New European Commentary

 

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Deeper Commentary

14:1 It happened in the days of Amraphel, king of Shinar, Arioch, king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, and Tidal, king of Goiim- This chapter gives the impression that the local tribes within the eretz were divided into two groups which battled each other. The salvation of Lot out of this could look forward to a latter day deliverance of a weak but counted-righteous remnant in the last days, symbolized by Lot. For his final exit from Sodom is a type of the deliverance of the faithful remnant in the eretz of the last days (Lk. 17:32). Perhaps we are to see the eretz divided into two such groups of its non-Jewish inhabitants, perhaps split between shia and Sunni Islam. See on :7. "Tidal king of Goiim" refers to the Kurds, who may well have a major part to play in the latter day outworking of these things. "Ellasar" was not far from Ur of the Chaldees, and he may well have known Abram and Lot.

14:2 That they made war with Bera, king of Sodom, and with Birsha, king of Gomorrah, Shinab, king of Admah, and Shemeber, king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (the same is Zoar)- The tribes in Palestine / Canaan, which was the area intended for initial Israelite settlement, are presented here as not invincible, and easily dominated by others. And even their dominators could be overcome by just one man, Abraham, with God behind him. This was all encouragement for the Israelites as they approached Canaan.

14:3 All these joined together in the valley of Siddim (the same is the Salt Sea)- The various clarifications that "the same is..." were for the benefit of the Israelites as they journeyed through these areas. The encouragement was that they too could easily be granted victory, and nothing between them and the promised Kingdom of God was really as invincible as it seemed.

14:4 Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year, they rebelled- Chedorlaomer was the leader of the group; as "king of Elam" he might point forward to some leader arising from latter day Elam, which is Iran. And yet the apparent leader of the group was the king of Shinar or Babylon, who is mentioned at the head of the list in :1.

14:5 In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer came, and the kings who were with him, and struck the Rephaim in Ashteroth Karnaim, and the Zuzim in Ham, and the Emim in Shaveh Kiriathaim- Moses was writing for the Israelites about to enter Canaan; and they were afraid of the Rephaim [giants] in Canaan. They are here being encouraged that those peoples had been dominated by others in time past- even without the help and promise of Yahweh behind them.

14:6 And the Horites in their Mount Seir, to Elparan, which is by the wilderness- The very peoples through whom the Israelites were passing as they heard Genesis presented to them- had been overcome. They were not as invincible as they might appear. "Their Mount Seir" could suggest that the descendants of Esau received their inheritance; as Israel would if they remained faithful.

14:7 They returned, and came to En Mishpat (the same is Kadesh), and struck all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites, that lived in Hazazon Tamar- Kadesh was well known to the primary audience of Genesis, i.e. Israel in the wilderness. All up, the northern confederacy of four kings [for they came upon Sodom from the north] dominated seven other tribes. This is the kind of situation depicted in the various descriptions of the latter day beast dominating the eretz with various numbers of horns and heads subsumed beneath it.

14:8 The king of Sodom, and the king of Gomorrah, and the king of Admah, and the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (the same is Zoar) went out; and they set the battle in array against them in the valley of Siddim- The four king confederacy names the kings; the Canaanite kings are not named. Perhaps this was to encourage the Israelites who first heard this history to see that "the king of" whatever Canaanite town was in their path was likewise able to be overcome. If specific names had been given, they may have been tempted to think that this was a historical victory against a particular individual; whereas the principle God wished to explain was of a more generic nature.

14:9 Against Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, and Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar; four kings against the five- The five kings and their armies could not repel the four king confederacy who overthrew Sodom. But Abraham, just one man with Yahweh behind him, could do so- and even take their prey out of their hands. This was to encourage the later seed of Abraham, who were the primary audience for the book of Genesis, that they too could easily achieve victory against these very same peoples and in the very same areas.

14:10 Now the valley of Siddim was full of tar pits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and they fell there- These pits for bitumen they had dug themselves, and now they fell into them and died there, exactly as stated in Ps. 9:15.

And those who remained fled to the hills- Lot later fled to those same hills (Gen. 19:17,30). Perhaps he was amongst those who even now fled to the hills. He ought to have learned the lesson, rather than let history repeat itself.

Surely Abraham is our real example; who in the years of his pilgrimage chose the barren uplands, despising worldly advantage, and who could look at Sodom's burning with no feeling of desire or sense of loss. Abraham dwelt on the mountains, from where he could look down upon Sodom; if Lot had been in these mountains, he would not have suffered when Sodom was invaded this first time; it took the final coming of the Lord to make him flee to the mountains (Gen.19:10), i.e. to the area which Abraham had chosen at the first. If we can only see the world for what it is, then the equivalent of Lot's experiences will be unnecessary for us.

14:11 They took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their food, and went their way- Lot had gone to Sodom for materialistic reasons; and now he lost all that he had, even his own food, to teach him the wrongness of his decision that day when he looked toward Sodom and chose the well-watered lands in that direction. But still Lot remained in Sodom, and nearly lost his life and his salvation in its final destruction; he failed to learn the lesson. Just as so many believers are taught powerful lessons about the idiocy of being materialistic; and yet return to the same bondage.

14:12 They took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son, who lived in Sodom, and his goods, and departed- Lot suffered in the condemnation of Sodom when the neighbouring kings invaded- he was in the same situation as those who were warned to come out of Babylon lest they be consumed in her plagues. So he went through a condemnation process in this life- but later learnt his lesson and will be saved in the end. "Who lived in Sodom" could be read as a critical note; for Lot should not have ideally been there. We wonder why they bothered taking Lot with them, rather than killing him. I suggested on :2 that "Ellasar" was not far from Ur of the Chaldees, and that king may well have known Abram and Lot. Perhaps Lot agreed to join them, or mercy was shown to him because he was from their tribal area to the East, and he wasn't a local. But the fact he was taken with them rather than just ignored would suggest that he may have agreed to join in with them in confederacy. Again, we would see here a weakness in Lot.

14:13 One who had escaped came and told Abram, the Hebrew. Now he lived by the oaks of Mamre, the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner; and these were allies of Abram- One can't help but notice that God stressed to the later children of Abraham that since they had a covenant with Him, they were not to make covenants with the people who lived around them in the land- time and again God references His covenant with His people, and in that context tells them not to make covenants with the peoples of the land (Ex. 34:10-12,15,27; Dt. 7:29; Jud. 2:1,2,20). Yet Abraham made covenants with those very people (Gen. 21:27,32)- perhaps indicating his lack of appreciation of his covenant relationship with Yahweh? However, "allies of Abram", baalim beriyth, can be translated 'lords of covenant', i.e. masters or possessors of a covenant with Abram; "literally: They being possessors of the covenant of Abram". This could mean that already, Abram had begun to share his covenant with God with others.

14:14 When Abram heard that his relative was taken captive- Even though Abram had been told to separate from his relatives, including Lot, and despite Lots' evident spiritual weakness, having made the wrong decision to move into Sodom... Abram still came to his help, and remembered his brotherly connection with him. 

He led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued as far as Dan- The significance of 318 is unclear. But if read literally, it's clear that Abram was a not insignificant chieftain, having such a personal army comprised of those born within his family encampment. His encampment would therefore likely have numbered at least 2000, if there were 318 "trained men" born within the household. According to Gen. 25, he had concubines, and we wonder as to how many of these were therefore his blood relatives. However, he also describes Eliezer his manager as the "one born in my house" (Gen. 15:3), with some translations suggesting "the only one born in my household"; and the numerical value of Eliezer is 318. In this case "men" here in :14 and "servants" in :15 would be intensive plurals referring to the great man and servant in Abraham's household, Eliezer. He was accompanied by Aner, Eshcol and Mamre, his immediate neighbours, and their men (:24), but a case could be made that Abraham and Eliezer alone were capable of putting thousands to flight. This interpretation would explain why Eliezer is called "Eliezer of Damascus" and yet also one born within Abram's household (Gen. 15:2,3). He was perhaps called "of Damascus" in memory of his heroic almost singlehanded victory at Damascus (:15). Abram's virtually singlehanded victory is alluded to in the covenant which he now receives; for during the covenant making process, Abram singlehandedly drove away the birds of prey, representing the Canaanite tribes he feared would now take vengeance upon him for his victory at Damascus (Gen. 15:11). The Hebrew there implies that Abram alone drove them away.

The uninspired first century Epistle of Barnabas 9.8 claims: "[The Scripture] saith, "And Abraham circumcised ten, and eight, and three hundred men of his household." What, then, was the knowledge given to him in this? Learn the eighteen first, and then the three hundred. The ten and the eight are thus denoted - Ten by I, and Eight by H. You have [the initials of the, name of] Jesus. And because the cross was to express the grace [of our redemption] by the letter T, he says also, "Three Hundred." He signifies, therefore, Jesus by two letters, and the cross by one".

14:15 He divided himself against them by night, he and his servants, and struck them, and pursued them to Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus- As suggested on :14, "servants" could be an intensive plural. This incident led to Abram travelling the length of the eretz promised to him. His love for wayward Lot was used by God in order to help Abram be obedient to the command to go up and down in the land. This is how God works; working along with our weaknesses and strengths, and the weaknesses of others, in order to help us in the path of obedience and development He intends.

14:16 He brought back all the goods, and also brought back his relative, Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people- Abraham's focus on material issues can be discerned from the double description of how he pursued after his captured nephew Lot, "and he brought back all the goods, and his brother Lot, and his goods" (Gen. 14:16 AV). Abraham's concern about the "goods" is perhaps significant. And yet given this mindset, it is to Abraham's credit that he utterly refuses to take even a "shoe latchet" of the spoil lest it be said that any man had made him rich- he knew that it was God who had made him rich (Gen. 14:23), and Abraham wanted the world to know that. See on :22.

14:17 The king of Sodom went out to meet him, after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley)- This was where Absalom erected his pillar (2 Sam. 18:18), and Josephus locates it near Jerusalem. This would accord with Melchizedek king of Jerusalem attending the meeting (:18). Such a victory celebration in Jerusalem would fit well with the latter day things which these incidents point forward to.

14:18 Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine: and he was priest of God Most High- Melchizedek is presented in Hebrews as a type of the Lord Jesus; a king-priest, who was not a Levitical priest, nor was his priesthood dependent upon his genealogy. The record is framed so that he abruptly appears on the scene; "without father [and] mother" alludes to this, as no genealogy is provided. Hebrews uses this to counter objections that the Lord was from the tribe of Judah, not Levi, and therefore could not be a priest. Likewise there is no reference to his birth or death, but that doesn't mean he was superhuman. He is framed by the record in this way. Likewise Abraham is presented as having an "only son", Isaac; when in fact he had other children by his concubines (Gen. 25), not least Ishmael.

Umberto Cassuto was one of 20th century Judaism's most erudite and painstakingly detailed Bible students. He demonstrated at length that the Canaanites believed there were various gods and demons responsible for the various events on earth, and that the Torah picks up these terms and applies them to God and His [all righteous] Angels. The examples he cites include the term "the most high God" (Gen. 14:18-20), "creator of heaven and earth" (Gen. 14:19,22), and the idea of supernatural demons coming to earth and wrestling with men (Gen. 32:29,31). These ideas and terms are used in the Torah and applied by Moses to God's Angels, and to God Himself. Cassuto went on to show that this kind of deconstruction of pagan myths about demons and 'Satan' is common throughout the Bible- e.g. the references to Israel's God Yahweh 'riding on the clouds' (Ps. 104:3; 147:8; Is. 5:6; Joel 2:2) are an allusion to how the surrounding peoples thought that Baal rode upon the clouds; the "morning stars" were understood as independent deities, but Job 38:7 stresses that they are in fact Yahweh's ministers.

The gift of bread and wine [which foreshadowed our present memorial meetings] was a sign of God blessing us. Hence it was “the cup of blessing”, which Paul says we also bless. There is a mutuality about it- we bless God, He blesses us. No part of this wonderful and comforting arrangement depends upon us not passing that cup to our brethren.

Melchizedek was apparently a believer in the true God, presumably a priest of a community of believers in Jerusalem. But there is no evidence that Abram had much contact with him before or after this incident. The almost manic insistence that believers must fellowship together at all costs rather falls apart before this consideration. Likewise I have argued that it was God's intention that Abram separate from all his relatives, including Lot. And God brought about the final division between them. Yet Abram refers to Lot as his "brother". They did not it seems "fellowship together" and yet were believers who shall share eternity together. This opens another window upon the divided state of the body of Christ today.

 

14:19 He blessed him- This is associated with the bread and wine of :18. The gift of bread and wine [which foreshadowed our present memorial meetings] was a sign of God blessing us. Hence it was “the cup of blessing”, which Paul says we also bless. There is a mutuality about it- we bless God, He blesses us. No part of this wonderful and comforting arrangement depends upon us not passing that cup to our brethren. Note how Paul speaks of the breaking of bread in 1 Cor. 10:16-21. He sees the bread and wine as gifts from God to us. It’s all about receiving the cup of the Lord, the cup which comes from Him. We should take it with both hands. It seems so inappropriate, given this emphasis, if our focus is rather on worrying about forbidding others in His body from reaching their hands out to partake that same cup and bread.  

And said, Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth- This same title for God is used also by Abram in :22; perhaps God had taught them both the same thing in different ways and at different times. Or maybe Abram liked the phrase used by Melchizedek and used it himself, just as our language and phraseology is influenced by that of those whom we listen to.

 

14:20 And blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand- "God most high" is a title Melchizedek uses three times; E.A. Speiser in The Anchor Bible commentary claims that this was a common title for a deity amongst the Canaanites. But the term is used about the one true God elsewhere (e.g. Num. 24:26). It could be that he accepted Yahweh as the highest God, but recognized the existence of others. This would explain why in :22, Abram defines this most high God as Yahweh. Abram uses the term which Melchizedek uses, thereby seeking to bridge build toward him, but defines the term accurately.

 

Abram gave him a tenth of all- Hebrews interprets this as meaning that Abram as the ancestor of Levi was somehow inferior to Melchizedek, who is presented as being of a higher order of priesthood than Levi.

14:21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, Give me the people, and take the goods to yourself- The king of Sodom considered that Lot and his family belonged to him, and should be given to him. This indicates further the degree to which Lot had sold his soul to Sodom. Now he had the opportunity to go his own way, to start life afresh; but he turned it down.

14:22 Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lifted up my hand to Yahweh, God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth- See on :20. This idea of owning nothing, not even ourselves, is only true of this life; the day of release from slavery will dawn, we will receive that true freedom and that true concept of personal possession- if now we resign it. Abraham really grasped this idea that we now can own nothing. He swore to Yahweh as "the possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take anything that is thine..." (Gen. 14:22,23 AV). He knew that Yahweh is the owner of all, and therefore he was not going to yield to the temptation to increase what appeared to be 'his' possessions. Solomon likewise had the theory straight at least: "Labour not to be rich...wilt thou set thine eyes on that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven" (Prov. 23:4,5). The riches men seek don't exist, material possession is a pure fantasy.

Abraham speaks of how he is the servant of the God who is the purchaser of Heaven and earth, i.e. the land which God had potentially given Abraham (Gen. 14:22- the Hebrew translated "possessor" in the AV is usually translated 'buyer' elsewhere). Ps. 74:2 and Ps. 78:54 use the same word to describe how the land God gave Israel had been "purchased" by Him. Perhaps there is here a recognition by Abraham that God's gifts to us cost Him something. He had meditated upon the promise of the land, and concluded that God was giving him something which had cost Him. Perhaps this may even indicate that Abraham had reflected that the promise of the land was on account of God's willingness to purchase it through the death of the "seed of the woman" promised in Genesis 3... At the very least, we need to ask ourselves how much we have meditated upon the implications of the same Abrahamic promises which have been made to us. And we likewise must avoid the assumption that because God owns all things, therefore it's painless for Him to give them to us. Poor people often assume that it's painless and effortless for a rich person to give them something- but actually it isn't. And we need to perceive the same about our wonderfully generous Father in Heaven. We are slaves now, owning nothing, but then we will be gloriously free (Rom. 8:21). So this idea of owning nothing, not even ourselves, is only true of this life; the day of release from slavery will dawn, we will receive that true freedom and that true concept of personal possession- if now we resign it. Abraham really grasped this idea that we now can own nothing. He swore to Yahweh as "the possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take anything that is thine..." (Gen. 14:22,23). He knew that Yahweh is the owner of all, and therefore he was not going to yield to the temptation to increase what appeared to be 'his' possessions.


14:23 That I will not take a thread nor a sandal strap nor anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’- Abraham's belief in God's blessing of him is reflected in the way he is insistent to the King of Sodom that he will not take any of the spoil, lest anyone should think that man rather than God had blessed Abraham. It could be pointed out that this rather contrasts with his not returning to Pharaoh the things he gave him in return for Sarah becoming his wife (Gen. 12:16). Perhaps Abraham later reflected upon his failure in this incident, realizing he'd not displayed faith in God's blessing of him... and learnt his lesson when the same temptation occurred in Gen. 14 to be made rich by the men of this world. Our stumbling response to the same Abrahamic promises often develops in the same way.

If Jesus is Lord, He owns all. Nothing that we have is our own. The Old Testament stressed that God's ownership of all precludes our own petty materialism, our manic desire to 'own'. Abraham refused to take "from a thread even to a shoelatchet" of what he could justifiable have had for himself; because Yahweh "the most high God [is] possessor of heaven and earth" (Gen. 14:22,23). But now, all that power has been bestowed by the Father upon the Son. Our allegiance to the Lord Jesus demands the same resignation of worldly acquisition as Abraham showed.

14:24 I will accept nothing from you except that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre. Let them take their portion- Abram recognized that people live on different levels. For him, if God was possessor of all, then he did not wish to try to acquire possessions for himself. But he recognized that others in covenant relationship with him (see on :13) saw things on a lower level; that the spoil of your enemies was legitimate possession. As noted earlier, this was a major step forward for Abram, who had strong tendencies toward materialism.