The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
Before Abraham meets the three strangers, we were told that the Lord appeared to Abraham (Genesis 18:1). As the story progresses, one of the men begins to be referred to as the Lord after he shows more knowledge than is humanly possible (Genesis 18:13). Now the three men arise to continue their journey and Abraham walks with them for a way. This continues to demonstrate Abraham's politeness and hospitableness. It is evident from the direction of the men's travel that they are on their way to Sodom.
The man, who is already identified as the Lord, decides to tell Abraham about the upcoming destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The reason Abraham is made privy to God's plans is because he will be the head of a great nation and the Messiah will descend from him. As such an important patriarch, he will need to teach his descendants the ways of the Lord, including the reason why Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed and why it is critical to follow God.
God tells Abraham that the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and the sin of which they are accused is grievous. God is going to see for himself if the reports are true. It is interesting how God worded this. One of the attributes of deity is being all-knowing. There is no need for God to go see what he already knows. However, if you remember the reason God gives for telling Abraham anything is so that Abraham can teach his descendants, then you realize that God is doing this inspection for Abraham and our sakes. God is demonstrating to mankind that He knows all that is happening and that severe punishment of the wicked is just and not arbitrarily made.
Two of the men continue on to Sodom while God and Abraham continue to talk. We know it was only two from Genesis 19:1, where we learn that the two men who had accompanied the Lord were actually angels.
Abraham has shown himself a man who is concerned about the welfare of others. When he learned that Ishmael was not the child of promise, he asked God for consideration of his son (Genesis 17:18). Now, when Abraham learns of the destruction of the city in which his nephew lives, he politely asks if the righteous will die along with the wicked. Abraham asks God to spare the cities if He finds 50 righteous people in the cities. However, we see that Abraham knows the reputation of these cities, for he carefully asks God to lower the limit, step by step, until the Lord agrees to spare the cities if 10 righteous people can be found in the cities. If you count Lot, his wife, at least two married daughters, at least two sons, and two unmarried daughters you come up with eight people. If you add in the married children's spouses, surely there are more than 10 righteous people in the towns.
God allows Abraham to bargain with Him so that Abraham, and we through Abraham, will realize that God is merciful. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah could have been prevented if just 10 righteous people lived in the city. Because the cities were destroyed, we fully understand just how wicked were these cities. Can you imagine a city today that doesn't have at least 10 righteous people living in the city?
Even though Abraham is bargaining with God, notice how politely Abraham approaches God. Throughout the entire discussion, Abraham shows humility. He understands that God can do as He pleases and Abraham is thankful for the consideration that God has shown for him. In this we learn that God truly does listen to the requests of the righteous (James 5:15-18).
As the two angels enter Sodom, they are approached by Lot, who was sitting at the city's gate. In these days, a city's elders sat at the gate to judge civil matters. So we now know that not only has Lot moved into town, but he now considered a leader in the community. However, he is not a popular judge (Genesis 19:9). He probably was too honest and just for the wicked of Sodom.
Lot insists that the two men spend the night at his home and not in the city square. Lot's generous offer may have been due to his hospitableness, but a good portion of his offer may have been due to his fear for the safety of these men. Lot prepares a feast for them, but before the household retired for the night, the men of the city surrounded Lot's house. Involved are not just a few young rowdies, but every man of the city from the youths to the elderly. It was not just the destitute, but men from every neighborhood were involved. The mob demands that two visitors come out so that men may engage in homosexual acts with them. Notice that the men are not ashamed of their sinfulness. They are boldly proclaiming their intentions (Isaiah 3:9). They are so caught up in their sin that they are willing to force themselves on visitors to their city.
Lot blocks his door and pleads for the safety of his guests. He even offers the mob his two unmarried daughters to be raped by these men if they would promise to leave his guests alone. Notice that Lot has been influenced by the sin of the city. He is willing to exchange one sin for another. However, the men are not interested. Their unnatural lusts have drawn them so far away that they are not interested in women. Instead they use this as an excuse to attack Lot himself. Even though Lot has lived with them a number of years, they view him as a meddling stranger. If they could not abuse the strangers, they would abuse Lot himself.
However, before they could lay hands on Lot, the angels pulled Lot back into the house and then blinded the crowd. Even in their blindness, they still tried to find the door to break in! They were stubbornly persistent in their sins. After a while, they tire of the attempt and leave.
The angels urge Lot to gather his family and leave town to escape the destruction. However, when Lot talked to his family who no longer lived at home, they all thought the idea of the city being destroyed was a big joke. Lot persisted in trying to persuade them all night, but when dawn came, the angels told Lot to take his wife and two daughters and flee. Even then Lot hesitated, so the angels physically pushed them out of the city. They were told to run for the mountains, but Lot was afraid the journey would be too hard and asked if they may only run to Zoar, a small town on the edge of the plain. Notice how much effort God is expending trying to save Lot and his family! Truly, God is merciful and He extends His mercy further by granting Lot's request. He would hold off the destruction until Lot and his family reached Zoar. Yet, we learn that Lot was rescued for Abraham's sake, and not for his own greatness (Genesis 19:29). It was Abraham who had asked that the righteous be spared.
One unusual requirement that the angels made of Lot's family was not to look back as they were fleeing. Just as Lot was entering Zoar that morning, God began his destruction of the cities. Fire and burning sulphurous rock (brimstone) rained down from the sky, destroying all on the plain. Lot's wife, who was a little bit behind Lot, looked back. God turned her into a pillar of salt. She has become a symbol of all those who long for their old, sinful life when salvation has been offered to them (Luke 17:32; Hebrews 10:38-39; II Peter 2:18-22).
As the plains were destroyed, we learn that Abraham was aware of the destruction (Genesis 19:27-28). He knew that there were not enough righteous people in these towns to save them from destruction. We often talk of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, but actually four cities were destroyed that day by God: Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim (Deuteronomy 29:23, Hosea 11:8).
Lot and his daughters do not stay long in Zoar. For some reason, Lot was afraid to stay in Zoar. Possibly, Lot seeing Zoar's own wickedness, he feared that it would be next to be destroyed. It is also likely that the people of Zoar blamed Lot for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, since he and his daughters were the only survivors and it started just as they entered town running for their lives. It is possible too that the people thought that Lot and his daughter may bring the same destruction on their own town.
Lot moves into the mountains and leads a reclusive life. His daughters, used to city life, are afraid they will never meet men and have children. Living in the wilderness as hermits doesn't do much for a girl's social life. Notice they are not concern with finding someone to marry, they are concerned that they will not have an opportunity to have sex and bear children. They decide to get Lot drunk and have sex with him so they can preserve the family's heritage. Though God destroyed cities because of sexual sins, it seems that these women did not learn that God hates sin. They planned their sin and carried it out on two different nights.
Children were born of these illicit unions. They were named Moab, which means "from the father," and Ben-Ammi, which means "son of my people." The Moabite and Ammonite nations arose from their descendants and were often a problem for the Israelites.