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In Genesis 18:20 and 19:13 the reason is given for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah:

(Westminster Leningrad Codex interlinear with vowels)

And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; Gen. 18:20

For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the LORD; and the LORD hath sent us to destroy it. Gen. 19:13

זַעֲקַת is the Heb. form 'cry' in Gen. 18:20

צַעֲקָתָם Heb. form 'cry of them' Gen. 19:13

In Genesis 4:10 we have Abel's blood crying to YHWH from the ground:

And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.

It would follow the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah would be like this cry seen in Gen. 4:10 which was a cry of the victim. However, every indication points to Sodom and Gomorrah's cry for itself, the ones committing the sin not the victims.

What is this 'cry' that brought total destruction on Sodom and Gomorrah?

OR

How do we understand the difference between 'the cry of them is so great" and "their sin is so grievous"?

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5 Answers 5

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In the English "the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah" it is as though Sodom and Gomorrah are the agent of the crying event. In the Hebrew this is less clear. The phrase is a simple noun chain with "outcry" in construct state. This can indeed indicate a genitive relation, but it can also be understood as "the outcry about Sodom and Gomorrah" → "the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah". This is also how the NIV has translated 18:20 and 19:13:

18:20 Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great ...
19:13 ... The outcry to the LORD against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”

This reading is supported by 18:21, where God unambiguously says the outcry has reached him:

אֵֽרֲדָה־נָּא וְאֶרְאֶה הַכְּצַעֲקָתָהּ הַבָּאָה אֵלַי עָשׂוּ כָּלָה וְאִם־לֹא אֵדָֽעָה
I will go down now and I will see if according to her outcry that has come to me they act entirely — and if not, I will know.

A 2002-3 article by Timothy D. Lytton in the Journal of Law and Religion, "Shall Not the Judge of the Earth Deal Justly?": Accountability, Compassion, and Judicial Authority in the Biblical Story of Sodom and Gomorrah, further explains this (pp. 36–37, references in footnotes omitted):

This ad hoc trial is occasioned by an "outrage" and an "outcry" emanating from Sodom and Gomorrah in verses 20 and 21 respectively. These two words in Hebrew, za'akah and tza'akah, are really identical terms, dialectical variants of each other (ref.), denoting a cry of distress or suffering. They also serve as technical legal terms for a claim of injustice linked to a demand for redress (ref.). The phonetic similarity between the Hebrew terms tza'akah (outcry) and tzedakah (justice) symbolizes linguistically that cries of disress are usually opportunities for doing justice (ref.). This wordplay works in two distinct ways. First, tza'akah is linguistically perverted tzedakah, reflecting that it comes from perverted justice. Second, tza'akah cries out, so to speak, for tzedakah (ref.).

Thus, "the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah" is the distress over the injustice done there and the cry for justice to be done. Who is doing the crying is not mentioned. I would say it is the earth and injustice itself which cries for justice to be done.

On the other hand, as you mentioned, in Gen 4:10 it is the victim who cries for justice. But as the above shows, that is not crucial to the root. Crucial is the malformed justice on the one hand and the need for justice on the other.

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One possible answer comes from the additional reasons given for judgment in the later passage in Ezekiel 16:49-50.

49 Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. 50 And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good. Ezekiel 16:49-50 (KJV)

The later passage suggests that there were victims that would have cried out from within the city of Sodom.

Verse 49 explains how there would have been victims and verse 50 explains that at the same time their sin was so grievous: their haughtiness (וַֽתִּגְבְּהֶ֔ינָה) and their abominations (תוֹעֵבָ֖ה).

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  • thank you for your response. Something about their 'cry' strikes me as unique. It's as though it has a weight and meaning that is elusive.
    – N.Ish
    Jan 15, 2018 at 0:39
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The idea of the outcry of/against Sodom and Gomorrah occurs in two places with different verbs:

  • Gen 18:20 - Then the LORD said, “The outcry against (זַעַק) Sodom and Gomorrah is great. Because their sin is so grievous
  • Gen 18:21 - I will go down to see if their actions fully justify the outcry (צַעֲקָה) that has reached Me. If not, I will find out.”
  • Gen 19:13 - because we are about to destroy this place. For the outcry to (צַעֲקָה) the LORD against its people is so great that He has sent us to destroy it.”

The meaning of צַעֲקָה and זַעַק are very similar and mean an outcry signifying a shriek of distress and cry for help, or cry of shock abhorrence. Keep in mind the kind of despicable place these were as evidenced by the unabashed evil of the rapist mob who wanted to molest the Lot's two visitors (Gen 19:4, 5).

The source of such an outcry could be any of the following:

  • the outcry of heavenly angels who must view such reprehensibly evil acts constantly
  • The outcry of people who had visited the city and were appalled and prayed for God to intervene
  • The outcry of the still righteous people in the cites (this is unlikely as only Lot's family were good enough to save)
  • A figurative outcry to express the concern of God who already knew the situation and did not really need to visit the city to find out (as evidenced the angels' action when they got to the city); compare Heb 11:4.

Since we are not told, my suggestion is a combination of all the above except the third. The Cambridge commentary has a helpful suggestion in it remarks on Gen 18:20:

the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah] See Genesis 19:13. (1) Either, this is the complaint concerning Sodom and Gomorrah going up to Heaven. The genitive “of” is then objective, like “the report of Tyre” (Isaiah 23:5), “the spoil of thine enemies” (Deuteronomy 20:14). (2) Or, it is the cry by the cities, which are personified, and which make their loud complaint against the inhabitants. The genitive then is subjective. See Genesis 4:10.

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It wasn't the people in the city crying out as victims because God destroyed all the inhabitants, innocent and guilty alike, but it would have been the surrounding cities and/or the very act itself that because the screaming. Just as a dead Able's blood "cried out" to God.

Remembering that God's omnipresent, He knew full well the grievous sin and when He claimed "I will go down to see" can be best thought of as "... and I shall demonstrate its wretched state so you all can be witnesses of".

Nothing shall be hidden...

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Peace be with you.

As we read through the Word of God, we understand each of us is having an Angel with us. Like in Acts 12, where it speaks about Peter's angel.

The sins of Sodom and Gomorrah was so grave so that there was an outcry. Could it be the Angels of the holiest God who cannot bear the sins? If the cry was of the victims, God would have saved the victims too. As we know, only Lot and his daughters were spared, we understand rest all the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were sinners.

God promised Abraham, if he found 10 righteous men, he would not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. As Abraham's descendants, we also have the privilege to pray to God, asking for His mercy.

Praise the Lord.

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