The War of Sodom: Abram Rescues Lot
Genesis 14. In this chapter there is much instruction for us. The chapter records the war fought by the confederate armies of Mesopotamia against the confederate armies of Canaan, and how these events involved Abram and Lot. In a practical way, two great lessons are presented. First, the earthly-minded believer (Lot) was given a lesson regarding fellowship with the world. Second, the world was given a lesson regarding the Divine power which accompanies the believer who is called of God (Abram). But even more interesting to us is the character of Melchisedec, who is a type of Christ, and the service he provides for the man of faith.
A War between Two Confederacies (14:1-7)
1 And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel the king of Shinar, Arioch the king of El-lasar, Chedorlaomer the king of Elam, and Tidal the king of nations, 2 that they made war with Bera the king of Sodom, and with Birsha the king of Gomorrah, Shinab the king of Admah, and Shemeber the king of Zeboim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar. 3 All these were joined in the vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea. vv.1-3 Two Confederacies at War. We are presented with a Divine record of two sides of a great conflict that took place roughly four-thousand years ago! There were two confederacies: (1) an eastern confederacy led by four kings whose lands surrounded the Euphrates and Tigris river basin, and (2) a western confederacy led by five kings whose cities surrounded the Salt (or, Dead) Sea. As we have remarked in previous chapters, Shinar refers to Babylonia (modern Iraq), and Elam to Persia (modern Iran). The king of Persia, named Chedorlaomer, seemed to take the lead in the eastern confederacy. Excavations in Susa in the year 1901 revealed that Amraphel, King of Shinar, is the same person as Hammurabi, whose famous code of Babylonian law (“the code of Amraphel”, or Hammurabi) ruled Babylonian life for 800 years or more. Of the five cities in “the vale of Siddim”, four were later destroyed by God for their wickedness. Bera, the king of Sodom, seemed to take the lead of the western confederacy. The only king not named is the king of Zoar. Perhaps this is because Zoar was a “little” city (Gen. 19:20), the least prominent of the five.
4 Twelve years had they served Chedorlaomer; and in the thirteenth year they rebelled. 5 And in the fourteenth year came Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him, and smote the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, and the Zuzim in Ham, and the Emim in Shaveh-Kirjathaim, 6 and the Horites on their mount Seir, to El-Paran, which is by the wilderness. 7 And they returned, and came to En-mishpat, which is Kadesh, and smote all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites that dwelt at Hazazon-Tamar. vv.4-7 The Cause of the War. Fourteen years before the event in this chapter, the four kings had subjected the five kings to their rule. After serving for twelve years (probably paying tribute), the cities of the plain rebelled in the thirteenth year. The next year, Chedorlaomer and his allies came across, probably a similar route to Abram’s migration, to punish the rebels. Before engaging with the armies of Sodom, etc, Chedorlaomer went south, along the eastern side of Jordan, subduing enemies to the east and south.
The Battle of the Vale of Siddim: Lot Taken (14:8-12)
8 And the king of Sodom and the king of Gomorrah, and the king of Admah, and the king of Zeboim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar, went out, and they joined battle with them in the vale of Siddim, 9 with Chedorlaomer the king of Elam, and Tidal the king of nations, and Amraphel the king of Shinar, and Arioch the king of Ellasar — four kings with the five. 10 And the vale of Siddim was full of pits of asphalt. And the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and fell there: and they that remained fled to the mountain. 11 And they took all the property of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their victuals, and departed. 12 And they took Lot and his property, Abram’s brother’s son, and departed. For he dwelt in Sodom. vv.8-10 The Five Kings Fall, Lot Taken. The battle between the four kings and the five commenced in the vale or valley of Siddim. It was a treacherous place to fight, because “the vale of Siddim was full of pits of asphalt”. The five kings became entrapped, and the four kings had unrestricted access to the spoils of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot, who was living in Sodom, was vulnerable to an easy attack. Earlier we read that Lot had pitched his tent towards Sodom, and now we find that he was living in the city. His abduction by Chedorlaomer ought to have been a warning to Lot, but he didn’t listen. Next time we read that he had a house there. We cannot live in the world and maintain a pilgrim character. We will be affected eventually. Lot was a target because of where he lived. Abram was not a target, because he was separate from the world.
Abram Rescues Lot (14:13-16)
13 And one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew. And he dwelt by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, the brother of Eshcol, and the brother of Aner. And these were Abram’s allies. v.13 Abram’s Dwelling. Abram was immune to the war. He was living on the high plains of Mamre, which speak of rich communion with God. The war between the five kings and the four kings had nothing to do with Abram, and, if Lot had not been captured, Abram would never have been involved. “Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth” (Isa. 45:9). For the believer, it ought to be the same. There were huge movements of people and armies below, but Abram was above it all. Only in the matter of Lot was Abram affected by the commotion. Abram didn’t make an alliance with the king of Sodom, but he did have allies; Mamre, Eshcol, and Aner. These ones are later called “young men”. They perhaps observed the life of Abram, and respected him. The one who escaped from the battle “came and told Abram the Hebrew”. So it is for the people of this world. They have no use for the Christian, until disaster strikes. When disaster strikes, people are suddenly envious of the Christian’s peace, they turn to the believer for help.
14 And Abram heard that his brother was taken captive; and he led out his trained servants, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them as far as Dan. 15 And he divided himself against them by night, he and his servants, and smote them, and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is to the left of Damascus. vv.14-15 Abram Pursues Lot. Abram’s life of separation from the world didn’t make his heart cold. When he heard about Lot, he responded immediately. The scripture calls Lot Abram’s brother here, although he was really Abram’s nephew. It brings out the affection that Abram had for Lot, even though Lot had chosen a different path. It was no small effort put forth by Abram to do this, as the journey was around 200 miles, in addition to risking their lives. Abram had quite a number of servants, and he took ones that were born in his house, and well trained. It doesn’t say they were trained in warfare. Obedience and loyalty were what was required. The battle was over and done with when Abram smote Chedorlaomer’s army at night. His trained servants were like an arrow that the enemy never expected. Whether Abram killed the kings is unknown. The expression in Hebrews 7:1 “the slaughter of the kings” is better translated “combat with the kings”. We find weakness with Lot, but power with Abram. Why? One was walking in communion with God and separation from the world, and the other was living in Sodom. Communion is the secret power in the Christian life. It is important to understand that Abram lived in another dispensation than Christians. We must not think it was wrong for Abram to lead out his trained servants in physical combat. What Abram does in this chapter has the stamp of Divine approval upon it. But the Christian, who has a heavenly calling, ought not to be engaged in physical violence against others. But Abram lived in a different day, before grace and truth had come in the Person of Jesus Christ.
16 And he brought back all the property, and brought again his brother Lot and his property, and the women also, and the people. v.16 Abram Recovers All. When we think of Abram’s victory, it is really amazing. Here we have a shepherd, with his servants, who attacks the king of Persia and his allies, and successfully recovers all of the spoils of a major raid in Sodom and Gomorrah! He also rescued Lot, and Lot’s property, who seemed to be fully invested in Sodom. Now Abram returns from the north, towing behind him all the citizens and wealth of Sodom! It is interesting that we read of no communication between Lot and Abram. Abram rescued Lot, but they really still could have no true fellowship, because their lives were focused around different objects.
A Spiritual Battle: The King of Salem and the King of Sodom (14:17-24)
17 And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after he had returned from smiting Chedorlaomer, and the kings that were with him, into the valley of Shaveh, which is the king’s valley. v.17 The kings converge on Abram. Before the battle, the kings of the plain had no value for Abram, but now he is suddenly of great importance to them, because of what he had with him. The world is the same today. The world has no love for the Christian, but if the Christian becomes rich or powerful, suddenly they will be very popular in this world. We find these kings converging on Abram in the valley of the kings. The king of Sodom goes out to meet Abram, but before they meet, another king comes forth.
18 And Melchisedec king of Salem brought out bread and wine. And he was priest of the Most High God. 19 And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, possessor of heavens and earth. 20 And blessed be the Most High GOD, who has delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him the tenth of all. vv.18-20 Melchisedec meets Abram. Another king comes forth to meet Abram, and he doesn’t come asking, but giving. The time that Abram spent with Melchisedec prepared Abram for the great temptation he would face when the king of Sodom arrived. But first, we must spend a few moments on the person of Melchisedec as a type of Christ, as the writer of Hebrews said, “of whom we have much to say” (Heb. 5:11).
Melchisedec. It is amazing that with only a brief historical reference to Melchisedec in Genesis 14 and a brief prophetic reference in Psalm 110, there could be such a rich unfolding of doctrine concerning Melchisedec in Hebrews 5 - 7. In Genesis 14 we find that Melchisedec was the king of Salem, which later became Jerusalem. The writer of Hebrews remarks about his name and title; "first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace" (Heb. 7:2). The order is important: what Christ is in His own Person (righteousness) must come before the effect of His work (peace). Melchisedec is a type of Christ in the Millennium, who will function as a priest, standing between heaven and earth; "and the work of righteousness shall be peace" (Isa. 32:17). It says in Gen. 14:18 that Melchisedec was "priest of El Elyon", that is, "the Most High God". The name El Elyon is a Millennial name of God. Read more... Where Melchisedec came from, we are not told. Again, the writer of Hebrews remarks that Melchisedec was "Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God" (Heb. 7:3). Of course Melchisedec had a father and mother, but his genealogy is not given; he just appears majestically on the scene. He was neither angelic nor Divine, but he is introduced in a abrupt and peculiar way, such that he serves as an excellent type of Christ, the eternal Son of God.1
Priest and King. As both king and priest, Melchisedec combined two great offices of the Messiah. We see it again in David, when he danced before the ark, wearing a linen ephod. In David's person the roles of king and priest were combined. He symbolized the relationship between God and His people, as much as He symbolized the sword of Jehovah's government. God used David to pen that thrilling Psalm 110, in which we find that Christ is both king and priest "after the order of Melchisedec". Both Melchisedec and David are shadows of the coming Royal Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. In prophecy we find that Christ will be King of kings and Lord of Lords, but also the Priest of the Most High God! "He shall be a priest upon his throne" (Zech. 6:13). Christ will wear both the crown and the mitre, so to speak. We who are associated with the rejected Christ, are given to share in those offices. Rev. 1:6 tells us that Christ has "made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father".
The Melchisedec Priesthood. After accomplishing the work of Calvary, the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven where the Father said to Him, "Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek" (Psa. 110:4). What does it mean, that Christ is a priest forever "after the order of Melchisedec"? In the book of Hebrews, the priesthood of Christ is contrasted with the priesthood of Aaron. The Aaronic priesthood was occupied with continually offering sacrifices for sin, which could never really take away sin. The Aaronic priests could never really make intercession for the people, because they themselves were sinners. The priesthood of Christ is characterized by one offering that has perfected forever those who are sanctified, and then by one who ever lives to make intercession for His people. Christ fulfils and surpasses all Aaron's priesthood could ever be. The inspired writer quotes Psa. 110 and Genesis 14 to show that Christ is of a different order altogether than Aaron. The Aaronic order was transient and temporal, constantly interrupted by death. Melchisedec pictures one who is eternal and unchanging, with a priesthood that is not derived from another or transferrable; "but this man, becuse he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood" (Heb. 7:24). Christ is currently functioning as a priest in the character of Aaron; i.e. to intercede on the basis of sacrifice, but He Himself is of a higher order, the order of Melchisedec. This is why Melchisedec is later dropped in Hebrews; because Christ is not yet functioning as Melchisedec, though He is of that order. We see the character of the Melchisedec priesthood in Genesis 14. He brought forth "bread and wine" to Abram, the returning conqueror. Bread in scripture pictures sustenance (Ezek. 4:16), and wine pictures joy (Judges 9:13). Melchisedek brings not just what was needed for Abram, but what was suitable to the occasion. He then blesses Abram, "Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, possessor of heavens and earth", and finally blesses God, "and blessed be the Most High GOD, who has delivered thine enemies into thy hand." Melchisedec's blessing reaches downward, to Abram on the earth, and upward, to God in heaven. We have a twofold work in what Melchisedec did: he blessed Abraham and God and then received tithes of all. Christ's Millennial priesthood will do the same. The glorified Son of man as the Royal Priest will lead the united Millennial earth in the worship of the Most High God, and be the link through which God's resources flow out in universal blessing; "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man" (John 1:51).2 In the Millennial day, the earth will know the God is not only possessor of heaven, but also of the earth. They will also know that the Person who is the channel of all blessing to man, the Living Link between heaven and earth, is the man Christ Jesus!
Consider How Great This Man Was. The writer of Hebrews remarks on the fact that Abram gave tithes (10%) of all the spoils to Melchisedec. Abraham was the greatest of the patriarchs, and clearly Melchisedec was greater than him. Levi, of whom the Aaronic priesthood came, was "in the loins" of Abraham when this took place. If Israel gave tithes to the Levites, and Abram gave tithes to Melchisedec, how much greater the priesthood of Christ must be than that of Aaron! Not only so, but the less (Abram) was blessed by the greater (Melchisedec).
21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, Give me the souls, and take the property for thyself. v.21 The King of Sodom’s Offer. Bera, the king of Sodom, offered to let Abram take the property for himself, and only to return the citizens of Sodom. Abram had taken everything from the enemy, after the king had lost it all. Abram was not obligated to return anything, but Bera says “give me the souls”, and “take the property”. He was thankful to Abram for recovering all, and offers the goods in pretended generosity. This was a test for Abram. All that the world had was now offered to him. Would he take it? Lot certainly had already made his choice. This was the second battle that Abram faced in this chapter, and it was the more serious of the two. The king of Sodom might picture to us Satan, the god of this world, who offers to us the things of this world. Like Bera, Satan often comes to us when we have had a victory, when the danger of self-confidence is highest.
22 And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lifted up my hand to Jehovah, the Most High GOD, possessor of heavens and earth, 23 if from a thread even to a sandal-thong, yes, if of all that is thine, I take anything …; that thou mayest not say, I have made Abram rich; 24 save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men that went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, let them take their portion. vv.22-24 Abram’s Response. Abram was able to refuse the king of Sodom’s offer because he was in the enjoyment of his relationship with Jehovah as “the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth”. The blessing of Melchisedec was fresh in Abram’s thoughts. Abram would never have said that if it had not been for Melchisedec, because Abram did not previously know God as Most High. What were the possessions of Sodom in comparison with the possession of heaven and earth? “The full soul loatheth an honeycomb” (Prov. 27:7). Lifting up the hands is an expression of dependence on the Lord (e.g. 1 Timothy 2:8; 1 Kings 8:22). Yet there was another reason Abram refused Bera’s offer. He knew that if he took anything from the king of Sodom, “from a thread even to a sandal-thong”, it would give the king grounds to claim “I have made Abram rich”, and it would thereby tarnish his testimony. But when it came to the young men, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, for them Abram asked that they be allowed to take the portion that was due them, in payment for their services. How wonderful to see that Abram didn’t want anything for himself, yet wanted others to be compensated. He also wouldn’t push his conviction, about taking goods from the king of Sodom, on the young men who followed him. This is a helpful practical lesson. It is important to set a good example for the younger ones, but not to have dominion over their faith, by enforcing our convictions on others.
A Prophetic Type. We see in this chapter a wonderful type of coming events in prophecy. We have a confederacy of people in the land of Canaan who are wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly. This represents the apostate nation of Israel, led by Antichrist. There is a great confederacy from the east, who sweep down from the north and defeat the five kings. This pictures the Assyrian of the Old Testament prophets. It is the overflowing scourge that God has prepared to punish the rebellious nation. The Lord will appear with the armies of heaven and destroy that confederacy, and will later employ the faithful among Israel to judge what remains of their enemies. Abram represents the Lord as a Warrior, along with the faithful of Israel, and his allies represent those nations who favor the Jews in the tribulation. Lot represents the nation of Israel, trodden down by the Gentiles because of Israel’s history of unfaithfulness, but rescued by the Lord when He appears. After the judgment is complete, Christ will come forth in blessing to the earth, pictured by Melchisedec. The whole world will give Christ His rightful place, just as Abram gave Melchisedec tithes of all the spoil of Sodom. The Lord will then divide the spoils with those who have been His allies, just as Abram did with the young men that came with him.
- Some have speculated that Melchisedec was the same person as Shem, mentioned under a different name. There is absolutely no evidence to support that, nor would it be likely to find Shem in the land of Canaan, the son of Ham. W. Kelly remarked, "And one whose ancestry or descendants are expressly hidden stands in full contrast with Shem." - Kelly, W. Abram, the Friend of God.
- It is the final triumph in that way, looked at typically, with Christ as Melchizedek coming out to bless upward and bless downward: just what Christ will be in that day. - Darby, J.N. Hints on the Book of Genesis.