In English, the name Sodom is associated with a particular kind of sexual sin. Why are we preoccupied with one aspect of Sodom’s sin? That’s certainly not what Sodom connotes throughout the rest of the Biblical narrative. Of the 48 references to Sodom, you’d struggle to find a handful that focus on sexual sin.
Sodom’s sin was her refusal to submit to YHWH’s authority. They were so recalcitrant obstinate, unruly, insubordinate, and unmanageable that there was no way to restore these rebels to YHWH’s management and reign. That’s how they were introduced, as “great sinners against YHWH” (Genesis 13:13) i.e. as intractable rebels against his authority. In a kingdom framework, sin means rebellion against God’s sovereign rule, grasping power that ought to belong to God.
And that’s what the word Sodom connotes throughout Scripture. Sodom is the place where people refuse to be drawn back under King YHWH’s authority. They cannot be rescued, so must be exorcised from the kingdom.
- If God’s nation rebels against him, he will treat them as he did Sodom (Deuteronomy 29:23).
- If they persist in rebellion, he will overthrow them as he overthrew Sodom (Amos 4:11).
- When Jerusalem’s rulers refuse YHWH’s authority, they are “rulers of Sodom” and deserve a similar end (Isaiah 1:9-10).
- When Jerusalem’s prophets cannot be diverted from their rebellious ways, to YHWH they are just like Sodom (Jeremiah 23:14).
- When God’s chosen city rebels against his authority, she becomes a Sodom (Ezekiel 16:46-57).
- When the Galilean towns resist Jesus’ kingdom message, they are worse than Sodom (Matthew 10:15). Sodom would have yielded if it had seen Jesus’ representation of heaven’s authority (Matthew 11:23-24).
- The definitive act of human rebellion was the crucifixion of our Heaven-sent ruler. That’s what Sodom symbolizes (Revelation 11:8).
So, why have we become preoccupied with sexual sin? The word “sin” in English is becoming a synonym for a guilty pleasure, an indulgence. “Sin” is now a brand of lingerie, or ice cream. We really need a kingdom perspective, where sin is resistance against his authority. The first use of the word “sin” in the Bible was God warning Cain to take control of his own life instead of taking control of this brother’s life i.e. that sin was lurking at the door (Genesis 4:7). Murder is not a guilty pleasure: it is strike against the image of God in another human, a strike against the one who gives life. Sexual sin matters, and doubly so when it becomes abusive. But the essence of sin is a rejection of God’s authority to define right and wrong.
Don’t think of sin primarily as a category for your own personal guilt feelings. Sin devastates humanity, and demands divine action. Do you recognize it when you watch the news? Try watching the news with your eyes on the screen and your heart listening to how God feels about it. Most of the news is an exposé of human sin—abusing each other, and grasping at power that ought to be in God’s hands. It’s what’s wrong with the world.
So how does God regain control of the world that rebelled against his authority? That’s the whole narrative of Scripture, the plotline that comes together in Jesus and finds complete restoration for the whole of creation in him.
What others are saying
Michael F. Bird, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 669–670:
Sin means a despising of God and an attempt to dethrone God. The root of sin is the worship of the self in place of the worship of God. Sin breeds self-made men and women who love to worship their creator. Sinners want a theocracy where they are the “theo.” Sin, in the end, is a form of cosmic treason. Sin is the foolish effort at deicide and the even more foolish belief in self-deification. It amounts to a pathetic attempt at a coup d’état against the Lord of the cosmos. …
Sin turns humanity into treasonous tyrants committed to any form of terror to gratify their lusts or to secure their own power. Sin is the quest to be free from God’s authority and accountability and to replace it with a God-free autonomy. Sin is the evil that emerges in the absence of God.
Read Genesis 19.