Abram learned of Lot’s capture from a man (Genesis 14:14) who had escaped from the returning victorious armies that had defeated Sodom and the other cities in the plane. It is plausible that this man was one of Lot’s servants, and he escaped while being taken back to Mesopotamia, and came to Abram at Mamre (Hebron), knowing that place had become Abram’s dwelling place after the incident that separated him and Lot (cp. Genesis 13:11-12, 18). We are told that Abram had a covenant with Mamre, Eshcol and Aner (Genesis 14:13), but Lot had allied himself with the rulers of Sodom as his sitting in the gate of Sodom in Genesis 19:1 implies.
What, therefore, was the difference between Abram and Lot, in that, Lot was defeated in his war but Abram was victorious in his? I believe it is necessary for us to consider the purposes behind Abram’s and Lot’s alliances, before we would be able to discover the difference between their walks with the Lord and why the Lord gave victory to Abram and not to Lot.
As I already noted, Lot sat in the city gate (Genesis 19:1) showing he was considered one of the important men of Sodom. He came to Sodom as a stranger but continued there as one of its judges (cp. Genesis 19:9). Lot’s way of life wasn’t appreciated by the citizens, no doubt because they viewed him as seeking to change their way of life. Later Peter would record that Lot was distressed living among such unrighteous people (2Peter 2:7). That said, the fact that he sat in the gate of Sodom implies that he was one of those who may have been consulted over governing policy, indicating he may have approved of the five kings’ decision to rebel against Chedorlaomer. This seems to imply that Lot sought to change the behavior of the wicked Sodomites through legislation—judging and punishing evil behavior. He also seems to be willing to take the land “in the name of the Lord” (so to speak), because, after all, the Lord promised it to Abram, and, because Lot went with Abram, to Lot as well.
On the other hand, Abram was willing to wait for the Lord to give him and his descendants the land that was promised. Abram’s alliances were for defensive purposes, and not for offensive intentions. The only military action the text records Abram undertaking is one to come to the aid of his friend. Abram never used force to enrich himself, nor did he ever try to take the Land of Promise by force.
Abram’s and Lot’s faith in the Lord were expressed very differently. Abram placed himself and his future completely in the hands of the Lord. He was totally dependent upon the Lord to keep his promises. On the other hand, Lot’s war expressed his ‘faith’ in the promise of God in a different way. He was not totally dependent upon God to do as he claimed, but rather Lot tried to force God to act on his promise in the same manner that the Jews did in 66 CE when they rebelled from Rome, expecting God to raise up the Messiah among them and save them against their enemies.
The similarities today are striking. On the one hand we have the Christian community seeking to rectify the world through legislation, forcing the world into a Christian ethic. Their success is very similar to that of Lot. They aren’t appreciated by the folks who don’t want legislation implemented to change their behavior. They experiences varying degrees of success and failure through political process, depending upon their ‘man’ to succeed to power and hoping they aren’t betrayed.
On the other hand, preaching the Gospel and being completely upon God for our success is a method that seems to work much better. Upon hearing the Gospel preached, folks repent, voluntarily changing their behavior without the necessity of law. This is only a prelude to what is to come. We wait for the full implementation of the Kingdom of God wherein dwells righteousness (Luke 19:16-19; cp. 2Peter 3:13).
 The gate of a city was the place where business was conducted (Genesis 23:10), where the law was made known (Nehemiah 8:1, 3) and justice administered (Joshua 20:4; Ruth 4:1), and those who sat there were understood to be the important men of the city (cp. 2Samuel 19:8).