A Sexual Addendum (Or, Daughters Aren’t Off Limits, Apparently)

I’m not sure how I missed Lot’s drunken cavorting with his daughters in Genesis 19 when I wrote my essay on biblical sexual ethics:

30 Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters. 31 And the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth. 32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” 33 So they made their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn went in and lay with her father. He did not know when she lay down or when she arose.

34 The next day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Behold, I lay last night with my father. Let us make him drink wine tonight also. Then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” 35 So they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose and lay with him, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. 36 Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. 37 The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab. He is the father of the Moabites to this day. 38 The younger also bore a son and called his name Ben-ammi. He is the father of the Ammonites to this day. (Genesis 19:30-38 ESV)

I think the purpose of this little story is to give an explanation of sorts as to why, in Deuteronomy 23, we are told

“No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever … (Deuteronomy 23:3 ESV)

Though Deuteronomy also tells us why, and it has nothing to do with Lot’s daughters and their drunken, naked revelry with their father:

… because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. (Deuteronomy 23:4 ESV)

So, Moabites and Ammonites are bad and inhospitable neighbors. That’s why they aren’t invited to be part of Israel.

To be fair to Lot, he is not the instigator of this — his daughters are. They fear no man will have them, and they will not have children to care for them in their old age. And oddly enough, actual daughters are not prohibited sexually in either Leviticus 18 or Leviticus 20. Look it over and tell me I’m wrong. Daughters-in-law are prohibited, as are daughters of daughters, and a mother and her daughter together (ick!), but not actual daughters themselves. It’s an odd and troubling oversight. What Lot has done is icky, but it doesn’t appear to violate the teaching of God. At least not that given to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

Because of this, the Ammonites and the Moabites are kin (Lot was Abraham’s somewhat hapless nephew) but also enemies. In Joshua, Israel was at war with the Ammonites about as often as Rome was at war with Veii in Livy’s early history. (It’s the Ammonites that King David uses to kill Uriah after he’s impregnated Uriah’s wife Bathsheba.) Now, we all know that Ruth the Plucky Little Moabite Girl™ seduces Boaz on the threshing room floor (I’m going to write a piece at some point on threshing room floors — there’s something about them in the Old Testament), becoming King David’s great-grandmother and tearing all to pieces to injunction in Deuteronomy prohibiting Moabites from becoming a part of the assembling of Israel “to the tenth generation,” but I was unaware the Ammonites also managed to worm their way into Israel’s high places as well:

13 So King Rehoboam grew strong in Jerusalem and reigned. Rehoboam was forty- one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city that the Lord had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel to put his name there. His mother’s name was Naamah the Ammonite. 14 And he did evil, for he did not set his heart to seek the Lord. (2 Chronicles 12:13-14 ESV)

Okay, so the example is not that good — Rehoboam is the awful, no good, very bad king whose obstinacy over taxes and forced labor splits the kingdom. He’s also fine proof (not that we need it) that Solomon probably never met a girl he didn’t take to bed. But this command, that Moabites and Ammonites not find their way into the assembly, well, that’s blown to pieces. Good kings, bad kings, it hardly matters.

And that’s the point of all this story nitpicking. The law — and I think we can all agree that father-daughter sex is icky and the kind of activity we would stone people to death for if we still did that sort of thing, despite what Leviticus does not say (this is a place where natural law is useful) — as given is violated all over the place in scripture. Frequently with horrific consequences, but rarely (maybe never?) in scripture does someone (or Israel itself) move heaven and/or earth in order to stay pure, good, and unsullied by illicit practice. In the end, it’s still not about whether or not we adhere to the law, but what God does with and in our sinfulness and our unfaithfulness, and how God responds to redeem us.

Because it is God’s faithfulness, and not ours, that is at stake.

One thought on “A Sexual Addendum (Or, Daughters Aren’t Off Limits, Apparently)

  1. Threshing shows up as a sexual euphemism in British/Irish folk songs; and maybe also in every culture which threshed grain. Farming in the old way tended encourage coarse humor of a certain sort even among the pious. They were far more familiar with the ‘circle of life’ and death than we moderns are.

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