Re-reading Genesis as it's been years, and I need someone to enlighten me: Why does Lot offer his daughters to the city rabble if they will leave his houseguests (the angels) alone?! It reads like a noble sacrifice but that's seriously messed up and I need answers, I'm guessing I'm missing something. Thanks,
Dear Julie Bishop: Thanks for an interesting question, which for Scripture readers actually has broader implications than might first seem to be the case. A great question to kick off this column.
The Bible is a whole library of books, written in cultures very different from ours, by scores of authors in various different genres over hundreds of years. As your question implies, I have to remember that if I am to understand what I am reading.
Hospitality to travelers and mercy for the poor are two cardinal virtues in Middle Eastern culture. Travelers through the desert often relied on hospitality to survive. Hosting worthy travelers was an honor as well as a religious duty. Lot's brother Abraham is very anxious to show hospitality to the three strangers (actually angels sent by God) (Gen 18:1-8). Lot does the same thing when two of the angels pass by him. He presses his hospitality upon them, and they enter his house.
The tradition of the rabbis over the centuries offers interesting perspectives on biblical texts. The rabbis tell us that the district of Sodom was a rich and fertile region for those looking to make their fortune. Lot had been welcomed because he was a wealthy man, but the men of Sodom were so selfish and depraved that they did everything they could to repel those less well off. Sodom was an inhospitable place where a traveler was likely to be refused hospitality and even physically sodomized. Word soon spread that Sodom was a place to be avoided, and its inhabitants thus selfishly guarded their wealth, exempting themselves from the cultural and religious duty of hospitality.
But these Scriptures are reverently preserved because they are part of the story. The Jews would have much to learn in the centuries that followed -- the Mosaic Covenant, its moral code, sexual and family ethic, the destiny of eternal life in heaven or damnation in hell, that God works among the gentiles and even uses them as His instruments also...
Lot thus acts responsibly in trying to protect his guests, but you are quite correct in saying that the way he proceeded was 'messed up.' But don't make the mistake of thinking that Lot is presented in Scripture as a noble hero. He is a deeply flawed figure. When Abraham proposes that the two brothers separate their entourages, Lot chooses the best land for himself (Gen 13:10-11). Scripture teaches that it was only for the sake of Abraham that God spared Lot from the destruction of Sodom (Gen 19:29). Later, Lot will settle in a cave on a mountain with his two daughters, and the daughters quietly plot together to ply Lot with wine, get him drunk and lie with him (Mum having turned into a pillar of salt: Gen 19:26), first one, then the other, and Lot allowed it to happen a second time. Lot is a drunken lecher, not a role model, as portrayed in Scripture.
At the same time, we must remember that the Faith did not drop from the sky vacuum-packed and ready for opening. Scripture is the record of God's dealings with His People. Over the course of the centuries. God prepared them for the coming of the Messiah through the teaching of the prophets, the reflections of the Rabbis on the Law, and through their own experiences, gradually leading them deeper into Truth. We thus read of Abraham, at the urging of his then-childless wife Sarai, taking her maidservant Hagar and bearing a son, Ishmael, with her. Later, when Sarah has borne Isaac, she badgers Abraham into driving Hagar and the child Ishmael into the desert with a bit of bread and a skin of water, to die (Gen 21:9-16). None of this would fit with the moral code eventually developed in Israel. But these Scriptures are reverently preserved because they are part of the story. The Jews would have much to learn in the centuries that followed -- the Mosaic Covenant, its moral code, sexual and family ethic, the destiny of eternal life in heaven or damnation in hell, that God works among the gentiles and even uses them as His instruments also...
So, keep reading Scripture! There is more to the story!
(A very useful, interesting resource: The Chumash: The Torah, Haftars and Five Megillos with a Commentary Anthologized from the Rabbinic Writing, by Rabbi Nosson Scherman. Brooklyn, N.Y. "Artscroll;" Mesorah Publications Ltd 2015)
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