I would like to state at the outset that the idea for this post came from one of my more frequent blog readers, Laura, who left the following question in my suggestion box :
“Can you explain why we have heard of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah but have never heard of the cities of Admah and Zeboim.”
For those who are not familiar with Admah and Zeboiim, they were two of the four cities that were destroyed by God for their wickedness, along with their vastly more famous neighboring cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. These two cities are not very familiar at all to readers of the Bible (in stark contrast to the immense familiarity people have with Sodom and Gomorrah through the way in which these two cities have entered our lexicon through such words as sodomy and sodomite, which describes the male homosexual behavior that was a major part of the cities’ destruction, as well as recent works like William Bennett ’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah” which decry similarly destructive cultural trends towards sexual immorality in our own culture. While, in fairness, the sins of these cities included also a great deal of economic exploitation and injustice, sins that are also present to a large degree in our society, and not only sexual sins, however one looks at it, our society is guilty of the same sins that led to the destruction of those cities, and yet two of the four cities that were destroyed are basically unknown to many readers of the Bible and not greatly talked about.
Let us divide our discussion, therefore, into three sections. First, let us discuss what the Bible itself says about the cities of Admah and Zeboiim. After all, we cannot know whether the general silence in our contemporary culture about these cities is due to the silence the Bible has about them or comes from other reasons. Second, let us briefly discuss, given what the Bible says about these cities, why we do not speak of them at all. Third, let us look at the lessons we can learn from what the Bible does say about these cities, so that this particular blog entry may serve as an attempt to rectify the imbalance in discussion that these cities have received as opposed to their much better-known neighbors. With that said, let us begin.
What The Bible Says About Admah And Zeboiim
Five passages in the Bible, two of them in the same chapter, discuss the cities of Admah and Zeboiim directly, and a sixth passage discusses them by implication. Let us look at these passages now:
“And the border of the Canaanites was from Sidon as you go toward Gerar, as far as Gaza; then as you go toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha. These were the sons of Ham, according to their families, according to their languages, in their lands and in their nations.”
“And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations, that they made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). All these joined together in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled.
In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him came and attacked the Rephaim in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh Kiriathaim, and the Horites in their mountain of Seir, as far as El Paran, which is by the wilderness. Then they turned back and came to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and attacked all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who dwelt in Hazezon Tamar.
And the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out and joined together in battle in the Valley of Siddim against Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of nations, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five. Now the Valley of Siddim was full of asphalt pits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled; some fell there, and the remainder fled to the mountains. Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.”
“So it came to pass, when they [the angels] had brought them outside, that he said, “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed.”
Then Lot said to them, “Please, no, my lords! Indeed now, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have increased your mercy which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, lest some evil overtake me and I die. See now, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one; please let me escape there (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live.”
And he said to him, “See, I have favored you concerning this thing also, in that I will not overthrow this city for which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there. For I cannot do anything until you arrive there.”
Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar.
The sun had risen upon the earth when Lot entered Zoar. Then the Lord rained brimstone 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.”
“The whole land is brimstone, salt, and burning; it is not sown, nor does it bear, nor does any grass grow there, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, which the Lord overthrew in His anger and His wrath.”
“My people are bent on backsliding from Me.
Though they call to the Most High,
None at all exalt Him.
“How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I set you like Zeboiim?
My heart churns within Me;
My sympathy is stirred.
I will not execute the fierceness of My anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim.
For I am God, and not man,
The Holy One in your midst;
And I will not come with terror.”
Although we will save the lessons we can learn from what the Bible says about Admah and Zeboiim for a later discussion, let us note that the amount of material that is given about these two small and long-destroyed cities suggests their importance is greater than is commonly recognized. They are mentioned in a passage that discusses the geographic distribution of the various descendents of Noah after the flood, rooting their place at the boundaries of Canaanite culture as it approaches the wilderness beyond where various nomadic tribes lived. The two cities are mentioned explicitly in Genesis 14 and implicitly in Genesis 19 as sharing in the fate of their larger and more famous neighbors of Sodom and Gomorrah in military defeat for their rebellion against their Elamite overlord and in destruction because of their sexual immorality and social injustice. Additionally, and significantly, both cities remained as a judgment to later Israel in Deuteronomy 29 as well as contemporary Israel in Hosea 11 because the same judgment against sin that fell on those cities is threatened against Israel for its backsliding and moral corruption.
Why Do We Forget Admah And Zeboiim?
Given the fact that these two cities are mentioned several times in familiar parts of scripture, why then do we forget about these two cities? To be sure, they are not the only obscure cities of the Bible from which important lessons are given . When the Bible mentions a place multiple times to provide explicit object lessons from it, it behooves us to pay attention to it, even if those messages are somewhat scattered and rare. After all, we should be sensitive enough that even a single mention ought to trigger our attention, and anything more than that simply serves to emphasize something and make it even more important to remember. Yet, a great deal of the fame of Admah and Zeboiim, or the lack thereof, comes from the fact that they are often accompanied in mention by their vastly more famous sister cities of the plain, namely Sodom and Gomorrah. We might say that the worth of Admah and Zeboiim to be recognized has been hampered by being overshadowed by a more famous relative. As this can happen with families, where a particularly stunning and talented and attention-grabbing child can overshadow a more modest but still noteworthy sibling, the same thing can happen in geography, where Sodom and Gomorrah grab so much attention that there is little to give to Admah and Zeboiim, which is a shame, as they have much to teach us.
What Can We Learn From Admah And Zeboiim?
So, now that we’re paying attention to these two cities, what can we learn from them? First, let us note that even though these two cities were not particularly noteworthy that they shared in the fate of their neighbors. We are not isolated, but insofar as we draw strength and support from our neighbors, we too must share in common judgment. Twice Admah and Zeboiim share in the common fate of their larger neighbors. First, their kings (who are named in Genesis 14) share in the common rebellion of their neighbors against their overlord, the King of Elam, and his allies . It is only the intervention of Abraham on the behalf of his righteous but unwise nephew Lot that allows them to escape being despoiled. Then shortly later, without any sort of repentance as a result of the preliminary judgment of military defeat, the two cities share in the more permanent judgment of God upon them that led their formerly rich cities to become smouldering ruins and eternal shame. They did not even have the small size that allowed their neighbor Zoar to be delivered from that destruction.
It is therefore noteworthy that these two cities, when they are mentioned later on, are mentioned in two related contexts to their final judgment. When they are mentioned in Deuteronomy 28, God has just given Israel the litany of intense blessings and cursings in the previous chapter, and there they can see, at the north end of the Dead Sea, the wilderness and deserted ruins of these cities and their neighbors, a reminder of the sort of destruction that can come upon a city when it rejects God’s ways and seeks after immorality and injustice, characteristic sins of the Canaanites whose land they were about to occupy for those same sins. Israel did not heed the lesson, though, and it is therefore of little surprise that when they are mentioned again in Hosea it is in the passionate longing of God seeking to deliver His backsliding people of Israel from the judgment that they deserved in the 8th century BC and that contemporary Israel deserves today for their lack of faith in and obedience to God. Israel did not heed the lesson of the destruction of Admah and Zeboiim during the time of Hosea either, and we are not any different, as our society has hardened its own heart against a reminder of the judgment that we deserve for our own sins against God and fellow man.
How then, should we take the biblical mention of the cities of Admah and Zeboiim? Let us note that we may not think we are as evil or as wicked or as noteworthy as our neighbors, but we will share in their judgment nonetheless even if we ourselves are overshadowed by them. God clearly believes in the principle of collective and societal judgment, in addition to individual judgment, and even if a righteous remnant survives the judgment of God (for which we can praise Him for His mercy), the judgment of God is not an enjoyable thing to endure, even if it is to our benefit. Let us therefore recognize that these two somewhat obscure cities are mentioned in the Bible as being neighbors and sisters along with Sodom and Gomorrah, sharing in their military defeat as well as their fiery destruction as a result of God’s judgment. The sins that these cities were punished for are sins that were rampant in the time when Israel was judged with captivity during the days of Jeroboam II, where these cities were mentioned, were sins that were promised collective judgment in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, where these cities are mentioned in the same context, and are sins that are rampant in our society today. Shall we test God to see if these cities and their fate is relevant to our own day and time, or will we look at His consistent example and take heed and repent?
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