Thursday, July 06, 2006

Sulfurtheropy (Genesis 18-19)

How do you recognize a righteous man? By his lavish hospitality. The author of Hebrews advises not to “neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Three men approach Abraham and he begs them to accept his invitation, fixes a lavish feast, and stands himself while they eat. It’s here that Isaac’s future birth is officially announced, and the men get up to leave.

Well, two of them do. The third stays with Abraham, and, besides being an angel and a man, also happens to be the Lord. No, this isn’t explained, but it is the source of some esoteric theological reflection, and some pretty amazing iconography. At any rate, the Lord stays to discuss his future plans with Abraham: the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Why does God want to have this little talk with Abraham?
For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.
God tells Abraham that he plans to nuke the place, and Abraham cries out for God to be just: don’t sweep away the good with the bad! It is a cry of reason, a cry of justice, and frankly, it is my agonized cry when I read much of the divinely authorized mass slaughter and collective punishment in the Old Testament. Abraham talks Him down to only wiping out the city if there are less than ten righteous people.

Lot turns out to be a righteous man – inviting the angels into his home. However, the men of the town don’t share his hospitality, and demand Lot send them out for some mass rape. Every single resident of Sodom shows up to dish out the abuse on the foreigners – “both young and old, all the people to the last man.” Looks like there’s only one righteous man in the city.

Lot offers his virgin daughters to the rabid crowd – which is horrifying. Perhaps I should give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was trying to shame them: “Look, rape my pretty little girls, you animals, before you do this to my guests.” It seems to come across that way to the crowd, who scream that gang rape will look downright hospitable compared to what will happen to the holier-than-thou Lot. The angels come to the rescue and blind the crowd.

Actually, in the end, the Lord is even more just than Abraham demands. He will not let even one righteous man perish in the destruction, and the angels physically drag Lot and his family out of the city. I always had in mind the picture of Lot’s wife merely glancing over her shoulder and getting zapped for it, but it seems more like she stopped and wouldn’t go further with Lot and their daughters. She is swept up into the sulfur and becomes a pillar of salt.

The destruction of the two cities reminds me a lot of the flood, actually. Save the little bit that’s worth saving and wipe out the rest. He seems to treat human wickedness like cancer. It must be aggressively attacked, stopping just short of killing the entire patient.

I wish Abraham were around to lobby and advocate for the murdered masses these days -- or, wait -- I guess that's OUR job...

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