Genesis 14:1-4 And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations, 2 that they 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). 3 All these joined together in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). 4 Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled.
In history, the events of this story are known as the Battle of Siddim, in which cities of the Jordan plain revolted against the Elamite empire, which was ruled by Chedorlaomer, and was allied with Shinar, Ellasar, and Tidal (each a nation from Mesopotamia). Here’s the background:
The Elamite empire grew to power in Persia, east of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Under king Chedorlaomer’s rule, the empire occupied the land of Canaan, the Jordan plain, and held alliances with nations of the Mesopotamia plain. For twelve years, the occupied lands submitted to Chedorlaomer’s rule and paid tribute to him, but in the thirteenth year, five cities of the Jordan plain rebelled, specifically Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela. They were led by Bera, king of Sodom. Thirteen is an interesting number in Scripture: the number of rebellion.
History tells us that the uprising of the five kings of the Jordan plain must have had a destabilizing effect on the entire occupied region. While not every city-state actively participated in the rebellion, many must have sympathized with, and probably secretly supported the five kings. In response to this uprising, Chedorlaomer called on his alliance and raised a coalition army to deal with the rebels. His approach was a purposeful and methodical build-up of an army that would guarantee victory. His objective was to completely crush the rebellion, and to restore order to this region of his empire, and to remind this particular territory of the power and might of Elam.
Genesis 14:5-7 In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him came and attacked the Rephaim in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh Kiriathaim, 6 and the Horites in their mountain of Seir, as far as El Paran, which is by the wilderness.7 Then they turned back and came to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and attacked all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who dwelt in Hazezon Tamar.
At this point in the story, Chedorlaomer hasn’t even met the five kings in battle. But on his way to deal with them, his armies dealt harshly with the cities and tribes along the way, attacking and plundering each, taking spoil and provisioning his army. This was about sending a message to very city and nation in and around Canaan: the ultimate power and authority came from Elam.
Genesis 14:8-9 And 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 joined together in battle in the Valley of Siddim 9 against Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of nations, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five.
The five kings, under Bera of Sodom, went out to meet Chedorlaomer’s army in battle, away from their cities. Perhaps realizing that they were outnumbered and outgunned, they decided to force the issue in the Valley of Siddim, which to them would have represented a home field advantage. This was their territory, and they would have intimately known the geography and would have hoped to use it against Chedorlaomer. Home field advantage is generally a very valuable asset in warfare.
Genesis 14:10-12 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of asphalt pits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled; some fell there, and the remainder fled to the mountains. 11 Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. 12 They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.
Unfortunately for the five rebellious kings, their advantage contributed to their demise. The forces of Chedorlaomer overwhelmed the armies of the five kings, and many soldiers died in the tar pits while the rest fled to the mountains. We will see later that the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah were among those who escaped. But with their cities unprotected, Chedorlaomer was able to take the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, looting them of their goods and taking prisoners to be slaves. Lot, who by this time was living in Sodom, was taken as well.
Genesis 14:13 Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, for he dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner; and they were allies with Abram.
Abram had a title by this time: “Abram the Hebrew”. As we previously discussed, Hebrew was a word derived from Abram’s ancestor Eber. But it is thought that the term Hebrew also meant “cross over,” so using this interpretation, Abram the Hebrew could have identified Abram as the “one who crossed over” from another place. The other place would have been Ur, the land on the other side of the Euphrates River. God called Abram out of Ur, and for Abram to be separated from a life of idolatry into a new life of faith in the one true God. To the residents of Canaan, Abram was a stranger in a strange land, worshiping and serving a single God rather than following the polytheistic practices of everyone else. But he had more than a name and a title. He also, by this time, had a reputation. His God had blessed him and protected him.
It says here that those he lived near became his allies. I think this is significant, with an interpretation that those around Abram wanted him as an ally, rather than Abram seeking out alliances. Perhaps the one who escaped the battle of Siddim came to Abram seeking aid, due to his reputation and influence. The capture of Lot would have just been part of the overall story, but that was the only thing that would have interested Abram. If Lot had not been involved it is hard to imagine Abram getting motivated to jump into the local politics. But not only was Lot family, he was a brother in the faith.
Genesis 14:14-15 Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 He divided his forces against them by night, and he and his servants attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus.
By the way, the word for “brother” in the Hebrew was ‘ach which had a wider meaning than literally “brother”. It actually meant kinsman.
The armed strength of the Elamite empire had swept into the region and routed the armies of at least eleven cities, while restocking and re-provisioning along the way (by looting their victims). Abram had 318 servants that had been trained to fight, and whatever number of tagalongs that he could muster from his neighbors. This was a bigger mismatch than any of the previous battles faced by Chedorlaomer, and on paper should have resulted in a suicide mission for Abram.
But Abram pursued Chedorlaomer, catching up with the Elamite army near Dan (in northern Canaan). Abram attacked at night, from multiple directions, and Chedorlaomer’s army ran away. It was eighty miles from Dan to Hobah, which means that Abram’s fighters chased the larger army a long way. Why didn’t Chedorlaomer stop, regroup, counterattack, and try to defeat Abram? There must have been something miraculous in the performance of Abram’s fighters, and God was definitely behind their campaign. The Elamites were chased and picked off from behind until they were weakened enough for Abram’s little army to finish them off.
Genesis 14:16-17 So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people.17 And the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley), after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him.
The word for the “defeat” of Chedorlaomer could also have been translated as “slaughter.” This was a complete and total victory for Abram and the end of Chedorlaomer’s armies. We don’t know if Abram lost any men in the battle, but we shouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t. When God led the Israelites to victory in Canaan under Joshua, battles often ended with no causalities for the Israelites.
Bera king of Sodom came out of his defeat and went out to meet Abram. Maybe he was unsure of Abram’s motives, and rather than wait in Sodom to see if Abram would bring his people and stuff back, he pushed the issue. Abram was definitely now someone who should be feared, but he was obviously being misunderstood, if Bera thought Abram was going to act like everyone else who won a battle: the victor go the spoils. According to the rules of warfare, technically the stuff liberated in battle became spoils belonging to Abram, and the freed prisoners were now his servants. But these were not the things that Abram was concerned with.
Genesis 14:18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High.
Before Abram could be accosted by Bera, he was met by and ministered to, by Melchizedek, king of Salem. Salem comes from the Hebrew word for peace, making Melchizedek the King of Peace. Look at what Hebrews 7:2 says, in referring to Melchizedek as being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace.” He is also mentioned in Psalm 110:4 in the announcement of the Messiah’s reign: The Lord has sworn and will not relent, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” The author of Hebrews quoted this psalm in Hebrews 5:6 and 10. Melchizedek seems mysterious to us, seemingly coming out of nowhere in Scripture, and then disappearing, only to be briefly mentioned in two other places. So who was he?
Melchizedek’s name, meaning “King of Righteousness” is describing what he was. In Matthew 19:17 Jesus said, No one is good (righteous) but One, that is, God. His genealogy is not provided, according to Hebrews 7:3, because he is “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.” Human priests could not serve without records of their genealogy, according to Ezra 2:62. Yet, he was the priest of the Most High God, and this priestly order is made equivalent to the priestly order of the Messiah (Psalm 110:4). The priestly order of Melchizedek is superior to the Levitical order of priesthood established through Levi.
Abram, the king of Sodom, and the inhabitants of Canaan knew who Melchizedek was. In fact, Canaan was well known among Gentiles as a “divine land” and a “Holy land” long before Moses led the Israelites to the Promised Land. Perhaps Melchizedek, king of ancient Jerusalem, God’s eternal High Priest, established the worship of God Almighty in that region. He had the appearance of a man, but could not have been mortal if he had no beginning and no ending. Because of this clue, along with what we are given about his other titles and characteristics, it is very possible that Melchizedek was an appearance of Christ in Abram’s time, perhaps long before Abram’s time.
Jesus said in John 8:56: Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” When his listeners scoffed at that, Jesus replied in verse 58, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” They were so outraged they wanted to kill him right there, because Jesus was elevating Himself to a level they believed was blasphemous. Some commentators believe that Jesus was referring to the meeting between Melchizedek and Abram, and identifying himself as Melchizedek. Certainly, the Jews that picked up rocks to stone Jesus knew that He was making a radical claim, and they also knew who Melchizedek was, and would have agreed that Abram was the lesser and Melchizedek was the greater.
Melchizedek brought Abram bread and wine, which we recognize as the elements of communion. Jesus did the same for His disciples at the Last Supper, and instructed them (and us) to take communion often in remembrance of Him. Levitical priests did not have anything similar in their service to God’s people.
Genesis 14:19-20 And he blessed him and said: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth; 20 And blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tithe of all.
When a blessing is given, it is given by the greater and received by the lesser. By Melchizedek offering a blessing to Abram, he is identifying himself in a position above Abram, and by Abram receiving it, he is submitting himself to Melchizedek’s priesthood. In addition to this, Melchizedek’s position as High Priest was being honored by Abram’s tithe. He had received a great a victory in battle, success in rescuing Lot and the other prisoners, and Abram knew who should receive the credit: God. But the offering he made was to Melchizedek. Hebrews 7:4-10 uses this example to explain that the priestly order of Melchizedek was superior to the Levitical order, because Levi’s ancestor (Abraham) submitted himself to Melchizedek’s authority as High Priest, offering his tithe to the Lord through Melchizedek.
This is the first reference to a tithe in Scripture. The word “tithe” means a tenth, so we know that Abram gave a tenth. But a tenth of what? In this case, the reference is to “all.” It is sometimes taught that Abram gave a tenth of his “income” (the stuff he captured in the battle). But perhaps the more accurate meaning as that Abram gave a tenth of all that he had. Jacob gave a similar pledge in Genesis 28, when he promised God a tenth of his possessions if God blessed him.
The Mosaic Law concerning tithes (Leviticus 27:30-33) obviously didn’t exist for Abram. But he was operating under a principle that was captured into the Law: the tithe was not limited to income; its scope was to include all that Abram possessed. Jacob’s pledge was the same: all that God would bless him with. Tithing is mentioned in the New Testament, but never as a command. 2 Corinthians 9:6-9 But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. 9 As it is written: “He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.”
After receiving Melchizedek’s blessing, and being offered communion, Abram had to deal with Bera, king of Sodom.
Genesis 14:21-24 Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’— 24 except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.”
Abram spoke to Bera using the same term for God that Melchizedek had used: God Most High, or El Elyown in Hebrew. He raised his right hand to swear that he would take nothing that belonged to Bera, because he wanted God to have all the credit for everything that Abram had, and not give any room for any man to say “I made Abram rich.” God had blessed Abram, even in cases when Abram didn’t deserve it, and God alone deserved all the glory.
This expression of faith on Abram’s part is a valuable lesson for us. He was entitled to take whatever he wanted from the spoils, even the prisoners to be kept as his servants. This was the way of his world, and was even expected by Bera who was willing to let the goods go if he could get ask to get his people back. But Abram would have none of it, not even a shoelace. He did make sure that his allies were taken care of, but he needed nothing. We should live our lives this way, in every business dealing. We transact with people who are in the world, doing business according to the world’s rules. But we should not put ourselves under any obligation where another person can take credit for what God does. People always want to take credit for things that they do, especially when it is a favor for someone else. But when we belong to the Lord, everything good that happens to us comes from Him. James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. We should never take credit, and we should avoid putting ourselves in situation where someone else gets to take credit. In those situations, it would be far better to turn the (so called) help down.
Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.
Romans 6:14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.