Saturday, August 23, 2008

Genesis 19:4-9 "Worst father of the Bible" award?

Genesis 19:4-9: Before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter; and they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them to us that we may have relations with them.” But Lot went out to them at the doorway, and shut the door behind him, and said, “Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly. Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof.” But they said, “Stand aside.” Furthermore, they said, “This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them.” So they pressed hard against Lot and came near to break the door.

This is probably one of the most futuristic scenes in all of scripture, or so it seems when we consider the immorality of today’s society. Lot, his family, and the angel visitors that he convinced to stay the night are just getting ready for bed when young and old men from every part of the city surround the house and start calling out loud to Lot. Certainly somebody had been hunting for “new men sightings” in the city and knew exactly that Lot had just received two male visitors. The news got passed on quickly.

The question arises as to whether this mob represented all the men of the city or just some. Clearly the text reads “the men” as compared to “some men”. When you consider this in light of the fact that both God and Abraham believed fewer than ten people in Sodom were righteous and you divide that by half for the purpose of gender and then half again for the purpose of dividing the ‘of age’ males from young boys, then you are left with very few, if any, righteous men – an explanation which supports the idea that this was indeed all “the men” of the city. So here they all are, wanting to have homosexual relations with Lot’s two visitors.

If indeed these men were all of the men in the city, then we could safely assume that Lot in his day to day dealings knew some or all of them. As a minimum, we note that he calls them brothers because that was the custom of the day as neighbors were more closely associated in those days, or because he in fact was a member of their group when it came to certain business or social activities. So he begged them not to insist on violating his guests. His words certainly indicate that he knew what they wanted to do was wicked.

It’s the next part that really puzzles me. Does Lot deserve the “worse father in the Bible” award? Today we would ask, “How can he offer his virgin daughters to the men for sex in order to protect his guests’ honor?” Was hospitality so important that it trumped the sexual purity of one’s children? Was he just as warped in his thinking as the men that banged on his door? Scripture does not tell us. It is possible he thought homosexuality was a worse sin than heterosexual abuse and that falsity continues to this day for many. Did he have an idea that these guests were not just men? Perhaps.

Whatever his thinking and rationale for trying to negotiate with the men of the city the way he did, it was to no avail. Given his opposition to their idea, the men turned against him and jeered him with remarks to one another referring to Lot himself being a stranger among them and now judging them. Their anger intensified and they prepared to treat Lot even worse then they were going to treat his guests. With this intention, they came up to the door of his house.

The whole sight would make a great movie scene – late at night, everyone about ready to go to bed, and the mobs pounding on the door with an unreasonable demand. The landlord goes out and pleads with them, offering an alternative of which they’ll have no part in. Instead, they get more violent and the landlord is now about to be assaulted.

There are at least four lessons here we should not miss. First, we cannot be effective in our own ministry as strangers. Aliens do not sway people permanently. This is something that those working with indigenous peoples around the world are finally realizing. The best type of lasting influence comes from a person’s own kind. That is why missions are turning their efforts more and more towards raising up native Christians to minister to their own people. At the very least, one has to have earned the respect and trust of the locals, before he or she can minister to them.

Second, judging does not go over too well. We so often forget that. We need to get our message across without being perceived as judgmental to the best of our ability. It is important to demonstrate care for the individual without supporting their behavior. Even the best arguments do not work if they appear to be judgmental.

Third, timing is everything. One wonders what impact Lot had on these men prior to this evening. What stand did he take when similar issues arose in day-to-day life? To leave the appeal to one’s sense of morality in a heated moment in the middle of the night may be too late. We must not miss the opportunities we have to make wise inputs into the lives of others as we watch them embarking on a road which leads to destruction.

Finally, let us not forget just who is standing nearby. God’s angels had not yet gone to bed.

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