Abram and Lot
As Abram and his family leave Egypt, they travel through the Negev ("The South" -- even though they are moving north). Eventually, they reach the town of Bethel once more, where Abram last built an altar to God. We notice that Abram and Lot have become very wealthy by this time. Their wealth is evident in the great herds that they are keeping. Unfortunately, the size of their herds was a cause of difficulty between Abram's herdsmen and Lot's herdsmen. The region they lived in could not support both herds, not considering the native landowners' herds.
To avoid continuing problems, Abram suggests that he and Lot separate. Trusting God's care for him, Abram gives Lot his choice of land within which to travel. Lot chooses the plains of Jordan. This is the area surrounding the Dead Sea. It is believed that at this time, the Dead Sea was not as large as it is in modern times, or that it did not exist. There is some evidence that at one time the Jordan once flowed all the way to the Red Sea.
The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah probably existed where the south end of the Dead sea now is found. Even at the time of Lot's choice, the cities of this region were noted for their wickedness (See Ezekiel 16:49-50 for a description of what Sodom was like). Yet, moving to a land full of sinners did not deter Lot. Lot desired the grazing land, which was, at this time, well watered. Its richness was compared to the fertileness of the Garden of Eden and the land of Egypt. Obviously, the nature of this land has changed greatly since the days of Abram (see Psalm 107:33-34 for a contrast of the land before and after its destruction).
At first, Lot lives in the plains, but over time he moves into the town of Sodom. Abram moves by the oaks of Mamre, where later the city of Hebron develops.
While in this area, God renews His promise to Abram and expands on the details. All the land of Canaan is promised to Abram and his descendants. Even though Abram never owned this land, except the purchase of a cave to bury Sarah within, he believed God. Even his children did not see the promise fulfilled for over 700 years! God also promised Abram that his descendants would be like the dust of the earth or the sand of the sea, yet at this time Abram was quite old and had no children.
During this time, a war breaks out. A confederacy of four kings is formed: The king of Shinar, which is later known as Babylonia; The king of Ellasar, which is located in southern Mesopotamia; The king of Elam, which is later known as Persia; The king of Goiim, which is believed to be located in northeastern Mesopotamia. Chederlaomer, the king Elam was the leader of the confederacy. According to Nelson Glueck, "Centuries earlier, another civilization of high achievement had flourished between the 21st and 19th centuries B. C. til it was savagely liquidated by the kings of the East. According to the biblical statements, which have been borne out by archaeological evidence, they gutted every city and village at the end of that period from Ashtaroth-Karnaim in southern Syria through all of Trans-Jordan and the Negev to Kadesh-Barnea in Sinai."
Five city-states in the plains of Jordan were forced to pay tribute to these kings: Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim, and Zoar. These city-states occupied the region known as the valley of Siddim, or the valley of fields, which later becomes the Dead Sea. The cities in the valley of Siddim were forced to pay tribute to the confederacy for twelve years. However, they stopped payment in the thirteenth year. The following year, the kings of the confederacy came to collect their tribute. The rebellion must have been wide spread, because the kings attack many areas on the way to the valley of Siddim. They crushed all the cities north, east, and west of the rebelling cities, effectively eliminating all aid or behind-the-lines attacks.
Nelson Glueck continues to say, "The rebellion of the small kings of the cities on the east side of the Dead Sea against what must have been the extortionate rule of absentee suzerains was brutally curshed. This comparatively minor insurrection was thereupon utilized as a pretext to settle old scores and to raid and ravage with unleashed ferocity for as much booty as could possibly be won. An old order was crumbling. From southern Syria to central Sinai, their fury raged. A punitive expedition developed into an orgy of annihilation. I found that every village in their path had been plundered and left in ruins, and the countryside laid waste. The population had been wiped out or lead away into captivity. For hundreds of years thereafter, the entire area was like an abandoned cemetery, hideously unkempt, with all its monuments shattered and strewn in pieces on the ground."
The kings of the valley of Siddim fled from this army though the tar pits of the region and hid within the mountains some leaders! One man managed to escape and brought word to Abram. Notice that Abram is called the Hebrew, which is the first time this name is used. The word Hebrew probably refers to a descendant of Eber. Abram takes 318 men from his own servants and set out after this army. We are told that Mamre, Eshcol, and Aner allied themselves with Abram and joined him in his chase. Even with the additional men, it is obvious that the odds are definitely against Abram and his cohorts.
Abram and his friends decide to attack the army simultaneously from different sides. They threw the army into total confusion and Abram's men chased the remains of the army all the way to Damascus. There are no records of this stunning defeat, but then most kings only keep records of their victories. Defeat in battle usually left the kings dead or in slavery.
On his return, Abram meets with the king of Salem, whose name is Melchizedek. The name Melchizedek means "King of Righteousness." The city he ruled, which later is known as Jerusalem, name means "City of Peace." Melchizedek is unusual because he served as both a king and a priest of the most high God. This is the first mention of the occupation of priest. This, too, is another clue that belief and worship of God was not isolated to just the lineage of Abram. Other passages that mention Melchizedek are Psalms 110:4; Hebrews 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1-21.
Melchizedek brings bread and wine either to serve the weary warriors or for a celebration of their victory to God. Some commentators wonder if this feast foreshadows the Lord's Supper. Abram presents to Melchizedek a tenth of all the captured booty. This is the first mention of the practice of tithing, or giving a tenth of one's prosperity.
Abram then continues on and returns the people and the spoils. The king of Sodom, in gratitude offers Abram all the spoils, if he would just return the people. However, Abram refuses the gift for himself. He does not want others to think that he profited from the distress of other people. Abram does allow the spoils to be divided among his Amorite confederates.