Genesis 18:20-21 - "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great ..."

"The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached Me. If not, I will know." (Genesis 18:20-21)

Limiting God

This quoting of God's statement has been somewhat mistranslated and substantially misinterpreted. It limits God's unlimited capacity and superiority.

This Genesis verse is a paraphrased and metaphorical statement. The Supreme Being does not need to "go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me." The Supreme Being already knows what is in each of our hearts before even we do. He knows what we desire, and what we do. He does not need anyone to "reach" Him with information.

This statement conjures up an image of a God who sits up in the sky on a throne and can only know what is going on if there is an "outcry" and someone informs Him of a problem. This is ludicrous.

However, if we can understand the statement from its metaphoric content, we can begin to see what is going on. Let's look first at some of the key Hebrew words of the verse:

The meaning of these verses

זעק (za`aq) is being translated to "outcry." Yet Gesenius's Lexicon describes the meaning of the word as "the expression of sorrow, or the cry for aid." A "cry of distress" is also described by lexicon usage. This gives us a substantially different view of the situation. Someone or multiple people have called upon the Supreme Being personally, requesting His help.

It is not as though the Supreme Being doesn't already know there is a problem. He knows everything. And when any of us approach Him personally through prayer and ask for His assistance in something, we assume from within He knows what is going on. And we pray that out of His mercy and His love, He will come to our aid. This is because He knows everything. And He understands everything.

This, however, does not apply to winning football games or track races. When a person feels bereft and overwhelmed, and they reach out to God for help - seeking His shelter - that is what God responds to.

This is because this is the essence of a key part of our relationship. The Supreme Being is our Best Friend, our Companion, our Savior, and our Shelter. He is there for us, and when we need to take shelter of Him, and we want His shelter, He will be there for us.

But this does not mean that God is our servant. That He comes to our beck and call.

Indeed, another key part of our relationship - one that most of us ignore - are that we are ultimately His caregivers. We are His servants. His subjects. He is our Master. This means that we are in our rightful position when we are doing His will. When we are working to please Him.

The thrust of this statement is that the Supreme Being is clarifying that He responds to those who have sought out His assistance. This verse portrays people within these communities being threatened, and are turning to Him for shelter.

Besides, we know that the Supreme Being does not have to "come down" to understand the situation, and He clearly already states that He knows their "sin" is "so grievous" (כבד (kabad) - also meaning grave or dire) before He is apparently going to "go down" to see what is happening. He already knows how bad it is.

ירד (yarad) is being translated to both "I will go" and "down." The word can also mean "descend, decline," or "sink down" as well as to come down in the form of "revelation."

The word "see" is being translated from ראה (ra'ah), which can also mean to "consider," "discern," "given attention to" and so on.

עשה (`asah) is being translated to "if they have done" but the word means to do something, to "work," "make," "accomplish" and so on.

צעקה (tsa`aqah) is being translated to "according to its outcry" but this word indicates "cry of distress (especially as heard by God)" according to the lexicon.

ידע (yada`) is being translated to "if not I will know" but the word means "to perceive" or "learn to know" but also to "recognize, admit, acknowledge" and "to be acquainted with."

We must translate these words within the context of the speaker. Let's say that a corporate boss says to his employees after they have requested a new holiday: "we will see about that." Is the boss really saying that he will "see" something about the holiday - as in he has to go and see for himself a holiday?

No, this is an expression used by someone when they are going to make a decision about something. They are going to make a future decision - and they may have even already made it. But the expression is put forth in a way that let's the audience know that he will inform them of his decision in due course.

In the same way, these words are putting forth, metaphorically, that God will be informing them of His decision on Sodom and Gomorrah.

We can thus offer a more appropriate translation of this verse:
"The cries of distress regarding Sodom and Gomorrah have been so great and their offenses so grievous that I will be considering the matter and deciding their fate, and will inform you." (Genesis 18:20-21)

What about Sodom and Gomorrah?

One of the issues that many have investigated is whether Sodom and Gomorrah existed. The archeological evidence indicates that there was a larger collection of towns in the region and saying these two typically represented the group of communities. Great expense has been made to dig up various sites in search of these cities. And indeed, some scientists have pointed out remains that appear the towns did exist among others nearby and were the subject of a natural disaster.

The more important task is to understand the meaning of this verse. Why would the Supreme Being bother to destroy these cities? Just consider the so many other cities around the world that exist today and that have existed in the past - places that have also maintained incredible levels of violence, crime, rape, lewd activities, hatred, terrorism and so on. Has God taken out all of these cities?

In other words, does God go around taking out cities as soon as He finds out they are filled with crime and degradation?

This certainly is not consistent with history. We find many ancient cities that have been places of degradation that are still standing. Rome is certainly a good example.

With regard to the thesis that Sodom and Gomorrah were places of homosexuality, this interpretation was first put forth by the Greek philosopher Philo in the first century A.D. There is otherwise no basis for it. The Prophets and Jesus that preceded Philo, in all their discussions of the two cities, never indicated that Sodom and Gomorrah were places of homosexuality, despite the modern interpretation.

For those who have interpreted the event that took place with Lot and Abraham in Sodom as homosexual in nature, we will show with the next verses (Genesis 18:20-21), the basis for this misinterpretation. In general, the misinterpretation is based upon the Hebrew word (yada') - "knowing" - which many have said supposedly refers to the men of Sodom wanting to have sex with the two angels. Rather, this Hebrew word relates to receiving instruction as well as perceiving or knowledge.

And the translation to "men" - coming from iysh' can also refer to all the primary inhabitants or citizens of the city. Even today, we will often say, "men" when we actually mean "people" - men and women.

Prior to the modern interpretation to Sodom and Gomorrah being about homosexuality, the common interpretation of the story of Lot in Sodom was that the people of the city did not offer the angels respect and hospitality. They demanded that the angels appear before them so they could inquire from them directly. This was seen as an offense before the angels.

We will see other reasons for this with the next verses, including the ridiculous notion that Lot would have offered his daughters to have sex with all the men of the city. What kind of father would to that? This is a ridiculous interpretation of that event.

Besides, an entire town of men cannot have sex with just two people. It is a sick mistranslation of this text, as we will illustrate specifically.

A deeper meaning

What this verse and this entire discussion of Sodom and Gomorrah are actually describing is God's willingness to mercifully respond to those who plead to Him for assistance. God is indicating His readiness to come to the aid of those who take refuge in Him.

This is confirmed by the use of not one, but two Hebrew words indicating cries of distress were made to God: זעק (za`aq) and צעקה (tsa`aqah) as described above.

This is even if the person may not have a history of recent devotion. As soon as a person takes shelter of the Supreme Being - even if it does not last - God will come to our rescue. This is what a true friend does. They don't even care that we've been ignoring them. This is God - the Supreme Loving Friend who cares for us unconditionally.

At the same time, we should not expect that the result will be what we desire. It might be something other than what we ask for, for example. He may be wanting us to learn something specific and therefore lets something happen that we ask not to happen.

This doesn't mean that He isn't there for us.

Let's use an example: Let's say that the mother of a teenager is dying, and the teenager asks God "please don't let her die." Does God answer by keeping her mother's body alive forever? Don't be ridiculous.

The body of her mother will indeed die. But the person inside that body - the eternal spiritual being - will not die. The individual inhabiting that body will leave and the body will die. The person inside will simply move on. Thus, via the facility already existing the prayer is automatically being answered even though the teenager doesn't see it. His mother will continue to live, though her body will die.

This is the design of the physical world, and it is designed with our best interests in mind.

Through our own choosing, we are currently away from God in this world. Because of that, we are lost, empty and lonely. The only way we can cure our loneliness is to re-establish our lost loving relationship with God, and eventually, when this body is finished, return to our relationship with Him in the spiritual realm.

What if God allowed us to live forever in this world of illusion? Would that be nice? No. This would leave us stuck in this hellish dimension for eternity. It might be compared to putting a cat or dog into a small box to transport them to the vet. Would we leave our pet in the box or even at the vet in a cage forever? No, we would bring them home after their treatment so they could resume their lives.

Indeed, we are here in this world because we need treatment. We have a disease, and the disease is self-centeredness. This world is set up to help teach us about lowe, and how to care for others besides ourselves.

The Supreme Being always has our best interests at heart. He wants us to return to Him. He wants us to recover from our disease and come home because He knows that we will only be happy when we have resumed our natural position within our loving, caregiving relationship with Him.

Now we must make the decision that we want to be healed, and return to our relationship with Him.