The Fate of Sodom and Gomorrah
A Study of Genesis 18:16—19:38
Beginning at the middle of Genesis 18, God told Abraham about the coming judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. A divine visitation from God was to bring doom upon the sinful people of those cities. In Genesis 19, Sodom’s wickedness is described, Lot’s deliverance is highlighted, and the destruction of the cities is accented.
- Abraham’s Intercession for Sodom (18:16-33)
Three visitors had stopped by to visit with Abraham, and told him and Sarah about the birth of a son in their old age. Now the “three men,” one of whom was the Lord, told Abraham and Sarah about the coming judgment on the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The three men looked toward Sodom, and in fact, started to walk toward Sodom (18:16), and on the way, the Lord explained to Abraham that the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah would soon be destroyed.
Abraham was living in fellowship with God, and the Lord knew that his children would be instructed in godly ways—and so God revealed His plans to Abraham (18:16-19).
Abraham was to teach his offspring the great principles of righteousness and justice (those things that are right and wrong), so that they might enjoy God’s blessings. Believing parents in every age are to train their children in godly instruction and discipline (Ephesians 6:4).
The “cry against” Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:20) is a reference to the terrible sins (the “very grave” sins) taking place in those cities.
The fact that God “will go down now and see” (18:21) does not mean that the omniscience of God was not functioning. God knew what was taking place, but His justice moved Him to demonstrate that He was aware of the facts.
At that point (18:22), the two angels moved on toward Sodom, and left Abraham alone with the Lord. Abraham “drew near,” that is, Abraham reached out to God, pleading with Him to spare the city for the sake of “the righteous” (18:23). Abraham believed that the city had some upright people, and that if a certain number of righteous people were in the city, God might choose to spare it.
One of the “righteous” persons in the city was Abraham’s nephew Lot. In the New Testament, Peter says that Lot was a righteous man (2 Peter 2:7-8). Even though he lived for self, Lot was righteous in that he believed God, and was vexed at the wickedness which occurred all around him.
Lot chose to move his tents toward Sodom (Genesis 13:11-12), and soon he was living in Sodom (Genesis 14:12), and now in Genesis 19 we find him “sitting in the gate of Sodom” (19:1)—the place where the most important business of the city was transacted.
Abraham knew that God is a just God, and that the righteous are the salt of the earth—so he decided to plead with God to spare the cities for the sake of the righteous. He knew that God, the judge of all the earth, would do right (18:25). Abraham explored with God how many righteous persons would have to be found for the city to be spared. Abraham began with the number fifty, and God promised that He would spare the whole place for that number of righteous people (18:26). Abraham offered six petitions (going from fifty, to forty-five, to forty, to thirty, to twenty, to ten)—and God said yes six times (18:26-32). Abraham stopped at ten, apparently thinking that Lot’s influence would guarantee at least that many righteous persons. The fact that there were not even ten righteous people in Sodom is a sad commentary on the ineffectiveness of Lot’s witness.
We notice that God did not stop answering until Abraham stopped asking! Those responses should encourage Christians to be diligent in prayer. At the completion of the intercession, God “went His way” (apparently back to Heaven), and Abraham “returned unto his place” (to his dwelling in Hebron).
- Sodom’s Wickedness (19:1-14)
Not even ten righteous souls could be found in Sodom, and so the city had to be destroyed. The two angels who had visited Abraham moved on now to Sodom, arriving there toward evening. When they arrived at Sodom they met Lot at the gate (19:1). Lot met them graciously, and encouraged the two visitors to spend the night at his home (19:2). The visitors said they were planning to spend the night “in the street” [in the open square] (19:2b).
Lot knew the danger they faced if they stayed outside all night, and so he begged them to stay in his house, and showed them unusual hospitality, including an evening meal (19:3). Just before bedtime, Lot and his visitors became aware of a commotion outside his house. The howling mob of men pounded on the door and demanded that Lot deliver the strangers to them so that they could have homosexual relations with them (19:4-5).
The word “know” refers to sexual relations at a number of places in the Bible. The account in Jude 1:7 (about going after “strange flesh”) confirms that the request here was sexual in nature. It is also important to note that homosexual conduct in Sodom (as in our day) was no longer a shameful abomination practiced in secret. Today, as in Sodom, homosexual conduct is becoming more open and pronounced.
The liberal founder of the pro-homosexual Metropolitan Community Churches claims that homosexuality is a gift of God. Lot’s response to the crowd outside seems unthinkable—but he offered his two young virgin daughters, so that the mob could satisfy their sexual urges (19:6-8). On the other hand, the fact that Lot had two virgin daughters (19:8a) growing up in such a filthy place, does indicate that he still had some good influence over at least part of his family.
In verse 9, even though Lot thought he was at home among the people of Sodom, he quickly learned that they had never really accepted him. The mob on the outside said of Lot [in essence] (middle of 19:9): “He came to stay here in this city, and he keeps acting as a judge; now we will deal worse with you [Lot] than with them [the men who were visiting].”
The Sodomites were really saying, Who does Lot think he is anyhow? He just moved here as a sojourner—and now he wants to judge us, and tell us what to do. Those who speak out against the sin of homosexual relationships in our day are accused of judging, just like Lot was in Genesis 19:9.
When the crowd outside Lot’s house became more aggressive and out of control, the supernatural visitors rescued Lot from the mob, and afflicted the men of the city with a form of blindness, so that they were completely disoriented, and could not even find the door when they tried to break into Lot’s house (19:10-11). The experience that night assured Lot that the visitors were supernatural beings, and that their announcement of doom to come upon Sodom was to be taken very seriously. When they urged Lot to go out and warn every member of his household to get ready to flee the city (19:12), Lot responded by speaking to his daughters and his sons-in-law—warning them that the Lord will destroy this city—but these relatives mocked and simply ridiculed the possibility of God’s judgment (19:13-14).
Lot acted foolishly when he had chosen to move into Sodom. Now his children, having grown up there, were influenced and soiled by the city’s wickedness and shame. In essence, they said, “Who is God that we should pay any attention to Him?” Lot’s sons-in-law rejected the warning, and most likely perished in the destruction of the city when the fire and brimstone fell.
- Lot’s Deliverance (19:15-22)
When the next day dawned, Lot was convinced that the visitors were real angels who were sent to judge and destroy Sodom. The angels urged Lot to take his wife, and his two daughters, and leave Sodom without delay—but Sodom’s grip on his family was strong.
The angels told Lot to “hasten” and get out of the region of Sodom (19:15). When Lot and the three family members stumbled out of the doomed city that morning, Lot “lingered”—he hesitated, and so the angels took hold of the hands of all four of them (Lot, his wife, and his two daughters)—and brought them out of the city (19:16). They were told to escape for their lives, and were not to look back (19:17). They were to escape to the mountains lest they be consumed (19:17).
When, early in the morning, Lot was told to take his family members and get out of Sodom, and head for the mountains (19:15,17)—it seems that he was afraid (19:19), and was saying that there was not enough time (or perhaps even some danger along the way)—if he was to go to the mountains. So he asked the angels for permission to settle in a small town which later was known as Zoar (19:18-20). And the angels responded by granting him the request to go to Zoar, and even promised to spare that town for the sake of his safety (19:21).
God in His mercy promised to hold back the destruction of Sodom until Lot and his family members had escaped from the city and had arrived in Zoar. God said, “I cannot do anything” until you come out of the city (19:22). This promise is a type (a good illustration) pointing to the fact that the Church in the end-times will likely not experience the most terrible judgments of the Tribulation Period.
- The Destruction of Sodom (19:23-29)
The account given in this section describes an actual judgment that fell upon a people who were so corrupt that in the mind of God they deserved to die. The sun had already begun to rise when God “rained brimstone and fire” on Sodom and Gomorrah (19:23-24). The burning sulphur destroyed the entire population of the region, and all that “grew upon the ground” (19:25).
The whole area was smothered with fire and smoke and ash. It’s possible that the Lord used underground gases which ignited and set off tremendous explosions. It is more likely that the fire and brimstone destruction of the two cities was simply a clear act of God brought about for the occasion.
Lot’s wife “looked back . . . and she became a pillar of salt” (19:26). This was not a mere quick glance, but a lingering behind, and a longing for what she was leaving behind—and at that moment she was covered with a shower of salt falling from the sky, and she became “a pillar of salt.” Her body (in a few moments) became a monument, which is intended to remind readers of what happens when a human heart is divided between the church and the world.
Lot’s wife grew up under the influence of Abraham. It is impossible that she could have lived in the company of her uncle Abraham, without knowledge about the true and living God. When Abraham built the altar alongside his tent, she was there. When Melchizedek came to meet Abraham, Lot’s wife was there. Lot’s wife grew up with many privileges, but she disobeyed the explicit command of God not to look back; she failed to make a clean break with the world in which she lived. She longed to be back in Sodom.
The implication of the term “looked back” is that Lot’s wife was seeking to hang on to her life in Sodom. It was an earnest, intent, longing look. Maybe she was thinking of all the trinkets and gadgets she had left behind—or of her children who were being incinerated in the flames. At the point when she disobeyed and looked back, she was covered and encrusted with deposits from the raining brimstone (19:26). Lot’s wife either did not believe the angels who warned them not to look back, or she was defiantly disobedient. Disbelief and disobedience are always denounced in the Scriptures. The severe punishment brought upon Lot’s wife tells us something about the gravity of sin. Jesus refers specifically to Lot’s wife in Luke 17:32, when He says, “Remember Lot’s wife.”
For God to turn this woman into a pillar of salt seems like a strange punishment. God may have worked this strange miracle in order to awaken human beings down through the years. If Lot’s wife would have fallen dead of a heart attack, or some other common form of death—we would hardly even take notice. But the fact that she became a pillar of salt stirs our thinking.
The same Almighty Hand which had first given her life, now took away that life in the twinkling of an eye. To die at any time is a solemn thing—but to die suddenly, and to die by the direct intervention of a displeased God, is a fearful thing indeed! Yet, this was the kind of death Lot’s wife experienced. Without any previous notice, God turned her body into a pillar of salt. It was a tragic death. It should behoove every man, woman, and child to avoid the sins that Lot’s wife manifested.
In verses 27-29 (of Genesis 19) Abraham got up early in the morning, and from the heights, gazed upon the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah without saying a word. It was less than twelve hours earlier that he had stood at the same place and was pleading with God for the inhabitants of Sodom. Now it was morning, and the city and its surrounding fertile fields that Lot so much wanted had gone up in smoke. The Bible has no record that Abraham ever saw Lot again.
It is instructive to note that Jesus spoke of a judgment that will be worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrah. Luke says that judgment will quickly overtake those who are absorbed in materialism and worldly living. It will be much like Sodom and Gomorrah on that day when the Son of God is revealed from Heaven (Luke 17:28-32).
Our Lord warns that the days immediately preceding His return will be like those before the destruction of Sodom. People in our generation need to look at Sodom, and learn that while God does not want the world “to perish,” His judgment will come upon those who are impenitent.
- Lot’s Final Shame and Unfaithfulness (19:30-38)
Lot lost everything in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the final story of his life is not an attractive chronicle to tell about. Lot’s final days were marked by relationships that we would prefer to forget. After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot went to the mountains and lived in a cave with his daughters (19:30).
His two daughters, brought up in Sodom, stooped low enough to commit incest with their father—and, as a result of the plot to have Lot become drunk with wine (19:32-33), each gave birth to a son by their father, Lot. The son of the older daughter was named Moab and became the ancestor of the Moabites, and the son of the younger daughter was named Ben-Ammi and became the ancestor of the Ammonites (19:37-38).
The two nations became a snare to Israel and were constantly enemies of the people of God. If Lot would have spurned the alcohol offered by his daughters, he would not have been tricked into cohabiting with them.
One writer makes an incisive statement when he says, “Sometimes unsaved people criticize the Bible because of its horrible stories of all varieties of iniquity—murder, adultery, rape, incest, treason, high crimes, and foul deeds. True, but these things are never mentioned without being accompanied by the stern warning that God hates sin and punishes it. It is far better for children to learn the facts of life from the Word of God, where sin is condemned, than from dirty words on alley walls, or from lewd stories.”
Lot’s experience shows the awful end to which sin eventually brings persons. Genesis 19:36 is the last we hear of Lot, and no one knows what became of him. Yet God used even this case of incest to bring forth His purpose, in that Ruth was from a family of Moab, and she became an ancestress of the Son of God (Matthew 1:5).
In Sodom, in one moment, life continued as it had for centuries. Businessmen were opening their shops. Housewives were beginning their laundry. Children would soon stir from their sleep. During the next moment, brimstone and fire began to consume the entire region. The judgment on Sodom was a warning to Israel in Old Testament times (Isaiah 1:9, Jeremiah 23:14); and a warning in New Testament times (Romans 9:29, Jude 1:7, Revelation 11:8).
Jesus referred to Sodom and Gomorrah in Matthew 10:15. He says that it will be more tolerable for “Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment,” than it will be for persons in this present age who have many more occasions to hear the Gospel message—and then turn it down. God will bring judgment upon our generation very soon!
BIBLE HELPS | Robert Lehigh, Editor | PO Box 391, Hanover, PA 17331 United States of America