Living in Sodom: A Case Study, Part I (The Protection of Daughters)

As we survey the Scriptures, we find that the protection of daughters reached a low point in Lot’s household in Sodom. There are times in history that are better or worse for daughters, and this slice of history was one of the low watermarks.[1] The account of Lot and his daughters is found in Genesis 19:4-11:

Now before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both old and young, all the people from every quarter, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them carnally.” So Lot went out to them through the doorway, shut the door behind him, and said, “Please, my brethren, do not do so wickedly! See now, I have two daughters who have not known a man; please, let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you wish; only do nothing to these men, since this is the reason they have come under the shadow of my roof.” And they said, “Stand back!” Then they said, “This one came in to stay here, and he keeps acting as a judge; now we will deal worse with you than with them.” So they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near to break down the door. But the men reached out their hands and pulled Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. And they struck the men who were at the doorway of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they became weary trying to find the door.

This story illustrates Lot’s devastating syncretism in Sodom. On display is his failure to protect his daughters. While the protection of Lot’s daughters is only one of many themes in the narrative, what is described here gives us a vivid and startling example of what lack of protection by a father looks like and helps us to understand how a father, through poor choices, can abdicate his responsibility bit by bit, resulting in grave peril to his daughters.

Lot’s action in offering his daughters to the immoral men of Sodom is an outrage. Our natural gut response is, “How could he treat his daughters this way?”

Yet we often are so repulsed by what Lot did that we miss the point. The core of the problem was a sinful incursion in Lot’s life that expressed itself in a lack of protection toward his daughters.

We must not be so quick to distance ourselves from Lot and denounce him, as we ourselves are not exempt from the lessons his example offers. We must examine the text and attempt to carefully discern what was really happening to Lot and his family and seek to learn from it.

Interpreting the Story

Genesis 19 requires some careful investigation of the various places and personalities that are included in the story. If we breeze over the narrative, we might be tempted to be filled with righteous indignation toward Lot.

A cursory treatment of the passage might cause us to think that the focus of the text centers around the evils of homosexuality. If we are not homosexuals, our tendency is to distance ourselves from what took place with Lot in Sodom, thus missing clear lessons that we can learn from Lot’s errant example.

Because of the horrible things that happened to Lot and his family in Sodom, we are tempted to look at Lot and say, “That’s not me, I am in a different category.” Considering our own lives we would rather dismiss the story and think that it applies to someone else.

When we examine the broader record of Scripture regarding Lot’s life, however, it becomes apparent that there is something more that Moses wanted us to understand through the Genesis account.

II Peter 2:4-10 gives us one of the interpretive keys to the passage. In his letter, Peter is speaking of the judgment against unrighteousness and how that God through His indignation will deliver Satan and his hosts into chains of darkness. Looking to the past, he writes of how he did not spare the ancient world in Noah’s day, though Noah was a preacher of righteousness. Then, he writes about Lot in the same way:

For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward who live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked. For that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds-then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority… (II Peter 2:4-10)

Peter Gives us a Spiritual Profile of Lot

Those who embrace a narrow view of Lot may be surprised at the positive terms that Peter uses to describe him: “Righteous”, “Oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked”, “Tormented his righteous soul day by day.”

Peter makes at least three things clear. First, Lot was not reveling in excesses of Sodom. Second, he was outraged by the evil conduct of his fellow citizens. Third, he was deeply conflicted by what he observed around him.

We are not so different than Lot. We see the trends of culture, and we are absolutely outraged. We cast judgment on the sins that are running amok in our land. We are alarmed by the cultural indicators. Like Lot, we see what is going on around us, and we are distressed by it, but there is no way we can completely disengage from the evil influences of our culture. They are inextricably a part of us.

Lot was a righteous man, and his righteousness was by faith alone. In this sense, he is a spiritual son of Abraham. He believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. He was not saved by his own works, but from the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Knowing that Lot offered his daughters to the man of Sodom, it is shocking to say that Lot was a righteous man, but this is what God’s Word teaches.

Lot was standing in judgment of the culture in Sodom. In verse 9, we see the men of Sodom say to him, “This one keeps acting like a judge.” Lot’s righteous soul was vexed by what he observed in the city. And because he was not going along with everything in Sodom, he was chided for being judgmental.

So, why did Lot offer his daughters?

First, he was pressured by the surrounding situation. Lot was being threatened by the people of the city — and not just by a few people in the city, but by his entire constituency. People from all age groups and all locations of Sodom were demanding carnal relations with the visitors in his household.

We must understand (and sympathize) with Lot for the fierce external pressure upon him to fit in to the desires of the people around him. How often do we do the exact same thing? Have you ever felt pressured by your constituency to compromise? Have you ever made a wrong decision under the pressing fear of man?

John Calvin comments that “Lot was prepared to expose his own daughters to dishonour, in order to save his guests.”[2] Kent Hughes notes, “Lot placed the sanctity of hospitality above the sanctity of his family.”[3] Someone once said that he preferred some other social grace than the protection of his daughters. Lot did not want to rock the boat with the men of Sodom with whom he desired to coexist. He did not want to appear too odd.

Second, it must have seemed “normal” enough for to him to offer his daughters. Among the alternatives, it seemed reasonable to Lot to present an alternative to the men that they could accept. But how could this have seemed normal? Here, we find further evidence of his incremental moral slippage under the influence of Sodom. Looking back in the narrative, we find him first pitching his tent toward Sodom. Later, we find him living in Sodom. Finally, he is a civil magistrate possessing the favor that position implies. Now he has something to protect — his position.

People do not become base in a moment, but after many moments over many years — after many compromises. No one just “falls” into wrong thinking. It takes time and external pressures to dull our sensibilities.

What exactly did Lot do? He did at least three things. First, he opened the door to his daughter’s vulnerability. Second, by opening the door to their vulnerability, he was actually promoting it. Third, he withdrew his protection.

It is painfully obvious that Lot did not protect his daughters. He did what is unthinkable to our sensibilities, but his behavior reminds us that there are times in history when the social pressures cause fathers to disconnect with their daughters.

Lot lived in a culture where there was ferocious pressure to withdraw protection from his daughters. And, he lived in a culture where it was normal enough — it was “thinkable” to offer his daughters to the men of Sodom.

For we who are living in “Sodom,” this should cause us to ask ourselves several questions: “What pressures are there in our culture that would cause us to withdraw protection from our daughters and leave them vulnerable? Or, “What are the normal things we do in our culture that add up to withdrawing our protection?” Or, “Am I as vigilant as I should be in protecting my daughter?”

Rather than condemn Lot, we must examine our own hearts and learn from his example. Protecting our daughters from evil is too important for us to do otherwise.

1. Another low point of protection for daughters found in Scripture is that of Jacob and Dinah. In Genesis 34, we learn the Jacob permitted Dinah to go “out to see the daughters of the land” (Genesis 34:1), resulting in her rape.
2. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Banner of Truth Trust), p. 498.
3. R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing (Crossway Books), p. 272.