Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground;XIX.
(1) And there came two angels.—Heb., And the two angels came. It is a continuation of the preceding narrative, and takes up the history from Genesis 18:22.
Lot sat in the gate of Sodom.—He had therefore become a citizen of Sodom, probably after the deliverance from the Elamite invasion, when, as a relative of Abraham, he would be treated with great honour. This personal respect had made him close his eyes to the sinfulness of the people, and he had consented to live inside the town, and even to let its citizens marry his daughters. Meanwhile all intercourse between him and Abraham apparently had ceased, and he had lost all share in the covenant of circumcision.
And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant's house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.(2) In the street.—That is, the broad open space of the city. (Comp. Judges 19:15; Judges 19:20.) In a warm climate there is little hardship in passing the night in the open air; and as at this early date there were no caravanserais, travellers had to lodge in this way unless they found some hospitable entertainer.
And he pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.(3) He pressed upon them greatly.—This he did as knowing the licentiousness of the people; but the angels do not readily accept his hospitality, as they had done that of Abraham, because his character had deteriorated.
Unleavened bread.—Heb., thin cakes, like those now eaten by the Jews at the Passover. They took little time in preparation, for which reason we find them also used by the witch of Endor (1Samuel 28:24).
But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter:(4) From every quarter.—Heb., from the end. This may mean, either, “to the last man.” or “from the very end of the town.” In either case it shows that there were not in Sodom the ten righteous men who would have availed to save it (Genesis 18:32).
Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.(8) I have two daughters.—It is plain from Judges 19:24 that this proposal was not viewed in old time with the horror which it seems to deserve. Granting with St. Ambrose that it was the substitution of a smaller for a greater sin, and with St. Chrysostom that Lot was bound by the laws of hospitality to do his utmost to protect his guests, yet he was also bound as a father equally to protect his daughters to the last extremity: and if men might substitute smaller for greater sins, they would have an excuse for practising every form of wickedness. The difficulty arises from the high character given of Lot by St. Peter (2Peter 2:7-8): but Lot was righteous only relatively; and though his soul was daily vexed by what he saw, it was not vexed enough to make him quit such evil surroundings, and return to the healthy and virtuous life of the mountains. And, when finally he sought refuge in them, as it was not of his own free will, but on compulsion (Genesis 19:30), he found there no peace, but shared, even if unknowingly, in deeds of horrible lust. The warning of his fall is, that men who part with religious privileges for the sake of worldly advantage are in danger of sinking into moral degradation, and of losing, with their faith and hope, not only their self-respect and happiness, but even that earthly profit for the sake of which they sacrificed their religion.
Unto these men.—The form of the pronoun is archaic, and occurs again in Genesis 19:25. It is found in a few other places in the Pentateuch, but never elsewhere.
For therefore, &c. . . . —Comp. Genesis 18:5.
And they said, Stand back. And they said again, This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with thee, than with them. And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and came near to break the door.(9) This one fellow came in to sojourn.—Heb. the one came to sojourn, as if an extraordinary concession had been made in Lot’s favour in allowing him to dwell within their walls. In ancient times the rights of citizenship were most jealously guarded, and the position of a sojourner made very bitter.
He will needs be a judge.—Heb., is ever acting as a judge. This suggests that Lot had previously reproved the men of Sodom, and agrees with 2Peter 2:8.
And they smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great: so that they wearied themselves to find the door.(11) Blindness.—This word occurs elsewhere only in 2Kings 6:18, and in both cases it is plain that actual blindness is not meant. Had the men here been struck with blindness they would not have wearied themselves with trying to find the door, but would either have gone away in terror at the visitation, or, if too hardened for that, would have groped about till they found it. So, if the Syrian army had been made actually blind, they would have surrendered themselves; nor would it have been practicable to guide an army of blind men on so long a march as that from Dothan to Samaria. In both cases the men were unaware that anything had happened to them. The people of Sodom thought they saw the door; the Syrians supposed that the locality was one well known to them, and only when the confusion was removed did they become conscious that they were at Samaria. The word really means a disturbance of vision caused by the eye not being in its proper connection with the brain. And so the men of Sodom ever seemed just upon the point of reaching the door, and pressed on, and strove and quarrelled, but always failed, they knew not how, but as they always supposed by one another’s fault. It is a strange picture of men given over to unbelief and sin, and who “seeing see not,” because they reject the true light.
And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get you out of this place; for the LORD will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law.(14) Which married his daughters.—Heb., the takers of his daughters—a present participle, for which reason Ewald, Tuch, and others translate “who were to marry his daughters.” The traditional view is that given in our Version, and is confirmed by Genesis 19:15, where the words—“thy two daughters which are here,” Heb., which are found—certainly suggest the idea that Lot had other daughters, besides the two which escaped with him.
As one that mocked.—Heb., as one that was laughing, or joking, and so not in earnest.
And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters, which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city.(15) When the morning arose.—Lot had thus the night for making his preparations, but part of this he spent in his visits to his sons-in-law.
And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city.(16) And while he lingered.—Heb., and he lingered. Lot still clung to his wealth, and could not make up his mind to leave it, and so at length the angels took him by the hand and compelled him to quit the doomed city.
The Lord being merciful unto him.—Heb., in Jehovah’s pity for him. (Comp. Isaiah 63:9.)
And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.(17) Abroad.—Heb., outside—that is, of the city.
Look not behind thee.—This was not merely to prevent delay, but also showed that God demanded of them a total abandonment in heart and will of the condemned cities, and hence the severity with which the violation of the command was visited.
Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die:(19) Lest some evil.—Heb., lest the evil, lest the threatened calamity overtake me and I die.
And he said unto him, See, I have accepted thee concerning this thing also, that I will not overthrow this city, for the which thou hast spoken.(21) I have accepted thee.—Heb., I have lifted up thy face. (See Note on Genesis 4:6-7.)
Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do any thing till thou be come thither. Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar.(22) Zoar.—This town is identified by Dr. Tristram (Land of Moab, p. 330) with Zi’ara, at the northern end of the Dead Sea. It is described as lying upon the borders of the Moabite territory, in Isaiah 15:5; Jeremiah 48:34. Eusebius says that a Roman garrison was posted there, but he probably accepted the current tradition which placed the five cities at the southern extremity of the lake.
The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered into Zoar.(23) The sun was risen.—As Lot started at dawn, he had thus had about an hour for his flight.
Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;(24) The Lord (Jehovah) rained . . . from the Lord (from Jehovah).—Many commentators, following the Council of Sirmium, see in this repetition of the name of Jehovah an indication of the Holy Trinity, as though God the Son rained down fire from God the Father. More correctly Calvin takes it as an emphatic reiteration of its being Jehovah’s act. Jehovah had mysteriously manifested Himself upon earth by the visit of the three angels to Abraham, but His activity on earth is one with His willing in heaven.
Brimstone and fire.—Though God used natural agencies in the destruction of the Ciccar cities, yet what was in itself a catastrophe of nature became miraculous by the circumstances which surrounded it. It was thus made the means not merely of executing the Divine justice, of strengthening Abraham’s faith, and of warning Lot, but also of giving moral and religious instruction throughout all time. Seen by its light, events of history, for which sufficient secondary causes may be discovered, are nevertheless shown to be direct manifestations of the Divine justice, and to have moral causes as their real basis. We lose the benefit of the teaching of the Bible if we suppose that the events recorded there were different in kind from those which take place now. A certain limited number of events were so; but of most it is simply the curtain that is drawn back, and we see God’s presence no longer veiled, as with us, but openly revealed. As for the catastrophe itself, it was not a mere thunderstorm which set the earth, saturated with naphtha, on fire; but, in a region where earthquakes are still common, there was apparently an outburst of volcanic violence, casting forth blazing bitumen and brimstone. This falling down upon the houses, and upon the soil charged with combustible matter, caused a conflagration so sudden and widespread that few or none could escape. Sulphur and nitre are still found as natural products on the shores of the Dead Sea.
And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.(25) Overthrew.—This does not mean submerged, and the agent in the destruction was fire and not water. “The plain” (Heb., the Ciccar) still existed, and when Abraham saw it, was wrapped in smoke.
But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.(26) His wife looked back from behind him.—In Oriental countries it is still the rule for the wife to walk behind her husband. As regards the method of her transformation, some think that she was stifled by sulphureous vapours, and her body subsequently encrusted with salt. More probably, the earthquake heaped up a mighty mass of the rock-salt, which lies in solid strata round the Dead Sea, and Lot’s wife was entangled in the convulsion and perished, leaving the hill of salt, in which she was enclosed, as her memorial. Salt cones are not uncommon in this neighbourhood, and the American Expedition found one, about forty feet high, near Usdum (Lynch, Report, pp. 183 et seq.). Entombed in this salt pillar, she became a “monument of an unbelieving soul” (Wisdom Of Solomon 10:7).
And Abraham gat up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the LORD:(27) Abraham gat up early in the morning.—This was necessary, because he had a walk of some miles before he reached “the place where he stood before Jehovah” on the previous evening; and probably the mighty forces which overthrew the cities had been some hours at work when he reached the head of the ravine through which the terrible scene became visible. Naturally his anxiety to know the result of his intercession, and the fate of his brother’s son, would urge him to be on foot at the early dawn.
And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace.(28) Lo, the smoke of the country (really, land) went up as the smoke of a furnace.—The substitution of the word country for land is confusing. It was the land of the Ciccar, just mentioned, which was in flames. As Abraham could see the Ciccar, it must have been at the northern end of the Dead Sea (see Note on Genesis 18:16); and as a violent conflagration was raging throughout it, the site of the cities could not have been submerged (see Note on Genesis 14:3). The violence of the fire is indicated by the last word, which is not the ordinary word for a furnace, but means a kiln, such as that used for burning chalk into lime, or for melting ores of metal.
And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar: and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters.(30) He feared to dwell in Zoar.—Though this little place had been granted him for an asylum, yet, terrified at the sight of the smoking valley, and remembering that he had been originally commanded to go to the mountains, he summons up his courage and proceeds thither. The limestone regions of Palestine are full of caverns; and the patriarch, whose wealth had been so great that he and Abraham could not dwell together, is now content to seek in one of these caverns a miserable home.
And the firstborn said unto the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth:(31) The firstborn said unto the Younger.—Several modern commentators see in this recital a mark of Jewish hatred towards the Moabites and Ammonites, and an attempt to brand their origin with shame. Really we find in Deuteronomy 2:9-19, no trace of the existence of this hostility, but, on the contrary, the relationship of these two nations to Israel is used as a ground for kindly feelings; and in the story of Ruth the Moabitess, and the friendship which existed between the king of Moab and David, we have proof that such feelings existed.
Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.(32) That we may preserve seed of our father.—This was a very strong feeling in ancient times, and affords the sole excuse for the revolting conduct of these women. The utter degradation of Lot and his family is the most painful part of his story, which thus ends in his intense shame.
And the firstborn bare a son, and called his name Moab: the same is the father of the Moabites unto this day.(37, 38) Moab . . . Ben-ammi.—Both these names suggest an incestuous origin, but the latter in a less repulsive way. “Son of my people” means one born of intercourse with her own kin and family. It is a striking proof of the vigour of the race of Terah, that from this lone cavern, and after the loss of all the wealth possessed by Lot, these two children were able to reduce to obedience the aborigines dwelling on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, and establish petty kingdoms there. Both Moabites and Ammonites have finally merged in the Arabs.