As Abram and Lot journeyed, Lot chose the land east of Jordan because it was fertile. He chose the plain going to Zoar, near to Sodom. Some people today place this east of the Dead Sea, others, south east of the Dead Sea. The land east of the Dead Sea later became known as Moab, descendants of Moab, one of Lot’s son’s after Sodom was destroyed.
The text in Genesis 13 adds that the region was like the garden of God and says this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom. This comment could imply that the land in many of these regions was much more fertile in the early centuries after the Flood. We know Egypt was. In the desert regions of Egypt there are paintings of African animals, animals that today are only seen further south. In the centuries after the Flood, conditions in these regions were deteriorating, and by the time Moses and Israel came out of Egypt many deserts existed. Deterioration had already begun in Abram’s early years in Canaan, which is why in Genesis 12 we see Sarai and Abram visiting Egypt to escape a drought. The comment in Genesis 13 could indicate that the destruction of Sodom contributed to these poorer fertility conditions.
In this first half of Genesis there are many small comments that seem to indicate massive geological and climatic changes. Like in Genesis 7:11, during the Flood, “all the springs of the great deep burst forth.” This indicates the introduction of volcanic activity, which isn’t even hinted at prior to the Flood. The Rift Valley now extends right down through Canaan and into Africa, where the earth’s tectonic plates move apart. We see references to this volcanic activity in regard to Sodom, in the book of Job (“fire from heaven”) and in reference to Edom (Isaiah 34). Many factors were altering living and agricultural conditions at that time and would also have lent to the movement of people and empires across the regions.
However, one needs to ask the point of the story for its inclusion into the scripture. The scripture doesn’t waste space. There must be many points, but here I can quickly see two. Abram’s character shines through. He is just. He doesn’t grab land or grab anything else, saying it is God’s inheritance for him. He allows Lot to choose his portion of land first. In all of Abram’s dealings in the land we see this same justice in his relationships with other people who live there. He makes no attempt to become lord over others or to enforce his rights. His duty here was to care for Lot as his nephew, and he fulfilled this duty.
The second point is in the choice Lot made. It seems to reveal that he did not know the call of God. The narrative suggests that Lot chose the best place for fertility, even though it was close to the wickedness of Sodom. On the other hand, Abram was left with that which was God’s call for him, even though to man at that time it looked second best. Lot had no view, it seems, to the call of God and to the blessing that was in God’s calling. He was with Abram but did not know Abram or the purpose of God who called him.
Another thing the text reveals is the source of Abram’s character. He journeyed to Bethel, the place where he had earlier built an altar to call on the name of the Lord. So Abram did this again at Bethel. This worship, this dependency on the Lord’s character and the Lord’s wisdom, is what established the steps that Abram walked.