After the three angels visited with Abraham to announce the birth of Isaac, they continued on to Sodom. They arrived in the evening, and Abraham’s nephew, Lot, who was sitting by the gate of the city, saw them.
When Lot saw them, he rose to greet them and, bowing low with his face to the ground, he said, “Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house to spend the night, and bathe your feet; then you may be on your way early. (Gen.19.1-2)
His uncle had taught him the law of hospitality, but Lot was not Abraham. “No,” they said, “we will spend the night in the square.” But he continued to urge and pester them, so at last they entered his house and he prepared a meal with unleavened bread.
When they were finished eating, all the townspeople had gathered outside the house of Lot and they began to shout, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may be intimate with them.”
The legends describe the Sodomites as a community of thieves and murderers, who regularly engaged in orgiastic rites of rape and sodomy. They represent the very opposite of hospitality: if a hapless traveler chanced upon the city, he was routinely robbed, raped and murdered. The explanation that is given for their miserable way of life is that they were unfathomably wealthy – even their roads were made of gold – and because of their greed and miserliness they feared and distrusted the motives of anyone who came to their city. The whole episode stands as an allegorical warning of what happens to a soul that is overrun by material desire, that rejects Abraham’s example of kindness and hospitality, and follows the opposite path.
The Sodomites’ cruel treatment was by no means limited to foreigners. They routinely robbed, tortured, and killed each other as well. They even had a law which said that if any citizen tried to hide or protect a traveler, both would receive the same horrific treatment. This was the predicament that Lot was in as he went to his door to confront his screaming, salivating, fellow townspeople.
Lot represents the ‘dark side’ of Abraham, and his story is in many ways a comic caricature of the story of Abraham. Lot lives in a world in which hospitality is a crime (thus, when the angels tried to refuse his invitation, they were doing him a favor which he insisted on rejecting). Whereas Abraham had Sarah prepare breads and cakes from the finest flour, while he himself prepared a tender calf from the flocks, Lot makes some unleavened wafers and prepares a nondescript meal. Abraham entertained under the trees in the light of day, but Lot must entertain secretly at night. Now, in a twisted perversion of the law of hospitality, Lot tries to protect himself by offering his helpless daughters to the perverted crowd: he volunteers to sacrifice his daughters to lower forces – a sick parody of the upcoming story of Abraham and Isaac.
So Lot went out to them to the entrance,shut the door behind him, and said,”I beg you, my friends, do not commit such a wrong. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man. Let me bring them out to you,and you may do to them as you please; but do not do anything to these men, since they have come under the shelter of my roof.” (Gen.19.6-8)
This disgusting unconscionable scheme was to no avail, however, and the townspeople merely ordered him to get out of the way or he would suffer an even worse fate than the one they had planned for his visitors. They pressed forward to attack, but the angels opened the door, grabbed Lot by the collar, and pulled him back inside. Then they caused the outside of the house to be filled with a blinding light, so that the attackers (unused to ‘light’) could not find the door and they wandered about aimlessly until they finally dispersed.
Once he was safely inside, the angels revealed that they had come to destroy the city, and they told Lot to rouse up his wife, daughters, and sons-in-law, and get all his family up into the hills as quickly as possible.
When he found his sons-in-law, he said “Up, get out of this place, for the Lord is about to destroy the city.” But unfortunately, as is often the case with foolish people like Lot, his sons-in-law were in the habit of not taking him seriously, and they ignored him now as usual.
So the angels told him to take his wife and his two unmarried daughters and get on the move, “lest you be swept away because of the iniquity of the city.” But still Lot delayed, and the angels actually had to take him by the hand and lead him and his family to the outskirts of the city.
When they had brought them outside, one said, “Flee for your life! Do not look behind you, nor stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, lest you be swept away.” But Lot said to them, “Oh no, my lord! You have been so gracious to your servant, and have already shown me so much kindness in order to save my life; but I cannot flee to the hills, lest disaster overtake me and I die. Look, that town there is near enough to flee to; it is such a little place! Let me flee there -it is such a little place -and my life will be saved.”(Gen.19.17-20)
One can only imagine the dumbfounded look on the face of the exasperated angel as he listened to this ridiculous speech, and finally said, “Very well, I will grant you this favor too, and I will not annihilate the town of which you have spoken. Hurry, flee there, for I cannot do anything until you arrive there.”
When the sun rose in the morning just as Lot was entering the town of Zoar (‘a little place’), “the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah sulfurous fire from the Lord out of heaven.” Lot’s wife, unfortunately, looked back – “and she was thereupon turned into a pillar of salt.”