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Discovery Magazine 12/1/1999

SODOM, GOMORRAH, AND VOLCANOES

by  Bert Thompson, Ph.D.

Lot lived in the city of Sodom. Although he was a righteous man who loved and obeyed God, the citizens of Sodom (and those of the neighboring city of Gomorrah) were wicked and immoral. On one occasion, two angels—disguised as men—visited Lot. When the men of Sodom heard about Lot’s visitors, they wanted to hurt them. But the angels struck the men blind and told Lot and his family to leave the city quickly because God was going to destroy both Sodom and Gomorrah.

And destroy them He did! The Bible says: “The Lord rained brimstone [sulfur] and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens. So He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground” (Genesis 19:24-25). Sodom and Gomorrah were reduced to ashes.

Some critics of the Bible have doubted whether Sodom and Gomorrah ever existed. But ancient historians, such as Josephus, Tacitus, and Philo, said that the ruins of the cities still could be seen in their time. It is thought that the cities were located on the southeastern side of the Dead Sea

But what, exactly, destroyed the cities? The Dead Sea area has a lot of sulfur, which burns readily in air. The area also has natural deposits of a tar-like substance called bitumen (Genesis 14:10), which also burns easily. So when fire and sulfur fell from heaven, the sulfur and bitumen that were there already ignited, causing even more fires that would destroy the cities.

Some have suggested that perhaps an earthquake was involved in the cities’ destruction. It is true that the cities were near a geological fault line and that earthquakes were (and still are) common in that region. Others have suggested that perhaps a volcanic eruption played a part in the destruction of the cities. This is much less likely. There is no evidence that volcanic eruptions affected this area during the time of Abraham.

While God could have used natural means to accomplish His purpose and destroy the cities, the timing was strictly supernatural. This was no routine, everyday event. It was a divine judgment from God sent to punish evil people who lived in wicked defiance of their Maker. Even today, the names of Sodom and Gomorrah are used to describe any place where people live in open rebellion against God.

We can learn a lesson from what happened to those cities. Yes, God loves us. But He will not tolerate disobedience on our part. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah paid for their sinful actions with their lives.



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