Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The messengers (angels) sent by Jehovah to Sodom, arrived there in the evening, when Lot, who was sitting at the gate, pressed them to pass the night in his house. The gate, generally an arched entrance with deep recesses and seats on either side, was a place of meeting in the ancient towns of the East, where the inhabitants assembled either for social intercourse or to transact public business (vid., Gen 34:20; Deu 21:19; Deu 22:15, etc.). The two travellers, however (for such Lot supposed them to be, and only recognised them as angels when they had smitten the Sodomites miraculously with blindness), said that they would spend the night in the street - בּרחוב the broad open space within the gate - as they had been sent to inquire into the state of the town. But they yielded to Lot's entreaty to enter his house; for the deliverance of Lot, after having ascertained his state of mind, formed part of their commission, and entering into his house might only serve to manifest the sin of Sodom in all its heinousness. While Lot was entertaining his guests with the greatest hospitality, the people of Sodom gathered round his house, "both old and young, all people from every quarter" (of the town, as in Jer 51:31), and demanded, with the basest violation of the sacred rite of hospitality and the most shameless proclamation of their sin (Isa 3:9), that the strangers should be brought out, that they might know them. ידע is applied, as in Jdg 19:22, to the carnal sin of paederastia, a crime very prevalent among the Canaanites (Lev 18:22., Lev 20:23), and according to Rom 1:27, a curse of heathenism generally.
Lot went out to them, shut the door behind him to protect his guests, and offered to give his virgin daughters up to them. "Only to these men (האל, an archaism for האלּה rof, occurs also in Gen 19:25; Gen 26:3-4; Lev 18:27, and Deu 4:42; Deu 7:22; Deu 19:11; and אל for אלּה in Ch1 20:8) do nothing, for therefore (viz., to be protected from injury) have they come under the shadow of my roof." In his anxiety, Lot was willing to sacrifice to the sanctity of hospitality his duty as a father, which ought to have been still more sacred, "and committed the sin of seeking to avert sin by sin." Even if he expected that his daughters would suffer no harm, as they were betrothed to Sodomites (Gen 19:14), the offer was a grievous violation of his paternal duty. But this offer only heightened the brutality of the mob. "Stand back" (make way, Isa 49:20), they said; "the man, who came as a foreigner, is always wanting to play the judge" (probably because Lot had frequently reproved them for their licentious conduct, Pe2 2:7, Pe2 2:8): "not will we deal worse with thee than with them." With these words they pressed upon him, and approached the door to break it in. The men inside, that is to say, the angels, then pulled Lot into the house, shut the door, and by miraculous power smote the people without with blindness (סנורים here and Kg2 6:18 for mental blindness, in which the eye sees, but does not see the right object), as a punishment for their utter moral blindness, and an omen of the coming judgment.
The sin of Sodom had now become manifest. The men, Lot's guests, made themselves known to him as the messengers of judgment sent by Jehovah, and ordered him to remove any one that belonged to him out of the city. "Son-in-law (the singular without the article, because it is only assumed as a possible circumstance that he may have sons-in-law), and thy sons, and thy daughters, and all that belongs to thee" (sc., of persons, not of things). Sons Lot does not appear to have had, as we read nothing more about them, but only "sons-in-law (בנתיו לקחי) who were about to take his daughters," as Josephus, the Vulgate, Ewald, and many others correctly render it. The lxx, Targums, Knobel, and Delitzsch adopt the rendering "who had taken his daughters," in proof of which the last two adduce הנּמצאת in Gen 19:15 as decisive. But without reason; for this refers not to the daughters who were still in the father's house, as distinguished form those who were married, but to his wife and two daughters who were to be found with him in the house, in distinction from the bridegrooms, who also belonged to him, but were not yet living with him, and who had received his summons in scorn, because in their carnal security they did not believe in any judgment of God (Luk 17:28-29). If Lot had had married daughters, he would undoubtedly have called upon them to escape along with their husbands, his sons-in-law.
As soon as it was dawn, the angels urged Lot to hasten away with his family; and when he still delayed, his heart evidently clinging to the earthly home and possessions which he was obliged to leave, they laid hold of him, with his wife and his two daughters, עליו יהוה בּחמלת, "by virtue of the sparing mercy of Jehovah (which operated) upon him," and_ led him out of the city.
When they left him here (הנּיח, to let loose, and leave, to leave to one's self), the Lord commanded him, for the sake of his life, not to look behind him, and not to stand still in all the plain (כּכּר, Gen 13:10), but to flee to the mountains (afterwards called the mountains of Moab). In Gen 19:17 we are struck by the change from the plural to the singular: "when they brought them forth, he said." To think of one of the two angels - the one, for example, who led the conversation - seems out of place, not only because Lot addressed him by the name of God, "Adonai" (Gen 19:18), but also because the speaker attributed to himself the judgment upon the cities (Gen 19:21, Gen 19:22), which is described in Gen 19:24 as executed by Jehovah. Yet there is nothing to indicate that Jehovah suddenly joined the angels. The only supposition that remains, therefore, is that Lot recognised in the two angels a manifestation of God, and so addressed them (Gen 19:18) as Adonai (my Lord), and that the angel who spoke addressed him as the messenger of Jehovah in the name of God, without its following from this, that Jehovah was present in the two angels. Lot, instead of cheerfully obeying the commandment of the Lord, appealed to the great mercy shown to him in the preservation of his life, and to the impossibility of his escaping to the mountains, without the evil overtaking him, and entreated therefore that he might be allowed to take refuge in the small and neighbouring city, i.e., in Bela, which received the name of Zoar (Gen 14:2) on account of Lot's calling it little. Zoar, the Σηγώρ of the lxx, and Segor of the crusaders, is hardly to be sought for on the peninsula which projects a long way into the southern half of the Dead Sea, in the Ghor of el Mezraa, as Irby and Robinson (Pal. iii. p. 481) suppose; it is much more probably to be found on the south-eastern point of the Dead Sea, in the Ghor of el Szaphia, at the opening of the Wady el Ahsa (vid., v. Raumer, Pal. p. 273, Anm. 14).
"When the sun had risen and Lot had come towards Zoar (i.e., was on the way thither, but had not yet arrived), Jehovah caused it to rain brimstone and fire from Jehovah out of heaven, and overthrew those cities, and the whole plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and the produce of the earth." In the words "Jehovah caused it to rain from Jehovah" there is no distinction implied between the hidden and the manifested God, between the Jehovah present upon earth in His angels who called down the judgment, and the Jehovah enthroned in heaven who sent it down; but the expression "from Jehovah" is emphatica repetitio, quod non usitato naturae ordine tunc Deus pluerit, sed tanquam exerta manu palam fulminaverit praeter solitum morem: ut satis constaret nullis causis naturalibus conflatam fuisse pluviam illam ex igne et sulphure (Calvin). The rain of fire and brimstone was not a mere storm with lightning, which set on fire the soil already overcharged with naphtha and sulphur. The two passages, Psa 11:6 and Eze 38:22, cannot be adduced as proofs that lightning is ever called fire and brimstone in the Scriptures, for in both passages there is an allusion to the event recorded here. The words are to be understood quite literally, as meaning that brimstone and fire, i.e., burning brimstone, fell from the sky, even though the examples of burning bituminous matter falling upon the earth which are given in Oedmann's vermischte Sammlungen (iii. 120) may be called in question by historical criticism. By this rain of fire and brimstone not only were the cities and their inhabitants consumed, but even the soil, which abounded in asphalt, was set on fire, so that the entire valley was burned out and sank, or was overthrown (הפך) i.e., utterly destroyed, and the Dead Sea took its place.
(Note: Whether the Dead Sea originated in this catastrophe, or whether there was previously a lake, possibly a fresh water lake, at the north of the valley of Siddim, which was enlarged to the dimensions of the existing sea by the destruction of the valley with its cities, and received its present character at the same time, is a question which has been raised, since Capt. Lynch has discovered by actual measurement the remarkable fact, that the bottom of the lake consists of two totally different levels, which are separated by a peninsula that stretches to a very great distance into the lake from the eastern shore; so that whilst the lake to the north of this peninsula is, on an average, from 1000 to 1200 feet deep, the southern portion is at the most 16 feet deep, and generally much less, the bottom being covered with salt mud, and heated by hot springs from below.)
In addition to Sodom, which was probably the chief city of the valley of Siddim, Gomorrah and the whole valley (i.e., the valley of Siddim, Gen 14:3) are mentioned; and along with these the cities of Admah and Zeboim, which were situated in the valley (Deu 29:23, cf. Hos 11:8), also perished, Zoar alone, which is at the south-eastern end of the valley, being spared for Lot's sake. Even to the present day the Dead Sea, with the sulphureous vapour which hangs about it, the great blocks of saltpetre and sulphur which lie on every hand, and the utter absence of the slightest trace of animal and vegetable life in its waters, are a striking testimony to this catastrophe, which is held up in both the Old and New Testaments as a fearfully solemn judgment of God for the warning of self-secure and presumptuous sinners.
On the way, Lot's wife, notwithstanding the divine command, looked "behind him away," - i.e., went behind her husband and looked backwards, probably from a longing for the house and the earthly possessions she had left with reluctance (cf. Luk 17:31-32), - and "became a pillar of salt." We are not to suppose that she was actually turned into one, but having been killed by the fiery and sulphureous vapour with which the air was filled, and afterwards encrusted with salt, she resembled an actual statue of salt; just as even now, from the saline exhalation of the Dead Sea, objects near it are quickly covered with a crust of salt, so that the fact, to which Christ refers in Luk 17:32, may be understood without supposing a miracle.
(Note: But when this pillar of salt is mentioned in Wis. 11:7 and Clemens ad Cor. xi. as still in existence, and Josephus professes to have seen it, this legend is probably based upon the pillar-like lumps of salt, which are still to be seen at Mount Usdum (Sodom), on the south-western side of the Dead Sea.)
- In Gen 19:27, Gen 19:28, the account closes with a remark which points back to Gen 18:17., viz., that Abraham went in the morning to the place where he had stood the day before, interceding with the Lord for Sodom, and saw how the judgment had fallen upon the entire plain, since the smoke of the country went up like the smoke of a furnace. Yet his intercession had not been in vain.
For on the destruction of these cities, God had thought of Abraham, and rescued Lot. This rescue is attributed to Elohim, as being the work of the Judge of the whole earth (Gen 18:25), and not to Jehovah the covenant God, because Lot was severed from His guidance and care on his separation from Abraham. The fact, however, is repeated here, for the purpose of connecting with it an event in the life of Lot of great significance to the future history of Abraham's seed.
From Zoar Lot removed with his two daughters to the (Moabitish) mountains, for fear that Zoar might after all be destroyed, and dwelt in one of the caves (מערה with the generic article), in which the limestone rocks abound (vid., Lynch), and so became a dweller in a cave. While there, his daughters resolved to procure children through their father; and to that end on two successive evenings they made him intoxicated with wine, and then lay with him in the might, one after the other, that they might conceive seed. To this accursed crime they were impelled by the desire to preserve their family, because they thought there was no man on the earth to come in unto them, i.e., to marry them, "after the manner of all the earth." Not that they imagined the whole human race to have perished in the destruction of the valley of Siddim, but because they were afraid that no man would link himself with them, the only survivors of a country smitten by the curse of God. If it was not lust, therefore, which impelled them to this shameful deed, their conduct was worthy of Sodom, and shows quite as much as their previous betrothal to men of Sodom, that they were deeply imbued with the sinful character of that city. The words of Gen 19:33 and Gen 19:35, "And he knew not of her lying down and of her rising up," do not affirm that he was in an unconscious state, as the Rabbins are said by Jerome to have indicated by the point over בּקוּמה: "quasi incredibile et quod natura rerum non capiat, coire quempiam nescientem." They merely mean, that in his intoxicated state, though not entirely unconscious, yet he lay with his daughters without clearly knowing what he was doing.
But Lot's daughters had so little feeling of shame in connection with their conduct, that they gave names to the sons they bore, which have immortalized their paternity. Moab, another form of מאב "from the father," as is indicated in the clause appended in the lxx: λέγουσα ἐκ τοῦ πατρός μου, and also rendered probable by the reiteration of the words "of our father" and "by their father" (Gen 19:32, Gen 19:34, and Gen 19:36), as well as by the analogy of the name Ben-Ammi = Ammon, Ἀμμάν, λέγουσα Υἱος γένους μου (lxx). For עמּון, the sprout of the nation, bears the same relation to עם, as אגמון, the rush or sprout of the marsh, to אגם Delitzsch). - This account was neither the invention of national hatred to the Moabites and Ammonites, nor was it placed here as a brand upon those tribes. These discoveries of a criticism imbued with hostility to the Bible are overthrown by the fact, that, according to Deu 2:9, Deu 2:19, Israel was ordered not to touch the territory of either of these tribes because of their descent from Lot; and it was their unbrotherly conduct towards Israel alone which first prevented their reception into the congregation of the Lord, Deu 23:4-5. - Lot is never mentioned again. Separated both outwardly and inwardly from Abraham, he was of no further importance in relation to the history of salvation, so that even his death is not referred to. His descendants, however, frequently came into contact with the Israelites; and the history of their descent is given here to facilitate a correct appreciation of their conduct towards Israel.