The location of the city of Sodom is not known for certain; many scholars consider it to have been located southeast of the Dead Sea. The area lies in a geological rift, extending from Turkey to East Africa; the Dead Sea area is its lowest point (some 1300 feet below sea level). The area has extensive sulfur and bitumen deposits, with petrochemical springs (see Genesis 14:10; 19:24; Deuteronomy 29:23). An earthquake with associated fires ("brimstone" is sulfurous fire) may have ignited these deposits, producing an explosion that "overthrew" Sodom and neighboring cities (including Gomorrah). In other words, this was an ecological catastrophe occasioned by the geology of the region, but clearly linked here to human wickedness.
What were the sins of Sodom? God's initial report regarding the sins of Sodom refers to an "outcry" (18:20-21; 19:13), language also used to describe oppressed Israel in Egypt (Exodus 2:23; 3:7). This language suggests that the sins of Sodom essentially involve issues of social injustice, as do the references to Sodom in Jeremiah 23:14 and Ezekiel 16:49. A wide range of behavior is mentioned in these texts, including neglect of the poor and needy, lies, greed, and luxury. Jesus' single reference to the sins of Sodom refers to the inhospitable treatment of the visitors by the townsmen (Matthew 10:14-15; 11:23-24). Of the nearly thirty references to Sodom and Gomorrah in the rest of the Bible, only one text explicitly refers to sexual behavior, and that seems to have reference to sex with angels, the visitors to Sodom (Jude 7).
Many traditional interpretations of the sins of Sodom have focused on same-sex activity (19:5-8). At the same time, the text specifically states that the threat against the angelic visitors comes from every man in the city (19:4). If all these men had succeeded in doing what they had threatened to do, the result would have been gang rape, abusive violence, and savage inhospitality. The text thus does not speak of nonviolent sexual behavior or of homosexual orientation and activity as such. The abusive activity is thus best seen as parallel to male/male rape in time of war (witness, say, Bosnia) or in prisons, where the resident prisoners thereby seek to dominate newcomers (see also the similar story in Judges 19).
19The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2He said, Please, my lords, turn aside to your servants house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way. They said, No; we will spend the night in the square. 3But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. 4But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; 5and they called to Lot, Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them. 6Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, 7and said, I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof. 9But they replied, Stand back! And they said, This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them. Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near the door to break it down. 10But the men inside reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. 11And they struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they were unable to find the door.
12 Then the men said to Lot, Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the citybring them out of the place. 13For 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. 14So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, Up, get out of this place; for the Lord is about to destroy the city. But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.
15 When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, Get up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or else you will be consumed in the punishment of the city. 16But he lingered; so the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and left him outside the city. 17When they had brought them outside, they* said, Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, or else you will be consumed. 18And Lot said to them, Oh, no, my lords; 19your servant has found favour with you, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life; but I cannot flee to the hills, for fear the disaster will overtake me and I die. 20Look, that city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape thereis it not a little one?and my life will be saved! 21He said to him, Very well, I grant you this favour too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. 22Hurry, escape there, for I can do nothing until you arrive there. Therefore the city was called Zoar.* 23The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar.
24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulphur and fire from the Lord out of heaven; 25and he overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. 26But Lots wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
27 Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord; 28and he looked down towards Sodom and Gomorrah and towards all the land of the Plain, and saw the smoke of the land going up like the smoke of a furnace.
29 So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the Plain, God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had settled.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org