Sodom and Gomorrah. This is one of those stories from the Bible that we think we know, but we probably haven’t heard many sermons preached about this text. It doesn’t come up in the lectionaries for pastors who follow one of the lectionaries for choosing Scriptures. Have you preached this text before?
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is a story that we think we know what it’s about. It’s been used as an argument for judgment of a select group of people. I want to offer us a different interpretation of the story of these 2 depraved cities and reflect on what their sin may reveal to us about our own sin.
I’m going to read and preach if you’d like to open your Bibles to Genesis Chapter 18 you can follow along as I go. I want to start with the beginning of chapter 18 because Abraham and Sarah’s story is the antithesis to Sodom and Gomorrah.
Abraham and Sarah are visited by 3 men whom we assume are angels. Abraham is very gracious to his guests. He gives them water to wash their feet and allows them to rest in the shade under one of his trees. Abraham offered them bread in his initial invitation to clean feet and rest. But, Abraham decides to go all out having Sarah make cakes. He has a choice calf slaughtered and prepared. He had milk and curds and the cakes and calf brought before his guests. In response to Abraham’s hospitality, the men offered him a blessing. They announced Abraham and Sarah would have a long awaited child.
The men who had visited Abraham and Sarah then turned toward Sodom. Abraham goes with them. God decides to let Abraham in on His plan to investigate Sodom. The Lord had heard great cries against Sodom and Gomorrah for their sin. God tells Abraham that He is sending His men to check out Sodom and Gomorrah and plans to destroy them for their sin if the reports are true.
Abraham draws near to God and asks, “Will you kill the righteous with the wicked? What if there are 50 righteous people within the city? Will you kill them all and not forgive the city on account of the 50 righteous people there? You are too great to do such a thing, to kill the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous suffer the same as the wicked. Aren’t you going to judge justly?”
The Lord said, “If I find 50 righteous people in Sodom, I will forgive the whole city.”
Abraham said, “I am but dust and ashes, but let me ask you. What if there are 5 less than 50 righteous people? Would you destroy the whole city just because there are 5 less than 50 righteous people?”
God said, “I will not destroy it if there are 45 righteous people there.”
Abraham asks, “What about 40?”
God said, “For the sake of 40 I will not destroy the city.”
Abraham continued, “Don’t be angry if I speak again. Suppose there are 30 righteous people?”
God said, “I will not do it if there are 30 righteous people there.”
Abraham tried again, “What about 20?”
God said, “Okay, 20.”
Abraham tried one last time, “I’ll ask just once more, Lord. What about 10?”
God said, “For the sake of 10, I will spare the city.”
The Lord went His way and Abraham returned. Now, somehow the 3 men who visited Abraham become 2 angels. Perhaps 1 of the men was God and He went His own way sending the other 2 men who were angels to Sodom to check things out.
The 2 angels find Abraham’s nephew Lot sitting at the city gates of Sodom. Lot bowed before the angels. Lot invited the angels to stay the evening at his house. He said they could wash their feet and rest; then, rise early in the morning to go along.” The angels said they preferred to spend the night in the city square. Lot urged them and they agreed to go to his house. He made them a feast of unleavened bread and they ate.
Now, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah goes downhill from here. But, before we get to the rest of the story, I want to talk about hospitality. The Jewish law of hospitality was to offer a guest to your home or a stranger to your city the basics of bread, water, shelter and protection. Jews were obligated to offer strangers food and a place to rest. The story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis chapter 18 is the beginning of the Jewish hospitality tradition that becomes a law. In the Old Testament Law which is in the book of Leviticus, chapter 19 is the book of ritual and moral holiness. Verses 33 – 34 include the law of hospitality: “when an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Let’s keep in mind the law of hospitality as we continue the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Before the angels went to bed, the people of the city, the young ones and the old ones, all the people, not just the men, all the people, men, women and children, surrounded Lot’s house. They shouted, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us.” Lot knew they did not intend to treat these men well. Lot went out to the people of the city and begged them not to be so wicked. He offered his 2 daughters to them to do as they pleased if they did not harm the men.
That’s how important hospitality is. Lot was willing to sacrifice his daughters instead of allowing his guests to be treated poorly. Lot knew that his Jewish faith required him to protect his guests at all costs. Lot begged the people, “Don’t do it for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” But, the city people didn’t want to hear Lot’s argument. They turned on Lot.
One of the angels reached out the door and snatched Lot back in the house. They struck the people of the city with blindness so that they could not find the door to get in to hurt them.
The people’s sin was not that they violated the angels or Lot or his daughters. Nothing ever happened between the people of the city and their guests. It was their intent that killed them. They had violated God’s law of hospitality by intending to do harm to their guests. The angels were not just guests to Lot; when the angels entered the city gates, they became the responsibility of the whole city. They were ultimately destroyed because they had violated God’s law, not the angels.
The story ends with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. God rained down sulfur and fire and the whole plain, all the inhabitants, the whole ground was scorched…because God had not found 1 righteous person in all of Sodom and Gomorrah. Not a man, not a woman, not a child. They were all destroyed.
This story is one that calls us to reflect on our willingness to show kindness and generosity to others. It calls us to reflect on our willingness to be compassionate with others and to protect others.
When we meet God, He will not ask us how big our home was. He will ask us how we treated the people who came to our home.
When we meet God, he will not ask us what we had for dinner. He will ask us what we fed to the person who was hungry and came to us for food.
When we meet God, he will not ask us what our job was or what our title was. He will ask us if we worked for justice.
Throughout the Old Testament Law and prophets and in the words of Jesus, 3 sins of the Jewish people are revealed. They are: withholding hospitality, neglecting the poor, widows and orphans, and false worship of God. The story of Abraham and Sarah and Sodom and Gomorrah is the first of the Bible indicating the need for God’s people to protect the vulnerable who come to us for help.
We have to ask ourselves: are we willing to be as generous and compassionate as God is or do we want to feel safe and secure forsaking others?