Light from the Sidra

Vayera (‘And he appeared’)

Torah: Genesis 18:1–22:2. Haftarah: 2 Kings 4: 1-37

Unsafe sex

In the Swingin’ Sixties of the last century it became common to see posters with ‘SEX!’ printed in large letters followed by, in much smaller letters, something like: ‘Now we’ve got your attention, we’d like to let you know about our sale of garden plants. . .’ Or something like that. The gimmick soon wore thin of course but our Torah portion this week has a lot to say about sex – homosexuality and marital fidelity to be precise – and God’s attitude to how people conduct themselves in those areas.

In Genesis 1 God created a woman to be man’s companion and helper to look after the earth and populate it with other human beings. Under that divinely ordered arrangement, God envisaged men leaving their parents and becoming one with their female wives. God’s order ruled out bestiality because even though there were plenty of animals before God created Eve, Adam was ‘alone’ until she came into being; paedophilia was ruled out because God created a ‘woman’ for Adam, not a girl; God’s decree ruled out homosexuality because (to use that groaningly over-used expression) God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve; it ruled out cohabitation because God created a ‘wife’ for Adam, not just a woman; and it ruled out polygamy because God created a ‘wife’ for Adam not ‘wives.’

The first sin – eating a piece of forbidden fruit – might appear trifling to us but in the chapters that follow Genesis 3 it’s very clear that man’s first act of disobedience set him and his children on a slippery downward slope. In Genesis 4 Cain murders his brother and a few verses later Lamech marries two women to whom he boasts: ‘I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain's revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.’

In Genesis 13:13, we learn that ‘the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD’ but it is not until chapter 19 that we discover the particular wickedness of the city. There was, in today’s terms, a thriving ‘gay scene.’ And God was angry.

In chapter 20, Abimelech the king of Gerar fancies Abraham’s wife and takes her into his harem with a view to her becoming his wife. Abraham himself was not blameless in the matter because he passed off his wife as his sister but Abimelech suffered consequences even for inadvertently for taking another man’s wife.

In the beginning God set boundaries for erotic activity and there are consequences for transgressing those boundaries, not least in terms of some of the diseases that may be contracted through forbidden acts. I’m fully aware that I could be in deep trouble for even writing this but, according to God, sex is not only fun; it takes place within the boundaries of a life-long, faithful, monogamous, heterosexual covenant called marriage.

In this week’s Parasha, there is violation of the boundaries of true sexual freedom. In Sodom, a group of gay men attempt to gang rape two angels sent to rescue Lot and his family. Homosexuality corrupts the basic natural order which God set in place at the start of human history, while adultery and polygamy violate the divinely instituted covenant of marriage. In the arguments over same-sex marriage, many of the defenders of the traditional position on marriage failed to convince the pro-lobby because they were trying to defend what they saw as a hallowed human institution. But if marriage is a human construct, if a majority want to change it, why not? Marriage can only be defended on the basis that it was instituted by the Creator of the universe.

Since the 1950s, the West has been gradually been brainwashed to believe there is no God and that there are no moral absolutes. So everyone is allowed to have their own moral compass. But imagine a ship on which each member of the crew has their own compass, each one pointing in a slightly different direction to the others. The result would be total confusion. The compass works on the principle that there is such a thing as True North and if your compass points anywhere else then, to put it in the most basic of terms, you are lost.

Many electrical and DIY products come with the admonition to follow the maker’s instructions. So it is with life in general. The only way we can know right from wrong is by listening to the Maker’s instruction. That is why Israel was given Torah – instruction – not only that the Jewish people might benefit from the maker’s instruction but also that they might be a light to the nations.

There are consequences for overstepping God’s red lines. The consequences may not be experienced immediately but they will be experienced nonetheless. God tolerated the wickedness of Sodom but there comes a point at which the patience of God runs out. It happened when he sent the Flood and it happened when he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. On the level of the individual, Abimelech’s household experienced divine judgement when God sent barrenness on the women. And for the rest of us, there will come a day when the Creator of the universe judges his creation and we will stand or fall.

This is not Christian fire-and-brimstone, hell-fire scare tactics. From the very first chapter of the ‘Jewish’ Bible, the Tanakh, God is revealed as the righteous Judge of all the earth. On each day of creation he states that his work is ‘good,’ and pronounces the verdict ‘very good’ on the final day. In Genesis 4 God judges and punishes Cain for murdering his righteous brother. In chapter 6, ‘The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,’ and he sent the Flood. In chapter 18, Abraham pleads with God for Sodom, recognising that ‘the Judge of all the earth [will] do what is just’ and will not destroy the righteous with the wicked. And to this day Jewish people believe God judges the whole world at Rosh Hashanah, the New Year.

What is also clear from the Tanakh is that some sins are worse than others and God the righteous Judge passes sentence on different sins according to their seriousness. Although he judged both Sodom and Abimelech, he did visit the sins of each with the same punishment. He judged them nevertheless, and none of us should imagine we will escape the justice of almighty God even if, like Abimelech, we do so inadvertently.

That’s the bad news; now here’s the good news. Although we will all be judged by the righteous judge of all the earth it is possible to escape divine punishment. That much is apparent from the account of Lot. He, his wife and two daughters were saved from the wrath of God not because he was a particularly righteous man (he ended up impregnating his two daughters!) but because of God’s grace. Had Abraham not prayed for Lot, he and his family would have perished in the flames.

Salvation from the wrath of God is always a matter of divine grace; for both Jews and Gentiles. Many Jewish people have fallen into the trap of thinking their Redeemer will come to save them when they achieve a degree of righteousness and worthiness. If that were the case, the Messiah would never come. The good news is that 2,000 years ago Messiah came in order to save Israel from the sins they imagine delay his advent.

Whether we imagine our sins are simply inadvertent or whether they are flagrant and in God’s face, there is rescue and forgiveness through Israel’s Messiah. We mustn’t dither like Lot did; we must flee from the coming judgement to the place of safety which is found in Jesus the Messiah.

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