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1At this time Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goiim 2went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). 3All these latter kings joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (the Salt Sea). 4For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.
5In the fourteenth year, Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him went out and defeated the Rephaites in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, the Emites in Shaveh Kiriathaim 6and the Horites in the hill country of Seir, as far as El Paran near the desert. 7Then they turned back and went to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and they conquered the whole territory of the Amalekites, as well as the Amorites who were living in Hazezon Tamar.
8Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim 9against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar--four kings against five. 10Now the Valley of Siddim was full of tar pits, and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled to the hills. 11The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. 12They also carried off Abram's nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.
13One who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshcol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. 14When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.
It seems that the believer's life is crisis after crisis. Why are we surprised at this, though? We live in this fallen world, and why would God want us to desire it any more than we do already? For Abraham, it was famine, then strife with his nephew, then war to save his nephew.
This is the first war (of many) mentioned in the Bible. The cause of the war was the desire to be in control of the fertile area of Sodom and Gomorrah. And so we find that this, the first war that we know of, was just like so many wars and skirmishes through the centuries, in that its driving force was the desire for worldly possessions.
Now, Lot chose to live in the area of Zoar because it was "well-watered" (13:10), and so, Lot felt that he would have an easy life there. He sought refuge in the world and found that, far from having an easy life, his existence was constant turmoil. Sodom, clearly, was not a land at peace: not at peace with men, not at peace with God.
We all (even we, the children of God) often make the same mistake as Lot. We seek the easy life, in worldly terms. We want the easy job that pays well. We desire to live among the "well-watered". We covet the big lottery win. We even feign godly motives, praying, "Oh Lord, if you would give me the winning lottery numbers, I could spend so much money for your kingdom!"
But, alas, God desires that we work. From the beginning, man was tasked to work, even in paradise: "The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it" (Gen. 2:15). We all remember the commandment (one of the Ten Commandments) that says: "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy" (Ex. 20:8), but we forget that the same commandment also says: "Six days you shall labor" (Ex. 20:9). Paul told us: "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders" (I Thess. 4:11,12). We, as servants (even slaves, as Paul would say) of Christ Jesus, are not to live a soft life.
So, Lot was looking for the soft life, but he did not find it in Sodom. Apparently, the whole area had been plagued with tribal warfare for 14 years. Four kings from outside Canaan had taken control of the area and ruled it for twelve years. (Ironically, one of the kings, "Amraphel king of Shinar", was from near Ur, where Abram and Lot lived before God called Abram to Canaan.) The local leaders finally put together a rebellion, which caused the invading kings to leave the area, but not before they seized "all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food." Almost incidentally, the invading kings "carried off Abram's nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom." That was their mistake: messing with God's people.
Notice that Lot, at the time, was "living in Sodom." Originally when Lot and Abram split up, Lot just "pitched his tents near Sodom" (Gen. 13:12). So, we see that Lot was getting progressively more involved in that city. But as his involvement increased, so did his troubles. Expect trouble if you are a believer trying to live in the world.
"One who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew"[Footnote #1] (vs. 13). Interestingly, Abram was not aware of Lot's troubles until an escaping slave told him. Apparently, as Lot became more and more entrenched in Sodom, he lost contact with Abram. It is a warning sign to us if we begin losing contact and breaking fellowship with God's people. It usually means that we are getting undesirably entrenched in the world.
Abram responded nobly to the report of Lot's distress. First, Abram showed no bitterness due to Lot's choosing to live in the most fertile land. Also, Abram might have turned his back on Lot in his trouble, saying, "Well, he deserves what he got. He chose to live in Sodom." Rather, Abram unhesitatingly jumped to his nephew's aid: "When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan" (vs. 14).
Verse 14 is interesting for many reasons. First, it shows how rich Abram was. He had over 300 men who were born in his household. That would make his total number of servants many more than 300. Second, it is surprising that Abram had 318 "trained" men, ready for battle. Abram was prepared for war. And, come to think of it, so also, we should be prepared for war. However, our preparation for war is different than Abraham's, for "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, [we should] put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, [we] may be able to stand [our] ground" (Eph. 6:12-13). Third, it is a little surprising that Abram, the wandering shepherd, the peaceful nomad, the faithful servant of God, was so bold, courageous, and savvy in carrying out his rescue. However, children of God can have such qualities, and in fact, it is desirable to have such qualities, as long as our boldness is not offensive, our courage is in godly pursuits, and our savvy is demonstrated humbly.
Abram showed wisdom in the way he carried out the battle. First, he wasted no time in starting his pursuit. The marauding kings would still be tired from their previous battles and their escape. Second, he went "during the night", utilizing the element of surprise. Third, he "divided his men" to attack from two sides. As a result, "he routed them." Certainly, the hand of God can be seen in Abram's success. How else could a nomadic shepherd "rout" the armies of four kings? However, God primarily helped Abram in a natural way (not overtly miraculous), by giving him wisdom and confidence in carrying out the rescue.
One problem though: after Lot was rescued, he returned to Sodom (as we shall see). At times, we battle our brothers out of trouble, when it would be better to get them out of Sodom. Abram physically rescued Lot, but did not rescue him spiritually. Abram should have persuaded Lot to leave Sodom. God often sends affliction to send a message of warning. Abram and Lot should have realized that Sodom was not the right place for Lot to be. However, when one has gone so far as to dwell in Sodom, it's hard to leave. Later, Lot had to be dragged out by an angel (see Gen. 19:16).
17After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley).
18Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19and he blessed Abram, saying, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
21The king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself."
22But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath 23that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, `I made Abram rich.' 24I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me--to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre. Let them have their share."
"After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer", he was met by two very different kings. One king represents the world and what the world has to offer, the other king represents the Lord and what the Lord has to offer. Interestingly, they met Abram at the same time: "The king of Sodom came out to meet him... Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine." Abram showed where his heart was by addressing Melchizedek first. For Abram, the things of God had a higher priority than the things of the world. The king of Sodom had worldly riches to offer; Melchizedek gave Abram an opportunity to worship the Lord.
Melchizedek, it turns out, is a very important person in the Bible. This is surprising given that this short episode is the only one in which we personally meet Melchizedek. Later in the Old Testament, in a Messianic psalm, David says of Christ, "The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind: `You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek'" (Psalm 110:4). Then, in the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews provides an inspired commentary on the importance of Melchizedek:
1This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, 2and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means "king of righteousness"; then also, "king of Salem" means "king of peace". 3Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest for ever.
4Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! 5Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people--that is, their brothers--even though their brothers are descended from Abraham. 6This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7And without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater...
11If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come--one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law. " (Hebrews 7:1-7,11-12).
So here, we see the importance of Melchizedek: he established that there is another priesthood, besides the Levitical priesthood (which was established in the law given to Moses), and that this priesthood is superior than the Levitical priesthood. This priesthood was established long before the Levitical priesthood, for Melchizedek blessed Abram long before Moses was born. This priesthood is also a royal priesthood (i. e., the priests are kings as well as priests); whereas, Levitical priests were prohibited from being kings. The fact that there is a priesthood that is superior to the Levitical priesthood is very important, because Christ, though a priest, could not be a Levitical priest, because He is also a king. Also, if Christ were a Levitical priest, the rites and sacrifices associated with that priesthood would still be in effect. However, since Christ belongs to a superior priesthood, the old covenant can be superceded, for "when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law" (Heb. 7:12). In fact, the Levitical priesthood can be seen as being temporary until the superior priesthood (in the order of Melchizedek) was restored in Christ.
Knowing the importance of Melchizedek, we can appreciate more this episode, where Abram meets Melchizedek. For instance, Melchizedek "brought out bread and wine". They, in effect, took communion, a sacrament of the order of Melchizedek. Also, Moses informs us that Melchizedek "was priest of God Most High." A priest is a mediator between God and man. Priests are very important to men because sinful man cannot approach holy God directly. Job expressed eloquently man's need for a mediator: "[God] is not a man like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God's rod from me, so that His terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of Him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot" (Job 9:32-35). Happily, our need for a priest has been fulfilled by Christ, completely and finally; we need no other priest than Christ, no other priesthood than His.
As implied in the Hebrews 7 passage, Melchizedek typified Christ. Melchizedek was the "king of Salem" (Salem is another name for Jerusalem, see Psalm 76:2). The name "Melchizedek" means "king of righteousness". He brought out "bread and wine" for communion. He was "priest of God Most High". What a joy it must have been for Abram (living amongst the heathens) to meet such an individual! Melchizedek was one of the few faithful in the world at the time. And what a joy for Melchizedek it must have been to meet someone who appreciated his office as "priest of God Most High"!
Melchizedek performed his priestly duty of mediation by blessing Abram in the name of "God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth". Melchizedek also confirmed that Abram's success in the battle was due to God's blessing, for he said that God "delivered [Abram's] enemies into [his]hand". Abram accepted the blessing and acknowledged Melchizedek's priesthood by giving him "a tenth of everything". This is the first tithe mentioned in the Bible. Abram's tithe is relevant to us. There are some who would say that tithing is obsolete today, a part of the Mosaic law that we do not have to obey. However, Abram tithed long before the law was given to Moses, and it is good for us to tithe long after Christ established the New Covenant. The full-time servants of God need our financial support. Support of such ministries is clearly "New Testament Christianity", as made clear by Paul who commends many times those who support his and other ministries (e.g., Rom. 15:27; I Cor. 9:11; Gal. 6:6; Phil. 4:10,14).
Abram's meeting with Melchizedek prepared him spiritually for his meeting with the king of Sodom. Abram, after being blessed by God through Melchizedek, must have had a spiritual "high" (so to speak). That Abram's honorable behavior when he met the king of Sodom was influenced by his meeting with Melchizedek is supported by the fact that Abram (in verse 22) picked up the names of God used by Melchizedek ("God Most High, Creator of heaven in earth"). The king of Sodom came to Abram and told him that he could "keep the goods for [himself]". Abram, in the name of God, turned down all material reward from the king of Sodom, so that the king of Sodom would never be able to say: "I made Abram rich." Clearly, Abram had grown spiritually since his sojourn in Egypt. When he left Egypt, Abram kept all the riches that he improperly garnered as a dowry for Sarah (see Gen. 12:16,20).
Abram here sets an example for us. He does not benefit financially for being used by God in the salvation of others. So many use their God-given gifts in evangelism (the saving of souls) for financial gain for themselves. They take the spoils from the king of Sodom, instead of the blessing of God through Melchizedek. The world sees this, and maligns all evangelists, thinking that they are all in it for the worldly rewards of Sodom. All servants of God should follow Abram's example in this. As Christ commanded His disciples concerning the use of the gifts of the spiritual gifts He had given them: "Freely you have received, freely give" (Matt. 10:8). "Freely" means that we are not to make money or charge money for the administering of our God-given gifts. They are to be given "freely". Note that God did bless Abram financially in other ways, but He did not allow His salvation to come at a price. God's gift of salvation is free, and should always be "freely" given.
So, Abram shunned the worldly gifts from the king of Sodom, but gratefully accepted the blessing of God through the king Melchizedek. It would have been natural for Abram to accept the spoils. From a worldly point of view, he deserved them. However, Abram did not (and so we should not) live by worldly values, but for God's will. God did not want Abram to accept the spoils because, if he did, people would have given the king of Sodom credit for Abram's victory.
Also, God did not want the Sodomites to think that Abram rescued them for his own financial gain, but because it was the will of God. God, through Abram, was demonstrating His grace and mercy to Sodom. The Sodomites certainly did not deserve to be rescued. They should have taken their defeat to the marauding kings as a warning from God of the true judgment to come. They should have taken Abram's godliness as an example of the reverence for God that they should have. They should have realized that their rescue was temporary and that God, because He is righteous, would not wait forever for them to repent. God showed great mercy in saving Sodom, and in doing so, gave them no excuse for their lack of repentance. Their judgment later was all the more deserved since they ignored God's mercy. And so it shall be with those who ignore the mercy of God through Christ. Their judgment will be horrible and eternal. As the writer of Hebrews said: "How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" (Heb. 2:3), and later: "How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?" (Hebrews 10:29).
And so Lord, may we properly appreciate Your salvation. May we turn from our worldly ways and accept Your salvation. Also, as You give us gifts by Your Spirit, may we be obedient and freely administer them to others. In addition, give us strength, courage and wisdom in our battles. Help us to be victorious and may You get all the glory for the victory. Finally, thank You for sending Your Son as a priest to be our mediator, representing us before You. We praise You for the salvation that You have provided through Him and we pray these things in the name of Jesus, our Mediator, Amen.
1. Abram here is called "the Hebrew". The reference here indicates that those who lived around Abram probably referred to him in this way. Most commentators believe that "Hebrew" originally denoted descendants of Eber, which Abram was (see Gen. 11:14).
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