There’s Some Evil in the Hills
Genesis 19:19 and 30
“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. (Genesis 19:19, NKJV)
The incest creation story of the Moabites and Ammonites begins, it would seem, at verse 30 in Chapter 19 of Genesis:
Gen 19:30, NKJV: Then Lot went up out of Zoar and dwelt in the mountains, and his two daughters were with him; for he was afraid to dwell in Zoar. And he and his two daughters dwelt in a cave.
Lot and his two daughters move from the lower Jordan valley plain city of Zoar to a mountain cave home. The girls scheme to repopulate the nearby scorched earth — Sodom and Gomorrah and other lower plain cities have been destroyed — by fathering their dad’s children. So over two evenings the pair get their father Lot drunk, take turns having a go with him, and produce two boys which they name Moab and ben-Ammi.
Gen 19:30-38, NIV: Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave. 31 One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children–as is the custom all over the earth. 32 Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.” 33 That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and slept with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up. 34 The next day the older daughter said to the younger, “Last night I slept with my father. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and sleep with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.” 35 So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went in and slept with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up. 36 So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. 37 The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. 38 The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.
The Moabite and Ammonite nations go on to continue their practice of being Godless thorns in the side of the nation-state of Israel. Whatever else this narrative is and whatever else it instructs, it is a creation story of sorts, and a crude, insulting, slap in the face of the Hebrew’s long-time enemies.
Bible Bits however is interested here in a small thing you might have missed prior to the incest story’s beginning at verse 30. We see the incest story beginning at verse 19. Look back at verse 19, and then at verse 30. We have added emphasis to our bit of interest. First, the New King James Version:
NKJV Gen 19:19: “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.
NKJV Gen 19:30: Then Lot went up out of Zoar and dwelt in the mountains, and his two daughters were with him; for he was afraid to dwell in Zoar. And he and his two daughters dwelt in a cave.
“Some evil.” This is the first part of our curious Bible Bit. “Some evil.” The NKJV reflects its lineage from the KJV:
KJV Gen 19:19 Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die:
KJV 1611 … lest some euill take me, and I die.
Douay-Rheims Bible …lest some evil seize me, and I die
English Revised Version …lest evil overtake me, and I die:
JPS Tanakh 1917 …lest the evil overtake me, and I die.
Webster’s …lest some evil should take me, and I die:
Geneva Bible of 1587 …least some euill take me, and I die.
We note that earlier translations generally choose either “some evil” or “the evil” at this point in the text. Nevertheless, some early English translations choose the more temporal and slightly less vague “harm” or “misfortune” over the more “religious”-sounding and slightly open-to-wider-interpretation “evil:”
Bishops’ Bible of 1568 …lest some harme fall vppon me, and I dye.
Coverdale Bible of 1535 ….There might some mysfortune fall vpon me, that I shulde dye.
Tyndale Bible of 1526 …lest some misfortune fall vpon me and I dye.
Darby (1890) … lest calamity lay hold on me, that I die.
We point out again the nuance of difference between a vague reference to “some evil” and a more specific (yes?) but still rather vague (yes?) reference to “some misfortune” or “harm” or “calamity” or “disaster.”
Translations made in recent decades mostly abandon “evil” and replace it with “disaster” and the like. Genesis 19:19:
ESV: Behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life. But I cannot escape to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me and I die.
NASB: …for the disaster will overtake me and I will die;
NET: …because this disaster will overtake me and I’ll die.
Berean Study Bible: …the disaster will overtake me, and I will die.
New English Bible: You have shown your servant favour and you have added to your unfailing care for me by saving my life, but I cannot escape to the hills; I shall be overtaken by the disaster, and die.
New Jerusalem Bible: ‘You have already been very good to your servant and shown me even greater love by saving my life, but I cannot flee to the hills, or disaster will overtake me and I shall die.
The recent Literal Translation (by J.P. Green) and very recent Literal Standard Version both, however, stick to “evil:”
Literal Standard Version (2020) …lest the evil cleave [to] me and I have died;
J.P. Green Literal Translation (1993): … lest some evil overtake me and I die.
The Jewish Publication Society’s “official” Hebrew/English publication of the Tanakh (the Christian Old Testament) modified their English translation of 1917 when republished in 1985. The “the evil” of 1917 became “the disaster” in 1985:
JPS Tanakh 1917: behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shown unto me in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest the evil overtake me, and I die.
JPS Tanakh 1985: You have been so gracious to your servant, and have already shown me so much kindness in order to save my life; but I cannot flee to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me and I die.
The Greek-language Septuagint does not shed any light on our interest in Hebrew words:
Brenton Septuagint Translation (1844): since thy servant has found mercy before thee, and thou hast magnified thy righteousness, in what thou doest towards me that my soul may live, – but I shall not be able to escape to the mountain, lest perhaps the calamity overtake me and I die.
NETS Septuagint (2009): since your servant has found mercy before you and you have magnified your righteousness — that which you bring about with regard to me — to quicken my soul, but I shall not be able to proceed safely to the mountain, for fear the disasters overtake me and I die; (The NETS translation of Genesis was done by Robert J. V. Hiebert)
Okay, so what’s up with all this attention we’ve been giving to the translation choice of “some evil” verses “some disaster?”
It is that we at Bible Bits are inclined to favor the “some evil” choice because — although we have no proof or any real evidence — it better fits an interpretation which makes Lot’s statement a pointer to the evil future incest with his daughters. We prefer it to “the disaster” and “calamity” and “misfortune” which seem to be (but don’t have to be) a pointer to the conflagration of fire & brimstone inflicted on the cities of the lower valley.
Let’s move forward to verse 30, the first line of the incest story. Pay special attention to Lot’s fear of Zoar:
Gen 19:30, ESV: 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.
Gen 19:30, NASB: … for he was afraid to stay in Zoar; and he stayed in a cave, he and his two daughters.
Gen 19:30, NET: … because he was afraid to live in Zoar….
Gen 19:30, NKJV: … for he was afraid to dwell in Zoar….
At 19, Lot pleads with the two angels to not drag him all the way from Sodom to the elevated landscape west of the Jordan valley. For some unspecified reason, Lot fears “evil” or “disaster” in the mountains. The hills hold some unstated evil. Or some disaster. Or the evil. Or the misfortune. Or this disaster. Or the disasters. Lot asks instead that he be allowed to move to the small village of what later is named Zoar. Zoar is therefore saved from the specific fire & brimstone destruction which destroys Sodom, Gomorrah, and other settlements of the salt lake region.
But then, at verse 30, for unexplained reasons, Zoar has become the frightening place, and the mountains and a cave are the (relatively?) safe place.
This is curious, and the Bible doesn’t stop to explicitly point out, much less explain, the exact nature of whatever it is that Lot fears in either 19 or 30, or why his thoughts change.
Why has Lot changed his view? We don’t know. This is our Bible Bit.
The many commentaries we checked are mostly silent on this, other than to point out a few speculative possibilities and other thoughts:
- It is simply ironic. And that is that.
- At 19, Lot is physically or mentally exhausted by the thought of a trek out of the Jordan valley up into the plateau and hills. Whatever role fear-of-mountains plays, Lot prefers Zoar because it is closer and does not require the effort.
- At 30, Lot fears the fire & brimstone conflagration will extend to Zoar. (But, what is the timing of events in 19, and 30, and the period in between? Hours? Days? Months?)
- At 30, wicked humanity has moved into Zoar, and/or increased.
- At 30, Lot disrespects God’s move place him in the made-safe Zoar, by doubting Zoar’s safety and the new appeal of the (evil) hills.
For what it’s worth, Bible Bits finds appeal in the idea that Lot disrespects God by rejecting the angels’ explicit promise of safety in Zoar. This fits with the running theme of the Old Testament regarding persons and people choosing their own plan rather than God’s, and suffering misfortune as a result. But of course, our desired view is not backed with explicit Biblical evidence in the case of Lot’s change of mind.
We also find appeal in author God’s literary use of irony, where Lot first fears some unspecified “evil” in the hills, and later, by his own doing (with his daughters), walks himself right into that passed-out drunk evil which he rightly feared at first. It was an unspecified evil in 19 and then an obliviously achieved evil during the incest actions. Lot didn’t know what the future evil might be, and he wasn’t aware of it happening when it happened.
Our speculative interpretation relies on the nowadays less-favored translation of “some evil” in the earlier English translations. If Lot moved from Zoar to the hillside caves due to fear of sulfur fumes and volcanic action rolling from Sodom onto Zoar, then our little theory loses traction.
We did not examine the Hebrew words for the Bible Bit exercise. If one wants to seriously explore our Bit, one must do so, and examine the transition of English translation moves from “some evil” to “some calamity” and the like.
A good starting point for your Hebrew word study is the wonderful Hebrew-English interlinear at Scripture4All:
As it turns out, the worrisome “some evil” eventually does indeed occur in the mountain-side cave. Ironically, Job was in this case correct in the beginning to fear some unknown hillside evil. Then Lot somehow disrespects the promise of God, loses his fear of the mountain, chooses his own way, and by his own doing (along with the daughters) fulfills the originally feared evil. The Bible does not explicitly state this and explain, but we suspect a loss of faith in God, and a move to follow his own direction is behind the eventual incestual nights in a cave.
Does your good commentary source offer some analysis of the 19-to-30 change of mind? Does it even make note?
If you choose to weigh-in on this topic, please provide scripture and point to good 3rd party analysis.
We examined perhaps 20 recent and older commentaries, and found nothing of substance on our Bible Bit. We did not examine Jewish Talmud and Midrash sources. Perhaps you could look for Genesis 19:19 and 19:30 references among this material.
May your receive God’s grace and blessings. God bless you! Please pray without ceasing and read the actual Bible for yourself. 🙂