The most famous example of homosexual activity in the entire Bible occurs in the early part of Genesis 19. There, two angels in human form come to the city of Sodom and pretend to be travelers seeking hospitality. The patriarch Lot invites them into his home, but at evening, the men of Sodom come to his door and demand that he yield up the travelers so they can rape them. Shortly thereafter, the entire city is destroyed by fire from heaven.
For millennia, students of the Bible have taken the point. Indeed, the word “sodomy” has passed into our language as a description of unnatural sexual activity. In recent times, though, this traditional view has come under attack.
As part of the campaign to destigmatize homosexual behavior, many have argued that the true sin of Sodom is instead defined by Ezekiel 16:49, where God reports that the iniquity of Sodom is the failure of its inhabitants to provide for the poor and needy despite having the resources to do so. The argument goes that this shows that the same-sex desires of the men of Sodom weren't the problem at all.
However, that isn't all that the Bible has to say about Sodom. In Jeremiah 23:14, God says that the people of Jerusalem sinned in the likeness of Sodom by committing adultery, walking in lies, and strengthening the hands of evildoers. More familiarly, Jude 7 testifies that the men of Sodom committed sexual immorality and perversions.
So what is the sin of Sodom? Is it hardheartedness? Adultery? Lying? Promoting wickedness? Homosexual lust?
The only possible Biblical answer is “all of the above”. As Genesis 13:7 says, the people of Sodom were evil, sinning immensely against the Lord. This teaches us something fundamental about sin. In the lives of the wicked, the problem is never just one isolated sin that they are committing. The problem is an entire life lived in rebellion against God.
In fact, this same truth is evident in the lives of those who practice homosexuality and defend their practice today. It's not like they are getting everything else right about following God and just have this one little issue. Instead, spiritual problems are evident everywhere.
Certainly, all of them call evil good. Almost all of them are indifferent to biblical teaching about the role of women in the church. They don't teach the truth about what we must do to be saved. Many of them, perhaps even the majority, have no interest in obedience and only make the argument to show what hypocrites Christians are.
Homosexuality was definitely part of the problem in Sodom. However, the real problem was a heart problem, an unwillingness to submit to the authority of God. If this unwillingness is present in our hearts, the precise expression that it takes doesn't matter much. As Jude points out, the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah provides an example of punishment by eternal fire, and that's where all of the disobedient are headed, whether their sin lines up precisely with Genesis 19 or not.
Ecclesiastes was my father's favorite book of the of the Old Testament, and his favorite verse in Ecclesiastes was 10:1. At least, I think it was his favorite verse. It certainly was the one that he quoted most to my teenage self. To this day, I have no trouble summoning up, “Dead flies make a perfumer's oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor,” from memory.
Now that I have a ten-year-old son, I also have no trouble understanding why he wanted to imprint that one on my brain. He worried that with my great cleverness and scant sense, I would get into some kind of mess that would blight the rest of my life.
Sadly, it isn't only teenage boys who are given to dead-fly moments. According to Genesis 9:21-22, you can be 600 years old and still be foolish. There, we see Noah, patriarch, preacher of righteousness, and Hebrews 11 hero of faith, planting a vineyard, getting drunk, and exposing himself. Thousands of years later, the descendants of Noah do the same kind of dumb stuff when they get drunk.
Sometimes, we manage disastrous foolishness when we are stone-cold sober. David did upon seeing one woman bathing on the top of her roof. Samson spoiled his perfume because of several different women. Judas blew it over 30 pieces of silver.
Nor should we today think that we are immune simply because we're churchgoing Christians who don't have the Holy Spirit chronicling our every misdeed. The devil loves to sow all of our paths with consequential temptations, and he loves even more to fool us into thinking that the sin won't be consequential if we commit it. David didn't think he was signing up for anything more than a one-night stand. Judas thought he could make everything better by giving the money back to the chief priests and telling them that Jesus was innocent.
Neither was correct. Today, the two facts that Christians are most likely to repeat about David are that he was a man after God's own heart and that he committed a great sin with Bathsheba. In the case of Judas, we don't even think about him proclaiming the gospel, casting out demons, working miracles, and doing all the other things that apostles did. We only remember his impulsive treachery.
So too, our dead-fly moments often are what stick in people's minds about us. What of the devoted husband and father who cheats that one time and gets caught? What of the gifted preacher who couldn't get along with the elders? What of the woman of God who couldn't control her temper with her sister or her sister in Christ? Decades later, the isolated foolishness is remembered more than the wisdom and honor.
When a little foolishness can be so powerful, the only solution for us is to avoid all foolishness. Any of us can spoil the testimony of a godly life with only one ill-chosen act. When we are tempted, then, we must remember the stakes. The devil would love to number us with Noah and all the rest. However, if we stick to the paths of wisdom, he will never get the chance.
Genesis 22 contains one of the strangest stories in the Bible. There, God commands the patriarch Abraham to take Isaac, his only son, and sacrifice him on Mt. Moriah. This seems utterly unlike God. Throughout the Bible, He is the Helper of the helpless. The Law of Moses describes sacrificing one's children as an abomination. In Romans 1, Paul condemns those who are without natural affection.
Nonetheless, God commands Abraham to commit this abomination, to deny his natural affection, and to do that at which the heart of nearly any parent would revolt. We would expect such an instruction from the lips of the evil one, not the God who is wholly good.
Despite what has been asked of him, Abraham continues to obey. He takes Isaac to Mt. Moriah, ties him on an altar as as a sacrifice, and has his hand upraised to slit his son's throat before God stops him. He is willing to surrender even his only son if that is what God asks.
In Hebrews 11:17-19, we gain more insight into Abraham’s thinking. He knew that God had promised to give him countless descendants through Isaac, and he trusted that God would keep His promises. Thus, he concluded that if he obeyed God and killed Isaac, God would raise his son from the dead. He believed that God was capable even of resurrection; if that was what had to happen for God's promise to be fulfilled, God would do it.
As it happened, Abraham was wrong about God's plan. God never intended for him to complete the crime of killing his own son. However, Abraham was right about God. He believed that God was faithful, acted in accordance with that belief, and was rewarded for his faithfulness.
Thankfully, God does not ask any of us to present our children as burnt offerings! However, there are times when He asks us to do things that are confusing or difficult. Isn't it terribly hard to ask Christians who experience same-sex attraction never to act on that attraction, not even once? What about when we pray and pray for something, but as months and years go by, the answer to our prayers is nowhere in sight?
In these predicaments and many others, we might have our own ideas about why God is doing what He's doing. God has forbidden this because of X; God is not giving me what I ask for because of Y. These assumptions may be right; they may not be. Sometimes, though, we get so attached to our assumptions that when they prove to be wrong, we stomp off in a huff like Naaman did when told to bathe in the Jordan.
However, we don't have to be right about God's plan either. In fact, it may be that God is testing us by doing something different than we expect. Certainly, that was true in Abraham’s case.
Instead, we simply have to be right about God. Like Abraham, we must believe that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him, and we must have the courage to do it. If we do, even if we are completely wrong about what He is doing, we are certain to find His blessing.
The more we learn about the Bible, the better we will understand it. Because God's word is a unity, even books that were written thousands of years apart are interconnected. Many parts of the New Testament are so closely related to Old-Testament stories that trying to understand the former without the latter is nearly impossible.
One such reference appears in Hebrews 12:24. There, the Hebrews writer tells us that the sprinkled blood of Jesus says better things than the blood of Abel. If all we've got is a New Testament, we are sunk. There is no way for us to understand this!
However, with the help of the story of Cain and Abel, which is recorded in Genesis 4, we can see that the Hebrews writer is making a powerful point. There, we learn that these two brothers offered different sacrifices to God. Abel’s was pleasing; Cain’s wasn't. Out of jealousy, Cain killed his brother, committing the first murder.
Cain soon learned, though, that even though Abel was dead, the consequences of his crime continued. In Genesis 4:10-11, God points out the evidence for Cain’s sin and its implications. He tells the murderer that his brother's blood cries out against him from the ground. Because of this, Cain was now under a curse, alienated from the ground that had drunk that blood.
That's what the blood of Abel says. It announces that great sin has been committed and condemns the sinner with a curse. The blood of Christ, however, speaks better than that blood.
In order to appreciate this, we must recognize the ways in which the blood of Abel and the blood of Christ are alike. Both Abel and Christ were innocent and did not deserve death, so when the blood of each was shed, it was a shedding of innocent blood.
Nonetheless, the consequences of these two murders are very different. The blood of Abel cried out against Cain and proved that he was guilty. By contrast, when we are sprinkled with the blood of Christ as we obey the gospel, that blood announces our forgiveness, not our guilt. It washes us clean rather than staining us.
Additionally, although the blood of Abel on Cain brought a curse, the blood of Jesus removes a curse from us. Because all of us have sinned, all of us are cursed with death and eternal death. On the cross, Jesus became a curse for us. He died in our place so that we could inherit eternal life instead.
Thus, when the Hebrews writer tells us that the blood of Christ speaks better than the blood of Abel, he is making a massive understatement! The blood of Abel condemned Cain with its testimony; the blood of Christ justifies us with its testimony. The whole course of Cain’s life was blighted by the blood that stained his hands, but our eternal destiny is transformed for good by the sprinkled blood that cleanses us.
One of the greatest apparent advantages to a godless way of life is the freedom that it allows. No longer must the unbeliever be concerned with the law of God and whether it permits him to do what he wants to. Instead, he is free to do whatever he thinks is right.
However, this seeming benefit comes at a steep cost. When we are free to do whatever we want, there is nothing for us to do. There is no meaning for us to achieve, no purpose for us to fulfill.
When we point this out to atheists, they often reply that they are free to create their own meaning. You can decide to make your life about whatever you want it to be about! Sadly, the reality here does not measure up to the theory. The goals that we choose for ourselves inevitably prove unfulfilling.
This is well illustrated by the first couple of chapters of Ecclesiastes. In them, Solomon deploys the nearly unlimited resources that he has amassed in order to discover purpose for his life. He embarks on massive building projects and funds to the fullest every pleasure that he enjoys.
The worldly would suppose this to be heaven on earth. Many of them live with the goal of accumulating wealth until they too, like Solomon, can do anything they want. However, Solomon’s experience with it was anything but heavenly, and the few who achieve such levels of wealth today also discover that it is unsatisfying.
As the Israelite king says in Ecclesiastes 2:11, “When I considered all that I had accomplished and what I had labored to achieve, I found everything to be futile and a pursuit of the wind. There was nothing to be gained under the sun.” If we place our hope in ourselves, we will be disappointed.
Still others seek to find meaning in some earthly cause. There are those who give their lives to an organization or business; still others live for an ideal, like environmentalism.
The problem is, though, that results don’t live up to our aspirations. Businesses fail or, worse still, fire us. Organizations fall short of their goals. Causes get sidetracked by human selfishness and pride. More subtly, success may be even harder to deal with. What do you do if some worldly goal of yours is completely achieved? Go fishing?
Thus, we see that honoring the purpose for which we are created, though it appears very restrictive, is actually a blessing. Christians can live a meaningful, fulfilled life from beginning to end without facing the disappointment that hounds the worldly. Because God's goals are bigger than we are, we never find them inadequate. Better still, when we come to the end of our lives, we can anticipate an eternal reward instead of oblivion or eternal punishment. The yoke of Christ may appear to be a burden, but when we take it up, we find it to be lighter than anything else.