determinin if Lor is tring to convince God that him going there is a minor issue, or if he is appealing to the size of the town
Here is the Hebrew (note the placement of "and [waw conjunctive in the Heb.] it is a little place/thing" - immediately after referring to the city but before the actual request) and here is a multilingual page on the verse (for any who can read any of the other languages). I haven't seen any, so far, that have taken it as referring to the 'size of the request.'
I thought that maybe the old NWT's stodgy literalness just sounds like it is referring to the size of the request. Technically, "It is a small thing," could be referring to the city. No reference I've seen so far takes it as referring to the request. So I was thinking that maybe I was just reading that thought into the phrase. But I wasn't. In the old NWT there is a reference column scripture after the first occurrance of the phrase, "it is a small thing." The reference is to 2 Kings 3:18 which reads in the old NWT:
- "And this will indeed be a trivial thing in the eyes of Jehovah, and he will certainly give Mo′ab into YOUR hand."
Verse 21 (of Genesis 19) in the old NWT also gives the impression that it is the request that is small:
But a footnote points out that "consideration to this extent" literally reads "consideration in this thing." So it appears (to me) that the rendering, "consideration to this extent," was a result of having already understand "it is a small thing" as referring to the request, not the city. Also note how the rNWT has completely changed this verse too:
- So he [the angel] said to him: "Very well, I will also show you consideration by not overthrowing the town you speak of."
Incidentally, the Brenton translation of the LXX also has:
- "Behold this city is near for me to escape thither, which is a small one, and there shall I be preserved, is it not little? and my soul shall live because of thee."
And here is Josephus' account of the episode (Ant 1.11.4, 5):
- "Now he and his daughters fled to a certain small place, encompassed with the fire, and settled in it. It is to this day called Zoar, for that is the word which the Hebrews use for a small thing. There it was that they lived a miserable life, on account of his having no company, and his want of provision. But his daughters, thinking that all mankind were destroyed [evidently meaning 'outside of Zoar' - Bobcat], approached to their father, though taking care not to be perceived . . . [in order to get pregnant by him]" (This was curious to me because Josephus understood the destructive fire to be all around Zoar. And how Josephus understood the daughters' reasoning for getting pregnant by their father.)
Both Brenton and Josephus understanding it to be the city that was small.
what would be the point of it being a small vs. a large place?
The NAC commentary mentioned above has this to say about that (p. 240):
- His [Lot's] contention is that the angels can spare the little town for his sake, and they can still achieve their main objective. The reasoning reminds us again of Abraham before the Lord; justice, he contends, requires sparing the wicked for the sake of a few. Ironically, this is what occurs at Zoar; although a member of the wicked cities, the angels spare it because of Lot. Such allusions promote the prophetic image of Abraham.
As I mentioned above, the account has a number of verbal allusions back to Abraham's discussion about the fate of the towns in chapter 18. This forms part of the commentary's reasoning in the account with Lot in chapter 19. Unger's OT commentary is very similar with regard to this account.
At any rate, not to get hung up on this; "It is a small thing." But it is curious what you find when you start digging.