Welcoming the Lord and the blessings of life

Genesis 18 and 19 is structured around a recurrent theme of how the watchful welcoming of the Lord gives the blessings of family life and its refusal leads to its cursing.

The narrative starts with the theophany of Abraham:

Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by.

So Abraham is the father of those who wait the Lord more than they that watch for the morning (Ps. 130: 6). Having found what he watched for he welcomes the Lord into his house. During the meal he prepares for Lord he is told he’ll be blessed with a child he had long wanted but had no reasonable expectation to hope for.

Abraham and the Lord set out for Sodom, with the Lord finally announcing that

“[T]he outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

As the Lord approaches the city, Lot is waiting for him runs up and gives the same welcoming that Abraham gave:

When [Lot] saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”

In welcoming those he called “Lords”* into his home Lot ends up saving the life of his own family, and this is two ways: first because the Lords blind and befuddle an angry mob that was intent on breaking down the door of his home with the intent to inflict physical and sexual violence upon all those there, and second because the Lords lead Lot’s whole family out of the burning city.

Lot’s welcoming of the “Lords” is particularly charitable in that he puts their integrity and safety before even his own family, at one point even offering the mob one of his daughters if they would leave the Lords alone.

No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.

The shock of taking hospitality to such an extreme as to offer one’s own family in defense of it is even more striking in that if the mob had taken up Lot on his offer his daughters would, under the customs of the time, have become unmarriageable and so would have to be supported by Lot for life. Lot is thus not just offering his daughters but his whole hope of future posterity to the charity of hospitality. Paradoxically but tellingly, it is only by his willingness to offer his family to the Lord that Lot ends up saving it.

For their own part, the mob is the perversion of both Abraham and Lot. Instead of watching for the Lord and giving him welcome they keep watch only to prey upon life and defile it.

While there is a widespread opinion among contemporary Scriptural exegetes** that the wickedness of the mob of Sodom was their violation of hospitality and not any desire to sodomize Lot’s guests, this misses the larger thematic context of the narrative that continually speaks to the integral connection between the welcoming of the Lord and the blessings of life. This connection is played out by the mob in that their violation of hospitality is inseparable from a desire to not just sexually violate others, but their doing so in a way that renders the transmission of life impossible. In raping the guests, they would substitute the power of sexuality to generate the loving unity of a family with the perverse power of exploitation, domination and its consequent alienation; in sodomizing them they would pervert and frustrate the power of sexuality to generate life. The anti-hospitality of the crowd thus results in the inherent and unplanned consequence of making it the perfect anti-family, i.e. a crazed mob that perverts both love and fertility and, as it happens, has no hope of lasting into posterity. Or even to the next night.

While the mob is the perfect inversion of Abraham and Lot’s spirit of watchfulness and welcoming, even Lot’s family are marred by the same failure to watch for the Lord. This seems to be the point of Lot’s wife “looking back”, i.e. to take her eyes of the Lords that are leading her out of destruction and to look back (in sadness? fascination? longing?) at the loss of her city. Whatever her reason, in taking her eyes off the Lord she becomes one with the salt that renders life in the region impossible, at least until lately.

But the ultimate “looking back” upon Sodom seems to come from Lot’s daughters, who, as soon as they are outside of Sodom start to complain that Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children—as is the custom all over the earth.  Lot’s daughters thus close off the narrative by being a perfect inversion of Abrahamic story that opens it, because whereas Abraham waits for the Lord in the face of his own infertility, Lot’s daughters interpret the destruction of Sodom as taking away all the men whom they could marry, and they respond to this by performing exactly the sort of act that they were threatened with by the mob the night before – they get their father blind drunk and lay with him. The sexes of those involved make it hard to see this action for the rape that it is.

The daughters conceive, but the text makes it clear that even their fertility is a curse on life:

The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. 38 The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.

In other words, the fruit of their rape was a cult of child sacrifice.

So to conclude, only those who watch for the lord and welcome him receive the blessings of life. Ultimately only Abraham and Lot escape assimilation to the mob of Sodom and its fate.


*The text refers to those who meet Abraham and Lot as Yahweh, Adonai, men, and also once as “angels”. The exact ontological picture is obscure and irrelevant to the point I want to make here. I choose to refer to those who Lot welcomed by the same word he used to welcome them.

**I’m thinking particularly of Gareth Moore‘s very well written book, but here is a popular riffing on the same idea.

 

 

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