Tuesday, May 23, 2017

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The (real) Cause of Sodom's Demise - Part 2

Did God destroy Sodom because of flagrant homosexuality?  This seems to be a common thought today amongst many followers of Yeshua.  The fact that homosexual marriage is a prominent and growing issue in many states only strengthens the perception that God judged Sodom for this sexual immorality.  While it is clear from Scripture that homosexuality is not condoned by God, was homosexuality the “reason” God proclaimed that Sodom was wicked?  The answer, at least the answer the Bible gives us, may surprise you.

In Part I we looked at most of the references in Scripture to Sodom, but left out 2 key references.  It is to these verses in Isaiah and Ezekiel we now turn.

Isaiah 1:9 is a reminder that if the Lord of hosts had not been merciful, Israel “would have been like Sodom.”  This sentiment is similar to Yeshua’s warnings that the judgment of some in His day would exceed that of Sodom (e.g., Matthew 10:15).  In the Isaiah passage the Lord is calling Israel a sinful nation estranged from Him (Isaiah 1:4), ones with desolate land (Isaiah 1:7), and to add insult to injury, He calls them Sodom (Isaiah 1:10).  This is pretty harsh blow to the “apple of His eye” (Deuteronomy 32:10).  Presumably, the meaning of the comparison is that as the residents of Sodom were wicked, so Israel has become.  So much for political correctness.

Now here is where it gets interesting.  The Lord tells Israel that their sacrifices have lost their meaning (Isaiah 1:11), their incense is an abomination and their Sabbaths are filled with iniquity (Isaiah 1:13).  The impression is not that these important components of worship had been corrupted per se – quite to the contrary, Israel seems to still perform these religious observances as described in the Torah (a similar thread is found in Isaiah 58:1-14).  But somehow these elements of worship are ruined by Israel’s behavior.  But what was that behavior - was Israel engaged in rampant homosexuality, and hence the comparison to Sodom?  Was that the reason for His displeasure?

Their crime: they did not perform social justice.  Scripture could not be clearer about this.  God’s complaint to Israel had nothing to do with homosexuality (or at least it is not explicitly mentioned) but everything to do with caring for others (c.f. Matthew 25:31-46).

Check out Isaiah 1:16-17:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.

Note the parallels: ceasing to do evil is the same thing as seeking justice, which is the same thing as taking care of the fatherless and the widow – the most vulnerable in society.

In other words, God calls Israel Sodom, not necessarily because they were sexually promiscuous, but because Israel did not work to help the oppressed in society- the orphan and the widow.  Thus, one could argue that of you are offended by homosexuality, you should be at least if not more offended by a lack of compassion (translation: action) for the less fortunate.  God judged Israel because they stood idly by and did not help the fatherless/widow, not because they were checking out “gay chat rooms” on the Internet.  James emphasizes that if you want your worship to be kosher and unblemished before the Lord, then caring for the oppressed is an integral part of that (James 1:27).  My guess is that by their religious practice, Israel was in a way practicing the “unstained by the world” portion of James 1:27 but by their lack of action with social justice, they did not practice the “look after widows and orphans” portion.

At first this seems odd - after all Genesis 19:5 and Jude 7 make it seem that sexual promiscuity was the main sin of Sodom, the reason for their wickedness.  But notice something else– the men the Sodomites wanted to “know” were strangers.  The Sodomites did not show hospitality to these visitors (who were actually angels).  Now you might think “so what” – how could that as a sin possibly compare to the sin of homosexuality?  This is one area where you really have to understand ancient culture to appreciate that the maltreatment of strangers was actually a more serious concern to God than homosexual intercourse.

Remember that God reminded Israel about the “stranger” or the “foreigner” (i.e., ‘ger’ in Hebrew)

“When a foreigner lives with you in your land, you must not oppress him. You must regard the foreigner who lives with you as the native-born among you. You are to love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 19:33-34).

You have to appreciate the magnitude of this statement.  In ancient cultures, blood relations were of primary importance.  The family was king.  Yet the Torah (“The Law”) tells us that we are to love those outside our sphere, outside our blood, as we do ourselves – we must treat them as family and have compassion on them (I seem to remember a certain Jewish rabbi saying that in the Gospels ....).  By virtue of Israel being oppressed as foreigners in Egypt, Israel was to take care of the foreigners in their lands.

Some may still feel that this comparison stuff in Isaiah is a bit of a guess.  But we don’t have to guess – Ezekiel sharpens the picture even more clearly:

“As I live, declares the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done.  Behold, 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.” (Ezekiel 16:48-50)

So let me state what I hope is now obvious.  God judged the wickedness of Sodom because they were selfish and did not show compassion for the needy.  God did not call down fire from the heavens on Sodom because they were engaged in homosexual relations – or at least that was not the only or even the primary reason.  Note that the men of Sodom sought to “know” the visitors – this was not just sexual immorality, but also not caring for the stranger and oppressing others.

The men of Sodom’s sexual preferences are thus likely an offshoot of their selfishness (I can have sex with whomever I want …).  This is not to say that being gay is tantamount to begin selfish – there are plenty of selfish heterosexuals to go around.  In fact, the Jewish sages linked the oppression of the needy with their homosexuality by claiming the Sodomites would rape visitors so that they did not have to share with them (recall the area was apparently good land).  This is an interesting example of the Jewish sages trying to reconcile all of Scriptures on a topic.

Let this be a strong lesson to those who call Yeshua Lord.  I find we are “comfortable” per se with God judging “gays” because we are not homosexuals ourselves.  But we are much more reluctant to think that God would judge so harshly selfish people.  We don’t like looking in the mirror and seeing Sodom instead of Jerusalem.  And yet, this is the exact lesson of Sodom to us when we look at all of Scripture and not just a few “pet verses.”

So before we start rallying against “the gays,” perhaps we should check ourselves first to see that we are indeed taking care of the oppressed.  Call it a speck and plank thing (Luke 6:41-42) – lest we rightfully be called hypocrites.

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