The word ‘sodomite’ appears in the Bible 5x and unfortunately, many take this word to be a reference to those who engaged in the sins of Sodom. (We’ll look at this shortly as well). However, the Hebrew word translated ‘sodomite’ is the Hebrew word, ‘qadesh’, which simply means “temple prostitute”. This happens to be the masculine version, with the feminine version rendered, ‘qedeshah’. To put it bluntly, ‘sodomites’ in the Bible were temple shrine prostitutes, usually of fertility goddesses. It probably goes without saying, but if you are a prostitute for a FERTILITY goddess, this would exclude homosexual activity.
Deuteronomy 23:17 There shall be no WHORE of the DAUGHTERS of Israel, nor a SODOMITE of the SONS of Israel.
Note the connection – if we are going to conclude that Sodomite = homosexual, then we must conclude from the female side that whore = lesbian. This isn’t the case at all. Deuteronomy is simply stating that no daughters or sons of Israel are to give themselves as shrine prostitutes to the Canaanite deities.
1Kings 14:22 And Judah did evil in the sight of the LORD, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins which they had committed, above all that their fathers had done. 14:23 For they also built them high places, and images, and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree. 14:24 And there were also sodomites in the land: and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the LORD cast out before the children of Israel.
Shrines to pagan deities were built on high hills among trees and places called “groves”. It was understood that high places were sacred – where the spiritual realm meets the earthly realm. No surprise that in the places of these pagan deities, we would find shrine prostitutes.
Two kings later in Judah, we find that these things were taken down by king Asa,
1Kings 15:11 And Asa did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD, as did David his father. 15:12 And he took away the sodomites out of the land, and removed all the idols that his fathers had made.
After Asa dies, his son Jehoshaphat reigns in his stead and he finishes what Asa started,
1Kings 22:41 And Jehoshaphat the son of Asa began to reign over Judah in the fourth year of Ahab king of Israel.
1Kings 22:46 And the remnant of the sodomites, which remained in the days of his father Asa, he took out of the land.
Later on in Judah’s history, a king by the name of Josiah comes on the scene and literally starts cleaning house.
2Kings 23:5 And he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of heaven. 23:6 And he brought out the grove from the house of the LORD, without Jerusalem, unto the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and stamped it small to powder, and cast the powder thereof upon the graves of the children of the people. 23:7 And he brake down the houses of the sodomites, that were by the house of the LORD, where the women wove hangings for the grove.
Not only was the presence of pagan worship forbidden in Israel/Judah, but so too would be those who would administer it or be part of the worship “experience.” The groves/high places were torn down and those “doing” the worship were dealt with (the shrine prostitutes). Unfortunately, many have taken the word ‘sodomite’ to refer to homosexuality and there is some precedent for this definition as one starts working their way back in church history. However, given the context of the scripture itself, it does not appear that this word is being used in the same fashion as we might readily use it today.
What about Sodom itself?
The word Sodom appears 48 times in the Bible, 9 of which are in the New Testament. Sodom is a Canaanite city that was located in the region of the Dead Sea where the Jordan River intersects. It is of a Hebrew root that simply means “burning” or “scorch”. This lends to the idea that “Sodom” is a word that the Hebrews gave that city, however, I recognize there were three other cities which suffered similar fate and they have their own names. …more to think about there. However, it is often presented that the destruction of Sodom is ironclad proof that God hates homosexuality and is willing to stop at nothing in order to burn homosexuals to ashes. Certain churches of the baptist persuasion that happen to be in the boro that is west would take refuge in this understanding.
It should be noted, however, that the overwhelming majority of the time that Sodom is referenced, sexual sin is not. The men of Sodom are described as exceedingly wicked and sinners before the Lord (Genesis 13:13) and as we get into Genesis 18 and 19, we certainly see the expressions of their wickedness, but, what I want to draw out is what the other Biblical authors think of when they think the wickedness and sinfulness of Sodom. This in no wise is an attempt to give Sodom a pass – they were indeed wicked and sinful. However, this is an attempt to keep ourselves within the Biblical author’s mindsets as they thought about and used Sodom in their writings. Even Jesus Christ makes mention of Sodom and His use of Sodom has nothing to do with homosexuality, as we’ll see.
Before proceeding, are we willing to let the scriptures be without plundering them for our own gain? Let’s be humble with the scriptures and see where they take us.
When Abraham is ‘negotiating’ with God on how many righteous people he can find in Sodom (and God subsequently sparing the city should he be successful in finding them), we see that Abraham NEVER asks God to spare the city if Abraham can find x-number of heterosexuals. Abraham asks God to spare the city if Abraham can find x-number of RIGHTEOUS people. ‘Righteous’ is not a synonym for ‘heterosexual’ and is isn’t the antonym for ‘homosexual.’ Abraham is looking for RIGHTEOUS people, or, people who were ‘just’ and ‘lawful’ in their character and being. This is a question of finding someone who is holistically righteous, yet as we see in Genesis 18 and 19, the entire city was UNRIGHTEOUS. God compares what He knows about Abraham’s future to what He will find in Sodom and the distinction lies in the “justice” (or, righteousness) that Abraham will teach his descendants vs the unrighteousness that is in Sodom.
Genesis 18:19 For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him. 18:20 And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous;
In Genesis 19, we find the account of Sodom being destroyed by God. As we move through chapter 19, I’m going to highlight a few things that will be what the other biblical authors pick up on as well.
Genesis 19:1 And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; 19:2 And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.
Notice that Lot is being very HUMBLE with these angels (bowing himself to the ground) and is likewise extremely HOSPITABLE. However, the angels want to prove something about the city, so they initially pass on Lot’s offer of hospitality and to remain in the city streets. However, Lot knowing full well what this city inhabitants are all about, forces the issue with the angels and they agree to come into his house. Yet, the citizens of Sodom come to understand that there are visitors among them and they show up at Lot’s door, demanding the visitors be released unto them. The purpose of their release is because they are interested in putting these visitors in their place by usurping dominance over them, sexually. Lot tries to get them to take his daughters instead (apparently he has no real regard for his daughters…and, come to think of it, they have no real regard for him because after they get out of Sodom, they get Lot drunk, sleep with him, and now we get the children of Moab and Ammon). The angels, probably hearing all of this, pull Lot back in the house. I can imagine the angels looking at each other like, “What in the world is he saying?!” So, they immediately intervene and declare that they are going to destroy the city due to the cry of them (their continual advertisement of their unrighteous character) has come up before the LORD. They tell Lot to collect his family and get out and don’t look back. It wasn’t for Lot to be audience to God’s judgment.
Most will look at the account and conclude that God destroyed the city because of what the citizens of the city wanted to do to these angels. And, that is true, yet, this specific incident is part of a much larger issue. The citizens were proud, inhospitable and sought to treat visitors like throwaways. This stands in stark contrast to the way Lot treats these angels. This is why Lot is spared.
How then does the rest of scripture play on the Sodom narrative? We don’t see it mentioned again until Deuteronomy 29 when Israel is on the verge of entering Canaan and how fitting as Sodom was a city in Canaan. Moses is telling them of the blessing they will have if they get into the land and follow God’s law, but also the cursing and judgment they will have if they get into the land and break God’s law (that they agreed to, Exodus 24:3). Within this, we find these words,
Deuteronomy 29:23 And that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom, and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the LORD overthrew in his anger, and in his wrath: 29:24 Even all nations shall say, Wherefore hath the LORD done thus unto this land? what meaneth the heat of this great anger? 29:25 Then men shall say, Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt:
What is the reason that God would destroy Israel as He did Sodom? Is the warning about Israel’s degradation into homosexuality? No, not at all – it is because they would have forsaken the covenant of the LORD. From here, Sodom is mentioned in Deuteronomy 32:32, but nothing about sexuality. Nothing further is mentioned of Sodom until we get to the prophet Isaiah.
In Isaiah 1, the prophet is describing the desolate state that Israel is in. In this chapter, Isaiah refers to Israel’s desolation as similar to the desolation of Sodom and even calls Israel the people of Sodom, but why? Is it because the sinfulness and wickedness of Israel was homosexuality? No, not at all. Notice,
Isaiah 1:9 Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah. 1:10 Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
Isaiah 1:17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. 1:18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
Israel is desolate before the Lord and is exceedingly sinful before the Lord because of verse 17. They were not seeking judgment (recall what was said of Abraham in Genesis 18:19), they were at a minimum ignoring the oppressed or at worst, contributing to their oppression, they were not providing an umbrella of protection over the fatherless nor giving care to the widows. It is in THIS CONTEXT that Isaiah writes the God pleads with Israel to reason together about this and have their SINS become white as snow. In other words, Israel had become proud, inhospitable and were pushing the less-desirables of society to the fringes. The prophets are replete with language about this very thing as the reason God’s judgment is coming. Isaiah uses Sodom as an example, not to teach Israel to put away homosexuality or else they will be brought to the same ash heap, but because of Sodom’s unrighteousness (pride, in-hospitality and ill-treatment of citizens).
In Isaiah 3, we find more judgment pronounced against Judah and Jerusalem. Even as Sodom didn’t hide their sin, neither has Judah hidden theirs and it will be the very aspects of their sin that God will use to judge them. Judah will be judged by oppression – Exile.
In Jeremiah 23, God is writing of what His prophets were doing in leading His people astray,
Jeremiah 23:13 And I have seen folly in the prophets of Samaria; they prophesied in Baal, and caused my people Israel to err. 23:14 I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing: they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness: they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah.
The adultery spoken of here is a reference to the prophet’s aligning themselves with Baal. It is a spiritual adultery being spoken of and this alignment with Baal caused the paths of Israel to divert into darkness. They were no different than the citizens of Sodom.
Ezekiel comes along and wastes no time getting to the heart of the sin of Sodom and we’ll see, it is the same themes,
Ezekiel 16:46 And thine elder sister is Samaria, she and her daughters that dwell at thy left hand: and thy younger sister, that dwelleth at thy right hand, is Sodom and her daughters. 16:47 Yet hast thou not walked after their ways, nor done after their abominations: but, as if that were a very little thing, thou wast corrupted more than they in all thy ways. 16:48 As I live, saith the Lord GOD, Sodom thy sister hath not done, she nor her daughters, as thou hast done, thou and thy daughters. 16:49 Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.
Did you catch it – THIS WAS THE INIQUITY OF THY SISTER SODOM: 1. Pride, 2. Fulness of Bread, 3. Abundance of Idleness, 4. neither did she strengthen the hand of the POOR and NEEDY. Do you read homosexuality anywhere in that list? This was the abomination Ezekiel speaks of.
We get to the New Testament and Jesus has a few things to say about Sodom, and never in the context of homosexuality.
Matthew 10:14 And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. 10:15 Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city. Context = hospitality
When dealing with the cities that comprise the “Pharisaical triangle”, Matthew records,
Matthew 11:20 Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: 11:21 Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 11:22 But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. 11:23 And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 11:24 But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee. Context = pride
It isn’t until the book of Jude (second to last book in the Bible) that we finally get language about sexuality as it relates to Sodom,
Jude 1:7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. 1:8 Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities.
They gave themselves over to fornication – they were addicted to it (hence the citizen’s response to the visitors). But, this isn’t the sole issue, in fact, Jude likewise reminds us of exactly what the prophets do – they also rejected authority (pride) and spoke evil against those who are holy (as they did with the angels and as they did with how they treated the poor and needy). (I encourage you to do a study on “poor” and “needy” throughout the Bible, especially in the book of Psalms, and take very careful note of how God sees these folks.)
In conclusion, does this mean that the sin of Sodom has nothing to do with homosexuality? No, not at all. But hopefully it demonstrates where the biblical authors are focused when they invoked Sodom in their writings. Homosexuality is a choice made from more root issues – namely, pride. But, there was far more going on in Sodom that we shouldn’t lose sight of. Sodom is not the divine picture of what happens to homosexuality, rather, it is the divine example of what happens when God defends the righteous against the unrighteous. It is where God deals with injustice and inhospitable arrogance. It is setting right the mistreatment of guests. It is an example of the terminus of pride–nothing but fiery destruction and ashes.
Proverbs 16:18 Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. 16:19 Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.
Proverbs 15:25 The LORD will destroy the house of the proud: but he will establish the border of the widow.