In the biblical text, five minor kings near the Dead Sea united to rebel against Chedorlaomer, king of Elam in Mesopotamia, to whom they had been subjugated for twelve years (Genesis 14:4). Chedorlaomer set out with three of his allies to crush his insubordinate vassals. After an impressive series of victories throughout Canaan, he arrived at the Valley of Siddim and faced his former subjects. The battle was a one-sided victory, with Chedorlaomer prevailing against the five rebellious kings. Chedorlaomer and his allies looted the nearby cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, taking captives from among the local people. One of the captives was Lot, the nephew of Abram (Genesis 14:12), and this prompted Abram to attempt a daring and successful nighttime rescue. Following the account of the battle is the Melchizedek narrative, a theologically significant passage (Genesis 14:17–24; cf. Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 7:17).
The victory of the four invading kings at the Valley of Siddim emphasized their strength and military prowess. In Genesis 14, this story is used to highlight God’s blessing upon Abram. Even though these four kings had defeated five other kings at the Valley of Siddim, Abram was able to rout them with a relatively small army, due to God’s protection (Genesis 14:15–20; 15:1). Abram demonstrated his own faith in God afterwards by refusing to take any of the plunder from the victory, even when the king of Sodom prodded him to do so. God’s faithfulness to Abram is demonstrated in the contrast between victorious Abram and the defeated five kings. Abram’s faithfulness to God is demonstrated in his interactions with Melchizedek and the king of Sodom after the battle.
The exact location of the Valley of Siddim is unknown. Historically, some have believed the location is submerged in the southern part of the Dead Sea. New evidence has made this view unlikely. A few people argue that it is to the north of the Dead Sea, but this seems improbable as well. Most scholars believe that the Valley of Siddim was an area somewhere to the south of the Dead Sea, based on the tar pits mentioned in the text and the movement of the eastern kings. Whatever the case, the Valley of Siddim was a location where God chose to demonstrate His sovereignty and reaffirm His intention to bless Abram for the sake of the world. God had promised him, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2–3).