lamb-leftWhat the Bible Really Says by J. R. Hyland
From Humane Religion

Chapter 2 - SODOM AND GOMORRAH - Sexual Sins or Social Injustice?

Rising early in the morning Abraham went to the place where he had stood before Yahweh and looking toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and across all the plain, he saw the smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.[1]

On that morning almost four thousand years ago, only acrid, sulfurous smoke rising from the Valley of Siddim marked the place where those thriving Cities of the Plain had lived out their prosperous existence. And today that land still stands desolate—a brooding place where the salt flats beyond the Dead Sea give way to a desert that stretches south for a hundred miles. A dead land riming a dead sea; a place like no other place on earth.[2]

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is a familiar one and those who have read the bible, as well as those who have not, attribute the destruction of those cities to the homosexuality of its inhabitants. But this reflects a human, rather that a biblical, viewpoint.

From antiquity, religious spokesmen have seemed more concerned with denouncing sexual sins than with censuring those whose greed deprives the poor and powerless of their social and economic well-being. And because this value system persists in our own time, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah continues to be presented as a story of sexual deviance.

But this distorted emphasis on sexuality is refuted by two of the great prophets of Israel, Isaiah and Ezekiel.  Both of them condemned the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah in their oracles, and both of them made it clear that it was the abuse of the poor and powerless that was the besetting sin of Sodom.

The book of the Prophet Isaiah begins with a diatribe in which he compares the people of his own time and their rulers, to those who had lived in Sodom and Gomorrah a thousand years before. “Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah!”[3]  And the sins that the prophet goes on to enumerate and compare to the sins of Sodom have to do with oppression and injustice, not with homosexuality. “Take you vile deed out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, rebuke the oppressor. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”[4]

The prophet then describes Jerusalem as a city that “once was full of justice…(But now) rulers are rebels, companions of thieves, they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them.”[5] And Isaiah goes on to warn the people that their nation will be  destroyed, just as surely as Sodom had been, if they do not correct these sins of social injustice. “Jerusalem staggers, Judah is falling…The look on their faces testifies against them; they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves”[6]

But the warnings of Isaiah and the other prophets who spoke of the sins of social injustice were ignored. They were speaking to a powerful nation whose people were convinced that their prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing. And the establishment priests and prophets who shared in that prosperity kept assuring the people of the Lord’s favor and protection. But in spite of such promises, the nation met with disaster. In 87 B.C. Jerusalem was invaded by the Babylonian Army. The Temple was destroyed and the city was razed to the ground.

The survivors were exiled to Babylon and during that Exile the Prophet Ezekiel was called to be a spokesman for the Lord. He reminded the people of the way they had indulged themselves and oppressed each other in the years before their country was defeated by the Babylonians. And just as the Prophet Isaiah had done centuries before, Ezekiel compared the sins of Jerusalem to those of Sodom.

“As I live—it is the Lord Yahweh who speaks—your sister Sodom and her daughters have not been as bad as you and your daughters. The crime of your sister Sodom was pride, gluttony, arrogance, complacency; such were the sins of Sodom and her daughters. They never helped the poor and needy.[7]

As with Isaiah, there is no mention of sexual sins in Ezekiel’s indictment of the people of Sodom. Their sin was that “they never helped the poor and needy.” But in spite of this biblical witness to the nature of its sins, even those who read the scriptures persist in attributing the destruction of Sodom to the homosexuality of its inhabitants.

The actual story of Sodom begins with the 18th chapter of Genesis and tells how the Patriarch Abraham was visited by two messengers who were sent by God. Although Abraham lived some distance from Sodom, his nephew Lot lived there and because of this, the Patriarch was warned that something terrible was going to happen.

Abraham is told “there are terrible accusations against Sodom and Gomorrah and their sin is very great.”[8] In fact, things were so bad that both cities were doomed;  not even ten righteous men could be found in them.

The biblical record makes it clear that even before the messengers of the Lord   arrived in Sodom, and were subjected to the harassment of a mob, its fate had been decided. The Bible also makes it clear that along with the injustices and the lust for power and wealth described by the Prophets, the inhabitants of Sodom had become sexually degenerate. But it was an abusive and coercive sexuality, not homosexuality per se – that marked the men of Sodom. The Bible describes the scene that took place.

“All the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight. Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.’ Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said ‘No my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do any-thing to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”[9]

offered to turn over his daughters to the mob if they would honor his obligation to protect his guests. He knew the people who were milling around the house. They were his neighbors and if they were homosexual he would not have bothered to make such an offer. The traditional explanation that homosexuality caused the destruction of Sodom ignores the heterosexual depravity that allowed a father to offer his young daughters to an abusive mob, “to do with what you want.”

Until the present time, the interpreters of the scriptures have all been males and they seem unable to imagine anything worse—anything more sinful—than the possibility of the rape of other men. They are outraged by this threat to male autonomy that would render them powerless over their own bodies. The comment of Adam Clarke LL.D, a much honored biblical scholar, is typical: “(The crime of homosexuality) is the deepest disgrace to human nature.”

Scholarly texts label what the men of Sodom did an “unforgivable sin” because of their “ruthless determination to harm and molest apparently defenseless people; strangers to whom every hospitality was due.”[10]  Those commentators, indignant over sexually threatened males, have little to say about the depravity of a culture in which Lot is willing to abandon his daughters to the sexual fury of a mob. In fact, he is lauded for his good manners.

The best selling International Bible Commentary (IBC), which proclaims itself “an indispensable resource for all students of the Bible,” offers this comment for the edification of its readers; “When Lot offers his virgin daughters to the men of Sodom he is being the consummate host. He is willing to sacrifice his most precious possess-ions to uphold his honor by protecting his guests.”[11]

The IBC fails to note that after escaping the destruction of Sodom, this “consummate host” had incestuous relationships with both of his most precious possessions, each of whom bore him a child.”[12]  So although the Genesis account gives clear evidence that the unbridled sexuality of Sodom could find a target in either heterosexual or homosexual activity, religious leaders continue to substitute their own prejudices for the biblical record. They continue to insist that the sin of Sodom was sodomy.

Along with disregarding the sequence of events reported in the Genesis story, they refuse to acknowledge the heterosexual depravity reported in the account. They also ignore the oracles of Isaiah and Ezekiel which spoke of greed and injustices as the besetting sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Instead of speaking out against the injustices and suffering caused by the greedy and powerful, preachers and scholars reserve their indignation for those whose sexual practices they find offensive.  The Bible does not tell us which comes first; unbridled greed or unrestrained sexuality. But it does tell us that the people of Sodom were condemned because “they never helped the poor and needy.” And it tells us that rampant social injustice, not homosexuality, caused the downfall of Sodom and Gomorrah.

[1]   Genesis 10:27, 28.  JB

[2]   The Dead Sea is the lowest point on the earth’s surface (at its deepest point, it is more than 1300 hundred feet below sea level).

[3]   Isaiah 1:10.  Quotations are from the New International Version of the Bible, unless otherwise indicated.

[4]   Isaiah 1:16, 17.     NIV

[5]   Isaiah 1:23.           NIV

[6]   Isaiah 3:8. 9          NIV

[7]   Ezekiel 16:48-50. JB

[8]   Genesis 18:20 TEV

[9]   Genesis 19: 4-8. NIV

[10]   The International Bible Commentary. P,. 128

[11]   Scholars also excuse Lot’s depraved indifference to his daughters by saying that because the messengers were from God, they deserved special protection. But a similar story of male protection at the expense of the female is told in the book of Judges 19:23-25.  NIV

[12]  Genesis 19:36  NIV

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