The Wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah (Isaiah's interpretation)
I know what you're thinking -- another discussion of God's wrath against homosexuals. Isn't that what the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is all about? Well, I'd like to suggest a different take.
This Sunday's lectionary selection from the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament is Isaiah 1:1, 10-20. I was looking at this passage as I began to write my lectionary meditation for [D]mergent, and the true nature of Sodom and Gomorrah's wickedness stood out clearly -- and the word found here isn't easy to run from.
In this text Sodom and Gomorrah stand in as analogies for the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The prophet, speaking in the time of Uzziah in the 8th century BCE, pronounces judgment, and in doing so roundly rejects their "worship" and "piety." God isn't impressed with their blood sacrifices and offerings of incense. None of this really matters because God has issues with their behavior outside the "worship places." Yes, God is concerned about matters of JUSTICE, especially when it involves the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow.
Consider these words from the prophet:
10 Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom!Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!11 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord;I have had enough of burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts;I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,*who asked this from your hand?Trample my courts no more;13 bringing offerings is futile;incense is an abomination to me.New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.14 Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates;they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you;even though you make many prayers, I will not listen;your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes;cease to do evil,17 learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:10-17 NRSV)
What is the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah -- it's not what we've been led to think? But these two cities had become for Isaiah's people, a byword for wickedness.
Anna Case-Winters writes in her theological reflection in Feasting on the Word these words:
The particular wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah -- contrary to popular assumptions -- is a matter of their greed and injustice. The fullest accounting of the "sin" of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Old Testament is in the book of Ezekiel: "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" (Ezek. 16:49). It is not until the Hellenistic period that sexual conduct is even alluded to in connection with these cities. As the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah became bywords for injustice and divine judgment, Isaiah implies, the southern kingdom of Judah now mirrors their condition. (Anna Case-Winters, in Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 3, p. 318).
According to the prophet, the nation's civil religion, in spite of all its offerings and piety, can't cover up its neglect of justice. Indeed, their "piety" can even be referred to as an abomination! So, are we, as a nation, comparable to the true Sodom and Gomorrah? Remember, when interpreting scripture it is often helpful to look at how other texts use and idea or reference point. When it comes to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, perhaps we should look more closely to the words of Isaiah and Ezekiel. And if you have questions, God seems ready for an argument (Isaiah 1:18)!