Introduction: Abraham’s nephew Lot
“Lot is in many ways the average man. He has streaks of greatness, moments of courage, but he is all too often subject to the attractions of comfort and pleasure. These in the end cause his downfall.
“He appears in the text for the first time when he decides to leave the security of Haran to follow Abraham into an insecure future. Apparently he is a man of some conviction and initiative. But later, probably attracted by Sodom’s affluence, he chooses that city as his home, despite is debased condition…
“Of Sodom it is written that it was well-watered everywhere [Gen. 13:10]; it possessed all the luxuries of the world, and its inhabitants were unwilling to share them with others.” (Torah, A Modern Commentary, W. Gunther Plaut [New York: Jewish Publication Society, 1981] 134-135)
JST Genesis 19:1-3 And there came three angels to Sodom at even; and Lot… made them a feast
The Joseph Smith Translation makes clear that the angels that visit Lot are the same three messengers that visited Lot’s uncle, Abraham (Gen. 18). Both Abraham and Lot treated the messengers with great respect. Both seemed to recognize authority or divinity in their countenances.
But Lot chose to live by a wicked city. Isn’t it fair to ask, “What in the world is Lot doing hanging out at the gate of such a city”? He chose to sit at the gate of Sodom as if he could sit on the edge of a cliff with no risk of falling. Sitting in the gate of Sodom is not unlike keeping one foot in Zion and the other in Babylon. You can’t have two masters. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t pat yourself on the back for your open-mindedness in associating with wickedness and pretend you are above being influenced. Elder Neal A. Maxwell warned of saints who love to live in Zion but keep a “summer cottage in Babylon.” (A Wonderful Flood of Light, 47)
J. Richard Clarke
Those members… want to straddle the line, with one foot in the kingdom and the other foot in spiritual Babylon. Those who so compromise their principles want to play for both teams at once—the Lord’s and Satan’s—as if to say, “I want to wait and see which side is winning before I declare myself.” (“Hold Up Your Light,” Ensign, May 1985, 74)
Genesis 19:4-5 the men of Sodom, compassed the house… all the people from every quarter
There is often exaggeration in literature and the Bible is no exception. After all, a little hyperbole never hurt anyone. Did “all the people from every quarter” compass the house of Lot? Perhaps not, but what is impressive is the suggestion of a very large mob that gathered from all over the city.
What kind of mob psychology justifies sodomizing visitors? Had homosexual gang rape of weary travelers become the norm in Sodom? The wickedness of this story requires some time to digest. Most latter-day saints can’t relate to this degree of depravity. It takes some time pondering the power of Satan to comprehend such evil. It takes a while for it to sink in.
“The term ‘sodomy’ is derived from this passage (Gen 19:4-8), It is widely held that the severity of God’s judgment of Sodom had to do with the prevalence of homosexuality there. This view is disputed by some, notably some religious homosexuals. Lot’s offer of his virgin daughters (vv. 7-8) probably indicates a pervasive environment of sexual sin. Nevertheless, God had already said that Sodom’s sin was ‘extremely serious’ (18:20) and homosexuality is the sin spotlighted in the text (v. 5). Paul also makes clear that a tragic part of the downward spiral of mankind’s sinful rebellion against God, which incurs His wrath, is homosexual behavior (Rm 1:26-27).” (The Apologetics Study Bible, T. Cabal [Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007], 33)
God was much displeased at their impudent behaviour, so that he both smote those men with blindness, and condemned the Sodomites to universal destruction. (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book I, 11:4)
Genesis 19:8 Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man
It is hard to have any respect for Lot if he could even consider throwing his daughters out into the hands of a rape-crazed mob. Often with Old Testament stories, outlandish and unbelievable things occur without any commentary on what is right or wrong. Indeed, “such treatment of the daughters would have been abhorrent to Hebrew morality” (The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. by G. A. Buttrick et al [New York, Abingdon Press, 1952] vol. 1, p. 627-628). Some have explained Lot’s behavior as follows:
“He [Lot] had got himself into a place where there could be no decent way out of the crisis that had caught him. All he could think of was the desperate and shameful alternative of sacrificing his own daughters.” (The Interpreter’s Bible, 627-628)
With the great abridgers of the Book of Mormon, the reader is always helped to make the correct judgments about right and wrong. Not so in the Old Testament. So we are left with no commentary on this unbelievable character flaw of Lot—that is unless we prefer the Joseph Smith Translation which reads, “Let me, I pray you, plead with my brethren that I may not bring them out unto you” (JST Gen. 19:13). While Lot made some poor choices, it is hard to believe he would be so wicked to throw his own virgin daughters out into the street to face a fate worse than death.
Genesis 19:9 they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and came near to break the door
I recollect once in a certain place in England, when traveling along with brother [Heber C.] Kimball, it was in a country town called Chatburn, where the people were humble, simple, and honest; they loved the truth, and were seeking for it—when we went there, their hearts and doors were opened to receive us, and our message…
We had been to other places, where the very moment our names were sounded, and it was known we were in a house, there was a similar spirit manifested as there was in the days of Lot, when the Angel came to his house to warn him to flee from Sodom; for a mob was raised at once, and demanded the strangers to be given up to them. We have been in places where the mob demanded us to be given up to them; but we were shielded by friends, and God always opened a way of escape for us. (Journal of Discourses, 1:126)
Genesis 19:13 we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the Lord
Why was Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed? What was the offense that ascended to God? Is it even necessary to ask this question? Was it homosexuality? Was it homosexual rape? Maybe it was just because they were so inhospitable to God’s messengers!
One Jewish commentator noted “that the Sodomites were inhospitable and that they were accustomed to some form or forms of sexual deviation. But while deviate sexual practice is strongly condemned in the Torah (Lev. 18), Jewish tradition stresses social rather than sexual aberrations as the reason for the cities’ destruction.” (Torah, A Modern Commentary, W. Gunther Plaut [New York: Jewish Publication Society, 1981] 133, italics added) Well isn’t that interesting? Some would have us believe being inhospitable is a greater sin than homosexual perversion and rape.
The great debate of our age involves the legitimacy of homosexuality as a marital institution. Latter-day Saints have stood firm on the issue. Others read the Bible differently than we do and justify homosexuality in spite of the word of God.
“Nineteen theologians of differing backgrounds were asked these two questions. 1) In your opinion, does God regard homosexuality as a sin? 2) In your opinion, do the Scriptures object to homosexuality?
“Rev Dr William R Stayton (Baptist -- minister, certified sexologist, associate professor of psychiatric and human behaviour, servant on faculty of LaSalle University's graduate department of religious studies, holder of master of divinity from Andover Newtown Theological School and a Th.D. in psychology from Boston university):
Q1: Absolutely not! There is nothing in the Bible or in my own theology that would lead me to believe that God regards homosexuality as sin. God is interested in our relationships with ourselves, others, the things in our lives, and with God (Matthew 23:36-40). There is nothing in the mind of God that could be against a loving, sexual relationship, freely entered into, without coercion, among sincere adults whether gay, bisexual or straight.
Q2: There is nothing in the Bible regarding homosexual orientation. In fact, the Bible does not concern itself with sexual orientation. It does speak out probably against gang rape, male prostitution for religious purposes, and pederasty (sex between an adult and youth). I lead bible study programs on this subject and am convinced that the Bible does not address the issue of a person's sexual orientation.
“Bishop John S Spong (Episcopal -- bishop, most published member of the Episcopal house of bishops, author to 11 books and 50 published articles, phi beta kappa graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, holds masters in divinity and an honorary doctorate in divinity from Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary, received honorary doctorate in divinity from St Paul's College):
Q1: Some argue that since homosexual behaviour is "unnatural" it is contrary to the order of creation. Behind this pronouncement are stereotypical definitions of masculinity and femininity that reflect rigid gender categories of patriarchal society. There is nothing unnatural about any shared love, even between two of the same gender, if that experience calls both partners to a fuller state of being. Contemporary research is uncovering new facts that are producing a rising conviction that homosexuality, far from being a sickness, sin, perversion or unnatural act, is a healthy, natural and affirming form of human sexuality for some people. Findings indicate that homosexuality is a given fact in the nature of a significant portion of people, and that it is unchangeable.
Our prejudice rejects people or things outside our understanding. But the God of creation speaks and declares, ‘I have looked out on everything I have made and ‘behold it (is) very good’ . The word (Genesis 1:31) of God in Christ says that we are loved, valued, redeemed, and counted as precious no matter how we might be valued by a prejudiced world.
Q2: There are few biblical references to homosexuality. The first, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, is often quoted to prove that the Bible condemns homosexuality. But the real sin of Sodom was the unwillingness of the city's men to observe the laws of hospitality. The intention was to insult the stranger by forcing him to take the female role in the sex act. The biblical narrative approves Lot's offer of his virgin daughters to satisfy the sexual demands of the mob. How many would say, "This is the word of the Lord"? When the Bible is quoted literally, it might be well for the one quoting to read the text in its entirety.
Leviticus, in the Hebrew Scriptures, condemns homosexual behaviour, at least for males. Yet, "abomination", the word Leviticus uses to describe homosexuality, is the same word used to describe a menstruating woman. Paul is the most quoted source in the battle to condemn homosexuality (1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 and Romans 1: 26-27). But homosexual activity was regarded by Paul as a punishment visited upon idolaters by God because of their unfaithfulness. Homosexuality was not the sin but the punishment. (http://dignitycanada.org/sin.html)
Spencer W. Kimball
The fact that some governments and some churches and numerous corrupted individuals have tried to reduce such behavior from criminal offense to personal privilege does not change the nature nor the seriousness of the practice. Good men, wise men, God-fearing men everywhere still denounce the practice as being unworthy of sons and daughters of God; and Christ’s church denounces it and condemns it so long as men and women have bodies which Can be defiled. (Conference Report, Oct. 1980, “President Kimball Speaks Out on Morality”)
Gordon B. Hinckley
There are those who would have us believe in the validity of what they choose to call same-sex marriage. Our hearts reach out to those who struggle with feelings of affinity for the same gender. We remember you before the Lord, we sympathize with you, we regard you as our brothers and our sisters. However, we cannot condone immoral practices on your part any more than we can condone immoral practices on the part of others. (Conference Report, Oct. 1995, “Stand Strong Against the Wiles of the World”)
Boyd K. Packer
With some few, there is the temptation which seems nearly overpowering for man to be attracted to man or woman to woman. The scriptures plainly condemn those who “dishonour their own bodies between themselves … ; men with men working that which is unseemly” (Rom. 1:24, 27) or “women [who] change the natural use into that which is against nature” (Rom. 1:26)…
Pressure is put upon legislatures to legalize unnatural conduct. They can never make right that which is forbidden in the laws of God (see Lev. 18:22; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:9–10).
Sometimes we are asked why we do not recognize this conduct as a diverse and acceptable lifestyle. This we cannot do. We did not make the laws; they were made in heaven “before the foundation of the world” (D&C 132:5; D&C 124:41; see also Alma 22:13). We are servants only.
Just as with the prophets in ancient times, we have been “consecrated priests and teachers of this people, … [responsible to] magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence” (Jacob 1:18–19).
We understand why some feel we reject them. That is not true. We do not reject you, only immoral behavior. We cannot reject you, for you are the sons and daughters of God. We will not reject you, because we love you (see Heb. 12:6–9; Rom. 3:19; Hel. 15:3; D&C 95:1).
You may even feel that we do not love you. That also is not true. Parents know, and one day you will know, that there are times when parents and we who lead the Church must extend tough love when failing to teach and to warn and to discipline is to destroy.
We did not make the rules; they were revealed as commandments. We do not cause nor can we prevent the consequences if you disobey the moral laws (see D&C 101:78). In spite of criticism or opposition, we must teach and we must warn. (Conference Report, October 2000, “Ye Are the Temple of God”)
Genesis 19:14 Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law… but he seemed as one that mocked
Within 36 hours, Lot’s sons in law and his married daughters would be dead. They had been warned but it was too late. They were happy to conclude that their father in law was crazy. Sound familiar? It is human nature not to believe.
…because of the stiffneckedness of Laman and Lemuel… they did murmur in many things against their father, because he was a visionary man, and had led them out of the land of Jerusalem, to leave the land of their inheritance, and their gold, and their silver, and their precious things, to perish in the wilderness. And this they said he had done because of the foolish imaginations of his heart.
And thus Laman and Lemuel, being the eldest, did murmur against their father. And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them.
Neither did they believe that Jerusalem, that great city, could be destroyed according to the words of the prophets. (1 Ne. 2:11-13)
Genesis 19:15-16 the angels hastened Lot… while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand
Lot doesn’t seem in too big a hurry to go. His sons in law decided not to go. Who should he take and what should he take? He was going to have to leave everything and so was his wife. The angels didn’t care about the material consequences, they were just telling him he just needs to go—and fast!
As we approach the Second Coming, how will we respond when the prophets tell us it’s time to go? Will we risk our own welfare and linger like Lot? It’s a dangerous proposition when it comes time for the destruction of Babylon:
“Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees' excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.” (Isa. 13:19)
Heber C. Kimball
The Lord is permitting things to be prolonged as they are, for the purpose of getting his people out from Babylon, just as he did with Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of the plains that were round about them; for he kept back the destruction till he got Lot out, and so it is now in these days. (Journal of Discourses, 9:372)
Neal A. Maxwell
Following the Brethren is, of course, a different challenge in a society that is sinking rapidly, such as was the case in Sodom and Gomorrah, as compared with following the prophets in a society where there is reasonable righteousness and reasonable happiness. Obedience is required in both settings, to be sure, but there is an intensification of the challenge presented to members of the Church in the one setting compared with the other somewhat more tranquil time and circumstance. (All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979], 115)
Can you tell me where the people are who will be shielded and protected from these great calamities and judgments which are even now at our doors? I'll tell you. The priesthood of God who honor their priesthood, and who are worthy of their blessings are the only ones who shall have this safety and protection. They are the only mortal beings. No other people have a right to be shielded from these judgments. They are at our very doors; not even this people will escape them entirely. They will come down like the judgments of Sodom and Gomorrah. And none but the priesthood will be safe from their fury. God has held the angels of destruction for many years, lest they should reap down the wheat with the tares. But I want to tell you now, that those angels have left the portals of heaven, and they stand over this people and this nation now, and are hovering over the earth waiting to pour out the judgments. And from this very day they shall be poured out. (Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1946-1949], 2: 119 - 120)
Genesis 19:24 the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven
Boyd K. Packer
Several publications are now being circulated about the Church which defend and promote gay or lesbian conduct. They wrest the scriptures attempting to prove that these impulses are inborn, cannot be overcome, and should not be resisted; and therefore, such conduct has a morality of its own. They quote scriptures to justify perverted acts between consenting adults. That same logic would justify incest or the molesting of little children of either gender. Neither the letter nor the spirit of moral law condones any such conduct.
I hope none of our young people will be foolish enough to accept those sources as authority for what the scriptures mean. Paul, speaking on this very subject, condemned those “who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator.” (Rom. 1:25.) In that same reference the word covenantbreakers is used for the only time in scripture. (See Rom. 1:31.)
Some choose to reject the scriptures out of hand and forsake their covenants. But they cannot choose to avoid the consequences. That choice is not theirs or ours or anybody’s.
All of us are subject to feelings and impulses. Some are worthy and some of them are not; some of them are natural and some of them are not. We are to control them, meaning we are to direct them according to the moral law.
The legitimate union of the sexes is a law of God. The sacred covenants made by husband and wife with God protect the worthy expression of those feelings and impulses which are vital to the continuation of the race and essential to a happy family life. Illicit or perverted conduct leads without exception to disappointment, suffering, to tragedy. (“Covenants,” Conference Report, Oct. 1990)
Genesis 19:25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain… and that which grew upon the ground
Fire… enveloped them both from above and below. And the rivers of the region turned to bitumen. They still are bitumen. The five cities of the plain were at the south end [of the Dead Sea], and they were destroyed. The bitumen pours out here. At En-gedi is where you will see the Jewish people come to vacation. They bathe in the water there and rub this bitumen on them. It's black pitch that comes out of the sea there, very black and very heavy…
We are told here, "Because the plain of Mamre had been completely blighted by the catastrophe [it's pretty blighted today; it's a very dusty plain; they've tried to save it by planting eucalyptus trees here and there, but it's not a pleasant place], all plant life was destroyed, and seeds transplanted from Sodom would not grow anywhere. No wonder Lot's daughters, hiding in a cave, thought they were the only surviving mortals. The entire landscape was desolation, we are told. There were almost no travelers. Everything stopped moving." Archaeology confirms that grim picture here. (Ancient Documents and the Pearl of Great Price, edited by Robert Smith and Robert Smythe [n.p., n.d.], 2-3)
Genesis 19:26 But his wife looked back… and she became a pillar of salt
“Lot’s wife was not only accustomed to Sodom; apparently she liked it and did not want to leave. In that she was representative of all those in every time who are caught in the consequences of the evil they cannot quite let go.” (The Interpreter’s Bible, 630)
Jeffrey R. Holland
As a scriptural theme for this discussion, I have chosen Luke 17:32, where the Savior cautions, “Remember Lot’s wife.” What did He mean by such an enigmatic little phrase? To find out, we need to do as He suggested. Let’s recall who Lot’s wife was.
The story, of course, comes to us out of the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, when the Lord, having had as much as He could stand of the worst that men and women could do, told Lot and his family to flee because those cities were about to be destroyed. “Escape for thy life,” the Lord said. “Look not behind thee … ; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed” (Genesis 19:17; emphasis added).
With less than immediate obedience and more than a little negotiation, Lot and his family ultimately did leave town but just in the nick of time. The scriptures tell us what happened at daybreak the morning following their escape:
The Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven;
And he overthrew those cities (Genesis 19:24–25).
My theme comes in the next verse. Surely, with the Lord’s counsel—“look not behind thee”—ringing clearly in her ears, Lot’s wife, the record says, “looked back,” and she was turned into a pillar of salt (see verse 26).
Just what did Lot’s wife do that was so wrong? As a student of history, I have thought about that and offer a partial answer. Apparently, what was wrong with Lot’s wife was that she wasn’t just looking back; in her heart she wanted to go back. It would appear that even before she was past the city limits, she was already missing what Sodom and Gomorrah had offered her. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles once said, such people know they should have their primary residence in Zion, but they still hope to keep a summer cottage in Babylon.
It is possible that Lot’s wife looked back with resentment toward the Lord for what He was asking her to leave behind. We certainly know that Laman and Lemuel were resentful when Lehi and his family were commanded to leave Jerusalem. So it isn’t just that she looked back; she looked back longingly. In short, her attachment to the past outweighed her confidence in the future. That, apparently, was at least part of her sin. ("The Best Is Yet to Be", Ensign, Jan. 2010, 22–27)
Boyd K. Packer
“As often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.” (Mosiah 26:30)
President Joseph Fielding Smith told me of a repentant woman struggling to find her way out of a very immoral life. She asked him what she should do now. In turn, he asked her to read to him from the Old Testament the account of Lot’s wife, who was turned to a pillar of salt. Then he asked her, “What lesson do you gain from those verses?”
She answered, “The Lord will destroy the wicked.” “Not so!” President Smith said that the lesson for this repentant woman and for you is “Don’t look back!” Strangely enough, it may be that the simplest and most powerful prevention and cure for pornography, or any unclean act, is to ignore and avoid it. Delete from the mind any unworthy thought that tries to take root. Once you have decided to remain clean, you are asserting your God-given agency. And then, as President Smith counseled, “Don’t look back.” (Ensign, Nov. 2010, 76-77)
Thomas S. Monson
The Sunday School teacher was describing how Lot's wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. Little Johnny was much interested. “My mother looked back once while she was driving,” he explained, “and she turned into a telephone pole!” (Favorite Quotations from the Collection of Thomas S. Monson [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], 23)
Genesis 19:26 Lot’s wife made an example for subsequent generations
The south end of the Dead Sea is known for its high salt content. “The whole neighbourhood of the Dead Sea abounds with sulphur and bitumen.” (Edersheim, Alfred, Old Testament Bible History, chap. 13) The area is now dry, arid, and inhospitable, but it wasn’t always that way. For generations of Jewish travelers, this story was a reminder of the dangers of “looking back.” The historian Josephus lived just after Christ’s day and declared he had seen the pillar of Lot’s wife, “I have seen it, and it remains at this day.” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book I, 11:4)
“That it was standing then, is also attested by Clement of Rome contemporary with Josephus; as also that it was so in the next century, is attested by Irenaeus, with addition of an hypothesis, how it came to last so long with all its members entire.—Whether the account that some modern travelers give be true, that it is still standing, I do not know. Its remote situation, at the utmost southern point of thee sea of Sodom, in the wild and dangerous deserts of Arabia, makes it exceedingly difficulty for inquisitive travelers to examine the place.” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book I, 11:4, footnote)
And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. (Lu. 9:62)
Remember Lot's wife. (Lu. 17:32)
Genesis 19:30 Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain
Now this is confusing! Lot specifically asked the angels to save Zoar so he could dwell there instead of the mountains (v. 17-22). They honor his request and preserve the tiny town of Zoar. Then Lot takes his daughters to Zoar and changed his mind because he “feared to dwell in Zoar.” Why?
The scriptures don’t tell us, but Lot had just seen his whole world go up in smoke—literally. His wife had just been turned into a pillar of salt. Was he to be next? All the cities of the plain but Zoar had been burned; Sodom was gone; Gomorrah was ashes. He may just have been afraid that Zoar would be next. Maybe he decided he better follow the messengers’ first recommendation and run to the mountains. Or, possibly, he felt unsafe amongst the inhabitants of Zoar.
Genesis 19:32-38 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him
This is one of the most perverse stories in the Old Testament. Here it is in black and white. Lot, presumably saved for being righteous, has two daughters, presumably saved for being righteous, who decide to get their father drunk and have sex with him! Who does that? What could possibly drive a normal woman to do such a thing? The stated reason was “that we may preserve the seed of our father.”
Are we to assume that God approved of Lot’s daughters? Of course not! There is no way that God would justify such an incestuous act. Lot’s daughters had just seen their entire world destroyed. They may have thought they were about the last women on earth, or at least thought they had no prospects for ever getting married or having children. They made a rash decision. So what are we to make of this story?
We should not think of Moses as the final author of the five books attributed to him. If he were, the text would have the same Spirit to it as Moses 1 in the Pearl of Great Price. If he were, the Exodus story would have been written in first person. If he were, he would have made commentary on the Lord’s views of sensational and perverse stories like this one. With this story, more than any other, we see the hand of the scribes who wrote, transcribed, or re-recorded the text hundreds of years after Moses.
Using textual analysis, scholars have identified different “voices” in Genesis. They have even been able to estimate the dates these different scribes performed their work. The first scribe, they estimate, lived about 1000 BC. The second scribe lived about 900 BC. The third scribe’s work “appears to have been written about the year 700.” (The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. by G. A. Buttrick et al [New York, Abingdon Press, 1952] vol. 1, 194-197) These scribes must be the reason the text is given to us as it is.
Why would the story be different if the scribes were the last to touch the text? The reason is political. Jewish nationalism is a main theme of most of the Old Testament. To the scribes who wrote the text, Israel was the greatest—any war in which Israel prevailed was newsworthy—any story in which God punished the enemies of Israel had to be included. This story is one of those politically motivated stories; it is so sensational to later generations, it had to be included.
The Jews hated the Ammonites and Moabites. They had been eternal enemies. The Jewish view was that “the Ammonites and Moabites were under a special curse for having refused the Israelites, their enemies, bread and water while marching through their lands (Deuteronomy 23:4).” (Hugh Nibley, Approaching Zion, 220) Years of wars and skirmishes had plagued the Jews for centuries.
This story is a great story for a hater of the Ammonites. It allows you to teach your children that the entire Ammonite race came from an incestuous relationship. While the Jews came from Abraham the righteous, the Ammonites came from wavering Lot and his impudent daughter. Likewise with the Moabites, there is no reason to have guilt about killing a Moabite, their entire nation is ill-conceived and bastardous. Jewish supremacy—that is the message! God loves us and he hates them. That is not the way Moses thought but it is the way the scribes of 1000-700 BC thought.
Genesis 19:37 the Moabites
“The land of Moab lay east of the Dead Sea. The Moabites were akin to the Israelites and spoke a language that closely resembled Hebrew, but there was constant warfare between the two nations.” (Bible Dictionary, “Moab”)
Genesis 19:38 the Ammonites
“A tribe descended from Lot, the nephew of Abraham (Gen. 19:38; Deut. 2:19); worshippers of Molech or Milcom (1 Kgs. 11:7, 33); they were settled east of Mount Gilead, from the Jabbok southwards, and in the time of the Judges laid claim to the Israelite settlements in Gilead (Judge.11), but were repulsed by Jephthah and again by Saul (1 Sam. 11), and finally reduced to subjection by David (2 Sam. 10; 11:1; 12:9, 26, 31). They regained their independence after David’s death and maintained it, as allies of their Aramaean neighbors and bitter enemies of Israel, till they fell under the power of Assyria and Chaldea.” (Bible Dictionary, “Ammon, Ammonites.”)
“The hatred in which the Ammonites were held by Israel is stated to have arisen partly from their denial of assistance, Deuteronomy 23:4; to the Israelites on their approach to Canaan. But whatever its origin the animosity continued in force to the latest date.” (Dictionary of the Bible, William Smith, “Ammon”)