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Genesis 18:20-19:29: Sodom and Gomorrah
Bible Essentials: Set 3, Lesson 14
Individuals: Take time to think back about your past week. Where have you seen God work in your life or answer prayer? Write down any prayer requests you have.
Group: Open the study by sharing life updates, reviewing highs and lows of your past week, or sharing prayer requests and praises.
Icebreaker: Tell about a time when you pleaded for something on behalf of something else. What was the end result?
All: Begin the study with a word of prayer, asking God to open your heart for today’s study. You can also pray for any prayer requests now, or save that for the end.
Read today’s passage: Genesis 18:20-19:29.
20 Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 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.”
22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 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? 25 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?”
26 The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
27 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, 28 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.”
29 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.”
30 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.”
31 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.”
32 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.”
33 When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.
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. 2 “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.”
3 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. 4 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 5 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.”
6 Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7 and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. 8 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.”
9 “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 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, please! 19 Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you 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.)
23 By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. 24 Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. 25 Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. 26 But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
27 Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.
29 So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.
What is the context for this passage?
When we left off last week, Hagar, Sarai’s servant, had just born Abram a son, Ishmael (Genesis 16). This son was not the son God had promised Abram, but Abram and Sarai had taken things into their own hands to get a son for themselves. This didn’t go as expected, because human feelings and discontent created strife between Sarai and Hagar.
Thirteen years later, when Abram was 99 years old, God came again to Abram and again repeated his covenant to give Abram a son through Sarai (Genesis 17). God even changed their names to Abraham and Sarah. This time, God also established circumcision as a sign of his covenant. All males eight days old and older must be circumcised. So Abraham and all in his household were circumcised that day.
A short time later, while Abraham was still 99 years old, three men visited Abraham (Genesis 18). These were not ordinary men. One of them was the Lord, and the other two were angels. Abraham immediately invited them to rest, and he offered water to wash their feet and food to eat. He arranged for Sarah and his servants to prepare a feast for the men. They casually asked him where his wife Sarah was, and one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son” (Genesis 18:10). After almost 25 years of waiting, Abraham finally had a timeframe for when his son would be born! However, Sarah was in the tent nearby and overheard the conversation. Her response? She laughed! She was skeptical that this would or could happen. The Lord called her out on this and once again promised that Sarah would bear a son.
As the men got up to leave, they looked toward Sodom, and the Lord decided to reveal to Abraham what he was about to do to Sodom and Gomorrah. That’s where we pick up the story today.
Read the passage again.
Explore a different version if you have one available. If you are online, here is Genesis 18 in NIV through Bible Gateway. You can change the version by using the dropdown menu at the top right of the page.
Try to summarize the passage in your own words.
Answer these three questions about the passage:
1. What does the passage say about God?
God listens to his people when they cry out to him. The people in Sodom and Gomorrah were so evil that people were crying out to God against them. God heard them and responded. He decided to come down himself and check out what was really happening in Sodom and Gomorrah (even though as God, he already knew). And he had a plan in place to destroy them if they were really as evil as the outcry indicated.
God knows about the sins of the people. Due to both his own sovereignty and omniscience as well as his willingness to listen to those who cry out to him, God knew about the evil that was happening in Sodom and Gomorrah. If you ever think about trying to hide your sins from God, don’t bother. He already knows.
God is merciful. When God told Abraham his plan for Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham pleaded with God to save the city if God could find 50 righteous people there. God, in his great mercy, agreed. Abraham then decreased the number to 45, then 40, then 30, then 20, and finally 10. Each time, God agreed. If he could find even 10 righteous people there, he would have mercy on the cities. Later, when God had decided to destroy the cities, he had mercy on Lot and his family by pulling them out of the city before he destroyed them. Lot and his family were even allowed to go to a nearby city and not all the way into the mountains. God’s mercy on those who are righteous is on full display in this passage.
God is the judge of the earth. Abraham knew that God is judge of all the earth. And he called on God’s justice to not treat the righteous and the wicked alike by destroying them both. In this story and throughout the Bible, God judges people based on their righteousness vs. their sin. Only those who follow God wholeheartedly will be righteous in God’s sight.
God has power over people’s physical bodies. God’s power over his creation, especially people’s physical bodies, is shown twice in this story. First, when the men from Sodom are struck blind so that they could not reach the two men who were visitors at Lot’s house. Second, when he turns Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt when she looked back at the destruction.
God cannot tolerate wickedness. One of the main reasons for the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is to show that God will not tolerate wickedness forever. Eventually, when the outcry is bad enough, God will come and destroy the wicked.
God is kind. God showed kindness to Lot and his family by urging them to leave Sodom before the destruction of the city. He also showed kindness by allowing them to stay in a nearby small town rather than fleeing all the way to the mountains. This kindness was because of Lot’s righteousness as well as Abraham’s faithfulness.
God has urgency to fulfill his plan. Once God’s plan was firmly set to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, the two men, God’s angels, acted with urgency to get Lot and his family to leave Sodom so they could be spared. The moment they were safe, God rained down burning sulfur on the cities. When God tells you to obey, obey now!
God has power to destroy what he has created. When God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, he not only destroyed the cities but all the people in them, the entire plain, and all the vegetation. He showed that he has the power to destroy anything.
God remembers those who are faithful to him. Despite God’s wrath raining down on Sodom and Gomorrah, he remembered those who were faithful to him. In particular, he remembered Abraham, which caused him to save Lot, Abraham’s nephew. If you are faithful to God, he will remember you in every situation.
2. What does the passage say about people?
People cry out to God when things are bad. The wickedness in Sodom and Gomorrah was so bad that people were crying out against them. We don’t even get a clear picture that these people were necessarily followers of God. But they were crying out to some greater power to save them from the evil in the hearts of the people in those cities.
People have the capacity for great evil. The people in Sodom and Gomorrah were so evil that it was affecting everyone around them. Even just the short story we read of their interaction with the two visitors shows how evil and self-centered they were. They were forceful in their wickedness and tried to impose their will on those around them.
People tend to bargain with God to get what they want. Abraham appealed to God’s sense of justice—for the righteous to be spared and the evil to be punished. He bargained with God to see what the minimum number of righteous people could be before God would save the cities. Although God agreed to the bargain, in the end, ultimately not even 10 righteous people could be found, and God’s plan prevailed.
People are nothing compared to God. When Abraham was bargaining with God, he stated that compared to God, he was nothing but dust and ashes. This sets up the contrast between God and man, but it also speaks to Abraham’s boldness to ask God for a favor. Even recognizing that he was nothing compared to God, he knew that God listens to those who are faithful to him and considers their requests.
People can be hospitable. When the two angels arrived in Sodom, Lot immediately took them in to save them from the evil people in the city. He prepared a meal for them and offered them a place to stay for the night. In the midst of all the evil, Lot was still good.
People often protect one thing at the expense of another. In this case, it’s more than just a “thing.” It’s people. Lot was willing to protect his two guests at the expense of his daughters. This doesn’t seem like a very honorable thing to do, but it seems that Lot was at the end of his options.
People often don’t believe the truth when they hear it. When Lot spoke to his sons-in-law to urge them to leave with the rest of the family, they refused. They thought he was joking. Even though it was truth, they didn’t believe him. The result was that they got left behind and were destroyed with the city. Don’t resist the truth for so long that you eventually end up being destroyed too.
3. What does the passage say about God’s plan?
God’s plan was to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah due to their wickedness. An outcry had reached God’s ears—the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were ultimately evil. Once God verified the accusations, he had plans to completely destroy Sodom and Gomorrah due to their wickedness.
God’s plan was to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if 10 righteous people could be found. In spite of God’s original plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, he decided to spare the cities if only 10 righteous people could be found. He made this decision after Abraham pleaded for them. Ultimately, 10 righteous people could not be found. In fact, it appears that only 4 righteous people could be found, and even that is questionable based on the rest of the Genesis 19.
God’s plan was to protect Lot and his family from destruction. Regardless of the number of righteous people in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, God decided to rescue Lot and his family and save them from destruction. He did this because Abraham was faithful to him, and Abraham cared for Lot.
How does the passage fit into the overarching story of the Bible?
Sometimes it’s easier to understand a passage if you have a little outside knowledge from other passages in the Bible. This section will help provide that outside perspective.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah emphasizes two opposite but complementary characteristics of God that are displayed throughout Scripture: God’s wrath against sin and his mercy and kindness toward the righteous. When God sees wickedness, he simply cannot tolerate it. We saw this on a large scale in the story of Noah and the flood, and here we see it on a small scale in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Bible reports many times when God sees wickedness or sin and steps in to punish those who do wrong.
On the flip side of God’s wrath against sin is his mercy and kindness toward the righteous, toward those who follow him. God was willing to spare Sodom and Gomorrah, in spite of their wickedness, because Abraham pleaded with God. Abraham is God’s chosen one who will be the father of the nation that would be God’s holy people. God was also willing to spare Lot and his family due to his faithfulness to Abraham.
Throughout the Bible, we see this tug between God’s wrath and God’s mercy. Those who continue to live in sin and reject God will be the target of his wrath. But those who follow God and turn away from sin will be the recipients of God’s mercy. And in God’s justice and righteousness, he always knows which is which.
In God’s great mercy, he even did the unthinkable—he sent his son to pay the penalty for sin so that more people could receive his mercy and not face his wrath. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” What an amazing gift. God didn’t look at us and say, “Well, because they are righteous, I’ll send Jesus to die for them. They deserve it.” No, he looked at us and said, “They don’t deserve it. But I love them, so I’ll send Jesus to die for them anyway.” That is the height of God’s mercy and love for you.
Individual: Answer the following questions thoughtfully for yourself.
Group: Pose these questions for discussion.
All: If you are willing to share, I’d love to hear your thoughts to these questions. Feel free to use the comment section to start a discussion about this passage.
What else strikes you about this passage?
How does the passage affect how you view God? How you view yourself?
How does this passage affect how you will live your life?
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For Bible Essential studies, you can use my thoughts as your devotional, or you can download and use the journaling sheet to work through the passage on your own. If desired, you can then compare your thoughts to mine. Journal sheets can be downloaded and used now or later. They can be printed and filled in by hand or saved and filled out electronically. Journal sheets are available for individual or group use.
If you plan to lead a group study, a PowerPoint presentation is also available.
You can access these resources by clicking here: Genesis 18-19 Resources
Or you can download the journal sheets here*:
*Substack doesn’t support PowerPoint file downloads yet, so if you want to access the PowerPoint file for group study, you will need to download it from the resource page linked above.