What was Lot thinking?

In Genesis 19:8 Lot offers his daughter to the men of Sodom instead of his two visitors (the angels). This had always bothered me. I can’t imagine throwing my daughter out of my house to be raped. Can you explain this mindset to me?

Kathy H.

Dear Kathy,

To put it simply: No, we cannot explain this mindset to you. And, if we may say so, that may not be the best question. The Bible isn’t literature where we look at character development to better understand the story. We look at character development in the Bible, among many other things, in order to better understand the world and ourselves.

Perhaps in a number of hours of study, we could look at each word, indeed each letter, in this section of the Bible and begin to get a comprehensive picture, but in the limitations of an Ask the Rabbi column, we can’t begin to do this justice.

However, we get so many more questions than we can answer and we decided not to just put yours to the side because of one point it gives us the opportunity to share.

Lot is a fascinating person. Brought up in the home of Abraham and Sarah, he had an unparalleled bird’s-eye-view of a Godly home. He chooses to leave this blessed home. He picks the most immoral city in the area in which to live, but at the same time he continues the traditions he saw in his youthful home and welcomes guests. This is an action punishable by death in his society. Ruth is a descendant of his, yet out of very strange circumstances brought about by his daughters – those same girls he offered to the men of Sodom. Lot isn’t seen as a wicked person but neither is he righteous.

There is a lot going on here and you can see why we can’t possibly understand Lot in a few hundred words. What we would like to raise as the start of a thought process, is whether Lot represents the mistakes made by a good person when he decides to rely on his own moral judgments rather than clinging to an external, immutable code.

Lot absorbed from Abraham and Sarah the importance of welcoming guests. What he didn’t absorb is that this is part of an entire tapestry of conduct. Taken in isolation it becomes warped. He reacts to circumstances based on situational, personal ethics. He does what seems right to him at the time without considering that there might be an objective best action.

We want to relate a well-known account. Early in the 20th century lived an outstanding rabbi who was awakened one night by sounds of an intruder.  Going downstairs he interrupted a burglar packing the family’s silver goblets, menorahs and other religious memorabilia. The burglar dashed out of the front door with his swag.  The rabbi ran after him yelling all the way down the main road, “You can have it all.  It’s a gift.  Keep it; I’m gifting it all to you!”

Now, before dismissing the rabbi as a demented or troubled soul, give it a moment’s reflection.  The rabbi knew that his chances of ever receiving back his family’s possessions were small to non-existent.  So at this point, he was no longer thinking of himself, rather he was thinking of the world.  He decided that the world was worse off with one more burglar. As a result, he yelled after the miscreant that he was converting him from a burglar to the recipient of a gift.  Now, perhaps, the world had one less person who thought of himself as an outlaw. 

To Lot, all was lost.  There was no good outcome from the mayhem being unleashed by this sinister mob.  Believing that homosexual rape was a bigger sin than heterosexual rape, he made what he considered the best of a bad situation. It is rather hard to rely on yourself as the source of all knowledge.

Continue to be bothered and questioning,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

23 thoughts on “What was Lot thinking?”

  1. God told Abraham to “leave your country, your family and your father’s house and go into a land that I will show you.” I believe it was human compassion that moved Abram to take Lot with him against the command of God. It was to Abraham and his descendants that God was going to give the land of Canaan, not to Lot or other members of his family. Lot was a grown man with large herds of cattle and flocks of sheep. The land where they had pitched their tents was unable to support all the animals they had and their cowboys and shepherds were wrangling over pasture. It was by faith that Abe told Lot to choose wherever he wanted to go and he would take the rest. Not having any word from this invisible God of his uncle, Lot, unable to see past the physical, saw the well watered lands to the east of Jordan and thought that would be a good place for his herds to get fat. Going that far East took him outside of the promised land to Abe. Read what God says to Abe after Lot separated himself from him and the land. As far as the daughters go, I think the other comments have covered it quite well.

  2. A lot to think about to be sure. I’m guessing because of the middle eastern mindset, those daughters would be considered the property of Lot if they were underage or not married. Also since Lot had no sons, it would mean his daughters would need to produce heirs. His daughters would have died from the extremely violent assault. So Lot would have been throwing away the future of his lineage.

  3. Teacher- so it sounds to me (A LOT !) that LOT became a secular humanist ????

  4. I see the whole Lot story as one of warning, perhaps mostly against pride but also the personification of not being able to serve two masters. Lot thought he could live amongst evil and not be touched by it. When we refuse to reject evil we place stumbling blocks in our own path. When we attempt to bargain with evil we tell evil we have a price we’re willing to pay. Bargaining sins, whatever they are, leads us into a trap set by the adversary. Whom will you serve? Lot was delivered but not without cost.

  5. I really appreciate your approach to difficult questions and problems. I’m learning a lot not only about specific answers but methodology, phrasing and the Word. Thank you for taking the time.

    We have two standards at work here: God’s and man’s. Lot was like a lot of people, moving back and forth between them. Obviously he was righteous enough to be counted among the people who could conceivably stop the destruction of the cities. On the other hand not so much. An application I pick up from this story is what price am I willing to pay to follow God? If Lot hadn’t offered his daughters, would he have paid with his own life? Perhaps that entered into the equation. Maybe he didn’t think they would be harmed, or maybe when it came right down to it he didn’t want to pay with his own life. I don’t know for sure. But in my own case I ask that question all the time, although thankfully I haven’t gotten to the point of betting my life on God’s standards. I hope I would.

    Thanks again.

  6. In my opinion, Lot is stalling for time. He knows those wicked men don’t want to touch a woman, no matter how attractive or young she may be. However, it’s almost like a sudden home invasion or a potential carjacking. What do you do when you’re faced with those horrific circumstances so abruptly?
    Even though Lot is no shining example of virtue, he’s not a scumbag, either. And,anyway, the angels were there to save him and his family.
    But angel or not, those men wouldn’t have laid a finger on his daughters.

  7. Predennis Johnson

    Craig Hill taught in his teaching on Covenant that Lot’s decision was based on a covenant relationship that began when the men came, “under the shadow of my roof”. In the Mideast a covenant principle existed called The Threshold Covenant; whereas, one’s doorway was the altar of his home and where sacrifices were offered, e.g., Passover. Death was the penalty for breaking covenant. Lot’s hospitality required that he protect, feed, and shelter his guests. There is much language in the Old Testament, Genesis 19, Exodus 12, Psalm 91, and New Testament, John 10, et al.

  8. It is disquieting to hear you echo what I have been taught for many years about the humanoid animals of Sodom saying ‘Bring out your guests that we may KNOW them.’ I also regard the sanctity of a guest. Above and beyond the host’s duty of hospitality, I was taught or received the notion that Lot’s guests were angels, and that he somehow was aware that they were. Is it not so? I hope I would never stoop to offer my precious daughter (and I have two) to placate the crazed animals. And I fervently hope that I would have better sense than to move into a cesspit like Sodom in the first place.

      1. Compliment received and very gratefully acknowledged! There is yet another abominable alternative that Americans must confront (God forbid!): it is just possible that man-swarms where we live today can metamorphose into a Sodom before our eyes. Where do we go then? Into the desert?

  9. Joseph Smith taught that this passage had a text error; that Lot instead told the mob could NOT have his daughters either.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Hi Carl–
      We only know one thing; it’s a big thing and we know it very well but that’s all we know–ancient Jewish wisdom on the Bible.

  10. In Lot’s era of the Bible times, women were not on equal status with men. Women were often viewed as little more that possessions, like cattle. So Lot offering his daughter then is not like how we view our daughters today (as equal family members). He was likely making a hasty choice in a tense situation.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Walt–
      The thing about the Bible is that it presents us with a choice: It is either true and applicable everywhere all times or it is a piece of literature written by a bunch of Bedouins. If the latter, to me it’s a waste of time as I have access to far better literature to read. If the former, then I cannot avoid awkwardness by dismissing it as applicable to those long-ago, olden day Biblical times.
      As far as equal status, it’s not about status since status depends upon other people conferring it. To this day, I do not confer equal status on my boss’s wife as I do on him. When he tells me to jump, I do it. If she pops into the office and gives me a directive, unless I have been prepped about this, I politely tell her to speak to her husband. She does not enjoy the same status in my eyes. If my boss is a women, then what I just said applies to her husband. In my eyes his status is beneath that of his wife.
      The idea that women in the plural don’t have (or didn’t have) equal status is a straw man. It is part of the currently popular Marxist idea that we are all part of collectives. My wife cares much more for me (a man) than she does for a bunch of other women with whom she shares nothing but anatomical similarities. When half of all marriages taking place in any given year are the consequence of the woman proposing to the man, I’ll again revisit this issue. Until then……puhleez!

  11. As a classically raised American male I can easily judge Lot as not only a coward for his initial actions, but also a complete loser for his failure to timely prepare for and make his family flee. On a first glance, he must be the worst possible male and the biggest loser of all to spare strangers yet offer his own daughters to the mob. I’ve many times over many years judged him so from the first gloss over of this story. But, twenty years of military service in extraordinarily stressful circumstances has tempered my proclivity to judge. Men have their morality and sometimes it’s strong or not so much; but then on top of morality is their courage to act upon their morality which governs their actions. It’s really easy to judge Lot’s lack of courage as a bystander. It’s a no-brainer… That is, unless you’ve walked in his shoes then maybe it’s not so easy. I don’t have daughters; I have sons. I hope and pray if I did have daughters I would never do what Lot did. I can easily declare to the world that I would never, ever, ever do what he did but I know from my own life experience of me and many many men around me that haughty declarations about courage and honor mean relatively little in practice, especially when they’re from boasting about courage from people that have never experienced the horrors of the situation in question. Real, good men actually do the very best they can and yet it’s never good enough by the judgement of those self-appointed judges that are far too prevalent today. The story of Lot should not be a story where we mock and ridicule an obviously and easily judged coward but rather it should be a story of warning to each and every one of us, male or female, that there is a limit to what any human can withstand and the only hope we have to do the right thing in the most impossible circumstance is to have a concrete moral code and firm faith in our creator. Think about that and then think seriously about the situation Lot was in, not how he got there. By the way, there has to be an acknowledgement about how our God loved Lot and forgave him(?) his choices leading up to the incident and protected him throughout it. I think about what Lot’s choices were and I balance them against the horrible real life experiences I have had and I’m just really happy not to be Lot. Thank God I’m not his judge and I’m thankful that only the perfect judge will judge both he and I. As far as I can tell from scripture in this story, God did judge him and blessed him and protected him from the devastation. Who am I to question that?
    In a nutshell, I think if someone is disgusted by the coward they think Lot is, they probably need to do some serious soul searching. We should all thank God for all these lessons in the Torah to teach us humility, reveal our own flaws, warn us, and give us insight to the real world.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Randy–
      You’re among the few men who’ve been tested on the field of battle and have emerged wiser and humbler. It is an honor to hear from you. Your excellent point that Lot chose Sodom for his new neighborhood and therefore bears much blame for events is also made in ancient Jewish wisdom. Sometimes, as my father and teacher used to say, one must look back not only at the cause, but also at the cause of the cause.

    2. Randy, that is one of the best thoughts I have ever read. Well said, my friend. Thanks for the lesson.

  12. No one knows what Lot was thinking or intended BUT Lot and God. Perhaps Lot feared more for himself and the visitors than he did for his own daughters. Lot was not a perfect man. None of us are. Lot CHOSE Sodom (wicked as it was) instead of the company of Abraham. In a way this entire incident is Lot’s fault. All any of us CAN do is serve God to the best of our ability and let the chips fall where they may. If our intentions are pure and Godly it follows that the outcome will be also.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Bruce–
      As you correctly say, Lot did choose Sodom. (See my response to Randy nearby) Very occasionally, a person can suffer from sheer bad luck but for the overwhelming majority of us, our so-called ‘bad luck’ can be traced to one or more bad decisions we made way back. The visitors coming to Lot’s house was just too bad, but hadn’t Lot chose to live in Sodom, it wouldn’t have happened. In a society that stupidly venerates the victim, many of us are far too slow to acknowledge our own role in our misfortunes.

  13. More than twenty years ago I heard a sermon that has stuck with me through the years. Funnily enough it is about the choice Lot made in separating from Abraham and moving to the cities of the plain. The preacher pointed out that in doing so Lot chose to dwell near unrighteousness, whereas Abraham maintained his tents in the wilderness, where he could more clearly hear the voice of the Lord. Over time, though Lot had started out as a righteous man, his righteousness became more and more muted because he could not hear the voice of the Most High through the din created by Sodom and Gomorrah’s sin. The preacher’s charge to us that day was to decide where we were going to pitch our own tents. Would we surround ourselves with the things of popular culture and heed their siren call away from God’s path, or would we chose to pitch are tents in quiet places where we could hear the Lord more clearly. I cannot say I have perfectly kept to the paths the Lord wanted me to follow over the years, but the memory of that sermon has stayed with me and keeps me coming back to my first and deepest love. Blessings.

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