This is the first record of war in the Bible. In Genesis 9:5-6 God had ordained the institution of human government to curtail lawlessness and to execute capital punishment on murderers (Rom 13:1-4). But here we have what is typical when power and authority is in the view of a sinful and corrupt humanity; might becomes right, and power, control, and riches become the prize to fight and shed blood over.
So the institution that God had ordained, extending the stewardship of His divine authority for men to do His will on earth, becomes the favorite instrument of the devil to cause destruction, misery, and human suffering by the insatiable greed, pride, and fickle passions of mortal men in power and privileged situations. And so just like Nimrod whose had lived before their age (Genesis 10), men seize upon power and become despots seeking to extend the frontiers of their territories and powers through unholy alliances and crafty devices. This is what we have here in the first half of Genesis 14.
It is a sad truth that war has become a part of human history, and history popularly lends itself as a subject that has been usurped by the tyrants and despots of this world. but in as much as we had earlier said that human governments and their sinful and abominable institutions have become the favorite instrument of the devil because of the continuous human vulnerability to yield to the temptation of sin right from the garden, we must not forget who the principle character of the scriptures is behind the scenes; it is Yaweh Adonai, the creator of the ends of the earth.
And although human and devilish characters play out their roles on this world’s stage, the One who owns true sovereignty is the God and Judge of the universe by whom and for whom all things were created (Rev 4:11), and whom creation ultimately serves.
We have this story here in Genesis 14 because it concerns God’s covenant friend Abram (Isaiah 41:8), and his nephew Lot. Lot’s greed had blinded him and led him by fleshly impulse to choose to settle in Sodom, and now he must suffer from the commotion, the trouble, and the unrest that the Sodomites had to suffer in this skirmish between the 4 invading Kings, and the 5 defending Kings.
And yes we know that many readers of the Bible find the names and historical details of the Bible much too detailed and irrelevant to their supposed spiritual benefit. Who cares about the names of these warring Kings and their territories?
Well, as it turns out, the historical detailed-ness of the Bible has been one of its strongest defenses today in the era of skepticism towards the Bible in which we live. So as archeologists and historians dig through the artifacts and uncover more of the histories of the past, and actually find historical documents and pieces of evidence that points to the names and territories of these Kings and despots, more and more it strengthens and validates the accuracy of the testimony of the scriptures, and silences the arguments and dissenting voices of its critics.
Remember that Moses (the author of Genesis) is here relaying history that concerns the ancestor of the Hebrew people, and mentioning territories that will feature again and again in the biblical narrative. So let’s go through the names of these Kings; on a higher note, it won’t hurt anybody. The first set of the 4 attacking Kings;
Amraphael King of Shinar (Gen 11:2), Arioch King of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer King of Elam, and Tidal King of Goyim. The second set of 5 Kings; Bera King of Sodom, Birsha King of Gomorrah, Shinab King of Admah, Shemeber King of Zeboyim (Gen 10:19), and the King of Bela (that is Zoar- Gen 13:10).
The occasion of their gathering together; these 5 Kings had been subject to Kedorlaomer for 12 years, but in the 13th year they rebelled, and join forces to fight for their freedom from subjugation and paying tribute to Kedorlaomer. We should not forget how rich and well-watered the soil of Sodom and its surrounding territories had earlier been described, “Like the garden of the Lord (Gen 13:10)”, so that even Lot could not resist the temptation to choose Sodom.
And so any political or military power would have wanted to bring such territories into its subjugation because of their vast economic resources. This is not different from today as the advanced nations of this world politically and with its military powers, invade and control the economies of weaker nations with vast resources in the name of humanitarian and peace keeping activities, while the true motives are of an economic nature.
The first thing that is striking about the names of some of these territories mentioned in this section is that they are mentioned again in the book of Deuteronomy 2:10-11 (the Rephaites, the Emites, the Horites) as Israel is travelling through the wilderness to take possession of Canaan. Let us observe how detailed Moses is here in Genesis 14; listing out the different people groups and their corresponding geographical territories.
These are all territories through which Israel would travel during their journey through the wilderness, the people and territories that they would have some form of interaction with. And here we see Kedorlaomer and his allies doing warfare at an inter-tribal and regional scale to exert their power, and stamp their authority by means of destruction and terror.
There are several implications in this extent of geographical detail of the biblical narrative, to such an extent that the average reader of the Bible just glosses over the long list of strange names without appreciating the scale of the drama that the biblical writer is conveying. Thus a firm grasp of the geography of the biblical landscape becomes vital to the serious Bible student; and none of these territories mentioned is to be ignored or taken lightly.
A second point of interest is to observe all of this drama of conflict and warfare among despots, powers, and territories against the backdrop of God’s original creation of mankind within a garden paradise; mankind was supposed to be vice-regents and extensions of God’s image, nature, and dominion. What a far cry from God’s original creation!
Now danger, threat, warfare, tyrants and despots are welcome to take the reigns of leadership because military strength and superiority of force have become desirable to prevent each territory from falling into subjugation. Thus, the social communities and interactions of people have become chiefly dominated by two overriding motives; greed and fear – the desire to conquer, or the fear of being conquered. Mankind would from here live in suspicion of each other, further fueled by the different languages, dialects, and cultures.
Thirdly, here in this section Kedorlaomer and his allies are the conquerors and tyrannical powers to be reckoned with as they went about defeating other people groups, but like we had earlier mentioned that we shall come again to these territories as we continue to read into the book of Deuteronomy, and by the time we get there we shall find no trace of Kedorlaomer and his mighty alliance of conquering armies. This demonstrates how brief and transitory is the nature of human power and reign.
Man’s twisted and corrupt glory is as short-lived and as fleeting as a puff of smoke (Psalm 39:5, 11; Psalm 62:9), while he has acquired a heart like Satan, “I will ascend…”, “I will raise my throne…”, “I will seat enthroned…”, “I will ascend above…”, and “I will make myself…” (Isaiah 14:13-14). Man’s heart is full of ambitious pretensions, and he mostly forgets the prayer taught by the apostle in James 4:15 – “If it is the Lord’s will we shall live and do this or do that”. And this transient and fragile nature of arrogant mankind underscores the sovereignty and rulership of Almighty God (Psalm 9:7, Psalm 29:10, Exodus 15:18).
The battle lines were drawn between the 5 and 4 Kings, but the chosen battle ground the valley of Siddim was full of slimy tar pits. As the battle was joined, the 4 Kings prevailed over the 5, and the Kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and their men fled, and some of the men fell into the tar pits and were captured with all their food; and the land of Sodom was ransacked, and Abram’s nephew Lot and his entire possessions were carted away as spoils of war.
God mercifully made a way of escape as a fleeing servant of Lot escapes to Abram and makes a report of the events of the capture of Lot and his entire household. Abram is at once stirred up in brotherly concern for the sake of his relative Lot and his household. The narrative progresses, but notice how it is crafted; “Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre (at Hebron – Numbers 13:22, Josh 10:3) the Amorite, a brother of Eshkol (Numbers 13:23) and Aner, all of them who were allied with Abram (NIV)”. Moses cannot tell this story without casting it against the geographical backdrop of the land of Israel’s travel through the wilderness. This story was their story; the story of their ancestor Abram, and all the ways in which their Jehovah God had intervened in his life’s story, and also in theirs’ throughout their wilderness journey.
So Abram and his 318 trained servant-warriors born in his house, with his allies pursue the invaders of Sodom as far as Dan. They divide into formations and attacked Kedorlaomer and his allied Kings at night, and roundly defeat all of them pursuing them as far as Hobah, North of Damascus. “Abram recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and other people”.
Imagine how Abram’s fame and renown must have gone abroad all over the land of Canaan for such a mighty victory over Kedorlaomer and his allies, who were the greatest cause of terror and unrest in the region. And Abram instead of capturing battle spoils, women and more slaves, becomes the first and great liberator of war prisoners in scriptures. And so in this world of human wickedness, greed and corruption, it is proper and fitting that the righteous acquire the means and organizational capacities required to defend their territory and region, to defend their loved ones and friends, and enter into battle against despots and tyrants: wars of just causes to bring liberation and succor to the unjustly oppressed and imprisoned.
After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, two Kings come to meet him the valley of Shaveh. The first was Bera, the king of Sodom, the second was Melchizedek the King of Salem. But Melchizedek is no ordinary King. He is also referred to as “priest of God Most High”, and he blessed Abram saying,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And Praise be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand”. Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
Much has been deliberated, both in speech and practices regarding this passage by both ancient and modern Bible scholars. The first intriguing question is, who was this Melchizedek? Was he a natural human being or was he a character of supernatural origin in this drama. This question has not been easy to answer both by ancient and by modern scholars since there is neither prior nor later historical information about him.
By a very huge consensus studies from the scriptures of this character Melchizedek only lead scholars (both ancient and modern) to one end; he is none other than a pre-incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Although Salem was a well-known territory also called Jerusalem originally inhabited by the Jebusites and later occupied by the Jews (Joshua 10:1, Joshua 15:63, Judges 1:8, 2Sam 5:6-7), so that some scholars consent to the fact that Melchizedek was a physical king over a physical territory, it is how the scriptures handle him – from Moses to later prophets and scholars that is typological.
Clearly there is a misnomer within this narrative that tells us firstly that Melchizedek, which in Hebrew means “King of Righteousness”, blessed Abram even though he was a beneficiary of God’s covenant (Hebrews 7:6). Secondly, Melchizedek is called Priest of God Most High, and Abram recognizes him as such, and receives from Melchizedek the token of bread and wine along with the blessing with which this representative priest of God blesses him from God Most High creator of heaven and earth. Melchizedek blesses not in the name of the gods and goddesses of the Canaanites, but in the name of God Most High.
Thirdly Abram pays tithes of everything to him. For Abram (that scriptures portray to us, who had “raised up his hand swearing an oath to the LORD God Most High, creator of heaven and earth”) to pay tithe to Melchizedek priest of God Most High, there is a total identification between God Most High, and Melchizedek God’s priest, who was also King of Salem, and Salem in Hebrew means “Peace”. So here we have coming to meet Abram with bread and wine, the king of Righteousness, and the king of Peace to praise God Most High, and to bless Abram for the great victory that God had given him over Kedorlaomer and his allies.
This passage is showing us something that we cannot ignore or overlook in its significance – Abram did homage and obeisance to God’s priest by paying to Him tithes (a tenth) of all the spoils which was in the prevailing culture significant and symbolic of everything that Abram possessed. So Abram was basically saying to God, and to His Priest, “everything that I have attained or achieved comes from your hand and is yours”. This is nothing short of worship.
To the ancient scholars, this passage carried so much weight because it meant that there was a man and an institution greater than their father Abram, enough to bless him (Hebrew 7:7); and priesthood of a higher order than would come out from Abram (the Levitical priesthood). This is none other than the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament in types and shadows, for He is the one who gives us the covenant meal of his body and blood which is the true bread and wine (Matthew 26:26-28). To Jewish scholars what was weighty and important in this scripture was the wonder that their father Abram did obeisance to one Man who was priest of the Most High God, a mediator between God and men (1Timothy 2:5). The writer of the book of Hebrews said, “Consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abram gave the tenth of the spoils (Hebrews 7:4)”.
Unfortunately we today have missed the point of seeing and embracing how great this our High Priest – Christ is, and this scripture has primarily been used to wring the 10% out of the hand of church members by guilt and intimidation. Although Abram’s example here is a good motivation for us to emulate, but Abram was not coerced.
Abram recognized whom he was dealing with; Him who possesses all things, to whom we must all give account to (Hebrews 4:13). The question for us today is, “how much have we leaned upon this our Great High Priest in trust, in dependence, in consecration, and in obedience?” When our trust and obedience is complete like Abram’s own was, then material things will not stand between us and our God.
Now we must proceed in our exposition of this passage; The King of Sodom, recognizing what a great deed of favor that Abram had done in rescuing them from certain destruction, in gratitude said to him, “give me the people and keep the goods for yourself”. And a fair proposition it was as a payment for the great deeds done by Abram, his allies, and his servants who had conquered the enemy by the risky adventure that they had engaged in. But Abram’s response to him is even more telling,
“With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I have made Abram rich’.”
This tells us something of the kind of man that Abram was; not one to be ruled or dominated by the lusts for possessions. It informs us firstly that Abram did not carelessly pick up his weapons to chase after Kedorlaomer, but that he waited upon, and sought the LORD both in prayer, and in a solemn vow not to allow the victory of war to taint the testimony of his walk with God.
Abram knew that he was a missionary in his community, and that the message and testimony about his God needed to be clearly depicted in lifestyle before an observant audience. Both Abram’s allies and his surrounding community knew that he was a worshipper of the Most High God, and they respected and looked up to him because of his unbending character and integrity. And yet Abram did not impose his convictions upon his allies for he left it for them to choose whether or not to keep their own portion of the spoils of war, and the food that his men had eaten.
So in summary, two Kings came to meet Abram on his return from his victorious campaign. One king of this world’s domain offering him possession which he rejects; the second a King of the heavenly domain (of Righteousness and Peace) which he embraces and partakes of the covenant meal, praising the Most High God for the victory, and offering worshipful obeisance. Theses 2 Kings represent the 2 Kingdoms that invite our response and allegiance; the Kingdom which is of this world, and the Kingdom which comes from above. Abram rejected worldly enrichment, lusts and prideful possession, and embraced Righteousness and worship. And so what will our own response be as this life confronts us?
Life Applications from Genesis 14
1) In the midst of the ongoing precarious and troubling world events around us, we should not cease to trust God and pray for His deliverances and mercies. God made a way for one of Lot’s servants to escape and bring a report of their captivity to Abram. But would it not have been better altogether for Lot and his family to have avoided the land of Sodom altogether by obedience to God’s divine guidance after seeking to God from his own prayer altar?
2) We see in this passage Abram’s faithfulness and loyal commitment even to a disloyal and disrespectful nephew. Abram’s unreserved commitment to his relative went beyond personal comfort and security. He refused to find an excuse in an old grudge, but even enlisted the assistance of his allies, added to his own resources, to rescue an unprofitable nephew who was in danger. Next time someone connected to us is in danger or distress, we have very few justification and excuse to look the other way.
3) Abram did not embark on that pursuit and attack of Kedorlaomer without seeking God and waiting upon Him in prayer. We must learn to wait upon God, and seek Him for the major decisions of our lives. It was in this place of prayer that Abram made a vow to God that he would take nothing from the spoils of the battle or from the king of Sodom. Thus Abram, because of his trust in God’s covenant faithfulness to bless him, was able to overcome material greed and covetousness. By this time Abram had become convinced and fully persuaded of the authenticity of God’s blessing and presence upon him; and yet he only chose to exhibit before his allies, but never imposed or forced it upon them to accept the pattern of his own lifestyle.
4) See how short-lived and transitory is the power, pomp, glory, and pride of men. Both Kedorlaomer and his allies, and Bera (the king of Sodom) and his allies; the pomp and pageantry of men will always be humbled by the sovereignty and majesty of God; and so men must learn humility and reverence to Almighty God who by a single household is able to overthrow an alliance of military generals.
5) Abram recognized the greatness of God’s Great High Priest, received bread and wine from His hand, and offered worshipful obeisance with a tithe of the war spoils. We too must recognize how great our Lord Jesus (God’s High Priest) is. We too must receive the bread and wine of redemption (His body and blood) and the blessings (of the forgiveness of our sins) that He’s brought to us, and offer the same reverence and obeisance of all material into His service.