God has proven that he always judges fairly by destroying the wicked but delivering the righteous from his sweeping judgment, therefore rejoice in God’s perfect justice and seek deliverance in the Righteous One who was judged in your place.
Introduction – Have you heard of these common objections to Christianity regarding the existence of evil, suffering, and judgment? “Why would a good God permit evil? Why would a compassionate God allow suffering? Why would a merciful God send people to hell?” These are all thoughtful questions, and I think they have satisfying answers. But notice that all these questions assume something about God—that he is good, compassionate, and merciful. In our culture this description of God is no longer assumed to be true. Today people are beginning to doubt whether the God of the Bible is righteous at all. Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion writes, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. Those of us schooled from infancy in his ways can become desensitized to their horror.” Many people have effectively put the God of the Bible on trial as a moral monster, doubting whether God judges fairly. Some ask these questions to satisfy philosophical curiosity, others to justify their personal beliefs and lifestyle, others to make sense of life’s difficulties, still others to salvage their personal faith hanging by a thread. So often in this life it seems that good people share in the consequences of oppressive people’s actions. When God finally judges wicked people, will he be fair to the righteous? Has this question crossed your mind? You’re not alone.
I. God on Trial
A. Abraham’s Question: does God judge fairly? (Gen 18:23-25)
Remember that Abraham is still getting to know God. He is Abraham’s new Lord, so Abraham is slowly learning what God is like, including God’s sense of justice and mercy. Abraham steps into God’s courtroom (in v. 23 the verb nagash is a legal term meaning to “step forth in litigation”) and tests the fairness of the Judge. Will God do what is right? Will God’s judgment of the wicked also sweep away the righteous? Will God be at all merciful to the wicked for the sake of the righteous?
B. God’s Answer: consider my dealings with Sodom (Gen 18:17-21, 26, 32b)
1. God is just: he is not willing to tolerate the sins of the wicked forever (Job 10:14; Josh 24:19).
2. God is merciful: he is willing to spare the wicked for the sake of the righteous. Objection: How can God be perfectly just and perfectly merciful and still maintain his perfect fairness in judgment? (Ex 34:6-7).
II. Sodom on Trial
A. The Charges
1. Generally the sins of wickedness and injustice (v. 13; cf. 18:19-21). Elsewhere in the Bible the sins of Sodom are identified as adultery, lying and supporting criminals (Jer 23:14); and arrogance, apathy, and merciless treatment of the needy (Ezek 16:49).
2. Manifestly the sin of attempted homosexual rape (vv. 4-9). This is violent sexual immorality. Abraham was instructed to “know” his barren wife to bear the promised son. The men of Sodom wanted to “know” the men in Lot’s house by force. Lest we condemn rape and condone homosexuality, the NT highlights their sin as immoral, unnatural, sensual desire (2 Pet 2:6-9; Jude 7).
3. Fundamentally the sin of inhospitality (vv. 1-3). This sounds strange to our ears. Is it really that bad to refuse overnight accommodations in our own homes for strangers? Are the men of Sodom fundamentally guilty and in danger of being destroyed because they failed to be “neighborly”? To understand the seriousness of the charge we must understand the environment, culture and customs of the Near East. At night it was dangerous to be outside. The elements, wild animals, and disreputable people were a threat to life, especially for the traveler. Public lodging was rarely available. Human societies were separated by long distances. In this environment and culture, hospitality to strangers was a vital public practice. It was then and still is today in the Near East. Furthermore, this is difficult to see without studying how Genesis 18 &19 are closely related by way of comparison and contrast. Furthermore, the sin of inhospitality is not explicitly mentioned in Genesis 18-19. It is an inference based on the comparison of Abraham’s and Lot’s hospitality to the angels, and the contrast between the way Lot and the men of Sodom treated the angels as visitors. Abraham and Lot demonstrated righteousness with the typical hospitality of their culture (with Abraham’s hospitality portrayed as greater than Lot’s). The men of Sodom showed gross inhospitality, manifestly in wickedness, injustice, and (in this case) attempted homosexual rape. This is evident in the narrative structure: (A) Lot’s righteousness; (B) Sodom’s sin; (A’) Lot’s deliverance; (B’) Sodom’s judgment.
B. The Evidence
1. Lot and his family (vv. 1-3, 14; cf 2 Pet 2:7). Lot showed hospitality to the travelers, making himself their “servant” and inviting them home to dine and lodge with his family. He urged them not to stay the night in the town square because Sodom was dangerous at night. Later that night when the angels urged Lot to warn his family to flee the city to escape judgment, Lot immediately warned his daughters’ fiancés. As a righteous man living in Sodom, he knew from experience his neighbors were wicked.
2. The men of Sodom (vv. 4-9). Verse 4 is very clear that every single man of Sodom was guilty of violence against Lot and his household. In verse 9 they condemn themselves with their own words: “Now we will deal worse with [Lot] than with [the travelers].” They were prepared to break down doors to satiate their violent lust.
3. The angels/messengers (vv. 10-13). The angels came to Sodom to investigate the cries against Sodom. But they had to do more than observe Sodom’s behavior; they had to act in mercy to protect the righteous. They rescued Lot from the mob by temporarily blinding them, and literally dragged the righteous few out of the city to save them from the city’s destruction.
4. Abraham and Sarah (18:1-8, 22-33). Their hospitality to strangers shines brighter than that of Lot and contrasts sharply with the violence of Sodom toward the same strangers. Abraham pleaded with God to mercifully spare the wicked in Sodom for the sake of the righteous living there, but the men of Sodom would show no mercy to the righteous.
C. The Verdict
1. Sodom is wicked as charged (vv. 13). God has been patient with Sodom, giving opportunity to repent through Lot’s preaching. Abraham learned that God is patient with sinners, but when his judgment comes, it comes swiftly and decidedly. For Sodom, the time had come because the outcry against its inhabitants had become too great for the LORD to relent any longer (note the harmony of God’s justice and mercy; cf. Ezek 33:11; 1 Thess 2:16). The angel-messengers explained to Lot that the LORD had sent them to destroy the city for its wickedness, and judgment was about to begin.
2. Lot is righteous, albeit a buffoon (vv. 7-8, 14, 16a, 18-20, 30-38). How was Lot a buffoon? (1) Unfortunately, Lot perceives himself to be on the horns of a terrible dilemma—to choose between two wrong actions—protect his guests or protect his daughters. But there is always a third option—trust God and choose the greatest good. Perhaps if Lot had trusted God and not offered up his daughters to the mob, they might not have committed similar sexual sin with him. Lot’s hypocrisy tragically returned to visit him with terribly ironic consequences. Lot simultaneously passes the test and fails the test! It is now clear that the wickedness of Sodomite culture has worked its way into Lot’s thinking. Yet at the same time he has rebuked his neighbors (“brothers”) for their wickedness and has set himself morally opposed to them. On this reckoning Lot is righteous. (2) Lot was not able to persuade his daughters’ fiancés that he was quite serious about the imminent judgment. To them he seemed a buffoon. (3) And when time was finally up, Lot did the unthinkable—he lingered! It seems Lot was more secure in the city surrounded by the wicked than outside the city with God! (4) When Lot seemed to finally understand his peril, he quickly surmised that leaving the valley was impossible because he couldn’t flee fast enough! So he feebly protests to the angels, asking instead if he might escape to a little nearby town, a request they mercifully grant.
D. Judgment and Deliverance
1. Narrowly save the righteous (vv. 10-22). Abraham’s intercession for God to spare Sodom for the sake of 10 righteous in the city is not enough to stave off Judgment Day. Lot and his small family are barely saved (cf. 1 Pet 4:18). Lot’s wife looks back yearning for her life in Sodom and she does not escape, becoming a pillar of salt. For fear Lot and his daughters do not settle in Zoar but instead live in a cave. His daughters turn Sodom’s sin back on Lot, giving birth to Moab and Ben-ammi (Ammon) from incestuous relations with their father. Lot never prospers again.
2. Utterly destroy the guilty (vv. 23-29). God literally destroys Sodom and the surrounding cities by raining “fire and brimstone” on them. It was not just the people who fell under judgment. God “overthrew” all the cities, all the valley, all the inhabitants, and all the vegetation! Absolute destruction is the picture—like a nuclear bomb detonated in Sodom’s town square! Notice how orderly God conducts Sodom’s trial. This is no careless judgment. God does not hold court like TV’s Judge Judy, giving each case a few minutes of he-said-she-said, then pronouncing swift “pretended-omniscient,” guilt-laden judgment on the parties. God is not capricious, God is not cold-hearted and unaffected by the destructiveness of sin on his creation, God is not hypocritically self-righteous, and God is not constrained to remain uninvolved in the broken lives of people.
III. You on Trial
A. Sodom’s judgment is a sample (end-of-time intrusion) of the Great Judgment
Someone may object, “Wait a minute! You can’t tell me that Sodom’s judgment has anything to do with the way God is now. That was the OT, this is the NT. My God is a God of love. He doesn’t judge like that anymore.” I reply that…
1. Every instance of terrible judgment (the Flood, Sodom & Gomorrah, the Exodus, the Conquest of Canaan, the Babylonian Exile) is a preview of the Great Judgment (2 Pet 3:10). No one will escape the Great Judgment because no one is righteous before God (Rom 3:9-12, 19-20). Even lesser “judgments” (natural disasters, miscarriages of justice) are timely reminders (because we are prone to forget) that we deserve God’s judgment (Lk 13:1-5). When will your Great Judgment be?
2. The greatest sample of judgment in the Bible is in the NT. Jesus’ judgment on the cross as our substitute is the Great Judgment for the “righteous” (those who are righteous by faith in the Righteous One). Abraham learned that God is both just and merciful—that God will spare the many wicked for the sake of the few righteous. But God did not reveal to Abraham the extent of his mercy. God will avert his judgment of the unrighteous for the sake of not ten righteous, but a single righteous person! God satisfies his wrath (which you and I deserve fairly) but taking it upon himself—God the Son—the Righteous One, Jesus Christ.
3. Jesus’ second coming is the Great Judgment for the wicked (Mt 16:27; 2 Thess 1:5-10; Rev 20:11-15).
B. The Great Judgment: the Day of the Lord
1. Deliverance for those who trust in the Righteous One for their sake (Lk 17:20-37).
2. Judgment for those who trust in their own righteousness (Lk 18:9-14). Someone will say, “Who trusts in their own righteousness? I don’t!” Here are some ways you can trust in your own righteousness. (1) Moralistic conservative people will look down their noses at those nasty Sodomites. “I could never be THAT wicked. I’m not a homosexual or a rapist. I’m not gay, and I would never force my lustful desires on others.” (2) Moralistic liberal people will look down their noses at those violent Sodomites. “I could never be THAT unjust. I don’t oppress people.” (3) Amoral relativist people will look down their noses at God. “I could never be THAT judgmental. I am more tolerant than God.”
Conclusion – In one sense you are the jury, and you must admit that Sodom’s trial proves God is not a moral monster (as many today charge), and that God will judge everyone fairly. But in another sense you are on trial. Are you confident that your own righteousness will require God to deliver you from judgment? Prepare to be disappointed in God’s perfect justice. Or is Judgment Day for you a day of bright hope? Take heart, for God is merciful. God has proven that he always judges fairly by destroying the wicked but delivering the righteous from his sweeping judgment, therefore rejoice in God’s perfect justice, but also seek deliverance in the Righteous One who was judged in your place.