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. Denise Oakes

    we all must go through testing to see if we are ready for the things that God wants us to do, you do no send one into battle unless they are ready and know how to handle the weapons.

  2. Sharon Stern

    There are a lot of ‘firsts’ in this story.

    A fascinating study is the meanings of the names of the Kings and their cities on both sides of this very first narrative of warfare recorded in the Torah and therefore sets the pattern for all future wars. All wars begin with deception, a lie that people buy into. Anytime we see in scripture, “And it happened in the days of … – this is code words for SOMETHING BAD IS GOING TO HAPPEN.

    Sodom, where Lot and his family reside is one of 4 cities who have been paying fealty to five opposing kings for many years. If you study the meanings of the names of these kings and their cities names; we see wickedness, lust, fear, smallness, haters, grave reapers, consuming fire – they spew death and destruction and preach a satanic gospel while indulging in their physical appetites. And Lot becomes taken captive by the very things he tolerated.

    Read the story carefully and the Kings in Lot’s neighborhood had home court advantage; and yet, they lost on their own playing field! Also, careful reading of the Hebrew, for the first time we see a person being called a Hebrew —- Abram (Gen 14:13). Ivri- to ‘cross over’. And what had Abram crossed over from? IDOLATRY – to faith in the one true G-d. And in the story about rescuing Lot, we see Abram about to do for Lot what G-d did for Abram – rescuing him from idolatry. And he does it with 318 of his men – the numerical value of “Eliazer — my G-d helps —- Eliazer if the shaliach, the sent out one whom the Father sends out to find a bride – a picture of the Holy Spirit.

    We meet our first ‘priest’ in the scriptures, Melchezidek — so his priesthood becomes the type, the standard, the ultimate type of all priests to come. There is a huge difference between Levitical priests and priests of the order of Melchezidek. Levitical priests brought animal sacrifices. Priests of the order of Melchezidek are THEMSELVES the sacrifice. Just as Messiah Yeshua gave Himself as a living sacrifice; so must I.

    So, the first time Abram is called a Hebrew is in the context of war. The first time we meet a priest is also in the context of war. Spiritually, if I am a son of Abraham; I, too, must engage in spiritual warfare. I have to pick sides. I have to pick up the word of the spirit and use it against the enemy; not my neighbor.

    And it is after Abram’s willingness to fight this battle that the first blood covenant takes place, a name change for Abram and the promise of a son through Sarah.

    If this isn’t the greatest story ever told!!!

  3. Elizabeth Seibel-Ross

    Wow! I’ve never appreciated the distinction between these two kings that the language reveals. Thank you for sharing all your gifts of your insight. I love the clarity of Abraham’s heart at the important cross-roads of his life.

  4. marc mercury

    Dear Julia
    Who do you think Melchizedek really ? Thanks for your clarification of Bera= evil. Story was good.

    Recently i looked up the name Jonah and was surprised and enlightened that it meant Dove. Some lights went on knowing what Christ said about signs:3 days in the belly and 3 days in Hell. U know..

  5. Angela Gray

    Dear Julia
    Thank you for your infirmation about these two kings, I’m truly blessed by it.
    Father Abraham was truly a man of faith. His life is an example for believers today.
    Is there any write-ups on the Nephilim?
    Stay blessed

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Angela, for your words. As I’ve mentioned here already, I will write about the Nefilim in one of my next posts. Maybe, even the next one – so stay tuned!

  6. mery

    Qué gran oportunidad para conocer y entender muchas cosas aún guardadas para muchos. No dejen de compartirnos tan valiosos tesoros. Quisiera saber más sobre los nephilims, su profunda raíz sobre su real origen. Julia muchas gracias


    Dear Julia,
    Thank you for insightful and Spirit-inspiring Bible exposition. I am learning a lot from these wonderful series of yours. Indeed like Abram, each and everyone of us is confronted with making daily if not hourly choices. We definitely need the Spirit of God to guide us in making unmistakable choices.
    God richly bless you as you give us more of such write-ups.

    1. Julia Blum

      Yes, John, you are so right: As Lynn and Dorothy wrote here, we are not always aware when we are being tested, but we do receive tests – and we definitely need God’s help in making the right choices.