Genesis 19-The Bottomless Pit of The Mob

Genesis 19:1-22

19 The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”

“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.”

But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

“Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.

10 But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11 Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.

12 The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”

14 So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry[a] his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.

15 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.”

16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”

18 But Lot said to them, “No, my lords,[b] please! 19 Your[c] servant has found favor in your[d] eyes, and you[e] have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die. 20 Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.”

21 He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. 22 But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” (That is why the town was called Zoar.[f])

A preface with discretion

I suffered an awful night mare last night reminiscent to the horrific behavior displayed by the crowd from this chapter.

While I see value in penning the details of it down for the sake of properly conveying the intensity of unnerved I feel from it, I worry that sharing its details would only spread the trauma of the thing. Respectfully, for this time being, I shoulder the burden of this dream in my own psyche, and it has stolen my peace this day.

Only now am I writing my thoughts…

the abuse of the many

When the wonton appetite of an individual abuses and defiles a helpless individual, that is reprehensible, that is appalling. I don’t believe there’s a strong enough word to describe the feeling or wrongness when it is a group collectively enraptured in this appetite on an individual, feeding together on flesh like a wake of vultures.

The mob we hear of in this chapter, gathered together to unleash their sexual appetites on the two strangers in the story is like a horror story out of prison, of morally bankrupt individuals conspiring as a group, their shame and hunger not hidden but enkindled in the collective, to purge their appetite tension at the expense of a powerless soul.

In the past, I had struggled with this chapter, taken aback by the wrath of God. But after my nightmare and imagining the people in the mob coming after Lot and his household, I confess feeling more disturbed by the hypothetical incident that was to take place than the desolation itself. Perhaps I even feel a tiny bit relieved, knowing that the cities would never collectively abuse such souls again.

What I find hard to imagine in this story is how Sodom and Gomorrah got to this level. How did these cities come to the point where its citizens would gather at the sight of two strangers and openly tell Lot: we are going to have our way with your new friends, and we are all going to take part.

It is this question of “how” where I think our venture in the Human Condition ought to go.

First, we have to consider the element of the “other”. As we mentioned before, Lot chooses to dwell next to some wicked cities, but we get a sense that he lives in the outskirts, is not fully integrated just yet. This is even conveyed through the mob when they say, “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge!” (Genesis 19:9). Lot is a former foreigner, but a foreigner none the less–it’s a miracle he has not been prey of earlier. On top of this we receive absolutely no detail of the strangers’ actions or appearance that would provoke the cities to become so appetitive. From these details, we can be sure that “otherness” is a challenge all of us must surmount, to not debase the other for a utility purpose or treat one another as beasts or pieces of meat. The same way the city treats these strangers is the same way the perverse treat anonymous strippers, prostitutes, and adult actors and actresses.

Secondly, those who come to Lot’s door act not as individuals, but as a single entity, as a mob. The shameful desires of a single individual can be pragmatically curbed by social ostracizing for performing a taboo act. An individual can be arrested or publicly shamed for acting on their shameful desire. But what of a mob? If I throw a molotov cocktail in broad daylight, the public will see me as a menace and desire my arrest so I don’t harm them–more than this, I do so as an individual who can be profiled, identified, and caught. But what of a molotov or many molotov’s coming from a crowd? Any one person in the crowd that throws such a weapon is masked against the masses…so long as the masses approve of the offense. The one molotov becomes many, and then there is a wildfire of violence. The mob is a safe space of camouflage, like a herd of zebras; the zebra stripes don’t hide them from lions within the grassland, the zebra stripes hides the zebra against the herd of zebras, making it impossible for a lion to attack a single zebra.

Thirdly, depravity is born out of broken down boundaries. Any given passion burns out of control if there are not imprinted or explicit rules or boundaries. When we are disciplined, we learn where the line is, and our passion, or proclivity for selfish action, stops at the line. But if the line is observed to be blurry, if the line seemingly isn’t being watched by others, or if others can tell us that the line has moved, then we step over it. There were many little “yesses” that these two cities said along the way of their wickedness to get to the point that all the men would descend upon two strangers to purge their appetites. These people knew no rules to hold them back, perhaps they even understood that they were already wicked, powerful, capable of taking what they wanted without reproach. It is not unsimilar to the prisoners who gang up on a helpless inmate, and collectively abuse that one inmate.

Never apologize to the mob

Perhaps the most common sentiment that makes this chapter of Genesis so disliked is Lot’s response tot he men who come knocking on his door. Lot sees the appetite of the city, and he folds.

We cringe hearing how Lot would rather the city take his daughters instead, to have their way with them rather the two strangers. How could he do that to his own flesh and blood? How could he make victims of his own beloved girls?

There is reasoning behind Lot’s counteroffer, but we need not justify Lot’s counteroffer. It’s no coincidence that this chapter comes after the hospitality of Abraham, seeing how properly the visitors are treated in Abraham’s company, in Abraham’s land. While Lot also values this virtue of hospitality, we see the total opposite sentiment from the two cities. Abraham and Lot revere their visitors and consider hosting “the other” as a rich blessing, a privilege. The city, however, abandons this ancient precept of hospitality, desiring abuse, violence, and defilement.

Again, Lot’s sensitivity to hospitality does not defend the counteroffer he makes to the crowd. Lot examples faithlessness and cowardice in his words. After seeing all that God has done for him, he decides not to submit before the power of God, but to submit before the mob’s overpowering lust. Lot offers his daughters before he offers his own life, futile as his last stand might be.

Lot’s story is a sad one, marred by weakness. Not only does he attempt to weasel out of compromise at the cost of two innocent girls, later on, when he and his family escape the city, begs the angels to not make them go into the mountains but rather into another nearby city for refuge. Lot has seen these visitors strike the cruel men blind and has been promised safety, and he continues to falter, trusting not in his own faith or his power in others.

Lot’s story has two-fold importance. First, Lot shows us how important it is to example faith and courage in the face of adversity. His ancestor Noah had stood against a flood of wickedness from his fellow man and survived a flood that covered the earth, trusting in God’s power. We see Lot beholding marvels from God and despite that fold in his confidence, caving to the flood of the city rather than calling upon His God and seeking refuge for his beloved in an Ark. We must know what our Ark and refuge is, we must labor to build it up like Noah, and we must exercise our thoughts and heart on relying on it much like a child who always knows how to run back to its parent. We must brave the storm and call upon our God.

Secondly, we should never apologize to the mob. As we illustrated before, a mob mentality is the thing of abuse, of appetite, of tyranny, of destitute wickedness. Mobs are not entities of reason, but rather are forces of emotion empowered by a collection of bodies. A mob devours when it sees weakness. It does not hesitate when its opposition caves. Apologizing to the mob is impossible, for a true apology or request of forgiveness (which in Greek roughly translates to co-dwell) involves a devouring of the person, not a co-dwelling of peace.

It is better for us to call upon a higher power than the mob, to know the power behind our back is the creator of any collection of individuals, His Holiness greater than the tidal wave of any collective passion or sin. We are to know our God stands at our back, to put work into strengthening our Ark, establish our confidence in these, and be ready to remove ourselves and put ourselves into the mountain, a secluded place removed of need or wickedness, the symbolic manifestation of drawing nearer to God through a spiritual ascent of asceticism and prayer.

Today, consider the following:

  • What mob have you encountered? What did it want or what was fueling it? What did you do in response to it?
  • What mob have you (consciously or unconsciously) been part of? How did you become part of it? What did you want within that entity?
  • What is considered “other” to you? What challenges do you face when dealing with the other? How might these challenges be surmounted?
  • What boundaries do you find yourself pushing? What boundaries do you find others pushing on you?
  • When have you treated someone less than human? What factors contributed to this treatment?

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