Sodom and Gomorrah

Chapter 2. Abraham and Lot (Genesis 13 and 14) - Part 2

Then Genesis 13:13 ominously adds: “But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.”

Lot had many animals - this is why he had to separate from Abraham. So, as he journeyed through the Plain, he had to travel slowly, taking his flocks with him. Wherever he stopped along the way, he needed to have enough Pasture Land for the animals. The sites are all several miles apart, with plenty of Land between them. And when he finally settled in Sodom, he still needed Pasture Land for his flocks. Thus there was Pasture Land near the City.

Then Genesis 14 tells the story of an invasion of the area that took place when Lot was living in Sodom:

Genesis 14:1,2: “It came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations, that they made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar).” 

Here we see the 5 Cities of the Plain mentioned together.

Genesis 14:3: “All these joined together in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea).” Here we are told that the region that later became the Salt (or Dead) Sea, was originally a Valley, called the Valley of Siddim. It was in this Valley that all these kings joined together in battle. The invaders won and for 12 years the kings of 

the Cities of the Plain submitted to them, but: “in the 13th year they rebelled” (v4), and again they went out to battle in the Valley: 

As an interesting aside, we see here the first mention of the number 13, in connection with REBELLION. 12 is the number of GOVERNMENTAL PERFECTION which dominates the New Jerusalem (see Revelation 21 and 22). But 13 = 12 +1 speaks of the rejection and usurping of God’s ordained Authority. Perhaps its symbolic meaning lies behind the superstitious fear of number 13.

Genesis 14:8: “the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out and joined together in battle in the Valley of Siddim.” 

Genesis 14:10: “Now the Valley of Siddim was full of asphalt (tar, bitumin) pits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled; some fell there (in the pits), 
and the remainder fled to the mountains.” 

The Jordan River, at the time, would have flowed all the way down to the Gulf of Aqaba through this Valley. The entire area was lush and beautiful. The kings chose to fight in this Valley, but they lost. 

Notice that the Cities were said to be in the Plain, not in the Valley. They are called: “the Cities of the Plain” (Genesis 13:12, 19:29). 
The kings went out of their Cities and down into the Valley to fight their battles (Genesis 14:3,8). This proves that they are NOT now under the Dead Sea. They were not covered by the waters of 

the Sea, but they are on the Plain surrounding the Dead Sea, just where we find their ashen remains today. 

According to Genesis 14:10, at this time, there was no Dead Sea, but a Valley where the Dead Sea now is, that was full of "tar pits." It oozed bitumen. It is of interest to note that Josephus says that the Dead Sea was formed as a result of the devastation that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. As well as being called Lake Sodom, Josephus and the Greeks called itLake Asphaltites, due to its naturally surfacing asphalt (bitumen). 

One of the most unusual features of the Dead Sea is its discharge of asphalt. This is a naturally occurring, highly flammable substance found in the Dead Sea area. Later, the Nabateans discovered the value of bitumen extracted from the Dead Sea needed by the Egyptians for embalming their mummies. From deep seeps, the Dead Sea spits up small pebbles of the black substance, especially after earthquakes. Even in modern times, masses of asphalt are occasionally found floating in the Southern part of the Dead Sea, although there was obviously much more discharge in the past. 

Josephus affirms that: "the sea in many places sends up black masses of asphalt having the form and size of oxen" while Diodorus Siculus relates that the bitumen (asphalt) was thrown up in masses covering sometimes 2 or 3 acres, having the appearance of islands.


The abundant supply of bitumin in the Valley also sheds light on other Scriptures. Sodom and Gomorrah is generally known for their widespread and open homosexuality, but the Bible’s description of their sin was far wider:

Ezekiel 16:49-50: “Behold, THIS was the iniquity of your sister Sodom, PRIDE, FULNESS of BREAD, and ABUNDANCE of IDLENESS was in her and in her daughters, neither did she STRENGTHEN the hand of the POOR and NEEDY. And they were HAUGHTY, and COMMITTED ABOMINATION before Me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.”

Here we learn the root of their sin was PRIDE, based on their great wealth causing them to be idle and disregard those less fortunate. They were full of haughtiness, thinking themselves better than others. Why were they so wealthy? The Tar Pits give the clue. Bitumen was a most valuable commodity in those days, being used all over the ancient world, particularly for building (for mortar, for a preservative and protective coating for bricks, and for watertight coverings). Even today, it is a most widely distributed substance. The Ebla tablets (discovered in north Syria) show the highest price being paid for bitumen. The people of these Cities just had to walk out and gather it. They had a ‘gold mine’ there for the taking! This also explains why invading kings wanted to make them vassals - to gain their wealth through extracting tribute in the form of bitumen. 

It is interesting that the ancient Ebla Tablets refer to all 5 Cities of the Plain, and one Tablet lists these Cities in the exact same sequence as Genesis 14. These Cities were within 150 miles of ancient Ebla. Also mentioned in the Ebla texts, uncontested, are cities whose names reflect Abraham's relatives: Peleg, Terah, Nahor and Haran. They also mention: "Ur in the region of Haran", the City that Abraham originally lived in. 

Genesis 14:11,12: “Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. 
They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods and departed.” 

In response, Abraham and his 300 men defeated all these invading kings and rescued Lot (Genesis 14:13-17), and restored to Sodom and Gomorrah all their captured possessions, after giving the Tithe to the Lord through Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-24), thereby acknowledging God as the Source of His Victory and Prosperity.

Lot obviously then returned to live in Sodom. The way that Sodom was saved by Abraham was surely a great witness to the people of Sodom of the reality of the God of Abraham and Lot, and this should have given Lot great respect and influence in Sodom. However as the story unfolds, it is clear that he had little impact, either because of their sinfulness and hardness of heart, or because Lot was not as strong spiritually as he should have been.

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