Moses proceeds with a description of a terrible sin. I for my part do not enjoy dealing with this passage, because so far the ears of the Germans are innocent of and uncontaminated by this monstrous depravity; for even though this disgrace, like other sins, has crept in through an ungodly soldier and a lewd merchant, still the rest of the people are unaware of what is being done in secret. The Carthusian monks deserve to be hated because they were the first to bring this terrible pollution into Germany from the monasteries of Italy. Of course, they were trained and educated in such a praiseworthy manner at Rome.ï»¿19ï»¿
But this passage contains a necessary and profitable doctrine. We see that when sins become the fashion and human beings smugly indulge in them, the punishment of God follows immediately. Therefore let us learn to fear God and to arm ourselves against the flesh and the devil, in order that we may not fall into similar disgraceful sins which God cannot allow to go unpunished. Moses describes the wretchedness and misfortune of the human race in strong enough terms. After the angels had eaten, he says, they undoubtedly talked about various things at table"about the fear of God, about righteousness, and about the corruption of morals and the collapse of discipline; for perhaps saintly Lot complained about these matters. Peter does not state without cause (2 Peter 2:8) that the soul of righteous Lot was tortured day ï»¿20ï»¿ and night because he was compelled both to see and to hear shameful things. Therefore Lot´s mouth spoke out of the abundance of his heart (Matt. 12:35), and he could not control his grief when such saintly guests had arrived at such an opportune time.
After they had finished the meal and the time called for sleep, what happens? The men of the city, the men of Sodom (this repetition serves to aggravate the sin), are in such a frenzy that they not only showed no courtesy toward the guests but did not allow the tired men to rest even for an hour in someone else´s house. They vent their rage upon the weary men before these men go to bed, and they begrudge them their sleep. Is not this extraordinary rudeness and cruelty? But it is more serious and altogether unheard of for them to demand the men for their sensual desire. It is the men of the city who do this, not the unimportant people of the populace"hirelings, slaves, and sojourners"but the foremost citizens, whose obligation it was to protect others and to punish similar crimes in the case of others.
Accordingly, this, too, serves to make you realize that there were not ten righteous men in the city. These were the foremost citizens. They had wives. They had children and domestics, and they should have ruled these and accustomed them to discipline and modesty. But what are they themselves perpetrating? What are they attempting to do? And that in public and against innocent guests!
Moreover, Moses repeats and says that this was done by the men of Sodom, which is the chief city of the entire region and for this reason should have been an example for the neighboring cities. It usually happens that smaller states conform to the example of larger ones. But what shall be our opinion about those four lesser states, when so much vice is in evidence in the chief one, which was the leader, so to speak, of the others? But listen further to Moses.
They surround the house; they do not send servants or attendants to Lot´s house to learn the identity of the guests who have arrived. Nor do they themselves come to find out. No, they surround the house and threaten some hostile act. The Hebrew verb in this passage is "passive,"ï»¿21ï»¿ but its meaning is well known from Jer. 31:22: "At that time a woman will compass a man." It means to encircle, just as a hoop surrounds a container on all sides. In this manner they encircled Lot´s house; they run toward it from all comers and streets.
This situation causes me to think that at that time there was a feast day and that banquets were held throughout the city, for the entire city was in a frenzy. Even though they did not all want to perpetrate the crime, they were nevertheless all involved in the endeavor and took pleasure in this raging of the citizens against the strangers. But he who commits a deed and he who gives his consent are in the same position.
Furthermore, among the four parts the most distressing is "young and old." ×*Ö·×¢Ö·×¨ is a term for an age, and the Hebrews commonly use it when they speak of servants and maids. It denotes those who have reached the twentieth, twenty-fourth, or twenty-sixth year, are now qualified by age to perform services, and now feel the passion of the flesh. All these join the citizens, the king, the counselors, the senators, and the aristocrats; even old men are there, among whom sexual desire is dead or who at least would have been able to check the frenzy of the rest because of their gray hair and their influence. And in order that you may understand the situation more clearly, the entire populace comes running at the same time from every corner of the city. To be sure, they could not all perpetrate this crime; but they were both delighted by the deed and gave their consent.
But what shall we suppose was in the mind of godly Lot, toward whose house everybody was going during this uproar in the whole city? He alone feared God, and in his house he maintained discipline and chastity to the utmost of his ability, while the others indulged freely and without shame in adultery, fornication, effeminacy, and even incest to such an extent that these were not regarded as sins but as some pastime, just as today among the nobility and the lower classes of Germany fornication is regarded as a pastime, not as a sin, and for this reason is also entirely unpunished.
First in Italy and then by some canons in Germany it was argued that simple fornication of an unattached man with an unattached woman is not a sin but is a cleansing of nature, which seeks an outlet.ï»¿22ï»¿ Let this be said with due respect for innocent ears, for I do not relish dealing with these matters. Yet we must be on our guard lest such shocking utterances carry away and ruin the age that is rash and in general is inclined toward sin. For where people live and teach in such a way and vices become customary, there, says Seneca sternly, there is no room for a cure.ï»¿23ï»¿
As for you, set before yourselves the statements of Paul, and on the basis of them reach the decision that "God will judge the immoral and adulterous" (Heb. 13:4); "Be not deceived; neither the immoral nor adulterers will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9); and Rom. 8:8: "Without chastity no one will please God."
In Rome I myself saw some cardinals who were esteemed highly as saints because they were content to associate with women.ï»¿24ï»¿ Hence unspeakable infamies are committed there, not in secret or in privacy but openly, because of the example and the influence of the leading men and of the entire city. What room can there be here for a cure? Or who will rebuke such people? They regard sins as praiseworthy morals and suppose that they can be practiced with commendation. If you compare these people with those who, although they sin, nevertheless keep their sin secret and blush with shame, you will say that they are sinners who can be tolerated, just as the German proverb says about Nobody: "Even though Nobody sins, yet he sins tolerably." For he has fear and at least a crude and slavish sense of shame, because he would not want his sin to become public. The people of Sodom were not of this kind. Therefore among them everything was beyond hope, and no room remained for a cure; the Lord had to come down from heaven and punish them.
Even though it is awful to experience and to observe how great Satan´s power is after a person has once turned away from the fear of God"for Satan does not cease to drive on from sin to sin"it is still profitable to ponder these facts; for they encourage us to pray. Yes, they even commend to us the concern which our heavenly Father has for us when He warns us and calls us back, so to speak, to the right way by means of His fatherly rod, which thus becomes sweet when you reflect what a human being is wont to do when he is left to himself and indulges freely in sin.
The heinous conduct of the people of Sodom is extraordinary, inasmuch as they departed from the natural passion and longing of the male for the female, which was implanted into nature by God, and desired what is altogether contrary to nature. Whence comes this perversity? Undoubtedly from Satan, who, after people have once turned away from the fear of God, so powerfully suppresses nature that he blots out the natural desire and stirs up a desire that is contrary to nature.
Moses emphasizes this sin very much when he adds those awful words which are unbearable in the ears of all sane human beings: "Bring out those men, that we may know them." It is not one or the other who is crying this. No, it is the entire city, young and old, even the officers of the state. Learn, therefore, what the prophet Isaiah (3:9) means when he says about his people: "They proclaim their sin like Sodom." It is not in the house that they utter such unspeakable words; but they are standing outside in the open, and by authority of the officers of the state they publicly demand that the two angels be brought out. Therefore this was not a sin of such a kind that they desired it to be secret and to remain hidden; it is clear that it was an open practice of which no one was ashamed.
What makes their disgraceful action worse is that they have the audacity to do these things to strangers. Moreover, what did the other four lesser cities and, as it were, pupils do when Sodom, their leading city, was doing this? Therefore if the Lord had not brought on the punishment which they deserved, the government would gradually have collapsed and could not have continued to exist. For if you do away with the marriage bond and permit promiscuous passions, the laws and all decency go to ruin together with discipline. But when these are destroyed, no government remains; only beastliness and savagery are left. Therefore as an example for others the Lord was compelled to inflict punishment and to check the madness that was raging beyond measure.
Martin Luther, vol. 3, Luther's Works, Vol. 3 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 15-20, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther's Works, Ge 19:6 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1961).