Read Your Bible Series - Week Four
Omnisciently Playing Favorites Part 1
This week we will jump back to the Old Testament for a two week review of the often told story of the Lord's judgment on the twin cities, Sodom and Gomorrah. Most people who have been exposed to Christianity know this story well because it is often included in children's coloring books and teen Bible studies. However, what most people don't know are the sordid details that are (purposely?) omitted by most pastors during Sunday sermons.
We begin with Abraham at his tent, most likely recovering from circumcising himself:
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. 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.
He said, "If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 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."
So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. "Quick," he said, "get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread."
Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. 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.
Upon reading these verses, it can be confusing as to what is going on in Abraham's head. We begin with three "men" that decide to take a break from whatever the creator of the Universe had assigned them to do and to freeload on Abraham and his wife, Sarah. And I'm sure that you noticed that one of them is referred to as "Lord". Don't make the mistake of thinking that this refers to the holy trinity, as most scholars refute this since two of these guys end up in the next chapter.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Just understand that as we progress in this story, the one referred to as "the Lord" is generally accepted to be a, "messenger of the Lord," or in more common language, an angel of the almighty. Whatever that is...
"Where is your wife Sarah?" they asked him.
"There, in the tent," he said.
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. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, "After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?"
There are several things in the Bible that actually make me giggle, and that last sentence takes the cake. It's easy to imagine how Sarah, who has lived long enough that she doesn't think twice about getting snarky with god, had every right to openly verbalize her skepticism. That reaction is classic: "Pish! We've been at this for over 60 years and now you tell me I'm going to have a son? Thanks... I guess." To me, this shows that stereotypes of older women were alive and well, even in the minds of Bronze Age writers.
Then the Lord said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Will I really have a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son."
Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, "I did not laugh."
But he said, "Yes, you did laugh."
It's a good thing that the almighty had a touch of humility this time, because god usually doesn't take any sass from anyone - especially women - and Sarah darn near dug herself a hole she couldn't "bow low" enough to get out of.
The story continues:
When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. Then the Lord said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him."
Then the Lord said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know."
These verses should give us all pause. Why does god need to send angels to find out anything? How is it that Sodom and Gomorrah are able to hide themselves from the almighty on such a large scale? God should never have any doubts as to what is going on in that city, much less need to send a couple of henchmen to interrogate the locals.
The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham approached him and said: "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing - to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
Here again, we see that even the Bible suggests that humanity has more morality than the god we're supposed to serve. Even Abraham questions the rationality of murdering everyone just to punish a select few. But as I'm sure most people have heard before, we're to believe that god works in mysterious ways.
The next set of verses amount to nothing more than haggling between gamesters. Gamesters where one party already knows everything that there is to know...
The Lord said, "If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake."
Then Abraham spoke up again: "Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?"
"If I find forty-five there," he said, "I will not destroy it."
Once again he spoke to him, "What if only forty are found there?"
He said, "For the sake of forty, I will not do it."
Then he said, "May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?"
He answered, "I will not do it if I find thirty there."
Abraham said, "Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?"
He said, "For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it."
Then he said, "May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?"
He answered, "For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it."
When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.
Phew! Abraham finally bargained his way down to a manageable number, right? It's only ten. Ten is easy.
Okay, now I ask you, do people really give this whole exchange enough thought? As I see it, Abraham's quest should be as simple as marching straight to the nearest nursery or daycare. There's no way that two cities don't have enough babies and small children to fulfill the righteous quota of the holy of holies. That is, unless god doesn't consider children to be innocent when it comes to destroying a couple of sinful cities. Which it appears to me, he doesn't.
Plus, if Abraham really thought about it, he should have felt a bit silly dickering with god, don't you think? I mean, we are talking about the supreme being here, right? Yet the diligence of Abraham to get that number as low as he could suggests that he actually thought he could outsmart omniscience.
Good luck with that, Abe.
So, do you think Abraham found those ten people or ten children or ten babies? *SPOILER ALERT*... Lord no.