TWO YEARS after the Flood, when Noah's son Shem was a hundred years old, Shem had a son called Arphaxad. (Gen. 11:10.) When Arphaxad was thirty-five years old, he had a son named Salah. (Gen. 11:12.) Several generations went by in this manner. When about three hundred years had passed, a man by the name of Abram was born. (Gen. 11:26.) Abram was brought up in a city in Mesopotamia (Acts 7:2) called Ur, not very far from the spot where Nimrod began to build Babel. (Gen. 11:28.) Like Noah, Abram learned to obey God's laws, while again the people of that world were worshiping idols and living further from God's ways. Abram was one of the few who didn't take part in pagan ways. When he was about seventy-five years old God told him to move with his family to another country.
Abram Obeys God
God promised him that if he would obey all His instructions, Abram would become the father of the most famous nation on the earth, and that in time this nation would enjoy some very special blessings. Abram didn't know what the land he would go to would be like, and he didn't know what the blessings to his people would be, but he trusted God and obeyed. Besides his wife, Sarai, Abram took along a nephew named Lot, Lot's wife, shepherds to take care of flocks of sheep and herdsmen to handle herds of cattle. It was no small task for Abram to move his family and their possessions to a distant land. (Gen. 12:4.) After many weeks of travel, they arrived in the land of Canaan, where God had said Abram should go. (Gen. 12:5.) Canaan was a very fertile land where there was good soil and plenty of growing things.
But the people of the land were evil. Therefore God caused a famine to come on that area. This famine occurred just after Abram reached Canaan. (Gen. 12:10.) Lack of rain caused the fruit trees, vegetable plants and grass to dry up. There was little food for the animals Abram and Lot had brought to Canaan. And without cattle or sheep, there wouldn't be enough food for Abram and those with him.
Abram Goes to Egypt
Reports came to the travelers that down in the land of Egypt there was no lack of rain, so Abram and his family went down into Egypt to save their flocks. In the land of Egypt a great civilization had grown up since the flood. The Egyptian kings, or pharaohs, had become wealthy and powerful in spite of their worshiping of idols. They enjoyed all the good things that came from the ground. Whatever they lacked they took from others. Because Sarai was a beautiful woman, and that the king of Egypt might want her for one of his many wives, Abram asked Sarai to pose as his sister instead of his wife. (Gen. 12:12-13.) Sarai was actually only Abram's half-sister, because her father was Abram's father, but her mother wasn't Abram's mother. Abram wanted to convey this half truth because he feared that if it were known that he was Sarai's husband, the Egyptians might kill him so that Sarai would be free to be married. The thing that Abram feared soon happened. Although about sixty-five years of age, Sarai still appeared as a young and beautiful woman. She was of lighter skin than Egyptian women. Before long it was reported that this unusual woman might find special favor with Pharaoh, who commanded that she be brought to his palace. Believing that she was unmarried, he had her lodged in a place where his future brides were prepared for marriage. Pharaoh was so pleased at the prospect of Sarai becoming his wife, that he gave Abram costly gifts that included livestock, servants and a fine residence. But God didn't want Sarai to become Pharaoh's wife. To prevent it, He sent plagues on Pharaoh's house. This misery and discomfort to the king and his family was rightly guessed to be because of Sarai when it was learned that she was Abram's wife. Pharaoh was angry at Abram because of not telling him all the truth at first, but God was pleased that Abram finally disclosed to Pharaoh that Sarai was Abram's wife. Pharaoh sent Sarai back to her husband, and gave orders to his men to see that Abram and his family and property were safely escorted out of Egypt. (Gen. 12:14-20.)
Back to Canaan!
Abram and Lot and their wives and servants then moved their livestock back to Canaan. Abram went to a spot where he had built an altar to God when he first came to Canaan. There he asked for forgiveness and strengthening. (Gen. 13:1-4.) By this time the famine in Canaan was over. The flocks and herds belonging to Abram and Lot had become much greater in number. They could feed well on the new, lush grass. But because the animals were so numerous, Abram's men and Lot's men began quarreling over the places where there was the most grass and water. Abram didn't want to have any trouble with Lot, so he suggested that they choose separate regions in which to dwell. God had promised this land to Abram. It was Abram's right to have first choice where he wanted his animals to graze, but he unselfishly told Lot to take the first choice. Lot looked down on the rich soil in the Jordan River valley, and said he wanted that. That left the upper lands to Abram, but Abram was satisfied because Lot was satisfied. (Gen. 13:5-12.) After Abram and Lot separated, there was a day when Abram was on a high mountain. There God spoke to him again, telling him that all the land he could see in all directions would forever be his and his descendants" whose number would be equal that of the number of specks of dust on the earth. (Gen. 13:16.) This was a wonderful promise to Abram, who was nearly eighty years old and without children. Meanwhile, Lot and his family pitched their tents near the city of Sodom in the rich Jordan valley. Lot thought he had made a wise choice in going there. He didn't realize what trouble he would have with the people who lived there. They were exceptionally vile. As a godly man, Lot should never have come near them.
War Breaks Out in Canaan
Shortly after he moved close to Sodom, war broke out between the kings of the five cities of the Jordan valley and four kings of the land where Nimrod began his kingdom. The four distant kings won the battle. The people of the two main valley cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, were pursued to the mountains, where some of them escaped. Most of them were captured to become slaves of the victors. Among the prisoners were Lot, his family and his servants. Lot's possessions were taken from him. Evidently it had been unwise to choose to live in the valley. When word reached Abram about what had happened, Abram set out in pursuit of the victorious kings with only his three hundred and eighteen men. (Gen. 14:14.) It took courage to face an army with many more men than Abram had. Abram looked to God for help, and God helped him by giving him a chance to quietly encircle the camp of the four invading kings by night. Their men were taken by surprise. In the darkness they couldn't tell how much of a force was attacking them. Fearing that it could be a huge one, they fled to the mountains near Damascus to the north, leaving behind all the prisoners and loot seized in the Jordan valley. (Gen. 14:13-16.) The king of Sodom came with his remaining men to honor Abram for what he had done to the enemy, though he wasn't aware that Abram had done it because of Lot and his family. This meeting took place at a spot near the city of Salem, which later was called Jerusalem. Melchizedek, king of Salem, also came out to meet Abram. Melchizedek's servants brought out bread and wine to Abram and his weary men. (Gen. 14:13-16.) There's nothing unusual about a king providing nourishment to tired soldiers, but this was an unusual king. The Bible refers to him as "King of Righteousness." (Heb. 7:1-3.) There are no completely righteous beings except those in the God Family. Therefore Melchizedek must have been Jesus in human form! Melchizedek blessed Abram for rescuing the people who had been taken captive. Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the goods that had been left behind by the attackers who had fled, even though Abram kept none of it for himself. (Gen. 14:20-24.) This was according to God's tithing law, which states that anyone who fails to give a tenth of his earnings to God's priests, or ministers, is robbing God. (Mal. 3:8-11.) All possessions are God's. Giving back a tenth is one of the right ways to honor Him. The king of Sodom offered to reward Abram for all he had done, but Abram refused to accept anything. He preferred God's blessings to the wealth an earthly king could provide.
The Lord Makes a Promise to Abram
Some years later, when Abram was living peacefully in his tents in the hills above the Jordan valley, the Lord spoke to him in a vision. He told him again that because of his obedience he would become the father of a great nation. Inasmuch as Abram and his wife were becoming too elderly to have children, Abram was puzzled by God's promise. He reminded God that he was childless and had no heir. (Gen. 15:1-3.) God replied that Abram's heir would be a son of his, and that if he could count the stars on a dark night, he would know the great numbers of people who would descend from that one son! Abram believed God and God blessed him for his belief. (Gen. 15:6 and Rom. 4:20-22.) Nevertheless, God intended to show Abram a sign that the promise would be kept. The Creator told him to slaughter some clean animals and birds and lay them out as for an offering. Abram obeyed. A little later a deep sleep fell on Abram. He dreamed that he was in intense darkness, and that God's voice came to him out of that darkness, telling him things that would happen many years after Abram would die. (Gen. 15:8-12.) "The people who live after you shall continue to be as strangers in the land", the Voice said. "Later they shall become slaves to a foreign nation for four generations, but in about four hundred years they shall return to this land with great possessions." (Gen. 15:13-16.) Abram awoke to see a very hot flame passing over and between the carcasses he had laid out. When he saw this amazing sight, his faith in God became even stronger. (Gen. 15:17.) God has always promised good things to those who obey Him. His promise to Abram is one that has had a great effect on the whole world for thousands of years. We who are Abram's descendants today are being affected by it now. We are enjoying greater wealth and material blessings than most of the other nations.
Abram's First Son
Sarai, Abram's wife, was about seventy-five years old at that time. She believed she was too old to bear a child, and couldn't understand how it was possible for her and Abram to become the parents of a child from whom would descend millions of people. Sarai had an Egyptian maid, Hagar, who was a much younger woman. Sarai told Abram that he should take Hagar as a second wife, with the hope that Hagar would have a child for Abram and Sarai. In those times a man often married more than one wife. Abram did as Sarai suggested, and in time Hagar had a son named Ishmael. (Gen. 16.) Thirteen years passed. Abram came to be ninety-nine years of age. One day a figure appeared before him and said: "I am God Almighty! Live according to my laws!" (Gen. 17:1.) Trembling, Abram bowed with his face to the ground while God told him that because he was learning to obey His laws, He would keep the promises He had made years before. He informed Abram that his name would be changed to Abraham, which meant "father of many people". (Gen. 17:3-6.) Sarai's name, God said, would be changed to Sarah, which meant "princess". God then promised Abraham that Sarah would surely have a son, although she was already eighty-nine years old. The son was to be named Isaac. (Gen. 17:15-16, 19.)
Abraham Learns that Sodom Is to Be Destroyed
Not long after that, three strange men came to Abraham's tent. Two of these men were angels, and one was Jesus appearing in the form of a man. (Gen. 18:1-2.) In those days, because travel was more difficult and tiring, hospitality was greater. Abraham invited the three to rest and eat. A meal was prepared for them, including bread, butter, milk and meat. (Gen. 18:3-8.) After they had eaten, Abraham was informed that within the year Sarah would have a son. This was wonderful news to Abraham and Sarah. Sarah, especially, could hardly believe it. (Gen. 18:9-15.) Two of the men went on to Sodom. The third, Jesus appearing as a man, stayed and told the astonished Abraham that His two angels were going to Sodom to find out just how evil the people were there. "If they find that most of the residents are vile and perverted, I shall destroy the whole city!" Jesus declared. (Gen. 18:16-22.) "If you find fifty good people there, wouldn't you spare the city so that those fifty wont die?" Abraham asked. "If I find fifty good people in Sodom I will not destroy it", Jesus replied. Abraham then asked if Sodom would be spared if only forty-five good people could be found there. The answer was that if that many good people could be found there, the city would be spared. Abraham kept on asking about the matter, each time lessening the number of people. Finally he was told that if only ten good people could be found in Sodom, it would be spared. (Gen. 18:23-33.) Lot, the nephew whom Abraham had rescued from the kings who had attacked Sodom, had unwisely returned there to live. That evening, the two angels, appearing as men, arrived at Sodom and met Lot, seated by one of the city's gates. (Gen. 19:1.) Lot saw that they were strangers, and graciously asked them to his home for food and rest. He didn't know they were God's messengers. At first they declined, but when they saw that Lot was different from the other people, they agreed to go. Lot had a special meal prepared for his guests. Later, as they were about to go to bed, a noisy crowd surrounded Lot's house. These people knew that there were two strangers in the house. They yelled to Lot to put the two out into the street, where they intended to treat the strangers shamefully. (Gen. 19:4-5.) Lot went outside and pleaded with the crowd to go away. He was so concerned about his guests that he even offered to turn over his two daughters to them if they would leave. The shrieking, evil mob wouldn't listen to Lot. Some of the men rushed at him, pinning him against the door. The two angels inside reached out, pulled Lot in, and slammed the door shut. (Gen. 19:6-10.) The angry crowd rushed against the house to break into it. Then a strange thing happened. The attackers began to stagger and grope aimlessly about. Their angry yells turned to moans. God's messengers had struck them with sudden blindness! (Gen. 19:11.) When the rest of the mob saw that something awesome was happening, it drew back from the house. But something still worse was about to happen. All the men in the city had joined the crowd. (Gen. 19:4.) Inasmuch as all had the same base desires, that meant that there weren't as many as ten good men in Sodom. There was no reason for God to spare it. "If you have relatives in Sodom you want saved, tell them to leave the city at once!" the angels told Lot. "Sodom and its people are about to be burned up!" Lot hurried out to find the young men who had married others of his daughters. When he told them what was about to happen, they refused to believe him. (Gen. 19:14.) He was so disappointed that he decided to stay at his house until they decided to join him. The angels warned him that he must leave at once, but Lot lingered. Even after they seized him, his wife and two unmarried daughters and forced them outside the city, Lot still hoped the rest of his family would show up. (Gen. 19:15-16.) "Hurry to the mountains!" the angels insisted. "Don't stop or even look behind you at what is about to happen!" "It's too far to the mountains", Lot argued. "There's a town over there in the valley we can reach sooner. Let's go there!" (Gen. 19:17-22.) The angels, patience was almost at an end with Lot, who was still hopeful that his married daughters and their husbands would somehow follow him. The party hurried on. The sun was just coming up as they reached the town of Zoar, several miles from Sodom. Back in Sodom and in Gomorrah, the other main city on the plain, there was a sudden ground tremor. In the nearby area of the flammable bitumen pits, the earth cracked open to loudly spew out oil, salt and sulphur high into the sky. In an instant these mingled and exploded with a deafening roar, blowing glowing chunks of matter even higher. Seconds later the chunks rained back, hundreds of them plummeting on Sodom and Gomorrah like so many blazing meteorites. There was no way for the people in or nearby the cities to escape. Even much of the plain near the two cities withered under the terrible heat. Nothing was left alive in that region. The greenest bushes and grass ignited and burned. Other asphalt deposits were set on fire, causing a chain reaction that made devastation there complete. (Gen. 9:24-25.) God thus dealt with the people there because they were harming themselves by living in their evil ways instead of by His laws. At the beginning of the fire storm, just as Lot and part of his family were about to enter Zoar, Lot's wife was so curious to see what was happening that she turned and looked back on the scene of destruction. Lot and his daughters hurried on to Zoar, but Lot's wife never arrived with them. She had been turned into a piece of rock salt the shape and size of a human being! (Gen. 19:26 and Luke 17:29-32.)
Thus Lot lost his wife because he chose to live in an area of sinful people. God was merciful to him in sparing him and his two daughters.
Abraham Views the Frightful Scene
Safe in his peaceful home in the mountains, Abraham got up early to look down in the direction of Sodom. He was startled to see clouds of smoke rising above the blackened plain and its cities. (Gen. 19:27-29.) It was clear to him that God had failed to find as many as ten good men in Sodom. At first Abraham must have thought that his prayers for Lot had been in vain. Later he learned, to his great joy, that God had answered his prayers. The town of Zoar, even though it was on the plain area with Sodom and Gomorrah, had been spared so that Lot would have refuge. Realizing that by staying in Zoar he would still be dwelling among people who had no respect for God, Lot and his daughters fled to the mountains. (Gen. 19:30.) He would have been richer and much more trouble-free if he had chosen not to live among the wicked people of Canaan.