"Only this was the sin of your sister Sodom: arrogance! She and her daughters had plenty of bread and untroubled tranquility, yet she did not support the poor and the needy.”
PART 2: The Sin of Sodom and Gomorrah as Referenced Later in the Bible
I found over twenty references to Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible. A large chunk of them were merely categorizing destruction, as Sodom-and-Gomorrah-esque, prophesying that the mighty nations and the proud societies could all be over in a flash – Israel certainly being among the nations so warned. Yet again, most of these verses offer little information regarding the kinds of sins that would warrant such a category of destruction. Isaiah 13:19 contains fairly typical language, “And Babylon, glory of kingdoms, Proud splendor of the Chaldeans, Shall become like Sodom and Gomorrah, Overturned by God.” (See also: Deut. 29:23; Lament. 4:6; Amos 4:11; Zeph. 2:9; Matt. 11:23-24; Luke 17:29-33; Rev. 11). One of the possible implications of these verses is that Imperialism’s inherent vices invoked God’s wrath.
Let’s take a closer look at the gospels for a moment. According to the Gospel authors, whenever Jesus refers to Sodom and Gomorrah, like the prophets before him, he may be merely categorizing destruction rather than commenting on the nature of the original sins of Sodom. I quote from Mark 6:11, although parallel sayings can be found in Matt. 10:14-15 and Luke 10:10-12, “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.” The Gomorrah-esque destruction is here described again as punishment for inhospitality, or more specifically for rejecting the prophets. If you think about it, the original Sodom and Gomorrah narrative does involve the abuse of visitors sent by God. Similarly, when Jesus speaks of some who will “not receive” his disciples, this is probably a gross understatement. We should not take this to mean that Jesus wishes fire upon all those who refuse to become Christians. Rejection implies much more than polite disagreement. Jesus fully expected aggressive persecution, including physical violence, and he warned about it later in the same chapter (see Matt. 10: 22-31). Jesus’ believed his disciples would have to suffer some of the same horrible abuses he would suffer.
Maybe violent persecution is what brought destruction on Sodom, as well as these threats of destruction on those who would persecute Jesus disciples. Still, these verses prompt the question – is this the same Jesus who taught his disciples to “love your enemies” and who prayed just before his own crucifixion, “forgive them for they know not what they do”? Maybe we don’t need to defend these statements. It is possible that they reflect the viewpoint of the frustrated and persecuted Christian communities which sprang up later in the first century, who yearned for divine justice and deliverance. In contrast, the same Matthew and Luke chapters, referenced earlier, do manage to preserve some of the language of the Prince of Peace. Luke quotes Jesus in verse 5, “into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house.” And verse 16 of Matthew reads, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (see also Luke 10:3). Jesus’ disciples are to do everything they can to promote and preserve peace. Now, to return to the purpose of this article, I should point out that we can be sure that none of Jesus’ recorded teachings even speak of homosexuality, much less of a Sodom-like destruction resulting from widespread tolerance of consensual homosexuality.
Again, rather than revealing something about the historical nature of Sodom’s sin, it seems that Sodom is used by Bible authors and editors as a convenient rhetorical devise to discourage whatever behavior they find objectionable in their intended audiences. In the following verses we find Sodom’s destruction associated with a whole cornucopia of sins, including sexual sin. But sexual indiscretions never do achieve the status of a major theme even in these verses. Instead, lawlessness is the major culprit. Jude says they “despise dominion,” 2 Peter says they “despise government,” and both say they “speak evil of dignities.” 2 Peter continues, they are “brute beasts” who like to “riot” and who are bound to “perish in their own corruption.” These verses are worth reading, but again they speak of multiple sins, and so they do little to help us grasp the particular nature of Sodom’s sin (Jude 1:7-8; 2 Peter 2:6-14).
FINALLY, there are some Biblical authors who explicitly claim to be revealing Sodom’s sin. Read together, a clear theme emerges from the following verses. I will keep my commentary to a minimum and let you read and interpret them for yourselves.
Ezekiel 16: 48-49:
“As I live, declares the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters did not do what you and your daughters did. Only this was the sin of your sister Sodom: arrogance! She and her daughters had plenty of bread and untroubled tranquility, yet she did not support the poor and the needy.”
Isaiah 1:10, 15-18, 21, 23:
Addressing Israel Isaiah says, “Hear the word of the Lord, You chieftains of Sodom; Give ear to our God’s instruction, You folk of Gomorrah! … Though you pray at length, I will not listen. Your hands are stained with crime – Wash yourselves clean; Put your evil doings away from my sight. Cease to do evil; Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; Aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; Defend the cause of the widow. Come, and let us reach an understanding, says the Lord. Be your sins like crimson, They can turn snow-white; Be they red as dyed wool, they can become like fleece."
“Alas, she has become a harlot, The faithful city that was filled with justice, Where righteousness dwelt – but now murderers … Your rulers are rogues and cronies of thieves, Everyone avid for presents, and greedy for gifts; They do not judge the case of the orphan, And the widow’s cause never reaches them.”
Isaiah 3: 9, 13-15:
“Their partiality in judgment accuses them; They avow their sins like Sodom, they do not conceal them. Woe to them! For ill have they served themselves ... The Lord stands up to plead a cause, He rises to champion his people. The Lord will bring this charge against the elders and officers of His people: It is you who have ravaged the vineyard; That which was robbed from the poor is in your houses. How dare you crush my people and grind the faces of the poor? says my Lord God of hosts.”
We arrive where the story began, with an “outcry” against Sodom from the victims of neglect, exploitation, oppression, and violence. Only now the authors are explicit, so we don’t have to make mere inferences! In short, the sin of Sodom was inhumanity. This is the most prominent theme of later biblical authors who commented on the Genesis narrative. Now that we understand the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, we ought to consider whether this more accurate understanding can help make our world a more loving and peaceful place. Is there anything positive that we can take away from this gruesome narrative? We’ll save that discussion for Part 3.
“When ye reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of thy harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and stranger: I the LORD am your God.”