Sexual Depravity and a Servant of God

One ancient purpose of this passage is to depict the terrible origins of Moabites and Ammonites. Since Ammonites and Moabites are not a big issue today, however, I will focus my thoughts here instead on the tale of horror attached to their origins.

Drunk like Noah (9:21–22), Lot did not choose the sexual encounter the passage describes (19:32–33). He did, however, allow himself to be made drunk. The narrative might partly excuse Lot for anguish and panic in the wake of his wife’s death (19:26), as Judah’s sexual behaviour seems partly explained, though not excused, in this way (38:12). The consequences, however, are horrifying. The son of a godly woman I know passed out from being drunk; when he awoke, he stood accused of a rape of which he had no memory. Eventually the accuser retracted the story and he was acquitted, but losing control of one’s senses makes one more vulnerable to unwanted activities from oneself or others.

Lot did not choose the sexual encounter… but losing control of one’s senses makes one more vulnerable to unwanted activities from oneself or others.

By ancient standards, a man being manipulated sexually by women would be judged pathetic and humiliating for the man, though the narrative’s chief horror for both ancient and modern culture is the act of incest. (Most acts of incest are also acts of rape, most often from older to younger and from male to female. Yet such actions are terrible in any form.) The daughters name the babies; naming might be ultimately a male prerogative (cf. 5:3; 35:18; 41:51–52; Exod 2:22; 18:3–4; 1 Chron 7:23), but the mother also often named the child (Gen 4:25; 29:32–35; 30:6–13, 18, 20–21, 24; 1 Sam 1:20; 1 Chron 4:9; 7:16). More significantly, the names explicitly refer to their horrible action, meaning that Lot cannot but have learned of it (19:37–38).

Lot’s hospitality may show him righteous (2 Pet 2:7); God seems to have counted him that way (Gen 18:23, 25). How could such a horrible thing happen in his family? Questions of free will aside, his daughters were not the only members of the family who violated God’s standards (19:17, 26). Lot’s daughters grew up in the immoral environment of Sodom where many men of the town could demand guests to gang-rape (19:4–5).

They also grew up in a household where their father had offered to let them be raped instead of the guests (19:8). Aside from questions of whether he considered homosexual rape worse than heterosexual rape (perhaps he did so view it; cf. Judg 19:23–25, a passage also contrasting hospitality with its opposite), he wanted to preserve the sacred honour of hospitality. But despite the terrible circumstances it is difficult to think that offering his soon-to-be-married daughters to gang rapists was an acceptable lesser of two evils. He also risked his own life (cf. Gen 19:9), but his daughters cannot but have been horrified by what nearly happened to them. (The narrative may include his offer partly to emphasise the specifically same-sex predilection of Sodom’s men; perhaps it might also bespeak the physical perfection of the angels, cf. Judg 13:6.)

Lot had chosen a prosperous but ungodly place to raise his family. While such an environment may be necessary for mission, it is hardly ideal for raising children.

Lot’s commendable hospitality to the angels continues the same pattern found in Abraham’s hospitality to them in the previous chapter (18:3–8). The key differences in setting, however, underline the differences between the very different environments chosen by Abraham and Lot: Lot had chosen a prosperous (13:10–11) but ungodly (13:13; 19:4–5) place to raise his family. While such an environment may be necessary for mission (cf. Matt 10:14–15; 11:23), it is hardly ideal for raising children. The imaginary electronic world that surrounds most of our children (through music, videogames and movies) poses a potent challenge throughout much of the West today, but the influence of the values of real flesh-and-blood people around us continues to matter.

That the daughters wanted to preserve their father’s seed (19:32) reflects an element of good intention, but it served an act that all this account’s hearers would recognise as inexcusably evil (cf. Lev 18:6–18; 20:11–12, 14, 17–21, which leaves some relations even too horribly obvious to require specifying). Their concern that no men remained in the land (Gen 19:31; the Hebrew can mean either “earth” or “land”) may also reflect their grief over the deaths of their fiancés (19:14) and their desire for the male security and motherly role expected in their culture. It also may reflect a paranoia shared with their father (19:30).

We can hardly fault any of them for experiencing what we today would call post-traumatic stress syndrome. But father-child incest (as opposed, in some ancient cultures, to marrying a half-sibling; 20:12) was condemned in all cultures in the ancient Near East, as in virtually all cultures in history. The ancient hearers of Genesis could attribute the lack of moral understanding reflected in their incestuous action only to the influence of the Sodom narrative that precedes—and possibly in Lot’s own willingness to sacrifice their virginity to protect the guests.

Lot and his daughters may have raised their new children with the sort of compromised morals with which they had conceived them. In any case, this horrifying background of Ammonites and Moabites offers a stark contrast with a different childbirth narrated soon afterward. Lot’s daughters become pregnant by an “old” father (19:31); contrast aged Sarah’s pregnancy by Abraham in his “old” age (21:1, 7). Abraham and Sarah remained in God’s plan, and God provided them with a miracle. (The miracle was not only of birth in old age, but that it happened at the time that God had spoken—21:2.)

Of course, things do not always work out this way. Godly parents can have ungodly children, and ungodly parents can have godly children (1 Sam 8:3; 2 Chron 21:1–6; 24:2, 17–22; 25:2; 27:2; 28:1; 29:2; 33:1–2; 34:1–2; 36:5). Genesis’s story of Joseph shows that a godly person can often succeed despite a dysfunctional family background. But by and large, some backgrounds are better for children than others (cf. Prov 22:6). The influence of Sodom’s sexually loose morals haunted Lot’s family thereafter.

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