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Genesis 11-23: Abraham and the Destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah

Original Publication Date
June 30, 2015
Updated
Jan 10, 2023 1:04 AM
Tags
GenesisChapter StudyAbrahamSarahJudgementLotHagarIshmaelCircumcisionSexual ImoralityIsaacMoab
Bible References
Genesis 11-23
Status
Done
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This page tries to cover too much information. At some point, I will break it in to smaller pieces to dive deeper into the many facets of Abraham and Lot’s complicated stories.
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Table of Contents
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This page was originally posted on my Blogger version of the blog on June 30, 2015 The content below has a few minor tweaks for clarity, and additional references, and some updated information.

Introduction

Abram, whose name is later changed to Abraham, is known as the father of many nations. It is through him that one of the most important covenants God bestowed upon man is given. He begins the official patriarchy of the Israelites; it is from his covenant and through his seed that the 12 tribes of Israel are produced. Though he is not perfect and makes many mistakes, God shows both mercy and patience with Abraham in order to bless him with favor.

The Story of Abraham

Lineage and Relatives of Abraham

From Shem to Noah, to Seth, to Adam, we can trace Abraham's lineage all the way back based on the information given to us in Genesis 11. Estimated years of birth for Abraham include 2166 BC,[1] 1996 BC,[2] and 1946 BC.[3] Abraham is the son of Terah—a distant descendant of Shem—and has two brothers (Nahor and Haran). Haran dies, presumably at a young age since he dies before their father. Haran's son Lot (Abraham's nephew) travels with Abraham and comes into play during the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah and the Battle of the Kings. Since Abraham did not have children until late in life, and Haran died early in life, Abraham might have taken on a fatherly role with Lot.

Traveling

The first bit of traveling Abraham does is with his father Terah, his wife Sarai (later called Sarah), and his nephew Lot. We aren't told why Nahor, Abraham’s only living brother at this time, chooses to stay. Abraham and his family leave Ur and journey to Canaan (named for Ham's son Canaan) and end up in a city called Haran. It is noted in the footnotes of The Holman KJV Study Bible that the Hebrew words for Haran the person and Haran the place are different and probably not related.[1] While in Haran, Abraham is instructed by God to leave his father's house and go to Canaan. After leaving for Canaan, Abraham journeys to Egypt due to famine.[4] Much later, Abraham travels to Gerar.[5] Compared to those mentioned before him, it seems that Abraham did more traveling that the average person of the time.

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For reference, Ur was located in what is now called Iraq and Canaan was located in modern Israel. If you were to make this trip today, you could drive from one location to the other in 13 hours.[13] That is farther than I lived from my birthplace/parents’ home when I originally wrote this, but closer than I live now. Of course, Abraham did not have a car and had to travel this distance by foot or on an animal such as a horse or camel. By foot, Google Maps estimates it would take 292 hours (12.167 days) to travel this distance—the terrain was likely different back then, and a different route may have been optimal during Abraham’s day, but this is still a good estimate. Cairo, Egypt is another 8.5 hours South of Jerusalem by car, 141 hours (5.875 days) by foot.[14] Abraham covered a remarkable amount of territory.

Visions and Promises From God

Abraham is told six times—Genesis 12:1-3, 13:14-17, 15:4-6, 17:1-4, 17:16-19, 18:9-15—that through the son of his wife Sarah, he will become the father of many nations. Much emphasis is placed on Sarah's inability to conceive and her growing age. The repetition of the promise was a reminder for both Abraham and his wife, as well as future readers of their story, that God's plan never fails and always happens at God's time. Many women today worry about their "biological clock," but Sarah serves to remind us that God's Will will be done regardless of our age.

12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? 13 And the Lord said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? 14 Is any thing too hard for the Lord? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.

The last visit God pays to Abraham and Sarah to deliver His message, He comes with 2 angels under the veil of men. Like Abraham, Sarah laughs at God's promise, this reappears in the name of their son Issac, which means "he laughs."[1] Throughout the course of Abraham's life, God is constantly reminding Abraham that He will be the father of many nations, and Abraham is constantly doubtful, but Abraham renews the covenant through a burnt offering, presumably to atone for his doubt.

God tells Abraham that if the grains of dust on the Earth can be numbered then Abraham's seed will be numbered. God repeats this in Genesis 15 using the stars instead to illustrate the vastness of the number of Abraham's seed. It is obvious that God is using such large quantities to illustrate the vastness of Abraham's seed, but let’s look at some numbers anyway. The two largest "nations" born from Abraham are the Hebrews (or Jews) and Christians. While Christians may not be physically descendant from Abraham, Christ is and it is through Christ that we are Christians, thus we are spiritual descendants of Abraham. Currently there are approximately 2.18 billion Christians[8] and between 13.5-15.5 million Jews.[6] These numbers do not include the generation that died during the 4000 years between Abraham and now! There are just over 7 billion people on the planet today,[7] which means just less than 1/3 of the population is a descendant of Abraham. Islam is generally considered an Abrahamic religion, though it is debated by some whether Muslims worship the God of Abraham.[9] The answer to that debate is immaterial because regardless, Islam stems from Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, thus adherents of Islam would still be considered descendants of Abraham. If one adds Muslims to the count of spiritual descendants of Abraham, then another 1.6 billion people are added which bumps the percentage to just over 50% of the world! Also, one has to remember that Arabs are descendants of Ishmael (and possibly some of Abraham’s other sons, like Midian), regardless of religious affiliation; this still adds many to the number of Abraham's descendants.

And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.
And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.

This a one powerful prediction from God. Think of all the things that had to happen for this promise to be fulfilled (or rather all of the things that could have happened to stop this promise from being fulfilled). Cultures such as the Aztecs, Mayans, Native Americans, Hittites, etc. have either dwindled or disappeared all together. Moses could not promise that the Jew would not suffer this fate, only God could. Also, the early Christians could not promise that the message of Jesus would be spread around the world, neither could they promise people would believe it. The same holds for Muslims. Yet, here we are 4000 years later and Abraham's descendants make up anywhere from 30% to 50% of the entire world, totaling approximately 3 billion people. Thats pretty powerful right there.

Deception

Abraham may have been favored by God, but he was not the most honest man in the Bible (hence why Jesus is our example to live by not any of the patriarchs). We know that Abraham wasn't anywhere near perfect because he wasn't taken straight to Heaven like Enoch or Elijah. Aside from doubting God, Abraham also had a problem telling the whole truth. While he never flat out lies, Abraham uses half truths to manipulate situations to his favor. Many of us, myself included, have done this. An important take-away from Abraham’s life is that this method never works in the end.

Deceiving the Pharaoh

When Abraham travels to Egypt he worries that the Egyptians will desire his wife and kill him to obtain her. Therefore, he asks his wife to say that she is his sister and he is her brother. Under such circumstances, the Egyptians do desire Sarah and the pharaoh takes Sarah (probably as a concubine). God sends plagues upon the house of the pharaoh to force his hand in releasing Sarah. Once Abraham admits the truth, Pharaoh is furious at the deception. He give back Sarah, as well as letting Abraham keep the riches he had given him for Sarah.

Deceiving Abimelech

It worked once, so when Abraham and Sarah journey to Gerar, they again pose as sister and brother under Abraham's instruction. Again the king of the region—Abimelech—takes Sarah for his own. God visits the king in a dream and explains that Sarah is married to Abraham. Abimelech tells God he did not know and begs for forgiveness. Abimelech is told to return Sarah to Abraham or else. It was crucial the Sarah be returned to Abraham so that the two of them could produce an heir and proceed with the covenant.

Like Pharaoh, Abimelech confronts Abraham about the deception. During this exchange we learn that Abraham is not a flat out liar; Sarah is his half sister (on his father's side). They reach an agreement and Abimelech goes Abraham male and female slaves, and 1000 pieces of silver. Abraham then prays for Abimelech that God would not punish him and after the prayer, God heals the curse he had placed on Abimelech for Sarah's sake.

Name Change

God visits Abraham and Sarah and tells them they must change their names; Abram becomes Abraham and Sarai becomes Sarah. In many cultures, naming something is a sign of ownership and dominion over something (or someone). When God renames people, He is claiming them as His own—much like our parents name us, when God names us we know we are truly His sons and daughters.

Abram (אַבְרָם) means “exalted father,” while Abraham (אַבְרָהָם) means “father of a multitude.”[15][16]

Sarai (שָׂרַי) means “princess,” while Sarah (שָׂרָה) means “noblewoman.”[17][18]

The Covenant

One of the major covenants of the Bible is given to Abraham; it consists of a promise from God along with a requirement from Abraham. God promises to make Abraham the father of many nations. He also promises that this covenant will be fulfilled through his wife Sarah, even though she appears to be barren and has grown old. Abraham's part of the bargain is that all his (male) descendants and all males in his household would have to be circumcised. Babies were to be circumcised at 8 days old. The concept of physical circumcision and circumcision of the heart will come up often throughout both the Old and New Testaments.

Prophecy

In Genesis 20:7, God tells Abimelech that Abraham is a prophet, making Abraham the first prophet of the Bible. However, the only prophecy we see that he is given is in Genesis 15, concerning the Israelites' captivity (generally considered to be the captivity in Egypt; there are interesting theories on this that we will get into in other posts).

12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. 13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. 15 And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. 16 But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full

Hagar & Ishmael

Believing it impossible for herself to have a child, Sarah gives her handmaid to Abraham to be his wife. The handmaid is an Egyptian woman named Hagar who becomes pregnant with Abraham's first child. Seeing that she has succeed where Sarah has “failed,” Hagar comes to despise Sarah. When Sarah confronts Abraham about Hagar's behavior, she admits that it was her idea for him to take her as a second wife but pleads with him to do something about Hagar's behavior. Instead of directly punishing Hagar, Abraham returns her to Sarah for Sarah to deal out the punishment. We are not told what Sarah does or says, but it is so harsh that Hagar runs away.

The Angel of the Lord appears to Hagar at Beerlahairoi and tells her that she should go back and submit to Sarah. God promises Hagar that her son will also multiply exceedingly, and she is told to name him Ishmael. The name Ishmael is means "God hears,”[1] signifying that God heard Hagar crying at the well. It is prophesied that Ishmael will be violent and against every man. Hagar heeds God's message and journeys back to Abraham and Sarah where she gives birth to Ishmael when Abraham is 86 years old.

Note that in this situation, both Hagar and Sarah have wronged each other. Sarah began the trouble by giving her servant to Abraham as a wife in the first place. Hagar, however, should not have acted out towards Sarah once she saw she was able to conceive and Sarah was not. Upon punishing Hagar harshly, Sarah was not only angry about Hagar's behavior but she was insecure about her own inability to conceive a child. Sarah doubted God's promise and tried to take matters into her own hands; this worked out poorly for the entire family. Hagar obviously suffered; becoming the second wife elevated her above servant status, which was likely a welcome change however Abraham's heart belonged to Sarah (otherwise he would have shielded Hagar from Sarah's wrath). Once Hagar became pregnant she was demoted back to being a servant and punished at that. Her son Ishmael, though blessed to multiply greatly, would be wild and violent and would not receive Abraham's covenant. Ishmael would lose his father and Abraham would lose his first son once Sarah gave birth to Isaac. What's more is that the descendants of Isaac (the Jews) and the descendants of Ishmael (Arabs) fight to this day. This is a powerful example of how the actions we take due to doubting God can effect our lives.

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I plan to do a post on the difference between servitude/”slavery” in the Bible and the Western slavery that colors our perception of the word slave.

The next time God comes to Abraham and says He will give Abraham a son through Sarah, Abraham offers Ishmael instead since he believes he and Sarah are too old to have children. God repeats that His covenant will be through Abraham and Sarah's son, not Ishmael, but He gives Abraham a promise for Ishmael as well. Ishmael is promised a great nation and from him will come 12 princes (which parallels the 12 tribes that eventually come from Abraham and Sarah’s grandson, Jacob).

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I also plan to do a more in depth post on Hagar. There are so many layers in her story, many of which never get discussed. So, I definitely want to come back to her.

About 13 years later, after Isaac is born to Sarah, Ishmael is caught mocking Isaac. Sarah asks Abraham to cast out Hagar and Ishmael, again. Abraham is saddened by this request, but God tells him to listen to Sarah. Listening to both God and Sarah, Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away providing them with water and bread for the journey. Hagar takes Ishmael and travels to the wilderness of Beersheba and begins to weep when she runs out of water. God hears Hagar weeping and comes to lead her and her son to water, promising again that Ishmael will also have a great nation. Once Hagar and Ishmael are settled, she finds a wife for him in Egypt.

Isaac, the Promised Son

Isaac is born to Sarah and Abraham, as promised, when Abraham is 100 years old and Sarah is 90. Just as Abraham promised God, Isaac is circumcised at 8 days old. Some time after Isaac is born, God seeks to prove Abraham's heart, and in Genesis 22, this story is given. The word translated as tempt in the verse below is from the word nissah, meaning "to prove the quality of."[1]

And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

God tells Abraham to take his promised son to Moriah and offer him as a sacrifice. Abraham rises early the next morning and sets out to fulfill God's command. It takes him 3 days to get to the place God instructed. When he arrives, he leaves behind the men he has traveled with and goes forth with just Isaac. Abraham sets up everything for the offering, and when Isaac asks where is the lamb, Abraham responds "God will provide the lamb."

At the altar Abraham binds Isaac and is prepared to sacrifice him when the angel of the Lord appears. The angel says he knows Abraham fears God because he would sacrifice his promised son for Him. (Note, so far, every time the phrase angel of the Lord is used as opposed to simply an angel, the angel uses the word "me" in reference to God, thus many believe this is a reference to God—either the Spirit, or pre-human Jesus.) Just as Abraham had stated earlier, God provides a ram for the sacrifice. Abraham then names the place Jehovah (or YHWH) Jireh, meaning the Lord will provide.[1] This is the future home of the temple.

I have heard sermons where preachers state that when Abraham said God would provide the lamb, he knew God would not actually let him sacrifice his son. There are many passages in the bible where God explicitly condemns child sacrifice. As such, I too, believe God would never want a human to actually sacrifice their child (or any person). However, it also seems an odd test, in that I would assume any voice asking me to sacrifice a human being was not God’s voice. That being said, there is also a parallel here to the sacrifice God would make of His own son at this very spot, to save all of humanity.

Abraham and Abimelech's Covenant

Seeing that Abraham was favored by God, Abimelech seeks Abraham's help. Remembering their last encounter, he makes Abraham prove that he will be honest and trustworthy. Abraham has to confront Abimelech due to one of Abimelech's servants takes a well of water, but this does not harm Abraham and Abimelech's pact. The two make a covenant using ox and sheep (note blood is always spilled when making a covenant). Seven ewe lambs are set aside to resolve the issue of the well. The seven ewe confirm Abraham's rights to the well he and his servants dug. They made this covenant at Beersheba, which means "well of oath" and "well of seven."[19]

The Death of Sarah

Sarah's death is given a whole chapter in Genesis. She is also the first woman whom we are told the age of at the time of her death. This signifies her importance as the matriarch of the tribes of Israel. Sarah dies at the age of 127 years old. She dies in Hebron, and Abraham comes to weep for her. Since his family will be staying in Canaan, he must buy land for burial grounds. The name of the cave he purchases for burial is Machpelah. He obtained this land from the Hittites. In this passage we see the Hittites show much respect for Abraham and Abraham returns this respect. He buys the cave, though it is offered to him for free, and buries Sarah here. Many other patriarchs are buried here over time.

The Story of Lot

Battle of Kings

Genesis 14 tells of a battle or war that occurs over the wealth of Sodom and Gomorrah. 4 kings come to make war with the city:

  1. Amraphel, king of Shinar;
  2. Arioch, king of Ellasar;
  3. Chedorlamer, king of Elam;
  4. and Tidal, king of nations.

Chedolamer seems to win the war and takes control for 12 years at which point there is a revolt. This is the first "war" mentioned in the Bible and it includes nations acting as allies.

During the revolt, the kings take both the wealth of Sodom and Gomorrah as well as Lot. Abraham is sent word of this and quickly creates a small militia by arming and training his soldiers which came to a total of 318 men. They defeat the men, bring back the loot, and rescue Lot.

When Abraham returns victorious, Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of the most high God prepares a feast to bless Abraham. The king of Sodom attempts to give Abraham riches as a reward, but Abraham refuses. It is important to note that Melchizedek gives the honor and praise to God, which Abraham accepts, but the king of Sodom wishes to praise Abraham, but Abraham rejects this.

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

Probably one of the most infamous stories of the Bible, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is told in Genesis 18 & 19. Right before the destruction of the city 3 angels (one of which refers to himself as God) visit Abraham. When they tell Abraham of their plans for Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham bargains for the city asking God if there are righteous people in the city will He spare it. In the end God says He will spare the city if there are 10 righteous people. The two angels leave Abraham for Sodom and Gomorrah.

The angels visit Lot as soon as they reach the city. Lot receives them with hospitality and offers them a feast. While eating the feast, men from the city come to the door. They tell Lot to bring out the two angels so that they "might know them." Elsewhere in the Bible to know someone is to have sex with that person (see Genesis 4:1), and this interpretation is confirmed in Jude 1:7. To protect the angels, Lot offers his virgin daughters to the men instead, but this makes the men angry at Lot's judgment of them. The men suggest they will do worse to him, which is possibly a foreshadowing of what will befall Lot at the hand of the same daughters he offered up. When the men try to seize Lot, the angels intercede by smiting the men with blindness.

The angels see that there are not 10 righteous in the city and instruct Lot and his family to flee the city. Lot tells his daughters and their new husbands—we know that the husbands are new because the marriage is not yet consummated (hence the daughters being virgins) and the daughters are permitted to leave their husbands to join their father (the opposite of God's definition the that men and women leave their parents to cleave to their spouse). The sons-in-law laugh at the angels warning which causes them to lose their chance to escape. The next morning Lot, his wife, and his daughters flee the city.

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Actually, it’s possible Lot had more than two daughters. Perhaps, the daughters with husbands stayed and only the virgin daughters escaped.

As they flee, brimstone and fire rain down on Sodom and Gomorrah. The smoke plume could be seen all the way in Canaan by Abraham. God spares Lot because of Abraham's prayer. However, as the family escapes, Lot's wife disobeys God's order not to look back and turns into a pillar of salt.

Evidence for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (and their destruction) is thought to be found at Bab edh-Dhra and Numeria southeast of the Dead Sea.[11][12]

Incest

Lot and his daughters hide in a cave as the city burns. Having seen the only city they know destroyed, Lot's daughters fear there are no men left to father their children. Following this logic, they get their father drunk and each sleep with him. Both daughters become pregnant—the eldest gives birth to Moab, father of the Moabites, and the youngest gives birth to Benammi, father of the Ammonites. The wrongfulness of the act is not included in the passage, presumably because the people of Moses' era would already know the Moabites and Ammonites as troublesome enemies and make the connection. Also Moses included in the book of law that sleeping with a parent is wrong. It is also implied that the daughters knew this action was wrong, hence getting their father drunk before doing so.

The Descendants of Nahor

After the almost sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham receives a message that his brother (Nahor) and his wife (Milcah) have born children. We are told that Milcah has Huz, Buz, Kemuel, Chesed, Hazo, Phildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel. Kemuel has Aram. Bethuel has a daughter named Rebekah who will eventually become Isaac's wife (we will meet her in

Genesis 24). Nahor also had a concubine who bore him four more sons.

References and Footnotes

  1. Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible. pg 2,37-38,45-46. 2014
  2. "Bible Timeline 1996 BC Birth of Abraham". The Amazing Bible Timeline. 2013
  3. BibleHistory.com. "The Patriarchs". The Bible Timline. 2013
  4. Genesis 12
  5. Genesis 20
  6. "How Many Jews are in the World Today?". Be'chol Lashon. 2015
  7. "World Population Clock". Worldometers. 2015
  8. Christianity Today. "Number of Christians Worldwide". About.com. 2015
  9. Mark Galli. "Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?". Christianity Today. April 15, 2011
  10. "The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050". Copyright 2015 Pew Research Center. April 2, 2015
  11. Wood, Bryant. "Is there any evidence for the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah's destruction by fire and brimstone (sulfur)?". Associates for Biblical Research. 2001
  12. Ancient History: Evidence for Sodom and Gomorrah?
  13. Distance from Ur to Cave of the Patriarchs”. Google Maps; visited August 2022
  14. Distance from Cave of the Patriarchs to Cairo, Egypt”. Google Maps; visited August 2022
  15. Strongs H87. אַבְרָם”. BlueLetterBible; visited August 2022
  16. Strongs H85. אַבְרָהָם”. BlueLetterBible; visited August 2022
  17. Strongs H8297. שָׂרַי”. BlueLetterBible; visited August 2022
  18. Strongs H8283. שָׂרָה”. BlueLetterBible; visited August 2022
  19. Strongs H884. בְּאֵר שֶׁבַע“. BlueLetterBible; visited August 2022

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