Then the LORD rained on Sodom and on Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)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.Genesis 19:24. Then the Lord rained, from the Lord — The Son, who had conversed with Abraham, from the Father, for the Father has committed all judgment to the Son. He that is they Saviour will be the destroyer of those that reject the salvation.Genesis 14:10. The district was liable to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions from the earliest to the latest times. We read of an earthquake in the days of king Uzziah Amos 1:1. An earthquake in 1759 destroyed many thousands of persons in the valley of Baalbec. Josephus (De Bell. Jude 3.10, 7) reports that the Salt Sea sends up in many places black masses of asphalt, which are not unlike headless bulls in shape and size. After an earthquake in 1834, masses of asphalt were thrown up from the bottom, and in 1837 a similar cause was attended with similar effects.
The lake lies in the lowest part of the valley of the Jordan, and its surface is about thirteen hundred feet below the level of the sea. In such a hollow, exposed to the burning rays of an unclouded sun, its waters evaporate as much as it receives by the influx of the Jordan. Its present area is about forty-five miles by eight miles. A peninsula pushes into it from the east called the Lisan, or tongue, the north point of which is about twenty miles from the south end of the lake. North of this point the depth is from forty to two hundred and eighteen fathoms. This southern part of the lake seems to have been the original dale of Siddim, in which were the cities of the vale. The remarkable salt hills lying on the south of the lake are still called Khashm Usdum (Sodom). A tremendous storm, accompanied with flashes of lightning, and torrents of rain, impregnated with sulphur, descended upon the doomed cities.
From the injunction to Lot to "flee to the mountain," as well as from the nature of the soil, we may infer that at the same time with the awful conflagration there was a subsidence of the ground, so that the waters of the upper and original lake flowed in upon the former fertile and populous dale, and formed the shallow southern part of the present Salt Sea. In this pool of melting asphalt and sweltering, seething waters, the cities seem to have sunk forever, and left behind them no vestiges of their existence. Lot's wife lingering behind her husband, and looking back, contrary to the express command of the Lord, is caught in the sweeping tempest, and becomes a pillar of salt: so narrow was the escape of Lot. The dashing spray of the salt sulphurous rain seems to have suffocated her, and then encrusted her whole body. She may have burned to a cinder in the furious conflagration. She is a memorable example of the indignation and wrath that overtakes the halting and the backsliding.Deu 29:23 Jeremiah 49:18 Hosea 11:8.
Brimstone is added to the
fire, either to convey and carry down the fire, which in itself is light and apt to ascend; or to increase it, Isaiah 30:33; or to represent the noisomeness of their lusts.
From the Lord, i.e. from himself; the noun put for the pronoun, as Genesis 1:27 2 Chronicles 7:2. But here it is emphatically so expressed, either,
1. To signify that it proceeded not from natural causes, but from the immediate hand of God. Or,
2. To note the plurality of persons in the Godhead, God the Son, who now appeared upon the earth, rained from God his Father in heaven, both concurring in this act, as indeed all outward actions are common to all the persons of the Trinity. Deuteronomy 29:23; this was not a common storm of thunder and lightning, with which often there is a smell of sulphur or brimstone; but this was a continued shower of sulphurous fire, or of burning flaming brimstone, which at once consumed those cities and the inhabitants of them; and the land adjacent being bituminous, or however some parts of it, full of slimepits, or pits of bitumen, a liquid of a pitchy quality, Genesis 14:10; this flaming sulphur falling thereon, must burn in a most fierce and furious manner; and which utterly consumed not only houses, goods, and everything upon the land, but the land itself, and turned it into a bituminous lake, called to this day, from thence, the Lake Asphaltites, the Greek word for bitumen being "asphaltos". Of this conflagration some Heathen writers speak, as particularly Tacitus (f) who says, some large and famous cities, or, as some copies have it, Jewish ones, not far from Jordan, were struck with thunderbolts, and were fired "igni ceolesti", with fire from heaven, and were consumed; and so Solinus (g) relates, that,"at some distance from Jerusalem, a sorrowful lake appears, which the black ground testifies was stricken by heaven and turned into ashes; where were two towns, the one called Sodomum, the other Gomorrum.''This was a righteous judgment on those cities, and a just retaliation for their sin; their sin was an unnatural one, and nature is inverted to punish them, fire comes down from heaven, or hell from heaven, as Salvian's words are, to consume them; they burned with lusts one against another, and flaming sheets of sulphurous fire fall upon them, burn and destroy them; and, in allusion to this terrible conflagration, hell is called the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, Jde 1:7 Revelation 20:14; and this destruction was brought upon them by Jehovah the Son of God, who had appeared to Abraham in an human form, and gave him notice of it, and heard all he had to plead for those cities, and then departed from him to Sodom, and was the author of this sad catastrophe; this amazing shower of fire and brimstone was rained by him from Jehovah his Father, out of heaven; so the Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem both call him, the Word of the Lord. Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
24. Then the Lord, &c.] The destruction of the cities of the Plain is an event to which frequent allusion is made in Holy Scripture. The impressive features of the Dead Sea must have continually lent force to the terrible tradition of an overthrow in times of remote antiquity. The barrenness of the soil, the absence of life in the water, the deposits of salt, of bitumen, and of sulphur, helped to connect a region, which was within sight of Jerusalem, with the thought of a judicial visitation by Jehovah, more terrible in character, if less in magnitude, than the Deluge itself. For the prophetic use of this catastrophe, see especially Deuteronomy 29:23. Cf. Jeremiah 20:16; Jeremiah 23:14; Jeremiah 49:18; Jeremiah 50:40; Lamentations 4:6; Amos 4:11; Zephaniah 2:9. In the N.T. see Luke 17:29; 2 Peter 2:6; Jdg 1:7.
brimstone and fire] It is unreasonable to subject the description of this overthrow to the close scrutiny of modern science. Geologists now tell us that, within recent geological periods, there is no sign of volcanic activity in the Dead Sea region. If, therefore, as is assumed, the cities of the Plain lay in the Dead Sea valley, their overthrow was not occasioned by lava or burning ashes, like Pompeii, or Herculaneum, or St Pierre. It has been contended, and is not beyond the bounds of probability, that an earthquake, causing a sudden subsidence of the crust and accompanied by great fissures in the earth, caused the overthrow of buildings, and released great masses of bitumen, sulphur, &c., which are to be found in large quantities in that locality. The spontaneous combustion of escaping gas, the ignition of great masses of bituminous material, combined with the outflow of steam and hot water, would then have enveloped the whole country in dense smoke, and would have seemed to drop brimstone and fire from the sky. This line of explanation would also assume that the depression of the earth’s surface led to the subsequent submergence of the four ruined cities beneath the waters of the Dead Sea; the lower end of which is exceedingly shallow. A careful scientific investigation of the whole question was undertaken by Blanckenhorn, the results of which are contained in the Z.D.P.V. 1896, p. 58, 1898, p. 78.
There is, however, in the Biblical story, no mention of an earthquake. The events recorded evidently refer to a catastrophe, the tradition of which was handed down by the early Hebrews, and popularly localized in the bare and terrible features of the Dead Sea scenery.
from the Lord out of heaven] The words “from the Lord” come in very strangely after “the Lord rained.” Cf. Micah 5:7, “as dew from the Lord.” For “out of heaven,” cf. 2 Kings 1:12; Job 1:16.Verse 24. - Then the Lord rained - literally, and Jehovah caused it to rain; καὶ κύριος ἔβρεξε (LXX.), which latter term is adopted by Luke in describing this event (Genesis 17:29) - upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah - and also upon Admah and Zeboim (Deuteronomy 29:23; Hosea 11:8), Bela, or Zoar, of the five cities of the Jordan circle (Genesis 14:2, 8) being exempted - brimstone and fire - גָּפְרִית; properly pitch, though the name was afterwards transferred to other inflammable materials (Gesenius); וָאֵשׁ, and fire, which, though sometimes used of lightning, as in 1 Kings 18:38; 2 Kings 1:10, 12, 14; Job 1:16, may here describe a different sort of igneous agency. Whether this Divinely-sent rain was "burning pitch" (Keil), of lightning which ignited the bituminous soil (Clericus), or a volcanic eruption which overwhelmed all the region (Lynch, Kitto), it was clearly miraculous in its nature, and designed as a solemn punitive infliction on the cities of the plain - from the Lord - i.e. Jehovah (the Son) rained down from Jehovah (the Father), as if suggesting a distinction of persons in the Godhead (Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Athanasius, et alii, Delitzsch, Lunge, Wordsworth); otherwise the phrase is regarded as "an elegancy of speech" (Aben Ezra), "an emphatic repetition" (Calvin), a more exact characterization of the storm (Clericus, Rosenmüller) as being out of heaven. Genesis 13:10), but to flee to the mountains (afterwards called the mountains of Moab). In Genesis 19:17 we are struck by the change from the plural to the singular: "when they brought them forth, he said." To think of one of the two angels - the one, for example, who led the conversation - seems out of place, not only because Lot addressed him by the name of God, "Adonai" (Genesis 19:18), but also because the speaker attributed to himself the judgment upon the cities (Genesis 19:21, Genesis 19:22), which is described in Genesis 19:24 as executed by Jehovah. Yet there is nothing to indicate that Jehovah suddenly joined the angels. The only supposition that remains, therefore, is that Lot recognised in the two angels a manifestation of God, and so addressed them (Genesis 19:18) as Adonai (my Lord), and that the angel who spoke addressed him as the messenger of Jehovah in the name of God, without its following from this, that Jehovah was present in the two angels. Lot, instead of cheerfully obeying the commandment of the Lord, appealed to the great mercy shown to him in the preservation of his life, and to the impossibility of his escaping to the mountains, without the evil overtaking him, and entreated therefore that he might be allowed to take refuge in the small and neighbouring city, i.e., in Bela, which received the name of Zoar (Genesis 14:2) on account of Lot's calling it little. Zoar, the Σηγώρ of the lxx, and Segor of the crusaders, is hardly to be sought for on the peninsula which projects a long way into the southern half of the Dead Sea, in the Ghor of el Mezraa, as Irby and Robinson (Pal. iii. p. 481) suppose; it is much more probably to be found on the south-eastern point of the Dead Sea, in the Ghor of el Szaphia, at the opening of the Wady el Ahsa (vid., v. Raumer, Pal. p. 273, Anm. 14).
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