Real Bible Studies: Abram and Lot

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Previously in Genesis, we learned of Abram’s lineage and his connection to Noah by way of Shem, and information on his family, including his wife, Sarai. We also met his nephew, Lot, who has separated from Abram, so as not to cause any conflicts between their combined holdings. Throughout the story of Abraham in Genesis, Lot serves as a sort of comic relief, always getting into scrapes, and needing either his uncle or various heavenly entities to bail him out. Chapter 14 of Genesis is no different.

Genesis 14 begins with a gathering of kings preparing for battle. The kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam, and Goyim are amassed against the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboyim, and Bela. Shinar, some may recall, was the location of what’s come to be known as the Tower of Babel, but Genesis does not reveal whether this incident precedes or comes after that episode, even though, within the Bible, it appeared just after the story of Noah, with no specific time given then either. Since the residents of Shinar were presumably scattered after the tower was destroyed, and it’s not referred to as Babel, it would seem this episode predates that. We’re also not told what precipitated this conflict, but the odds clearly seem in favor of the forces allied with Sodom, given that it’s four kings versus five. However, in one of those ironic twists that the Bible is famous for, the kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam and Goyim prevail, causing Sodom, Gomorrah, and the rest to retreat through an area full of tar pits, which claim some of the soldiers. Genesis also reports that poor Lot found himself on the losing end of the deal, and was carried off, with all his possessions, by the four kings. The Bible does not say that Lot took part in the conflict, but, as usual, he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So, Lot has hardly been separated from his uncle for very long, before he finds himself in trouble, requiring Abram to take action to save him. Genesis doesn’t give a clear timetable on when this happens, but, since it appears reasonably early in Abram’s story, his father Terah should have still been alive at that point, and one wonders why he wasn’t brought in to help free Lot. For whatever reason, Terah is a no show, prompting Abram to undertake a mission to save his nephew on his own. Abram assembles three hundred and eighteen trained men, who the bible describes as “born in his household” — whatever that means — and takes off in pursuit. Genesis states Abram and his forces pursue them as far as Dan, which is interesting, since, as we will learn later in Genesis, Dan is named after one of the sons of Israel, who are descendants of Abram, and don’t exist at this point in the story. In any event, Abram and his mercenaries are successful in doing what the five kings could not do, routing the enemy, recovering Lot, his possessions, and all the women and others with him.

A couple of kings ride out to meet Abram, including the king of Sodom, and Melchizedek, who’s described as the king of Salem, and a priest of God most high. Melchizedek blesses Abram, prompting Abram to give him a tenth of everything. When the king of Sodom asks for the people, allowing Abram to keep the goods, Abram rebukes him, stating that he’s taken an oath that he won’t accept anything from the king, so the king can’t take credit for making Abram rich. Abram accepts only the food and goods he’s used, and whatever else belongs to the men with him, demonstrating that Abram is apparently a much better judge of character than his nephew. We’re not explicitly told that Lot returns to Sodom, but, given that his most well-known episode takes place there, we can assume he did.

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