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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 14

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


4. Abram’s military victory ch. 14

Sometime later a powerful coalition of kings from Mesopotamia invaded Canaan and, in the process, took Lot captive. Abram retaliated with a surprise attack at night and recovered Lot and the possessions those kings had taken. Upon his return to his home Abram received a blessing from Melchizedek, king of Salem, and he received an offer of reward by the king of Sodom, Bera (Genesis 14:2). Abram declined to accept the reward because he did not want to tarnish God’s promised blessing of him. Abram’s realization that victory and possessions come from God alone enabled him to avoid the danger of accepting gifts from the wicked and to wait for God to provide what He had promised. In this chapter we see a much different Abram from the coward who endangered his wife in Egypt (ch. 12).

Verses 1-12

The four kings (Genesis 14:1) resided in the eastern part of the Fertile Crescent. They sought to dominate the land of Canaan by subjugating five kings (Genesis 14:2) who lived there. They probably wanted to keep the trade routes between Mesopotamia and Egypt open and under their control. It is interesting that people living around Babylon initiated this first war mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 14:2).

Scholars have debated the identity of the Rephaim (Genesis 14:5; cf. Genesis 15:20; literally "ghosts" or "spirits of the dead"). Some believe they were gods, others that they were the deified dead, and still others the promoters of fertility. [Note: Conrad L’Heureux, "The Ugaritic and Biblical Rephaim," Harvard Theological Review 67 (1974):265-74.] Most likely they were one of the early tribal groups that inhabited Canaan when Abram entered the land. They appear to have been very powerful, and apparently some of their neighbors regarded them as superhuman before and or after their heyday. [Note: See The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Rephaim," by T. C. Mitchell.]

The scene of the battle of the nine kings was the Valley of Siddim (Genesis 14:3; Genesis 14:8). This valley probably lay in the southern "bay" of the modern Dead Sea south of the Lissan Peninsula. The Old Testament calls this body of water the "Salt Sea" because its average 32 percent saline content is about ten times more than the three percent average of the oceans.

Verses 1-16

Abram’s war with four kings 14:1-16

A major significance of this literary unit is that it describes two more challenges to God’s faithfulness and Abram’s faith. So far Abram had to contend with several barriers to God fulfilling His promises to him. His wife was barren, he had to leave the land, his life was in danger, and his anticipated heir showed no interest in the Promised Land. Now he became involved in a war and consequently became the target of retaliation by four powerful kings.

Verses 13-16

Abram could have lost his possessions and his life by getting involved in war with the Mesopotamian kings. He also set himself up as the target for retaliation. Almost everyone in the ancient Near East practiced retaliation, and it is still a major factor in the continuing political turmoil that characterizes the Middle East to this day. The "ancient Near East" is a term that applies to the whole eastern Mediterranean world in ancient times. The "Middle East" is a term that refers to the area roughly between Africa, Europe, and Asia in modern times. People did not forgive and forget; they harbored resentment for acts committed against their ancestors or themselves for generations and took revenge when they thought they could succeed.

Why was Abram willing to take such risks? He probably thought he could win. His love for Lot may have been the primary factor. He did not think, "He’s made his own bed; let him lie in it." Perhaps Abram hoped that Lot had learned his lesson living in Sodom and would return to him. Unfortunately Lot had not learned his lesson but returned to Sodom soon after his release as a prisoner of war. Undoubtedly Abram also had confidence in God’s promises to him (Genesis 12:2-3; Genesis 12:7).

"We have here a prelude of the future assault of the worldly power upon the kingdom of God established in Canaan; and the importance of this event to sacred history consists in the fact, that the kings of the valley of Jordan and the surrounding country submitted to the worldly power, whilst Abram, on the contrary, with his home-born servants, smote the conquerors and rescued their booty,-a prophetic sign that in the conflict with the power of the world the seed of Abram would not only not be subdued, but would be able to rescue from destruction those who appealed to it for aid." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:202.]

Some scholars have suggested that Abram’s designation as a Hebrew (Genesis 14:13) marked him as a resident alien rather than a semi-nomad. As such he took steps to take possession of the land God had promised him. [Note: See Donald J. Wiseman, "Abraham in History and Tradition. Part I: Abraham the Hebrew," Bibliotheca Sacra 134:534 (April-June 1977):123-30.] He could have been both. [Note: See Yochanan Muffs, "Abraham the Noble Warrior: Patriarchal Politics and Laws of War in Ancient Israel," Journal of Jewish Studies 33:1-2 (Spring-Autumn 1982):81-107.] Albright argued that he was a "donkeyman, donkey driver, caravaneer." [Note: Albright, p. 34.] However most conservative interpreters have concluded that he was a semi-nomadic shepherd. [Note: E.g., Kitchen, The Bible . . ., p. 57. Cf. 46:32, 34; 47:3.] The term "Hebrew" is primarily an ethnic designation in the Old Testament. [Note: Hamilton, p. 405.] Usually people other than Hebrews used it to describe this ethnic group.

"The appearance of the later name ’Dan’ [Genesis 14:14] is a post-Mosaic updating of the place name for later readers." [Note: Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, p. 147.]

The situation that Abraham faced taking his 318 men and going into battle against an alliance of four armies was similar to the one Gideon faced in leading 300 men against 135,000 Midianites (Judges 7:6; Judges 8:10). The lesson of both passages is similar: God is able to give a trusting and obedient minority victory over ungodly forces that are overwhelmingly superior in numbers.

Verse 17

The "valley of Shaveh" was near Jerusalem (the "Salem" of Genesis 14:18). It may have been the Kidron Valley immediately east of the city or some other valley not far away.

Verses 17-24

Abram’s meeting with two kings 14:17-24

This section records an important decision Abram had to make after he returned victoriously from his battle with the Mesopotamian kings.

Verse 18

"Melchizedek" was probably a title rather than a proper name. It means "King of Righteousness." Compare Adonizedek ("Lord of Righteousness") in Joshua 10:1; Joshua 10:3. However theophoric names were common in the ancient Near East, so his name may have meant "My king is Sedeq" or "Milku is righteous," Sedeq and Milku presumably being the names of gods. [Note: Wenham, Genesis 1-15, p. 316.] The names of both the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 14:2) are compounds of a Hebrew word translated "evil" (cf. Genesis 13:13).

Bread and wine were the royal food and drink of the day. Many writers have commented on their typical significance, though there is no basis for connecting them directly with the elements used in the Lord’s Supper. Many ancient Near Easterners used bread and wine in making covenants. [Note: Donald J. Wiseman, "Abraham in History and Tradition. Part II: Abraham the Prince," Bibliotheca Sacra 134:535 (July-September 1977):236.] Melchizedek, the first priest mentioned in the Bible, evidently gave a royal banquet in Abram’s honor. In view of their characters and geographical proximity, Abram and Melchizedek may have been friends before this meeting. Melchizedek may have been Abram’s king to whom the patriarch was paying an expected obligation. [Note: Loren Fisher, "Abraham and His Priest-King," Journal of Biblical Literature 81 (1962):268.]

Verse 19

The God Melchizedek worshipped as a priest was the true God known to him as El Elyon, the possessor of heaven and earth. This title reveals the sovereign power of God. Melchizedek and Abram regarded Abram’s recent victory in battle as due to the blessing of El Elyon.

Verse 20

People practiced tithing as an act of worship commonly in the ancient Near East at this time (cf. Genesis 28:22). [Note: See Keil and Delitzsch, 1:207.] It was also a common tax. This is still true in some modern countries. For example, in England part of every person’s taxes goes to maintain the Church of England. Some residents regard this part of their tax as their contribution to the church or their tithe. However since Melchizedek gave Abram a priestly blessing, it is likely that Abram reciprocated by giving Melchizedek a gift with priestly connotations. [Note: Wenham, Genesis 1-15, p. 316.] "All" probably refers to all that he took in the battle rather than all that was in Abram’s possession (cf. Genesis 14:23-24; Hebrews 7:4).

Verses 21-24

Abram identified El Elyon with Yahweh (Genesis 14:22). His willingness to take no spoil from the battle for himself demonstrates Abram’s desire that God would receive all the glory for his prosperity. He also appears not to have wanted to be indebted to the wicked king of Sodom. This man may have, by his command to Abram, been setting him up for demands later (cf. Genesis 23:15).

"The gifts of the ungodly are often attached to deadly strings." [Note: Davis, p. 182.]

Generally, the patriarchs believed that God would give them what He had promised without their having to take it from others. [Note: See note on 48:22.] Abram was content with what God had given him (cf. Philippians 4:11). [Note: See Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, pp. 120-22, for an excursus on the patriarchs’ wealth.]

". . . just as in the previous episode where Abram allowed Lot the pick of the land, so here he allows the surly king of Sodom more than his due." [Note: Wenham, Genesis 1-15, p. 318.]

"Christians are really so rich in their own inheritance that it ill becomes them to crave the possessions of others." [Note: Bush, 1:237.]

This event is significant because it demonstrates Abram’s trust in God to provide what He had promised, which God soon rewarded with another revelation and promise (Genesis 15:1).

"Even without the explicit warning that ’he who disdains you I shall curse,’ the narrative suggests that it is dangerous to despise those through whom God works.

"It is the demonstration of divine support for Abram that is the clearest thrust of this story. . . .

"Within Genesis, however, Melchizedek is primarily an example of a non-Jew who recognizes God’s hand at work in Israel . . . They are those who have discovered that in Abram all the families of the earth find blessing." [Note: Wenham, Genesis 1-15, pp. 321-22.]

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews expounded the typical significance of Melchizedek and the events of this incident in Hebrews 7 (cf. Psalms 110:4). A type is a divinely intended illustration of something else that follows, the antitype.

Confidence that God will preserve and provide for His own as He has promised should encourage believers to decline worldly benefits and wait for God’s blessings.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 14". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/genesis-14.html. 2012.
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