The Metropolitan Congregation

- serving and celebrating the LGBT communities of Manchester and the North West

Sermon - 10th June 2012

Lot’s Daughters

Scripture - Genesis 19:30-38

Walt Johnson

[An audio version of this sermon is also available.  Please go to Spirituality > Audio and Video]

Several years ago while on holiday in Germany, I was tired and very hungry after walking for miles on a very hot day around the city: I went into a restaurant and ordered a “Peperonipizza”. Unfortunately, I did not like what arrived! I had temporarily forgotten – despite being a German teacher of many years’ experience – that the German word “Peperoni” means “hot chilli”, and I cannot eat anything spicy. I mention this, because sometimes, we make decisions carefully; at other times, we may be hasty, pressured in the circumstances. I had to pick off all the bits of chilli, much to the amusement of the waiter when I explained my temporary lapse of vocabulary, but I still ended up with a filling meal.

In this passage, Lot and his daughters make some horrendous mistakes in the face of appalling, trying circumstances; nevertheless, when we take a step back, we can see that ultimately God worked out His purpose, and God still works out His purpose today, despite the messes we make of our lives and the silly, sometimes crazy, choices we make.
As you will see on the mosaic on the screen, behind each small picture, there is a story, - in this case my trip to Berlin’s less well known zoo, the “Tiergarten” in East Berlin.

…but each small picture is part of a bigger picture:

Today I would like to lead you through this Old Testament story, showing you the small pictures, towards a glimpse of the larger picture through which God was able to work out His purpose.

Let us begin by looking at Lot. Lot was Abraham’s nephew. They travelled together and settled in Canaan, in modern-day Israel. Lot went to live near the city of Sodom, and later, he moved into the city. One day, two angels came to warn Lot of the city’s imminent destruction. Lot, his wife and two daughters fled, and as we may recall, Lot’s wife perished and was turned into a pillar of salt.

Many of us will be familiar with the Bible narrative surrounding Lot’s visitors and how a local mob wanted to have sex with the men; after all, it is where English gets the word “sodomy”, and we will also be aware, often painfully aware, that this Biblical narrative is used by some as a weapon against many of us. However, that is the subject of another sermon: today, we are looking at these two, unnamed women: Lot’s daughters.

When preparing this sermon, I found myself asking many questions, but I want to focus on four:

1. Why would a father offer his daughters to a mob for sex?
2. Why were the daughters so convinced that they would not find another man, and so felt they had no choice but to seduce their own father?
3. Why is this story in the Bible?
4. Can this story relate to us today?

Before we reflect on possible answers to these questions, in addition to having the passage read to us, let us look at how this narrative has been portrayed through other media, to help us engage with the emotions in the story.

Firstly, an artist’s representation:

We see the cities burning in the background, and Lot’s wife as a pillar of salt, and a very homely looking scene with Lot and his daughters drinking wine around what seems to be a table with a table cloth! To me, it seems a very sanitised, unreal view.

Secondly, I would like to show you a film clip. In the 1990s, the TV Broadcasters of Europe made a series of 13 films in English entitled “The Bible”, the second of which, “Abraham” (played by the late Richard Harris, also better known in his last role as Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films), includes Lot’s story and the flight from Sodom. Watching this, you may get a more real sense of the terror which Lot and his daughters felt before and once they reached the cave.

And so, back to our questions:

1. Why would a father offer his daughters to a mob for sex?

The Jewish rabbinical scholars throughout history see God’s reason for destroying Sodom and Gomorrah not because of the homosexuality – as is the case with many Christian scholars, for which gay people have suffered and still are suffering – but God destroyed these cities because of their appalling hospitality. Lot, in this passage, and Abraham twice in other passages, used their family members in order to protect themselves. The then esteem in which women were held was very different to our modern concepts of equality: women – the wife and the daughters - were viewed as the man’s property. That notwithstanding, how would these young women have felt, when their own father, the man to whom they looked for protection, offered them to a rampant crowd? Surely, they would have been terrified beyond our ability to express in words; and their respect for him would have been utterly destroyed.

So Lot has made some appalling choices, by being in Sodom, and by offering his daughters to the mob. It is a very broken family which flees the city.

2. Why were the daughters so convinced that they would not find another man, and so felt they had no choice but to seduce their own father?

Having had their father try to hand them over to a rampant mob, then flee their home city which was then destroyed cataclysmically, lose their mother (when she was turned into a pillar of salt), then be driven again from their temporary home of Zoar, it is clear that these two women were not in a good place for making rational decisions. Either they feared that there were literally no men left alive other than their own father, or they feared that because of the stigma of being cursed in being from Sodom no man would ever want them. The women were in a blind panic! It is to be noted that the passage does not at all pass any moral judgement on the women: it is a straightforward narration.

So, in a very broken family, in desperate physical circumstances, these two young women chose a horrifying course of action.

3. Why is this story in the Bible?

When we get to verses 37 and 38 in the passage, the naming of the children, some Bible scholars would say that this is a reason for this passage’s inclusion: it explains the origins of Israel’s greatest enemies – the tribes of the Moabites and the Ammonites.

Names are powerful things: today they identify us, and make us stand out in fame or infamy… Neil Armstrong, Adolf Hitler, Margaret Thatcher, William Shakespeare. But the actual words of names also mean something: my own surname, Johnson, means “son of John”. And in Biblical times, names were often chosen by parents in order to convey meaning:

The boys were named Moab, meaning “of the father”, and Ben-Ammi, meaning “son of the people”. Their very names expose the sin through which they were conceived: their mothers seduced their own father. Some scholars would say that by highlighting this fact, it was a political weapon to help maintain the hatred which Israel had for these enemies.
So, out of the line of crazy decisions taken by both Lot and his daughters, two babies are born.

4. So, can this story relate to us today? How does God make the best of this awful situation?

After this passage, we do not hear any more about Lot or his daughters, but when we look at the ancestry of Jesus, as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, we see: Ruth, a Moabite, is an ancestor of Jesus; King Solomon’s wife Na’amah was an Ammonite, another ancestor of Jesus. The children born out of the terrible events in the cave find redemption in the family tree of Jesus himself!

So when we look once again at the bigger picture, taking a step back from the smaller stories like this one, God worked out His purpose. Even though Lot and his daughters made terrible, crazy decisions, some good came of it, albeit not immediately. God was able to redeem, make good, this situation, which on first reading seemed utterly impossible.

For me, this year has been terrible. Circumstances arose at work, where I had to make the choice to leave teaching – after 17 years. The pain of that has forced me on a journey into the unknown, because, unlike Lot’s wife, I do not want to look back, that is go back to teaching. At the moment, I am not convinced that the path I am currently taking, being self-employed, may be the correct one, and at times, the situation has been desperate, and the decisions I have had to make have seemed at times crazy, and it has felt that I have had no real choice at all. However, I can see the parallels with my own situation in this Bible passage regarding decision making and God’s purpose.

Jesus, whose ancestry includes the two who were born out of the desperate situation in that cave, taught us this in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (6:31-34):

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the unbelievers run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

In the face of a desperate situation, God will work His purpose out.

Amen.

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