The Iniquity of Sodom
These exhortations were given by me between 1999 and 2005. That was a long time ago, and I have grown a lot since then. They may not reflect my current beliefs.
I want to base my exhortation this morning on a passage from Luke chapter 17, which was Tuesday’s New Testament reading. Luke 17, verses 28 to 32.
Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. Remember Lot’s wife
We all know the story of the destruction of Sodom, but there is something very interesting about the story as it is told in Genesis 18 and 19.
And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know. (Gen 18: 20,21)
[Then, a little later on, the angels said to 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: 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. (Gen 19: 12,13).
What is the interesting point? There is a vital detail missing from Genesis 18 and 19. We know the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is very great, and their sin is very grievous. What we don’t know is what that sin was. All the clues are actually there – there is nothing explicit, but they are there.
Now, the destruction of Sodom was an important enough event that Christ reminded us of it in Luke 17, so it isn’t one of these passages that we can be happily ignorant of. As with all the important events in the Bible, the sin of Sodom is commented on in various other books. One of the best examples is in Ezekiel 16, verses 48 to 50. Ezekiel 16 is God’s judgment on Jerusalem, and it doesn’t pull its punches. It is clear and it is explicit. Jerusalem has done wrong, and she is compared to other cities from the ancient world, including Sodom, and in Ezekiel 16, verses 48 to 50 we are told exactly why Sodom was destroyed.
As I live, saith the Lord GOD, Sodom thy sister hath not done, she nor her daughters, as thou hast done, thou and thy daughters. Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.
This was the iniquity of Sodom: pride, fulness of bread, abundance of idleness, not helping the poor and needy. On top of all that, they were haughty and committed abomination before God.
We know that God does not like pride and haughtiness.
We know that God does not like the poor and needy to be neglected, especially by the rich.
The meaning of the word “abomination” is best illustrated with a quote from the Law of Moses, Deuteronomy 17, verses 2 to 5:
If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the LORD thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the LORD thy God, in transgressing his covenant, And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded; And it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it, and enquired diligently, and, behold, it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in Israel: Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die.
The Hebrew word for abomination in verse 4 is the same as the Hebrew word for abomination in Ezekiel 16.
This was the iniquity of Sodom: pride, fulness of bread, abundance of idleness, not helping the poor and needy. On top of all that, they were haughty and committed abomination before God – they worshiped other gods.
Doesn’t that bring the sin of Sodom much closer to home? Sodom was destroyed because of pride, arrogance, neglect of the needy, and neglect of God. Everybody who has ever lived could have committed those sins. That is the sort of thing that went on in Jerusalem at the time of Ezekiel.
Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.
When we talk about the state of the world in the last days, it is very easy to get almost holier than thou. We ourselves would never do the things that lead to the destruction of Sodom, would we? That’s not true, because the men and women of Sodom did things that we are all capable of doing. The sin of Sodom wasn’t some unspeakable sin that only some are prone to commit. It was something that anyone can do.
I want to look at something in Genesis 19 that support this idea. The verse is Genesis 19 verse 26.
But [Lot’s] wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
His wife wasn’t just looking back out of curiosity. She was looking back with regret. She obviously enjoyed her time in Sodom. She probably lived a very comfortable lifestyle, lots of friends and a wide social circle. That social circle was made up of terrible people: the proud, the haughty, the uncharitable.
It doesn’t make sense for Lot’s wife to look back unless she enjoyed her time there. She liked her comfortable, Godless, lifestyle.
That is why Christ told us to remember Lot’s wife. Generally speaking we all live comfortable lives. Lot’s wife let the superficial comfort of her life mask and override the true comfort of being a servant of the Lord. It would be very easy for us to do that, but me must not.
Now, this is supposed to be an exhortation, and so far it hasn’t been very exhorting. All I have done is point out that we could all commit the same sins that resulted in the destruction of Sodom.
To exhort us, I want to look at a message that is implicit in the story of the destruction of Sodom. That message is that God is just and God is forgiving.
How can the destruction of a city demonstrate that God is just and forgiving?
We know that God was more than prepared to forgive the city for the sake of just 10 inhabitants.
Genesis 18: 22 to 32:
The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD .Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing-to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” The LORD said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city because of five people?” “If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.” Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?” He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.” Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?” He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?” He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”
Despite the grievous sin of Sodom, God would not have destroyed it if there were as few as ten righteous men in it. A city that was doing terrible things would be saved if there were just 10 righteous people in it. Even with destruction on this scale God would not accept any collateral damage. God would not do something wrong – slay the innocent – in the process of doing something good. Is that not justice?
There were righteous people in Sodom, and God evacuated them. He wasn’t prepared to allow the sin of Sodom to continue unabated. He was going to stop their wrongdoing. The only thing that was holding him back was the presence of the righteous but he removed them so that Sodom could be destroyed. God was just on the scale of individuals and on the scale of cities, not allowing justice on one scale to obscure justice on the other.
Did the people of Sodom know anything about God? That’s an important question, because it wouldn’t have been just to destroy Sodom for committing abomination against God if they didn’t know about God. Let’s go back to Ezekiel 16, this time verse 46:
And Jerusalem thine elder sister is Samaria, she and her daughters that dwell at thy left hand: and thy younger sister, that dwelleth at thy right hand, is Sodom and her daughters.
Now, we know the city of Jerusalem knew of the things of God, and ignored them. Samaria was the capital of the Northern kingdom, and it knew of the things of God, and ignored them. If Samaria, Jerusalem, and Sodom can be said to be sisters, and we know both Samaria and Jerusalem knew of the things of God then I think we can confidently say that Sodom also knew of the things of God.
Sodom wasn’t wiped off the face of the earth because a God unknown to them took a dislike to what they did. It was wiped off the face of the earth because they turned their back on God, a God they knew, and a God they had responsibility to listen to.
The city of Sodom was rotten to the core, and knew it was going against the will of God, and God destroyed it without hurting a single righteous person. That is justice. It is justice more thorough and more complete than any earthly government could ever hope to achieve.
I have spoken about God’s justice. For sinners like ourselves, there is nothing more terrifying than pure justice, which is why we can also look to the story of Sodom for assurances of God’s mercy.
Where is the mercy? The mercy is in the rescue of Lot.
Lot wasn’t a righteous man. Nobody is truly righteous, save God and Christ, but he was rescued from the city, treated as though he was a righteous man. God is just, but God is forgiving and God is merciful. He is not willing that any should perish, but wants all sinners to come to repentance. “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD . “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
Of all the lessons we can learn from Sodom, I think this is the most important one. God’s justice is matched by his mercy, and we can be forgiven anything if we are open to God in the way that Lot was open to God and listened to the angels. When we read of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah we shouldn’t rejoice that these wicked cities were destroyed. We shouldn’t fear that there is a malicious deity who will one day destroy us. We should think of the rescue of Lot, and know that God will one day rescue us. And we should never look back as Lot’s wife did, because the road God leads us along has a destination far better than any city we could leave behind us.