And he divided himself against them - It required both considerable courage and address in Abram to lead him to attack the victorious armies of these four kings with so small a number of troops, and on this occasion both his skill and his courage are exercised. His affection for Lot appears to have been his chief motive; he cheerfully risks his life for that nephew who had lately chosen the best part of the land, and left his uncle to live as he might, on what he did not think worthy his own acceptance. But it is the property of a great and generous mind, not only to forgive, but to forget offenses; and at all times to repay evil with good.
- Abram Rescues Lot
1. אמרפל 'amrāpel Amraphel; related: unknown. אלריוך 'aryôk Ariok, “leonine?” related: ארי 'arı̂y “a lion:” a name re-appearing in the time of Daniel Daniel 2:14. אלסר 'elāsār Ellasar (related: unknown) is identified with Larsa or Larancha, the Λάρισσα Larissa or Λαράχων Larachōn of the Greeks, now Senkereh, a town of lower Babylonia, between Mugheir (Ur) and Warka (Erek) on the left bank of the Frat. כדרלעמר kedārlā‛omer Kedorla‘omer, was compared by Col. Rawlinson with Kudur -mapula or mabuk whose name is found on the bricks of Chaldaea, and whose title is Apda martu ravager of the west. He translates it “servant of Lagamer,” one of the national divinities of Susiana. It is also compared with Kedar el-Ahmar, “Kedar the Red,” a hero in Arabian story. תדעל tı̂d‛āl Tid‘al, “terror.” גוים gôyı̂m Goim, “nations.”
2. ברע bera‛ Bera‹, “gift?” ברשׁע bı̂rsha Birsha‹, “long and thick?” Arabic שׁנאב shı̂n'āb Shinab, “coolness?” אדמה 'admâh Admah, “red soil” שׁמאבר shem'ēber Shemeber, “high-soaring?” צביים ; tsebôyı̂ym Tseboim, “gazelles.” בלע bela‛ Bela‹, “devouring.”
3. שׂדים śı̂dı̂ym Siddim, “plains, fields.”
5. רפאים repā'ı̂ym Rephaim, “the still, the shades, the giants.” קרנים עשׁתרת (ashterot -qarnayı̂m ‹Ashteroth-Qurnaim, “ewes of the two horns”; according to Gesenius, “stars of the two horns.” The first word may be singular, “ewe,” or “star.” The latter meaning is gained by connecting the word with the Persian sitareh and the Greek ἀστήρ astēr “star.” Ashteroth is the moon or the planet Venus, whence Astarte. זוּזים zûzı̂ym Zuzim; related: “glance, gush.” הם hām Ham, “rush, sound, crowd.” אימים 'eymı̂ym Emim, “terrible.” שׁיח־קריתים shāvēh -qı̂ryātāyı̂m Shaveh, “plain”; Qiriathaim, “two cities;” related: “meet.”
6. חרי chorı̂y Chori, troglodyte; verb: “bore;” noun: “cave.” שׁעיר sē‛ı̂yr Se‹ir, “rough, shaggy.” פארן איל 'eyl -pā'rān El, “tree, oak, terebinth, palm”; Paran, “bushy, or cavernous.”
7. משׁפט עין ‛eyn -mı̂shpāṭ ‹En-mishpat, “well of judgment.” קדשׁ qādēsh Qadesh, “consecrated.” עמלקי ‛ǎmālēkı̂y ‹Amaleki, “a people that licks up.” תמר חצצן chatstson -tāmār Chatsatson-tamar, “cuttiny of the palm.”
13. עברי ‛ı̂brı̂y ‹Ibri, a descendant of Eber. אשׁכל 'eshkol Eshkol, “cluster of grapes.” ענר ‛ǎner ‹Aner; related: unknown.
14. דן dan Dan, “ruler, judge.”
15. חיבה chôbâh Chobah, “hidden.” דמושׂק dameśeq Dammeseq. a quadraliteral; related: “hasty, active, alert.”
18. מלכיצדק malkı̂y -tsedeq Malkitsedeq, “king of righteousness.” שׁלם shālēm Shalem. “peace.” אל 'êl El, “lasting, strong; strength.”
20. מגן mı̂gēn “give, deliver;” related: “mag, may.”
The community of feeling and of faith was not yet wholly broken up between Abram and Lot, or between them and the nations out of whom Abram had been called. An interesting glimpse is at the same time presented of the daring and doing of fierce ambition in those early times. A confederacy of potentates enter upon an extensive raid or foray, in which Lot is taken captive. This rouses the clannish or family affection of Abram, who pursues, overtakes, and defeats the retreating enemy, and recovers his friend, as well as all the prisoners, and property that had been taken. On his return he receives refreshment and blessing from a native prince who is priest to the most high God.
The raid is minutely described in Genesis 14:1-12. The dominant confederacy consists of four kings. Many generations back the first world power, consisting of four cities, was established by Nimrod in the land of Shinar Genesis 10:8-10. This has now given way to a world-confederacy, consisting of four kings. From the vicinity of the places in which they reigned it is evident that they were petty princes of domains varying from a town and its suburbs to a comparatively extensive territory. The first, Amraphel, is king of Shinar. He is therefore the successor of Nimrod, and the sovereign of the most ancient kingdoms, and on these grounds occupies the first place in the list. But this kingdom is no longer the sole or even the supreme power. Amraphel is probably the descendant of Nimrod, and a Kushite. The second, Ariok, is king of Ellasar. If this town be the same as Larsa, lying between the Frat and the Shat el-Hie, the land of Shinar has been divided between two sovereigns, and no longer belongs entirely to the successor of Nimrod. Lower Shinar includes also Ur of the Kasdim; and hence, Ariok probably represents that race.
The third, Kedorlaomer, is king of Elam, or Elymais, a country east of the lower Tigris, and separated by it from Shinar. He is probably a Shemite, as the country over which he ruled received its name from a son of Shem Genesis 10:22. He is the lord paramount of the others, and commander-in-chief of the united forces. Hence, the Hamite seems to have already succumbed to the Shemite. The fourth, Tidel, is designated “king of Goim.” Goim means nations; and it is doubtful whether it denotes here a special nation or a congeries of tribes. The Gentiles, especially so called, seem to have been Japhethites Genesis 10:5. It is obvious that four nationalities are here leagued together, corresponding probably to the Kiprat arbat, four nations or tongues mentioned by Rawlinson (Anc. Mon. I. p. 69). But Kedorlaomer, king of Elam, is clearly not a Kushite. The only question seems to be whether he is a Shemite or a Japhethite, or Arian, in which race the Shemite was ultimately absorbed. If the former alternative be adopted, we may have two Shemite languages among the four. If the latter be accepted, Kedorlaomer is an Arian; Tidal, a Turanian; Amraphel, a Hamite; and Ariok, a Shemite. In either case the Kushite has become subordinate, and a Japhethite or a Shemite has attained the predominance.
They made war. - Shinar was the central region from which the different branches of the human family dispersed after the confusion of tongues. It is possible that the mother country claimed some supremacy over the colonies. Shinar was also a great center of commerce, and the cities of the dale of Siddim formed another, of secondary importance. Intercourse between the two countries was therefore frequent. Abram himself had come from Ur Kasdim. The spirit of despotism had descended from Nimrod to the present potentates of the East, and prompted them to aim at universal empire. The five kings are the petty sovereigns, each of a single town and its neighborhood. The area in which these towns lay was very circumscribed. With the exception of the territory of Bela it was afterward submerged and formed part of the basin of the Salt Sea. Hence, Siddim is said to be the Salt Sea. The dale is the deep valley or glen in which these kings dwelt on the banks of the Jordan, or the salt lake into which it flowed. Of the five cities, Sodom was the chief in power, luxury, and wickedness; whence it is mentioned first. Bela is also called Zoar, “the little,” and, hence, is placed last; even the name of its king is not given. “All these joined together.” They formed a league in self-defense, and marched out to meet the enemy in the dale of Siddim.
The narrative here reverts to the previous circumstances which gave occasion to the present raid. “Twelve years had they served Kedorlaomer.” These years date probably from the commencement of his reign. They may have been previously dependent on the dominant power in Shinar, and connected with it by national descent. If Kedorlaomer had wrested the supremacy from the king of Shinar, and so was regarded as an alien by the princes of Siddim, their coolness might gradually ripen into disaffection. In the thirteenth year they rebelled, and in the fourteenth Kedorlaomer came to quell the revolt. This military expedition embraced far loftier objects than the mere subjugation of the Pentapolis in the dale of Siddim. In passing from Shinar the invaders must have marched in a northwesterly direction along the Frat, touching upon Tadmor and Damascus. We are not informed whether they held any sway or made any conquest in these intervening regions. But they overran the country that stretches along the whole cast side of the Jordan, and the parts south and west of the Salt Sea.
The Rephaim lay in Peraea. Some of them also were once found on the west side of the Jordan Genesis 15:20, where they gave name to the valley of Rephaim (Wady el-Werd), southwest of Jerusalem, on the way to Bethlehem Joshua 15:8, occupied part of Mount Ephraim Joshua 17:15, and lingered for a long time among the Philistines (2 Samuel 21:16, ff.). They were a tall or gigantic race. They were not Kenaanites, but seem to have entered the country before them. They were conquered in Peraea by the Amorites, a branch of the Kenaanite family; and by the descendants of Lot, the Ammonites and Moabites. A remnant of them only lingered in the country when the Israelites arrived Deuteronomy 2:20; Deuteronomy 3:11, Deuteronomy 3:13. They may have been Shemites or Japhethites. The site of Ashteroth Carnaim has not been ascertained. Ritter finds it in Tell Ash‘areh. Porter suggests ‹Afineh, eight miles from Busrah, as the Samaritan version has ‹Aphinit for ‹Ashtaroth.
The Zuzim dwelt between the Jabbok and the Arnon. They are supposed to be the same as the Zamzummin, who were dispossessed by the Ammonites. If so, they were a branch of the Rephaim Deuteronomy 2:20. Their town, Ham, is of unknown site.
The Emim were also accounted Rephaim. They lay on the east of the Salt Sea, and were afterward conquered by the Moabites, who gave them this name Deuteronomy 2:10-11. Of Shaveh Kiriathaim, the plain of the two cities, the name probably remains in el-Kureiyat, a site near Jebel Attarus in Moab.
The Horites were perhaps a Shemite tribe, the aboriginal inhabitants of Mount Seir, where they dwelt in caves; such as are still to be seen in Petra and other places around. They were afterward absorbed into the Edomites. Mount Seir stretches between the Salt Sea and the Elanitic Gulf. El-Paran, terebinth of Paran, is perhaps the same as Elath, at the head of the gulf of Aelana or Akaba. Paran lay west of Mount Seir and south of Palestine, and stretched into the peninsula of Sinai, where the name may yet be preserved in Wady Feiran. El-Paran would thus be by the wilderness of that name, now et-Tih.
This was the extreme point of their march southward. They now turned back by another route. Enmishpat, which is Kadesh, lay between Mount Hor and the Salt Sea, at a site now called Ain el-Welbch. “The field of the Amalekite” was some part of the country lying between Palestine and Egypt, which was afterward occupied by the Amalekites. Instead of “field,” the Septuagint has ἄρχοντας archontas “rulers” of Amalek; but this reading is not supported. The tribe is descended from Amalek, thc son of Eliphaz and grandson of Esau Genesis 36:12. Traces of them are found as far north as Ephraim Judges 5:14; Judges 12:15. Balaam calls Amalek the beginning of the nations Numbers 24:20; but this cannot be understood absolutely, as the name does not even occur in the table of nations. It is therefore well explained to mean that Amalek was the first that attacked Israel on coming out of Egypt. The invading host advance still further, to Hazazon-tamar, cutting of the palm, which is En-gedi (well of the kid, 2 Chronicles 20:2), situated on the western shore of the Salt Sea, and now called Ain Jidy. This was a settlement of the Amorites.
We have now arrived again at the point we had reached in Genesis 14:3. The five kings came out and joined battle with the four in the dale of Siddim. This dale abounded in pits of mineral pitch, or asphalt. The kings of Sodom and Amorah fled toward these pits, and seem to have fallen into them and perished. The others betook themselves to the mountain - probably the heights on the cast of the dale.
The provisions and other movable property of the vanquished are carried away from Sodom and Amorah. For רפשׁ rekush “goods,” the Septuagint has here and in the 21st verse τὴν ἵππσν tēn hippon “the cavalry.” This implies the reading רכב rekeb which is not supported by other authorities, nor suitable to the context. Among the prisoners is Lot, the son of Abram‘s brother. This designation prepares us for what is to follow. It is added that he was “dwelling in Sodom,” to explain why he was among the captives. “They went away.” The invaders were now laden with booty. Their first concern was to transfer this to their native country, and deposit it in a place of safety. It was not prudent to delay while they were encumbered with so much valuable property. The terms on which the conquered tribes were to “serve” them could be settled by negotiation. If these terms were not accepted, they would be quite ready for another predatory incursion.
This great foray is only incidentally introduced into our narrative, on account of the capture of Lot. It was not the first visit probably of these marauders to the same lands. It is interesting to the historian, as a sample of the mode in which conquest was made. It opens up to the view one of the ancient scenes of human activity. It teaches us that the wave of war often flowed over the lands of the ancient world, and left more or less lasting marks of its disturbing power. Tribes were not unfrequently moved from place to place, intermingled with one another, and enslaved by other tribes. The actual state of things in the land of Abram‘s pilgrimage is suddenly presented to us under a new light. The Rephaim, including the Zuzim and the Emim, occupy the east of the Jordan, and had once a place on the west. The Perizzites also dwell side by side with the Kenaanites in the western district. The Horites are found in Mount Seir. As none of these were Kenaan‘s descendants, we have the undeniable traces of a Shemitic population before and along with the Kenaanites. The language of Heber, therefore, was in the country before the latter arrived.
Abram rescues Lot. הפליט hapālı̂yṭ “the fugitive” party, as “the Kenaanite” for the whole nation. The escaped party inform Abram when one of their number does so. “The Hebrew.” This designation is given to Abram plainly for the purpose of connecting him with Lot. The Septuagint translates the word by περα της peratees one who passes. This has been explained by transfluvialis, one who has come across the river; namely, the Frat. This no doubt applies to Lot as well as Abram; but it also applies to every other tribe in the country, inasmuch as all had originally migrated across the Euphrates. Besides, the word is nowhere else used in this sense, but always as a patronymic. And, moreover, Abram is here distinguished as the Hebrew, just as his confederate Mamre is distinguished as the Amorite. The object of these designations is to mark, not only their relation to each other, but also their connection with those who were carried off as prisoners of war. The term “Hebrew” does not come into the narrative by hap-hazard. “The sons of Heber” are distinctly mentioned in the table of nations among the descendants of Shem. Its introduction here intimates that there were other descendants of Heber besides Abram already in the land. They could not but be a widespread race. One branch of them, the Joctanites, were the first stock of Arabia‘s inhabitants, and the Palgites may have been the earliest settlers in the adjacent Palestine. How many of the non-Kenaanites belong to them we cannot tell; but we learn from the statement now before us that the Hebrew was at this time a known patronymic. The way between Mesopotamia and Palestine has been often trodden.
Abram was dwelling by the oaks of Mamre, near Hebron, therefore not far from the scene of war. He was also in league with Mamre and his brothers Eshkol and Aner. This league was, it is evident from the result, for mutual defense.
His brother. - This is a customary extension of the term, whether we regard Lot as his brother‘s son, or at the same time his brother-in-law. “His trained men.” Abram had now a company of three hundred and eighteen trained men, born in his own house; which implies a following of more than one thousand men, women, and children. His flocks and herds must have corresponded in extent to such an establishment. “Unto Dan.” This name is found in the Hebrew, Samaritan, Septuagint, and Onkelos. It might naturally be supposed that the sacred reviser of the text had inserted it here, had we not grounds for a contrary supposition. The custom of the reviser was to add the other name without altering the original; of which we have several examples in this very chapter Genesis 14:2-3, Genesis 14:7-8, Genesis 14:17. We are, therefore, led to regard Dan as in use at the time of Abram. Held at that remote period perhaps by some Hebrew, it fell at length into the hands of the Sidonians 2 Samuel 24:6. The former is not on the road to Damascus, while the latter was north of Gilead, and may have been near the route either by the south of the sea of Kinnereth, or of the waters of Merom. This is possible, and deserves consideration. But there may have been a third way to Damascus, passing Tell el-Kady; this place itself is on the east side of the main stream of the Jordan, and the expression רען דנה dānâh ya'an is confessedly obscure.
Abram and his confederates found the enemy secure and at their ease, not expecting pursuit. They attack them on two quarters; Abram, probably, on the one, and his allies on the other; by night, defeat and pursue them unto Hobah. “On the left hand of Damascus.” Hobah was on the north of Damascus. An Eastern, in fixing the points of the heavens, faces the rising sun, in which position the east is before him, the west behind, the south at the right hand, and the north at the left. Hobah is referred by the Jews to Jobar, a place northeast of Damascus. J. L. Porter suggests a place due north, called Burzeh, where there is a Muslim wely or saint‘s tomb, called Makam Ibrahim, the sanctuary of Abraham (Handbook, p. 492). This route, by the north of Damascus, illustrates the necessity of advancing far north to get round the desert intervening between Shinar and the cities of the plain.
Damascus, Dimishk, esh-Sham, is a very ancient city of Aram. The choice of the site was probably determined by the Abana (Barada) and Pharpar (Awaj), flowing, the one from Anti-Libanus, and the other from Mount Hermon, and fertilizing a circuit of thirty miles. Within this area arose a city which, amidst all the changes of dynasty that have come over it, has maintained its prosperity to the present day, when it has one hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants. It was originally occupied by the descendants of Aram, and may have been built, as Josephus informs us, by Uz his son.
Abram, with his allies, succeeded in defeating the enemy and recovering the property, with the prisoners, male and female, that had been carried away, and, among the rest, Lot, the object of his generous and gallant adventure.
Abram‘s reception on his return. “The king of Sodom.” This is either Bera, if he survived the defeat, or, if not, his successor. “The dale of Shaveh, which is the King‘s dale.” The word עמק ‛ēmeq is rendered here uniformly by the familiar term “dale.” The dale of Shaveh is here explained by the “King‘s dale.” This phrase occurs at a period long subsequent as the name of the valley in which Absalom reared his pillar 2 Samuel 18:18. There is nothing to hinder the identity of the place, which must, according to the latter passage, have been not far from Jerusalem. Josephus makes the distance two stadia, which accords with the situation of Absalom‘s tomb, though the building now so-called, in the valley of Jehoshaphat, seems to be of later origin. The identity of the King‘s dale with the valley cast of Jerusalem, through which the Kedron flows, corresponds very well with the present passage.
An incident of the deepest interest here takes us by surprise. The connecting link in the narrative is obviously the place where the king of Sodom meets with Abram. The King‘s dale is plainly adjacent to the royal residence of Melkizedec, who therefore comes forth to greet and entertain the returning victor. This prince is the king of Shalem. This is apparently an ancient name of Jerusalem, which is so designated in Psalm 76:8. The other Shalem, which lay in the vicinity of Shekem (Genesis 33:18, if this be a proper name) is far away from the King‘s dale and the town of Sodom. Jerusalem is convenient to these localities, and contains the element Shalem in its composition, as the name signifies the foundation of peace (Shalom).
The king of Shalem, by name king of righteousness, and by office king of peace, “brought forth bread and wine.” These are the standing elements of a simple repast for the refreshment of the body. In after times they were by divine appointment placed on the table of the presence in the tabernacle Exodus 25:29-30. They were the accompaniments of the Paschal lamb Matthew 26:26-27, and they were adopted by the Messiah as the sacred symbols of that heavenly fare, of which, if a man partake, he shall live forever John 6:48-58. The Author of revelation has made all nature intrinsically good and pure. He has realized therein a harmony of the laws of intelligence and design; everything meets and matches all that comes into contact with it; and all together form a cosmos, a system of things, a unity of types and antitypes. His word cannot but correspond to His work. Bread and wine are common things, familiar to the eye, the touch, and the taste of men. The Great Teacher takes them up out of the hands of man as emblems of grace, mercy, and peace, through an accepted ransom, of the lowliest as well as the loftiest boon of an everlasting salvation, and they have never lost their significance or appropriateness.
And he was priest to the most high God. - From this we are assured that the bread and wine refreshed not only the body, but the soul of Abram. In close connection with the preceding sentence, it seems to intimate that the bringing forth of bread and wine was a priestly act, and, accordingly, the crowning part of a sacred feast. The כהן kohen or priest, who is here mentioned for the first time in Scripture, was one who acted in sacred things on the part of others. He was a mediator between God and man, representing God holding out the hand of mercy, and man reaching forth the hand of faith. The necessity of such an orifice grew out of the distance between God and man produced by sin. The business of the priest was to offer sacrifice and to intercede; in the former making amends to the law, in the latter appealing to the mercy of God. We do not learn by express statement what was the mode of intervention on the part of Melkizedec. But we know that sacrifice was as early as Habel, and that calling on the name of the Lord was commenced in the time of Enosh. These were early forms of approach to God. The offices of king and priest were combined in Melkizedec - a condition of things often exemplified in after times.
The most high God. - Here we meet with a new name of God, El, the Lasting, the Mighty, cognate with Elohim, and previously occurring in the compound proper names Mebujael, Mahalalel, and Bethel. We have also an epithet of God, “Elion the most high,” now appearing for the first time. Hence, we perceive that the unity, the omnipotence, and the absolute pre-eminence of God were still living in the memory and conscience of a section at least of the inhabitants of this land. Still more, the worship of God was not a mere domestic custom, in which the father or head of the family officiated, but a public ordinance conducted by a stated functionary. And, lastly, the mode of worship was of such a nature as to represent the doctrine and acknowledge the necessity of an atonement, since it was performed by means of a priest.
And he blessed him. - Here it comes out clearly that Melkizedec acts not only in a civil but in a sacred capacity. He blesses Abram. In the form of benediction employed we have two parts: the former of which is strictly a blessing or asking of good things for the person in question. “Blessed be Abram.” It is the part of the father to bless the child, of the patriarch or superior to bless the subject or inferior, and of the priest to bless the people Hebrews 7:7. Here, accordingly, Melkizedec assumes and Abram concedes to him the superiority. The Most High God is here further designated as the Founder of heaven and earth, the great Architect or Builder, and, therefore, Possessor of all things. There is here no indistinct allusion to the creation of “heaven and earth,” mentioned in the opening of the Book of God. This is a manifest identification of the God of Melkizedec with the one Creator and Upholder of all things. We have here no mere local or national deity, with limited power and province, but the sole and supreme God of the universe and of man.
The second part of this benedictory prayer is a thanksgiving to the common God of Melkizedec and Abram for the victory which had been vouchsafed to the latter. “Thy foes.” Here Abram is personally addressed. Melkizedec as a priest first appeals to God on behalf of Abram, and then addresses Abram on behalf of God. Thus, he performs the part of a mediator.
And he gave him a tithe of all. - This is a very significant act. In presenting the tenth of all the spoils of victory, Abram makes a practical acknowledgment of the absolute and exclusive supremacy of the God whom Melkizedec worshipped, and of the authority and validity of the priesthood which he exercised. We have here all the indications of a stated order of sacred rites, in which a costly service, with a fixed official, is maintained at the public expense, according to a definite rate of contribution. The gift in the present case is the tenth of the spoils of war. This act of Abram, though recorded last, may have taken place at the commencement of the interview. At all events, it renders it extremely probable that a sacrifice had been offered to God, through the intervention of Melkizedec, before he brought forth the bread and wine of the accepted feast.
It is obvious that here we stand on broader ground than the special promise made to Abram. Melkizedec was not a partner in the call of Abram, and yet the latter acknowledges him as a priest of the Most High God. Hence, we must fall back on the covenant made with Noah - the representative of the whole race after the deluge - as the broad basis of authority on which Melkizedec acted. That covenant, then, was not a dead letter. It still lived in the heart and will of a part of the nations. Its hallowing and exalting truths had produced at least one center of pure and spiritual worship on the earth. Even Abram, the called of God, acknowledges its constituted head. And the Most High God, Founder and Upholder of heaven and earth, thereby guarantees its validity for all who in every place call on his name in sincerity and truth. And his special call to Abram is given with a view to the final removal of all obstacles to the acceptance and application of this his everlasting covenant. We are thankful for this glimpse into the comprehensive grandeur of the divine purpose concerning man, which is for some time forward cast into the shade, until it begins to break forth again in the anticipations of the prophets, and at length shines forth with imperishable splendor in the revelations of the New Testament.
The genealogy of Melkizedec seems designedly veiled in impenetrable obscurity. To lift this veil entirely is therefore hopeless. Yet we may venture to hint the possibility that here we have another Shemite chieftain in the land of Kenaan. The indefinite statement of Josephus, that he was a potentate of the Kenaanites, is no proof to the contrary, even if it were of much value. The address of Ezekiel to Jerusalem: “Thy origin and thy birth are of the land of Kenaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother a Hittite” Ezekiel 16:3, may refer to the period immediately before the entrance of Israel into the land. At and after that time the Amorite and the Jebusite seem to have been in possession of the city Joshua 10:5; Judges 1:21. But in the time of Abram, more than four hundred years before, it may have been different. We have discovered other tribes in this land that were not of the race of Kenaan. It is not likely that Kenaan would furnish a priest of the most high God. It is evident that Melkizedec was not in the confederacy of the Pentapolis with the king of Sodom. He comes out separately and suddenly to meet Abram, who was one of “the children of Heber,” of whom Shem was the father.
And he is the acknowledged head of the worshippers of the most high God, who is “the Lord, the God of Shem.” But be this as it may, it is only a secondary question here. The matter of primary importance, as has been already noted, is the existence of a community of pure worshippers of the true God in the land of Kenaan, antecedent to Abram. If this community be descendants of Kenaan, it only renders the discovery the more striking and impressive. The knowledge of the true God, the confession of the one everlasting supreme Creator of heaven and earth, the existence of a stated form of worship by means of a priest and a ritual attested by Abram the elect of God, in a community belonging to the Gentiles, form at once a remarkable vindication of the justice and mercy of God in having made known to all mankind the mode of acceptable approach to himself, and a singular evidence that such a revelation had been made to Noah, from whom alone it could have descended to the whole race, and consequently to this particular branch of it.
We have reason to believe that this was not the sole line in which this precious tradition was still preserved in comparative purity and power. Job and his companions belong to one other known line in which the knowledge of the one God was still vital. The fundamental principles of divine truth planted in the human breast by this and antecedent revelations were never afterward wholly eradicated; and from the hereditary germs of a primitive theology, cherished by contact with the Sidonians and other Phoenicians, were Homer, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and other sages of the East and West, enabled to rise to the exalted conceptions which they occasionally formed of the unity, purity, spirituality, and supremacy of the Divine Being. The idea of God, conveyed into a soul of any power and freedom, is wonderfully prolific. It bursts the bonds of the animal nature, and expands and elevates the rational to some shadowy semblance of its primeval glory. Where it has become altogether extinct, the human has sunk down under the debasing bondage of the brutal. During the four centuries that elapsed from the arrival of Abram to the conquest of the country by his descendants, this interesting relic of a pure Gentile worship seems to have disappeared. But the traces of such a purifying and elevating knowledge of God were not even then effaced from the memories, the customs, and the phrases of the people.
The king of Sodom concedes to Abram, according to custom, the spoils of conquest as his right, and claims for himself only his subjects who had been rescued from the foe. Abram however declines any personal advantage from the enterprise, or material recompense for his services. To this he was led partly by the present disposition of his mind, in which the spiritual prevailed over the carnal, and partly by the character of the one with whom he had to deal; since the Sodomites were notorious for their wickedness. On other occasions he accepted unmerited gifts Genesis 12:16; Genesis 20:14, Genesis 20:16. On the present occasion, he, no doubt, felt himself amply rewarded by the recovery of his own kinsman, and the blessing of Melkizedec. Disinterestedness has had another victory in Abram. And, accordingly, the minister of God meets him on the field of a common humanity, and pronounces on him a blessing. The unselfish, unsectarian heart of the heir of special promise, bows in acknowledgment of the representative of the universal and anterior covenant of God with Noah.
I have lifted up my hand. - This is a serious matter with Abram. Either before, or then and there, he made an oath or solemn asseveration before God, with uplifted hand, that he would not touch the property of Sodom. He must have felt that there was danger of moral contamination in coming into any political relationship with the cities of the vale. “The Lord, the Most High God, the Founder of heaven and earth.” In this conjunction of names Abram solemnly and expressly identifies the God of himself and of Melkizedec in the presence of the king of Sodom. The Most High God of Melkizedec is the God of the first chapter of Genesis, and the Yahweh of Adam, Noah, and Abram.
While Abram refrains from accepting any part of the spoils beyond what had been consumed in supplying the necessities of his followers in the expedition, he expressly excepts the portion to which his confederates, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, became entitled by their share in the recovery of the property. This is sufficient to prove that the transaction regarding the spoil was not an offer of generosity on the part of the king of Sodom, but an act of disinterestedness on the part of Abram.
In Sodom there was mirth and revelry, feasting and drunkenness. The vilest and most brutal passions were unrestrained. The people openly defied God and His law and delighted in deeds of violence. Though they had before them the example of the antediluvian world, and knew how the wrath of God had been manifested in their destruction, yet they followed the same course of wickedness. PP 157.1
At the time of Lot's removal to Sodom, corruption had not become universal, and God in His mercy permitted rays of light to shine amid the moral darkness. When Abraham rescued the captives from the Elamites, the attention of the people was called to the true faith. Abraham was not a stranger to the people of Sodom, and his worship of the unseen God had been a matter of ridicule among them; but his victory over greatly superior forces, and his magnanimous disposition of the prisoners and spoil, excited wonder and admiration. While his skill and valor were extolled, none could avoid the conviction that a divine power had made him conqueror. And his noble and unselfish spirit, so foreign to the self-seeking inhabitants of Sodom, was another evidence of the superiority of the religion which he had honored by his courage and fidelity. PP 157.2
Melchizedek, in bestowing the benediction upon Abraham, had acknowledged Jehovah as the source of his strength and the author of the victory: “Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: and blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand.” Genesis 14:19, 20. God was speaking to that people by His providence, but the last ray of light was rejected as all before had been. PP 157.3
And now the last night of Sodom was approaching. Already the clouds of vengeance cast their shadows over the devoted city. But men perceived it not. While angels drew near on their mission of destruction, men were dreaming of prosperity and pleasure. The last day was like every other that had come and gone. Evening fell upon a scene of loveliness and security. A landscape of unrivaled beauty was bathed in the rays of the declining sun. The coolness of eventide had called forth the inhabitants of the city, and the pleasure-seeking throngs were passing to and fro, intent upon the enjoyment of the hour. PP 157.4Read in context »
The opinion is held by many that God placed a separating wall between the Hebrews and the outside world; that His care and love, withdrawn to a great extent from the rest of mankind, were centered upon Israel. But God did not design that His people should build up a wall of partition between themselves and their fellow men. The heart of Infinite Love was reaching out toward all the inhabitants of the earth. Though they had rejected Him, He was constantly seeking to reveal Himself to them and make them partakers of His love and grace. His blessing was granted to the chosen people, that they might bless others. PP 368.1
God called Abraham, and prospered and honored him; and the patriarch's fidelity was a light to the people in all the countries of his sojourn. Abraham did not shut himself away from the people around him. He maintained friendly relations with the kings of the surrounding nations, by some of whom he was treated with great respect; and his integrity and unselfishness, his valor and benevolence, were representing the character of God. In Mesopotamia, in Canaan, in Egypt, and even to the inhabitants of Sodom, the God of heaven was revealed through His representative. PP 368.2
So to the people of Egypt and of all the nations connected with that powerful kingdom, God manifested Himself through Joseph. Why did the Lord choose to exalt Joseph so highly among the Egyptians? He might have provided some other way for the accomplishment of His purposes toward the children of Jacob; but He desired to make Joseph a light, and He placed him in the palace of the king, that the heavenly illumination might extend far and near. By his wisdom and justice, by the purity and benevolence of his daily life, by his devotion to the interests of the people—and that people a nation of idolaters—Joseph was a representative of Christ. In their benefactor, to whom all Egypt turned with gratitude and praise, that heathen people were to behold the love of their Creator and Redeemer. So in Moses also God placed a light beside the throne of the earth's greatest kingdom, that all who would, might learn of the true and living God. And all this light was given to the Egyptians before the hand of God was stretched out over them in judgments. PP 368.3Read in context »
Abraham, dwelling in peace in the oak groves at Mamre, learned from one of the fugitives the story of the battle and the calamity that had befallen his nephew. He had cherished no unkind memory of Lot's ingratitude. All his affection for him was awakened, and he determined that he should be rescued. Seeking, first of all, divine counsel, Abraham prepared for war. From his own encampment he summoned three hundred and eighteen trained servants, men trained in the fear of God, in the service of their master, and in the practice of arms. His confederates, Mamre, Eschol, and Aner, joined him with their bands, and together they started in pursuit of the invaders. The Elamites and their allies had encamped at Dan, on the northern border of Canaan. Flushed with victory, and having no fear of an assault from their vanquished foes, they had given themselves up to reveling. The patriarch divided his force so as to approach from different directions, and came upon the encampment by night. His attack, so vigorous and unexpected, resulted in speedy victory. The king of Elam was slain and his panic-stricken forces were utterly routed. Lot and his family, with all the prisoners and their goods, were recovered, and a rich booty fell into the hands of the victors. To Abraham, under God, the triumph was due. The worshiper of Jehovah had not only rendered a great service to the country, but had proved himself a man of valor. It was seen that righteousness is not cowardice, and that Abraham's religion made him courageous in maintaining the right and defending the oppressed. His heroic act gave him a widespread influence among the surrounding tribes. On his return, the king of Sodom came out with his retinue to honor the conqueror. He bade him take the goods, begging only that the prisoners should be restored. By the usage of war, the spoils belonged to the conquerors; but Abraham had undertaken this expedition with no purpose of gain, and he refused to take advantage of the unfortunate, only stipulating that his confederates should receive the portion to which they were entitled. PP 135.1
Few, if subjected to such a test, would have shown themselves as noble as did Abraham. Few would have resisted the temptation to secure so rich a booty. His example is a rebuke to self-seeking, mercenary spirits. Abraham regarded the claims of justice and humanity. His conduct illustrates the inspired maxim, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Leviticus 19:18. “I have lifted up my hand,” he said, “unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take from a thread even to a shoe latchet, and that I will not take anything that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich.” He would give them no occasion to think that he had engaged in warfare for the sake of gain, or to attribute his prosperity to their gifts or favor. God had promised to bless Abraham, and to Him the glory should be ascribed. PP 135.2Read in context »
His religion was not held as a precious treasure to be jealously guarded and enjoyed solely by the possessor. True religion cannot be thus held, for such a spirit is contrary to the principles of the gospel. While Christ is dwelling in the heart it is impossible to conceal the light of His presence, or for that light to grow dim. On the contrary, it will grow brighter and brighter as day by day the mists of selfishness and sin that envelop the soul are dispelled by the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness. PP 134.1
The people of God are His representatives upon the earth, and He intends that they shall be lights in the moral darkness of this world. Scattered all over the country, in the towns, cities, and villages, they are God's witnesses, the channels through which He will communicate to an unbelieving world the knowledge of His will and the wonders of His grace. It is His plan that all who are partakers of the great salvation shall be missionaries for Him. The piety of the Christian constitutes the standard by which worldlings judge the gospel. Trials patiently borne, blessings gratefully received, meekness, kindness, mercy, and love, habitually exhibited, are the lights that shine forth in the character before the world, revealing the contrast with the darkness that comes of the selfishness of the natural heart. PP 134.2
Rich in faith, noble in generosity, unfaltering in obedience, and humble in the simplicity of his pilgrim life, Abraham was also wise in diplomacy and brave and skillful in war. Notwithstanding he was known as the teacher of a new religion, three royal brothers, rulers of the Amorite plains in which he dwelt, manifested their friendship by inviting him to enter into an alliance with them for greater security; for the country was filled with violence and oppression. An occasion soon arose for him to avail himself of this alliance. PP 134.3
Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, had invaded Canaan fourteen years before, and made it tributary to him. Several of the princes now revolted, and the Elamite king, with four allies, again marched into the country to reduce them to submission. Five kings of Canaan joined their forces and met the invaders in the vale of Siddim, but only to be completely overthrown. A large part of the army was cut to pieces, and those who escaped fled for safety to the mountains. The victors plundered the cities of the plain and departed with rich spoil and many captives, among whom were Lot and his family. PP 134.4Read in context »