Sodom and Gomorrah have at last been found. Or should I say, they have at last been RECOGNISED, because they have been lying undisturbed for thousands of years, unrecognised. I have written about this recently, based on the exciting Video produced by Jonathan Gray. Someone wrote to him saying, “How can you say that bricks and stone have been turned to ash? That never happens.” He replied, quite correctly I feel, that when a volcano explodes, literally millions of tons of VOLCANIC ASH spew out, known as TUFA. Nobody doubts that. And it is the result of intense heat on rocks. What happened at Sodom is the result of intense heat – “the Lord rained on Sodom fire and brimstone.” The word “ash” is used in the Bible to describe the result, and that is exactly what Wyatt and Gray found. It is a fitting testimony to the accuracy of holy writ.
In this paper I should like to concentrate on the theme of Sodom, and find out what the Bible teaches us concerning the cities of the plain, and the great catastrophe. But more than that, I feel it is highly significant to read what the Scriptures say about the PEOPLE of Sodom. But the first part of the paper must be devoted to a geographical sketch, and an investigation of the people concerned. Only then can the later prophetic word be properly understood. Sodom is first mentioned in Genesis 13. Abram and Lot separate. Lot is given first choice where to take his cattle. He observes an extensive valley with lush vegetation, well watered, and decides to go down. Abram remains on the higher ground. This much is common knowledge. Let us investigate a little further. The actual text of Genesis 13:10-11 – “And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the district of Jordan, that it was well-watered, – – – even like the Garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you come to Zoar.” What a contrast with today!! To try to imagine the valley of the Jordan, and the Dead Sea, being once likened to the Garden of Eden is really stretching one’s credulity. But that is what we are told. The Septuagint version uses the word PARADISE for Garden, so there can be no doubt as to what the writer intended.
But then we are perplexed by the next parallel – “like Egypt as you come to Zoar.” Where is Zoar in Egypt? The answer is that Zoar is NOT in Egypt at all, but at the south end of the Dead Sea. Clearly Moses was not referring to THAT. He was adding his own comments to the extant cuneiform tablets in his possession, to help the children of Israel, emerging from Egypt, to understand their own history. They had been living in Egypt for a long time, and knew it well. Moses was therefore asking them to remember what it was like in that part of Egypt where they dwelt. Where was it? In the land of Goshen, in the Nile Delta, a region that was also “well-watered”, not by rainfall but by the Nile. And in the Delta there was a town by the name of Zoan, also called Tanis, the capital town of that region, a town well known to the Israelites.
And if we want to know what the valley of the Dead Sea looked like to Lot, we have only to obtain some aerial photographs of north-eastern portion of the Nile Delta today for comparison. Neither region relied on rainfall, but both had adequate water supply. The Garden of Eden was also like that. No rainfall, but rivers, and a tropical climate. The problem is solved by looking at the Hebrew words for Zoar and Zoan. The first two letters are identical, but the final letter differs in minute detail, so that sometime in the past the copier-scribe must have slipped up. It must have been early on, because the Septuagint version (2nd century B.C.) has clearly copied Zoar rather than Zoan. A further proof of this comes from Psalm 78:12 whichreads – “Marvellous things did He in the sight of their fathers in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.” This brings us on to Genesis 14:3 where we read about a battle being joined “in the Valley of Siddim, which is the Salt Sea.” Once again Moses has to translate ancient names for the sake of the Children of Israel. When Lot entered the valley it was known as the Valley of Siddim. And the Hebrew name SIDDIM is the plural of the word FIELD used above of the “field of Zoan“.Hence it was called the Valley of Fields.
Lot must have looked down from the heights to see pasture land and meadow, with many trees. And the Hebrew word for fields suggests a FLAT land, rather than hill country. This reminds us of some of the deep valleys in Switzerland, where flat alluvial plains rest beneath towering cliffs. The evidence of trees is still with us. Let me quote from Werner Keller’s book, “The Bible as History”, page 94, para 3 – “If we take a rowing boat across the “Salt Sea” to the southern-most point we shall see, if the sun is shining in the right direction, something quite fantastic: some distance from the shore, and clearly visible under the surface of the water, stretch the outlines of forests which the extraordinarily high salt content of the Dead Sea has kept in preservation.” Note that this is at the SOUTHERNMOST end of the Dead Sea. Nothing like that will be visible to the north, because the water is very deep, but in the south it is quite shallow, say between 15 and 35 feet deep. And so we know exactly where Lot saw the “fields” of the valley.
The Dead Sea is therefore divided into two quite distinct portions. The northern end is a deep ravine, where the water is 1300 feet deep. This is separated from the southern portion by The Lisan (a word meaning “Tongue”). And the whole of the southern portion was once an alluvial plain with lush vegetation and trees, about twelve by ten miles in extent. Some maps suggest that the cities of the plain now lie beneath the Sea at this point, but there is no evidence of anything but the stumps of ancient trees below the water line. Indeed, these same maps show clearly a ridge known as “Jebel Usdum” or “Mount of Sodom”, exactly where Wyatt and Gray found the remains of Sodom. Before the catastrophe, even the water at the northern end of the Sea was capable of sustaining life. The salt content was more like that of ocean water, which has a salinity of about 3%. But now the Dead Sea has 19.5% salinity at the surface, and 26.7% below 250 feet. Nothing can live in such concentrated brine.
When the name “Dead Sea” was coined in the 2nd Century A.D. it very aptly described the conditions obtaining there. Furthermore, nothing much will grow in the valley around the Sea. One gets an impression of absolute deadness, much as may be found on the Moon or Mars. Rising out of the water are sulphurous gases, and petroleum vapour. Birds flying across the sea are sometimes seen to fall into the water dead. No doubt they have been poisoned by pockets of gas rising from the sea-bed. Floating on the water are clods of bitumen, sometimes very large chunks, which can be ignited and continue to burn for quite lenghty periods before going out. The remaining bitumen then sinks. This proves that beneath the valley there are oil deposits. The Greeks used to call the Sea “Lake Asphaltitis“ for this very reason, and Josephus recorded how people would drag chunks into their boats and bring them ashore in order to caulk the boat timbers.
The presence of bitumen and salt in vast quantities indicates that beneath the valley floor there exists a pre-floodgeosyncline. The oil, as elsewhere, derives from huge marine deposits of fish-life, transformed by enormous pressure in the presence of salt water. The valley itself is part of a 4,000 mile long crack in the earth’s surface, extending from north of the Sea of Galilee right down through the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea into Africa, via the famous “Rift Valley” in Kenya and as far south as the Zambezi Valley. This is, geologically speaking, a very “active” area, with vulcanism still occurring as the “crack” widens. The cause of the catastrophe that destroyed Sodom was undoubtedly the seepage of salt water into a volcanic pipe, which triggered off a massive explosion, throwing up huge quantities of salt and sulphur, which rained down on the cities at a very high temperature. Millions of sulphur balls still lie embedded in the ash of these cities. The people would have died by asphyxiation from the sulphur dioxide gas in just a few seconds, before the main force of the destruction began.
Earthquakes still occur in this region. In 1834 and 1837, the quakes opened the fissures under the seabed, and vast quantities of bitumen were released, rising to the surface. Also present in the region are numerous fresh-water springs, some of which are hot, and some bubble to the surface from beneath the waters of the lake. The temperature of the water indicates that it comes from underground rivers and lakes which are near to the volcanic regions. An interesting commentary is found in the Chronicles of Jerahmeel. Where he obtained his information nobody knows, but undoubtedly he had access to extremely ancient sources. The portion of interest is found in chapter XXXV, section 6 – “The Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom, so that on the third day all the plain was filled with water. They now call this the Salt Sea or LeberMeer.” This clearly describes what happened to the alluvial plain, and the forest which used to be there. Notice that the subsidence was quite rapid, resulting from the vulcanism and earthquake. Just a couple of days after the initial explosion, the waters from the north poured over the plains, and have submerged them ever since. Getting back to Genesis, we find in 14:10 the following comment – “And the Valley of Siddim was full of slime pits.” The original Hebrew should have been translated “bitumen wells” rather than slime pits. These wells must have been found at various points throughout the plain, amongst the trees, and to anyone unwary they could be as dangerous as peat bogs in Scotland or Dartmoor. The King of Sodom fell into one and had to be rescued later.
We now turn from the geography to the people who inhabited the valley. Who were they? The Bible tells us nothing save the names of the towns. They were Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar (which used to be called Bela). But the ancient Book of Jashar provides us with further information. In chapter 10:25-27 we read – “And four men from the family of Ham went to the Land of the Plain; these are the names of the four men, Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, andZeboyim. And these men built themselves four cities in the Land of the Plain, and they called the names of their cities after their own names. And they and their children and all belonging to them dwelt in those cities, and they were fruitful and multiplied greatly and dwelt peaceably.” Rather than being Canaanites, these men derived from the families of Ham. When Wyatt and Gray found the remains of sphinxes near the sites of Sodom and Gomorrah, this linked them immediately with the early cultures of Egypt, “the Land of Ham.” In the same chapter of Jashar, verses 35-36 we read – “And in the second year after the Tower [of Babel] a man from the house of Asshur, whose name was Bela, went from the land of Nineveh to sojourn with his household wherever he could find a place, and they came until opposite the cities of the plain against Sodom, and they dwelt there. And the man rose up and built there a small city and called its name Bela after his name; that is the land of Zoar unto this day.”
Now we find that Bela is descended from the line of Shem, quite distinct from the other four from the line of Ham. And it was somewhat later that he entered the Valley of the Plain, just after the dispersion from the Tower of Babel. When Lot asked the Angel if he could escape to a “small city”, it clearly shows that the people were of quite a different calibre altogether from Sodom, and the Lord was not going to destroy that town. Although nothing is said in Genesis about the origins mentioned inJashar, yet Lot’s request is clearly based on this knowledge. Now what about Lot himself? We know from Genesis that he was the son of Haran, Abram’s brother, and that he left Babylonia with Abram and Terah. They journeyed down through the land of Canaan, and when a famine arose, Abram and Lot travelled together into Egypt. The time spent in Egypt was a very troubled season for Abram, on account of the beauty of his wife Sarai. Part of this story is found in Genesis. Further details are found in the Book of Jashar, the Book of Jubilees, and another ancient document found amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls, known as the Genesis Apocryphon. From these sources we find that Abram was five years in Egypt before Saraiwas taken, and another two years before she was released and they returned to Canaan. In the Genesis Apocryphon we find the following about Lot – “And I, Abram, departed with exceeding great flocks, also silver and gold, and I went up from Egypt, and Lot, the son of my brother, went with me. And Lot also acquired many flocks, and he took for himself a wife from among the daughters of Egypt. And I camped with him in every place where I camped until I came to Bethel. – – – After that day Lot parted from me because of the deeds of our shepherds. And he departed and settled in the valley of Jordan, taking all his riches with him, and I myself added much to his possessions. As for him, he grazed his flocks and came to Sodom. And at Sodom he bought a house for himself and dwelt in it.”
Knowing that Lot’s wife was Egyptian could have been a strong factor in attracting Lot to Sodom, due to her kinship with the men of Sodom. Whether she was the only wife of Lot we cannot know, but using the chronology of the Book of Jashar, Lot (one year older than Abram) would have been about 78 when he took the Egyptian wife, and this is rather late for a first marriage in those days. The Book of Jashar, chapter 19, verse 52 says that Lot’s wife’s name was Ado, but in “Pirqe de Rabbi Eliezer“ it is spelt Edith. Another Egyptian connection is found in Jashar 15:30-32, where it speaks about the time when Pharaoh was just about to ask Abram to leave Egypt – “Now therefore here is your wife, take her and go from our land lest we all die on her account. And Pharaoh took more cattle, men servants and maid servants, and silver and gold, to give to Abram and he returned unto him Sarai his wife. And the King took a maiden whom he begat by his concubines and gave her to Sarai for a handmaid. And the King said to his daughter, it is better for you my daughter to be a handmaid in this man’s house than to be a mistress in my house, after we have beheld the evil that befell us on account of this woman.”
There can be no doubt that this is none other than Hagar, because later on, in 16:23-24 we read – “And Sarai, Abram’s wife was still barren in those days. She did not bear to Abram either son or daughter. And when she saw that she bare no children she took her handmaid Hagar, whom Pharaoh had given her, and she gave her to Abram her husband for wife.” Knowing that Hagar was virtually an Egyptian princess helps us to understand more clearly what transpired later on in Abram’s story, especially how when Ishmael left Abraham’s household, “his mother took a wife for him out of the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 21:21) Rabbi Eliezer tells us that this was his second wife, and her name was Fatimah. The story of the unfaithfulness of his first wife, Ayeshah, taken from among the daughters of Moab, is found inJashar, but though very interesting, cannot find a place in this paper.
We have now obtained some degree of background, both geographical and ancestral, and must turn our attention to theHamitic peoples of the cities of the Plain. What were they like? Our Bibles give us very clear, though extremely concise, information about the inhabitants of Sodom. In Genesis the implication is that homosexuality was rife. Even today it is still referred to as the sin of Sodomy. And in the letter of Jude, verse 7, we read of them “giving themselves over to fornication and going after strange flesh.” The word “strange” is HETEROS in the Greek, which is one of two wordsnormally translated “other”. ALLOS means other of the same kind, and HETEROS means other of a different kind. Hence Jude was speaking about an abominable practice where humans had physical relations with other species of life. Hence three distinct charges are laid against the Sodomites in respect to their sexual activities, fornication, homosexuality, and “strangeness” – the latter two being classed as perversions.
Before leaving this aspect, let us hear what Jashar has to say, in chapter 18:11-15 – “In those days all the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord, and they provoked the Lord with their abominations, and they strengthened in acting abominably and scornfully before the Lord, and their wickedness and crimes were in those days great before the Lord. And they had in their land a very extensive valley, about half a day’s walk, and in it there were fountains of water and a great deal of herbage surrounding the water. And all the people of Sodom and Gomorrah went there four times in the year, with their wives and children and all belonging to them and they rejoiced there with timbrels and dances. And in the time of rejoicing they would all rise and lay hold of their neighbours’ wives, and some, the virgin daughters of their neighbours, and they enjoyed them, and each man saw his wife and daughter in the hands of his neighbour and did not say a word. And they did so from morning to night, and they afterwards returned home each man to his house and each woman to her tent, so they always did four times in the year.”
A distressing story of this sort can at least help us to understand why Lot spoke as he did on the night the Angels visited him. The men of Sodom demanded an abomination, and he replied – “My brothers, please do not act wickedly. See now, I have two daughters who are virgins, let me bring them out to you to do to them as you see fit, but do nothing to these men.” (Genesis 19:7-8) See how bad company had corrupted the mind of “righteous Lot”. He called them his brothers, and was ready and willing to sacrifice his virgin daughters to a sex-crazy mob! I think enough has been said on this aspect of their behaviour, lest it also defile our minds in the reading of it.
But this is not all. The prophet Ezekiel was given the following – “Behold, this was the iniquity of Sodom, pride (or arrogance), fulness of bread (i.e. a more-than-adequate food supply), and abundance of idleness, and she did not strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and did abominations before my face.” (16:49-50) Notice how the Lord speaks here. Although He mentions the “abominations”, they do not come first. It is as though the other items rank more terribly before Him. What were they? Again we must have recourse to extra-biblical material to find out, and it is not silent. There is much reading matter, and especially in Jashar, where two long chapters are devoted to the subject. I cannot reproduce the material in full. It would take up too much space. All I can hope to do is give a brief summary of what I find there, and in the Targums. They had a practice of detaining strangers who visited their cities, giving them money to spend but refusing the purchase of goods. Hence in time they would starve to death, whereupon the coins would be retrieved with much mocking laughter. If anyone was found to have a kind heart to care for the stranger within the gate, and was detected in the “crime” of helping such a one to survive, they would be killed. One woman was burned alive. Another was anointed with honey and left to the “mercy” of the bees. Strangers would be invited to rest on certain beds in the streets of their towns. If they were too short, they stretched them until their limbs became disjointed. If they were too long, they chopped off their feet. (This gave rise to the Greek mythological tale of the “bed of Procrustes“, which is virtually the same.)
Eliezer, Abram’s servant went to visit Lot. He was detained by men of Sodom, one of whom struck him in the forehead with a stone, bringing forth blood. He then demanded payment for so doing, saying that he had drawn out his “bad blood.” Incensed, Eliezer refused, whereupon he was taken to the judge, who reinforced the idea of payment. Eliezer took a stone and struck the judge’s forehead, saying in effect, “Now we’re quits.” And he left the town. He was one of the few to get away. Enough has been said. The Lord saw that this could not continue lest the earth became a place too vile to live in. Abram pleaded with the Lord not to destroy them if any righteous people lived there. There were none after Lot, Ado, and his two daughters were dragged out. And notice this, they had to be DRAGGED out. Such is the effect of living in a foul environment for a long time. He had been there long enough to raise two daughters to marriageable age, and had even acquired a position “in the gate”, which meant he was part of the judiciary.
And if Jashar is correct, a third daughter is mentioned, who married a Sodomite and was one of those who were burned to death for showing kindness to strangers. Furthermore, Jashar concludes with the following – “And the Lord overthrew these cities, all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground, and Ado the wife of Lot looked back to see the destruction of the cities, for her compassion was moved on account of her daughters who remained in Sodom, for they did not go with her. And when she looked back she became a pillar of salt, and it is yet in that place unto this day.”(19:52-53) This would account for FIVE daughters, and the records in Genesis and Jashar show that the two who remained must have married Sodomite men, because they were not at home on the night the Angels visited. From information such as this, it is possible to build up a picture of the time span involved. Lot had indeed imbibed the ways of Sodom over a long period of time. And yet the Lord spared him, even calling him“righteous Lot”, and saying that he was “sore distressed by the gross misconduct of these immoral men.” (2 Peter 2:7)
Turning again to the Chronicles of Jerahmeel, chapter XXXV section 6, we are given a little more information about Lot –“Lot said, ‘I am not able to flee to the mountain for I am an old man [he was about 99] and the cold will kill me, and also, my soul is weary. Behold there is a little city nearby to flee to. I pray you, let me escape thither, for the way is short, and my soul shall live.’ Now the name of that city had formerly been Bela. Now there was a great earthquake, and Lot went and dwelt in a cave because he was afraid of the earthquake.” Josephus twice tells us that Bela (Zoar) was not destroyed, and that he had been there himself. Now, consider what happened subsequently. The action of Lot’s daughters in raising seed to their father obviously stems from a lifestyle that they would not find objectionable. They also had become partakers in the cess-pool of wickedness, and their consciences were unable to work correctly. What a lesson this is to us all. Anyone who thinks he/she is strong enough to withstand the peer-pressures of a godless society, and live amongst such people without imbibing their ways should re-read this story. The only sanction given to believers is to become strong in the Lord, and then, if the call is given, go to such people with the message of salvation. But to consider living amongst them is to covet disaster. Such was the fate of Sodom. We have now covered all the background of the story, and are in a position to listen to what the Lord taught about Sodom and Gomorrah. It has been necessary to dwell on the account at this depth in order to understand what it means to God Himself.
At this point, it would be good to read the whole of Ezekiel 16, a long chapter of 63 verses which introduces three cities,Sodom, Samaria, and Jerusalem, and compares them in regard to their sinful activities. The Lord gave this understanding to Ezekiel to pass on to the people of Jerusalem, and I imagine him becoming very unpopular as a result! The Lord says in effect, “I will call the three cities sisters. I will address you, Jerusalem, and refer to your greater sister as Samaria, and your lesser sister as Sodom. There was a time when even the the name “Sodom” would not be on your lips. But now I look upon the sin of Sodom as a very little thing compared with your sin, and as for Samaria, she has not committed half your sins.” (See verses 44-51)
Now here is a very strange thing. After all that we have learned about the ways of Sodom, the Lord speaks of their sin as “a very little thing.” This is incredible! Most people, even most Christians, think about Sodom as the lowest of the low, utterly destroyed, and deserving of their punishment. But no. Fifteen hundred years after the destruction of Sodom, the Lord refers to their sin as trifling compared with Jerusalem. What are we to say? Our view of judgment must change. Our thinking must come into line with the declarations of God through His prophet Ezekiel. And this is not the final tally. There is more to come. In Jesus’ day, He spoke about the lack of enthusiasm and faith-response to all the mighty works He had performed inBethsaida, Chroazin, and Capernaum. (See Matthew 11:20-24) – “And you, Capernaum, thinking yourself exalted to heaven, you shall be brought down to hell, for if the mighty works which have been done in you were performed in Sodom, it would have remained unto this day.” And then there was the lot of Samaria, the “greater sister.” She represented the Northern Kingdom of Israel, that had been deported into Assyria long before Ezekiel’s day. Jerusalem tended to look down on the Ten Tribes in the day of her pride, thinking that God had removed them for their offences, but retained her as His “special treasure.” But now the truth was out.
Nebuchadnezzar was on the doorstep, and the end was near. God’s own estimation placed Jerusalem at the top of His list of sinners, the grossest of all offenders, far worse than Samaria and Sodom. If this is true, (and who can doubt it?) then a few pertinent questions must be asked. Why did God destroy Sodom, but leave Jerusalem? If Jerusalem was MORE to blame in His sight, then should He not have destroyed Jerusalem as well? This question savours of total misunderstanding. Let us see what God said to Jeremiah (Lam.4:6) – “For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom that was overthrown in a moment, without human intervention.”From God’s point of view (the only viewpoint that matters!) Jerusalem had been punished MORE than Sodom. Sodom’s people were suddenly overcome by noxious fumes of sulphur dioxide and asphyxiated before they were able to witness the destruction of their city. Therein was God’s mercy revealed. There was no long drawn out period of suffering, just instantaneous death. But for Jerusalem it was a lengthy siege, followed by the horrors of warfare, and the deportation to a foreign city given over entirely to idolatry. And their imprisonment lasted for 70 years before the first batch of deportees could return. And most of those who had been deported were now dead.
But many people have deeply rooted problems with God’s judgments in the Old Testament. Their sense of “fairplay” is offended, and they tend to harbour doubts about the Lord’s integrity. They cannot accept the fact that a “good” God can destroy the world’s population in a universal flood, or whole cities like Sodom in flaming fire and sulphur. In a sense, they are saying that THEY have a greater sense of true justice than God Himself. Now I know that this would be hotly denied by some, but I have met with this problem many times, and know that it lurks beneath the surface even if it’s not voiced quite as plainly as I’ve put it. Let me meet this problem head on and answer it. In the beginning God said to Adam and Eve, “In the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.” In the N.T. we find it written in clear unmistakeable language, “The soul that sins, it shall die.” “Death has passed through to every man.” And we know that every man and woman has died. It is our common experience of life, that it ends sooner or later. We are all sinners. There is none righteous, no not one. We are all condemned to death. This being so, God has a perfect right to say WHEN a person’s life should end. Judgment has already been passed. We are all on “death row.” But we do not know the day and hour of our demise. Jesus said to the parabolic man who wanted to build larger barns and live for many years in luxury, “Fool, you do not know that this night your soul will be required of you.” That’s it! If God should choose to terminate the life of a city full of people, He has a perfect right to do so whenever He deems it necessary. As Jeremiah put it (Lam.3:22) “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed. Verily His compassions fail not.” And again in verse 33, “He does not wilfully afflict or grieve the children of men. To crush under His feet all the prisoners of the earth, to turn aside the right of a man before the face of the Most High, to subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approves not.” And in verse 39, “Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord.”
This human problem, based on apparent unfairness of divine behaviour, is laid to rest once a man is able to realise and accept that he has no RIGHT to live in this world. As a condemned sinner, he is without any form of advocacy. The death sentence will be carried out at a time known only to God. It isn’t a matter of whether we are believers or not. Believers and unbelievers, good men and gross sinners, all eventually die, all are under the sentence of death. “It is given unto man once to die, and after that the judgment.” When the Lord asked the children of Israel to exterminate the Canaanites, He was completely just. He had the right to say when they were to die. But let no one take the rod of God’s judgment into his own hands, and think that he has an equivalent “divine right.” Only the Lord has this right. Man repeatedly takes the life of his fellow man, and will stand before God in judgment for doing so. But God is the Just Judge, and is able to declare when it is time for a man to die. None of us has the right to question that judgment.
What is the origin of this deeply felt complaint? Why does it so often arise? Is it not based on the humanitarian dogma that “everyone has a right to live?” In these enlightened days men and women are deeply offended by death. They will do anything and everything to stay alive. They will behave as though death is the END OF EVERYTHING. “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” The Romans had a saying DUM SPIRO SPERO, meaning “While I breathe I have hope.”We speak about a drowning man clinging to a straw. Anything is justifiable to stay alive.
I can witness with this and understand it. But the reason for its prevalence is lack of knowledge of what follows death. Death is NOT the end. If it were, then undoubtedly God would be unjust. Remember Jesus’ words about Sodom? “If the mighty works done in Capernaum were performed in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.” Someone might say, “If that’s the case, then why didn’t God give them the chance? Why did He withhold the miracles? If they would have repented, like Nineveh, then He shows caprice in not allowing them to live.” But throughout Jesus’ ministry there was this apparent injustice. Why did the Lord raise Lazarus from the dead and leave John the Baptist to be beheaded? Why was just ONE man healed at the Pool which was crowded with many others waiting for the waters to be troubled? Why did Jesus choose Judas Iscariot, knowing that he would ultimately betray Him? There are so many questions of this sort. Let’s be sensible. There are two ways of approaching problems of this sort. The first way is to attribute injustice and caprice to God, and get on the defensive. The second way is to admit the presence of a problem, and tackle it based on ALL AVAILABLE EVIDENCE. This latter approach is the only one which will give us a satisfactory answer. Those who attribute injustice to God fly in the face of all evidence, and sometimes persist in their course of action due to a grievance which needs to be rooted out and dealt with. But those who can bear to be wholly objective, and seek an honest answer, will always find a way through.
We have already seen that Ezekiel 16 begins to answer some of the problems. So let’s go back there and see what else the Lord had to say about Jerusalem, Samaria and Sodom. “When I bring again the captivity of Sodom and her daughters, and the captivity of Samaria and her daughters, then will I bring again the captivity of YOUR captives in the midst ofthem. – – When your sisters, Sodom and her daughters, return to their former estate, and Samaria and her daughters return to their former estate, then YOU and your daughters shall return to your former estate.” (verses 53-55) So what does this mean? How can Sodom’s people ever return to their “former estate”? They are all dead. Not one was left. And their cities have been turned to ash. What does the Lord mean? Before answering the question, let me quote from Matthew 11 again, verse 24 – “But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment then for you [i.e. Capernaum]” These words can be so difficult of exegesis to many Christians, and yet they are the light at the end of a long dark tunnel to those who relish the mercy of the Lord. One hears of the judgment of Sodom on the lips of believers, and the impression given is that of total annihilation, or of everlasting conscious punishment. But if the Bible is to become our handbook of understanding, then Jesus’ words must be understood correctly. How can the expression “more tolerable” be applied to either of these conditions? Total annihilation doesn’t allow anything to follow. Everlasting conscious punishment of a less painful nature is still everlasting, and therefore the words “more tolerable” are nothing but a mockery from the Lord’s mouth.
The only possible conclusion is that our Lord was referring back to Ezekiel’s prophecy, and saying that the people of Sodom will be restored one day, in resurrection. But this raises protests by the score from believers. It is wholly unacceptable to many. But why? I think the reason is that they feel they have been chosen by God, and it makes them special. So whyshould these other horrible sinners be allowed a place at all in the future? Wouldn’t it be better for them to go away into hellfor ever? Oh yes, they are raised. They don’t doubt that. But they are raised to be judged, and thrown into the lake of fire. But I have a quarrel with all who say these things. The Lord said that Jerusalem was ten times worse than either Sodom or Samaria, so why shouldn’t the people of Jerusalem be sent to everlasting hell-fire as well? But this exposes the real underlying problem, because Christians generally look forward to a day when Jerusalem will once again become the centre of this world’s worship, and they will produce literally scores of prophecies to prove it.
Exactly! So why should not God’s mercy towards His very sinful children of Judah also extend to those who are not nearly so sinful? See the text of Ezekiel 16 again – verses 61-63 – “You shall remember your ways and be ashamed when you shall receive your sisters, your greater and your lesser, and I will give THEM to you for daughters, but not by your covenant. And I will establish my covenant with you, and then you will know that I am the Lord; that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth any more because of your shame, when I am pacified towards you for all that you have done, says the Lord God.” What great mercy and forgiveness! What a wonderful God we have! No matter how great is man’s sin, he is given a future! Even Sodom and Gomorrah will be restored to their former estate, and by Ezekiel’s prophecy, will have “restored Jerusalem” to oversee her future, to care for her as though she were her own daughter. How many Christians can accept these things, and rejoice in them?
I plead with my readers not to reject this exposition. If we analyse our own thought processes, we will find a rather nasty tendency present. It is in us all. It is a critical and judgmental spirit that takes a delight in destruction rather than restoration. We see the destruction of the “wicked” as a quick and easy way of eliminating trouble to ourselves in the future. After all, we say, they don’t deserve God’s grace, do they? Look how awful they’ve been. They deserve to go to hell for ever. But this is not according to God’s character. He is not the Author of destruction. That word is reserved for a mythical character in Revelation called Apollyon, or Abaddon. God says, “Behold I make all things new.” And in due time He will accomplish what He has set out to do. For some this may mean a rather painful time of gradual awareness, like Jerusalem of Ezekiel’s day, until they shut their mouths for ever, and accept their guilt and shame. But God will have His way, and will not be thwarted. But I hear another say, “Didn’t God give us freewill to choose? If that’s the case, hard luck for all those who don’t choose the right way. Why should I be lumped together with them, when I’ve made the right choice?” Yes, I agree. God gave us all the freewill to choose. But we must also accept that God has freewill as well, and it is His express will that none should perish, but all should come to a knowledge of salvation, in due time, if not in this life then in the next.
Another thing must be remembered. The restoration spoken about in Ezekiel is purely an earthly restoration, whereas our Lord promised a heavenly calling for those who walk by faith. Length of days is promised to both, call it everlasting life if you like, but there is a difference between those who inhabit the heavenly regions and those who inhabit the earth. Each in their own sphere will eventually find great satisfaction in the Lord. So what about Sodom? How will the Lord restore them to their land, knowing that it is at present one of the most desolate places on the surface of this earth? The answer is given by Ezekiel, as a result of the visions God gave him. It is in chapter 47, after the new Temple has been seen and measured. Living waters issued from under the Temple towards the east, and multiplied rapidly into a deep river, with trees of many different types growing along its banks. The Lord then spoke to Ezekiel through the Angel – “These waters issue out towards the east country, and go down into the plain and into the sea [i.e. the Dead Sea]. And the waters shall be healed. And everything that lives, which swarms, wherever the two rivers shall come, shall live, and there shall be a very great multitude of fish. – – And by the river on its bank, on this side and on that, shall grow all trees for food, whose leaves shall not fade, neither shall its fruit fail. They shall bring forth ripe fruits according to the months because the waters issued from the sanctuary. The fruits shall be for food, and the leaves for healing.”
And so the desert shall blossom like the rose, and the wilderness shall become like the Garden of Eden once again – but better than before. Such is the great love and mercy with which our great God blesses even the most defiled and abominable of mankind. There is hope for all! Each in his own place will be restored, and “the meek will inherit the earth.”If someone should ask, and say that water cannot possibly flow from Jerusalem down to the Dead Sea, then I would agree, as it is at present. The Kidron Valley is there, and then the Mount of Olives. But there is a word in Zechariah which explains it all – “His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives – – and the Mount shall cleave in the midst from east to west – – and living waters shall go out from Jerusalem, half towards the eastern sea and half towards the western sea, in summer and in winter, and the Lord shall be King over all the earth.” (14:4-9) As upon earth, so also in heaven. In Revelation 22 we read – “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, the tree of life, bearing twelve types of fruits, one each month, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Here then is the end of the matter. Here is the Great Secret of Sodom – that God has a future for EVERYONE, whether in heaven or upon earth. Let us rejoice in this, and learn (like Ezekiel) to swim in the waters of life that God has in store, and eat the fruits, and be healed with the leaves of His trees. No more pride, no more unjust judgments about our fellow men, just thankfulness towards our merciful Lord.