God comes to Abraham and Sarah, again affirming that they will have a child, and they both laugh! This occurs in both accounts of God foretelling the birth of Isaac, with Abraham laughing in the 17:1-21 account, and Sarah in the 18:1-15 account. The idea that they could have a child at such an old age sounded ridiculous to them, despite the fact that it came from God.
We might look at this and say, God told them they were going to have a son, how could they not believe! But I wonder, should God reveal his plans for our lives, would we not find it equally ridiculous and crazy, and perhaps laugh at the suggestion that we could do such a thing?
The birth of Isaac is foretold as part of God’s covenant with Abraham, and in chapter 17 we get our first picture of what God expects in return: circumcision. What??? Why, of all things, is THIS what God requires as a symbol of his covenant? It just seems like an odd (and painful) request. What was the purpose of this being the sign and seal of God’s covenant with his people?
Perhaps it was because no one would think to do this on their own, and so God sets a unique identifying feature for his people, to set them apart as the holy nation they were to be.
I find it convicting the humility and fear with which Abraham approaches God as he intercedes for Sodom and Gomorrah; many times I find myself coming before God with pride and expectation.
No discussion of this portion of Scripture would be complete without addressing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The commonly held belief says that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was homosexuality, and it was for this sin the cities were destroyed. However, this appears to be a flawed interpretation, eisegeting the text to fit the reader’s cultural beliefs and assumptions. This isn’t helped by most modern translations which interpret the Hebrew word ונדעה, ‘that we may know’ (from the root ידע – “to know”) as “that we may have sex with.” While this is an acceptable Hebrew idiom used elsewhere (clearly in 19:8), by translating it as such in 19:5 the translators preclude the possibility of a different meaning, not to mention losing the rich depth of meaning in the word “to know” used in reference to sex. (See the ESV for a more literal translation of the Hebrew in this passage)
So we are left with the question at hand, why were Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed? The best place to begin in answering a question like this is, what does the text say explicitly? Twice the reason for the destruction of the cities is given: once in chapter 18, and again in chapter 19.
Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.” – Genesis 18:20-21
For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it. – Genesis 19:13
The outcry against the city and its people is the reason it is destroyed, an outcry brought about because of some unspecified grave sin. So what is the outcry about? This answer can be found throughout scripture: there are two different Hebrew words here that are translated as “outcry,” and they show up hundreds of times in Scripture. To list a few: Gen. 4:10; 41:55; Ex. 2:23; 14:10; Num. 11:2; Deut 26:7; Josh 24:7; Jdg. 3:9; 3:15; 4:3; 6:7; 10:10; Job 19:7; 34:28; 35:9; Ps. 9:12; 22:5; Pr. 12:13; Is. 19:20.
The outcry is almost always directed to God from a people being oppressed, including a vast number of references to Israel’s slavery and oppression in Egypt. So, we have a correlation between these words we translate “cry out,” and oppressed people being taken advantage of. This conclusion is confirmed in Ezekiel 16:49:
Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. -Ezekiel 16:49
As for the incident in Genesis 19, travelers were among the most vulnerable people in ancient times; AAA wasn’t there to get them out of a jam! When staying in a city, travelers would go to the city square, and a citizen would invite them into their home for the night. Hospitality customs were extremely valued in the Ancient Near East (ANE). So, Lot was fulfilling the duties of hospitality and protecting the vulnerable.
The men of the city, however, do not have protecting the vulnerable in mind. Whether their desire “to know” the visitors is literal in the sense of interrogation (an often painful and violent process in that time), or it is idiomatic of their desire to have sex with the visitors, they clearly desire to take advantage of those in a vulnerable position.
Finally, even if the passage is referring to a desired homosexual activity, it is not the homosexuality being discussed today. Rather, it is homosexual rape akin to a practice of the time in which conquering armies would rape the defeated as a form of degradation and a show of superiority.
Conclusively, this is the alternate interpretation I would like to present: that Sodom’s true sin was that they were oppressors, taking advantage of the vulnerable. So, the next time you are discussing homosexuality and want to bring Scripture into the discussion, think twice about referencing this passage, and ask yourself what interpretation the text truly supports. (Unless you are decrying homosexual rape, then by all means go ahead and use Genesis 19! Though I don’t think you’d have to convince anyone that is wrong…)
More on another interesting interpretation here.