The story of how the citizens of Sodom welcomed the two strangers gives us the impression that inhabitants of the city were judged for their illicit sexual sins. Jude, the younger brother of Yeshua, explains that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because they “indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh” (Jude 1:7). But sexual depravity was not unique to Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s still with us today, and we don’t see fire and brimstone falling out of the sky onto today’s centers of immorality. Were there other sins and vices charged against those cities?
From ancient times there have been differing theories attempting to identify the real problem with Sodom and Gomorrah. The Talmud preserves a list of opinions that includes charges of sexual immorality, stinginess, blasphemy, avarice, selfishness, burglary, encroachment, extortion and injustice. Several of these sins may be derived from a passage in the book of Ezekiel, where the prophet metaphorically refers to the kingdom of Judah as Sodom:
Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it. (Ezekiel 16:49-50)
The prophet Ezekiel lists sexual immorality as the final straw after an accumulation of social injustices. Ezekiel charged the people with enjoying “abundant food and careless ease” while neglecting the poor—a charge that could be leveled against most of us living in the West.
Tradition says that the primary sin of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah was their inhospitable welcome of strangers. Jewish legend embellished the story with other tales of how badly the people of Sodom treated guests and strangers. The people of Sodom came to represent the opposite of hospitality. Not only were they sexually deviant, but even worse, they were inhospitable. Clement, the disciple of Peter, followed the Jewish explanation in that he also saw hospitality and inhospitality as the main issues in the Sodom and Gomorrah story:
On account of his hospitality and godliness, Lot was saved out of Sodom when all the country round was punished by means of fire and brimstone, the Lord thus making it manifest that He does not forsake those that hope in Him, but gives up such as depart from Him to punishment and torture. (1 Clement 11:1)
Yeshua may be alluding to the hospitality explanation for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah when He tells His disciples to seek hospitality in the homes and villages they enter. He tells them, “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city” (Matthew 10:14-15).