Abraham at War

Genesis 14

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
March 2015

We have been doing an in-depth study of the Book of Genesis and we come today to Genesis 14.  It is an important chapter in the Bible.  It may not seem like it the first time you read it but we will learn some important things about Jesus in this chapter.  Abraham faces an important test and temptation in this chapter.  He passes both of them.

Firsts in Genesis 14

Genesis is a book of beginnings.  It is a book of firsts.  We see six firsts in this chapter of Genesis.

1. The First Hebrew (14:13)

2. The First Tithe (14:20)

3. The First Priest (14:18)

4. The First Oath (14:22)

5. The First War (14:1-16)

6. The First POWs (14:12)

Genesis 14 describes war in the Middle East.  War is common in our world today (especially in the Middle East) but this chapter gives us the first recorded battle in Scripture. This is the first war in the Bible.  It is the first mention of armies in the Bible. The chapter describes armies, treaties, an international coalition, military alliances, a rebellion, a military battle between nations.

It is not a battle of one nation against another nation but a group of nations fighting another coalition of nations. This chapter describes a conflict between the kings of the west against the kings of the east.  Some of these kings have some funny names.  This first war in the Bible affected believers.  Lot was taken captive.

There are two different names for this battle.  It is called the Battle of Siddim because of where it took place.  It took place in the Valley of Siddim (14:8).  The Valley of Siddim is right next to the Dead Sea (14:8).

Genesis 14 does not call it the Dead Sea.  It calls it by its old name, “the Salt Sea” (14:3).  It is one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world with a 34% salinity rate which enables people to easily float in the water.  We are told that this valley was full of tar pits (14:10) and apparently still is.

It is also called the War of the Nine Kings, because there were nine kings who fought.  It is a battle of four kings against five.  Four kings of Mesopotamia went against five kings of Plain of the Jordan.  The four kings won.  The five kings lost.

Some of the kings were driven into the slime pits and everyone else escaped to the mountains (14:10). Some have called it War of the Ten Kings because there is a tenth king (Melchizedek) mentioned in the chapter but he did not do any fighting.

Background to the Conflict 

Why were they fighting?  Here we need a little historical background.  There are actually three wars in the first sixteen verses of the chapter.  It all begins with a man named Kedorlaomer.  Kedorlaomer was the King of Elam.  Elam is east of Babylonia.  It was Persia in modern day Iran.

Apparently, Kedorlaomer was the Napoleon of his time.  He was allied with three other Mesopotamian kings (Amraphel, Arioch and Tidal). Kedorlaomer was the leader of this four king confederacy.  They swept through the Jordan Valley and began conquering lands.

That was the first military conflict. They started to control Sodom, Gomorrah and the surrounding territories (Admah, Zeboiim and Zoar).  He said, “If you keep sending me money, I will not bother you.” For twelve years, the whole area paid the Elamites the tribute money.

They imposed heavy taxes on everybody for twelve years.  In the thirteenth year, the people rebelled.  They said, “We are not paying you any more money.  No more tribute”.  That led to an invasion and a battle against the five kings who rebelled.  That led to an invasion by Kedorlaomer.  That was the second military conflict in this chapter.

The five kings lost.  The result of the battle was devastation.  People were killed.  Families were ripped apart.  Atrocities took place.  Property was taken.  Prisoners of war were taken (both men and women).

Innocent people suffered.  Lot was one of them.  We can criticize Lot for being in the wrong place at the wrong time but what happened to Lot really could happen to anyone.

Abraham would not have known what had happened to his nephew had not someone escaped and told him what happened (14:13).  How did this person know to go to Abraham?  He may have been one of Lot’s men.

Abraham’s Test

When Abraham got the news of what was happening, he had a decision to make.  That decision involved a test of Abraham. This is the third test that Abraham encountered once he entered the Promised Land.  His first test was famine.  God called him into the Promise Land.

He led him there but now a famine is devastating the land.  Will he trust God in the famine?  Abraham failed that test.  He went to Egypt.  It is easy to criticize Abraham but honestly can we say that we would do any better.

His second test was a family feud.  Some families argue over silly things.  What his family argued about was a real problem.  They had so many animals and limited resources to take care of them.

Abraham solved that problem by being the peacemaker.  Instead of trying to be right, he did what he could to smooth over the situation.  He told them that they should not fight but divide up the land.  Abraham even let lot pick first.  He gave us all the perfect example of how to settle disputes and how to resolve conflict.

His third test was bitterness.  Abraham had every right to be angry with Lot.  He took advantage of his uncle.  He gave him the first choice and he picked the best land for himself.  He didn’t even ask what Abraham though of his choice.  Abraham probably felt cheated.

Abraham took him in after his dad died and took care of him all of this time and he rewarded him by cheating him.  Lot is in trouble right now.  He is a slave.  He is a POW but someone escaped to tell him what happened.  Will Abraham forgive his nephew or hold a grudge?

Abraham could have responded several ways to Lot’s problem.  He could have responded with indifference and apathy.  He could have said, “Lot is in trouble right now.  So what?  He had his problems and I have mine.

He’s an adult.  He can take care of himself.  I will pray for him.  I am sure that God will help him.”   That is similar to what James says.  Telling someone to be warmed and filled without actually helping them.

He could have also responded with bitterness.  He could have said, “He is getting what he deserves for being selfish.  He is finally getting what’s coming to him.  It serves him right.  Lot chose to live in Sodom.  He got himself into this mess.  He has only himself to blame.  He made his bed.  Now he has to lie in it.”

That was not Abraham’s response.  He felt sorry for his nephew and wanted to help him.  Abraham acts the opposite of Cain.  Cain said that he was not Abel’s keeper.  Abraham believes that he is his brother’s keeper.  His brother was taken captive and he felt it was his duty to rescue him.  Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”

This chapter gives us a very different side to Abraham.  The Abraham is not pictured here a man of faith but as a man of the sword.  Abraham becomes a soldier and a general.

As one man put it, “Abraham was not just a quiet man who sat under a tree and read his Bible.” Here he enters the political area and attacks kings.  He has an army.  He even goes to war.  He is not just a man of God.  He is a man of war.  He is not just a saint; he is a soldier.

In the last chapter, Abraham was a man of peace.  He was a peacemaker, settling disputes between herdsmen.  The Abraham in this chapter is a man of war.  He is a warrior.  That is a little rare.  Abraham usually lived in peace with his neighbors.  He usually did not fight but that is what he is doing here.  His decision to rescue Lot tells us several things about Abraham.

Abraham’s Character Traits Revealed

1) He was a man of compassion

Whatever Lot had done in the past seems to be all forgotten and forgiven.  He showed no sign of animosity or bitterness.  He wasn’t vindictive.  Instead of resentment, what we see is compassion.  He shows mercy and grace to the undeserved.  Abraham does not just help out Lot who cheated him, he helps out the wicked Sodomites.  They also did not deserve to be helped.

Proverbs 24:10-12 says, “If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength! Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it?  Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?” (NIV).  That is what Abraham did.  He rescued those who were being led away to death.

2) He was a man of courage.

Abraham risked his life to save Lot.  He could have been killed.  Many of his servants could be killed.  This was a risky operation.  In Egypt, he acted like a complete coward.  He gave his wife away to save his own skin.  Here he risks his own life to save his nephew.

He had 318 trained men but he was going up against four powerful armies who had just defeated five kings not once but twice.  He was clearly outnumbered.  He attacked a larger army.  That showed incredible courage.  This was David going against Goliath.

3) He was a man in charge.

Abraham was a good leader.  Apparently, he had some good leadership skills.  He organized an army to rescue Lot.  Abraham faced a crisis.  It was unplanned.  It was sudden.  Abraham showed incredible wisdom in how he dealt with this crisis.  We could learn from his example.

Lessons in Crisis Management 

1. Act quickly

Abraham acted quickly.  This was a crisis.  His nephew Lot was in trouble.  He was in danger.  Abraham did not just pray for Lot.  He was not passive.  He took action.  He acted quickly and decisively.  He didn’t waste any time.  Some do not deal with a crisis or are very slow in dealing with one.  There is no rush.  They are not in a hurry.  It is a crisis.  It was an emergency.  You have to act quickly in a crisis.

2. Have a clear objective.

Abraham had a clear objective.  God gave him the victory but Abraham had a plan.  He did not go after these four kings without a plan.  Abraham’s plan had two main goals.  The first goal was to rescue Lot.  The second goal was to defeat the enemy.  If the enemy is not taken out or removed, they will just come right back.

Genesis 14:15 says, that Abraham pursued them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus.  Abraham went north to Dan to attack these men but then he chased them for over one hundred miles.  He did not simply attack them, he drove them completely out of the country.

3. Use strategy.

Abraham used strategy.  He was a military genius.  He used military strategy.  What strategy did he use?  He also used the element of surprise.  He attacked at night when they were not expecting (14:15).  He attacked them quickly.  It was not a long prolonged battle but a lightening raid. He also divided his forced into several parts.  They enemy was attacked in several places at once in the dark.

4. Don’t try to do it alone.

Abraham sought help.  He organized a coalition.  Abraham had some military allies.  He gets some Amorite allies to join him in his battle against these kings.  Their names were Aner, Mamre and Eshkol (14:13).  They probably had their own soldiers as well.  Why did they want to help Abraham?  Kedorlaomer conquered the whole area of the Amorites as well (14:5-7).

In addition, Abraham had 318 of his own men, which shows how incredibly wealthy Abraham was.  He may have been one of the wealthiest men in the world at that time.

He had trained 318 servants and these may not have been all of his servants.  This is interesting for several reasons.  One, this was a huge number of servants to have.  That is a big payroll to meet but these servants were special.

Two, these were not ordinary servants.  These servants had special training. They had weapons and they knew how to use them. They were trained to fight.

Why did he have 318 trained servants?  He prepared for something like this to happen.  He was ready.  He was prepared for war.  God promised to protect him but that did not stop him from having weapons.

Abraham’s Temptation 

Abraham is victorious in battle.  He defeats a larger invading army.  He kicked Kedorlaomer out of the country.  Abraham became instantly famous. Everybody loved him and he is greeted on the way back by two kings: the king of Sodom and the king of Salem.  The question is this:  What should Abraham do with the spoils?

Abraham had three options.  He could keep all of the spoils.  Abraham won the victory and to the victor belongs the spoils, as the proverb goes.  He had the right to keep it all.

Another option is to keep some of the spoils.  That is what the king of Sodom suggested he do.  The king of Sodom asked him for the people back.  “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself” (14:21).

A third option is to keep none of the spoils.  That is what he chose to do.  In fact, that is what Abraham swore to God he would do.  He made God a promise and he kept it. Abraham said, 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 made Abram rich.’”

He said that he would not take a penny from you for myself. He didn’t want to take anything from the wicked Sodomites for himself, although he could not speak for the men who came with him (14:24).

He took some things from Pharaoh in Egypt but now he has learned his lesson.  He doesn’t want anything from the Sodomites.  Abraham did not go to war to enrich himself.  He was the exact opposite of Lot, who was greedy and selfish.  Abraham did not go to war out of selfish motives.  He did it to rescue Lot.

Abraham was superior to the king of Sodom.  That king had to ask him to give him his people back but Abraham was met by another king on the way back named Melchizedek.  He did not ask Abraham for anything but blessed him instead and offered him bread and wine.

Abraham was superior to the king of Sodom but inferior to the king of Salem.  He did not stand before him as an equal.  He paid tithes to him.  The NT says that king of Salem was superior to Abraham.  It says, “And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater” (Hebrews 7:7).  Melchizedek blessed Abraham.  We are told that in Genesis 14:19.

Who was Melchizedek? 

Melchizedek is one of the most mysterious figures of the OT.  Most Christians today have no idea who he was.  Few people read the Old Testament. This is advanced teaching from the Word of God.  Hebrews 5:8-14 says

“Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him  and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 

In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!  Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (NIV).

Who was Melchizedek?  We don’t know a whole lot about him.  Genesis only gives us three verses on him in this chapter and does not mention him again in the rest of the book.  He is not mentioned in any of the other historical books of the OT.

We do not even know his real name.   Melchizedek may have been a title.  It means literally “king of righteousness” in Hebrew.  It means “righteous king”.  It is a combination of two Hebrew words: melek (king) and zedek (righteousness).

Some believe Melchizedek was Jesus.  They believe this was a theophany but, according to Hebrews, Melchizedek is not Jesus but resembles Jesus (Hebrews 7:3).

That passages says that he is LIKE the Son of God.  It does NOT say that he is the Son of God.  In the same way, Jesus is a priest after the order of or in the likeness of Melchizedek which also implies two separate persons.

What do we know about Melchizedek from Genesis 14?  We do know five things about Melchizedek.

1) Melchizedek was a king in Abraham’s day.

2) He ruled in Jerusalem.

Salem is the old word for Jerusalem.  It is the abbreviated form of Jerusalem (cf. Psalm 76:2).

3) He worshipped the true God.

He is called a “priest of God Most High” (14:18).  He gave God credit for Abraham’s victory over Kedorlaomer (14:20).

4) He was not Jewish.

As far as we know, he was a non-Israelite.  He was not called a Hebrew. like Abraham was (14:13).

5) He was a priest (14:18)

He was a priest but not a Jewish, Levitical priest.  Levi was not even born yet.  As priest, he offered a blessing.  He blessed Abram and Abram’s God.

Why is Melchizedek important today?  He was a type of Christ.  The Bible says that Jesus is just like him.

Psalm 110:4 says, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

How is Jesus like Melchizedek?  He has a ministry like Melchizedek.  He has a priesthood like Melchizedek.  How?  In the OT, there was a separation of church and state.

To be a priest, you had to born from one tribe (Levi).  To be a king, you had to be born from another tribe (Judah).  No priest could ever be king and no king could ever be priest.

Jesus is both a priest and a king.  He is our High Priest.  He is also a Davidic King.  In fact, he is the King of Kings.  His ministry was like Melchizedek.

Melchizedek is called a priest and king.  He was the King of Salem and priest of the Most High God (14:18).  He was a political leader and a religious leader.

Jesus is a Melchizedekian Priest.  He is our priest FOREVER (Hebrews 6:20; 7:24).  He is not an Aaronic priest or a Levitical priest.  He was born in the wrong family and tribe.

You have to be born in the tribe and Levi and be from the family of Aaron to be a Levitical priest.  Jesus was from the tribe of Judah and the line of David.

Abraham accepted the food and gave tithes to Melchizedek.  It is the first time in the tithes are mentioned in Scripture.  This is the first biblical tithe.  We are not told that Adam or Eve tithed or that Noah did any tithing but Abraham here does some tithing.  It is the only time we are told that Abraham did any tithing.

What did he tithe?  He tithed the spoils of war.  The victor became a giver. He did not tithe his entire wealth or everything he owned to Melchizedek.  He just gave him a tenth of the spoils of war.

Why did he do it?  He did it because he wanted to.  It was his way of giving back to God, since Melchizedek was a priest of God, he was God’s representative.  Abraham offered the gift to God in the person of Melchizedek.

It was completely voluntary.  There was no command to tithe.  That came four hundred years later in the Law of Moses.  Tithing in the Law was not voluntary.  It was mandatory.


2 Responses to Abraham at War

  1. Mi66gt says:

    Melchizedek was Shem. He was alive for some 30 years of Abraham’s life. Abraham was taught the Lord from Noah & Shem.

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