We begin today with Sodom and Gomorrah. Oh boy. I don’t care how familiar you are or aren’t with the Bible, you’ve at least heard of this story, probably in the context of why God doesn’t like gay people.
So, what do we have here? We have two strangers going to Sodom and being offered hospitality by Lot. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen hospitality emerge as a theme; particularly in terms of being hospitable to all those who appear, for you never know when they may be divine messengers.
It’s an interesting thing. Hospitality doesn’t mean a lot now; it’s a nice courtesy but we live in a relatively safe and individualistic world.* I imagine that in a time that was far more tribal and far more community based, we’d value hospitality a lot more. It’s hard to wrap the modern mind around it, how much difference it might make.
At any rate, Lot offers hospitality to the strangers. The rest of Sodom is not so much inclined, and instead tries to break the door down to rape the strangers. At which point Lot offers his virgin daughters, which doesn’t seem like such a great deal for them, but I’m trying not to derail this with a feminist rant at the moment. Suffice to say, I recognize that at the time, Lot’s daughters would have been considered his property to do with as he pleased, as reprehensible as I find that.
Now, this is usually read such that the sin is homosexuality. That both the residents of Sodom and the visitors were men, ergo homosexuality is sinful. Yet…that’s not the emphasis. If it is, why focus on the force aspect at all? The main focus is on the attempts of the townsmen to drag the strangers out and rape them. If the main focus were homosexuality, why focus there?
So, then, I read this portion and I think the strongest message here is that rape is at issue. Which, if we’re going to be walking around holding this up as an example of Biblical morality, is a focus that is sorely lacking. Forcing someone else to have sex with you without their consent is WRONG folks, mmmkay?
Then Lot and his family leave and are saved, except for Lot’s wife who turns into a pillar of salt. Tangentially: I don’t know what significance salt would have held at that time in that place, does anyone know? Because I’d be interested as to why that particular punishment for looking back on her former life.
Then Lot’s daughters engage in some more problematic sexual behavior. Not only is this unconsenting, it’s also incestual. Both of which are bad, but don’t seem to receive any direct punishment thus far. However, given that there is a certain element of showing the righteousness of Israel among others, it seems that there’s a certain level of slander in suggesting these tribal groups originated out of incest.
Moving right along, we return to Abraham and Sarah. Abraham, who is apparently a bit slow on the uptake, once again claims that Sarah is his sister and not his wife. Because apparently that lesson didn’t take with the Pharaoh. And once again, God intervenes (God is clearly looking out for Sarah a bit here, and I must say I’m glad to see someone is) and the King gives Abraham a talking-to.
Then God finally fulfills his promise, and Sarah bears Isaac. I know that Isaac is a play on Hebrew for ‘laughter’ and that is a reference to Sarah’s disbelieving laughter. But I can’t help but think it’s also about her joyous laughter as well. For who wouldn’t laugh for joy if blessed with a child after so many years of wanting it and believing it impossible? Who wouldn’t want to throw back their head and laugh out loud at the mysterious and glorious twist of fate? To see an impossible promise fulfilled?
But now that she has her own child, Sarah’s jealousy rears up and she demands once again that Hagar be cast out. And so she is, sent to the wilderness without enough water to live. Crying to God, she leaves her child to die because she cannot save him; in this moment God intervenes. For this, Ishmael also becomes the father of a great nation.
There is something here that I’m not sure where it leads, or how this will play out as we reach the vast swaths of the Bible I am wholly unfamiliar with, but I see God here with the weakest and the helpless, in the darkness time. These women had no agency. They had no power. They were property, plain and simple. Yet even their cry was heard. And in that, there is beauty.
*I realize that a safe and individualistic culture is really only applicable to a relatively privileged segment of the Western World. But as a white, middle-class woman in the U.S., that is the world I know. I can’t presume to know what it would be like to live in a different situation with any real evidence.