TWO YEARS after the flood, when Noah's son Shern was a hundred years old, Shern had a son called Arphaxad. (Genesis 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 the Ark landed. (Gen. 11:28.) Like Noah, Abram learned to obey God's laws. Once again the people of that world were worshipping idols and living further and further from God's ways. Abram was one of the few who learned not to take part in pagan ways, and so when he was about seventy-five years old God spoke to him and told him to take his family and move to another country.
Abram Obeys God
God promised Abram that if he would obey all His instructions, Abram would become the father of the most famous nation on the whole 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, he took along a nephew named Lot, Lot's wife and herdsmen to take care of flocks of sheep and herds of cattle. It was no small task for Abram to move on foot to a distant land. (Gen. 12:4.)
After 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 wicked, and for that reason God caused a famine to come on that area. This famine happened just after Abram reached Canaan. (Gen. 12:10.) Lack of rain caused the fruit trees, vegetables and grass to dry up, and there was little food for the flocks which 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 from travelers that down in the land of Egypt there was no famine. Therefore Abram and those with him journeyed 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 very powerful and wealthy, although they worshipped false gods and idols. They enjoyed all the good things that came from the earth, and whatever they wanted they took from others. Realizing that his wife, Sarai, was a very beautiful woman, and that the Egyptian ruler might see her and want her for one of his many wives, Abram asked Sarai to pose as his sister instead of his wife. (Gen. 12:12-13.) Actually, Sarai was only Abram's half-sister, because her father was Abram's father, but her mother was not Abram's mother. Abram told this half truth because he feared that if it were known that h e 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. Sarai, although about sixty-five years of age, still appeared as a young and beautiful woman. She was of lighter skin than the Egyptians, and before long it was reported to Pharaoh that this unusual woman had journeyed in with a group or other people. The king commanded that the woman be brought to his palace, and thinking that she was unmarried, he had her lodged in a place where the future brides of the king were prepared for marriage. The pharaoh vas so pleased at the prospect of Sarai becoming his wife that he have many gifts to Abram, including livestock and servants and a fine place to live. But it did not please God that Sarai would become Pharaoh's wife. He sent great plagues on Pharaoh's house. We don' t know what those plagues were, but they must have been something to ca use Pharaoh and those about him great misery. Whatever happened, Pharaoh soon realized that these thing s were coming on him because of Sarai, who, he soon learned, was really Abram's wife! Pharaoh was displeased. He had Sarai taken back to Abram, and then he scolded Abram for allowing Sarai to pose as a sister. God must have protected Abram by causing Pharaoh not to be angry enough to have him slain for such a deed. God was p leased that at least Abram was willing to tell the whole truth to Pharaoh about Sarai. As it was, the king gave orders to his men to help Abram and his band depart from Egypt. (Gen. 12:14-2 0.)
Back to Canaan!
Abram and Lot and their w iv es and servants then moved their flocks back into the land of Canaan. Abram went to a spot there where he had built an altar to God when he first ca me to Canaan. There he called upon God to forgive him and to strengthen him. (Gen. 13:1-4.) By the time Abram and Lot and their families had returned to Canaan, the famine was over. Again their flocks, which were now greatly enlarged, could feed upon the lush grass. But because their Rocks were so large, there was trouble between Lot's herdsmen and Abram's herdsmen. They began quarreling over the spots where there was the most grass and water. Abram did not wish to have trouble with Lot's herdsmen. He suggested that they choose separate regions in which to dwell. God had promised this land to Abram, and it was Abram's right to choose the part where he wished to have his herds graze. But he unselfishly told Lot to take the first choice. Lot looked down on the rich land in the Jordan valley, and chose to go there. That left the upper lands to Abram. But Abram was satisfied because Lot was satisfied. (Gen. 13:5-13.) After Abram and Lot separated, God again spoke to Abram. He told him that all the land he could see in all directions — and Abram was standing in a high, mountainous area at the time — would forever belong to him and those who came after him. Also, God told him that his descendants would be so many that their number would appear to be equal to that of the number of specks of dust on the earth. (Gen. 13:16.) This was indeed a great promise to Abram, for at that time he was nearly eighty years old, and had no children. After coming down from the mountains, 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 coming to the valley lands. But he didn't realize what trouble he would experience with the people who dwelt there. They were a wicked people, and Lot, who was a Godly man, should not have come in among them.
War Breaks Out in Canaan
Shortly after he moved close to Sodom, a war broke out between the kings of the five cities of the Jordan valley and four kings who lived in the land of Assyria and in Shinar where Nimrod first began his kingdom. The four distant kings beat the five Jordan Valley kings in battle. The people of the two main cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, were pursued to the mountains, where some of them escaped. But most of them were taken prisoner, to become slaves of the victors. Among those prisoners were Lot and his family. All Lot's goods were taken, too, and then Lot realized that his decision to choose the valley lands was very unwise. Some of those who had escaped to the mountains got word to Abram about what had happened. At once Abram gathered together all his men, three hundred and eighteen, and set out in pursuit of the kings who had taken Lot and his family as prisoners. (Gen. 14:14.) As the world's population was still small Abram did not need more than his own men with which to attack the victorious kings who were carrying off slaves and riches. However, it must have taken great courage for Abram to make the attack against what were at least many hundreds and perhaps even thousands of trained soldiers. But God was with Abram in his race to rescue Lot and Lot's family. By the time Abram and his men finally spotted the enemy forces, it had become dark, and the four kings and their men were camping for the night. Abram had his men quietly encircle the camp, then gave the signal to attack. The kings and their men were taken by surprise. In the darkness, they couldn't tell how much of a force was attacking them, nor did they stop long enough to find out. They fled to the mountains near Damascus, leaving all their loot and all their prisoners they had taken from the cities in the Jordan valley. (Gen. 14:13-16.) Thus Abram rescued Lot and his family and all his goods. Then the king of Sodom came with his men to honor Abram for what he had done. This meeting took place at a spot near the city of Salem, which later was called Jerusalem. Melchizedek, the king of Salem, also came out to meet Abram. Melchizedek had his servants bring out bread and wine for Abram and his men. (Gen. 14:17-19.) Now probably you don't think there is anything very unusual about a king providing food and drink to tired soldiers. But the unusual part about this bit of history is the fact that this king is a most unusual person. The Bible doesn't say very much about him, but it does say that he was also "King of Righteousness." (Hebrews 7:1-3.) There are no completely righteous beings except those in the God-family. Therefore Melchisedek must have been Jesus in human form! Melchisedek blessed Abram for rescuing the people who had been taken captive by the four attacking kings. Abram then gave Melchizedek one tenth of all the goods that had been left behind by those kings when they fled even though. Abram did not keep any of it for himself. (Gen. 14:20-24.) This was according to God's tithe law, which says that we are robbing God if we do not give one tenth of what we earn to God's priests, or ministers. (Malachi 3:8-11.) All we have or earn really belongs to God in the first place, and so to honor Him by "giving back" only one tenth is a wonderful bargain for us, don't you think? The king of Sodom offered to reward Abram for all he had done, but Abram refused to take any reward. He preferred God's blessings to the riches that an earthly king could give him.
The Lord Makes a Promise to Abram
Some years later, when Abram was again living peacefully in his tents in the hill regions above the Jordan valley, the Lord spoke to him in a vision. Abram knew who He was because he had seen Him at Salem shortly before. He told Abram again that he would become the father of a great nation as a reward for learning to live the right kind of life. But Abram was getting to be an old man, and his wife was also elderly. It was difficult for him to understand just what God could mean by His promises. Therefore Abram reminded God that he had no children, and that the nearest person he had to a child was a servant or steward born in his house. (Gen. 15:1-3.) God replied to Abram that no servant would take the place of a son. God then showed him the stars, and told him that if he, Abram, could count them, he would know the numbers of people who would in time be born from his own son! Abram believed God in this matter, and God blessed him for his belief. (Gen. 15:6 and Romans 4:20-22.) But God thought it would be good to show Abram a sign that the promise would be kept. He told Abram to slaughter some clean animals and birds and lay them out as though for an offering. Abram obeyed. A little later a deep sleep fell on Abram. He dreamed he was in dreadful darkness, and that God's voice came to him out of that darkness, telling him things that would happen many years later 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. "And they shall later become slaves for four generations to a foreign nation. But in about four hundred years they shall come back with great possessions to this land." (Gen. 15:13-16.) Abram awoke to see a strange, smoking flame passing between the animal and bird carcasses he had laid out for an offering. When he saw this amazing thing, his faith in the presence of God became stronger than ever. (Gen. 15:17.) Ever since the time of Adam, God has promised good things to those who obey Him. This promise to Abram is one that has had a great effect upon the whole world for thousands of years. We who are Abram's descendants today are being affected by it right now, because, for one thing, we are enjoying great material blessings, like our nice homes and automobiles and our clothing and the food we eat, and the radio and television sets, electric lights and many other things.
Abram's First Son
Sarai, Abram's wife, was now about seventy-five years old, and she didn't believe that it was possible for her to have a child, therefore she couldn't see how it was possible for Abram to become the father of children that would in time grow into 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 for Sarai. In those times a man often had more than one wife. Abram did as Sarai suggested, and in time Hagar did have a son, whose name was Ishmael. (Gen. 16:1-16.) Thirteen years passed. Abram came to be ninety-nine years of age. Then one day a figure appeared before him and said: "I am God Almighty! Live according to my laws!" (Gen. 17:1.) Trembling, Abram fell down with his face to the ground while God continued talking. God told him that because he was learning to obey His laws, He would keep the promises that He, God, had made years before. He told Abram that his name would now 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. Then God promised Abraham that Sarah herself would surely have a son, even though at that time she was already eighty-nine years old. God said that their son would be called 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. Perhaps Abraham didn't know it at the time, but two of these men were angels, and one was Jesus appearing in the form of a man. (Gen. 18:1-2.) In those days, when there weren't so many people in the world, it was the custom to offer refreshment to travelers, who generally had to journey long distances to get from one town or village to another or even from one tent to another. Abraham invited the three to rest and eat. He had a fine meal prepared for them. (Gen. 18:3-8.) After they had eaten, the men told Abraham 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.) The three strangers didn't come just to tell Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child. Jesus had come down with two angels to visit the city of Sodom, to see if its wickedness was so great that it should finally be destroyed. (Gen. 18:16-22.) The two angels went down to Sodom. The third one, who was Jesus in a man's form, stayed with Abraham and told him what He was planning to do to Sodom. When Abraham learned that the city might be destroyed, he asked if the good people were to be killed along with the wicked ones. "If you find fifty good people there, won't you spare Sodom so that those fifty won't die?" Abraham asked. "If I find fifty good people in Sodom I will not destroy it," Jesus replied. Then Abraham asked if the city would be spared if only forty-five good people could be found there. "If I find forty-five good people there, I will not destroy it," was the answer. Abraham kept on asking his God about this matter, each time making the number of good people smaller. Finally Abraham was told that if only ten righteous men could be found in Sodom, then the city would be spared. (Gen. 18:23-33.) Lot, the nephew whom Abraham had rescued from the kings who had attacked Sodom, had unwisely returned to that city to live. He, however, took no part in the idol worship and other wicked ways of the Sodomites. But it was not good to live so close to people who had no use for God's laws. That evening, the two angels who had been with Abraham arrived at Sodom. One of the first persons they saw was Lot, who was seated by the gate at the entrance of the city. (Gen. 19:1.) Lot greeted the two, and invited them to come to his place to eat and stay for the night. He didn't know they were God's messengers. It was his manner to be helpful to strangers. At first the angels refused. But Lot begged them to stay at his house, and when they saw that Lot was not like the other people around them, they agreed. Lot had a special meal prepared for his guests. Then, as they were about to go to bed, a great, noisy crowd surrounded Lot's house. These people knew that Lot had two strangers in his home. The crowd yelled in and told Lot to put !he two out into the street, so that they could treat them in a terribly evil way which came into their minds. (Gen. 19:4-5.) Lot went outside and pleaded with the crowd to go away. He was so worried about his two guests that he even offered to send his two daughters out for the crowd to treat as they pleased — if only they would leave his house. The shrieking, evil crowd wouldn't listen to Lot. Some of the men rushed at him, pushing him against the door. The angels inside the house reached out, yanked Lot inside, and slammed the door shut. (Gen. 19:6-10.) The mob stormed against the door to break it in — and then a strange thing happened! Those who were crowding against the door suddenly began to stagger in all directions, rub their eyes and yell out that they couldn't see. (Gen. 19:11.) God's messengers, with powers that only spirit beings have, had caused sudden blindness to come upon the wicked men who were trying to harm Lot and break into his home! When the howling mob saw that something awful had come upon those who were at Lot's door, the mob drew back from the house. But something worse was about to happen. All the men in the city were in that evil mob surrounding Lot's house. (Gen. 19:4.) The angels could therefore plainly see that there weren't even as many as ten good men in Sodom. That meant that there was no reason for God to spare Sodom as He promised to Abraham that He would do if there were ten good men there. God would now destroy the city! "If you have relatives you want saved, tell them to get out of Sodom at once!" the angels said to Lot. "This city and the people in it are about to be burned up!" Lot hurried outside to find the three young men who had married his daughters. He told them what was about to happen, but they would not believe him. (Gen. 19:14.) Lot was very disappointed that the three men would not believe him. He came back into his house, but he made no attempt to leave. The angels told him again that he must leave. Lot still lingered. (Gen. 19:15-16.) Then the angels seized him and his wife and two other daughters and forced them outside the city. "Hurry to the mountains!" they warned Lot. "Do not stop or even look behind you at what is about to happen to this plain!" Still Lot hesitated. "It is too far to the mountains," he argued, "but there is a little city over there in the valley we can reach sooner. Let us go there instead!" (Gen. 19:17-22.) This was asking quite a favor of God, who, for the sake of his servant, Abraham, was holding back the destruction so that Abraham's nephew would not die with the wicked people. Lot and his family set out at once, remembering the warning not even to look back. The sun was just coming up as they reached the edge of the little city of Zoar. Back in Sodom and in Gomorrah, the other main city on the plain, people looked up to see a frightening, vast black cloud settling down over them. Perhaps they thought that a heavy thunderstorm was suddenly coming upon them. But no rain came! Instead, blobs of smoking, hissing fire belched out of the black cloud! At this early hour probably most of the people were asleep or in their homes, and didn't have any warning of what was falling out of the skies. It wouldn't have mattered much, because there were no ways to escape. Those few who were in the streets or out in the fields hardly had time to run in shrieking terror for the nearest buildings. People who were caught in the open were burned at once in the rain of flame and white hot sulphur and rocks! For those who managed to reach buildings or were already in them, it was like being trapped in hot ovens, for even stone houses became glowing hot under the horrible heat roaring down from the sky! It was an awful sight, this destruction of two cities and all the people in them! Even the vast plain on which Sodom and Gomorrah were built withered in the fantastic flames, so that nothing — not even a blade of grass — was left alive. This was due to the fact that the plains were then pitted with holes lined with flammable materials that had been in the ground since before Adam. (Gen. 19:24-25.) Thus GOD dealt with the evil people of that place because they were living in their wicked ways instead of by His laws. At the beginning of the fire storm, just as Lot and his family were about to enter Zoar, Lot's wife was so curious to see what was happening that she turned and looked upon the terrible scene. Lot and his two daughters hurried on into the city and to safety. But Lot's wife never arrived with them, for she had been turned into a piece of rock salt just the size and shape of a human being! (Gen. 19:26 and Luke 17:29-32.) The angels had not said what would happen to anyone who disobeyed the warning not to look back. But when God gives a warning, He means that if we do not heed it, something mighty unpleasant is sure to happen to us. Thus it was that Lot lost his wife. Even though he was a good man, he had failed to use wisdom by choosing to live in a city of sinful people. God was indeed merciful to him in sparing his life and the lives of his two daughters.
Abraham Views the Frightful Scene
Safe in his peaceful tent home in the mountains, Abraham got up early to look down upon the plain to see if God had moved to destroy the city where Abraham's nephew, Lot, had dwelt. He must have been startled to see great clouds of smoke rising above the blackened plain and its cities. (Gen. 19:27 -29.) It was plain to Abraham, then, that God had not found as many as ten good people in Sodom. At first Abraham must have thought that his prayers for Lot had been for nothing. But later he must have learned, to his great joy, that God had indeed answered those prayers when it became known that the little city of Zoar, though it was on the plain 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 soon fled to the mountains. (Gen. 19:30.) How much richer Lot would have been and how much less trouble and grief would have come to him if only he had abided by God's wish and had moved out away from the crowded cities in which so much evil took place.