Genesis 19:1-29 – The Sins of Sodom
SummaryGenesis 19 illustrates the nature of the wicked situation in Sodom that has prompted the divine inquiry, and its destruction takes place.
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).