1 At the time when Amraphel was king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goyim, 2 these kings went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboyim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). 3 All these latter kings joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Dead Sea Valley). 4 For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.
5 In the fourteenth year, Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him went out and defeated the Rephaites in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, the Emites in Shaveh Kiriathaim 6 and the Horites in the hill country of Seir, as far as El Paran near the desert. 7 Then they turned back and went to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and they conquered the whole territory of the Amalekites, as well as the Amorites who were living in Hazezon Tamar.
8 Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboyim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim 9 against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goyim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five. 10Now the Valley of Siddim was full of tar pits, and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled to the hills. 11 The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. 12 They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.
Sometimes passages like this can funnel through my brain and out the other side. All those names! Those kings! A war which happened thousands of years ago in which it can be hard to summon genuine interest. I have to read it carefully – skim reading won’t aid understanding!
It’s a military campaign being described here. The five defending kings are defeated by the four who go to war against them. The additional information about the tar pits evokes an unpleasant image. In a way, it helps ground the narrative, make it more ‘real’ – appealing to our senses.
Among those who are defeated are the Kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. We’ve already been warned about these cities. We know that Lot was near (‘as far as’) Sodom – now we’re told he’s living in Sodom. And he is not immune to what has happened – his lot (groan) has fallen in with the people he is living with, and he is in a lot (groan again) of trouble.
He’s identified here by his family connections. This is no random Lot. He’s not even simply called ‘Lot’. No, this is Abram’s nephew Lot who has been carried off as a result of this victory. Their parting does not get rid of this tie, does not break this bond.
The kings have carried off one of Abram‘s kin.
This mini-story connects to the wider story of Abram, as well as to references of Sodom and Gomorrah, which are littered in various places in scripture. (I talk about the interest of finding connections here).