Genesis 18-20

Good morning! Happy Epiphany for those who are marking the end of the 12 days of Christmas! Today’s reading is Genesis 18-20, which juxtaposes the promise of new life in Sarah’s womb with the judgment and destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Genesis 18 starts out with a lovely demonstration of hospitality toward guests when God in the form of three men (which many say is a metaphor for the post-biblical idea of the Trinity) arrives at the tent of Abraham and Sarah. Abraham spares no expense or effort to care for the needs of his guests—water, bread, shade, curds, milk, and meat are hastily provided. This hospitality allows space for lengthier conversation, in which Sarah overhears that despite being post-menopausal and barren her whole life, she would have a child within the year. The subject of Sarah’s laughter will return in tomorrow’s reading, when the child arrives.

Meanwhile, the three-traveler manifestation of God continues on toward Sodom and Gomorrah. God shares with Abraham that the towns have grown so wicked they are intended for destruction. Their example is to teach Abraham’s descendants about the importance of doing righteousness and justice. Abraham tests God’s mercy on the righteous lives who might be destroyed along with the wicked. Note the long-suffering patience of God, who agrees that if only ten righteous people are found the whole place will be spared.

At least one person in Sodom demonstrates righteous hospitality at first, as Abraham’s nephew Lot invites the strangers to stay with his family and they eventually consent. For good reason, since a mob of every other man from Sodom demands to get their hands on these guests. 19:5 indicates that they intend male rape on the visitors, a brutal and flagrant violation of the hospitality which ought to be extended to all guests. Lot offers his daughters to the mob (his virtue is pretty limited after all), the strangers save the family and advise them to get far, far away. Lot dallies until the strangers push his family out of the city, and his wife is a casualty when the devastation finally arises. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah comes up several times later in the Bible. Ezekiel 16:49, for instance, says, “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” While homosexuality is sometimes considered the “sin of Sodom”, this is nowhere reflected in the Bible. Judgment fell on this town because of its widespread unrighteousness and inhospitality to strangers.

Two other curious stories round out the rest of this reading. The unseemly story of how Lot’s daughters gave birth to Moab and Ammon seems intended as another example of slander against other groups. The Moabites and Ammonites come up later as adversaries to the descendants of Abraham. Sarah and Abraham lie about their marriage again in Gerar—it seems to have been a theme of the stories of this time, because we’ll see it again with the long-promised son who finally arrives tomorrow. Happy reading!

Read Genesis 18-20.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. Tomorrow’s passage is Genesis 21-23. Thanks for reading!

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