Biblical Portraits: Almost A Father

We continue drawing Abraham’s biblical portrait—following his journey through the book of Genesis. Chapters 13 and 14 are so clearly marked by the name of Lot that we have to pause here in order to understand Abraham’s relationship with his young nephew. It would certainly provide an additional stroke to our portrait.

The Uncle and The Nephew

The very first time we see Lot’s name is at the end of Genesis 11. Verse 27 says that Haran begot Lot, and then the very next verse says that Haran died before his father Terah. In other words, Haran died an untimely death, leaving his son Lot an orphan. Was Lot a sweet little boy, a bitter teenager, or a completely grown up 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 we can be sure that it did happen at some point; otherwise, there is no explanation for those simple words from Genesis 12:4-5: So Abrahamdeparted as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him… Then Abrahamtook Sarah his wife and Lot his brother’s son…

When Abraham departed for Canaan in full obedience to God’s call, he had been willing to leave behind everything and everybody. He took only his very own with him—and once we read that his nephew belonged to this group of Abraham’s “very own,” we realize that he must have had a close and special relationship with him. This relationship also had to be mutual. Apparently Lot loved and respected his uncle very much, because not only was Abraham willing to take him (verse 5), but Lot himself was willing to leave everything and follow his uncle to a completely unknown land (verse 4).

Scripture says nothing regarding Lot’s time in Egypt, but once they are 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.[1] 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. As complicated as a “father-son” relationship can get, an “almost father-almost son” relationship is even more complicated. The moment inevitably comes when the long-dreaded words: “You aren’t my father, you can’t tell me what to do,” pierce the heart of the “almost father” with their tragic truth. I think that it was at just such an unbearably sad and grievous moment that Abraham, exhausted by their endless arguments, 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…”[2]

The plain, simple meaning of this text indicates that the disagreements were first of all between Abraham and his nephew—between you and me—and only then between the shepherds: between my herdsmen and your herdsmen. When Abraham adds “for we are brethren,” it sounds like a lost argument, like a sorrowful reminder that they are still family, in spite of all the arguments and in response to the cruel words that had probably been said at some point: “You aren’t my father; you can’t tell me what to do.”

Blessed are the parents who have never had to look at their child (or someone who is like a child to them) and tell him: Please separate from me…. If you take the left, I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, I will go to the left.”[3] Like any parent would do, Abraham lets Lot choose, and Lot, without much hesitation, takes the best—or what he thought was the best, from a natural point of view. Remarkably, Lot chooses a place where he imagines he wouldn’t need to depend as much on God, because it was well watered everywhere.[4] Much later, in chapter 19, when God comes down to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, this lack of willingness to rely on God almost cost Lot his life, but even in our current passage, we can clearly see that Lot prefers not to depend on God too much. He definitely knows about God, he has spent enough time with his uncle Abraham to know what God’s ways are—Peter calls Lot “righteous”—but he prefers to walk by his own strength, and he really doesn’t think he needs God for this walk.

Very soon, of course, 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, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.[5] Again, blessed are the parents who have never experienced the torment of watching their child separate and choose a different way and then seen him or her in trouble. 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).

Now when Abrahamheard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan…he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people.[6]

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 home. Instead, he got up and ran 300 kilometers to rescue Lot. Not because he liked wars (he didn’t); not because he hoped to become rich from this war (in fact, he didn’t take anything to himself, according to Genesis 14:21-24); not because he and Lot were extremely close and like-minded (they weren’t, at this point). He went because Lot had been like a son to him and his fatherly heart was absolutely crushed when he heard that Lot had gotten in trouble. Abraham had the heart of a father even before he actually became a father.

Two Kings

Here, at the end of chapter 14, we find another interesting story. A Christian reader knows this episode as “Abraham 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[7]”),  not one, but two kings approach Abraham:  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 dramatic tension of the entire situation, is usually overlooked. Why do these two kings, representing completely different values, appear together?

The 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 root שוה  (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 Abraham simultaneously because this is a test that Abraham has to pass. Their offers might seem almost equal, but Abraham 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 Abraham 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 Abraham and God Most High, ensuring that Abraham knows that it was God who “delivered your foes into your hands”[8].  the king of Sodom offers him a subtle temptation. Thankfully, Abraham recognizes the truth and the authority of Melchizedek, and refuses Bera’s temptation – and thus passes yet another test of faith.


[1] Genesis 13:6

[2] Genesis 13:8

[3] Genesis 13:9

[4] Genesis 13:10

[5] Genesis 14:2,12

[6] Genesis 14:14-16

[7] Gen.14:17

[8] Gen.14:20


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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. Lois

    Thank you for this insight from the Hebrew! I had never seen this aspect of the story before.

  2. Suliaman lbn Smith

    Thanks Prof,

  3. Nick

    Thanks Julia for this insight! More choosing! Which is “real”? The visible and finite, or the invisible and infinite? Which is of greater value? This life as a human being can fool you! I’m having quite a time with it, but I see more than I used to. Again, great article!

    1. Julia Blum

      Yes Nick, i can completely relate to this, I know the struggle. But it seems that we are in a good company: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Joseph, – all the biblical heroes of faith had the same struggle at one point or another.