After God rescued Abraham’s wife from the Pharaoh’s harem, the Pharaoh rewarded Abraham with riches (or more accurately, paid him to leave Egypt and take God’s curses with him). Abraham and his nephew Lot returned from Egypt very rich men with each owning a significant share of livestock and other goods. Upon returning, Abraham and Lot found that the land would not support the large number of animals that they were now required to feed. The problem was compounded by the fact that the native Canaanites used land in the area too and often held the most desirable land in the area. The stress of trying to feed the animals on limited land resources began causing tension between Abraham and Lot’s workers.
In an effort to fairly resolve the problem, Abraham told Lot, “Let’s split up. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right. If you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.” Abraham told Lot he could choose the land that he wanted and Abraham would take what was left.
Lot chose for himself the plain of Jordan and headed east. While Abraham stayed behind in Canaan, Lot chose to move to the plains near the wicked city of Sodom. Lot chose this area because the land was lush and green not caring (or considering) that the area he was moving his household to was a land of very evil men.
God reiterated his promise to Abraham, “Look north, south, east and west. All of this land I will give to you and your offspring. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count all of the dust on earth, then your offspring could be counted too.” Abraham must have felt confident that the land he was settling on was the place where God wanted him to live.
It was at this time that a huge war between nine nations (five kings vs. four kings) broke out and each of the king’s respective countries began battling against their neighbors. The alliance of four kings defeated the five kings and seized all the goods from the enemy kingdoms, including the lands of Sodom and Gomorrah. During this battle, Lot was living in Sodom and was captured and imprisoned by the enemy soldiers. Abraham soon heard that his nephew was in danger and quickly took action.
Abraham quickly gathered up 318 men and began pursuing the four kings that had won the battle. Abraham and his 318 men divided into four separate units and attacked the army at night, catching them off-guard. Abraham’s contingent soundly defeated the four kings. Abraham re-captured all of the goods that had been stolen from the defeated kingdoms and rescued the people that had been captured by the enemy armies.
The kings were very pleased and thankful for Abraham’s actions. The king of Salem (later renamed Jerusalem) provided a feast for Abraham and his soldiers providing them food and wine. Abraham graciously accepted this gift and in return, gave the king of Salem some of the riches he had obtained during the battle. The king of Sodom offered a deal to give Abraham goods that had been stolen back during the war but Abraham refused. Knowing that Sodom and its rulers were evil, Abraham did not want to be put into a position where people could ever say that Abraham became rich from the evil kingdom of Sodom. All that Abraham accepted was the food and drink that his soldiers consumed and the fair share of goods that belonged to them.
What the story means to us today
As with many of the stories of Abraham, we can learn from both his strengths and his weaknesses. Abraham gave Lot the choice of which area of land he wished to settle his family on. This was an unusual action given the customs of the day provided the elder first choice. Abraham ignored the common societal practice and instead showed great generosity towards Lot. Abraham was confident that God would eventually follow up on his promise to give the promised land to Abraham and his descendants.
If you trust God, he will take care of you
Abraham flatly refused the deal from the king of Sodom. A person who trusts in God does not have to cling to material items or accept things from others. They know that God will always take care of them.
Bad choices snowball into worse choices
Lot chose to live in the Jordan Valley and based his decision on how the land looked (lush and green). Note that Lot first looked towards Sodom, then he moved towards Sodom, the he eventually moved into Sodom. Bad choices often snowball into worse choices – a timeless lesson we should not forget.
Be careful who you choose as friends and neighbors
Lot did not consider the evilness of the neighbors he would be living next to. His choice was a selfish choice. Who we choose as neighbors, or friends, is more important than the looks of the neighbor (or friend).
Additional thoughts and considerations
Battles such as the one described in Genesis 13 and Genesis 14 were common in ancient times. Unions were formed between various nations (kings) to plunder and subjugate the people of the opposing nations. Abraham’s defeat of the four powerful kingdoms was significant and placed Abraham another step closer to God’s objective. A single tribe with 318 men defeated an army consisting of men from four different nations – a highly unusual outcome. Abraham was now recognized as a clan leader and a force to be reckoned with in the area. While heightening respect from the other clans, it must have also provided hope for Abraham’s people. Israel now saw that God would give his “chosen people” victories over their enemies, no matter how overpowering the foe.
The kings that blessed Abraham
The kings that blessed Abraham were very different people and their reactions can be contrasted in the Bible. Bera (BEE-rub), the king of Sodom, was most certainly an evil man. At this point in the Bible, the fate of Sodom is already being hinted at. Bera offered a deal to Abraham which Abraham pointedly (and to the casual reader, surprisingly) refused. In reality, this was not really much of a deal. Customs of the day (and that continue to this day) would have given Abraham the spoils from the war anyway. This right was probably only being acknowledged by the king of Sodom and may have been a test of faith for Abraham – would he accept a deal from such an evil ruler.
Melchizedek’s (mel-KIZ-uh-dek) name (the king of Salem) meant “king of righteousness” or “king of peace” suggesting he was a good ruler and a follower of God. In fact, most scholars point out that he was a priest. Later in the bible, David would be the first Israelite to sit on Melchizedek’s throne (where he prophesied that someday there would be a king of kings, aka Jesus, that would sit on the throne longer than any other man). The New Testament mentions Melchizedek again and refers to him as a forerunner to the messiah.
The science behind the story
Why did the kings battle each other?
Early scholars questioned the story of the battling kings. Why would they choose to battle each other? What were they fighting for? Now scientists have found proof that not only did the kings war against each other, but they now know what they were warring over – resources. Resources such as copper, asphalt, and manganese were in great demand and when one region ran out of resources, they attacked neighboring regions to steal theirs.
Who were the kings?
The kings mentioned by name in Genesis 13 and 14 fit the types of names during the time period (the Mesopotamian kings). Hittite literature of the era mention kings such as Arriyuk (EHR-ih-ahk) (aka Arioch), Kedorlaomer (KED-awr-LAY-oh-muhr) (aka Kudar), and Tudhalia (TYOO-hal-ia) (aka Tidal).
Where did these battles take place?
The locations of many of the areas mentioned as battle sites are also known. Salem, whom Melchizedek was the king of, was later renamed Jerusalem. Shinar later became known as Babylonia. Elam, which was east of Shinar, is a part of modern day Iran.
Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah (AD-muh), Zebolim (zuh-BOH-lim), and Bela (BEE-luh) were located near the Dead Sea (the Salt Sea). There are five known sites on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea that were ruined around 2,000 BC. These cities could very well be the sites archaeologists have discovered.
Ashteroth (ASH-tuh-rahth) and Karnalm (kahr-NAY-lim) were in Bashan (BAY-shan), Hame in eastern Gilead, and Shaveh Kirlathaim (SHAY-veh kee-RIE-a-them) was east of the Dead Sea. El Paran (PAY-ruhn) is in modern Elath while Kadesh (KEY-desh) and Tamar (TAY-marh) were southwest of the Dead Sea. The locations of Ellasar (el-LAY-sahr) and Goiim (GOY-im) remain unknown.
How rich was Abraham?
In the days of Abraham, an Arab sheik was considered to be rich if he had 200 tents, 100 camels, and 1,000 goats and sheep. Since Abraham was described in the Bible as “very rich”, his value must have far exceeded those of a “rich sheik”. It is easy to see that Abraham’s “ranch” must have been extremely large requiring quite a bit of land to maintain food supplies for his herds.
Genesis Chapter 13
So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. 2 Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.
3 From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier 4 and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord.
5 Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. 6 But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. 7 And quarreling arose between Abram’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.
8 So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”
10 Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: 12 Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. 13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.
14 The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. 15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspringa forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. 17 Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”
18 So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the Lord.
Genesis Chapter 14
At this time Amraphel king of Shinar,a Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goiim 2 went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). 3 All these latter kings joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (the Salt Seab). 4 For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.
5 In the fourteenth year, Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him went out and defeated the Rephaites in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, the Emites in Shaveh Kiriathaim 6 and the Horites in the hill country of Seir, as far as El Paran near the desert. 7 Then they turned back and went to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and they conquered the whole territory of the Amalekites, as well as the Amorites who were living in Hazazon Tamar.
8 Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim 9 against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five. 10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of tar pits, and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled to the hills. 11 The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. 12 They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.
13 One who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brotherc of Eshcol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.
17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).
18 Then Melchizedek king of Salemd brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creatore of heaven and earth.
20 And blessed bef God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.”
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”
22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ 24 I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre. Let them have their share.”