|"Abraham and the Three Angels" by Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902)|
When we look at scripture in our church's Monday evening bible study, we always pay attention to context. In fact, the way we most frequently approach scripture is by reading a single book all the way through. So, each time we meet, we begin with "Now, last time, we were reading..." and we move on from there.
It is vitally important to understand: the story of Abraham and Sarah's hospitality is linked with the "sin" of Sodom and Gomorrah. They are one story, and they illuminate one another.
The story of the last post was titled "On Hospitality. And Laughter." I used the last post to talk, a bit, about the Ancient Near East culture of hospitality, as I understand it.
Immediately after that passage concludes, the story turns to Sodom and Gomorrah.
Then the men set out from there, and they looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge 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 about for Abraham what he has promised him.” Then the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.” ~ Genesis 18:16-21
Remember: The chapter began with three men visiting Abraham and Sarah, and then the three men (or one of them?) was identified as "The LORD." There is a similarly slippery identification going on here. "Three men" become "the LORD" and two angels. Talking amongst themselves/ Godself, they wonder: Shall we let Abraham know what's about to go down?
Sodom and Gomorrah are already known as places where righteousness and justice are not practiced or honored. The LORD is ready to render judgment.
In verse 22, the "men" and the LORD separate again Two men (angels?) head towards Sodom, and Abraham has an extended conversation with the LORD (read it here) in which he attempts to bargain for the life of the city. In the end, the LORD promises to save the city if there are only ten righteous men in it.
In chapter 19 we encounter the source of the confusion about Sodom and Gomorrah. The two men, now identified as angels, come to the city. They are greeted by Lot, who offers them good hospitality, just as his uncle had. The angels/ men want to spend the night in the square, but Lot strongly urges them to come under his roof-- i.e., his protection.
You know what happens next: the "men of the city" try to gain access to the strangers, in order to gang rape them. (Lot offers his virgin daughters, rather than yield the travelers to whom he has promised hospitality, i.e., safety.
For a long time this story has been a favorite Christian proof text in support of the argument that what is being condemned here is "homosexual behavior."
Gang rape of men by men is not homosexual behavior, any more than gang rape by men of women is heterosexual behavior. The crime that is attempted here is about violence and power and fear of the "stranger"-- the traveler.
This is a crime against hospitality.
This story is presented over and against the perfect biblical depiction of hospitality because the crime of Sodom and Gomorrah is inhospitality-- refusing to welcome the stranger, but instead, preying upon him.
This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. ~Ezekiel 16:49
We now return you to your regularly scheduled blogposts.