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Jerusalem, Sodom, and Jesus

Why did God judge Sodom and Gomorrah?

Most of us could answer the question. We’ve heard about the same-sex culture and out-of-control sexual aggression that Sodom and Gomorrah are known for (Genesis 19:1-10).

But is there a story about the twin cities that we might have missed? Let’s take a closer look.

Sodom and Gomorrah

In the 16th chapter of the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord says to the city of Jerusalem, “This was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit” (Ezekiel 16:49-50).

This is not the spiritual inventory that many of us would expect. Ezekiel doesn’t even mention the specific nature of Sodom’s sexual sin. Instead, he adds to a list of root sins, “and they were haughty and committed abomination before Me.”

At first, it might seem as if the prophet is giving special emphasis to Sodom’s sexual sins by characterizing them as an “abomination.” Yet the Jewish Scriptures use this word to describe many different kinds of sin. It is used of a whole spectrum of ritual, dietary, sexual, and ethical wrongs that are all said to be detestable to the Lord (Leviticus 18:22; Deuteronomy 14:3; 17:1).

“Abomination,” in fact, is the term Solomon later uses to describe seven things the Lord hates. In this list of seven “detestable things,” Solomon indicates that a proud look, lying lips, a false witness, and spreading discord among brothers are all an “abomination” to God (Proverbs 6:16-19).

The point of focusing on words that describe Sodom’s sin is not to minimize the sins she is remembered for but to show that there is more to her story than the danger of same-sex relationships. In fact, according to Ezekiel, we don’t have a good perspective on Sodom until we hear how God used her to humble the holy city of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem and Sodom

Prior to describing the sins of Sodom, Ezekiel says, “The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations’” (Ezekiel 16:1-2).

With the emotions of a betrayed lover, God goes on to describe how the holy city has been unfaithful to Him. He says that, in spite of all He did for her, she has pursued other gods with such abandon that she has made her despised sister Sodom look good by comparison (16:48, 52).

But there is still more to the story. Many years later a man regarded by the religious leaders of Israel as “a friend of . . . sinners” (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34) once again invoked the memory and name of Sodom in a surprising way. Jesus Himself spoke as if His own people had sunk lower than Sodom and Gomorrah.

Jesus and Sodom

In some ways it seems ironic that Jesus can be thought of as a friend of sinners. How can He be? What interest would such people have in a rabbi who, in His disputes with other religious leaders, raises the law of God higher than anyone has ever lifted it before?

Yet Jesus is not the normal moralist. He speaks as if breaking moral law is less of an issue than rejecting Him.

Expressing His lament over the lakeshore community where He had headquartered for three years, Jesus says, “And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:23-24; see also Luke 4:31-41).

The people of Sodom had been proud. But the community of Capernaum saw the King of heaven clothe Himself with humility.

The people of Sodom had fullness of food. But the people of Capernaum had seen, or at least heard, how Jesus had fed thousands with a small boy’s lunch.

The people of Sodom indulged themselves with leisure. But the residents of Capernaum wasted and lost the time they had to discover God, their Savior, in the person of His Son.

The citizens of Sodom saw no need to help the poor. But the people of Capernaum saw with their own eyes how the long-awaited Messiah of Israel reached out to the most needy and miserable among them.

In Summary

What we have seen is that no one can rightly point to the sins of Sodom as a way of feeling morally superior about themselves.

Sodom and Gomorrah are certainly not to be envied. Living more than 1,200 feet below sea level, on the shore of the Dead Sea, these two twin cities sank low enough spiritually to be judged by fire from heaven.

But their judgment does not make them uniquely evil or miserable. Ezekiel makes it clear that the “abominable” things Sodom is known for are rooted in equally detestable sins of pride, fullness of food, abundance of idleness, and a failure to help the poor and needy.

When combined with the stories of Jerusalem and Jesus, Sodom is an example of how pagan communities can be worthy of judgment, while still being less guilty in God’s eyes than those who have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to who Christ is and what His Spirit wants to do in and through us.

Father in heaven, please help us to see that none of us is in a position to feel morally superior to others. None of us deserves Your grace. None of us is entitled, on our own merits, to look down on another. All of us need to see that nothing is more important than our relationship to the inexhaustible love that, by Your Son, You have shown for the present citizens of Sodom, Jerusalem, and our town. —Mart De Haan

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