In Genesis 18, Yahweh tells Abraham that the noise of an “outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah” has been so loud, it’s reached him up in his abode above the skies. He says, “I must go down and see if they are as wicked as the outcry suggests”, which implies that he’s not as “all-knowing” as some of our systematic theologians tell us he is.
As it turns out, he changes his mind and delegates two members of his celestial ‘vice squad’ to do some surveillance during which, Abraham’s nephew Lot kindly welcomes them into his home for a bite to eat. The meal is interrupted by the arrival, not of some, but of “all the men” of Sodom “both young and old” (this is a story after all). When Lot opens the door to this gigantic mob, they tell him to hand over his visitors so “we can take carnal knowledge of them“. From the heights of refusing to do so, because “they have come under the protection of my roof“, Lot descends to the depths of offering them his two virginal daughters instead, to “do to them whatever you please“. The ‘protection of his roof’, never mind paternal duty of care, doesn’t seem to apply to his daughters.
All the men “kept pressing in on Lot until they were close enough to break down the door“, at which point his visitors pulled him inside, and “struck the men with blindness” so that they “wore themselves out trying to find the door” – a door that was right in front of their noses, but let’s not spoil a good story. At daybreak, his celestial guardians shepherded Lot and family to safety, before “Yahweh rained down sulphur and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah.” Such a pity, of course, about Lot’s wife!
Are we to take it, then, that these two cities were destroyed because of excessively rampant homosexuality? Let’s not be too hasty. Let’s take note of what’s said in Ezekiel 16 : “This was the iniquity of Sodom – she had abundance of food, and enjoyed carefree ease, but they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and practised abominable deeds” – the only “abominable deeds” mentioned being those of selfish and heartless social injustice. In Isaiah 1, Yahweh says, “Listen you leaders of Sodom, remove your sinful deeds, promote justice, give the oppressed reason to celebrate, take up the cause of the orphan, defend the rights of the widow.” And in Amos 5, “I absolutely despise your festivals. I get no pleasure from your religious assemblies .. Justice must flow like torrents of water, righteous actions like a stream that never dries up.” To the Hebrew prophets, religious observances were empty shows when practised by those who “trample on the dirt-covered heads of the poor” and “push the destitute away“.
And along with this demand for social justice, goes that previous emphasis on the supreme importance of hospitality, which is concisely summed up in the Oxford Companion to the Bible : “Hospitality was an unwritten law, and the stranger was regarded as divinely protected“. Inhospitable behaviour, like any act of social injustice, was quite simply an “abominable deed“.
In sum, taking into consideration all the hundreds of pages of the Hebrew Bible, homosexuality is a marginal and minor issue, whereas providing hospitality for the visitor and stranger, and prioritising social justice for the deprived and disadvantaged, are central and major issues. That seems to me to be a good balance for ‘bible believers’ to keep in mind.
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