Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry which has come to me; and if not, I will know…The two angels came to Sodom in the evening; and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed himself with his face to the earth, and said, “My lords, turn aside, I pray you, to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the street.” But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” Genesis 18:20-21 and 19:1-5, Revised Standard Version : To understand scripture, you’ve got to look at the whole picture – in context – which means you’ve got to understand what people were doing at the time and what was going on in the culture: spiritually, historically and physically.
You’ve got to let scripture explain itself; you’ve got to look at what words meant when they were originally written, not how we interpret them today. Words often change meanings from one generation to another, even from one group to another. Just ask a British-speaking individual. You’ve got to the let the Holy Spirit guide your interpretation and your understanding. And — most important — you must understand the very simple basic meaning of the whole body of scripture, which is to love God and to love and care for each other. What is not in agreement with this essential truth is against God. Jesus Himself did not always follow the laws: in every case, He chose the humane route rather than the legal, the way of love and not the way of law. For generations people have blamed the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah on homosexuality.
Was it or was homosexuality a convenient excuse? What was the real reason Sodom was destroyed? We need to understand the cultural, historical, physical and spiritual context before we can hope to understand the meaning of this scripture. 1) Who were the Sodomites? What is the meaning of the term “sodomite”? According to Unger’s Bible Dictionary, the people of the area worshipped fertility gods, chief among them were Baal/Ashtoreth (Astarte, Asherah – she had many names). This was the female goddess of war and fertility, sensual love and maternity. “She and her colleagues specialized in sex and war and her shrines were temples of legalized vice” (Unger, p. 412). Her worship practices were basically orgies, with worshippers required to have sex with the priests and priestesses. The priests or male prostitutes, according to Unger, who were consecrated to her cult “were styled qedishim, ‘sodomites’ (Deuteronomy 23:18; 1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:46). Here is how Unger describes “sodomite” based on scriptural references (p. 1035): “Sodomite (Heb. qadesh, consecrated, devoted). The sodomites were not inhabitants of Sodom, nor their descendents, but men consecrated to the unnatural vice of Sodom (Gen. 19:5; compare with Romans 1:27) as a religious rite. This dreadful ‘consecration,’ or, rather, desecration, was spread in different forms over Phoenicia, Syria, Phrygia, Assyria, and Babylonia. Ashtaroth, the Greek Astarte, was its chief object. The term was especially applied to the emasculated priests of Cybele, called Galli, perhaps from the river Gallus in Bithynia, which was said to make those who drank it mad.”
Spiritually, the people of the plains (as the people of Sodom, Gomorrah, and three other area cities) were called, followed fertility gods and goddesses whose practices relied on sexuality as a magical means of ensuring fertile crops and fertile wombs. The eunuch priests of the Great Mother Goddess (called Aruru, Astarte, Ishtar, and other names, depending on the location) engaged in sex with male worshippers who wanted to earn the goddess’ blessings. Robert Graves described these priests as the “dog priests” or “Enariae,” whose high holiday fell on the Dog days at the rising of the Dog-star, Sirius (Tom Horner, Jonathan Loved David, p. 60). It is from these worship practices that scholars believe the ancient Hebrews drew the derogatory term, “dog,” to describe these priests. But more on this later. The Great Goddess or Great Mother was the one who granted fertility to humans, animals and crops, according to the people in the land.
By worshipping the Great Mother, by any of her names, one could be guaranteed fertility. The worship involved what is called sympathetic magic, i.e., “…to make the corn grow high, one leaps into the air; in order to kill one’s enemy, one sticks pins into his effigy” (page 61). So, to ensure rebirth of crops, you cast your seed (sperm) into the representatives of the Great Mother, her priests or priestesses. The males were even better than the females, since “they had made a greater sacrifice: they had offered to the goddess their manhood” (page 65). So, basically, these people were engaging in licentious sexual practices as a way of worship and prostituting themselves. 2) What was the great outcry, which had come to the Lord, causing God to come down to earth to check personally? According to George Edwards in Gay/Lesbian Liberation: A Biblical Perspective, the word “outcry” comes from the word zecaqa, “a technical legal term… signifying ‘the cry for help which one who suffers great injustice screams.'” It is the cry of the poor and homeless, of the innocent and powerless for justice. In Sodom, the Hebrews perceived a people whose disdain for the rights of others characterized the entire Canaanite people. Scripture explains the sins of Sodom over and over. In no case is it homosexuality. In all cases, Sodom’s doom is caused by its inhospitality. In every case, scripture demands that the rights of the alien and dispossessed be upheld. The answer is in Ezekiel 16:49-50. This is what Sodom did wrong. Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, surfeit of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them, when I saw it. Aha, “abominable things” must surely refer to homosexuality, they say, totally ignoring what is said about pride and compassion. According to Unger (page 9): “This word [abomination] is used to denote that which is particularly offensive to the moral sense, the religious feeling, or the natural inclination of the soul….The practices of sin — such as the swelling of pride, lips of falsehood, the sacrifices of the wicked, and the foul rites of idolatry — are stigmatized as abominations…” Remember Ashteroth?
3) “…that we may know them.” The Hebrew word used here is yadha, meaning “know.” According to F. Brown, S.R. Driver and C.A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford, 1952), the verb yadha occurs 943 times in the Old Testament. Derrick S. Bailey, in Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition (Archon Books, 1975), says that the verb is used only ten times as a reference to sexual “knowing.” Further, he says (pages 2-3): “In combination with mishkabh, which signifies in this context the act of lying, yadha occurs in five further places. On the other hand, shakhabh (from which mishkabh comes) is found some fifty times meaning ‘lie’ in the coital sense. Moreover, while yadha always refers to heterosexual coitus (omitting from consideration for the present the disputed passages, Genesis 19:5 and Judges 19:22), shakhabh is used of both homosexual and bestial coitus, in addition to that between man and woman.” Does the word here mean “to have homosexual sex” with the angels? Or does it mean to know who these strangers are who have come to stay with the other outsider, Lot? 4) Lack of care for others is a sin mentioned in Ezekiel.
And many people refer to the sin of Sodom as lack of hospitality. In that type of climate, hospitality or lack of it meant life or death for travelers. Look at the sharp contrast in the way the angels were greeted by Abraham, just before they went to Sodom, and the way they were greeted by the Sodomites. [Abraham] lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth, and said, “My lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please do not pass your servant by. Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may go on…. Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf… And he took curds, and milk, and the calf which he had prepared, and placed it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate. (Genesis 18:2- (New American Standard) Abraham is considered a righteous man by God, and God’s “friend.” God could not find ten righteous people in Sodom and so destroyed it. 5) Rape To get a better picture of the rape factor in the Sodom story, you also need to compare a story in Judges 19.
This story is almost a direct parallel to the Sodom story in many ways. The story goes as follows: a man was travelling with his concubine and stays one night in the city of Gibeah. The man and woman are received by an old man who was a “sojourner” (like Lot was) in the city and are surrounded during the night by the citizens of the town who demand to “know” the man. The old man offers them his daughter and the man’s concubine. The visitor sends his concubine out, and she is raped all night by the men of the city, finally dying in the morning on the doorstep. Would homosexual men rape a woman all night because they couldn’t get a man?? Hello?? As closely parallel these two stories are, interpreters never put the blame on homosexuality, but always on inhospitality. 6) Sex between species : The Scriptures do talk about sexual relations between women and angels and that this is so abhorrent to God that God destroyed the world because of it. Look at Genesis 6:2-6: …the sons of God [the common way angels are referred to in Scripture] saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. Then the LORD said, “” My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh… The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. (New American Standard) Compare this to Jude 6-7 where Jude talks about angels doing what come unnaturally: And the angels who did not keep their own position but abandoned their proper abode [God] has kept… in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day; just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example, in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. (New American Standard). It seems that inter-species relations are forbidden and grieve God as an unnatural thing. Finally, if the Sodom story talks about sexual use, it is in the context of idolatry (worship of false gods), violent rape, interspecies relations. If Sodom was destroyed because of non-sexual reasons, there is also much evidence for it. The story of Sodom tells us as gay Christians to worship God alone, to engage in no sexual practices during worship, to be caring and compassionate toward strangers. Who knows? They might be angels. In closing, this story from Robert Graves’ and Raphael Patai’s book, Hebrew Myths (Greenwich House, 1983), gives a telling clue to the truth behind the Sodom story (pages 167-168): The Sodomites were among the richest of nations….
Sodom was secure against attack; yet to discourage visitors, its citizens passed a law that whoever offered a stranger food should be burned alive. Instead, the stranger must be robbed of all he had and flung from the city stark naked. Once a year they held a feast…. When they had well drunken, every man would seize his neighbor’s wife, or his virgin daughter, and enjoy her. Nor did any many care whether his wife or daughter were sporting with his neighbor; but all made merry together from dawn to dusk, during those four days of festival…Beds were placed in the streets of Sodom for measuring strangers. If a man proved to be shorter than the bed on which he had been laid, three Sodomites would seize his legs, three more his head and arms, and stretch him until he fitted it. But if he proved to be longer than the bed, they forced his head downward and his legs upward. When the poor wretch cried out in a death agony, the Sodomites said, ‘Peace, this is an ancient custom here.’ In the city of Admah, near Sodom, lived a rich man’s daughter. One day a wayfarer sat down by her house door, and she fetched him bread and water. The city judges, hearing of this criminal act, had her stripped naked, smeared with honey, and laid beside a wild bees’ nest; the bees then came and stung her to death. It was her cries that prompted God’s destruction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim; also those uttered by Lot’s elder daughter, Paltit — who had given a needy old man water, and was dragged to the stake for her obstinate ways.