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 ‘on-the-surface’ interpretation is only one out of many. In the story of Sodom, the common interpretation is that their sin was sodomy and rape.
Lot and the angels finished their feast and are getting ready for bed. But somehow, despite the guests’ attempt to hide their presence, the people of Sodom find about it, and they all come to siege Lot’s house. Is Sodomy their intention?
We do not know how the people of Sodom discovered that Lot was having guests for the night. After all, the angles had sneaked in; they prepared unleavened bread to ensure that no smoke or smell came out of the house to hint that a meal is taking place. Yet, they were found out.
It was probably enough for one person to find out, and the rumour started spreading like fire. “Lot has guests! What a sacrilegious!” they must have shouted to each other, as they were rushing toward Lot’s home. As we will see in verse 9, the people of Sodom called for justice to be done, justice by the laws of Sodom. Then, when they reach Lot’s home, they demand he must surrender the people out to them, so they could know them.
And this single word, ְנֵדְעָה, (we will know them) started the legend of Sodom and Sodomy.
The verb ידע (know) and its derivatives appears in the Bible over 950 times. Out of these, in all but about a few cases it appears in the meaning of knowledge, to be acquainted with, to be familiar with, and other similar meanings. Only in a few dozen cases it appears in the ‘Biblical sense’, that is, euphemism for having sex.
But is it the meaning here?
I am the first to admit that there is no way to deny it. After all, it is also clear, as we’ll see in the next verse, that the intentions of the people of Sodom were evil. But couldn’t they have wanted to kill them? Couldn’t death have been the penalty of breaking the law? Could it have been lashes?
What were the real intentions of the people of Sodom? The Bible does not tell us. Could it have been Sodomy? It could have. But there is a difference between knowing that it might have been Sodomy, to the clarity that it can be nothing else. The truth is that as the Bible does not tell us, and that we will never know for sure.
In my view, the interpretation of this single word נֵדְעָה, is one of the places that the Bible is hiding things from us, allowing us to test our own minds and find out about ourselves, and what we see in an ambiguity.
So what does ‘know’ mean in this case? All we can say is that we do will never know for sure, and this ambiguity must be on purpose.
Lot insists on inviting the messengers (or angels, as we have seen in a previous post). They accept and, not to be seen by the people of Sodom, they take the round route to Lot’s house. He offers them hospitality. Can we learn anything from the meal he prepares?
We have now finished with the trial of Sodom and Gomorrah, and we already know that God condemned the cities to imminent destruction. We move from the scene of the trial to Sodom itself, where Lot, Abraham’s brother’s son, has made his home. This is where he met the angels. But is it what they were?
Sodom is a town near the Dead Sea in the middle of the desert. It is the lowest city in the world, and one of the hottest. In summer temperatures can rise above 45oC (113oF). In winter it can be in the mid 30soC (90oF). With such temperatures you do not leave your home during the day. But when evening falls, everyone goes out to breath the fresh air, do their errands, meet other people, and socialise. The gates of the city, where merchants and visitors enter before the night, is where all action happens. It is where the hotels and the markets are. This is where Lot is spending his evening, maybe for pleasure, maybe waiting for new potential customers or suppliers to enter the city. The Bible does not tell us the reason he is there.
The gate of Sodom is where Lot meets the two messengers. We do not know who they are. Many suggest that they are two of the three that visited Abraham in Genesis 18. But we do not know for sure. The Bible does not tell us.
Are they angels, that is celestial beings, as many translations suggest?
We do not know that either. The Hebrew word used here is מַּלְאָכִים. This word can be translated either as angels, or, more often, as messengers. As we can see, for example, in Genesis 32:4.
But even if they were Angels, did Lot know they were?
The next portion of the verse וַיַּרְא–לוֹט is commonly translated as and Lot saw. If you believe that this translation is correct then we have no indication whether Lot recognised the messengers as anything other than normal people.
However, there is another way to translate the word וַיַּרְא and this is To become afraid or fearful.
These are two different translations, each gives a different meaning to Lots following action. In the first, he bows down with his face to the ground. If he did that without knowing who they were, we learn of Lot as a respectful, welcoming person, a person who cares about other people, whoever they might be. On the other hand, if he recognised them as more than human, we learn nothing about his personality, and how he views other people. After all, there is no righteousness in doing the right thing out of fear.
But whether or not Lot recognised who they is also important, as we will see later in the chapter, to understanding the people of Sodom and their sins. So lets keep this point in mind, when we continue reading the rest of the chapter.
The Bible does not tell us which of the two interpretation is the right one. Do you have any clue that makes you prefer one interpretation over the other?
This is a story the Bible tells about a man who starts his life toiling in the fields as a farmer and ends up building a city. He calls this city after his son, and then he starts a dynasty that helps shaping human civilisation.
What an inspiring story it can be, what an inspiration it is for anyone that is facing a major life change, to anyone who mourns what they are leaving behind, and cannot see the opportunities ahead.
Only that this story has a catch. To start his transition into the position of power, the man must first get punished for a murder. But not just of anyone. He first has to kill his own little brother.
In Gen 4:15 God accepts Cain’s concern for his own safety. He provides Cain with a sign, a protection no other man has ever received. This sign not only voids Cain’s ‘punishment’, it also ensures that Cain’s future would turn out to be better than the farming life he was leaving behind.
In Genesis 4:12-13 God continues to elaborate on the consequences of Cain ’s action. This verse makes us wonder, again, if a punishment was handed by God, or is God elaborating on the consequences as a matter of cause and effect?
Cain follows with an ambiguous defence statement, which can be interpreted either as an admission of guilt, or the exact opposite.
Gen 4:7 is one of the most powerful verses in the Bible.
After rejecting Cain’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 follow up post, also defines sin, and instructs us how we must deal with it.
But before we can continue to verse 7, let’s start with verse 6.
By now (Genesis 4:4-5) we already know 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 rejecting his offering?