Q. Why is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the book of Genesis?
A. A golden rule of all literary analysis is the importance of context.
Viewed in its complex literary context, the event of Sodom and Gomorrah is pivotal for the story told in Genesis, namely the maturing of Abraham into a partner able to embrace God’s covenant. You’ll notice that the Abraham and Sarah stories of Genesis are organized around seven carefully arranged visits, each with identical formal markers: a challenge/testing of the covenantal partner (see visit one,
Abraham progresses in his role as a covenantal partner to this grand purpose of God. Not until visit four does he engage in conversation with God, and not until the Sodom and Gomorrah incident, in visit six, do we find him actually initiating conversation with God. As the two heavenly beings depart to destroy the two cities, “God remained standing before Abraham” (
At the most narrow point of literary context we have the episode itself, beginning with God and two other heavenly beings showing up out of the heat of the day. They stand before the dwelling of Abraham and Sarah. The couple proves breathtakingly hospitable (
But the larger context suggests a greater point for the inclusion of this story about the two towns. Witnessed in the slow maturing of Abraham, God’s grooming of this first covenantal partner has come so far as to find Abraham emerging as an intercessor between grossly faulty humankind and God—a “prophet.” Without such maturing—indicated by his and Sarah’s generous response in Gen 18—the big picture of God’s will for humankind will not be realized.