Description / Transcription
Father in heaven, we are ignorant of many truths, so teach us. We have forgotten many lessons, so remind us. We are wayward in many things, so rebuke us. We are weak in many ways, so strengthen us. Give us faith to hear Your Word and not only to hear but to believe and to obey. In Jesus we pray. Amen.
Invite you to turn in your Bibles to Genesis chapter 14, the first book in the Bible, as we’ve been going through Genesis for several months now, and we come to chapter 14.
Have you ever had someone tell you a very intricate story about people you’ve never heard of and places you’ve never been to getting into a mess that you don’t quite understand? That’s this passage. If you’ve ever had a child come home, breathless from school, “Mom, Dad, so, Bobby was mad at Jill, who was in a fight with Heather, who was best friends with Brooke and Jennifer, and Bobby used to like Brooke but he doesn’t anymore so Bobby and Mark and John told Alex and Michael to meet them at the top of the really big hill, but on their way to the hill they got in a fight by Mrs. Adams’ class, which got all the fifth graders in trouble, and everyone on Mr. Johnson’s class had detention and they had to go out to the soccer fields and clean up the trash for recess. Do you know?” No, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Thank you for telling me. I don’t know any of those people or any of the places you’ve been.
That’s sort of what this is going to sound like in chapter 14. So rather than read through the whole thing and then go back a second time and try to unpack what’s happening, I’m going to read a few verses at a time, stop, we’ll pause, we’ll try to understand what’s happening, and then when we get through, we’ll step back and see what lessons this chapter might have for us.
So Genesis 14, verse 1.
“In the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, these kings made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). And all these joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.”
So pause there. We have the introduction of these two different kingly alliances. Now these are not kings like you think of, of the King of England or France, these are city-states that have primitive dwellings, maybe walls around their cities, and they have a leader, a king, and they have various alliances. The first four kings are up around Syria, so if you picture the Mediterranean Sea and you have Israel there hugging the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea and up to the north, Assyria, or today Syria, and then over down to the east to Babylon, that’s the king of Shinar, that’s Babylon and into what today is Iraq. That’s the first four kings. We’ll call them the Eastern kings.
And then we’re introduced to these five kings, and they are all from the southern part of Canaan, around the Jordan River and the valley there, near the Dead Sea. The Salt Sea, that’s the Dead Sea, is called the Salt Sea for obvious reasons; it has the highest concentration of salt of any body of water in the world, 30%, that’s why you can float in it and see those pictures. We’ll call these the Western kings. So this certainly has the ring of historical truth in all of the details and this is how things worked in the ancient near east. You’d have these various city-states and kings and alliances and these two Western and Eastern kings are going to do battle in the valley of Siddim down by the Salt Sea.
But before we get to the battle itself, we have some background information as the Eastern kings march down to fight the Western kings. So we read that for 12 years they had served Chedorlaomer and the thirteenth year they rebelled.
Now verse 5.
“In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him came and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim, and the Horites in their hill country of Seir as far as El-paran on the border of the wilderness. Then they turned back and came to En-mishpat (that is, Kadesh) and defeated all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who were dwelling in Hazazon-tamar.”
We’re not going to take time to try to locate each of these places on the map. What you need to see is that the big dog, the big chief here, is Chedorlaomer. He’s the head of this Eastern alliance of kings. They’re the strong ones, and then the weaker ones are the five Western kings. So for 12 years they had served Chedorlaomer, they paid him some sort of tribute, said, “Oh, you’re greater than we are and we’ll pay you this and we’ll be loyal to you, and we owe you this sort of taxation in order to let us live in your presence.”
Well, in the thirteenth year, they say enough is enough, we’re going to rebel against this, and then in the fourteenth year, Chedorlaomer says, “Okay, I’m going to get my king buddies and we’re going to go fight you.”
And they come down what was called the Kings Highway from the north to the south and along the way they rampage against all these other places and all these other peoples, defeating them, subjugating them, on their way to do battle with the five Western kings.
So verse 8.
“Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out, and they joined battle in the Valley of Siddim.”
Okay, so they’ve finally got there and:
“With,” here’s the Eastern kings, “Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar, four kings against five. Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the hill country. So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way.”
Chedorlaomer and the Eastern kings, the four, they trounce the five Western kings of the Jordan Valley. And in the midst of their retreat, some of the troops are stuck in these tar pits. Maybe they have water, they have hills, this is the only way to go. These aren’t little potholes, these are big tar pits. They try to go through them and some are trapped there. It’s not clear if it’s the kings themselves; I don’t think it’s the kings because the king of Sodom is going to appear later, but rather some of their men, some of their troops, fell there.
And the defeat was so overwhelming that the Eastern kings took the possessions and some of the people and the food of the Western kings and here we have in verse 12 the reason why we are getting this story in the first place, among them people that they took was Lot, Abram’s nephew.
“Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner. These were allies of Abram.”
So stop right there. There’s a man who escapes in the midst of this carnage and he hightails it and he finds Abram and he says, “Abram, your nephew has been taken prisoner.” Now Abram is a great man, he has great wealth, and he has allies, and so his three allies are Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and Aner. These three men and their clans are the allies of Abram the Hebrew; it’s the first time he’s called a Hebrew, often given in the Old Testament when it’s trying to distinguish God’s people from other ethnicities, here’s Abram the Hebrew, so named because a descendant of Aber.
“When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus. Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people.”
So Abram leads out 318 of his fighting men and they go after Chedorlaomer and this alliance of Eastern kings. They go up to Dan, which was the north of the Promised Land, remember Dan to Beersheba is the north to the south. And not only that, but they pushed them all the way back up into Syria, that’s Damascus, north of Damascus, and they conquer them, they drive them out, and they reclaim the possessions and the people and the provisions that had been taken from Sodom and Gomorrah and Abraham has this great victory as they ambush the kings at night.
We come then to verse 17.
“After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).”
So the king of Sodom didn’t die in any of the tar pits, he’s still there, and now that Abram has rescued all of the provisions and the people from Sodom that the Eastern kings had taken, now the king of Sodom wants to come out and talk to Abram. But before he does, there’s another king who wants to talk to Abram.
“And Melchizedek king of Salem,” so that’s Jerusalem, what would later be called Jerusalem, “brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.”
This Melchizedek comes out of nowhere, he is both a priest and a king, and amazingly he’s a worshiper of God Most High, whom Abram is going to say is Yahweh, they are worshiping the same God, the real creator of heaven and earth, Abram’s God. And Abram recognizes he’s a great priest and a great king and his superior so that he gives him a tithe, a tenth, of all of his possessions.
So he meets Melchizedek and now reenter the scene, Sodom, the king of Sodom wants to talk to him, verse 21.
“And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.””
So the king of Sodom comes and tries to strike some sort of deal with Abram. Abram was the victorious general here. Abram has a right to all of the plunder from the victory, the spoils belong to Abram, but Abram says, “I’m not going to touch your stuff, Sodom. Just let my men, they’re hungry, let them eat some food and let the three people who came with me and their men, let them have a share, but I don’t want anything from you.”
So what does all of this, now that you understood maybe, how Bobby and Jill got into a fight and then they got into a fight and went over there and they fought them. Okay, now you sort of understand what’s happening in this chapter. What does this have to do with the rest of Genesis? What does this have to do with the rest of the Bible? What does this have to do with your life?
Number one. We see here in chapter 14 the promises of God cannot be stopped. It cannot be stopped.
Go back to chapter 12. Remember in verses 1 through 3 God comes to Abram, Ur of the Chaldees, and He pronounces a sevenfold promise of blessing. Verse 2: “I will make of you a great nation.” Well, that’s happening.
Abram has conquered the region’s superpower, these four strong kings who defeat the five weaker kings, and not only that, but on their way to battle these five kings, they’ve subjugated all of these other lands. These are the big, impressive nations of the region, and yet Abram with his stealth 318 strong fighting force, he routs them all. Abram is becoming a great nation.
God also promised I will bless you. Well, that’s certainly happening. Time after time it’s literally there’s too much blessing for Abram to take in. Every time he turns there’s someone, it seems, who wants to give him possessions or provisions. The land, by the end of chapter 14, chapter 13 God says walk in it, it’s all yours, and by chapter 14 these kings have been driven out. It is going to be Abram’s. God is blessing him.
And then God promised I will make your name great. Abram’s name is surely great. By the end of chapter 14, you have kings waiting in line to talk to Abram. You will be a blessing, God promised. He’s certainly a blessing to Lot. Twice now he’s been a blessing to his hapless nephew Lot.
Once when he gives him the choice of the land, okay, this land ain’t big enough for the both of us, Abram was the patriarch, he had the right to choose first, he says, “Lot, go ahead and choose.” Lot chooses poorly.
Look at chapter 13, verse 12. He set up his tents near Sodom, 13:12.
Go over to 14:12: “They also took Lot… Who was dwelling in Sodom.”
So Lot is moving from bad to worse. First he picks the land of Sodom, has a reputation for being wicked. He initially sets up his tents there, and now by the time we get to chapter 14, he’s living in the city. And Abram, who blessed him by giving him first choice, now has to bless him by rescuing him.
God also promised, in chapter 12, I will bless those who bless you. Well, this is happening. Everyone who gets on Abram’s side gets blessing.
The end of chapter 14. Mamre, Eshcol, Aner, they’re getting the spoils of war because they had blessed Abram. And then conversely, God had promised whoever dishonors you I will curse. Think of Chedorlaomer and his alliance of Eastern kings. If they had only stayed away from Lot, they have proven victorious. They defeated all these other people, and it’s as if in God’s divine economy there is this tripwire called Abram. Don’t mess with Abram, or his family. Even his nephew, who’s a bit of a ne’er-do-well, it seems. Don’t mess with him because once they take Lot, well that is the tripwire that then you dishonor Abram, you’re going to be cursed. And so they’re routed.
And finally God promised, in chapter 12, and you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed. We’re seeing that. The blessings of Abram are radiating out to more and more people, even the undeserving king of Sodom gets blessing. Why? Because one of Abram’s family members lived in Sodom. And you know that the end of Sodom is coming in a few chapters, but the end of Sodom won’t come until Abram’s family is removed from Sodom. He was the protection there, the blessing, because he was connected to Abram. We see again and again the invincibility of God’s promise.
Remember I said after the blessing in chapter 12 that we were going to see three threats to the promise? Well, what has happened after each of these threats?
Threat number one: Famine. Go down to Egypt, Abram and Sarai come out of that wealthier than when they started the famine.
Threat number two: Family strife. Lot, you choose, he chooses poorly, Abram gets the better land as a result.
Threat number three: International war, and by the end of this scene he has victory and he has wealth at his disposal of several nations beyond the Jordan. In other words, every threat to the promise has resulted not just in a break even, but in greater blessing to Abram.
I wonder if that’s how you look at threats and obstacles in your life. I’d like to say it’s how I look at them, but it’s usually not. Huh, things are going really bad for me. God must have something amazing in store.
Because that’s what happened. Famine – God, I’m gonna, this is gonna turn out really good for me. Our family is fighting – God’s got something good. The whole world around me is in war – can’t wait to see what’s God’s going to do. Time and again, there are threats to the promise and God shows that His promise is unstoppable.
What promise are you struggling to believe this week? A promise that God will never leave you nor forsake you? That there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus? That He will work out all things for the good of those who love Him? That you are new creation, and behold the old has passed away and the new has come? That the Lord of all the earth, the judge of all the earth, will surely do what is right? Where are you struggling this week to really believe the promise of God?
The promises of God are not just, ehhh, they’re kind of generally they tend to work out. They are absolutely invincible, unstoppable, and whatever potential obstacle is in your way, you can be sure that by faith God has some means to bless you even more on the other side of it. This is not a health/wealth prosperity. Our blessing does not look identical to Abraham’s blessing, that you’re all going to get rich and you’re all going to have children when you’re almost 100 years old, Lord, may it not be.
No, that’s not, the promises are transposed into a New Testament key, but they are nonetheless invincible, unstoppable.
Here’s the second lesson. The life of faith does not look exactly the same from day to day. The life of faith is not the same from day to day.
Look at these three threats.
First threat: Abram goes down to Egypt, he doesn’t acquit himself very well. He’s too conniving, he’s too scheming, he develops a plan, he thinks, oh, the Lord needs help with the promise and so I better have Sarai lie and say she’s my sister, and God despite Abram, blesses him. But Abram tried to do too much.
Then you have the second threat, and Abram’s learned his lesson. He says okay, God, there’s conflict here, I trust you, I’m going to let Lot go ahead and choose, and I will take whatever’s left.
Now you might be tempted to conclude after the second threat, okay, well the life of faith means that we’re always passive. But then you have this third threat, where Abram is decisively active. He goes to war to rescue his nephew. Interestingly, Abram does not fight for the Promised Land. He’s squabbling with Lot, he didn’t fight there, he said, “Lot, go ahead, you pick. I trust God.” He’s not fighting for the land as these people are marauding through it. He doesn’t fight for the Promised Land, but he does fight for his family. He’s not a pacifist. In fact, his military campaign was an act of his faith in God.
It would be nice if we just knew that to live a life of faith meant either one or the other. Just relax, stop trying to do so much; that’s faith. Well, sometimes it is. Or, come on, get your act together, go, dream, plan, act; that’s sometimes faith. It takes wisdom to know when faith means doing less than you want to do and when faith means doing more than you thought you were capable of.
Second threat: I’m going to do less than I might want to do, Abram decides. Next threat, I’m going to venture out to do more than I’m sure I’m really capable of, with 318 fighting men.
What does walking by faith look like for you in this next week? Or tomorrow’s March, this next month. Does it mean a call to rest, relax, settle down, let things play out, God knows what He’s doing; that may be the life of faith for some of you. Or is it a call to stand up and to fight, because that’s also a life of faith, and it takes wisdom to know when God wants one or the other. The life of faith does not look exactly the same from day to day.
Here’s the third lesson. The blessings of God may come through the world, but they must not entangle us with the world. The blessings of God may come through the world, but they do not entangle us with the world.
Think about this question: Why did Abram accept the wealth from Pharaoh, king of Egypt, when he really didn’t deserve any of that? He got it from lying. But he won’t accept a single thing from the king of Sodom, even though it would be his right as the victorious military leader? He got rich from Egypt, he refuses to get rich from Sodom. Why?
One reason is simply that he did not want anything to do with such a despicable place. We already saw in chapter 13, verse 13, Sodom’s reputation, there are wicked, evil men there, great sinners against the Lord. So he knows that, I think, about Sodom.
And you see here in chapter 14, the king of Sodom comes across as a self-centered, little pipsqueak of a man. Think about what Abram had done for him. Chedorlaomer, wiped him out. Cleaned his clock. Took away his stuff, his people, his women. Abram comes, rescues Lot, gets the possessions from Sodom, comes back with the people and the things. You know what Sodom should say to Abram? Thank you.
But do you notice the first words? You see the first words from Melchizedek in verse 19: Blessed. Do you see the first word from the king of Sodom in verse 21? Give me. Gimme.
This is not a magnanimous gesture from the king of Sodom: “Give me the persons, but you take the goods for yourself. I’ve got a great deal, okay? We’ll go halvsies.” No, he had no right to go halvsies. He had been defeated. Abraham saved his neck and saved his people. His first words should be as a supplicant, “Oh, great Abram, thank you.” But instead he comes to him and he says, “Give me.” Abram wants to wash his hands with this Bera king of Sodom.
And then the other reason related is that Abram is determined not to be entangled with Sodom in any way, shape, or form. You see verse 22: “I lifted my hand to the Lord.” This is the sign of taking an oath. “I swear by God Most High, Yahweh, the true possessor of heaven and earth. Listen up, king, I don’t want a Lego off of your floor. I don’t want a spool of thread. I don’t want crumbs from your table. I don’t want a shoelace from your shoe, lest you should say I have made Abram rich.”
See Abram understands that if he is to take something from the king of Sodom, even though he has a right to it, he’s the one who won the plunder back, that the king of Sodom would think of Abram as somehow being in his debt, as having something over him, and he says I do not want to be entangled with you at all. I don’t want anyone, anywhere, at any time to say, “Oh, there’s rich Abram. How did he get so rich?” “Well, Sodom.”
Now it’s not that Egypt was a great place, but the king there in Egypt seems like has at least something of a moral compass and did not have, at this time, the reputation that Sodom had. So perhaps, you know, it’s an imperfect analogy, but it might be the difference between a church taking a PPP grant, and we didn’t have to take one, thankfully, but some churches did, and make the case whether they should or they shouldn’t, but taking one of those grants from the government in the midst of the pandemic, okay, ehhh, maybe, but you could take versus accepting a million dollar donation from the creator of PornHub. Um, no. We don’t want anything to do with that money. We don’t want anyone to say, “Now how did you get that? Well, where did that come from?” No.
Abram says I am not going to be entangled at all with this king of Sodom.
Now you work and live in the world, and it’s a messy world and you don’t all get to work for Christian bosses or companies that do everything right, very few of them do. A lot of them do a lot of things wrong and it takes a lot of wisdom on your part to know how you handle that, where you aren’t violating your conscience and that’s the way we have to live in the world.
But there are some times when it is so clear, like getting rich from Sodom, that we ought to say like Abram, no, I’m not going to take a single piece of thread from you. I cannot be entangled with you and what you’re about in any way. This looks like blessing, but I’m going to trust God to bless me in another way.
Then here’s the fourth lesson for us. No matter how great you may seem in the world, there is one far greater and He is deserving of tribute. No matter how great you may seem, there is one far greater, and He is deserving of tribute.
Think about this story. It’s a dramatic story. You could make a movie. Peter Jackson could probably take this and make into like a three movie, nine-hour epic, lots of CGI and film it in New Zealand and be just great.
You would think that the climax would come after Abram’s daring rescue. You have these five weaker kings, rebel against four stronger kings. And the Eastern kings defeat the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and they seize their goods and food and carry off their men and women, and Lot and his possessions are taken away and then Abram gets 318 men of his fighting force and in the middle of the night he divides them and a surprise sneak attack and then he rides off on their camels into the sunset. That ought to be the climax of the story.
Except that that’s not ultimately what the story is about. It’s not an action-adventure film.
So there is, after all of this action, this mysterious man who comes out of nowhere named Melchizedek. He’s a priest, and he’s a king. He’s the king of Salem, later what will be called Jerusalem. He’s Melchizedek, meaning righteousness. He’s the king of Salem, meaning peace.
We know from Hebrews 7 that Melchizedek was a type of Christ. I don’t believe he was a pre-incarnate Christ, a theophany, an appearance of God. He was a real, literal king, priest, human being. But he was a type. Meaning that what we see in this mysterious man named Melchizedek will find a greater fulfillment in the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus would be a priest and a king. Jesus had neither beginning nor end, that’s what the writer of Hebrews stresses. Melchizedek just comes out of nowhere, we don’t know where he’s from, we don’t his ancestry or his family, we don’t hear about the rest of his life. He says that’s like Jesus in that he has no beginning, he’s always been, he has no end, there’s no end of his days.
What else do we see about Jesus and Melchizedek? Jesus came to bless the children of Abraham, just like Melchizedek did. Jesus comes to us with a meal of bread and wine, just as Melchizedek.
Here you have Abram worshiping in the presence of the priest of the Most High God and he gives to him a tenth of all that he has. This is one of the resonances with our practice of tithing, to bring to God as our superior, as one to whom we owe reverence, here is just a portion.
And you think about the contrast between Abram with Melchizedek and Abram with the king of Sodom, because you might say, well, actually, Pastor, the climax is not Melchizedek, the climax of the story is with the lowly nitwit king of Sodom. Well, that’s there for a reason, because he will not take a single bootstrap from Sodom, let alone give something to the king of Sodom, but here you have Melchizedek. He’ll take blessing from Melchizedek, he’ll take food and wine from Melchizedek, and not only that, but he will give to him a tenth, recognizing that he is a true priest. Here is a godly king. Here is my superior. Here is one whose glory outstrips my own. One who unlike the king of Sodom is deserving of tribute.
Did you know that only one other time in the Old Testament do we hear about this Melchizedek? It comes from the chapter in the Old Testament that’s quoted more often than any other chapter in the New Testament. You think of what that is? It’s not Isaiah 53. It’s not from Genesis. It’s Psalm 110: “The LORD says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet,” and verse 4 of Psalm 110, “You are priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
Because Hebrews is going to show that the line of priests from Aaron, they made intercession but they always had to make intercession for their own sins and it never was finally done. We need a different priest, we need a priest who’s got a whole different lineup than Aaron.
Well, there’s this priest after the order of Melchizedek and He can render the priestly service of the Aaronic priests to be completely irrelevant.
We don’t know how much this mysterious figure Melchizedek operated in the minds and hearts of God’s people. He’s here in Genesis 14, he comes again in Psalm 110, but he must have been somewhat in their imagination because Hebrews has so much to say about him, and you wonder if, for all those centuries and millennia, children said to their parents, Mommy, Daddy, what about this man? Melchmmmm. I know, it’s hard to pronounce.
Melchizedek. Where did he come from? Where did he go? Who was he even great Father Abraham gave to him tribute, a tenth of all that he had? Mommy, Daddy, do you think that maybe there might be another man like this to come? A man who’s also a priest, also a king? Maybe also a prophet. And that he would come and unlike this Melchizedek who had come and then disappear again, He would live with us forever. And then all those centuries later they could say, “You know what, son, daughter? Yes. There is one.” There is One who has come after the order of Melchizedek, without beginning of days or end of life, and He is deserving not only of our tribute, not only of our tithe, but of our worship, and His name is Jesus.
Let’s pray. Gracious heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word. All of it has lessons for us, things to remind us, things that we need to learn. We pray that You would strengthen us in our faith, for whatever we have this week. If faith means being more active than we thought, or resting more than we’re comfortable with, help us to walk in faith and direct us most of all in our faith to Your promises and to the One in whom all the promises find their fulfillment, the Lord Jesus. We pray in His name. Amen.