Lots of stories in the Bible are beautiful and easy to read. This is not one of them. Yet it is because of stories like these that I believe in the Bible as God’s word and a living, breathing document with stories of real people. Genesis 19 is not something one would make up.
Lot, as you may remember, is Abraham’s nephew and has been traveling through the wilderness with Abraham and Sarah, in search of the land that God has promised. Along the way, the clan grows and famines occur. Soon it becomes obvious that the tribe must split up if the people are to survive. So Abe, taking Lot up the Hill of Benjamin, gives him first choice. Lot, selfishly, picks the entire Jordan basin and leaves Abe arid and wild lands.
Lot is soon attacked by the local king (yes, apparently there were kings in the “wilderness”). He and his family are taken hostage and Uncle Abe comes to the rescue. Sodom, Lot’s chosen town, is a place of malice and extraordinary wickedness. Here’s a prime example, full of ugly truths on all sides. At the bequest of Abraham, God sends two angels, masquerading as male travelers, to Sodom to see if there any “righteous men” left.
The angels stay with Lot. In the middle of the night, a mob surrounds the house, demanding that the men be sent out so that the crowd may “know” them. Know as in rape, apparently. Lot refuses, volunteering his two virgin daughters instead. Need proof? Read Lot’s words: “Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” (Genesis 19:8)
Stay with me. The age-old reason given for this crazy move is that hospitality was the premier value in ancient Hebrew society. Apparently that social more topped even parental protection for children, at least daughters. (Shadowing this whole story, of course, is the implication that the men of Sodom were so wicked that they demanded men and not women. But that’s another story.)
The angels do save Lot and his family. He warns other male visitors (two young men engaged to his daughers) to flee from this trouble at the door. But they ignore him, thinking he’s tricking them. (Hard to believe they couldn’t hear the commotion.) It get so bad that the angels literally have to pick up Lot and his wife and daughters and physically carry them out of the city, warning them not to look back — which Lot’s wife does. Boom, she’s a pillar of salt, leaving Lot and his daughters on their own.
In a nutshell: the daughters, one by one, get their father drunk, and entice him into sexual relations so that they might get pregnant. Which they do. The clans that come from this union are the Moabites and Ammonites. Down the road, these tribes will become particularly hated by the Jewish people. (Remember that Ruth is a Moabite and understanding the age-old hatred and her roots make her story even more compelling.)
Girls and women were regarded as not much more than property in these wilderness days. But here’s a key point: Lot’s daughters thought, and with good reason, that the whole world had been destroyed. Their future husbands were dead. The world was exploding. Their mother had been turned to salt. The human race would end with them. There was no way to procreate, to have children, to have a legacy, to live into the only way women’s lives had meaning — that of being mothers. So they made a path. They created life from destruction. In their eyes, they ensured the future of the human race, the very reason that Abraham’s family went into the wilderness in the first place.
An awful choice? Yes? An awful story? Yes, on all kinds of levels.
But it does strike me that the primal force to live and procreate outweighed all else for these two young women, and with good reason. However, they did commit incest. With their father. Yikes.
A compelling story. And one that’s worth reading, if we are to know the whole truth of the Bible.