Old Testament Tales - Abraham and Lot
Abraham and Lot
- Who set out from Ur of the Chaldees heading for the land of Canaan?
- What relationship was Lot to Abram?
- How often did Abram pretend that his wife was his sister?
- Who were the “kings of the plain”?
- Who was Melchisedek?
- What happened to Sodom and Gomorrah?
- Why were Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed?
- Where did Ishmael’s mother come from?
- How old was Ishmael when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed?
- How old was Ishmael when Isaac was born?
Genesis 11 describes the many generations of mankind scattered at Babel, and finally reaches Terah, father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. Terah lives in Ur of the Chaldees and sets out, after the death of his son Haran, to go to Canaan. Terah’s son Abram travels with him, bringing his childless wife Sarai and nephew Lot, son of Haran. Abram’s other brother Nahor appears not to have left Ur at this time. Terah stops before he reaches Canaan and lives out his life in the town of Haran (perhaps named for the lost son). The town’s name later changes to Nahor, suggesting Nahor must have joined him later. But Abram takes Sarai and Lot and leaves his father in Genesis 12, when God tells him to continue to Canaan.
Abram is a nomad and, when famines strikes, he goes south from Canaan to Egypt, just as many others would have done (and just as Jacob does later in the story of Joseph). Abram pretends that his wife is his sister, a common ruse that in Abram’s case results in his gaining much property before he leaves. (He repeats the ruse in Genesis 20, just before Isaac is born, and Isaac himself repeats it in Genesis.) It’s possible Sarai obtained the Egyptian serving girl Hagar at this time.
On returning to Canaan, Abram and Lot split up, Lot heading to the Cities of the Plain on the east of the Dead Sea and Abram heading for the hills. Archeologists have discovered the remains of several cities round the Dead Sea, where Sodom and Gomorrah probably stood. The story of the cities and their five kings being conquered by Chederlaomer (Genesis 14) fits in with other histories of the area. Abram comes to the rescue with an army of nomadic tribesmen, and is greeted by Melchisedek, king of Salem (probably Jerusalem) with a gift of bread and wine for God. Later Melchisedek comes to represent all those priests and people of God who do not claim Abraham as their ancestor, because he recognizes the one true God. There’s some suggestion that by this time Abram’s tribe are the only people still keeping the monotheistic God-stories pure, while others have added fanciful traditions and multiple deities.
Ishmael is born soon after this battle, and another 13 years pass before Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) are destroyed. The ruins bear witness to flames from the sky, burned from the rooftops down, and bitumen pits (Genesis 14:10) and geological instability give ample cause. The crimes for which the towns are destroyed are less easily explained. God initially tells Abraham he’s going to destroy them for their sins but doesn’t specify which ones. When angels visit Lot the townspeople demand to “know” them, hence the word sodomy; but Lot tries to offer his virgin daughters instead. Ezekiel 16 compares Jerusalem to the people of Sodom, saying they were arrogant and didn’t help the poor and needy. Jeremiah and Lamentations associate Sodom and Gomorrah with adultery and lies. Isaiah compares the shameless sins of Babylon to those of Sodom and Gomorrah. And in Deuteronomy Moses warns the Jews not to fall into the sins and sicknesses of Sodom and Gomorrah. All in all, the most we can say for sure is that the people were sinful and their sins included sexual sins.
Lot escapes, hoping to stay in one “small city” that will be spared (and was, if the archeologists are right). He ends up living in the hills instead, and his wife ends up turned into a pillar of salt. While it’s hard to imagine such instant transformation, it’s likely the plain would be scattered with such pillars after Lot’s flight, and indeed, some still exist. Meanwhile, Isaac is born one after the destruction.