A reader sent an Email complimenting the blog and asking for help in answering a question.
“When lot and Abraham parted, lot went down to the dead Sea, while Abraham went up to Hebron. Do you know why he went to Hebron? It seems like such a key question I ought to know the answer to, but [so] far it has evaded me!”
Not sure that I will be able to satisfy the curiosity of the reader, but perhaps these comments will help.
Let’s begin with a survey of Abraham’s early time in the land of Canaan. (All of the references are to the book of Genesis unless otherwise indicated.) I suggest that you follow along in your Bible atlas.
- First stop at Shechem (Genesis 12:6).
- Later he settled between Bethel and Ai (12:8).
- Took a trip to Egypt and then returned to the Negev before going back between Bethel and Ai (12:10; 13:1, 3). There was not available land to accommodate the herds of both Abraham and Lot (13:6).
- Important fact. The Canaanite and Perizites were in the land. Abraham and Lot were strangers and had to move to empty spaces, or perhaps negotiate grazing rights. Lot chose to go to the well-watered Jordan Valley as far as Sodom (13:10).
- The LORD spoke to Abraham. “The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted'” (13:14-16 ESV).
- The LORD instructed Abraham: “Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” (13:17 ESV).
- “So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD” (13:18 ESV).
- Abram later rescued Lot at Dan, and continued to chase the eastern armies north of Damascus (14:14).
- A statement of the extent of the promised land is given in 15:18.
- Abram later lived in Beersheba (21:31).
Answer. The trip to Hebron was simply part of the overall plan to walk the land that the LORD was to give to Abraham’s descendants.
It is important to notice that the Canaanite towns visited by Abraham lie along the central mountain range. Rasmussen identifies this range,
The second major longitudinal zone is the central mountain range, which runs from Galilee in the north to the Negev Highlands in the south. (Rasmussen, Carl G. Zondervan Atlas of the Bible. Rev. Ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010. Print.)
The central mountain range is sometimes identified today as the Patriarchs Way or Route.
From time to time I have cited The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament because it provides succinct comments related to the cultural background of biblical events.
The city of Hebron is located in the Judean hill country (c. 3,300 feet above sea level) approximately nineteen miles southeast of Jerusalem and twenty-three miles east of Beersheba. Ancient roadways converge on this site coming east from Lachish and connecting with the road north to Jerusalem, indicating its importance and continuous settlement. Its springs and wells provide ample water for olive and grape production and would have supported a mixed agricultural-pastoral economy such as that described in Genesis 23. Hebron is said to have been founded “seven years before Zoan” (Avaris in Egypt), dating it to the seventeenth century B.C. (see comment on Num 13:22). The construction of an altar here, as at Bethel, transforms this into an important religious site, and its subsequent use as a burial place for the ancestors established its political importance (reflected in the Davidic narrative—2 Sam 2:1–7; 15:7–12). (Matthews, Victor Harold, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. electronic ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000. Print.)
Understanding the land helps one better understand the biblical text.