When the two angels reached Sodom in the evening, Lot was sitting at the city gate. Anciently, the open area bordering the city gate was the place where city elders handled legal cases, individuals transacted business, and people gathered to hear the latest news. The biblical account provides no information about the reason Lot was then at the city gate. Perhaps he had attained a position of dignity because of what his uncle Abraham had done in rescuing the people of Sodom along with him from their military captors. If this was the case, the fact that Lot sat at the city gate may indicate that he did so as a man of some prominence. (19:1)
Respectfully, Lot stood up to meet the two strangers and, as was customary in that culture, dropped to his knees and bowed low, with his face touching the ground. He addressed the strangers as “my lords” and extended hospitality to them, offering to wash their feet and to have them stay in his house for the night. They initially declined his offer, telling him that they would spend the night on the street. Lot, however, strongly insisted that they come to his home. He arranged a meal for them, which included unleavened bread. The unleavened bread may have been the preferable choice because of requiring less time to prepare. (19:1-3)
Before the two angels could retire for the night, both young and old men of Sodom began to surround Lot’s house. According to Josephus (Antiquities, I, xi, 3), the men of Sodom had noticed that the two strangers had extraordinarily beautiful countenances and they resolved to have their way with them “by force and violence.” The men of Sodom demanded that Lot bring out the two strangers to them so that they might come to “know” them or to assault them sexually. Lot went out to them, shut the door of his house behind himself, and pleaded with them not to act wickedly. To the men of Sodom, he even offered his two daughters who had never had sexual intercourse with a man. Desperately, Lot wanted to do everything he possibly could to shield the strangers who had come under the shelter of his home. In the then-existing culture, the duty to protect strangers to whom hospitality had been extended took precedence over the obligation to preserve the honor of women. (19:4-8)
The men of Sodom responded angrily, telling him to stand back, accusing him of playing the judge although he was but an alien, and threatening to do worse to him than they intended to do to the two strangers. They pressed against Lot and were at the point of breaking down the door of his house. The two angels pulled Lot into the safety of the house, shut the door, and struck the men of Sodom, both young and old, with blindness and thus prevented them from finding the door in order to force themselves into the house. This blindness may have been a kind of mental blindness that totally disoriented the men, for nothing is said in the account to suggest that they were terrified about having lost their ability to see anything. (19:9-11)
The angels asked Lot whether he had anyone else in the city (sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone else) and told him to bring them out of the city. YHWH had taken note of the great outcry against Sodom and had sent the two angels to destroy the place. Lot left the house to inform his future sons-in-law who were to marry his daughters to leave the city because YHWH was about to destroy it. The future sons-in-law did not take Lot seriously but regarded him as if he were jesting. According to the Septuagint rendering, the sons-in-law had already married Lot’s daughters. (19:12-14)
At the break of dawn, the angels urged Lot to take his wife and his two daughters out of the city lest he perish, sharing in the fate of the people of Sodom. As he did not act promptly, the angels took hold of him, his wife, and the two daughters and, in expression of YHWH’s compassion for them, took them out of Sodom. The angels admonished them to flee for their “souls” or their lives. Lest they perish, they were not to look behind nor to stand still in any part of the region but to flee to the mountainous terrain. Lot feared that he would be unable to make it to the mountainous area. Perhaps he had become a fat man and was afraid that his heart would give out during the course of the flight. Therefore, he pleaded to be able to escape to a nearby little town. Lot was granted this favor, being assured that this small town would not be destroyed. Nevertheless, he was instructed to hurry, for nothing could be done until he had arrived safely in the little town. This town then came to be called “Zoar” (“littleness”). (19:15-22) Josephus (Antiquities, I, xi, 4) wrote that, in his day, the place was still called Zoar, “for that is the word which the Hebrews use for a small thing.”
When Lot arrived at Zoar, the risen sun was shining over the entire land. YHWH then caused fire and sulfur to rain down upon Sodom and Gomorrah. Josephus (Antiquities, I, xi, 4; Wars, IV, viii. 4) attributed the fire to a lightning strike. Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim and all their inhabitants were destroyed. (Deuteronomy 29:22) The entire region became a desolate area without any greenery. Lot’s wife turned to look behind Lot, and she became a pillar of salt. (19:23-26) Commenting regarding this, Josephus (Antiquities, I, xi, 4) wrote that Lot’s wife continually turned back to view the city, being too inquisitive about what would happen to it. He also claimed that he had seen the pillar and then said, “It remains at this day.” The Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen, thought to date from the late first century BCE or the early first century CE) identifies Lot’s wife as an Egyptian, but Targum Jonathan (thought to date probably from the second century CE) indicates that she was from Sodom. This Targum says that she looked after the angel to see what would be the end of her father’s house.
Early in the morning of the day that Lot and his daughters escaped from Sodom, Abraham went to the place where he had spoken to YHWH’s angel. From this vantage point, he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and saw smoke like that from a furnace rising from the entire area. At the time for the destruction of the cities, God remembered Abraham’s concern for upright persons living there and opened the way for Lot to escape. (19:27-29)
Although Lot had originally been told to flee to the mountainous region, he had pleaded to be able to make his escape to the little town that came to be called “Zoar.” This did not work out well for him, probably because the inhabitants looked upon him and his daughters superstitiously as cursed escapees from Sodom. Out of fear, he then left Zoar with his daughters and headed for the mountainous area. There Lot and his daughters made their home in a cave. (19:30)
The daughters feared that no one would marry them, leaving their father without any offspring to continue the family line. Therefore, the older daughter came up with a plan to which she apparently knew Lot would not willingly consent. She suggested to her younger sister that they give their father wine to drink and then to lie down with him so that they might become pregnant and bear his children. They got their father drunk, and the older sister lay down with him. In his intoxicated state, he did not know or have any recollection when she lay down with him and when she arose and left. The next day the older sister asked the younger sister also to lie down with their father. That night the daughters gave their father wine to drink, and the younger daughter lay down with him. As was the case with the older sister, Lot did not know when his younger daughter lay down with him and when she got up to leave. He apparently had no recollection about what had happened. Both daughters became pregnant. The older daughter named her son Moab who became the ancestor of the Moabites, and the younger daughter named her son Ben-ammi who became the ancestor of the Ammonites. In his Antiquities (I, xi, 5), Josephus wrote that the name Moab referred to one who was derived from the father and that the name Ammon denoted one derived from a kinsman. The Septuagint indicates that “Moab” means “from my father,” and Ammon means “son of my kindred.” (19:31-38)
In verse 20, Lot is quoted as referring to the nearby town as a “little one,” and this became the basis for its name “Zoar.”
What Lot’s daughters did must be considered as a desperate act to preserve the family line. The older daughter perceived this to be the only option available to them. It was not a desire for an incestuous relationship with the father. Nothing in the account suggests that the daughters ever again had sexual relations with their father.