There are going to be two main questions in this post: Why was Sodom destroyed? and Why was Lot spared?
For some people you don’t need an answer to that. They’ve either (a) made up their minds that Sodom was an amplified version of whatever they imagine San Fransisco to be like, or (b) read ahead to Ezekiel and read the answer there.
But let’s look at the chapter on its own, especially the odd little quirks of the Japanese translation. Do you recall how I said that Abraham used very deferential Japanese in the last chapter? Lot does the same, but the Sodomites talk like thugs, using very rude grammatical forms. This highlights one of the points of this story, spread out over two chapters: hospitality versus hostility. Abraham and Lot roll out the red carpet for their unexpected guests (who just so happen to be divine). The men of Sodom, on the other hand, demand that Lot hand them over so they can naburimono ni shiteyaru (v 5).
Okay, it’s been hard to figure out what that exact term is supposed to mean in Japanese. Naburimono only shows up in some of my dictionaries, and naburimono ni suru in all but one, which is online and I don’t consider completely reliable. There may be a sexual meaning to it that isn’t coming up in my searches. But naburu means “to torment” or “to humiliate,” and the translations I’ve found of naburimono render it as “laughingstock,” with naburimono ni suru as “to make a laughingstock.” If there is a sexual subtext, however, it is coupled with a sense of cruelty and humiliation.
The NRSV is more literal, using “know” in the Biblical sense of the word, i.e. “have sex with.” But the Japanese gets to the heart of what the men of Sodom were demanding, that Lot turn his guests over for something tormenting and humiliating, i.e. gang rape. When you add this kind of atrocity to nameless “many sins” (NCT) of 13:13, as well as the idea that God had heard an “outcry” from victims (18:20-21), and the notion that somehow it was “homosexuality” in a modern sense that was Sodom’s fatal flaw is fairly ridiculous – unless you have some seriously messed up views of homosexual people, in which case, go out and meet a few.
But no, Lot’s a good host, too, protecting his guests and offering up his unmarried daughters to be naburimono ni shiteyaru in their place (v 8).
Which brings me to my second point: why am I supposed to like Lot? He screwed his uncle out of good land back in chapter 13, there’s no record of him even thanking Abraham for raising an army to save him, and now he’s like, “Hey, take my virgin daughters and rape them instead!” Heck, even God admits he’s basically only saving this guy and his family because he’s related to Abraham and God likes Abraham (v 29). I know I should feel bad about the fact that his daughters straight-up rape him in the final verses of the chapter, but it’s kind of like that bit the Onion ran on Tosh after his rape “jokes”…
Well, anyway, the story’s pretty improbable and was likely added in to cast aspersions on the ancestry of Israel’s neighbors as the product of incestuous rape… a line carried by king David, who was 1/8 Moabite.
The Japanese in this chapter: toko ni tsuku “to go to bed,” torikakomu “to surround” (v 4), wamekitateru “to yell,” naburimono ni suru “to make a laughingstock, to humiliate” (v 5), totsugu “to marry” (v 8), sashizu “direction” (v 9), rounyaku “young and old” (v 11), unagasu “to urge” (v 14), inochigake “at the risk of your life,” nogareru “to escape” (v 17), saigai “calamity” (v 19), kodane “children, descendents” (v 32), nikushin “blood relative” (v 36).