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Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, [1834], at

Genesis Chapter 19

- The Destruction of Sodom and Amorah

9. גשׁ־<הלאה gesh-hāl'âh, "approach to a distant point," stand back.

11. סנורים sanevērı̂ym, "blindness," affecting the mental more than the ocular vision.

37. מואב mô'āb, Moab; מאב mē'āb, "from a father." בן־עמי ben-‛amı̂y, Ben-'ammi, "son of my people." עמון ‛amôn, 'Ammon, "of the people."

This chapter is the continuation and conclusion of the former. It records a part of God's strange work - strange, because it consists in punishment, and because it is foreign to the covenant of grace. Yet it is closely connected with Abraham's history, inasmuch as it is a signal chastisement of wickedness in his neighborhood, a memorial of the righteous judgment of God to all his posterity, and at the same time a remarkable answer to the spirit, if not to the letter, of his intercessory prayer. His kinsman Lot, the only righteous man in Sodom, with his wife and two daughters, is delivered from destruction in accordance with his earnest appeal on behalf of the righteous.

Gen 19:1-3

The two angels. - These are the two men who left Abraham standing before the Lord Gen 18:22. "Lot sat in the gate," the place of public resort for news and for business. He courteously rises to meet them, does obeisance to them, and invites them to spend the night in his house. "Nay, but in the street will we lodge." This is the disposition of those who come to inquire, and, it may be, to condemn and to punish. They are twice in this chapter called angels, being sent to perform a delegated duty. This term, however, defines their office, not their nature. Lot, in the first instance, calls them "my lords," which is a term of respect that may be addressed to men Gen 31:35. He afterward styled one of them Adonai, with the special vowel pointing which limits it to the Supreme Being. He at the same time calls himself his servant, appeals to his grace and mercy, and ascribes to him his deliverance. The person thus addressed replies, in a tone of independence and authority, "I have accepted thee." "I will not overthrow this city for which thou hast spoken." "I cannot do anything until thou go thither." All these circumstances point to a divine personage, and are not so easily explained of a mere delegate. He is pre-eminently the Saviour, as he who communed with Abraham was the hearer of prayer. And he who hears prayer and saves life, appears also as the executor of his purpose in the overthrow of Sodom and the other cities of the vale. It is remarkable that only two of the three who appeared to Abraham are called angels. Of the persons in the divine essence two might be the angels or deputies of the primary in the discharge of the divine purpose. These three men, then, either immediately represent, or, if created angels, mediately shadow forth persons in the Godhead. Their number indicates that the persons in the divine unity are three.

Lot seems to have recognized something extraordinary in their appearance, for he made a lowly obeisance to them. The Sodomites heed not the strangers. Lot's invitation; at first declined, is at length accepted, because Lot is approved of God as righteous, and excepted from the doom of the city.

Gen 19:4-11

The wicked violence of the citizens displays itself. They compass the house, and demand the men for the vilest ends. How familiar Lot had become with vice, when any necessity whatever could induce him to offer his daughters to the lust of these Sodomites! We may suppose it was spoken rashly, in the heat of the moment, and with the expectation that he would not be taken at his word. So it turned out. "Stand back." This seems to be a menace to frighten Lot out of the way of their perverse will. It is probable, indeed, that he and his family would not have been so long safe in this wicked place, had he not been the occasion of a great deliverance to the whole city when they were carried away by the four kings. The threat is followed by a taunt, when the sorely vexed host hesitated to give up the strangers. "He will needs be a judge." It is evident Lot had been in the habit of remonstrating with them. From threats and taunts they soon proceed to violence. His guests now interfere. They rescue Lot, and smite the rioters with blindness, or a wandering of the senses, so that they cannot find the door. This ebullition of the vilest passion seals the doom of the city.

Gen 19:12-23

The visitors now take steps for the deliverance of Lot and his kindred before the destruction of the cities. All that are related to him are included in the offer of deliverance. There is a blessing in being connected with the righteous, if men will but avail themselves of it. Lot seems bewildered by the contemptuous refusal of his connections to leave the place. His early choice and his growing habits have attached him to the place, notwithstanding its temptations. His married daughters, or at least the intended husbands of the two who were at home ("who are here"), are to be left behind. But though these thoughts make him linger, the mercy of the Lord prevails. The angels use a little violence to hasten their escape. The mountain was preserved by its elevation from the flood of rain, sulphur, and fire which descended on the low ground on which the cities were built. Lot begs for a small town to which he may retreat, as he shrinks from the perils of a mountain dwelling, and his request is mercifully granted.

Gen 19:24-26

Then follows the overthrow of the cities. "The Lord rained brimstone and fire from the Lord from the skies." Here the Lord is represented as present in the skies, whence the storm of desolation comes, and on the earth where it falls. The dale of Siddim, in which the cities were, appears to have abounded in asphalt and other combustible materials Gen 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 Amo 1:1. An earthquake in 1759 destroyed many thousands of persons in the valley of Baalbec. Josephus (De Bell. Jud. iii. 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.

Gen 19:27-29

Abraham rises early on the following morning, to see what had become of the city for which he had interceded so earnestly, and views from afar the scene of smoking desolation. Remembering Abraham, who was Lot's uncle, and had him probably in mind in his importunate pleading, God delivered Lot from this awful overthrow. The Eternal is here designated by the name Elohim, the Everlasting, because in the war of elements in which the cities were overwhelmed, the eternal potencies of his nature were signally displayed.

Gen 19:30-38

The descendants of Lot. Bewildered by the narrowness of his escape, and the awful death of his wife, Lot seems to have left Zoar, and taken to the mountain west of the Salt Sea, in terror of impending ruin. It is not improbable that all the inhabitants of Zoar, panic-struck, may have fled from the region of danger, and dispersed themselves for a time through the adjacent mountains. He was now far from the habitations of people, with his two daughters as his only companions. The manners of Sodom here obtrude themselves upon our view. Lot's daughters might seem to have been led to this unnatural project, first, because they thought the human race extinct with the exception of themselves, in which case their conduct may have seemed a work of justifiable necessity; and next, because the degrees of kindred within which it was unlawful to marry had not been determined by an express law. But they must have seen some of the inhabitants of Zoar after the destruction of the cities; and carnal intercourse between parent and offspring must have been always repugnant to nature. "Unto this day." This phrase indicates a variable period, from a few years to a few centuries: a few years; not more than seven, as Jos 22:3; part of a lifetime, as Num 22:30; Jos 6:25; Gen 48:15; and some centuries, as Exo 10:6. This passage may therefore have been written by one much earlier than Moses. Moab afterward occupied the district south of the Arnon, and east of the Salt Sea. Ammon dwelt to the northeast of Moab, where they had a capital called Rabbah. They both ultimately merged into the more general class of the Arabs, as a second Palgite element.

Next: Genesis Chapter 20