefore, the horrible punishment they received was just. They plan evil and know it is evil. There are no mitigating circumstances.
But this is controversial point. Something many disagree with. So, I would like to discuss it further. If the Bible is speaking to us, the readers, making sure that we know, beyond doubt, that they are guilty, what does it say about Lot’s actual words? Were these the very words Lod said, or can the Bible misrepresent them to ensure we are clear about the message? In other words, could there be factual inaccuracies in the Bible?
Truth vs. historical facts
In Judges 19 we read a story of Levite’s concubine. The story begins exactly like the story of Lot: A man, his woman, and his servant stay for the night at a man’s house in the city of Giv’ah. While having dinner, the people of the city surround the house and demand from the host to surrender his guests (sounds familiar?) The man refuses, pleading, using Lot’s very words (verse 23):
How likely is it that two events hundreds of years apart, are not only replication of each other, but the people involved use the very same words? Is it possible that the Bible is bending the truth to strengthen the message?
We all know of many Jesus’s parables. He loved them and used many. For example: The Two Debtors, or The Lost Sheep. Jesus did so, not to tell us about particular people, but rather to teach us lessons that otherwise, would have been too hard, if not impossible, to understand. Would anyone shout, “Who are these debtors?” Would anyone claim that Jesus was a liar because no such debtors ever existed? Of course not. The stories were true even if the events had never happened.
And this is something we often forget. Truth is not the same as historical facts.
The Bible is true, because it tells us about things that matter, things of the utmost importance, using words and concepts we can understand. And just like Jesus, if a parable is the best way to make us understand a concept, then the Bible uses parables, and if changing words is what needed, than the Bible changes words.
Many confuse truth and historical facts, and are fixated with the historical factuality of particular stories, rather than the message they come to tell us. But for me, the history, as interesting as it may be, does not make a difference. I am interested in the truth alone, and I trust the Bible with telling it to me in ways that touch my heart and soul. As for the historical facts – I am happy to leave the matter to historians.
So what is the truth in the case of Lot?
In my view, this verse comes to tell us that the intentions behind actions are as important as the actions themselves. This is true when we judge others, and even truer when we ourselves take action. And why is the Bible telling it to us twice? To answer this question I will quote Joseph’s telling king Pharaoh why he had two dreams (Genesis 41:32):
.וְעַל הִשָּׁנוֹת הַחֲלוֹם אֶל-פַּרְעֹה, פַּעֲמָיִם–כִּי-נָכוֹן הַדָּבָר מֵעִם הָאֱלֹהִים, וּמְמַהֵר הָאֱלֹהִים לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ
And for that the dream appeared to Pharaoh twice, it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.