Genesis (Part 80)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis: 19:23-29

23 The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar. 24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. 25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. 26 But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

27 And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.

29 So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.

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Lot gets to Zoar and the Lord rains down sulphur and fire from heaven. Lot’s wife looks back at the destruction and turns into a pillar of salt. Abraham, meanwhile, looks down on all of this from the heights above.

We do not really know much about Gomorrah. It has been mentioned a few times in previous verses:

Genesis 10:19: And the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon in the direction of Gerar as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha.

Genesis 13:10: And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)

Genesis 14:2: these kings made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar).

Genesis 14:8: Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out, and they joined battle in the Valley of Siddim

Genesis 14:10-11: Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the hill country. So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way.

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These two city were two of the chief cities of the Canaanites. Both are mentioned in the Table of Nations section of Genesis 10. Both took part in the War of Nine Kings in Genesis 14.

We also see Zoar mentioned previously in Genesis 13. When he and Abraham parted ways, Lot walked in the direction of Zoar. It seems likely that Lot’s subsequent choice to flee to Zoar may have been related to familiarity he had with people in the city in addition to it being closer than the hills.

Verse 24 tells us that the Lord rained fire and Sulphur from heaven.

Lord = יְהֹוָה Yᵉhôvâh, yeh-ho-vaw’; from H1961; (the) self-Existent or Eternal; Jeho-vah, Jewish national name of God:—Jehovah, the Lord. Compare H3050H3069.

rained = מָטַר mâṭar, maw-tar’; a primitive root; to rain:—(cause to) rain (upon).

sulphur = גׇּפְרִית gophrîyth, gof-reeth’; probably feminine of H1613; properly, cypress-resin; by analogy, sulphur (as equally inflammable):—brimstone.

fire = אֵשׁ ʼêsh, aysh; a primitive word; fire (literally or figuratively):—burning, fiery, fire, flaming, hot.

heaven = שָׁמַיִם shâmayim, shaw-mah’-yim; dual of an unused singular שָׁמֶה shâmeh; from an unused root meaning to be lofty; the sky (as aloft; the dual perhaps alluding to the visible arch in which the clouds move, as well as to the higher ether where the celestial bodies revolve):—air, × astrologer, heaven(-s).

The text is clear that this comes from Yahweh and that this things rained on the cities from heaven. The world translated as heaven here is also translated as “the sky.”

If we move onto verse 25, the text says that God “overthrew” those cities.

הָפַךְ hâphak, haw-fak’; a primitive root; to turn about or over; by implication, to change, overturn, return, pervert:—× become, change, come, be converted, give, make (a bed), overthrow (-turn), perverse, retire, tumble, turn (again, aside, back, to the contrary, every way).

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From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(24) The Lord (Jehovah) rained . . . from the Lord (from Jehovah).—Many commentators, following the Council of Sirmium, see in this repetition of the name of Jehovah an indication of the Holy Trinity, as though God the Son rained down fire from God the Father. More correctly Calvin takes it as an emphatic reiteration of its being Jehovah’s act. Jehovah had mysteriously manifested Himself upon earth by the visit of the three angels to Abraham, but His activity on earth is one with His willing in heaven.

Brimstone and fire.—Though God used natural agencies in the destruction of the Ciccar cities, yet what was in itself a catastrophe of nature became miraculous by the circumstances which surrounded it. It was thus made the means not merely of executing the Divine justice, of strengthening Abraham’s faith, and of warning Lot, but also of giving moral and religious instruction throughout all time. Seen by its light, events of history, for which sufficient secondary causes may be discovered, are nevertheless shown to be direct manifestations of the Divine justice, and to have moral causes as their real basis. We lose the benefit of the teaching of the Bible if we suppose that the events recorded there were different in kind from those which take place now. A certain limited number of events were so; but of most it is simply the curtain that is drawn back, and we see God’s presence no longer veiled, as with us, but openly revealed. As for the catastrophe itself, it was not a mere thunderstorm which set the earth, saturated with naphtha, on fire; but, in a region where earthquakes are still common, there was apparently an outburst of volcanic violence, casting forth blazing bitumen and brimstone. This falling down upon the houses, and upon the soil charged with combustible matter, caused a conflagration so sudden and widespread that few or none could escape. Sulphur and nitre are still found as natural products on the shores of the Dead Sea.

The note above here explains the fire and brimstone as being perhaps volcanic in nature.

From the Pulpit Commentaries:

Then the Lord rained—literally, and Jehovah caused it to rain;καὶ κύριος ἔβρεξε (LXX.), which latter term is adopted by Luke in describing this event (Genesis 17:1-27 :29)—upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah—and also upon Admah and Zeboim (Deuteronomy 29:23Hosea 11:8), Bela, or Zoar, of the five cities of the Jordan circle (Genesis 14:2Genesis 14:8) being exempted—brimstone and fire— גָּפְרִית; properly pitch, though the name was afterwards transferred to other inflammable materials (Gesenius); וָאֵשׁ, and fire, which, though sometimes used of lightning, as in 1 Kings 18:382 Kings 1:102 Kings 1:122 Kings 1:14Job 1:16, may here describe a different sort of igneous agency. Whether this Divinely-sent rain was “burning pitch” (Keil), of lightning which ignited the bituminous soil (Clericus), or a volcanic eruption which overwhelmed all the region (Lynch, Kitto), it was clearly miraculous in its nature, and designed as a solemn punitive infliction on the cities of the plain—from the Lord—i.e. Jehovah (the Son) rained down from Jehovah(the Father), as if suggesting a distinction of persons in the Godhead; otherwise the phrase is regarded as “an elegancy of speech” (Aben Ezra), “an emphatic repetition” (Calvin), a more exact characterization of the storm (Clericus, Rosenmüller) as being out of heaven.

Here the fire and brimstone are deemed more directly to be divine. (I do not see why a sudden volcanic outburst, though, that specifically started this one particular valley, would not be divine. So it could be both, I think.)

The notes above also mention the repetition of the name “the Lord” in verse 24. This is given some significance by some who read into it a divine Godhead notion – a pre-incarnate Jesus primarily (see also the related Two Jehovahs teaching.) Others see it as “emphatic reiteration.”

The Pulpit Commentary provides clarity regarding the meaning of “overthrew.”

And he overthrew—literally, turned over, as a cake’; whence utterly destroyed (cf. Deuteronomy 29:23; κατέστρεψε, LXX.; subvertit, Vulgate). In Arabic “the overthrown’ is a title applied, κατ ἐξοχὴν, to Sodom and Gomorrah (Gesenius). From the use of the expression καταστροφή(2 Peter 2:6), Wordsworth thinks an earthquake may have accompanied the burning—those cities,—that they were submerged as well as overthrown (Josephus) is a doubtful inference from Genesis 14:3(vide infra, Verse 28, on the site of cities of the plain). The archaic הָאל is again employed (cf. Genesis 19:8)—and all the plain,—kikkar, circle or district (Genesis 13:10)—and all the inhabitants of the cities,—a proof of their entire corruption (Genesis 18:32)—and that which grew upon the ground—literally, that which sprouts forth from the ground, the produce of the soil; thus converting “a fruitful land into barrenness for the wickedness of them that dwell therein” (Psalms 107:34).

Among the stranger aspects of this event involved Lot’s wife. She turned to look back and was turned into a pillar of salt.

From Chabad.org:

The inhabitants of Sodom were known for their cruelty to strangers. In fact, inhospitality was included in their code of law.

Lot was the exception. Although he lived in Sodom, the years that he had spent with his uncle1 Abraham had influenced him, and he had learned to emulate Abraham’s hospitality.2

When G‑d sent two angels, disguised as men, to destroy Sodom,3 Lot invited them to his home and served them food.4 His wife Adit,5 a native Sodomite6, disapproved of his actions.7

Lot asked his wife for salt for the guests and she replied, “Also this evil custom you wish to introduce into this place?” She had no salt in the house and went from door to door asking neighbors for salt for her husband’s guests, letting everyone know that Lot had ignored the laws of the city by inviting strangers.8 A short time later, a mob gathered at Lot’s door, demanding that he give up his guests to be mistreated.9

The next morning, as Sodom was about to be destroyed, the angels rescued Lot and his family. As they fled, the angels warned them not to look back at the city. It was not appropriate for them to stare at the suffering of others. But Lot’s wife disregarded the admonition and, “She looked from behind, and she became a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26).”10

The Midrash explains, “She sinned with salt, and she was punished with salt.”11

salt: מֶלַח melach, meh’-lakh; from H4414; properly, powder, i.e. (specifically) salt (as easily pulverized and dissolved):—salt(-pit).

The word here is not *always* salt. It can also mean something salt-like.

Ellicott’s Bible Commentary has a theory for how this occurred:

(26) His wife looked back from behind him.—In Oriental countries it is still the rule for the wife to walk behind her husband. As regards the method of her transformation, some think that she was stifled by sulphureous vapours, and her body subsequently encrusted with salt. More probably, the earthquake heaped up a mighty mass of the rock-salt, which lies in solid strata round the Dead Sea, and Lot’s wife was entangled in the convulsion and perished, leaving the hill of salt, in which she was enclosed, as her memorial. Salt cones are not uncommon in this neighbourhood, and the American Expedition found one, about forty feet high, near Usdum (Lynch, Report, pp. 183 et seq.). Entombed in this salt pillar, she became a “monument of an unbelieving soul” (Wisdom of Solomon 10:7).

  • The reference above, Wisdom of Solomon, can be read about at the link HERE:

Abraham got up early in the morning and saw the aftermath of this on the cities in the valley. From the Pulpit Commentaries:

And Abraham gat up early in the morning (of the catastrophe) to the place (i.e. and went to the place) where he stood before the Lord (vide on Genesis 18:22).

Genesis 19:28

And he looked toward—literally, towards the face, or visible side (cf. Genesis 18:16 where the same phrase is employed to describe the act of the angels on leaving Mamre)—Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, or Jordan circle. The cities of the plain are commonly believed to have been situated at the southern extremity of the Dead Sea, The principal reasons assigned for this conclusion may be stated.

1. Josephus and Jerome, the one representing Jewish, and the other Christian, tradition, both speak of a Zoar as existing in that locality.

Not here on this point: Ellicott’s Bible Commentary includes a note, at the commentary’s notes for verse 22, that Zoar might actually on the northern side of the Dead Sea, now called Zi’ara. The rest of the notes here from The Pulpit Commentary also make a case for the cities being at the north end of the Dead Sea.

2. The difference of level between the northern and southern ends of the lake, the one according to Lynch being 1300 feet, and the other not more than 16 feet, seems to favor the idea that the latter is of recent formation, having been, in fact, submerged at the time of the overthrow of the cities.

3. A ridge of rock-salt on the west of the Yale of Salt is called by the name Jebel Usdum, in which a trace of the word Sodom is by some detected; and the pillars of salt that in that region have from time to time been detached from the salt cliffs have been designated by the name of Lot’s wife (Bint Sheikh Lot).

4. The statement of Genesis 14:3 appears to imply that the Salt Sea now covers what was originally the vale of Siddim.

5. The expression “like the land of Egypt as thou comest to Zoar” (Genesis 13:10) is suggestive rather of the southern than of the northern extremity of the lake as the site of the Pentapolis. It may be added that this opinion has received the sanction of Robinson, Stanley, Porter, Thomson (The Land and the Book), and other eminent geographers. On the other hand, there are reasons for believing that the true site of the cities was at the north, and not the south, of the Dead Sea.

1. The circle of the Jordan was visible from the Bethel plateau (Genesis 13:10); the southern extremity of the Dead Sea is not.

2. From the heights above Hebron or Mature, though the actual circle is not visible, “yet the depression between the nearer hills and those of Gilead can be perceived, and Abraham could at once identify the locality whence the smoke arose,” after Sodom’s burning.

3. Chedorlaomer’s route (Genesis 14:7-14) was from Kadesh to Hazezon-tamar, midway up the western shore of the Dead Sea, from Hazezon-tamar to the vale of Siddim, and from Siddim to Dan, the natural conclusion being that on reaching Hazezon-tamar he did not turn southward, but continued marching northwards.

4. Moses from Mount Nebo (Deuteronomy 34:3) beheld”‘ the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, unto Zoar,” which was certainly possible if Zoar was in the line of vision with the plain and the city of Jericho, but as certainly impossible if it was at the southern extremity of the lake This view has been advocated by Grove (Smith’s ‘Biblical Dictionary,’ art. ZONE) and by Tristram, and has been adopted by Drew (‘Imp.’ ‘Bible Dict.,’ art. Sodom), Dykes, and Inglis. And beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a (literally, of the)furnace. Thus the appalling catastrophe proclaimed its reality to Abraham; to subsequent ages it stamped a witness of its severity.

Ellicott concludes this section with a note on verse 28:

(28) Lo, the smoke of the country (really, land) went up as the smoke of a furnace.—The substitution of the word country for land is confusing. It was the land of the Ciccar, just mentioned, which was in flames. As Abraham could see the Ciccar, it must have been at the northern end of the Dead Sea (see Note on Genesis 18:16); and as a violent conflagration was raging throughout it, the site of the cities could not have been submerged (see Note on Genesis 14:3). The violence of the fire is indicated by the last word, which is not the ordinary word for a furnace, but means a kiln, such as that used for burning chalk into lime, or for melting ores of metal.

furnace = כִּבְשָׁן kibshân, kib-shawn’; from H3533; a smelting furnace (as reducing metals):—furnace.

Modern science has done some work trying to explain this event. Here for example is an article from The New York Times.

The Dead Sea is divided into two basins. El Lisan Peninsula, where the geologists believe Sodom was located, separates the basins at the sea’s narrowest point.

Their analysis suggests it was used as a crossing point to ship salt to the Mediterranean and Egypt. Locals were also involved in risky bitumen mining, according to the Journal, meaning fire would have been a constant hazard in what was an earthquake zone. That would help explain the biblical references to the fiery destruction of the two cities.

Mr. Harris said it was impossible to tell if an earthquake set off the so-called liquefaction process he believes swallowed up the cities, but he said archeologists and engineers should join forces to put the 4,000-year mystery to rest.

“The enigma will never ever be resolved until artifacts can be rediscovered that can be positively identified to those cities,” he said.

As one might expect, there are some non-conventional ideas for what is described in this section. From ancient-code.com:

Some researchers have come forward suggesting that Sodom and Gomorrah, are the Hiroshima and Nagasaki of the distant past, over 4000 years ago.

In addition, it is precise to the south of the Lisan peninsula, where Sodom and Gomorrah are reported to have been annihilated that the traces of former volcanic activity cease. In short, the proof in this area of a quite recent catastrophe which wiped out towns and was accompanied by violent volcanic activity is not provided by the findings of the geologists.

Interestingly, Sanders had discovered a peculiar map that dated back to 1650 which helped reinforce his belief that these two cities could have been located in the northern basin and not the southern end of the Dead Sea. He received the help of Richard Slater, an American geologist and expert on deep-sea diving who took him to the depths of the Dead Sea in the Delta mini-submarine with a capacity of two men. The location of Sodom and Gomorrah, in the deep end in the northern Dead Sea, according to Sanders is, even more, contradictory to history that postulated by Keller.

Now, what if these cities were not destroyed in a geological cataclysm, but rather by an apocalypse caused by the intervention of divine beings, or as some suggest, extraterrestrial beings. Were Sodom and Gomorrah attacked with atomic weapons, just as Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

There are actually more people who believe in the notion of an extra-terrestrial explanation here than you may think. The discovery and translation of Sumerian tablets, complete with tales of the Annunaki – Anu, Enki, Enlil, etc. – has led to a widespread reinterpretation of the Biblical text. If you don’t believe me, just do a search for videos on this topic on YouTube. Events such as the one here in Genesis are explained in the context of an extra-terrestrial war.

I’m sure I will revisit this event again in future sections. It’s one of the most memorable and frequently told stories from the Bible.

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