Thank you for checking out the podcast, I am your host Randy Duncan, and we are continuing to make our way through the book of genesis, verse by verse
In the last episode, we covered chapter 13, discussing the separation of Abraham and his nephew Lot. We mentioned that Abraham gives Lot his choice of land to take, and Lot chooses for himself all the Jordan Valley, and sets up camp as far as the city of Sodom.
We also touched on why Lot may have selected to move all the way to Sodom, knowing that the people who lived there were wicked, and were great sinners in the sight of God.
Which brings us now to chapter 14.
Now chapter 14 is a bit different. We will see that the story here has a couple of unique features. It contains the first biblical record of warfare. It projects Abraham as a military leader and hero, and tells us that Abraham is given the epithet, or description of “the Hebrew”.
So, to set the stage for this chapter, remember that Lot greedily chose for himself the best land, and also moved and set up camp in Sodom, which the Bible tells us was full of wicked men who were great sinners in the eyes of God. And now, his choice is going to turn out to be disastrous, as war breaks out and Sodom is attacked.
And so this chapter is about Lot getting captured and then Abraham’s rescue of Lot.
But the story begins when four Eastern kings suppress a revolt by five kings in the Dead Sea area.
But first, we start out out in the first 9 verses with a list of kings in the area, and introduce the two armies that have gone to battle. So if you can bear with me while I simply read through the kings and the cities, we will discuss what all this adds up to!
14 In the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar (LSR), Chedorlaomer (kador la omer)king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, 2 these kings made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha (beer sha) king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah (ad ma), Shemeber (shem eber)king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar)(so air). 3 And all these joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (sideem) (that is, the Salt Sea). 4 Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer (kador la omer), but in the thirteenth year they rebelled. 5 In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer (kador la omer) and the kings who were with him came and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim (car nigh em), the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim (ay meem) in Shaveh-kiriathaim (Keery ah), 6 and the Horites in their hill country of Seir (say ear) as far as El-paran on the border of the wilderness. 7 Then they turned back and came to En-mishpat (eye in) (that is, Kadesh) and defeated all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who were dwelling in Hazazon-tamar.
So again, what we see here is that five Kings in the area around the Dead Sea revolt against four kings of the East. Each of the cities has its own king, which is typical of a Canaanite city-state system that existed before the Israelite conquest.
So the four kings of the east set out to presumably squash the revolt. And they raid and conquer all of Transjordan and the south of Palestine along their way to reach the rebel kings.
So their route of conquest moves from North to South, along what is known as the King’s Highway, which is the major North-South artery in Transjordan.
Did you notice that in V3, “And all these joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (sideem) (that is, the Salt Sea). The Salt Sea is the Dead Sea. The Hebrew name for the Dead Sea means “Salt Sea” because its average salt content is about 32%, which is about 10 times saltier than the average 3% salinity of the oceans.
V4 tells us that “Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer (kador la omer), but in the thirteenth year they rebelled”. When it says that they “served” him, it most likely means they paid him tribute, or whatever he may have demanded. Chedorlaomer (kador la omer) was the leader of this Eastern confederacy. And so when the other kings rebelled, it is likely that they refused to pay him the annual tribute.
8 Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah (ad ma), the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out, and they joined battle in the Valley of Siddim 9 with Chedorlaomer (kador la omer) king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar (LSR), four kings against five.
Ok, so what does that mean, and what exactly is going on here? This is simply telling us that the four kings who are mentioned went out to battle against the five kings that have also been named. Four against five.
For the first time in the Bible, tribes and nations are now recorded as going to war with one another. It doesn’t necessarily mean this was the first war, just that this is the first one recorded. Or perhaps the most significant one to date. But either way, the primary reason it is recorded is because Abraham is about to get involved.
10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the hill country. 11 So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. 12 They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way.
Uh-oh! This is what brings Abraham into the story. But first, it says that the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, or tar pits. Now tar pits are common in this area of the Dead Sea. In fact, so common, that large amounts bubble up and even float on the Dead Sea. But this Hebrew word for “pits” is the same word used throughout the Old Testament for wells of water. And so it usually refers to a spot that has been dug out.
Now it says that as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, they “fell” into them, into these pits. First off, it appears that the Kings of Sodom and Gomorrah were fleeing the battle. They were trying to escape. So the battle must not have been going very well for their side.
Secondly, the Hebrew exprerssion used here for “they fell into them” can also mean that they threw themselves into them. So there are a couple of different interpretations of exactly what is being said here.
First, one interpretation is that as the troops fled, they fell into the tar pits. So, if you take the phrase to be saying they “fell”, this is the interpretation you are most likely to go with.
But another interpretation is that as the kings fled, they “threw themselves” into the pits and were used as hiding places. So, these pits sort of provided a place of refuge for the kings.
As I said, either way, things are not going well on the battlefront for the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, regardless of which way you interpret this phrase. Because as we see in V11, “the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions”
But V12 is the key verse here. Because it tells us that not only did the enemy take the possessions and provisions out of Sodom and Gomorrah, they also took Lot, who was living in Sodom.
Remember in the last episode, Lot foolishly chose to live in Sodom. And you can see an interesting progression in Lot’s identifying with Sodom. First, he chose it. He chose the land after Abraham gave him the first pick. Second, he chose to camp near Sodom, even though he was aware that the men of the city were wicked and sinners in God’s sight. Third, he ends up living in Sodom, becoming an active citizen. Do you see the progression here? And then finally, if you skip ahead to chapter 19, you will see that Lot is a respected citizen of Sodom, and calling the wicked men of Sodom “brothers”!
Psalm 1:1-2 tells us not to be like Lot. To not choose like Lot did. Psalm 1:1-2 tells us “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stands alongside the manner or the ways or habits of sinners
Well now, those decisions are going to come back and haunt Lot, as he is taken away captive by the enemy.
And here is where it begins to get really interesting…
13 Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol (esh coal) and of Aner (ah nair). These were allies of Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.
So someone escapes, goes and finds Abraham and tells him what has happened, that Lot has been taken captive.
Notice how V13 describes Abraham. “Abraham the Hebrew”. That is the first mention of a Hebrew. We are not even certain of the origin or meaning of the term “Hebrew”. There are two or three primary thoughts out there.
Some think it is a geographic term, which derives from the Hebrew root word for “to pass over”, and so it means “one from beyond”.
Others believe it is a social term designating a landless people from many different ethnic backgrounds.
Another thought, and the one that seems to be preferred by the majority of commentators, is that Hebrew is an ethnic term that is connected to Eber, the grandson of Noah ,and the last ancestor in the line of Shem before the earth was divided as described in Genesis 10:21-25.
So, when Abraham hears that Lot has been taken captive, he gathers the trained men of his household, 318 of them, and takes off to rescue Lot. Now these men were men born in his household, meaning they were slaves born of slaves, or, more accurately, bondservants. And they would have been Abraham’s most loyal and reliable servants.
A couple of things here. First, notice that Abraham doesn’t say, ‘Well, that serves Lot for moving to Sodom. He is getting what he deserves for that poor decision”. No. Abraham hears the news, and immediately gathers and leads his men.
Second, notice how many trained men Abraham had in his household – 318. Now 318 is an unusually specific, precise number, which is why many commentators believe this number is a literal number. There are a couple of extrabiblical sources that utilize the number 318, such as the Iliad, and an Egyptian source, but the 318 does not conform to any other symbolic or representative number in scripture.
The other thing to note about this 318 number, is that it represents a sizable army for that period of time, and so it is a clear indication of Abraham’s wealth.
When we get to verse 24 we learn also that Abraham had allies. So in addition to his 318 men, his actual number of men was probably larger, more than just his 318 men. But keep in mind, the invading armies were likely much larger, because it is a coalition of territories, not just the fighting men of a city-state.
It says that Abraham went in pursuit as far as Dan, which would be the extreme northern end of the land of Israel
15 And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah (ho bah), north of Damascus. 16 Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people.
So Abraham attacks. But the first thing he did was to divide his men. Now the Hebrew term used here for “divided against them” is “halaq” (halack), which means to divide, or separate, which is most likely a military term. So what it sounds like happened is that Abraham attacks at night, and he divides his forces and attacks from two sides.
Now the JPS, which is the Jewish Publication Society, in their commentary on this, explain that the large armies of the coalition of kings had just completed a long and exhausting campaign. They did not expect to have to fight again, and were unprepared for an attack, especially after they had encamped for the night. Armies did not typically march after sunset in the ancient world.
And so Abraham comes with his fresh troops, divides them up, and attacks this battle-weary army at night from two sides. And V15 says that Abraham “defeated” them. Some translations use the word “routed”. But the word is also used to Smite, to slay, to kill, or to slaughter. Needless to say, whichever translation is utilized, we see that Abraham was victorious.
And he rescues Lot, and brings back all of the possessions, and all of the people
17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer ((kador la omer) and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth;20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
So Abraham returns from his victory over the coalition of the kings, and as he returns, the King of Sodom comes out to meet him. But the Hebrew word used here for “meet”, is ambiguous. It is a nuetral phrase, and its meaning is derived from the context in which it is used. It may mean “to greet”, or it may mean “to confront”. There is a big difference between these two.
And here we are introduced to Melchizedek. Melchizedek is the king of Salem. And although it is not a certainty, Salem is most likely Jerusalem. And some will point to Psalm 76:2 as another reference to this being the case. Psalm 76:2 reads “In Judah God is known; his name is great in Israel.2 His abode has been established in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion”. And just so you are aware, Zion is used as a synonym for Jerusalem ,as well as Israel as a whole. And Judah is a reference to the southern part of Israel.
Nothing much is known of Melchizedek, except that he is a priest-king, and he sort of just emerges on the scene here, and then is gone. But we do know that he was a monotheist, meaning, he believed in one God, the God Most High.
So Melchizedek is actually a monotheist in a land where there was otherwise a move towards universal paganism.
And isn’t it interesting what Melchizedek brings out? Bread and wine. Does that ring a bell? Melchizedek, a priest and a king, in Jerusalem, who believes in one God, the Most High God, who brings out bread and wine
Hebrews 5:5-6 read “5 So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; 6 as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever,after the order of Melchizedek. Interesting.
Also, Hebrews 5:9-10 tells us, speaking of Jesus, 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 7:1-3 “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. 3 He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.
Speaking of bread wine, listen to Matthew 26:26-29- And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.
So the references to Melchizedek and Jesus are indeed interesting. Both priests and kings in Jerusalem, of the one true God, both with the bread and wine, which are the elements of the Lord’s supper. And so this appearance of Melchizedek is a foreshadowing of sorts of the New Testament and Jesus Christ.
Now, back to a word about the king of Sodom. 21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.”
Interesting. The king of Sodom, unlike Melchizidek, brings no gift. He offers no blessings. The king of Sodom has been the beneficiary of Abraham’s heroics, and does he express any gratitude? No. But remember, scripture told us that the men of Sodom were wicked and great sinners in the eyes of God. And the king of Sodom’s action here provides a glimpse into the attitude of the people of Sodom.
And notice the first words of the king of Sodom, “Give me the persons” His first two words are “give me”. What are his next words? “Take the good formyourself” Take. The king of Sodom comes out and starts issuing instructions, “give me”, “take”. We start to see more clearly the attitude of the king of Sodom. The king addresses Abraham with commands rather than with honor and thanksgiving and appreciation
What the king of Sodom wants Abraham to do is to give him back the people, but take all of the bounty, the loot, for himself. He doesn’t argue or contest the fact that Abraham has a right to keep the spoils of war. So how does Abraham respond?
22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner (ah nair), Eshcol (esh coal), and Mamre take their share.”
So Abraham tells the king of Sodom that he has “lifted up his hand to the Lord”, which is a way of saying that he has sworn an oath. We actually still do this today, for example, when we are sworn in, or before we take the witness stand in court.
And Abraham says he has sworn an oath to God that he will not take anything, no loot or booty or spoils of war, from this military campaign. Why? Because, as Abraham says in V23, lest you, the king of Sodom should say “I have made Abraham rich”.
Abraham didn’t want it to appear that he had acted out of sort of mercenary considerations. He did not want to be stained with the moral implications of keeping a victim’s plunder, especially considering who was involved. He doesn’t want any part of what this pagan king of Sodom begrudgingly offers him. He wants a clear, moral claim to all of his possessions. Abraham understands that it was God who provided him the victory. And he is not going to allow anyone to undermine or tarnish the name of God, and be able to say that it was them who had made Abraham rich.
So Abraham says he will take nothing, except what the troops have needed for food, and the dhare of the men who went with him. This also reveals the fairness of Abraham, who, although he takes nothing for himself, allows the men who went with him to take their rightful and fair share.
This then, concludes chapter 14.
But a couple of observations in closing. First, note the difference in Abraham in this scen versus earlier when he went down to Egypt. When he went to Egypt remember, he was afraid that he would be killed by the Egyptians on the account of Sarah. So uch so, that he had her lie to the Egyptians. But here, Abraham displayed no such fear. As soon as Abraham hears of Lot being captured, he assembles his men and sets off into battle against superior forces.
And afterwards, when returning victorious, he is confronted by the king of Sodom. Again, Abraham displays no fear or reverence to the king. He does not bend to the will of the king. In fact, he tells the king he will do no such thing. Abraham honors the oath he made to God, even after he was told by the king to take his spoils of war.
You can see Abraham’s mindset and trust in God changing from when he entered Egypt. This is something that we can all learn from. How are you currently situated in your relationship with God? How faithfully do you trust in God? And believe me, God will find a way almost every day to ask you, “Do you trust me”?
Are you maturing in your relationship with God, as you learn to trust in him more and more, and place your faith in him? Or, are you kind of stuck where you have been for a long time now? Remember, as in most things in life, you don’t just stay the same day to day with anything you do. Every day you either get better or worse. The same is true in your relationship with God. It either gets better or worse, every day. And every decision you make will bring you closer or distance you from God.
So I hope you pause for a moment and consider how your relationship with God has trended lately. If it is not what you want it to be, or wish it would be, consider spending more time in a focused, intentional effort to build that relationship.
And just like Abraham, you don’t worry about what other people might think. You don’t worry about what the rest of the world is doing. You don’t worry about what the king says!
I leave you this week with the words of God, as he spoke to Joshua, in Joshua 1:9-“ Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
I thank you for listening, and hope you’ll join me in the next episode where we will take a look at God’s covenant with Abraham. Until then, God bless!