Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. Genesis 19:1-23. Visit of the two Angels to Lot in Sodom; Lot’s Deliverance and Escape to Zoar (J)
And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground;1. the two angels] See Genesis 18:22. It has been conjectured that the original text had here, as in Genesis 19:5; Genesis 19:8; Genesis 19:10; Genesis 19:12, “the men” (i.e. the “three men” of Genesis 18:2); and that the substitution of the words “the two angels” has been made from motives of reverence, in order (1) to harmonize the action of this chapter with the scene of Abraham’s pleading with Jehovah in chap. 18, and (2) to separate Jehovah from contact with the evil of Sodom.
at even] They had visited Abraham at noon: see Genesis 18:1.
in the gate of Sodom] The wide arches of ancient Oriental city gates, contained recesses which were the resort of leading citizens; and in which business was transacted, bargains made, and justice administered, cf. Genesis 23:10; Genesis 23:18, Genesis 34:20; Deuteronomy 21:19; Ruth 4:1.
bowed himself] See Genesis 18:2.
And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant's house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.2. my lords] adonai. The Massoretic note upon this word is “profane,” i.e. not the Divine name: see note on Genesis 18:3.
turn aside] Lot’s words are a good example of Eastern hospitality. Possibly to this passage and Genesis 18:3 reference is made in Hebrews 13:2.
in the street] We must be careful not to connect the modern idea of a “street” with this word, which means rather a wide open space. Cf. Jdg 19:15; Ezra 10:9; Nehemiah 8:1, “the broad place.”
The refusal of “the men” is partly to be explained as a piece of Oriental courtesy, but partly, also, to elicit the avowal that what would be safe in other towns could not be risked in Sodom.
And he pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.3. he urged them greatly] The gentle compulsion of Oriental courtesy. To let a stranger sleep out at night would be contrary to all canons of civility, cf. Jdg 19:16-22.
a feast] Lit. “a drinking feast,” and thence “a banquet.” Perhaps we may assume that the Angels appeared as poor men needing food and shelter. The neglect of the poor and needy is part of the prophet’s reproach against Sodom in Ezekiel 16:49.
unleavened bread] Cakes baked hastily without leaven or yeast; the “unleavened cakes” of Jdg 6:19.
But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter:4. the men of the city] The repulsive incident recorded in this passage (Genesis 19:4-11) contrasts the hospitable conduct of Lot with the gross behaviour of the people of Sodom towards strangers, and has for all time associated the name of the city with shameless vice (cf. Isaiah 3:9).
from every quarter] Lit. “from the end.” As in 1 Kings 12:31, the phrase means “from all classes of the people.” The writer insists upon the fact that “all” of every age and class were involved in the same guilt. Compare the scene in Jdg 19:23.
And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.
And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him,
And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.
Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.8. forasmuch as] R.V. marg. for therefore: cf. Genesis 18:5. Lot’s proposal, so atrocious in our ears, may have been deemed meritorious in an Eastern country, where no sacrifice was considered too great to maintain inviolate the safety of a stranger who had been received in hospitality. That Lot should have thought of imperilling the honour of his family, and not have rather hazarded his own life, is due not so much to the weakness of the man as to the terribly low estimate of womanhood which prevailed at that time. A parallel is afforded by the story in Jdg 1:19. The three regulations of modern Arab law as to the protection of the stranger are recorded by Robertson Smith in his Kinship, p. 259, “(1) the man whose tent rope has touched thine is thy stranger; (2) so also is he who journeys with thee by day and sleeps by thy side at night; (3) the guest who eats with thee is under thy protection, until he has eaten with another.”
And they said, Stand back. And they said again, This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with thee, than with them. And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and came near to break the door.9. Stand back] LXX ἀπόστα ἐκεί, Lat. recede illuc; cf. “give place,” Isaiah 49:20.
This one fellow] Lot is reminded of his solitariness and of his foreign extraction.
came in to sojourn] The people contrast Lot’s position as a sojourner (gêr) in the city with his claim to decide and play the judge.
But the men put forth their hand, and pulled Lot into the house to them, and shut to the door.
And they smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great: so that they wearied themselves to find the door.11. blindness] An unusual word for “blindness,” inflicted as a sudden temporary visitation, used here and 2 Kings 6:18. LXX ἀορασία.
And the men said unto Lot, Hast thou here any besides? son in law, and thy sons, and thy daughters, and whatsoever thou hast in the city, bring them out of this place:12. And the men said] The incident just described had revealed the corrupt condition of the city. It had been tried by a simple test, and found wanting. Sodom is doomed; but Lot is to be saved.
any besides] The deliverance of the man carries with it the deliverance of the household.
Song of Solomon in law, and thy sons, &c.] A strange collocation. We should expect the sons and daughters first. Then again, why “son in law” in the singular? LXX has γαμβροί, which is probably a correction; Lat. generum. The proposal of Holzinger to put “son in law” in the previous clause is no improvement. Its prominence would be an additional difficulty.
For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the LORD; and the LORD hath sent us to destroy it.13. we will destroy] See Genesis 19:24.
the cry of them] i.e. the cry against the people of Sodom; see note on Genesis 18:20.
the Lord hath sent us] Defining the position of the men in this and the previous chapter, as distinct from, and messengers of, Jehovah.
And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get you out of this place; for the LORD will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law.14. married his daughters] Better, as R.V. marg., were to marry, as Lat. qui accepturi erant. This seems more probable than the rendering of the R.V., and LXX τοὺς εἰληφότας. The verb used here means literally “the takers of.” For Lot’s daughters were in the house with him: Lot went out to find his “sons in law”: the word “sons in law” may mean “the betrothed.” If the daughters had been married, they would not have been living with Lot.
as one that mocked] The same word in the Hebrew as that rendered “laughed” in Genesis 18:12, and “sporting” in Genesis 26:8. The Lat. has quasi ludens = “as one who was playing.”
And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters, which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city.15. when the morning arose] At day-break. The doom was to be inflicted before sun-rise (cf. Genesis 19:23). If Lot was still in the city, he too would perish: hence the men’s haste.
consumed] See Genesis 18:23.
iniquity] Better, as R.V. marg., punishment. See note, on the ambiguous meaning of the Hebrew word, in Genesis 4:13; cf. 1 Samuel 25:24; 2 Samuel 14:9.
And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city.16. But he lingered] It was difficult for Lot to realize the immediate and overwhelming nature of the doom announced by his visitants. His feelings for home and its associations made him hesitate. The versions misunderstood the Heb.; LXX καὶ ἐταράχθησαν, Lat. dissimulante illo.
the Lord being merciful unto him] An interesting clause, shewing that the men were agents of Jehovah’s tenderness, as well as of His severity, cf. Psalm 34:22 : does it not also imply that, in the original version of the narrative, Jehovah is here one of “the men”?
And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.17. he said] One of the men is spokesman, as in Genesis 19:21; but the plural “they said” is found in the LXX and Lat.
look not behind thee] The meaning of this direction, which recalls the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, is not quite obvious. It may be a prohibition either of irresolute lingering, or of regretful curiosity. It is, probably, also, a test of obedience, combined with the thought that man could not look upon Jehovah and live. Cf. Genesis 16:13; Exodus 19:21.
the Plain] i.e. the kikkar: see Genesis 13:10.
the mountain] i.e. the mountainous region on the east of the Dead Sea, “the mountains of Moab.”
And Lot said unto them, Oh, not so, my Lord:18. my lord] R.V. marg. O Lord. The Massoretic note here, as in Genesis 18:3, is “holy,” regarding the word as the Divine name. Certainly in this chapter Jehovah is not so directly identified with one of “the men” as in chap. 18. The rendering “my lord” is, perhaps, to be preferred, as in Genesis 18:3. On the other hand, the mention of “Jehovah” in Genesis 19:16, and the words in Genesis 19:22; Genesis 19:24, “I cannot do anything till thou be come thither,” and “Then the Lord rained upon Sodom,” would sufficiently justify the other rendering. Jehovah and His Angel are one, cf. Genesis 16:7 ff. His Presence is in “the two” as in “the three men.”
Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die:19. found grace] Cf. Genesis 6:8 (J).
thy mercy] Lat. misericordiam tuam. The LXX rendering, τὴν δικαιοσύνην, is a good illustration of the latitude given to “righteousness” as embodying compassion. Cf. Matthew 6:1.
I cannot escape to the mountain] Lot speaks as if he were too old (cf. Genesis 19:31) and weak for flight over rough ground. He fears he could not find refuge in the mountains in time.
evil] Better, as R.V. marg., the evil. The evil means the doom of impending catastrophe.
Behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one: Oh, let me escape thither, (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live.20. is it not a little one] i.e. “is it not a trifle (miz‘ar)?” It is a “small” concession to grant; or a “small” distance to go. Evidently a play on the pronunciation of the word Zoar. Lot’s entreaty that he may take refuge in Zoar causes the exemption of that city from the catastrophe. For Bela, as an old name of Zoar, see Genesis 14:2.
and my soul shall live] = “that my soul (= I) may live.” For “my soul” as a vivid way of expressing the personal pronoun, see Genesis 12:13.
And he said unto him, See, I have accepted thee concerning this thing also, that I will not overthrow this city, for the which thou hast spoken.21. I have accepted thee] Heb. “I have received,” or “lifted up thy countenance,” see note on Genesis 4:7. Compare the expression “respecter of persons,” e.g. Acts 10:34. Here Jehovah is a “receiver,” or “favourer,” of the person of Lot: cf. Genesis 32:20; Malachi 1:8.
Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do any thing till thou be come thither. Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar.22. I cannot do any thing] Mercy limits the exercise of Divine Justice. “The righteous” is not to be consumed “with the wicked” (Genesis 18:23).
Zoar] See note on Genesis 14:2. Zoar is identified by tradition with a spot on the S.E. of the Dead Sea, where a peninsula projects from the coast. Cf. Genesis 13:10; Deuteronomy 34:3; Isaiah 15:5; Jeremiah 48:34. The name in the LXX Σηγώρ, Lat. Segor, gave the Dead Sea the name of the Sea of Zugar in the Middle Ages.
The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered into Zoar.
Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;24–29. The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, &c.
24. Then the Lord, &c.] The destruction of the cities of the Plain is an event to which frequent allusion is made in Holy Scripture. The impressive features of the Dead Sea must have continually lent force to the terrible tradition of an overthrow in times of remote antiquity. The barrenness of the soil, the absence of life in the water, the deposits of salt, of bitumen, and of sulphur, helped to connect a region, which was within sight of Jerusalem, with the thought of a judicial visitation by Jehovah, more terrible in character, if less in magnitude, than the Deluge itself. For the prophetic use of this catastrophe, see especially Deuteronomy 29:23. Cf. Jeremiah 20:16; Jeremiah 23:14; Jeremiah 49:18; Jeremiah 50:40; Lamentations 4:6; Amos 4:11; Zephaniah 2:9. In the N.T. see Luke 17:29; 2 Peter 2:6; Jdg 1:7.
brimstone and fire] It is unreasonable to subject the description of this overthrow to the close scrutiny of modern science. Geologists now tell us that, within recent geological periods, there is no sign of volcanic activity in the Dead Sea region. If, therefore, as is assumed, the cities of the Plain lay in the Dead Sea valley, their overthrow was not occasioned by lava or burning ashes, like Pompeii, or Herculaneum, or St Pierre. It has been contended, and is not beyond the bounds of probability, that an earthquake, causing a sudden subsidence of the crust and accompanied by great fissures in the earth, caused the overthrow of buildings, and released great masses of bitumen, sulphur, &c., which are to be found in large quantities in that locality. The spontaneous combustion of escaping gas, the ignition of great masses of bituminous material, combined with the outflow of steam and hot water, would then have enveloped the whole country in dense smoke, and would have seemed to drop brimstone and fire from the sky. This line of explanation would also assume that the depression of the earth’s surface led to the subsequent submergence of the four ruined cities beneath the waters of the Dead Sea; the lower end of which is exceedingly shallow. A careful scientific investigation of the whole question was undertaken by Blanckenhorn, the results of which are contained in the Z.D.P.V. 1896, p. 58, 1898, p. 78.
There is, however, in the Biblical story, no mention of an earthquake. The events recorded evidently refer to a catastrophe, the tradition of which was handed down by the early Hebrews, and popularly localized in the bare and terrible features of the Dead Sea scenery.
from the Lord out of heaven] The words “from the Lord” come in very strangely after “the Lord rained.” Cf. Micah 5:7, “as dew from the Lord.” For “out of heaven,” cf. 2 Kings 1:12; Job 1:16.
And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.25. and he overthrew] The word used is the one regularly employed elsewhere in the O.T. where the overthrow of the cities is mentioned. Like the word mabbul for the Flood, so this word, “overthrow” (mahpêkah, “overturning”), used here and in Genesis 19:29, became the technical term for this catastrophe. It suggests an earthquake.
“The Korán frequently refers to Sodom and Gomorrah by the title of al mutafikât ‘the overturned’ (Sur. ix. 71, liii. 54, lxix. 9)” (Cheyne).
But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.26. a pillar of salt] Lot’s wife for disobeying the command, recorded in Genesis 19:17, was, according to the tradition, changed into a pillar of salt. Our Lord’s words, “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32), refer to the narrative in this passage. Her looking back indicated the place of her real treasure. She failed to trust whole-heartedly, or to obey. Compare the story of Orpheus and Eurydice (Ovid, Met. x. 51). Our Lord’s warning is directed against the absorption of mind in temporal pleasures and interests. His allusion to this passage was one that all Jewish hearers understood. He does not raise the question of its historicity. He appeals to the teaching of the parable contained in the Scripture story.
Travellers speak of the remarkable ridge called Jebel Uzdum (“mountain of Sodom”) at the S.W. extremity of the Dead Sea. Its fantastic pillars and ragged fragments attract attention. It consists of rock salt. One of these needles or pinnacles has been called by the people “Lot’s wife.” Such pinnacles would in process of time change their appearance owing to the effects of wind and rain. One known as “Lot’s wife” existed in the days of our Lord. See Wis 10:7; Josephus, Ant. i. ii, 4.
“Suddenly we saw before us among the pinnacles of salt a gigantic ‘Lot,’ with a daughter on each arm hurrying off in a south-westerly direction, with their bodies bent forward as though they were in great haste, and their flowing garments trailing behind” (Pal. Q.S. 1870, p. 150).
And Abraham gat up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the LORD:27. gat up early] No emphasis is here laid in the Hebrew upon the earliness of the rise. The idiom amounts to saying “in the morning Abraham arose and went to the place.”
stood before the Lord] See Genesis 18:12.
And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace.28. the smoke of the land] The word is one used especially in connexion with incense and sacrifice. It is not the usual word for smoke, but rather corresponds to our “reek” or, as Driver, “steam.” Travellers relate that, owing to rapid evaporation, there always appears a steamy mist rising up from the Dead Sea. Wis 10:6-7, “While the ungodly were perishing, wisdom delivered a righteous man, when he fled from the fire that descended out of heaven on Pentapolis. To whose wickedness a smoking waste still witnesseth … Yea and a disbelieving soul hath a memorial there, a pillar of salt still standing.”
a furnace] The word used in Exodus 9:8; Exodus 9:10; Exodus 19:18, “a furnace,” or “kiln,” for burning lime, or making bricks.
29 (P). when God destroyed, &c.] This verse contains P’s brief summary of the whole event. This will explain the repetition of the narrative, and the sudden substitution of “God” (Elohim) for “the Lord” (Jehovah). The expression “God remembered Abraham” would otherwise seem strange after the narrative in 18; but, as a matter of fact, the sentence probably followed after Genesis 13:12, with P’s account of the separation of Abram and Lot. For “destroyed” (shâḥath), cf. Genesis 6:13; Genesis 6:17, Genesis 9:11; Genesis 9:15 (P).
And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in the which Lot dwelt.
And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar: and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters.30–38 (J). The Origin of the Moabites and Ammonites
30. And Lot went up] He left the Plain, and withdrew “to the mountain,” viz. “the mountains of Moab”; see Genesis 19:17.
he feared] Why did he fear to dwell in Zoar? Not, as has been suggested, lest the people of Zoar should put him to death, as one who either had escaped just punishment, or, like Jonah, had been the cause of catastrophe; but lest Zoar, one of the cities of the Plain, should still be overtaken by catastrophe.
in a cave] The definite article in the Hebrew has been thought to mean either a well-known cavern, or a locality in which caves were numerous. But compare the idiomatic use of the def. art. in Genesis 8:7.
And the firstborn said unto the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth:
Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.
And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay yesternight with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.
And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father.
And the firstborn bare a son, and called his name Moab: the same is the father of the Moabites unto this day.37. Moab] A play on the word “Moab,” on account of its general assonance with the Heb. mê-âb = “from a father”; an instance of derivation by folk-etymology.
And the younger, she also bare a son, and called his name Benammi: the same is the father of the children of Ammon unto this day.38. Ben-ammi] “The son of my people”; or “the son of my father’s kin”; see Genesis 17:14. “Unto this day,” cf. Genesis 26:33, Genesis 32:32, Genesis 35:20, Genesis 47:26 (J).
There is no need for us to regard this repulsive story as literal history. It should be included among the popular narratives which grew up round the traditional origin of proper names. It has been held that the tradition may have had a local Moabite origin connected with some famous cavern, and that the people of Moab and Ammon may have had an old belief that their races arose in prehistoric times from the same ancestor, in accordance with this tale. Undoubtedly, there were ancient Eastern peoples to whom the incest here described would have seemed in no way atrocious.
It is, of course, also possible, that the story, as we have it in Gen., reflects the feelings of bitterness and hatred which were felt among the Israelites towards their neighbours on the east side of the Jordan. The antipathy expressed in Deuteronomy 23:3 and Nehemiah 13:1-2 may well account for the circulation of traditions concerning the parentage of these two peoples, combining a popular explanation of their names with contumely and reproach as to their origin.
Again, it is conceivable that this story may contain a fragment of a tradition, Moabite and Ammonite in its derivation, which recorded some stupendous catastrophe, from which, through the favour of the Deity, only Lot and his daughters, out of all the inhabitants of the world, were saved. The story may then have been regarded as reflecting not ignominy, but honour, upon those who were the means of preserving the whole human race from the peril of extinction. There is plausibility in this theory of Gunkel’s. The words of the elder daughter, “there is not a man,” seem to imply that all the inhabitants of the earth had been annihilated. Our ignorance of Moabite early traditions forbids us to go further than to admit the possibility of some such explanation.