Tuesday, August 03, 2010

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)!

19 comments:

Katie Z. said...

If we think about the poor and the stranger, it is the same interpretation that Jesus later gives in Matthew 10:11-15.

Hospitality to the stranger, care for the widow and orphan and justice for the oppressed are the central themes of what it means to live a life in keeping with God's covenant.

Gary said...

Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Jude 7

John said...

Gary,

What is strange flesh? I am curious at your interoretaion. Sexual immorality I can comprehend, but strange flesh is a curious term.

John

John said...

Bob,

What an interesting angle - Sodom and Gomorrah as metaphor for the decline and fall of Judah and Israel.

The angels of the Lord, the very presence of the divine among them are captured and exploited for private exploitation, and social justice and neighborliness are ignored.

And what do we make of the stark horror when Lot is so frightened by the threat posed to the divinity, that he is willing to sacrifice his greatest treasure, his daughters to avoid the sacrilege.

The angels need no protection, and no one need be sacrificed for their welfare. Is Lot's sin not as great as the injustice of his fellow citizens? Does it not cost him is heart, his wife, his compassionate half, rendered a pillar of salt?

What does it cost us when when we claim a private God to do our own bidding,when we deny justice to those who need it most, when we fail to trust in the power of God?

Do we not risk calamity, and do we not risk the destruction of our own hearts - the very hearts with which we claim to love God?

John

Gary said...

John,

"For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet." Romans 1:26,27

I think that is the meaning. At least part of it. There could be more to it.

Danny Bradfield said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Danny Bradfield said...

I've understood the story this way: If the Sodom and Gomorrah story was about sex, then the lesson would seem to be that it's OK to gang rape women (Lot's daughters) but not men (the two visitors). That would be a terrible lesson if it were true, but that's not the lesson.... Lot himself says that it's about hospitality: he has "given shelter" to the visitors, and to violate the code of hospitality by turning his guests over to the mob would be a sin.

Reading the story as a lesson in injustice is new to me, but I think in this case injustice can be related to violating the code of hospitality.

John said...

Gary,

I don't think Romans 1 refers explicitly to Sodom & Gomorrah.

Even if I were to accept your inference, the read literally, these desires were from God - not from themselves. Should we not plead for mercy on them rather than castigating them for this God induced condition?

John

John said...

Gary,

My translation does not use "strange flesh" but I think you have read Jude 7 correctly.

John

Gary said...

John,

There is no doubt that homosexuality was common in Sodom and Gomorrah, and no doubt that God condemns it. I suppose that sexual perversion was not the only sin of those people; most wicked people are guilty of a variety of sins.

Homosexual desires are from God? Romans 1 says "God gave them up unto vile affections". I think that means that God removed his restraints from them and let them do what they wanted to do. Not sure you could say that means that God made them homosexual.

If God has given up on someone, would it do any good to ask God to help them? I doubt it. Romans 1 seems to indicate that they are a lost cause. A sad situation to be in.

John said...

Gary,

My translation of Romans 1:26reads: "26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions."

It seems to me that there is a clear implication that God did something, as in "hardening Pharaoh's heart" for which there is nothing that humans can do to resist. That does not mean they cannot or should not pray for mercy, for themselves or for others. It is one of the best way to love one's neighbor.

If it is God's will that something should happen presumably so it will be, but even Jesus was heard to pray "if it be your will let the cup pass."

No prayer for mercy goes unheard.

John

Joan Calvin said...

I am intrigued by the homosexuality alleged in Sodom and Gomorrah. Is it a loving relationship between two people or is it a power relationship as occurs today in prisons where men are required to provide sexual favors for other more powerful (and otherwise heterosexual) men? Wouldn't that make a difference? It seems to me in the original story of Sodom and Gomorrah it is a question of power, not sexual desire.

Gary said...

Joan Calvin,

There is no context in which homosexuality would not be immoral. God made no exemptions for "love" in homosex.

John said...

Joan,

Interesting reflection - the morality of heterosexual sex depends on the circumstances, i.e., consent, power disparity, ages of the participants, relationship between the participants, even time and place. The sex itself is not immoral, it is just an act. And the circumstances which have the most affect on the morality have to do with the consent of the parties, and the love they share for each other.

Even sex between a husband and wife is immoral if it is undertaken as a non-consensual act of force and violence.

And for homosexuality? Should the issues be so very different?

John

Gary said...

John,

God's rule is: no homosex ever, for any reason, at any time, in any context, between anyone. Consent, age, relationship, or circumstances of the participants will not cancel God's condemnation.

God allows moral sex ONLY between a man and his wife. And a man cannot be a wife.

Leland Bryant Ross said...

Unless Anna Case-Winters holds Genesis 19 to be from the Hellenistic period, I don't know how she gets to "It is not until the Hellenistic period that sexual conduct is even alluded to in connection with these cities."

What the Sodomites proposed to do to the visitors (and what Lot counterproposed they do to his daughters) looks to me clearly sexual, not merely allusively so.

That said, it's true that this specific act was only a corollary to the basic sin of the city, and the OT information on the sin of the city nowhere suggests that sexual behavior was at the core of the problem.

Il suoFratello said...

Sodoma and Gomorrah were destroyed due to their wickeness.

They will "rape" the stranger, its animals. It wss a perverted society. regardless of the offerings brought to the Sacred Place.

Had nothing to do with the intimacy between to persons of same sex that love each other.

Perversion is what destroys the soul. Greed, prejudices.
They all ride an ugly horse named Ignorance.

The Lord did not condemned the Roman Centurion that came seeking for his "slave" to be healed.

the word "pais" classical Greek means, Companion, one that tends to all necessities of his master.

When the Lord said, Let us go to your house to heal him. The Centurion said. Suffice be your word and he will be healed.

" I have never seen so much faith...The Pais was healed immediately and the Centurion left with gladness in his heart.

" Jonathan, oh Jonathan thy love for me was better than those of women" Paraphrasing

David's cry when Jonathan the son of Saul died.

Remember children what separate us from God is our lack of love for our fellowman. Greed and the excesses of the flesh.

I leave you all with this verse from the book of Thomas...

" The Kingdom of Heaven is in you and around you "

Be kind to one another, and Love, Love even your enemies...They are also your neighbors. Let God take care of the wicked and concentrate on your salvation one day at a time.
Doing your best, that God will do the Rest.

"Forgive 70 x 7 = 490, and that is daily.

Jonas Coblentz said...

The fact that people use the David and Jonathan story to justify gay relationships is, I believe, a stretch. If a husband and wife relationship is based on a sexual relationship, that relationship will most likely fail. The true love relationship is not based on sex but on a deep friendship and understanding of those within the relationship. I love my kids so much that I would give my life for them in a second. But my relationship with them has never been sexual. My desire to provide for their every need is not the result of any physical relationship. To say that David was gay because of his love he professed for Jonathan is like saying the love you have for your children is incest. The emotional connection and concern that David and Jonathan shared was much deeper than a sexual relationship can provide. I believe the Bible is vastly misquoted and twisted to justify the ungodliness of the day.

John said...

Jonas,

You said: "The emotional connection and concern that David and Jonathan shared was much deeper than a sexual relationship can provide. I believe the Bible is vastly misquoted and twisted to justify the ungodliness of the day."

With these two statements I whole heartedly agree. However, I suspect that we differ on the significance of these two statements.