Abram Goes To Egypt

While Abram was on this journey, a famine broke out in the land, and Egypt, so long known as the storehouse of the world, became the goal of Abram’s wandering. Knowing the evil ways and morals of the Egyptians, Abram tried to hide his fair wife Sarai. But the custom-officers discovered her and took her into King Pharoah’s palace, believing her to be Abram’s sister and not his wife. At night, G‑d appeared to Sarai and assured her that nothing would happen to her. And G‑d smote Pharaoh and his men with plagues, and they could not touch Sarai. When they found out the reason for all the trouble that had come to them, Pharoah called Abram and rebuked him for not having revealed to him that Sarai was his wife. Then he sent Abram and Sarai away, after he had given them many gifts of cattle and servants.

The Strife of the Herdsmen

The famine ended, and Abram and his household, among them his nephew Lot, returned to their old place in Canaan, between Beth-El and Ay. Abram was now very rich. He had flocks, silver, and gold in abundance. Lot also had a great number of sheep and cattle. But whereas Abram’s shepherds abided strictly by the rules given to them by their pious master concerning trespassing upon the property of others, Lot’s shepherds were rough men who did not respect this spirit of justice. Thus there were constant arguments and strife between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot. Soon complaints reached Abram about the misbehavior of Lot’s herdsmen and the strife between the shepherds. Abram therefore called Lot and said to him: “Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdsmen and thy herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me; if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if thou take the right hand, then I will go to the left.”

Abram and Lot Separate

Abram and Lot were standing on the height near Beth-El, and: from this point they gazed over a wide extent of country. They looked down into the fruitful and blooming valley of the Jordan; it was indeed like the Garden of Eden, or like the rich land of Egypt they had just left. But the people of these lovely districts “were wicked and sinners before G‑d exceedingly.” Lot made his choice without hesitation; and separating himself from his generous and unselfish kinsman, he journeyed eastward, and finally pitched his tent near Sodom, in the valley of the Jordan.

Abram, left alone in his encampment near Beth-El, received from G‑d another of those promises so full of hope and gladness. He was bidden to lift his eyes to the north and south, the east and west; for all that land should belong to him and to his descendants forever. And great and numerous should be his offspring, for G‑d pledged, “I shall make your seed as the dust of the earth, so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then your seed shall also be numbered. Arise, pass through the land, in its length and in its width; for to you I shall give it.”

Thus commanded by G‑d, Abram traveled southward, until he reached the city of Kiryath Arba, later called Hebron. There he was welcomed by Aner, Eshkol and Mamre, the resident lords of the Amorites. They formed an alliance, and Abram settled down in the oak-groves of Mamre.

Lot a Prisoner of War

Lot was soon to discover that his greed for wealth had nearly cost him not only his entire fortune but also his life.

On the plain of the Jordan there were five old cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, Zebaim, and Bela or Zoar. These cities had been conquered by Chedarlaomer, the powerful king of Elam, on the east of the Tigris. For twelve years these cities paid tribute to him, but then they rebelled, and regained their independence for thirteen years. The following year, however, the great king of Elam resolved upon crushing his former satellites; and with the help of three neighboring kings, he marched from his territory, confident of success. After having gained many victories in the east and south of the land, the kings descended upon the valley of the Jordan, the real object of their trip. The five cities trembled with terror at the approach of the conquerors. Yet, anxious to resist the invaders to the last, the kings of the five cities marched out at the head of their armies and met the enemy in the valley of Siddim, near the dangerous bitumen pits, which they hoped would entrap the unwary strangers. A desperate battle was fought. The four eastern kings overpowered their unfortunate opponents, and trapped the kings of Sodom and Gemorrah in the very bitumen pits which were to have become their own graves. The others fled in trembling haste towards the mountainous lands of Jericho. All their rich possessions fell into the hands of the conquerors.

Amongst the captives was Lot, Abram’s nephew, who had remained in Sodom, his chosen place of residence. Abram was in the oak-groves of Mamre, when a messenger, who had escaped from the battlefield, arrived with the news that Abram’s nephew was a prisoner, a slave of the great king of Elam.

The Rescue

Abram immediately gathered all his men, three hundred and eighteen in number, and pursued Chedarlaomer’s victorious army. It was a daring act, but it proved Abram’s firm belief in G‑d’s help and justice. Attacking by night and aided by many divine miracles, his small band of warriors defeated the overwhelmingly superior forces of Chedarlaomer. He recaptured all the loot, freed the people, and brought them back in a march of triumph, singing praises to G‑d for His miraculous help wherever he went.

Laden with this wealth, and accompanied by Lot and his released fellow-captives, the conquering Abram returned towards his home. In the valley of Shaveh he was met by the king of Sodom, who came forth with Malkitzedek, the king of Salem, who, as mentioned before, was Shem, the son of Noah, and priest of G‑d. In accordance with his priestly office, he brought bread and wine, which he gave to Abram, adding to this typical offering a blessing so true and simple: “Blessed be Abram of the Most High G‑d, Who has delivered thy enemies into thy hand.” Abram gave him a tenth of everything he had.

The king of Sodom satisfied with the liberation of his captured hosts and country by Abram, gratefully offered to him the whole of the spoil he had brought back; but Abram, unwilling to be enriched by the wealth of idol worshippers, refused everything “from a thread to a shoe-strap”; yet he permitted his faithful allies Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre to take their due portions.