The Real Sins of Sodom


'The Destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah' by John MartinOn Monday,  I wrote concerning Christians who err by judging the failings of others while simultaneously forgetting to examine themselves to check for their own complicity in those failings.

Today, I want to look at the notorious city of Sodom.

Long the hallmark of wickedness, Sodom is repeatedly held up in the Bible as an example of how NOT to live. And if you’ve been around American Evangelicalism long enough, you’ve been drilled on the exact reason God destroyed Sodom. (Hint: We get the word sodomy from this particular association.)

If you’re still lost on the reason, Genesis 19 is the standard text. Lot’s life in the city and what befalls him, his divine guests, and his immediate family are laid out for all to see, as are the despicable actions of the denizens of the city of Sodom:

The two angels came to Sodom at evening. Lot sat in the gate of Sodom. Lot saw them, and rose up to meet them. He bowed himself with his face to the earth, and he said, “See now, my lords, please turn aside into your servant’s house, stay all night, wash your feet, and you will rise up early, and go on your way.” They said, “No, but we will stay in the street all night.” He urged them greatly, and they came in with him, and entered into his house. He made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter. They called to Lot, and said to him, “Where are the men who came in to you this night? Bring them out to us, that we may have sex with them.” Lot went out to them to the door, and shut the door after him. He said, “Please, my brothers, don’t act so wickedly. See now, I have two virgin daughters. Please let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them what seems good to you. Only don’t do anything to these men, because they have come under the shadow of my roof.” They said, “Stand back!” Then they said, “This one fellow came in to live as a foreigner, and he appoints himself a judge. Now will we deal worse with you, than with them!” They pressed hard on the man Lot, and drew near to break the door. But the men put forth their hand, and brought Lot into the house to them, and shut the door. They struck the men who were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they wearied themselves to find the door. The men said to Lot, “Do you have anybody else here? Sons-in-law, your sons, your daughters, and whoever you have in the city, bring them out of the place: for we will destroy this place, because the outcry against them has grown great before Yahweh that Yahweh has sent us to destroy it.”
—Genesis 19:1-13 (WEB)

Cut and dried, right? Homosexuality was the primary reason God destroyed Sodom.

Well, maybe not.

I was reading in Ezekiel today and came across the following passage. The context is that God is chastising His chosen people for being even more sinful than the wicked nations that surrounded them:

“Behold, everyone who uses proverbs will use this proverb about you: ‘Like mother, like daughter.’ You are the daughter of your mother, who loathed her husband and her children; and you are the sister of your sisters, who loathed their husbands and their children. Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite. And your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. Not only did you walk in their ways and do according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. As I live, declares the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it….”
—Ezekiel 16:44-50 (emphasis mine)

What is fascinating about this passage is that God explicitly names what it was about Sodom that caused Him to destroy them:

1. Pride
2. Excess food
3. Prosperous ease
4. Lack of love for the poor and needy
5. Haughtiness
6. Practicing an abomination

While not explicitly named, the abomination that was practiced surely included homosexuality.  Exchanging heterosexual practice for homosexual is an abomination because it mocks the created order and the character of God. (I have written about this previously in “Sex and the Created Order.”)

But for us Christians in America who love to hold out the homosexual agenda as the worst possible thing to happen to our country, please note the five explicitly named sins that preceded the sixth.

I can wait while you read the list again.

When I read those top five, they nearly define American Evangelicalism circa 2009.

The pride of having somehow “arrived” with our Christian radio stations and our Jesus T-shirts, the Time and Newsweek cover articles proclaiming our ascendancy, and the whole of our Evangelical subculture that seduces us into thinking that we are somehow living in the world but are not of it

The gluttony evident by the number of morbidly obese “saints” who never met a pantry they didn’t like or an all-you-can-eat buffet they could ignore, and the hording of food that allows us to feel safe and well insulated against the “childish” idea of “Give us this day our daily bread”

The vacation homes, McMansions, iPhones, Playstations, spa trips, Christian cruises, and amassed luxury that we so often attribute to God’s imprimatur on our “righteous” lifestyles

The blind eye we turn to the destitute, the alien, and the least of these—the very ones who signify Christ Himself

The self-reverential belief that we are better than those around us who do not show the same outward manifestation of our blessings, and the certainty of heaven for us because we alone have done it right while our clueless neighbor has done every last shred of it wrong

Five devastating, explicitly named indictments of God against Sodom, yet for some reason, all we can think about is the sixth, because that final one applies to the other guy—you know, the flambouyant one with all the Streisand CDs.

Dear God, bring us to repentance before it is too late.

37 thoughts on “The Real Sins of Sodom

    • Chris,

      More and more, I am convinced we spend too much time worried about the other guy’s sin and not enough with our own. It makes us arrogant and unteachable at a time when humility and gracefulness are called for.

  1. I agree with your analysis. We have and still do sin grievously – and we need to deal with that. I appreciate how you wrote this because you you highlighted the wretched condition we find ourselves today. Some, in their disgust with the current condition, have used the Ezekiel text to highlight hypocrisy and minimize the sin of homosexuality. In doing so, they wrongly discern God’s Word.

    So thank you for you pointed and righteous confrontation of sin.

    Separately, in one context “all sin is sin”, in another, it is not. I think Kevin DeYoung did a nice job discussing Scripture and Homosexuality.

  2. Paul Walton

    Dan, I can’t disagree with anything in this post. I used to be a hard-core conservative (still conservative) but I’m a follower of Christ first, and a USA citizen second. I would still, and have voted against gay marriage ( live in Ca.) but not because I hate folks who are gay. I don’t believe we can reveal the Kingdom through legislation. I don’t believe a gay person would suddenly want to become a follower of Christ because gay marriage is outlawed. I would hope that we could have a sincere conversation between Christ followers and the gay community. But the hateful rhetoric is bandied about on both sides on this issue regrettably. Your post does a great service to start a thought process of putting our own sins in perspective.

    • Paul,

      I believe judgment starts at home. Let us get our own house in order. There is nothing wrong with confronting sin (and homosexuality is a sin), but we have to be aware of where we ourselves are failing and address that failure before we can effectively speak on someone else’s sin. It’s the old log/speck problem.

      While I support legislation that declares marriage a heterosexual function (because marriage is a social contract and government is responsible for governing social contracts), I am distressed that the rhetoric on this issue largely stems from fear and what will be taken away from heterosexuals. Any time Christians operate out of fear they are not operating by the Spirit. End of story. Yet some people are utterly hysterical on this issue.

      I also recognize that the American Church’s demonization of people who just happen to be homosexuals has created more harm than most of us realize. We tend to forget Paul’s statement of “…and such were some of you.” Jesus must be presented as the hope of those who fall short of the glory of God or else we are all lost because all have sinned and fall short of that glory. Again, humility is called for.

      Homosexuality is a grievous sin that mocks the nature and character of God. But Jesus is the answer to even the worst sins practiced by the worst sinner.

  3. Dan Kimball and others have pointed this out recently and I can see some good in the conversation. Some try to say the Ezekiel passage basically rules out that God even cared about homosexuality in S & G and was basically more upset about their lack of hospitality. Hospitality was a big deal in the ancient near east and these actions would be seen as quite atrocious. However, using the word “abomination” in Ezekiel is the exact same word used in the law to describe homosexuality and I can’t help but agree with you that Ezekiel does have that in mind here. Some want to decide in advance that homosexuality is not a sin and then try to find that in Ezekiel. I just don’t think sound exegesis allows it.

    Then on the flip side you make a good point that there are other lessons to be learned from the story of S & G other than how God views homosexuality. Maybe those points do need to be emphasized more as more of us can relate to and struggle with that than we do with homosexuality.

  4. Dan,

    Totally with you on this. In fact, I just heard a presentation on this recently. If I may add to the list, the reason God judged Sodom wasn’t so much for homosexuality itself, but the condoning of homosexuality.

    Isn’t that what the agenda is now? I live in California. Everyone has heard about the rancor over Prop 8. Gratefully it was upheld, but those in opposition aren’t giving up on it.

    You list of 6…man. I think I’m going to print your post and put it up somewhere so I can keep it in front of me to remind me to pray about this and remove any trace of it from my life.

    Thanks for your boldness, my brother.


    • Joe,

      God doesn’t tolerate sin and neither should we. We have to remember, though, that He also does not rejoice in the the death of the wicked. We have a strong tendency to believe the opposite of Him on this one, as current events so notably point out.

  5. Mind is still blown over this one.

    In reading it again, I would like to point out the “but” in the paragraph. As I read it again, the excess of food and ease of life is not the issue, “but” the failure to share it with the poor. In essense, God says “I gave you so much, and you failed to share it.” I see how that fits with the pride and the haughtiness, both of which have to do with thinking yourself better than someone else.

    • Michael,

      That string begins with “pride” (which God hates), then proceeds to note “excess” (which has a negative connotation), and then goes into “prosperous ease” (which also reads negatively, as God wants people to work and be generous), all of which are heightened by the fact that given all their wealth, they still don’t care about the poor and needy.

      I think this is a case of incredulity maximized by further incredulity. A “…and to top it all off…” kind of statement on God’s part. The fact that He begins that string with a known sin leads me to believe the whole string is sinful.

    • Michael,

      I think the “whore” angle is working here, as in “your mother was a whore and so are you and your sisters.” While it is possible in that same sense for males to be whores, the common use is more female. (Sorry, ladies.)

  6. Folks,

    For further proof that the “abomination” in Ezekiel is homosexuality, see this:

    Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day– just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
    —Jude 1:5-7

    As I probably visit Jude less than I should, this passage had slipped my mind. I think the “unnatural desire” is clear, especially in light of Romans 1.

  7. The Jude passage is very helpful. I wanted to follow up on my statement about the Hebrew in my above comment with some reference material that may be helpful:

    Leviticus 18:22 – “” ‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” That is the same word in Hebrew as Ezekiel uses to describe the sins of S & G.

    Leviticus 18 in parallel English/Hebrew (See 18:22) –

    Ezekiel 16 in parallel English/Hebrew (See 16:50) –

    The Hebrew word is תוֹעבה (See BDB, 1072)

  8. While I think that Jude 7 reminds us that the sexual aberrations were a major part of why God punished Sodom (and I now see that you referred to that in your last comment), the passage in Ezekiel needs to play a major role in our understanding of what went on. Thanks for the reminder.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  9. I’m in wholehearted agreement. You used a different passage to come to the same conclusion I came to after struggling to memorize Romans Chapter One. And your list, beneath the surface is not much different.

    “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth….for although they knew God, they did not honor his as God or give thanks to him…claiming to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images…therefore God gave them up…”

    “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice…envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness… gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.”

    These last items are ranked right there with homosexuality. As a matter of fact, they are at the end of a great build up. They are the height of what a world looks like when it has suppressed the truth. When was the last time the Christian church rose up in righteous indignation at the tabloids, print and television, for their gossip, or the advertising industry for encouraging covetousness and discontent in the hearts of men? When was the last time we rose up to fight slander? Why do we prefer news stations that excoriate politicians we don’t agree with and suspects who have not yet been proven guilty of the things of which they’ve been accused? Why is everyone afraid to bring up the fact that the children of the church are disobedient to their parents? How is it that over half of some Sunday School children are being drugged rather than being identified as disobedient? (I’m not arguing that there are no real cases where medication is warranted, but the situation as I’ve seen it would indicate things have gone way too far.)

    It seems Paul singled out homosexuality in his Romans discussion simply because it so clearly illustrated the point of the exchange being made – it is very obvious. This should not, however lead us to classify it as the worst. And for those of us who do not struggle with that particular desire, let show mercy to those who do, and look to find ourselves in the rest of the list. We will certainly find ourselves there.

    • Great thoughts, Laurie.

      However, I would suggest that our primary function is to evangelize. If we do that first, many of the things you mention in your fourth paragraph will largely solve themselves (or at least they should).

      As to disobedient children, I’m not sure what to do about that because I need some standard as to “how kids used to be” to know if a child is really out of line or not. The Bible lays down some groundrules, but I suspect that we too often think of some Victorian standard as the THE standard rather than what the Bible says. Sure, lying, treating others poorly, hitting others and so on are bad, but what do you think defines a disobedient child? And what is the prescription?

      • Yes, and amen. The gospel is the only instrument for real change. It is the only thing that makes Christianity, well, Christianity. Our moral code is certainly not that unique. I hope I didn’t imply differently.

        As to children, I’m no strict disiplinarian. When I think disobedience I think defiance, complete disregard for authority, refusal to modify behavior in any way for the sake of others, absence of self-control. All of which seem to characterize not only the children in our society, but the adults as well. The apples don’t fall very far from the tree. The prescription – the gospel, salvation, the growth of the fruit of the Spirit. Until then, there is rule of law – setting of reasonable standards and consistent enforcement of them. (I’m not going to open that can of worms here, though. I’ve already taken up plenty of your comment space!)

  10. Dan,
    A few thoughts on this topic…

    Jesus warned:
    “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

    “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. (Luke 17:26-29)

    Everyone I’ve heard speaking on this statement makes mention of the evils committed in Sodom and compares them to the evils in the world today (homosexuality included) and yet the very clear and obvious trait of those times that Jesus mentions are “eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage. Things that are day to day normality. He does not point to their blatant sin.

    Compare the list Jesus gives with the passage you quote from Ezekiel and also see Isaiah 22:

    12 The Lord, the LORD Almighty,
    called you on that day
    to weep and to wail,
    to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth.

    13 But see, there is joy and revelry,
    slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep,
    eating of meat and drinking of wine!
    “Let us eat and drink,” you say,
    “for tomorrow we die!”

    • Paul Walton

      I don’t believe that Jesus is addressing the sin issue per se, only the fact that people weren’t focusing on eternal matters, they were more concerned about the day to day.

      • I thought the Isaiah reference gave an interesting perspective on Jesus’ comments.

        Instead of doing something about their sinfulness by repenting, the people in Isaiah’s prophecy chose to make the “most” of life by having a big party, recognising that their days were numbered.

        I see similarites in the end time situation Jesus prophesied.
        If everyone knew the world would end on Sunday evening, how many would turn to God seeking His mercy and how many would decide to go out partying?

    • David

      I think we tend to make too much of the descriptions in these verses. The gist of it is that just as in the days of Noah and Sodom, there was no warning. “It was a day just like any other day” is the overriding concept. So it will be on that last day.

  11. David

    Hey Dan, good find there. We tend to categorize sin, don’t we? This is bad but this is…really bad. The sins I see God harping on are very often our sins against one another. Relational sins. It’s not what man focuses on, which tend to be behavioral sins. Even after pointing out the focus of Gods anger towards the Sodomites, we still point the finger at the bad behavior (homosexuality) instead of the bad relationships (arrogance, pride, selfishness, poverty vs. wealth), or tend to rationalize the relational sin. Just like we focus on the moneychangers in the temple, and ignore the people whose worship they were disturbing. But Jesus saw, Jesus acted: “My temple should be a house of prayer for all nations…” We are still stuck on “…but you have made it a den of thieves.”

    God cares deeply about how we treat one another. Especially when His name gets dragged into it. Christians have a way of dragging the name of God through the mud, dishonoring Him while at the same time justifying our behavior by pointing at God.

    Odd, isn’t it?

    • David,

      Whenever I hear someone say that they never commit eisegesis, I have to shake my head, because ALL OF US have the tendency to read Scripture through lenses that strain out our own sins while concentrating on the sins of our foes. That kind of selective reading defines the human condition.

      When I read the Scriptures, though, I am always forcing myself to ask the harder questions of, “How am I at fault here? How should what I am reading change me?” Then I ask, “How is the Church not living up to this standard? How should we as the Church change to better live this out?”

      Both of those seem obvious to me. Some may claim that what I am asking is too self-centered and misses the larger picture, but all I know is that change has to begin with the Holy Spirit working in me. If I am not changed internally, then I will not change anything outside of me. And if my focus is always external (remember my “The Two Christianities“?), I am largely attempting to blow out the sun. Forcing everyone else to change when I am unchanged simply does not work and never will. This is one reason why the culture wars are lost, and this passage from Ezekiel shows exactly why they have been lost.

      • David

        I think God has been showing us, since it was just Him and Adam, that it is always about my relationship with God. Anything else springs from that relationship. It may seem self-centered, but only because we are so humbly full of ourselves. We are to love God with everything that is in us. If we do, there is nothing left of ourselves to love our neighbor with. And that is the whole point, because at that point it is God loving others through us.

        But we are so often so caught up in trying to be good, trying to be Christlike, trying to love others, that we fail on all counts.

        Love God, there is nothing else.

  12. bob pinto

    Thanks for the heads up on what’s actually in the bible.

    I thought I knew it all.

    Naturally, I’ll just add this fact to my bank of knowledge and still know it all. 😉

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