The Bible Stories You Didn’t Know: Two Kings

I have no doubt that most of my readers have been students of the Bible for a long time, and know their Bible very well. Yet, I do feel confident regarding the title of this new series I am starting today. Years ago, when, for the first time I read the Torah Portion Noah in Hebrew, I had to go back and forth between the Hebrew and the translation, to make sure I was reading the same chapters – it felt like a completely different story! There are many stories like this in the Torah: when we read them in Hebrew (or at least, with some Hebrew understanding), they seem almost unrecognizable! And I am not even talking about those portions of the Scripture that are obviously connected to Hebrew, like, for instance, the verse about Nefilim in Genesis 6: everybody understands that if we turn to Hebrew here, it will definitely help and bring some clarity. No, I am talking about the stories where a reader is completely unaware of the things he is missing because of translation. I will share one of the examples with you today.

Our story happens in Genesis 14, but in order to understand the events of this chapter, we need to start earlier.  At the end of Genesis 11, we read that Haran, Abram’s brother, died an untimely death, leaving his son Lot an orphan. Was Lot a sweet little boy, a bitter teenager, or a completely grown young man with his own family when his father passed away? Was it at this time of mourning and grief that Lot formed this special relationship with his uncle Abraham? Had Abraham become almost a father to his fatherless nephew? Had Lot become almost a son to his childless uncle? We don’t know for sure when and how it happened, but clearly, it did happen at some point; otherwise, there is no explanation for those simple words:  So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him… Then Abram took Sarah his wife and Lot his brother’s son…[1]  When Abram departed for Canaan in full obedience to God’s call, he was ready to leave behind everything and everybody. He took only his very own with him – and his nephew Lot belonged to this group of Abram’s “very own”. Moreover, not only was Abram willing to take him, but Lot himself was willing to leave everything and follow his uncle to a completely unknown land.

In chapter 13, once Abram is back from Egypt, uncle and nephew part company. Genesis 13:6 describes the moment where they part: Now the land was not able to support them that they might dwell together.[2] True, it refers to their possessions as being so great that they could not dwell together, but somehow the reader gets the feeling that there was more to this conflict than just sharing the land. I think, Abram, exhausted by their endless fights, finally gave up and said with a heavy heart to his “almost son”: Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren…. Please separate from me…”[3]

Very soon Lot finds himself in trouble. The trouble happens in the very next chapter when the neighboring kings made war with… (the) king of Sodom and also took Lot, …  and departed.[4] Chapter 14 doesn’t tell us how Abraham feels when he hears that his nephew is taken captive, but neither do chapters 12, or 13, or 22 tell us about his feelings. Instead, we learn that he chased the culprits as far as Dan in the north, nearly 300 kilometers from Sodom; that he crushed the enemies at Hobah, north of Damascus; that he freed his nephew and recovered Lot’s possessions; and that he did all this with 318 of his servants (who served as soldiers in this battle, but clearly were not trained to be soldiers). An angry bear protecting her cub is capable of anything, and it seems that Abram’s deeds that we witness here belong to this same category.

As far as we know, Abraham was a very peaceful man. We don’t see him involved in battles like David. In fact, this is the only time we read about him going to war. This says a lot about him, because it wasn’t even his war; he definitely could have stayed at home. Instead, he gets up and runs 300 kilometers to rescue Lot. He wins the battle and brings back Lot, and all the captives and their possessions.  It must have been a triumphant return indeed! The rescued captives were full of joy; Abram himself was extremely thankful to God for this miraculous victory; and who then meets him, in this victorious moment?

Here, at the end of chapter 14, that our story begins – a story you have probably read many times, but that still might feel like a new story today. A Christian reader knows this episode as “Abram and Melchizedek” (many English Bibles even insert this title before verses 18-20 of Genesis 14) – but in fact here, in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley [5]),   not one,  but  two kings approach Abram:  Bera, king of Sodom, greets him in verse 17, and then Melchizedek, King of Salem, brings out bread and wine and blesses  him in verses 18-20.

17 And the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley), after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him.

18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High
Not one, but two kings are here – but for some reason, this fact, along with the whole dramatic tension of the entire  situation, is usually overlooked. Why do these two kings, representing completely different values, appear together?

This story gains so much more clarity when read in Hebrew, where the very meanings of the Hebrew words illuminate us as to what is actually going on here.  The meeting takes place at the Valley of Shaveh, and the Hebrew rootשוה  (shaveh)  has two main meanings: equal  or worth.  Moreover, in Hebrew we have an expression: to reach the Valley of Shaveh,להגיע לעמק שווה  – which means “to reach a compromise”. The two kings approach Abram simultaneously because this is a test that Abram has to pass. Their offers might seem almost equal, but Abram had to choose “the worthy one”.  The name “Melchizedek” is a transliteration of the Hebrew מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶֿק  (malki-tzedek), “my king is righteousness”. The name Bera:    בֶּ-רַע means “with evil” or “in evil. Thus, the Hebrew makes it apparent that it is here, at this Valley, that Abram had to choose between righteousness and evil; it is here, in this valley, that Abraham was tested and tempted to compromise his principles, his integrity – his faith.  While Melchizedek blesses Abram and God Most High, ensuring that Abram knows that it was God who “delivered your foes into your hands”[6], the king of Sodom offers him a subtle temptation. Thankfully, Abram recognizes the truth and the authority of Melchizedek, and refuses Bera’s temptation – and thus passes yet another test of faith.

 

[1] Gen. 12:4-5

[2] Genesis 13:6

[3] Genesis 13:8

[4] Genesis 14:2,12

[5] Gen. 14:17

[6] Gen.14:20

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Stephen Funck

    Ms. Blum, I am truly bless by your writing. You bring up much I did not know, enriching the Word of God, building up the faith.
    “318 of his servants”, would imply around 500 families under Abram. How many sheep, goats, cattle? More than 2000 people and 100,000 animals, spread over how many square miles make Abram a very great, powerful, wealthy man.
    He is usually pictured by us today as a minor shepherd, in the wilderness. Jericho nearby was over 6000 years old then. The valley was old, rich, well populated. Abram was a big man in a great place.

  2. Donald Bahn

    So much of the Hebrew is lost in the KJV, the Roman Catholic Church removed the Jewish influence and as a whole lost much of the understanding needed to have the kind of relationship God sent Yeshua to restore.

    1. Julia Blum

      You are so right, Donald! That’s why I called this series: “The Bible stories you didn’t know” – so much of the original meaning is lost in translation, sometimes these stories are just unrecognizable!

  3. simon

    I really love getting Bible notes from you

  4. Jacob Oshunnuga

    Dear Julia,
    Thank you for this beautiful exposition.
    May God grant us grace to always choose the way of righteousness.
    Sincerely,
    Jacob

  5. Thomas R Dobbert

    Dear Julia and Henrietta, Thank you, Julia, for the presentation. And, Henrietta, thank you for your well-said comment!

  6. YAZMIN TAYLOR

    So I wonder how Lot ended up being the judge in Sodom and Gomorrah.

  7. Shelley

    I loved this story, an important example for us to remember. Have you also written about the Nephilim in Gen. 6?

  8. Lynn Craig

    Thank you for continuing your blog so that Christians may see the revelation that God’s Holy Book was meant to be read. God Bless you in your ministry.
    God knew the outcome of this testing but Abram didn’t know the testing til after he chose righteously; therefore to apply this to our own lives we do not know when we are being tested it isn’t til after that we can evaluate our own responses and whether we are pleasing to God or being the rebellious child.

    1. Julia Blum

      That’s a very profound thought, Lynn: indeed, we do not know when we are being tested – as Abram had not known on the way home, after this great victory, that the main test was still ahead of him. Often times, it is precisely after the great victories, when we feel relaxed and confident, that these tests come – and the story of Abram is a great example and a great lesson for us!

  9. George

    Hello Julia,

    Thank you for giving more light to the Word of God.
    Your explanation is so wonderful.

  10. Henrietta Wisbey

    Dear Julia
    May this new series be equally blessed.
    Surely Abram is rightly called the father of faith.
    He knew how to choose the good over the evil.
    He was clearly able to perceive and discern the things given by the Spirit and thus make the right choice on this occasion.
    May God grant to all of us the gift of discernment the ability to see above and beyond that which may be gathered from the exercise of reason or the things that are visible to the natural eye.
    Blessings Henrietta

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Henrietta! I love your comments and love their timing, I always look forward to hearing from you once a new post is published. Yes, you are right : we all need this gift if discernment and this ability to make the right choice!

    2. Bayuning Kaeka Putra

      Thank you Yulia for your explanation. Very Clear for me. Elohim Bless You