On his return from Egypt Abraham's relations to his own family were disturbed by annoying circumstances. Strife developed between the herdmen of his cattle and the herdmen of Lot's cattle. Abraham furnished his herds with muzzles, but Lot made no such provision, and when the shepherds that pastured Abraham's flocks took Lot's shepherds to task on account of the omission, the latter replied: "It is known of a surety that God said unto Abraham, 'To thy seed will I give the land.' But Abraham is a sterile mule. Never will he have children. On the morrow he will die, and Lot will be his heir. Thus the flocks of Lot are but consuming what belongs to them or their master." But God spoke: "Verily, I said unto Abraham I would give the land unto his seed, but only after the seven nations shall have been destroyed from out of the land. To-day the Canaanites are therein, and the Perizzites. They still have the right of habitation."
Now, when the strife extended from the servants to the masters, and Abraham vainly called his nephew Lot to account for his unbecoming behavior, Abraham decided he would have to part from his kinsman, though he should have to compel Lot thereto by force. Lot thereupon separated himself not from Abraham alone, but from the God of Abraham also, and he betook himself to a district in which immorality and sin reigned supreme, wherefore punishment overtook him, for his own flesh seduced him later unto sin.
God was displeased with Abraham for not living in peace and harmony with his own kindred, as he lived with all the world beside. On the other hand, God also took it in ill part that Abraham was accepting Lot tacitly as his heir, though He had promised him, in clear, unmistakable words, "To thy seed will I give the land." After Abraham had separated himself from Lot, he received the assurance again that Canaan should once belong to his seed, which God would multiply as the sand which is upon the sea-shore. As the sand fills the whole earth, so the offspring of Abraham would be scattered over the whole earth, from end to end; and as the earth is blessed only when it is moistened with water, so his offspring would be blessed through the Torah, which is likened unto water; and as the earth endures longer than metal, so his offspring would endure forever, while the heathen would vanish; and as the earth is trodden upon, so his offspring would be trodden upon by the four kingdoms.
The departure of Lot had a serious consequence, for the war waged by Abraham against the four kings is intimately connected with it. Lot desired to settle in the well-watered circle of the Jordan, but the only city of the plain that would receive him was Sodom, the king of which admitted the nephew of Abraham out of consideration for the latter. The five impious kings planned first to make war upon Sodom on account of Lot and then advance upon Abraham. For one of the five, Amraphel, was none other than Nimrod, Abraham's enemy from of old. The immediate occasion for the war was this: Chedorlaomer, one of Nimrod's generals, rebelled against him after the builders of the tower were dispersed, and he set himself up as king of Elam. Then he subjugated the Hamitic tribes living in the five cities of the plain of the Jordan, and made them tributary. For twelve years they were faithful to their sovereign ruler Chedorlaomer, but then they refused to pay the tribute, and they persisted in their insubordination for thirteen years. Making the most of Chedorlaomer's embarrassment, Nimrod led a host of seven thousand warriors against his former general. In the battle fought between Elam and Shinar, Nimrod suffered a disastrous defeat, he lost six hundred of his army, and among the slain was the king's son Mardon. Humiliated and abased, he returned to his country, and he was forced to acknowledge the suzerainty of Chedorlaomer, who now proceeded to form an alliance with Arioch king of Ellasar, and Tidal, the king of several nations, the purpose of which was to crush the cities of the circle of the Jordan. The united forces of these kings, numbering eight hundred thousand, marched upon the five cities, subduing whatever they encountered in their course, and annihilating the descendants of the giants. Fortified places, unwalled cities, and flat, open country, all fell in their hands. They pushed on through the desert as far as the spring issuing from the rock at Kadesh, the spot appointed by God as the place of pronouncing judgment against Moses and Aaron on account of the waters of strife. Thence they turned toward the central portion of Palestine, the country of dates, where they encountered the five godless kings, Bera, the villain, king of Sodom; Birsha, the sinner, king of Gomorrah; Shinab, the father-hater, king of Admah; Shemeber, the voluptuary, king of Zeboiim; and the king of Bela, the city that devours its inhabitants. The five were routed in the fruitful Vale of Siddim, the canals of which later formed the Dead Sea. They that remained of the rank and file fled to the mountains, but the kings fell into the slime pits and stuck there. Only the king of Sodom was rescued, miraculously, for the purpose that he might convert those heathen to faith in God that had not believed in the wonderful deliverance of Abraham from the fiery furnace.
The victors despoiled Sodom of all its goods and victuals, and took Lot, boasting, "We have taken the son of Abraham's brother captive," so betraying the real object of their undertaking; their innermost desire was to strike at Abraham.
It was on the first evening of the Passover, and Abraham was eating of the unleavened bread, when the archangel Michael brought him the report of Lot's captivity. This angel bears another name besides, Palit, the escaped, because when God threw Samael and his host from their holy place in heaven, the rebellious leader held on to Michael and tried to drag him along downward, and Michael escaped falling from heaven only through the help of God.
When the report of his nephew's evil state reached Abraham, he straightway dismissed all thought of his dissensions with Lot from his mind, and only considered ways and means of deliverance. He convoked his disciples to whom he had taught the true faith, and who all called themselves by the name Abraham. He gave them gold and silver, saying at the same time: "Know that we go to war for the purpose of saving human lives. Therefore, do ye not direct your eyes upon money, here lie gold and silver before you." Furthermore he admonished them in these words: "We are preparing to go to war. Let none join us who hath committed a trespass, and fears that Divine punishment will descend upon him." Alarmed by his warning, not one would obey his call to arms, they were fearful on account of their sins. Eliezer alone remained with him, wherefore God spake, and said: "All forsook thee save only Eliezer. Verily, I shall invest him with the strength of the three hundred and eighteen men whose aid thou didst seek in vain."
The battle fought with the mighty hosts of the kings, from which Abraham emerged victorious, happened on the fifteenth of Nisan, the night appointed for miraculous deeds. The arrows and stones hurled at him effected naught, but the dust of the ground, the chaff, and the stubble which he threw at the enemy were transformed into death-dealing javelins and swords. Abraham, as tall as seventy men set on end, and requiring as much food and drink as seventy men, marched forward with giant strides, each of his steps measuring four miles, until he overtook the kings, and annihilated their troops. Further he could not go, for he had reached Dan, where Jeroboam would once raise the golden calves, and on this ominous spot Abraham's strength diminished.
His victory was possible only because the celestial powers espoused his side. The planet Jupiter made the night bright for him, and an angel, Lailah by name, fought for him. In a true sense, it was a victory of God. All the nations acknowledged his more than human achievement, and they fashioned a throne for Abraham, and erected it on the field of battle. When they attempted to seat him upon it, amid exclamations of "Thou art our king! Thou art our prince! Thou art our god!" Abraham warded them off, and said, "The universe has its King, and it has its God!" He declined all honors, and returned his property unto each man. Only the little children he kept by himself. He reared them in the knowledge of God, and later they atoned for the disgrace of their parents.
Somewhat arrogantly the king of Sodom set out to meet Abraham. He was proud that a great miracle, his rescue from the slime pit, had been performed for him, too. He made Abraham the proposition that he keep the despoiled goods for himself. But Abraham refused them, and said: "I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, God Most High, who hath created the world for the sake of the pious, that I will not take a thread nor a shoe-latchet nor aught that is thine. I have no right upon any goods taken as spoils, save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who tarried by the stuff, though they went not down to the battle itself." The example of Abraham in giving a share in the spoils even unto the men not concerned directly in the battle, was followed later by David, who heeded not the protest of the wicked men and the base fellows with him, that the watchers who staid by the stuff were not entitled to share alike with the warriors that had gone down to the battle.
In spite of his great success, Abraham nevertheless was concerned about the issue of the war. He feared that the prohibition against shedding the blood of man had been transgressed, and he also dreaded the resentment of Shem, whose descendants had perished in the encounter. But God reassured him, and said: "Be not afraid! Thou hast but extirpated the thorns, and as to Shem, he will bless thee rather than curse thee." So it was. When Abraham returned from the war, Shem, or, as he is sometimes called, Melchizedek, the king of righteousness, priest of God Most High, and king of Jerusalem, came forth to meet him with bread and wine. And this high priest instructed Abraham in the laws of the priesthood and in the Torah, and to prove his friendship for him he blessed him, and called him the partner of God in the possession of the world, seeing that through him the Name of God had first been made known among men. But Melchizedek arranged the words of his blessing in an unseemly way. He named Abraham first and then God. As a punishment, he was deposed by God from the priestly dignity, and instead it was passed over to Abraham, with whose descendants it remained forever.
As a reward for the sanctification of the Holy Name, which Abraham had brought about when he refused to keep aught of the goods taken in battle, his descendants received two commands, the command of the threads in the borders of their garments, and the command of the latchets to be bound upon their hands and to be used as frontlets between their eyes. Thus they commemorate that their ancestor refused to take so much as a thread or a latchet. And because he would not touch a shoe-latchet of the spoils, his descendants cast their shoe upon Edom.