5. The Day of the Lord
Abraham sat one day in the shelter of his tent door, among the oaks of Mamre. It was in the midday heat, when men will avoid travel outside except in urgent need; but as he looked forth, behold! three travellers were drawing near. Abraham ran to welcome them, and to him who seemed the chief he said: O my Lord, do me the honour not to pass my tent-door. Let my servants fetch water to wash your feet, and rest yourselves under this oak-tree. I will fetch a little bread that you may eat and be strengthened, and afterwards you shall go on your way again.” The strangers consented, and Abraham hurried to make preparations. Sarah baked bread, a calf was killed and cooked, and milk and what we call cottage cheese were set beside the bread and meat; and Abraham stood by, and courteously served his guests as they took their meal in the pleasant shade of the oak.
Then the chief of the travellers turned to his host, and said, “Where is Sarah, your wife?” Abraham answered, “See over there, she is in the tent.” Even as he spoke, he knew that this travel-stained wayfarer was no mere man, and that the Lord had come near to him again. So God spoke to him, promising once more that Sarah should have a son. And Sarah, behind the tent-door, heard the promise, and laughed in her heart, as her husband had done before, but more from doubt than from hope. But the Lord rebuked her, and bade Abraham remember that nothing was too hard for the Almighty.
Now the time drew nigh for the travellers to go on their journey, and Abraham accompanied them as they went towards Sodom. And as they journeyed, the Lord said to Abraham, “Because I have heard an evil report of the immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah, I have come here to see, and, if need be, to judge.” As He spoke, His two companions passed on towards Sodom, and Abraham was left alone in the presence of the Lord. Then Abraham came near, and pleaded with the Lord for the wicked city. “Will You destroy righteous and wicked together?” he said. “It may be that there are fifty good men in the city — will You not spare it for their sake? Surely the righteous and the wicked can never be alike in Your sight! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
Then said the LORD, “If I find fifty good men in Sodom, I will spare the whole town for their sake.” So Abraham took courage and pleaded again with God, and God promised him that if He found five and forty, forty, thirty, or even twenty good men in the city, He would hold back His hand. Then Abraham made his last plea. “Oh, let not the Lord be angry,” he said, “and I shall speak only this once. It may be that ten good men shall be found in Sodom.” And God answered him, “If I find ten good men there, I will not destroy the city.” So the Lord went on His errand of judgment, and Abraham turned homewards from his merciful pleading.
Now the two angel messengers who had been sent into Sodom dwelt that night in the immoral city, in the house of Lot, Abraham’s nephew; and before the dawn they had seen enough of the vileness of the place to know that it should be destroyed. Therefore, they directed Lot gather all his family and hasten to flee with them before the storm of God’s judgment fell upon the town. So Lot went forth to warn his sons-in-law; but when he told them of the coming destruction they would not listen, for they thought he was mocking them. And when the day dawned, the angels commanded him to take at least the friends who were with him in the house, his wife, and his two unmarried daughters, and to escape. Still he would have lingered over the riches he had gained in that infamous town; but the angels drew him and his household out of the gates by sheer force. “Escape for thy life,” they cried, “Do not look behind, nor linger in the plain, but flee to the mountain, lest you be over¬whelmed.”
Lot’s heart was still in the rich plain, and the flight to the mountain seemed terrible to him. “Oh, my Lord,” he said to the angel, “since you have shown me so much mercy, grant me this also. Here is a little town close at hand, a very little one. Let me escape to it.” “I grant this request also,” said the angel, “but hasten to it; for my work waits till you are safe within its walls.” So Lot fled for his life to the little town of Zoar, and passed its gate just as the sun rose over the plain of Jordan. Then God’s judgments were loosed! Over the whole plain the lightning flashed; and, as the fire fell from heaven, the beds of pitch that underlay the soil blazed up fiercely, and the whole land was shrouded in flame and foul smoke and vapour. As she entered the gate of Zoar, Lot’s wife turned for one last look at the evil city where lay the treasures of her covetous heart; and even as she paused, the fumes overcame her, and the salt vapours swathed around her, and she stood there dead and pitiful, a statue of salt.
At the dawn of day Abraham arose, and, with anxious heart, hastened to the spot where he had pleaded with the Lord the night before. He looked from the hillside across the plain where Sodom and Gomorrah had stood, but they had vanished. Only a great cloud of black smoke went up from all the land like the smoke of a furnace.