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Sunday, August 2, 1998
Jim's Sunday Sermon 5: Sodom.
We've discovered the real problem in this world is not that people take the Bible too literally, it's that people don't take the Bible literally eNOUGH! Jimmy's continuing Bible education study has now rambled into Sodom and he has made a most astonishing discovery. Related item: Chick cartoon tract called DOOM TOWN which is Jack Chick's ultra-conservative religious version of Sodom. (I grew up with these lurid little cartoon tracts.) Compare Jimmy's reading of the Sodom story to their reading of the Sodom story.
Abraham is sitting under a tree one day in Hebron, recovering from his circumcision, when The Big Voice actually appears. (Genesis 18:1) Three men, who Abraham immediately recognizes as Two Angels and The Big Voice, pass by his tent on their way to destroy Sodom.
SODOM, SARAH AND ISAAC
The Big Voice tells Abram that "the outcry has been so great and their sin so grievous," (Gen 18:21) that He needs to see it for Himself before He wipes it out. (I guess the security monitors are down.)
The Big Voice tells Abraham that he's been getting too many complaints about what's going on in Sodom, like having a grumpy tenant who calls the police, whining about the loud party next door. But what was the outcry against Sodom? What was the grievous sin? What was the vile and wicked practice?
Stay tuned. Film at eleven.
Abraham fixes the three strangers a little barbecue and, leaving The Big Voice with Abraham, two of them set off to destroy Sodom. It's a forgone conclusion. Their mission: end the great wickedness with fire and brimstone. (The wickedness they go to end is not mentioned by name. Just your general-all-round-twenty- four-hour-a-day-man-woman- and-child-innate-evil- oh-ya-got-trouble-kind of wickedness.)
Although Abraham is afraid of The Big Voice, he sees that a great injustice is about to be done and pleads for the salvation of Sodom. He can't believe that every single human being in one city can be innately evil. And besides, his nephew Lot lives in Sodom and he doesn't want him to get hit with any ricocheting brimstone.
The lawyer in Abraham comes out and he and The Big Voice go back into contract negotiations. He suggests that it's beneath the dignity of The Big Voice to destroy a whole city if there are even a few good people there. The Big Voice agrees and says, " Okay, I won't whack Sodom if I can find 50 good people there."
Abraham eventually gets him down to ten good people. This implies that even Lot's tribe of over three thousand, people who were circumcised followers of The Big Voice, didn't have ten good people in it. (And, as we shall see, the moral character of Lot is questionable at best.)
The Lot Family has moved from the suburbs of Sodom (Genesis 13:10) to the city (Gen 19:1). He is within the gate when he sees the Two Angels approach. Lot immediately recognizes the strangers as Heavenly Henchman and offers them a good dinner and a place to stay.
The Angels insist on sleeping in the town square but Lot insists that they stay in his house because of the unique and picturesque way the local townsfolk have intercourse with strangers.
After Lot serves them dinner, the text says that the whole city - every man, woman and child, young and old - assemble at Lot's door, demanding to have sex with the strangers. Each of my translations of Genesis 19:5 reads a bit differently:1) "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Send them out so we may abuse them." (Jerusalem Bible)And they didn't even bring flowers or a bottle of wine.
2) "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out so we may know them carnally." (King James Edition)
3) And the bluntest, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them to us so we can have sex with them." (New international Version)
Sodom was a major city, headed by a King, with a population of at least ten or twenty thousand, not to mention Lot's three or four thousand ranch hands. Yet the text states emphatically that everyone - all twenty thousand citizens - demanded to have sex with the strangers - including the women and children!
This story seemed so outrageous to me that I needed to do some outside research. Here's what I found:
Were there truly cities whose population experienced fits of mass horniness? No. There was no sexual desire or attraction to the strangers.
A stranger was an automatic enemy. A stranger was a potential spy from another tribe, a paid assassin come to repay a tribal debt, a horse thief or a poisoner of the wells. A stranger threatened the safety of the community. He was not one of them.
When the story of Sodom is put into the context, it's not about sex. I find, instead, a metaphor about mob violence and intolerance. The people of Sodom didn't make too much love, they made too much hate.
When the city gathers at Lot's door, it's like a Hatfield appearing at the doorstep of a McCoy - they shoot first and ask questions later. But shooting is not the way in which that desert culture dealt with strangers. The custom of that time dictated that the foe should receive the greatest punishment a person could inflict - rape.
At the conclusion of a battle, the victor would rape the conquered to humiliate him and emasculate him - to treat the enemy like the lowest form of humanity - a woman. (There is no question that the passage refers to sex, but it doesn't not refer to a consentual sexual relation between two loving people be they of the same or opposite sex. This is about rape.)
To their credit, both Abraham and Lot greeted the strangers in warmth and friendship. They saw the light and goodness in them, offered a meal and they all got to know each other better over dinner.
But the population of Sodom resorted to mob violence. They were intolerant of strangers - of people who were different than they were - because they felt threatened!
So, instead of gaining knowledge and building a bridge with the stranger, Sodomites say, "Come out here, alien. We will violate you and abuse you because you are different and because you threaten us. You have the power to poison our minds and our bodies. You have the power to question our truths and make us doubt our beliefs. You have the power to destroy us."
Now if Lot was a just man, worthy of protection from the fire and brimstone shower, his offer to placate the angry mob is mind boggling. He himself is a stranger in Sodom and although he's been there for a few years with his tribe, he hasn't gained the full trust of the Sodomites.
He goes to the blood-thirsty (not lustful) mob and says, "I know you want to have sex with the strangers but I beg you not to. Here's a better idea. I have two virgin daughters inside and they're very beautiful. Why don't you line up and you can all have sex with them. All twenty thousand of you. Older ones first. Just take a number and keep it orderly."
What kind of father offers his two beautiful virgin daughters up to an angry mob? One who is an ultimate coward and who will do anything to save his own skin? The mob replies, telling Lot not to judge them since he's still a stranger -- and they'll do to him what they want to do to the Angels. Lot shuts the door and locks it. (Thought he lived in a tent? Anyhoo...)
The mob starts to break the doors down but the Angels make everybody blind, turning the crowd into a group of gropers. (Gen 19:11)
But the mob continues after the two angels -- to humiliate them, to lynch them in public. (The Sodomites, as well as other nomadic societies, regularly attacked those who looked, thought and acted differently then they did.) We can only conclude that the sin the Angels came to punish was assault, battery and abuse -- be it physical, emotional or psychological -- by an intolerant and ignorant society.
The grievous sin of Sodom was not homosexuality, it was the chronic commission of hate crimes.
The Angels tell Lot to gather his wife-cousin (Milcah) and their two virgin daughters, head for the hills and not look back. Lot tells his sons-in-law to pack but they think he's joking (Genesis 19:14) and stay behind. So Lot's family of four head for the city of Zoar which was isolated in the hills. Although the Angels mentioned no penalty for looking back on the destruction of Sodom, Lot's wife was turned into a statue of salt for doing so.
So far in Genesis, The Big Voice has a way of stopping what he considers bad behavior by annihilating the wicked while saving the few He judges to be morally upstanding people. Lot is so scared after the destruction of Sodom that he isolates himself in the hills of Zoar with his two daughters.
After a while, Lot's daughters want to "know" man but the only man around is their father. Like an old "Patty Duke" episode, those darn girls come up with a scheme to get pregnant: Get daddy drunk and have sex with him! Which is exactly what they do.
The older one goes first. (It seems that no matter what the biblical locale - desert, ocean, hillside or mountain - there's always wine.) Miss Lot gets her father drunk, has sex with him, tells her sister it was great and arranges for the younger girl to do the same thing the next night. Bingo, the two daughters give birth, making Lot a father and a grandfather the same day.
Although there isn't another man for a hundred miles, Lot has no clue that he is the father of the resulting issue. (And The Big Voice does nothing to disapprove?) He destroys a town because He condemns rape but incest is okay. Next Sally Jesse Raphael: "Teens Who Have Sex With Their Unconscious Fathers."
Meanwhile, back in Hebron, Abraham is looking at the smoke coming up from the ruins of Sodom when he decides to move the camel park again. They head South to the Kingdom of Gerar where history repeats itself. Abraham tells Sarah that they better pull their old "She's my sister" gag because the King of Gerar is going to see her, want to have sex with her and kill old Abe to do it.
Sure enough, Sarah, in her nineties and with breasts that double as a train on formal occasions, meets the King of Gerar who swoons at the sight of her. He begs her to marry him and she, being single and traveling with her brother , says "yes."
(Like the seven days of creation, I have a great deal of difficulty with this story - a ninety year old woman with more sex appeal than all the women of Gerar put together? I kept trying to think of a ninety year old woman today with sex appeal. Although she's not around anymore, maybe --just maybe -- Rose Kennedy before she had her stroke. )
But even so, can you picture the nonagenarian Mrs. Kennedy being invited to a Hollywood Reception at the White House for Hosni Mubarak and Yassar Arafat. The two Middle East leaders enter, politely shake hands with Michelle Pfieffer, Kim Basinger, Meryl Streep and Demi Moore, spot Rose Kennedy sitting in her wheelchair saying her rosary, challenge each other to a duel to death and then carry Rose off, broken hip and all, to the desert.
That's our Sarah!
The minute Sarah moves in with Abimelech the King, the wombs of all the women of Gerar are shut up so children stop being born. Then his house is plagued with plagues.
Abimelech starts to wonder if the disasters have anything to do with the ninety year-old tootsie he just took for a wife. The Big Voice comes to him in a dream and says, "Okay King. I know you didn't know she was really his wife and that's why I've prevented you from sleeping together. But she is a married woman and you're in big trouble."
(Note: It is made very clear -- Genesis 20:6 -- that Abimelech did not approach Sarah for sex after their marriage. Could it be because she was ninety and he thought her bones would turn to talc if they suffered any kind of friction? In my own imagination, I cast Abimelech as a young warrior king but it could be that he was also ninety-five and the thought of sex with someone his own age only brought on an acute case of arthritis.)
Abimelech pleads ignorance. He is innocent. The Big Voice agrees but tells Abimelech how things are: Abraham is a client - He has a contract that states no matter how badly Abraham acts (lies, cheats, steals, etc.) The Big Voice will always punish the innocent party."
When Abimelech asks Abraham why he pulled the stunt, the Bible provides a scene right out of "Chinatown." Abraham looks at Abimelech and says, "I thought you'd kill me because she's so beautiful but I didn't lie. She IS my sister. We had the same father but we had different mothers and I told her that if she really loved me she'd tell everybody that she was my sister -- because she really is!" On Sarah's smiling face and Abimelech looking confused, the soap opera would fade to commercial here.
Once again, the "She's My Sister Scam" provides a huge payoff. Abraham and Sarah are sent away with more sheep, gold, silver and slaves. I know Abe was righteous in the eyes of God, but if the Abrahams were alive today they'd be under investigation for scamming wealthy royalty out of their gold and livestock. Can't you see the headline of The Enquirer? "Ninety Year-Old Sheep Scammers On Lam: Says Wife Is His Sister: Roman Polanski buys movie rights."
Abimelech tells Abraham that he and Sarah can live anywhere in his kingdom as long as it's not near him. Shortly after they settled down, Sarah (true to the heavenly promise) became pregnant with Isaac.
After Isaac was born, the mean streak in Sarah surfaces again. She hates the sight of Hagar who had given birth to Abraham's oldest son, Ishmael. She accuses Hagar and Ishmael of "looking at her funny." (Genesis 21:8)
Were they looking at Sarah because she was the only ninety year-old woman they ever knew who had a baby or was it because she used to beat them and they still have the scars to prove it?
Sarah, the obvious head of the family, tells Abraham that Hagar and his first born son have to go. Not only does he agree, he banishes them to the desert and gives them nothing but one canteen of water and one loaf of bread.
In other words, he sends them to their death.
But the contract says that Ishmael would head a great nation, so he and his mother find water and prosper in the desert. Ishmael becomes an archer. (Note: it doesn't say he became a hunter, he just practiced on bull's eyes all day.)
Isaac, Sarah and Abraham's son/nephew, grows up to be a strapping young lad and once again, The Big Voice hasn't spoken in years. But he wants to make sure that Abraham still obeys him without question and means to test him big time. He tells him to take Isaac and make a barbecue out of him. Without hesitation, Abraham makes arrangements to take the boy up the hill for a sacrifice. (Abraham knows the way of The Big Voice - kill or be killed.)
On the way up the hill, Isaac wants to know where the sacrificial meat is and Abraham says "Wait and see. Won't you be surprised!" Just as Abraham is about to bring the knife down in Isaac's heart (Gen 22:11), an angel says, "Smile, you're on candid camera. The Big Voice just wanted to see if you still loved him and you do. So don't kill your son. You're still number one with The Big Voice."
(This seems a bit psychotic. Couldn't he have tested Abraham in some other way; a questionnaire perhaps?)
At this time, Abraham lived in Canaan, specifically the Land of The Hittites. (Genesis 23:2) At the ripe old age of one hundred and twenty- seven, Sarah dies. Abram feels bad because he is a stranger in a strange land and asks if anyone would sell him a burial plot for Sarah? Ephron the Hittite, hearing about Abraham's contract with The Big Voice and the punishments that befall people who aren't nice to him, gives Abraham a field with trees for himself and a cave to bury Sarah.
Abraham pays four hundred shekels for the property indicating that between Noah and Abraham a complete monetary and currency system has come into being.
So the great Sarah, the beauty of the age, is gone and Sodom is destroyed. I find it amazing that people read the story of Sodom and come away with the impression that the grievous sin they write about is being gay.
Since the Bible says the great sin was intolerance and abuse of people who are different, perhaps it's not the gays, but the ultra right wing conservative religionites of today that are the true Sodomites of this Century.
Related item: Chick cartoon tract called DOOM TOWN which is Jack Chick's absolutely ridiculous ultra-conservative religious version of Sodom and see why so many conservative Christians have lost their way in this world.
NEXT: ISAAC AND THE DATING GAME
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