Saturday, 23 June 2012

How God Learned About Justice

Here's another curious tale from the Bible. It's about two cities called Sodom and Gomorrah (which sound more like an Irish curse). It seems to be where God was taught the rudiments of justice by Man.

We are told that God was annoyed that the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly - Genesis 13:13. (Unlucky 13 or what?!) So God decided he was going to destroy these cities and everyone in them. Anyway, after a somewhat protracted tale about battles and things and people being chased unto Dan, a place which won't exist for several hundred more years (time travel?) - the Bible eventually gets to the point where God is about to carry out this destruction.

However, a man called Abraham has a word with him:

And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know.
Genesis 18:20-21

Nothing surprising there then. Of course, an omniscient, omnipresent god would need to go into a city to find out what was going on.

But what's this?

And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the Lord. And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?

And the Lord said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.

Genesis 18:22-26

Phew! Good thing Abraham was in with God and was able to give him a bit of wise counsel there, then.

But why 50? Why just pick an arbitrary number out of the air? Good old Abraham spots this and gradually leads God towards a slightly more humanitarian solution by, each time God thinks he's got it about right, setting doubt in his mind and making him see the arbitrary nature of his 'justice'.

Watch this; it's hilarious. Remember, this god is supposed to be the fount of all wisdom, the source of all morals, omniscient and inerrant. It's a bit like watching a wise old sergeant leading the still-wet-behind-the-ears young captain fresh out of cadet school:

And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes: Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five? And he said, If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it.

And he spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he said, I will not do it for forty's sake.

And he said unto him, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there.

And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty's sake.

And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten's sake.

And the Lord went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place.

Genesis 18:27-33

So, after five changes of mind and after being given a lesson in justice, this omniscient, inerrant source of morals has agreed to spare the cities if they can find just ten righteous people in them.

It still hasn't learned to forgive it's enemies or show mercy. That'll have to wait for another day.

Nor does it keep it's promises, apparently, as it destroys the cities anyway.

Lot's Daughters; Jan Muller c.1600
But let's press on with this tale because there is another curious incident. It happens when God has sent a couple of angels to carry out his orders and these angels have taken refuge in Lot's house (as they do) which is now surrounded by an angry mob, demanding to be let in to bugger the angels. Lot thinks he has to save them. Even though they are shortly going to destroy two cities and all the people in them, a band of randy gay men is too much for them to deal with, apparently.

But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.

And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly. Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.

Genesis 19:4-8

So, righteous Lot has actually offered his two virgin daughters to to be 'used' by a sex-crazed mob!

And this is someone of whom God approves!

Still, at least when Lot has an incestuous relationship with his, up to then, still virgin daughters a bit later on(Genesis 19:30-36), his unfortunate wife having been turned into salt, there no risk of him catching something nasty what with penicillin not having been discovered yet.

Good to see though, that the source of all morals was such a stickler for righteousness, and felt able to teach those wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah how to behave. Obviously, there was still a long way to go before this god was up to speed with normal humanitarian morality. Perhaps that was why it needed to put in so many appearances in those days.

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  1. I'd actually written a bit on this point a few days ago!

  2. classical style. I read in my school but i can not imagezine


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