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?

Genesis 18-The Art of Hospitality

Genesis 18:1-15

The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

3 He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord,[a] do not pass your servant by. 4 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5 Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.” “Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs[b] of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.” 7 Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. 8 He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

9 “Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent,” he said. 10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

The Infinite Depth of the Stranger

This chapter of Genesis is quite famously coined the “Hospitality of Abraham”. It is a beautiful account of Abraham beholding the triune God, and it is also a sobering message to us all of the importance of entertaining guests.

Hospitality doesn’t seem to be all that relative of a word in our modern, Western context. When someone comes from abroad, we tend to struggle to connect with them. When there is someone new moving to our neighborhood, we tend to scope them out first before knocking on their door, introducing ourselves to them, and giving them a housewarming gift. 

This is reservation we have of receiving the stranger namely has to do with our sensitivity towards change and our fear of the unknown. Whether at school, at work, at church, or at a party, we tend to gravitate towards our own, stay within the comforts of the people we are acquainted with, even if they are unpleasant because at least there are no surprises from them. Approaching a stranger in any of these gatherings is the bold gesture of the brave ranger navigating into an uncharted forest. 

A new person is full of potentiality, and with that potentiality comes a great deal of imagined danger. We tend to not see someone new and think, “I definitely will find friendship in them!” We tend to wonder if they think our introduction is too forward, or if when we say our name they’ll answer, “yeah, I already met you.” Perhaps the stranger will speak about an uncomfortable topic such as politics or religion, or worse, we’ll struggle to find anything to talk to them about. Perhaps the opposite happens, and we find that the person is rather imposing, clingy, and hard to get to stop talking, placing us in the difficult position to be rude and say, “I have to go.”

Roadblocks For Connection

While it might be tempting to say, “hospitality is for extroverts, not introverts” I would argue that even extroverts find difficulty in this art of hospitality. Extroverts certainly find energy from speaking with others and meeting new people, though this doesn’t mean that every extrovert doesn’t see someone new and has possible prejudices and discerns whether or not that person seems worthwhile to engage with. More than this, an extrovert may start the conversation, but perhaps make the conversation about themselves, or takes only a survey of that person’s superficial interests and identity.

As an introvert, I can say I’m guilty of many of these plights of the extrovert. Sometimes a scowl or even the clothing a person wears pushes me away from risking to get to know a stranger, and sometimes I remain in the shallow end of conversation as I’m too afraid to get locked into a long story or dragged into a conversation in which I’ll end up disagreeing with the other person. But as an introvert, I realize too my energy does not come from meeting new people. That being said, when we introverts do push ourselves to meet others–or rather circumstances push us in this direction–we prefer to go deep with that person, to talk about woes and mysteries, stories and controversies. 

Hospitality takes risk, but it also takes curiosity. Going back to the uncharted forest analogy, the new person who is a wilderness could possess poisonous snakes and ravaging bears hidden within their personality. That being said, there might be buried gold in their heart, refreshing rivers of stories, and a tranquil place one can rest in and be vulnerable in. Curiosity of the other can help us overcome our fear and initial prejudices of that person, piercing through their RBF face and finding something in common or fascinating about their life or work. Of course, we risk something as we extend our hand to be shaken. We can be rejected or we can ever regret doing so. That being said, without that risk being taken we won’t know who/what we are missing.

The Tent and the offering

The two other pieces of hospitality we see from this story is the theme of sacrifice as well as the theme of invitation.

To be hospitable, we have to know it will come at a cost. We will spend money to entertain that person, to set forth a great meal. Making that great meal will take energy and planning and worrying on our end, and entertaining also means sacrificing our own time of rest and privacy, giving space for the other to occupy our attention. When we listen to someone who is lonely, they will spend our time for us…and yet sometimes all they need is someone to be in their presence listening to them.

The other piece in this is invitation, a drawing of the other into our own space. This is a risky move, and I can say I’ve fallen short of entertaining those I know I ought to bring into my own home. We are afraid, perhaps, of having someone else see our home, or that they will impose on a boundary we feel uncomfortable reinforcing. Perhaps they will steal from us. Perhaps they will remember where we live and come unannounced. Perhaps we will get into a fight with them and we won’t know how to ask them to leave. 

Another hesitation we sometimes have of inviting others into our home is our fear of being judged for the state of our home. Perhaps our home is uninviting with its clutter, or the contrary, we set the standard for immaculate cleanliness so high that it is better that NOBODY comes and scuffs up our neatness. Cultivating a mentality of hospitality does press a homeowner towards personal responsibility for their own space, of keeping things clean, and of also being able to manage personal neuroticisms of things we tend to be compulsively careful of. But what is wonderful about this spirit of hospitality in one’s own home is that the host is able to reveal themselves through their home, show a part of their own heart and soul to the other. The guest will see pictures and perhaps ask about fond memories. They will see trophies, heirlooms, items of interest that speak to the host’s soul that perhaps cannot be discerned from the surface. Perhaps there is an ability to witness in hospitality, showing one’s collection of Scripture and faith-based literature, a shrine of icons and holy items of significance that someone might inquire about.

Hospitality is an art we tend not to think of, and yet it’s a rather fun way of showing one’s heart to others. The guest needs only be invited, fed, taken care of, and made comfortable. The host actually possesses quite a bit of opportunity to start and control the conversation, asking the guest questions they’re curious about and show off their own interests and memories through a tour of the home. 

But what is even greater about hospitality is that this art extended to the stranger has a divine component to it. In many ancient cultures, hospitality (taking care of the foreigner) was considered a sacred duty for many reasons. Not only could the foreigner be royalty in disguise from a distant and powerful country, but even more frightening, the foreigner could be a god, an angel, a spirit with great power. Certainly, in Abraham’s case, we see how there is an opportunity for us to serve God through serving the stranger, to extending care and curiosity to the person we know so little about. St. Paul echoes this, advising us that when we give hospitality to strangers we at times entertain angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2).

It certainly is a risky thing to show hospitality, whether it is making a new person at school, the workplace, or at our place of worship welcome, or inviting a stranger into our home. I confess, bringing someone who I know is homeless into my home requires a big leap of faith.

That being said, as Abraham shows us, profound truth and abundant blessings occur in this act of hospitality. Abraham shows us that through hospitality we get to experience in an intimate manner the person of God, and at the end of the encounter, we will be blessed in return in the future.

Today, consider the following:

  • When you meet someone new, what is your initial reaction? What could be a positive reaction we make to someone we don’t recognize?
  • Consider you are sharing a row on an airplane, sitting next to someone on the bus or train, or even sharing an uber: what might stop you from starting a conversation with that person? What risks do you take in so doing? How might you start a conversation in the first place to foster curiosity of the other?
  • In your place of socializing (work, school, church, a party) who is on the fringes? 
  • What is your home like? Is it hospitalibe? Do you have many people over? If not, what gets in the way? What does your house say about you?