Then the LORD rained on Sodom and on Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;…
The "brimstone" of the Authorized Version is probably rather some form of bituminous matter which could be carried into the air by such an escape of gas, and a thick saline mud would accompany the eruption, encrusting anything it reached. Subsidence would follow the ejection of quantities of such matter; and hence the word "overthrew," which seems inappropriate to a mere conflagration, would be explained. But, however this may be, we have to recognize a supernatural element in the starting of the train of natural causes as well as in the timing of the catastrophe, and a Divine purpose of retribution, which turns the catastrophe, however effected, into a judgment. So regarded, the event has a double meaning.
1. In the first place, it is a revelation of an element in the Divine character and of a feature in the Divine Government. To the men of that time, it might be a warning. To Abraham, and through him to his descendants, and through them to us, it preaches a truth very unwelcome to many in this day — that there is in God that which constrains Him to hate, fight against, and punish evil. The temper of this generation turns away from such thoughts, and, in the name of the truth that "God is love," would fain obliterate the truth that He does and will punish. But if the punitive element be suppressed, and that in God which makes it necessary ignored or weakened, the end will be a God who has not force enough to love, but only weakly to indulge. If He does not hate and punish, He does not pardon. For the sake of the love of God, we must hold firm by the belief in the judgments of God. The God who destroyed Sodom is not merely the God of an earlier antiquated creed. "Is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also." Again this event is a prophecy. So our Lord has employed it; and much of the imagery in which the last judgment is represented is directly drawn from this narrative. So far from this story showing to us only the superstitions of a form of belief which we have long outgrown, its deepest meaning lies far ahead, and closes the history of man on the earth. We know from the lips which cannot lie, that the appalling suddenness of that destruction foreshadows the swiftness of the coming of that last "day of the Lord." We know that in literality some of the physical features shall be reproduced; for the fire which shall burn up the world and all its works is no figure, nor is it proclaimed only by such non-authoritative voices as those of Jesus and His apostles, but also by the modern possessors of infallible certitude — the men of science. We know that that day shall be a day of retribution. We know, too, that the crime of Sodom, foul and unnatural as it was, is not the darkest, but that its inhabitants (who have to face that judgment too) will find their doom more tolerable, and their sins lighter than some who have had high places in the church, than the Pharisees and wise men who have not taken Christ for their Saviour.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;