Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south.XIII.
ABRAM’S RETURN FROM EGYPT AND HIS SEPARATION FROM LOT.
(1-4) He went on his journeys.—Or, according to his stations, which the Vulgate very reasonably translates, “by the same route by which he had come.” This route was first into the south, the Negeb, which is virtually a proper name, and thence to the spot between Beth-el and Ai mentioned in Genesis 12:8.
At the first does not mean that this was the first altar erected by Abram, but that he built it on his first arrival there. His first altar was at Shechem. As regards his wealth, while his cattle had been greatly increased in Egypt, he had probably brought the silver and gold with him from Mesopotamia. Gold, however, was plentiful at that time in Egypt, but silver rare.
And Lot also, which went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents.(5, 6) Lot.—He, too, had possibly received presents in Egypt, for we find him rivalling his uncle in wealth; and the “tents” show that he had numerous followers, and, like Abram, was the chief of a powerful clan. The repetition that “the land was not able to bear them,” and that “they could not dwell together,” implies that the difficulty had long been felt before it led to an open rupture.
And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram's cattle and the herdmen of Lot's cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land.(7) The Perizzite.—We find mention in the Bible both of Perazites, translated villages, in 1Samuel 6:18, Esther 9:19; and of Perizzites, who are sometimes opposed to the Canaanites, as here and in Genesis 34:30, and sometimes described as one of the tribes settled in Palestine (Exodus 3:8; Exodus 3:17; Joshua 17:15; Judges 3:5). They are not mentioned among the races descended from Canaan, and probably were the earlier inhabitants of the country, who, being a pastoral people, possessed of no towns, were not able to make head against the Hamite settlers, but maintained themselves in the open country. Perazite and Perizzite are probably the same word, and both signify lowlander, though finally they were driven to the mountains (Joshua 11:3). As the Canaanites devoted their main strength to a maritime life and trade, they would not attempt to extirpate these natives, but would be content with driving them into the interior. As thus some districts would be occupied by the dominant Canaanites, and others by these aborigines, two such large clans as those of Abram and Lot would find it difficult to discover unoccupied land enough to provide pasture for their cattle. The land must have been very thinly peopled for it to have been possible for them to do this, even when they had arranged to dwell apart.
And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren.(8, 9) Let there be no strife.—It is evident that Lot was beginning to take part with his herdmen, and regard himself as an injured man. But Abram meets him with the utmost generosity, acknowledges that their growth in wealth rendered a separation necessary, and gives him his choice. And Lot accepts it. Instead of feeling that it was due to his uncle’s age and rank to yield to him the preference, he greedily accepts the offer, selects the region that seemed to offer the greatest earthly advantages, but finds in the long run that it has perils which far outweigh its promises of wealth and pleasure.
And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar.(10) The plain of Jordan.—This word, Ciccar, literally means the circuit, or, as it is translated in St. Matthew 3:5, “the region round about Jordan,” and, according to Mr. Conder (Tent Work, ii., p. 14), is the proper name of the Jordan valley, and especially of the plain of Jericho. It is now called the Gnor, or depression, and is one of the most remarkable districts in the world, being a deep crack or fissure, with chalk rocks upon the western and sandstone on the eastern side, over which lies limestone, geologically of the age of our green-sand formation. It is thus what is technically called by miners a fault, the formations on the two sides having been displaced by some tremendous convulsion of nature. Most of the valley lies below the level of the Mediterranean, the Sea of Galilee being, by Mr. Conder’s observations, about 682 feet below it, and the Dead Sea no less than 1,292 feet. As the watershed to the south rises to a level of 200 feet above the Mediterranean, al) egress for the waters is thereby cut off, and there are numerous proofs that at some distant period the whole valley, about 150 miles in length, was a succession of large lakes. But even in Abram’s days the Jordan poured down a far larger volume of water than at present; for by the loss of its forests the climate of Palestine has become much more dry than of old, and regions once fertile are now barren. And as the supply of water has become less than that lost by evaporation, the Dead Sea has gradually receded, and left around it arid wastes covered over with incrustations of salt.
As the garden of the Lord.—Mr. Palmer (Desert of the Exodus. p. 465) describes the fertility of the Jordan valley as follows:—“Although the immediate vicinity of the Dead Sea is barren enough, the Ghor, or deep depression at the northern and southern extremities, teems with life and vegetation; and even where the cliffs rise sheer up from the water’s edge, streams of fresh water dash down the ravines, and bring the verdure with them almost to the Salt Sea’s brink.” The same writer (p. 480) has also shown conclusively, with Mr. Grove, Dr. Tristram, and others, that Sodom and Gomorrha were at the northern end of the lake, and not, as was previously supposed, at the southern. For the Ciccar is strictly the part of the Ghor near Jericho, and as the Dead Sea is forty-six miles in length, its southern extremity was far away out of sight. Moreover, Lot was standing some miles away to the north-west, on the high ground between Beth-el and Ai, whence “the northern end of the Dead Sea, and the barren tract which extends from the oasis of Jericho to it and the Jordan, are distinctly visible” (Dr. Tristram, Sunday at Home, 1872, p. 215). This “barren tract” was once the Ciccar, and the traces of ancient irrigation and aqueducts attest its former fertility. It was upon this district, “well watered everywhere,” that Lot gazed so covetously, and its richness is indicated by a double comparison: for, first, it was like Jehovah’s garden in Eden, watered by its four rivers; and next, it was like Egypt, rendered fertile by artificial means.
As thou comest unto Zoar.—This makes no sense whatsoever. No person on the route to Egypt could possibly take Zoar in his way; and of the five cities of the plain this was the least like Paradise. The Syriac has preserved the right reading, namely, Zoan. This city, however, was called Zor, or Zar, by the Egyptians (Records of the Past, viii. 147), and was situated on the eastern side of the Tanaitic branch of the Nile, at the head of a fertile plain, called “the field of Zoan” in Psalm 78:12. Through this rich and well-watered region Lot had lately travelled in Abram’s company, and the luxuriant vegetation there made it not unworthy to be compared with Paradise.
Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other.(11) Lot journeyed east.—This is the word translated “eastward” in Genesis 2:8, and “from the east” in Genesis 11:2. Here it can only mean towards the east.
Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.(12, 13) Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain.—Heb., of the Ciccar. Not as yet within their walls, but in their neighbourhood, and evidently with a longing “toward Sodom,” where, in Genesis 19, we find him sitting in the gate as a citizen, and with his tent changed to a house. While, then, Abram continued to lead a hardy life as a stranger upon the bracing hills, Lot sighed for the less self-denying habits of the city; and probably, when he had descended into the Ghor, the enervating climate, which so developed the sensual vices of the people as to make them “sinners before Jehovah” (see on Genesis 10:9), disposed Lot also to quit his tent, and yield himself to a luxurious and easy manner of living.
And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward:(14) The Lord said unto Abram.—The departure of Lot was certainly a great grief to Abram; for he lost thereby the companionship of the relative who had shared his abandonment of his country, and whom, probably, in his childless state, he had regarded as his heir. Jehovah, therefore, consoles him by a more definite promise of the possession of the whole land of which he had so generously given Lot the choice, and by the assurance that his own seed should be numerous as the dust of the earth. We may also feel sure that as Lot was deteriorating, so Abram was drawing nearer to God, and walking more closely with Him; and hence the fuller assurance of the Divine blessing.
Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.(17) Walk through the land.—Repeated change of scene is not merely one of the pleasures of the nomad life, but also a necessity; for the uplands, covered with rich herbage in the spring, are usually burnt up in summer, and in the winter are exposed to driving winds and rain-storms. In these journeyings Abram is now to have the tranquil pleasure of feeling that his seed will inherit each beautiful spot that he visits, and that he is taking possession of it, and hallowing it for them.
Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the LORD.(18) The plain of Mamre.—(Heb., oaks of Mamre. See on Genesis 12:6). Mamre was an Amorite, then living, and as he was confederate with Abram, it was apparently with the consent of the Amorites, and by virtue of the treaty entered into with them, that Abram made this oak-grove one of his permanent stations.
Hebron.—That is, alliance. Hebron was perhaps so called from the confederacy formed between Abram and the Amorites, and was apparently the name not only of a city, but of a district, as the oaks of Mamre are described as being “in Hebron.” For its other name, Kirjath-arba, see note on Genesis 23:2.