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9. Guilt and Destruction of Sodom—Sequel: Lot’s Degeneracy (19:1-38)
Though strictly speaking this chapter is not a portion of the history of the chosen people, yet it relates an occurrence that was to teach the chosen people a lesson for all times to come; for the site of this calamity was upon the borders of the land of promise. Besides, the chapter shows how even a pottion of the relatives of Abraham undergoes a rather rapid deterioration.
From another point of view this chapter is not an independent one but marks the sequel to the preceding. The facts of the previous chapter lead inevitably to this one, and so both are usually treated together under one caption.
There is hardly a more horrible account anywhere on the pages of Holy Writ. Both the degeneracy here described as well as the catastrophic overthrow of the cities involved are calculated to startle by their lurid and gruesome details. Luther confessed that he could not read the chapter without a feeling of deep revulsion (es geht mir durch mein ganzes Herz).
Nor should we overlook the fact that the destruction of Sodom is a type of the final overthrow of the wicked and impenitent in the final judgment, as well as of the deliverance of the righteous. Conditions such as are depicted here may be expected to repeat themselves in increasing measure before the end of time.
1, 2. And the two angels came to Sodom at evening time, as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom; and when Lot noticed them, he arose to meet them, and bowed with his face to the ground. And he said: Behold now, sirs, turn aside, I pray, unto the house of your servant, and spend the night, and wash your feet, and ye shall arise early and be on your way. And they said: No, for we shall pass the night in the broad place (of the city).
A. V. translates erroneously: "there came two angels"—omitting the definite article. The Hebrew must be rendered: "The two angels came." They are the same two who in 18:22 turned away and went toward Sodom. Criticism for some unknown reason erases "angels" and substitutes "men." The text merely grows more specific at this point. Those who first appeared merely as "men" are now clearly revealed to be angels. If they arrived "at evening time," having left Hebron perhaps early in the afternoon, they had covered a distance of at least thirty-five miles in six hours, that is to say, in about half the time it would have taken men. The article with "evening" is the article of customary things—Artikel der Connexitaet—(K. S. 299 b); that is, the evening that must follow after the day which is under consideration.
The "gate" of the city where Lot is at the time is the common resort of all men, especially of the elders of a city. There legal matters are adjudicated, transactions closed, bargains made, and affairs discussed. Lot’s presence here will hardly be accounted for on the assumption that he was on the lookout for guests in order to afford his hospitality an opportunity to welcome chance strangers. Strangers cannot have been so common in those days. Rather, Lot’s presence in the gate constitutes a reproach to the otherwise good and "righteous" man (2 Pet. 2:8). After having first moved down into the Plain of Sodom (13:11), he presently chose Sodom itself as his dwelling place (13:12); and now finally he has arrived at the point where the activities, the bustle and stir are looked upon with a more or less tolerant interest. This much cannot be denied in reference to Lot, that when the approach of the strangers was noticed by him, he promptly advances to them with a gracious invitation. He is not ignorant of the danger that threatens chance visitors in such a town. He arises to meet them and bows with the customary respectful oriental salutation, bowing with his face to the ground. ’Appáyim is an adverbial accusative of manner (K. S. 402 h). The same type of excellent courtesy observed in Abraham still marks the nephew. With urgency, ("behold now"—"turn aside, I pray"), he presses his invitation. With humility he designates himself as their "servant." With anxiety for their welfare—for he knows what men in the open must face—and, perhaps, consciously at no small risk to himself he makes his invitation as attractive as possible ("wash your feet," "spend the night"). "Arise early" (shakham) originally meant "to raise the burden to the shoulder," perhaps from nomadic customs of getting underway with the caravans at daybreak.
The angels refuse, but not because they wished to make a test of Lot’s sincerity; for the spirit of the invitation must have been immediately apparent. The reason rather seems to have been, as Luther already suggests, that persons truly humble are very modest and unassuming. Since the angels come in the guise of simple, modest persons, it behooves them to manifest corresponding qualities. Yet what they do serves to display rather prominently the basic difference between this one man, Lot, and the rest of the people of his city.
The purpose stated by the angels—"we shall pass the night in the broad place"—was not so unusual. The climate permitted such a course: wrapped in their robe, travellers frequently spend the night lying on the street. "The broad place" (rechôbh) is an enlarged area just within the city gate, serving as a market place and for the concourse of all manner of people. Usually it is little more than the widening out of the street that connects with the gate. Lo’, "not," is used as "No," (K. S. 352 f). Note the dagesh forte conjunctive in the "l ."
3. But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside after him and entered into his house; and he made a feast for them and baked unleavened bread, and they did eat.
Lot’s hospitality is no mere oriental gesture; it is entirely sincere. So he adds entreaty to his invitation, without doubt because he knows these men to be good men, and knows the danger that awaits them. Lot’s address ’adhonay, which we rendered "sirs," is, according to our interpretation of 18:3, the same as that used by Abraham. We, therefore, consider that at first both Abraham and Lot considered their visitors to be merely good and worthy men. The conclusion drawn by many at this point, that Lot lacked the deeper discernment of Abraham, is without warrant. Perhaps mishteh, which usually means "feast," should here be kept in the primary meaning "drink," because unleavened bread is mentioned after. However, then Lot’s hospitality would have been somewhat niggardly — a cup of wine and bread. For though Lot is a city-dweller, he still, no doubt, was owner of the large herds that had been his when he separated from Abraham. Consequently, the supposition that he was living in reduced circumstances hardly seems warranted.
4, 5. Before they retired, the men of the city, men of Sodom that they were, surrounded the house, young men and old, all the folk without exception, and they cried out to Lot, saying to him: Where are the men who have come to you this night? Bring them forth to us that we may have intercourse with them.
So eager are the people of Sodom to be about their unholy practices that they are already assembled and ready for mischief before Lot’s guests have retired. The expression, "men of Sodom," is no gloss (Kit., etc.), but it rather seems to have been a proverbial designation for outstanding exponents of the vice of sodomy, even while the city yet stood. Therefore we have rendered it "men of Sodom that they were." The horrible proportions to which the vice had grown is indicated, first, by the fact that "young men and old" (Hebrew: "from young to old"), put in their appearance. The fires of unnatural lust burned unabated even in the aged. To make this point unmistakably clear two further modifying phrases are added: the apposition, "all the people," and the phrase, "without exception." This latter expression (miqqatseh) is better understood to mean "without end" (K. W.), i. e., "without exception," the min being a min separationis, and not "from the end," i. e., from the utmost limits of the city; for such cities were but small. Secondly, the enormity of the prevalent vice was indicated by the fact that the sacred duty of hospitality was so completely replaced by the eagerness to practice vile lust that even strangers would be sacrificed to wholesale abuse — a treatment most likely to terminate in death. The events of this evening display a shocking depravity. The facts of the case are now apparent to all the world whether these people "have done altogether according to the cry" which had come unto the Lord. The euphemism, "that we may know them" (nedhe’ah), is not born out of delicacy, for they shout forth their libidinous desires aloud in the streets of the city, cf. Isa. 3:9; Judg. 19:22. The article with "night" is of the same type as that used in v. 1 with "evening," and it could here as there be rendered as demonstrative; here: "this night." Nedhe’ah is cohortative (K. S. 198 b) and really stronger than our translation can readily reproduce, viz., "O that we might know." Note also how the imperative is followed by the cohortative in the last two verbs (K. S. 364n; G. K. 108 d). The particle térem (v. 4), as usual, is followed by the imperfect (G. K. 107 c).
6-8. And Lot went out of the doorway and shut the door after him, and said: I pray you, my brethren, do not act so wickedly. See, I have two daughters, who have never had intercourse with a man; let me, I pray you, bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only as far as these men are concerned, do not do anything to them. For therefore have they come under the protection of my roof.
Lot is not devoid of courage. He himself faces the mob after he has shut the door behind him for the safeguarding of his guests.
7. He uses a kindly address, which can hardly be entirely sincere, "brethren." Perhaps, however, it would be better to describe his attitude as meek tolerance.
8. The kindest interpretation of Lot’s willingness to sacrifice his daughters to the depraved lusts of these evildoers stresses that it was done with the intent of guarding his guests. To that certainly must be added the fact that under the circumstances Lot was labouring under a certain confusion. But Delitzsch’s summary still covers the truth, when he describes Lot’s mistake as being an attempt to avoid sin by sin. In days of old, when an exaggerated emphasis on hospitality prevailed, we might have understood how such a sacrifice could be made by a father. But in our day we cannot but feel the strongest aversion to so unpaternal an attitude. Luther’s attempts to vindicate Lot’s character are quite unconvincing: for Lot could hardly have anticipated with a certain shrewdness that the Sodomites were so bent on this particular form of vileness as to refuse any substitutes. In fact, their refusal to accept Lot’s substitute argues for an intensity of evil purpose that surpasses all comprehension.
Note the enclitic na’, intensifying or adding vividness to a jussive in v. 7 and to a hortative in v. 8 (K. S. 355 b), . Dabhar takes the place of the indefinite pronoun, "anything." "For on that account" here, as in 18:5, is best rendered by the old A. V. translation "for therefore." The substitute "inasmuch as" says far less; cf. the remarks on 18:5. Ha’el for ha’elleh is found eight times in the Pentateuch.
9. And they said: You just come here! And they went on to say: This one fellow came in here merely to sojourn and he has been playing the part of the judge all this while! Now we will deal worse with you than with them. And they pressed hard upon the man, Lot, and they drew near to break down the door.
Gash hale’ah does not mean, "Stand back" (A. V., etc.), for naghash means the opposite, "draw near." Luther is correct: Komm hierher. B D B, which tries to make it mean "approach thither, i. e., move away," does an unwarranted thing. We believe the force of the expression to be quite adequately covered by our colloquial, "You just come here!" The article before ’e(ch)chadh again has demonstrative force: the expression is somewhat derogatory: "this one fellow." By the expression yishpot (with absolute infinitive) used with waw conversive the expression is made to refer to the past, not to the future: "he will needs be judge" (A. V.) or "now he would make himself judge" (Meek). The Sodomites are complaining of what the man has been doing right along: "he has been playing the part of the judge all this while." This shows Lot at his best: he had been Lot the Censor. He had been wont to reprove them for their iniquitous ways. Till now they tolerated it, because they felt that through Abraham they had been delivered for Lot’s sake (14:13 ff. ). Now in their exasperation they threaten to deal worse with Lot than with his guests. In fact, they intend to harm him as well as them, for they "draw near to break down the door."
The second wayyó’mer at the beginning of the verse needs merely be rendered "and they went on to say" and all difficulties are removed (K. S. 368 c). On gesh as a form see G. K. 66 b; of course, it is an imperative from naghash.
10, 11. And the men stretched forth their hands and drew Lot in to them into the house, and closed the door. But the men that were outside the door of the house, they smote with blindness, young and old, so that they wore themselves out trying to find the door.
The angels are here described as "men," because till now they have done or said nothing to indicate their higher character. Consequently Lot’s conduct toward them appears to best advantage, for it could not have been motivated by the knowledge that they were angels. Apparently, the door could not be opened from without. Consequently the angels had to open it if Lot was to gain the safety afforded by his house. His hospitality here receives a full and adequate recompense.
11. "The blindness" (article expressing the idea: that well-know affliction, article of familiar objects, Artikel der absoluten Bekanntheit, K. S. 297 b), which comes as punishment and restraint upon these evildoers, is not blindness in the usual sense. It involves a specific delusion (cf. 2 Kings 6:18): they can see, but they cannot discover the door. Therefore Keil calls it a "mental blindness," adding that it is "a punishment for their utter moral blindness." For in all such punitive measures of God a deeper propriety is always discernible in reference to the very form of punishment that befalls one. By this act the heavenly character and the power of Lot’s guests are made apparent to him. For he must presently have discovered what these heavenly messengers had done.
The provisions made for the deliverance of Lot and the members of his immediate relationship are now to be described.
12, 13. Then the men said unto Lot: Whom hast thou here besides? a son-in-law or thy sons or thy daughters, or anyone else who belongs to thee in the city, Bring such a one out from the place. For we are about to destroy this place, because great is the outcry over them before the face of Yahweh; and Yahweh has sent us to destroy it.
The account still continues to describe Lot’s visitors as "men," for, apparently, their appearance continued as it had from the first. They indicate to Lot that he will be privileged to forewarn any such as may be of his relationship, who may be spared for Lot’s sake. Apparently, the ungodly owe more to the godly in this respect than is usually conceded. The enumeration of persons who might be approached begins with "son-in-law." Apparently that is as remote a connection as will be allowed. But then the obvious ones are also mentioned: "thy sons or thy daughters or anyone else that belongs" to Lot. Chathan, therefore, does not need to be deleted, or its position altered, nor need it be supplied with a suffix. Note: we have translated mî as interrogative, "who," because the indefinite sense "anyone" does not seem sufficiently established (K. S. 72). Lot’s wife is not enumerated as one to be rescued, because that is too obvious.
13. By the summons of v. 12 Lot’s mind has been prepared for the announcement of the impending disaster. So the angels with great kindliness temper the appalling announcement. But when their announcement is made, there is no ambiguity about it: the place is to be destroyed; they themselves are to be the agents of this destruction; the cause that makes this destruction imperative is therefore that the outcry over the inhabitants of the city has reached the point where Yahweh Himself must interfere, in fact, He is the one who has directly commissioned these His agents. Note the participle to describe an impending action (mashchitîm). The suffix am (outcry—theirs) though plural has the noun "place" (maqôm) as its antecedent, a kind of collective (K. S. 346 f).
14. And Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law who had married his daughters, and he said: Rise, go forth from this place; for Yahweh is about to destroy the city. But in the eyes of his sons-in-law he was as one who jests.
The mob having dispersed round about his house, Lot felt that the marvellous protection afforded him a short time before would guarantee his safety on this new mission of mercy. The young men addressed are called "sons-in-law," not by anticipation but because they were such in fact. The participle loqechey should, therefore, not be taken in the less likely sense of "who were about to take." The fact that Lot’s daughters are not separately mentioned as having been appealed to and warned by their father is explained as being too self-evident to require mention, even as Lot’s wife is not mentioned in v. 12. These daughters must, therefore, be regarded as having fully adopted the attitude of their unbelieving husbands. Lot makes his summons urgent: "Rise, go forth"—effective asyndeton. He states the impending danger concisely, and, so, urgently. The sons-in-law regard the matter as a huge joke. They are types of all such as have had all sense of justice and of judgment erased by growing callous in sin. The nearer the judgment comes, the less will men believe it to be impending.
The account tells nothing of the anxiety in which the inmates of Lot’s house spent the night, nor of the heavy forebodings that must have weighted down their minds.
15, 16. When dawn appeared, the angels urged Lot, saying: Up, take thy wife and thy two daughters that are with thee, lest thou be swept away in the punishment of the city. But he lingered; so the men took him, his wife, and his two daughters by the hand, because Yahweh was sparing him; and they brought them forth and set them outside the city.
Lot, though a saint, is a specimen of weak godliness. He lacks the decision and the wholehearted obedience of Abraham. The thought of sacrificing house and home and all his goods makes departure difficult. Yet in the last analysis what are material possessions in an hour of such impending disaster? Lot, who should have acted promptly upon having merely received information, must be exhorted and finally taken by the hand and led forth. In v. 15 the two visitors are called "angels," in v. 16 "men." Both appellations apply, one covering what they in reality are, the other how they actually appear. Bechemlath is the infinitive of chamal, here expressing cause (K. S. 403a). Hannimtsa’ôth —"the ones found" —Nifal participle, could hardly be used with propriety if some of Lot’s daughters did not happen to be found in the house at the moment. This is one of the major arguments for interpreting loqe-chey v. (v. 14) as referring to the past and not to the future.
17. And it came to pass when they had brought them forth outside the city that one of them said: Flee for your life; do not look behind you; and do not stop in all this Round (of the Jordan); to the mountains take your flight lest you be swept away.
Very specific instructions are given to the fugitives at this point. One in particular gives the commandments to be observed, therefore wayyo’mer, singular, with indefinite subject (K. S. 324 d). Again the suggestion of the early versions to make the verb a plural is quite unnecessary. Consequently also, the singular is no indication that the Lord is speaking through the angel. Lot’s delay has made unbending haste a necessity. Nephesh, usually "soul," is used in the sense of life, as often, especially in the expression "flee for your life." The command not to "look behind them" is primarily for the purpose of demonstrating the necessity of utmost haste. The third behest forbids stopping anywhere in the so-called Round (kikkar) of the Jordan, sometimes rendered "the Plain of the Jordan" (see v. 10). Difficult though it will make the flight, they must take their course "to the mountains"—the fourth direction—lest they be swept away. Because the command not to look around is met with in heathen legends (cf. Orpheus and Eurydice), that fact does not yet make every command of that sort in Israelitish history a part of a legendary account. We ourselves may on occasion bid another not to look around without being on our part involved in some legendary transaction.
18-20. And Lot said to them: O no, sirs! See, I pray, thy servant has found favour in your sight, and thou hast displayed great kindness toward me in sparing my life, and I, for my part, am not able to flee to the mountains, lest evil overtake me and I die; look, here is this town near at hand to flee thither—and it is but a tiny place—let me flee to it, pray; (is it not but a tiny place?) that I may escape alive.
Here is a somewhat presumptuous plea by a weak and timid man. He does not seem to realize his extremity, nor to value sufficiently the undeserved favour bestowed upon him. He bargains for further consideration. One is almost tempted to expect that the angels would have given him an impatient and curt refusal. The change of number in the pronouns used ("thy," "your," "thou") seems to spring from Lot’s trepidation: sometimes he addresses both; at times he directs his words to the one who had spoken last. Lot bases his plea on the favour that has been bestowed on him. He reinforces it by a plea of physical inability to reach the mountains. He claims the evil from which God is delivering him will overtake him nevertheless—not a very commendable attitude. Finally, he makes the smallness of the place that he has in mind a plea for sparing it, in case he flees thither. It almost taxes the reader’s patience to bear with this long-winded plea at a moment of such extreme danger. Lot appreciated but little what was being done for him. The ’adhonay of v. 18 is a pausal form with qamets instead of pathach and is not to be read as "Lord," for nothing indicates that Lot had recognized the Lord in these angels. In fact, the Lord had not come down with them to Sodom. On the form ’ûkhal see G. K. 69 r. The suffix object on tidhbaqáni (v. 19) takes the place of a prepositional object (K. S. 22). In v. 20 the question introduced by "ha interrogative," takes the place of an adverbial clause of cause (K. S. 373 f). The nifal ’immaletah has "i" under the prefix (cf. G. K. 51 p). The "and" clause, wattechi, is final (G. K. 109 f.).
21, 22. And he said to him: Behold, I have accepted thee also in regard to this matter not to overthrow the town of which thou hast spoken. Flee there quickly, for I can do nothing until thou hast come there. Therefore the name of the place is called Zoar ("tiny place").
The stress of circumstances does not allow time for argument and counter argument: Lot’s request is granted in a spirit of remarkable patience and longsuffering. The small town is exempted from the calamity to which it had been destined. The angel speaks with a measure of authority which has been granted him as Yahweh’s agent. On the other hand, it is apparent that he is under certain restrictions: he can do nothing until Lot is safe. Zo’ar, the resultant name, builds on the root of the word for "tiny place" (mits’ar) which Lot uses twice. Maher is used as an equivalent of the adverb "quickly" (G. K. 120 g).
Now follows an account of one of the most horrifying events of all history.
23-25. As the sun rose upon the earth, Lot came to Zoar, and Yahweh rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah sulphur and fire from Yahweh from the heavens; and He overthrew those cities and the entire Round and all the inhabitants of the cities and all that sprang forth from the ground.
The catastrophes wrought by God are fully under His control. This one is not unleashed until Lot has safely reached Zoar. But by that time the sun is fully risen. Although only Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned, we learn from Deut. 29:23; cf. Hos. 11:8, that Admah and Zeboiim were involved as well. By adding Zoar to the group we have the so-called Five Cities, i. e., Pentapolis; cf. Ge 14:2, 9. Of course, Zoar was spared.
The means causing the destruction are said to be "sulphur and fire" which Yahweh brought down so plentifully upon these places that He is said to have rained" them upon Sodom and Gomorrah. On this point the account is very concise. Whatever attempt is made to discover more nearly the details of what transpired, such an attempt must stay strictly within the limits of the textual statements. Nothing points directly to a volcanic eruption; nor do lava remains happen to be found in the immediate vicinity (K. C.). Nor does the expression "overthrew" necessarily point to an earthquake. The "fire" which rained down from heaven may have been lightning. The "sulphur" may have been miraculously wrought and so have rained down together with the lightnings, although there is the other possibility that a huge explosion of highly inflammable materials, including sulphur, deposited in the ground (cf. the "bitumen pits" of 14:10) may have cast these materials, especially the sulphur, high into the air so that they rained upon these cities, causing a vast conflagration. Besides, it seems quite likely that after these combustible materials once took fire, the very site of the cities was literally burnt away to quite a depth, and so the waters of the northern part of the Dead Sea filled in the burnt-out area. For it is a well-known fact that the southern end of the Dead Sea hardly exceeds a depth of twelve feet and usually runs much less, i. e., three or four feet. In fact, at certain points it is by no means difficult to wade across the lake. On the other hand, the northern portion reaches a maximum depth of 1300 feet. To assume, then, that the entire lake is the result of this "overthrow," as some have, hardly seems reasonable or in conformity with the Biblical account. A conflagration that would have burnt out the ground to a depth of 1,300 feet cannot be conceived. An earthquake, causing so deep and so broad a fissure in the earth’s crust, would at least have called for the use of the term "earthquake" in this connection, for, apparently, in violence it would have surpassed all earthquakes of which man has a record. Equally difficult would be the assumption that the Jordan once flowed through this delightful valley of the Pentapolis and poured its water into the Elanitic Gulf.
The most significant term used to describe what God did is He "overthrew" (haphakh). The noun derived from this verb root (mahpekhah) comes to be the standing designation of the catastrophe in the Scriptures; cf. Deut. 29:23; Amos 4:11; Jer. 49:18; 50:40; Isa. 13:19. Only that which stands up can be "overthrown." Consequently the verb connotes something of the idea of proud men and institutions being brought low by the Lord who "throws down the mighty from their seats" and lays iniquity prostrate.
But what construction shall we put upon the statement, "Yahweh rained—from Yahweh from the heavens"? We consider Meek’s translation an evasion of the difficulty by alteration of the text, when he renders: "The Lord rained—from the sky." Kit., instead of striking out "from Yahweh,"deletes "from the heavens." However, there is much truth in the claim that the name of God or Yahweh is often used in solemn or emphatic utterances in place of the pronoun that would normally be expected. K. C. lists the instances of this sort that have been met with in Genesis up to this point: Gen. 1:27a, 28a; 5:1b; 8:21a; 9:16b; 11:9b; 12:8b; 18:17a; 19:13b, etc. But that would hardly apply in this case, for our passage would hardly come under the Old Testament saints, but the Church has through the ages always held one and the same truth. Luther says: "This expression indicates two persons in the Godhead."
That more than the destruction of all living beings in the whole affected area is meant is indicated by the added object: "and all that sprang forth from the ground," i. e., tsémach ha’adhamah, or "that which sprouted from the ground." We need hardly go so far as to assume that the more or less combustible soil burned out to a depth of several feet. Perhaps only the low lying sites of the cities were entirely burned, and then, as seems particularly proved by Kyle’s investigation of the site, as the water level of the lake rose, the area covered by the conflagration was slowly inundated.
26. And Lot’s wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
According to the words employed Lot’s wife must already at the time of her looking have been "behind him." This indicates that she was not making as determined efforts to escape as were the others. No one can determine whether "longing, pity, or curiosity" (Delitzsch) impelled her to disregard the very plain divine injunction. Evidently her heart was in the city. She appreciated but little what the delivering angels had done for her. Almost escaped, she allowed her vigilance to relax. So she became a warning example to all who do not make a clear-cut break with the life of wickedness, as Jesus remarkable warning designates her (Luke 17:32). God’s punishment overtook her on the spot, apparently through the agents already operative in the destruction. For she may well have been overtaken by the poisonous fumes and the fiery destruction raining down from heaven hard upon the heels of the fugitives. Rather too drastic a use of the imagination is made when the destructive agent is labelled "lava" (Jamieson), or "huge waves of the Salt Sea" (Procksch). But once overcome, there she lay, apparently not reached by the fire but salt-encrusted by the vapours of the Salt Sea. Lot and his daughters could not have seen this at the time, for to look back would have involved them in the same destruction. Their love for the one lost will, no doubt, have driven them after the havoc of the overthrow had subsided to visit the spot, and there they will have found "the pillar of salt." For the words wattehî ("and she became") in no wise in themselves demand an instantaneous conversion into such a pillar. Whatever salt formations have since been described as Lot’s wife from the time of the apocryphal book of Wisdom (Wis. 10:7: "the pillar of salt—a memorial of the unbelieving soul") to this day must be regarded as purely fictitious. But in the days shortly after the catastrophe the salt-encrusted, crudely pillar-like remains of the unhappy woman were to be seen.
27, 28. And Abraham rose early and went to the place where he had stood before Yahweh, and looked out upon Sodom and Gomorrah and upon all the land of the (Jordan) Round, and he saw, and, lo, the smoke from the land went up as the smoke of a smelting furnace.
So sure had Abraham become of the imminence of a catastrophic overthrow of the wicked cities that he felt impelled upon rising to go back to the place where he had "stood before Yahweh" on the preceding day, for from it a panoramic view of the whole region could be obtained. The eye beheld vast volumes of smoke rising from all the region. The expression here used qîtor ha’árets, "smoke of the earth," seems to suggest more definitely that the very ground burned. Our rendering above ("smoke from the land") is perhaps, therefore, less correct. To our suggestions above under this head (v. 25) we would add another, namely, the possibility that also petroleum deposits near the surface may have been ignited to cause an enormous conflagration. The comparison employed to make the picture more vivid is "as the smoke of a smelting furnace." Kibhshan is by some rendered "kiln," however K. W. appears to offer the more suitable suggestion Schmetzofen. So also Buhl.
The article "the morning" is the "article of the customary" —the morning that marks the next day. The article with "smelting furnace" is the article used in comparisons (G. K. 126, o).
29. And it came to pass when God overthrew the cities of the (Jordan) Round that God remembered Abraham and conducted Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot dwelt.
The "overthrow" is a mighty act of judgment in which God displays powers which lead men to fear Him; therefore "Elohim" and not "Yahweh." Even when the merciful act of deliverance is recorded, where, without a doubt, "Yahweh" could have been used, Moses uses "Elohim," because Lot no doubt felt primarily fear at the great catastrophe which was unleashing itself. But the primary thought of the verse is: God remembered Lot for Abraham’s sake. Abraham’s prayer, though denied in the form in which it was offered, is, nevertheless, heard insofar as Lot’s preservation is concerned. Lot, consequently, was not delivered for his own sake but for Abraham’s. "The effectual fervent prayer of the righteous man availeth much." The blessings that go forth from one true-hearted servant of God are incalculable.
30. And Lot, together with his two daughters, went up out of Zoar and dwelt in the mountains, for he was afraid to dwell in Zoar; and he and his two daughters dwelt in a cave.
Lot abandons Zoar as a residence because he fears to dwell there longer. This fear may be interpreted as arising from the fact that he as a fugitive from a city destroyed for its wickedness may have been viewed with suspicion by the people of Zoar. But Zoar, a city originally destined for a like destruction, will hardly have had scruples about the moral integrity of a man like Lot. Besides, it would be just as logical to conclude that the Zoarites might have respected him as a special favourite of the Deity. Therefore, the other explanation is much to be preferred which claims that Zoar was dreaded by Lot because he feared it too might ultimately be overthrown. Such an attitude on Lot’s part argues for want of faith. God had answered his petition to have it spared. But Lot is a weak saint. He may, indeed, have seen unabated wickedness in Zoar after "the overthrow" and may have become alarmed at the sight of it. Even that would not excuse his fear. For "a cave" the Hebrew has "the cave," i. e., the cave that was to be expected in a mountainous region where caves abound—the article of "relative familiarity"(K. S. 299 b). The le before shebheth is the le relationis, taking the place of an accusative after "fear."
31, 32. And the first-born said to the younger: Our father is old, and there is no one in the land to marry us after the manner of all the earth. Come, let us make our father drunk with wine, and lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.
We here see the sorry spectacle of people of good antecedents badly contaminated by continued contact with persons of vicious habits. Lot’s daughters stoop to incest, it is true, not because of vile passions, but because they face the disgrace of dying without issue. When they claim that there "is no one in all the land to marry" (Hebrew: "to come in unto") them, as daughters everywhere else are married, that remark is dictated by the impatience of unbelief. Had they waited a while longer, a husband might have been found. The scheme devised to offset the deficiency is one worthy of the depraved Sodomites, who had cast all sense of decency aside. Tse’îrah ("little one") in this connection gains the force of a comparative "the younger." Lekhah is really the feminine imperative, second person, here used with the first person as a mere expletive (K. S. 344 g). "To give to drink," (or, "to make drunk") naturally may take a double object (K. S. 327 m).
33. And they made their father drunk with wine that night, and the first-born went in and lay with her father, and he was not aware that she lay down or that she rose up.
It surely is an indication of moral decay when a man lets himself be made inebriate so readily by his daughters. One may attribute grief over the recent catastrophe and over the loss of his wife to Lot and so seek to account for his readiness to take a kind of consolation from the cup offered him, but the moral responsibility cannot be cancelled by such considerations. We may even be inclined to believe that by this time the once "righteous" man (2 Pet. 2:7) had lapsed from grace. Charity, however, suggests to hold judgment in suspense, because we hear nothing more of Lot after this sad event. Stranger still seems the statement that Lot "knew not" (lo’yadha’) of it. However, the appended limitation, "of her lying down and her rising up," seems to remove all difficulties, and so suggests our translation, "was not aware that she lay down," etc. The unusual point over the last word is apparently an indication that the Masoretes considered the statement a strange one. Things done in a drunken stupor may well be regarded as done with badly blurred consciousness, nor do they leave a distinct imprint on the memory. The article before hû’ is perhaps left off to prevent cacophony (G. K. 126 y).
34, 35. And it came to pass on the next day that the first-born said to the younger: Behold, I lay with my father last night. Let us make him drunk with wine also tonight; then do thou go in and lie with him. So we shall preserve offspring from our father. So they again made their father drunk that night; and the younger daughter arose and lay with him, and he was not aware that she lay down or that she rose up.
Keil’s formulation of Lot’s part in the transaction covers the case; he says: Lot was "not entirely unconscious, yet—, without clearly knowing what he was doing." The measure of culpability of Lot is, of course, far less than it would have been but for this circumstance. Yet this is a revolting scene and a tragic one.
36-38. So both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father. And the first-born bare a son and called his name Moab. He is the father of the present-day Moabites. And the younger daughter, she too bore a son and called his name Benammi. He is the father of the present-day Ammonites.
Again and again critics label this whole story the outgrowth of a mean prejudice on the part of Israel against these two neighbouring nations, a hostile fabrication and an attempt to heap disgrace upon them. Yet passages like Deut. 2:9 surely indicate that Israel always maintained a friendly spirit toward these brother nations, especially toward the Moabites. David’s history also may serve as an antidote against such slanders. We have here an objective account of an actual historical occurrence. Nor is there any occasion for describing these etymologies as "forced" or unnatural. These are not strict etymologies but accounts of names that actually reflected the truth involved.
Mô’abh apparently means the same as me’abh, i. e., "from the father." For though, indeed, mo, derived from mayim or mê, may mean "water," as a euphemism for "seed," such a derivation seems almost too blunt. So the name Benammi, "son of my people," contains a veiled allusion to the father’s paternity; the child is the son of her nearest relative. From this name the term Ammonites arose in the course of time. We believe that Meek has rendered the expression of the A. V. "unto this day" very acceptably as "present-day." It is to be prefixed to the nationalities in question.
The chapter as a whole is nowadays regularly assigned to J, with the exception of v. 29, in which Elohim is found, and which therefore is ascribed to P. But v. 29 is so essential for the purpose of tying up this chapter with the preceding, showing what bearing Abraham’s intercession really had upon the fortunes of Lot, that it is unthinkable that another author should have supplied what practically flows out of the connection of the two chapters and almost constitutes their very soul. We showed above how appropriate the divine name Elohim is at this point. Besides, claims to the effect that "the tautological circumstantiality of the priestly writer" are clearly to be discerned here (K. C.) fall to earth as soon as we discern that the formal character of the verse is occasioned by the fact that this verse constitutes a formal conclusion of the incident just narrated. Such conclusions are inclined naturally to adopt a somewhat more formal style.
Not every part of this chapter is suited for homiletical use. It seems to us that v. 1-11 contains several elements that would require explanation and yet cannot be explained without a measure of impropriety. And if there be a difference of opinion under this head, certainly all must agree that v. 30-38, though it certainly serves a good purpose under several heads, cannot be a text for a sermon. That leaves v. 12-22 first of all—a section that may be regarded as exemplifying the Longsuffering Mercy of God, or any similar formulation that demonstrates effectively how much concerned God is for His own, though they may but little deserve His mercy. Here is an unusual case of a judgment which is plainly designed for depraved sinners. To have a godly man perish in the overthrow of such could create the wrong impression. Consequently, God makes a singular exception of the man Lot. Yet, undoubtedly, it is mercy that is here operative. Then there is the section v. 23-29, which, on the one hand, demonstrates the severity of God’s judgments, on the other, the fact that the weak may be spared for the sake of the godly—also a vital truth of the Scriptures to be found frequently in the books of Kings where Israel is again and again spared for David’s sake.
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