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. Shelley

    Re the root word for Nephilim, it looks to me like it partly means to cast down. Would this give the Nephilim the nuance (or stronger) that these giants, “sons of God”, are the “cast down ones”, being the angels who were cast down by God out of heaven with Lucifer? Or am I incorrect in this assumption? Thank you, Julia. I appreciate that you share your wisdom and knowledge with us. Hebrew is an important language! I would even say, THE most important. I studied Hebrew for only two years, barely scratching the surface, and that was 40 years ago. Life happens, and now that I have the time, I no longer have the means or opportunity to study again. So, I rely on others who pass on their gems. Again, thank you!

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for sharing , Shelley, I think I will write about the Nefilim in one of my next posts. Maybe, even the next one – so stay tuned! Blessings!

  2. Premkumar Samuel

    So soon yet another series of insights , Thank you so much.
    i never knew what Bera meant.

  3. Catherine Britt

    Thank you Julia
    What a great explanation and clarity

  4. Dorothy Healy

    Indeed we have so much wisdom to gain for our own faith walk from a deeper study of the life of the Patriarchs. This is a beautiful example of being tested to choose good over evil – after all, Abraham could easily have thought it quite ‘within his right’ to accept the king of Sodom’s offer. I am reminded of Deut 30:19 “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life…” As Lynn Craig said, we are not always aware when we are being tested, but surely we do receive tests.

    1. Julia Blum

      You are so right, Dorothy! In Hebrew, we have this expression : מגיע לו (mageea lo) – it means, that it is “within his right”. When something seems to be “within our rights”, it makes a temptation much more subtle and a choice much more difficult. This whole story would be a perfect example of something that indeed was מגיע לו, was within Abram’s right – and yet, he was able to recognize it as the temptation and to make the right choice.

  5. Anoush

    Thank you for revealing to us the next “layer” in G_d’s word. I knew Melchizedek meant ‘King of righteousness’ and that he was King of Salem (shalom – peace) but I never had anyone speak about the meaning of Bera that it is ‘in evil.’ Makes so much sense! Also that this whole episode was about Abram’s test of faith and not simply his loyalty to his kin. Thanks!

  6. Donald Ashton

    So often this passage is read as two distinct episodes in the life of Abram and the contrast is never seen between these two kings.
    Because we never contrast them we don’t consider the meaning of their names either.

    How you have shown us a new insight into this passage, which is so often lost be the way we approach it.

    Thank you Julia for this.

    1. Julia Blum

      Yes, Donald, so often this passage is read in a very different way – and the whole matter of test and choice is being overlooked. That’s why I felt it was so important to start this series with this particular story.

  7. Angeline

    Julia, how correct you are. So many times I have read a story without really going deep into the names of people involved. The two names מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶֿק and בֶּ-רַע remind me of the Two Trees in the Garden. Adam and Eve unwisely chose death over life and here we see Abraham wisely choosing righteousness over evil. Thank you Julia, you have shown us something we would never have seen on our own. That’s why I love your blog, you keep us on the true path. Stay blessed!

  8. Fiona da Rocha

    Hebrew is so rich and I am truly blessed by this…Thank you so much for writing on this subject and enlightening us with the true meaning and depth of the Scriptures in Hebrew…I don’t think a lifetime will be enough to plumb the wonderful depths and marvel at the wonder of God’s ways and thoughts conveyed through His Word,
    but for this introduction and incredible step onto His path of understanding His ways,His thoughts and His character….I humbly thank you.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Fiona, for your beautiful words, they’ve really touched my heart!

  9. Matthews Otalike

    Hi Julia,

    Thanks for this explanatory digestion of that passage of Genesis, especially the significance of the meeting of Abram with the two kings – Bera and Melchizedek. Most illuminating is the significance of the names of the two Kings – Melchizedek and what they represent.

    Remain blessed always.


  10. Dr Iathane Cromwell

    Dear Julia Shalom

    Thank you for this information as being a judean jew myself, i do appreciate messages about my forefathers etc and this is a good indicator of the TRUE PATHWAY to the TRUE LIGHT and to choose it only.

    Question: i am trying to locate a transliterated modern hebrew bible being new and old testaments, thus anglit and ivrit (hopefully also greek) can you help with this “ANYONE LEASE!!!”

    e.mail me on or contact me on 07903592264

    Dr Cromwell

    1. Julia Blum

      Shalom Dr Cromwell, are you asking about online resources? I am using “Bible works” program, it is a wonderful software, but there are also great online resources that are completely free: Mechon-Mamre for Tanach and Blue Letter Bible for both Tanach and New Testament. Hope it helps. Blessings!