Hell on Earth

And it’s almost Halloween! So, another macabre art piece to go along with this blog series! This one is going to especially be fire and brimstone… because it’s art featuring Sodom and Gomorrah!

Now, I’ve seen a lot of shallow commentary about Sodom and Gomorrah which say that it’s all about sodomy and the evils of sodomy. Which… honestly, I think is a completely shallow take on that whole story, because it’s about so much more than just sodomy. In fact, the first time I read it completely, I was stunned with everything about that story.

Honestly? The reason why Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed was because it was hell on earth.

And no, I am not using those words lightly.

Let’s take a look at scripture, shall we?

Sodom and Gomorrah’s Second Chance

First of all, Abraham and God did their best to give Sodom and Gomorrah a chance for redemption. No, I’m being absolutely serious. They really did. Before everything was destroyed, the following exchange happened, after the Lord told Abraham that He intended to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.

Of course, Abraham rightly took that as meaning that God knew exactly how bad things were and intended to destroy all of it. Which was a problem — Abraham’s nephew, Lot lived right in town, and that meant that Lot and his entire family would be destroyed.

And Abraham loves Lot and doesn’t want Lot or his family to be destroyed. Lot is Abraham’s nephew, for goodness’ sake! And Abraham’s done so much for him already. He kind of sees him as his son, honestly, before Isaac comes around, and is willing to let Lot take his first pick on things. To see him be destroyed? That would be awful!

So, the following exchange takes place:

Ten people! That’s all it takes for Sodom and Gomorrah to be saved — ten righteous people! How hard can it be for ten righteous people to exist in a large town?

And, even if there weren’t ten righteous people that were native to the town, surely Lot’s family would be righteous enough to not be destroyed.


The Angels’ Entrance

It started off so well too! Before the angels really entered into town and saw how terrible things were, Lot intercepted them. Then, as is customary in the ancient world, he offered them hospitality:

And that hospitality is a big thing in the ancient world, because you never really knew who you could be entertaining. It could be some stranger who needs your help and thus propel you into greatness, it could be a prophet, or it could be — as in this case — two angels that are disguised as men and are ready and willing to destroy everything if they are treated with respect. So, you don’t spurn the stranger because you never know who they could be.

But upon further reading of the whole story, it also sounds as if Lot were trying to get the angels to not go into the town center. After all, if these guests were powerful, then they might get the wrong idea and destroy everything — including Lot and his family — out of righteous anger. So, in a way, Lot gives Sodom and Gomorrah yet another chance. If the town only let Lot do the entertaining and leaves them alone, perhaps God would relent and show mercy.

So, of course, they don’t leave them alone…

The Mob Comes For Them

How to begin even talking about how wrong this whole situation is? An entire mob of men — every man from the young to the old from the town — surround Lot’s house and demand to see the visitors that he is hosting. And then they ask Lot to bring out the men that came under his roof, under his hospitality, and demand that he lets them — the mob — gang-rape and sodomize the visitors.

And mobs are loud and cruel. Though the text doesn’t say anything about exactly what the mob did, it’s quite probable that they surrounded Lot’s house with weapons and were yelling at Lot to come out loud enough that Lot simply couldn’t have ignored them anymore. After all, Lot eventually does come out — and offers them his virgin daughters in order to protect his visitors.

That sounds awful when we look at the story in our modern lens… after all, one doesn’t let a mob gang-rape your children! That’s just not good! And, honestly, in ancient times, that was not good either! You just don’t let some things happen. In ancient times, fathers were supposed to protect the virtue of their daughters until they were married off to a decent guy. Letting men gang-rape your daughters, under ordinary circumstances, would be abominable.

But, these were hardly ordinary circumstances! Lot probably only came out to talk with the mob when he realized that he had a hard choice — either let his entire household die at the hands of the mob or try to bargain with the mob.

And letting the mob take his visitors was non-negotiable. Once more, hospitality in the ancient world was a sacred duty. Once under your roof, if anything bad happened to them, that would be a sin that cried out to heaven that would call for your destruction. So, while giving away his daughters to the mob was bad and abominable in five million different ways, giving away your visitors would turn God against you completely.

So, when you see Lot do this, understand that it was in desperation that he decided to do this and, while what he chose to do was evil, it was under difficult circumstances. And yes, that desperation ended up having hard consequences: by suggesting to his daughters that their being raped was permissible in dire circumstances, they believed that — and eventually rape him, their own father, when they are confronted by hard circumstances (Genesis 19:30-38 is that part of the story, though we won’t cover it in this particular blog).

…what can I say? The bible has some awful things in it.

Still, the horrific bargain that Lot, in his desperation, tries to strike with the mob only backfires on him. The mob, seeing that he is trying to protect his visitors, gets mad and threatens to destroy him — probably by sodomizing and gang-raping him, for starters, while his whole family is being destroyed. They press against his house, about to break down the door…

And then the angels spring into action.

The Final Chance for Redemption

The angels, mind you, have lots of power, as we’ll soon see. But, what do they do now? They use their awesome power to temporarily blind the mob so as to buy some time for Lot and his family.

Then, they explain that they have come to destroy the town, and thus Lot and his family need to go out — now. After all! The only righteous people in the town are Lot and his family, and they would have been destroyed, were it not for the angels! So, technically, they aren’t actually reneging on the agreement that Abraham made with the Lord and they’re saving the only righteous — albeit sinful — people in town.

And they allow Lot to bring his family, which is consistent — after all, Noah was allowed to bring his own family. All Lot had to do was convince his family that they should all come. Which, honestly, considering that they had a mob outside of their house screaming for their heads, should be an easy thing to do. Right?

…apparently not. The mob is at their door, trying to break it down their door, death is imminent, and yet they think that Lot is joking when Lot tells them that their death is at hand and there is only one way for them to be saved.

This whole process takes hours. Remember, when the mob comes, they are about to go to bed. Then, by the time the angels force them out, dawn is about to break. Lot stalls for so long, trying to get everyone saved, that finally by the time that the angels force him, his wife, and his daughters to leave, there is no more time left and he has to bargain with the angels to at least not destroy a small town close by because otherwise he and his family will not be able to make it to safety.

So Lot bargains with the angels and they can be safe and make it through. All they have to do is not turn back and look at the city that treated them terribly.

The Angels of Death

And thus they destroy everything, and the only survivors — of that whole town, are Lot and his daughters. Even his wife, who was almost saved, turns back to look at the town, at the last moment — out of curiosity or nostalgia, perhaps? The text is not clear. But, it doesn’t matter. Because of her actions, she is destroyed.

Here is some artwork depicting that scene:

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, by John Martin, c. 1852. Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom. Via IllustratedPrayer.com
The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, by John Martin, c. 1852. Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom.

The structures of Sodom and Gomorrah melt away in a massive inferno, Lot’s wife is twisted toward the city and turned to a pillar of salt, and Lot and his daughters flee from the scene.

Like I said, hell on earth.

And finally, Abraham, who has spent so much time and effort trying to save Sodom and Gomorrah, looks down at the scene of smoldering ruins of the once expansive town. What his thoughts are as he watches everything burn is unknown. It isn’t clear whether he meets up with Lot again, or even if he knows whether Lot is alive, though some Jewish scholars believe that Abraham did know all that went on through prophetic vision.

Still, the next thing Abraham did was leave the area, and it was likely due to the events that he saw that day.

Final Thoughts?

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is very frightening, not only because it shows us how evil sin can truly be when left unchecked, but also how easy it is  to think that maybe the seriousness of sin is over-stated or ignore the sin, both the sins that we perpetuate and the sins all around us. For instance, the sons-in-law of Lot could have been saved, had they simply realized that death was imminent and they had to turn back and leave everything that they’ve ever had to be destroyed. That’s all they had to do — leave everything behind and follow Lot, the only righteous man in the town. But they didn’t. They thought Lot was joking when he tried to warn them.

And they were destroyed.

That may seem to us like utter idiocy that they didn’t follow Lot, who could have easily saved them. However, we face our own dilemma that is almost exactly the same, except instead of being asked to follow Lot — who, despite his righteousness, was a sinful man who made plenty of mistakes — we are asked to follow God. After all, we are called by Jesus to turn back from our former lives of sin and to follow Him, while keeping His commandments. And, unfortunately, even for us, we are tempted to ignore the sins we commit or the sins all around us. When Jesus calls us to leave our sinfulness behind us and follow Him, it can seem insurmountably difficult at times.

And yet, if we choose to stay in our sinfulness, then we too face destruction.

In what seems to be a deliberate reference to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Jesus says the following:

So, what choice will we choose to make?

Dear Jesus,

Deepen our trust in Your Word and give us the strength to carry our crosses and follow You into Your Glory.


Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of four, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer.

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