Genesis (Part 81)

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

Genesis: 19:30-38

30 Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters. 31 And the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth. 32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” 33 So they made their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn went in and lay with her father. He did not know when she lay down or when she arose.

34 The next day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Behold, I lay last night with my father. Let us make him drink wine tonight also. Then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” 35 So they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose and lay with him, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. 36 Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. 37 The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab. He is the father of the Moabites to this day. 38 The younger also bore a son and called his name Ben-ammi. He is the father of the Ammonites to this day.

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Here we learn that Lot did not stay long in Zoar. He fled Zoar into the hills with his two daughters. Some amount of time passed when the two daughters decided that they wanted to preserve Lot’s family line. They conspired to get Lot intoxicated so that they could become impregnated by him. The result of their conspiracy was two sons – Moab and Ben-ammi.

From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(30) He feared to dwell in Zoar.—Though this little place had been granted him for an asylum, yet, terrified at the sight of the smoking valley, and remembering that he had been originally commanded to go to the mountains, he summons up his courage and proceeds thither. The limestone regions of Palestine are full of caverns; and the patriarch, whose wealth had been so great that he and Abraham could not dwell together, is now content to seek in one of these caverns a miserable home.

Was it the sight of the smoking valley that caused Lot to leave Zoar? Was it local anger directed at him for what happened? Was it the sight of local sin and the fear of seeing a similar punishment visit his new home? Or was it a desire to return to a life of righteousness – one he was familiar with from his years in the company of Abraham?

The text does not tell us. One or all might be a motivation.

There is some thought – perhaps wishful thinking – that Lot’s daughters were actually step-daughters. From the Pulpit Commentary:

And Lot went up out of Zoar (probably soon after), and dwelt in the mountain (i.e. of Moab, on the east of the Dead Sea), and his two daughters—step-daughters, it has been suggested, if Lot married a widow who was the mother of the two girls (Starke)

The text itself gives us no reason to assume they are not biological daughters.

Going on to verse 31, also in the Pulpit Commentary:

And the firstborn said unto the younger,—showing that she had not escaped the pollution, if she had the destruction, of Sodom. “It was time that Lot had left the cities of the plain. No wealth could compensate for the moral degradation into which his family had sunk” (Inglis)—Our father is old,—an indirect confirmation of the inference (vide Genesis 11:26) that Abram was younger than Haran, since Lot, Haran’s son, now an old man—and there is not a man in the earth—not in the entire world (Origen, Irenaeus, Chrysostom, Kalisch), which is scarcely probable, since they knew that Zoar had been spared; but either in the district whither they had fled (Calvin, Willet), being under the impression that, living in so desolate a region, they could have no more intercourse with mankind; or in the land of Canaan (Ainsworth, Bush), meaning that there were no more godly men with whom they might marry; or perhaps they meant that no man would now care to unite himself with them, the remnant of a curse-stricken region (Knobel, Keil)—to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth.

As the note points out, the daughters are aware that Zoar was spared. They know about the world beyond the valley as they have a prominent and famous relative – Abraham – who lives outside of the valley. The note above provides some potential reasoning for the daughters’ scheme. An alternative theory (from me) is that Lot has two daughters raised in Sodom who think like Sodomites. Perhaps they simply wanted to lie with a man and conceive.

From chabad.org:

Lot and his two daughters fled to a cave in the mountains. Finding some wine in the cave and fearing that most of mankind was destroyed, the two daughters got their father drunk and took turns sleeping with him. Both of them begot a child from that union. The elder daughter called her child Moab, and the younger one called her child Ben Ami.

This is the last record we have of Lot, and perhaps a most fitting conclusion. On the one hand, the last we hear of him, his daughters get him intoxicated and have intimate relations with him. On the other hand, the mystics point out, the descendants of Moab include Ruth, King David—and eventually the Moshiach himself. Thus, perhaps the best answer to our question whether Lot was a hero or not is… it’s complicated.

Looking at some of the names:

Moab = מוֹאָב Môwʼâb, mo-awb; from a prolonged form of the prepositional prefix m- and H1; from (her [the mother’s]) father; Moab, an incestuous son of Lot; also his territory and descendants:—Moab.

Ben-ammi = בֶּן־עַמִּי Ben-ʻAmmîy, ben-am-mee’; from H1121 and H5971 with pronomial suffix; son of my people; Ben-Ammi, a son of Lot:—Ben-ammi.

From Ellicott:

(37, 38) Moab . . . Ben-ammi.—Both these names suggest an incestuous origin, but the latter in a less repulsive way. “Son of my people” means one born of intercourse with her own kin and family. It is a striking proof of the vigour of the race of Terah, that from this lone cavern, and after the loss of all the wealth possessed by Lot, these two children were able to reduce to obedience the aborigines dwelling on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, and establish petty kingdoms there. Both Moabites and Ammonites have finally merged in the Arabs.

From the Pulpit Commetaries we get some additional information and subsequent history for these two tribes:

And the firstborn bare a son, and called his name Moab—Meab, from the father, alluding to his incestuous origin; though Mo (water, an Arabic euphemism for the semen virile)and ab has been advanced as a more correct derivation (Rosenmüller). The same is the father of the Moabites—who originally inhabited the country northeast of the Dead Sea, between the Jabbok and the Arnon (Deuteronomy 2:20), but were afterwards driven by the Amorites south of the Arnou—unto this day. This phrase, indicating a variable period from a few years to a few centuries (cf. Genesis 48:13Exodus 10:6Numbers 22:39Joshua 22:3), cannot be regarded as a trace of post-Mosaic authorship (De Wette, et alii)since in Genesis it is always used of events which had taken place several centuries before the time of Moses, as in Genesis 26:33Genesis 35:1-29 :30; Genesis 47:26 (cf. Heil, ‘Introduction,’ part 1. § 2, div. 1, § 33).

Genesis 19:38

And the younger, she also bare a son, and called his name Ben-ammi. I.e. son of my people, meaning that her child was the offspring of her own kind and blood (Rosenmüller), or the son of her relative (Kalisch), or of an unmixed race (‘Speaker’s Commentary’). The same is the father of the children of Ammon—an unsettled people who occupied the territory between the Yabbok and the Arnon, from which they had ejected the Rephaims or Zamzummims (Deuteronomy 2:22), and in which they possessed a strong city, Rabbah (2 Samuel 40:1); in their habits more migratory and marauding than the Moabites (Isaiah 15:1-9Isaiah 16:1-14Jeremiah 48:1-47.), and in their religion worshippers of Molech, “the abomination of the Ammonites” (1 Kings 11:7)—unto this day.

There is a tendency to believe that via Genesis the Israelites are assigning a shameful origin to the inhabitants of the land they plan to conquer. We see that to some extent with the strange story of Ham, Noah, and the curse of Canaan. We see more of that here with the Moabites and Ammonites.

It is interesting to remember though that Ruth, Kind David, and eventually the Messiah all count themselves as descendants of Moab.

Jewish Women’s Archive has some additional information on Lot’s daughters.

According to the midrash (TanhumaVayera 12), Lot, from the outset, decided to dwell in Sodom because he wanted to engage in the licentious behavior of its inhabitants. His negative behavior comes to the fore when the townspeople mill about his door, demanding that he hand over the angels, and he instead offers his daughters to the mob. The Rabbis observe that a man usually allows himself to be killed in order to save his wife and children, while Lot was willing to allow the townspeople to abuse his daughters. In response to this, the Holy One, blessed be He, says to Lot: By your life, the improper act that you intended to be done to your daughters will indeed be committed, but to you. This midrash sharply focuses the reversal between these two episodes. In the first event, in Sodom, Lot was ready to force his daughters, against their will, to engage in sexual relations with the townspeople. In contrast, in the second episode, which takes place after the upheaval of Sodom, Lot’s daughters engage in relations with their unwitting father. Consequently, these acts of incest are Lot’s punishment for his unseemly behavior.

Another midrash (Aggadat Bereshit [ed. Buber] 25:1) regards the daughters’ act as punishment for their father’s own sexual promiscuity. Lot thought that if he were to dwell in Sodom, he could engage in licentious behavior without anyone’s knowledge. He accordingly was punished by his daughters engaging in intercourse with him; this episode became common knowledge and is read each year during the public Torah reading of the verse: “Thus the two daughters of Lot came to be with child by their father” (Gen. 19:36). R. Nahman adds: “Whoever is driven by his hunger for transgression will eventually be fed from his own flesh” (TanhumaVayera 12). Lot was eager to engage in promiscuity; in the end, his daughters played the harlot with him.

Another Rabbinic view was that Lot secretly lusted after his daughters. He was intoxicated when the elder sister lay with him, but he was sober when she rose, as is indicated in the Torah by the dot over the word u-ve-komah (“when she rose”). Despite his knowledge of what had transpired, he did not refrain from drinking wine the next night as well, and lying with his younger daughter (Gen. Rabbah 51:8–9).

In light of that Rabbinic view above, it is worth remembering that Lot was considered righteous enough to spare him and his family from destruction. When God decided to sweep away these cities, He was not raising the righteousness bar for survival to a great height.

This is the last mention of Lot in the Book of Genesis. The Pulpit Commentary puts a button on his story:

III. DISAPPEARING INTO OBLIVION. Nothing could more distinctly mark the Divine disapprobation with Lotconduct than the fact that after this he was suffered—

1. To live an unrecorded life, being never heard of again in the pages of Holy Scripture.

2. To die an unnoticed death.Where and how he met his end the historian does not condescend to state.

3. To sink into an unknown grave.Whether buried in his mountain cave or entombed in the Jordan valley no man knoweth unto this day.

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