This verse by verse Bible study on Genesis is an inductive verse by verse study with extensive reflections, teaching points, cross-references, and applications. They are the personal study of notes of a very good doctor friend of mine. His native tongue is Mandarin, but his English is amazing as you will see below. It is refreshing to take a look at this important book of Genesis through the eyes of a believer from another culture. Without further adieu: The Scribblings According to David.
Genesis 14 Inductive Bible Study
An Unlikely Man of Faith (III)
XIV 1-12. The Insurrection against Chedorlaomer
XIV 13-16. The Rescue Mission of Lot
XIV 17-24. The Benediction of Melchizedek
In the midst of a civil war outbreak in Canaan, Lot was taken captive, as his city-state, Sodom, was defeated. Upon learning the situation, Abram immediately marshaled a small force of his choice men in pursuit of the enemy, and successfully rescued his abducted nephew. Melchizedek welcomed and blessed Abram when he came back. Abram turned down the gift from the King of Sodom.
What was the historical background of this civil war?
The study note from the MacArthur Study Bible on Gen. 14:1-2 gives us a close look on the historical background of this conflict, which says, “Raiding, conquering, and making other kings and city-states subservient vassals were all part of the world of the Fertile Crescent in Abraham’s day. These locations mentioned range from Shinar in the east (Babylon in Mesopotamia) to the region south of the Salt Sea (Dead Sea) to the Jordan Valley, to the land of Moab, southwest of the Dead Sea to Mount Seir (later Edom). Amalekites (cf. Ex. 17:8) did not yet exist in Abram’s time (cf. Gen. 36:12), but they did when Moses wrote. Amorites scattered throughout Palestine became Canaanites. Vassal states, when they thought they could throw off the yoke of their suzerain with impunity, rebelled by not paying the tribute and waited for any military response. This time rebellion evoked a major military excursion by the offended suzerain Chedorlaomer and his allies (Gen. 14:5-7); in the ensuing confrontation with Sodom and Gomorrah and their allies (Gen. 14:8-10), the vassals miscalculated and they lost. Lot, by then a resident of Sodom, was taken captive.”
The political examination of the morality of a vassal state breaking itself off from a suzerain power with or without lawful basis is beyond the scope of this Bible Study.
Was Abram rejecting the use of power to achieve God’s end?
Some Bible scholars have speculated that since Abram was able to rival against these regional kings in his rescue mission of Lot, he had already possessed great military power at this point, and hence he could have taken the land of Canaan by force. The fact that he didn’t might suggest that he was unwilling to achieve God’s end through his own means.
Nonetheless, several problems arise from such reasoning. First of all, being able to accomplish a rescue mission does not necessarily equal being able to militarily contend at a city-state level (even though v.17 does indicate that he had defeated the entire forces of the enemies). The urgency of the situation prompted Abram to dispatch all of the trained men he had, and one could hardly imagine a king would have an army of only 318 soldiers (more of secret service agents, since they were “born in his house”, v.14). Second, nowhere in Scripture suggests that Abram rejected the notion of taking the land of Canaan through violent strategies. Of course, this is only an argument from silence. Finally, taking the Promised Land via military actions was not necessarily sinful, for as the moment this portion of Scripture was being penned, Israelites were on the brink of their conquest of Canaan. The legitimate means for the acquisition of the Promised Land was not specified by God in His promises to either Abram (Gen. 12:7), and it would not do justice to Scripture to imply that Abram was obedient by not claiming the land by force (For the problem of the military conquest of Canaan, please refer to the article The Destruction of the Canaanites, attached as a separate file).
In summary, I believe such thinking is merely an allegorical speculation. Abram did not conquer Canaan in a military way; that is the biblical and historical fact. It is very likely he wasn’t powerful enough; that is an inference based on limited Scriptural data. To go from there, one has to admit that there is simply no way we can know whether or not he would if he could. It was not a spiritual matter of obedience because nothing is mentioned about the legitimacy of a military conquest in God’s promises and commands to Abram.
Why was Melchizedek, King of Salem, associated with King of Sodom to welcome Abram?
The answer is: we don’t know. One possibility would be Salem (later Jerusalem) and Sodom were simply in geographical proximity. Melchizedek (and his kingdom) was not mentioned in the civil war, which reflects that he was not involved in the coup d’état, since he was morally upright, being himself a type of Christ (see below). His coming out to welcome and bless Abram might have been a divine assignment. Otherwise, one can hardly imagine Melchizedek being in a close friendship with the ruler of a notoriously wicked city.
Would it be sin if Abram had accepted the plunders from King of Sodom?
Not inherently. The JFB Commentary states, “According to the war customs still existing among the Arab tribes, Abram might have retained the recovered goods, and his right was acknowledged by the king of Sodom.” It would totally be a rightful response for Abram to accept the offer, without making his heroic men look like ruthless mercenaries. “Lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich.” Abram replied to king of Sodom. Some commentators saw the response as prideful, while others considered it as generous. The heart of the matter, perhaps, lies in the motive of the giver and the (declined) taker. If the king of Sodom, by giving the plunders to Abram, intended to demean Abram’s religion, receiving the gift would then bring shame to the name of God. Taking it might not be sinful per se, but it certainly was not a wise one. The fact that Abram already “have sworn to the Lord Most High” not to take anything in advance shows his determination to separate himself from anything that had anything to do with Sodom. And I believe that to be a righteous indignation rather than a selfish condescension, for several chapters later it was Abram who bargained to God on behalf of the righteous few for the preservation of this city (Gen. 18:16-33).
Lessons and Reflections
Drawing near to the world is going to bring consequences.
What is the relationship of the Christian to the world? That is an appropriate question to ask, and it is perhaps the most frequently asked question by Christians.
The world in Scripture often carries a negative connotation. We are told “friendship with the world is hostility toward God” and “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4). Similarly, we are commanded not to love the world, because “if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn. 2:15). In fact, we were, when we were dead in trespasses and sins, “following the course of this world” (Eph. 2:2), for the devil works through “philosophy and empty deception, … according to the elementary principles of the world” (Col. 2:8), and thus “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19).
However, the transformation happens at the moment of our salvation. When we repent and put our faith in Christ, we have overcome the world, for as it is written, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith”(1 Jn. 5:4).
The apostle Paul summed it up in these words: “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).
The Christian is to be in the world, but not of the world.
Hence, if the Christian has been delivered from the evil influences of the world through faith, he is not to see the world as he saw it in his former unregenerate lens, and most certainly, he is not to befriend with it, flirt with it, and fall in love with it all over again.
In light of that, some Christians may then phrase the question this way: How far can I go into the world without being pulled away by it? How deep can I dive into the world without being tainted by it? How much can I feed myself with the things of the world without being intoxicated by it?
Sadly to say, that is simply the wrong approach to the question. By asking how near we can get, we clumsily expose our true intention: we do want to draw near to the world.
Indeed to reach out the world we need to be in the world. But that does not mean we have to become like the world in order to win the world. Matthew Henry commented, “Many an honest man fares the worse for his wicked neighbors: it is our wisdom to separate, or at least to distinguish ourselves from them.” Again, the difference is being in it but not of it.
Coming back to the text, we see a significant contrast between the uncle and the nephew. Abram would not accept the plunders from the king of Sodom, showing his determination to separate himself from that wicked city, while Lot picked the site to pitch his tent in the first place. Both were commended in the Bible to be righteous, but they drastically differed in their approach to the world. Abram deliberately tried his best to stay away from it, while Lot willingly drew himself near. What are the consequences of Lot’s choice? In this chapter we saw Lot suffered by being taken captive in a war, and several chapters later we shall see him lost his home and his wife. It all started when he lifted up his eyes towards the Jordan Valley and became attracted to what the world has to offer.
“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 Jn. 2:15-17)
According to the apostle James, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: … to keep oneself unstained by the world” (Jas. 1:27). And with all that said, I believe the right question to ask is perhaps this, if the world is all about secular thinking and lustful temptations, then, how far should I stay away from the world?
Leadership lessons from Abram: (1) be prepared to act; (2) be prompt to act.
Abram was a man who makes preparations. When the fugitive came and told Abram (which, by the way, showed his good reputation among people of being approachable and caring) about Lot being captivated, he immediately assembled his “delta force” of 318 veterans and went in hot pursuit. It was impossible to initiate such a strategic operation with high efficiency had he not been training these men when “days went well”. While it is true that “each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34), the Bible does commend on people to be wise who make preparations for the unexpected, “Four things are small on the earth, but they are exceedingly wise: The ants are not a strong people, but they prepare their food in the summer …” (Prov. 30:24-25). On the flipside, the Bible also warns about laziness, “How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? ‘A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest’— Your poverty will come in like a vagabond, and your need like an armed man” (Prov. 6:9-11). Such a spiritual principle applies well in our earthly life and in our heavenly service: great leaders are always ready before the moment comes: they are prepared to act.
Abram was also a man who is not hesitant to act when necessary. Being cautious and prudent is imperative in making judgments, but forever weighing the pros and cons yet refusing to make any final call is pure indecisiveness. If Abram vacillated even for a little while, he could have altogether missed the chance of catching up the invaders and liberating his nephew. “There is an appointed time for everything” (Eccl. 3:1), says the Preacher. When the time is right to act, a leader must not shun away from the responsibility to do so. Knowing when, however, requires wisdom, and it is totally another subject. Yet from Abram’s example, we see that great leaders are always ready to seize the moment when it comes: they are prompt to act.
Melchizedek is a type of Christ.
“For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Rev. 19:10) The significance of Melchizedek is that he is a type of Christ. The priesthood of Melchizedek points to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. In Heb. 7:1-10, the Scripture says, “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually. Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest’s office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises. But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. In this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.”
For a deeper understanding of the type of Melchizedek as well as the theological details about him blessing Abram and Abram giving tithe to him, please refer to the excerpt from the MacArthur New Testament Commentaries: MacArthur NT Commentaries on Heb. VII 1-10 (attached as a separate file).
Be willing to set apart from the world.
Be prepared to act and be prompt to act.
Give God all the glory in all things.