A Lot at Stake

Genesis 14

Copyright © 2005 Jeremy Myers

 

I. Turmoil (14:1-10)

II. Taken Captive (14:12)

III. Tracking and Attacking (14:13-17)

IV. Thanksgiving (14:19-20a)

V. Tithe (14:20b)

VI. Temptation (14:21)

VII. True Victory (14:22-24)

 

There are different kinds of wars Christians experience. There are the outward, physical wars. Not just the wars like the one we are fighting in Iraq, but the little battles in our life. The trials we face with other people. The financial difficulty. The work related problems. The family crisis. The disagreement with your neighbor.  These test our patience, try our endurance, and fray our emotions. But as difficult as these battles are, there are always more sinister and secret battles going on behind the scenes, beneath the surface. As we go through the obvious and outward attacks of life, we must always be wary for the spiritual sniper called Satan to pick us off with one of his fiery darts. He often uses these outward, physical battles as a diversion tactic so that when the real battle comes, we are unaware and unprepared. In such battles there is always a lot at stake.

This is what we see in Genesis 14. Abram fights in a battle for Lot. He is very successful in the battle, but just when he thinks the threat is past, and the battle is won, Satan springs the trap and ambushes Abram. Genesis 14 gives us much guidance on how to prepare for the physical and spiritual battles, and how to be victorious in both. The physical battle begins with a time of turmoil in verses 1-10.

I. Turmoil (14:1-10)

1And 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, 2that 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). 3All these joined together in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). 4Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled.

All of these kings lived in either the Jordan Valley or Eastward. The Eastern kings had joined together and conquered the kings in the Jordan Valley. The Kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Zoar were under the rule of the Eastern king, Chedorlaomer. In the thirteenth year of subjection, the Jordan Valley kings rebelled. So, Chedorlaomer sets out with his allies to quell the rebellion.

5In 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, 6and the Horites in their mountain of Seir, as far as El Paran, which is by the wilderness. 7Then 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.

8And 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 9against Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of nations, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five. 10Now 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. 11Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way.

So the Eastern Kings prevail, and retake the Jordan Valley kings. All of this is important because of someone who lives near Sodom. Lot, Abram's nephew lived there, and when Sodom falls, he is taken captive.

II. Taken Captive (14:12)

12They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.

When you live near sin, you experience the downfall of sin as well. Pride comes before the fall, and sin brings destruction. When Sodom falls, it is just judgment for the sin they have committed. Lot, living near there, experiences the downfall as well. God has not yet destroyed the city, but we could call this a warning shot. It is a tremor before the earthquake, the drop of rain before the flood. Lot should have learned a lesson here. He should have seen that it doesn't pay to compromise with the world, for when the ship sinks, it takes everyone who is on board. This is just a little judgment compared the big one that is coming upon Sodom. God often sends little judgments before He sends the big ones. This is the warning before the end. Lot didn't know if he would ever get his freedom back, but if he did, he should have made sure to separate himself from Sodom.

Did you know that God disciplines those He loves? Sometimes, he allows tests and trials just to teach us patience and perseverance, but frequently, test and trials can also be forms of discipline. And they will almost always start out minor. Just as a father gives warning to his children before he spanks them, God the Father warns His children before he disciplines them. If you are living in sin, the first thing God will do is point it out to you through His Word or through church. Of course, if you are not in His Word, or you not attending church, you've got a whole different problem. But God will first lovingly, and gently warn you through Scripture what will happen if you continue down your path. But if that doesn't cause you to turn from your sin, He may send a little warning shot - a slap on the hand. It may be slightly painful, but it will not be devastating. But as we continue to ignore the discipline, it will get more and more painful until we finally agree to do what God wants. Sometimes, if we ignore his discipline for too long, he just lets us go, and experience the devastation of sin in our lives. This may result in death or disease, family or financial ruin. Sin's devastation is always terrible, but can always be avoided if we heed the loving discipline of God. If we are trained by it, we will always come out better for it on the other side.

A child once swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills. The frantic parents called up the doctor to see what should be done. He instructed the parents to keep the child awake by any means necessary for the next four hours - even if they had to repeatedly slap him. They may have said, "No, I'm not going to hurt my son!" But it was either that, or let him die. The pain was necessary for the child's survival. But the child did survive and grew up to be a strong, young man. It is as Hebrews 12:11 says, "No chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."

Lot is being discipline here. He is being warned. He can avoid much pain and heartache if he will learn his lesson now. Jon Courson says that we can either learn in the Sanctuary or learn in the storm. The choice is up to us. Those Christians who refuse to get into the Word, and refuse to hear strong Biblical teaching on Sunday mornings, have no option but to learn in the storm, and they are due for a very painful life. This is what is going on with Lot here. He is in a storm. He has lost everything. He has been taken captive. He is being carted off with his family - most likely to become slaves. But God is only warning Lot here, for in verses 13-17, Abram tracks down Chedorlaomer and attacks him in order to free Lot.

III. Tracking and Attacking (14:13-17)

13Then 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.

Now remember, Abram might have felt cheated by Lot. Abram, to whom all the land belonged, in order to be a peacemaker, had divided the land that was due to him in two, and let Lot choose which portion to live in. Now, Lot and all the people of Sodom and Gomorrah had been carted off. If Abram was like most of us, he would have said, "Thanks God! I knew you would work it out somehow. Now I can go down and take possession of the land that you have cleared out for me. Too bad for Lot. Oh well, he had it coming. There's nothing I could have done anyway. I guess I'll just go clean out the people hiding in the hills, and the rich, verdant Jordan Valley will be mine."  But Abram doesn't do this. Remember from chapter 13, Abram chooses family over finances, and he does the same thing here.

14Now 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. 15He 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. 16So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people.

17And 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.

Verse 16 calls Abram and Lot brothers, but it just means relatives. I have to wonder how many soldiers the four victorious kings had. You would imagine that, being kings, each one had more soldiers that Abram had. He only had 318. It seems to me that they would have had many more than this, but we are not told. Of course, verses 13 and 24 indicate that Canaanite soldiers also went with Abram. But however many were involved, Abram had 318.

Your may remember also how certain teachers of the past have twisted verse 14 to get it to be a reference to Jesus Christ. This teacher noticed that the consonants of Abram's name add up to 318. Then he took the number 318 and converted it into the Greek alphabet, kind of like Roman numerals. The Greek letter tau stands for 300, the iota for 10 and the epsilon for 8. And then they say, "Oh wow! The tau looks like the cross, and the iota and epsilon are the first two letters of Jesus' name in Greek, Iesus, and so here in Genesis 14:14, we have a prophecy that Christ will die on the cross. The man who taught this wrote, God "knows that I never taught to anyone a more certain truth."

But we must be ward ourselves against all such forms of Scripture twisting and treating the Bible like a magical incantation book full of secret codes and magical formulas. It is not a book of Christian horoscopes. The Bible is not to be treated like Tarot Cards. Daniel Wallace has written an excellent little paper on this called "Scripture Twisting." Read it!

Genesis 14:14 is definitely true. Abram had 318 servants. It is also true that Jesus died on the cross. But the number of Abram's servants is in no way a prophecy of Christ. It is telling us about Abram's wealth. About how God has blessed Abram. And, as we see in context, if Abram was able to defeat the armies of four kings with only 318 servants, God was watching out for Abram and protecting Him as well. It reminds us of Gideon who attacked the hoards of the Midianite army with only 300 men. Abram took his 318 men, divided them up in a smart military maneuver, and attacked the kings all the way up past Dan to Hobah, north of Damascus. This is a long way from Hebron where Abram was living. It's almost 140 miles. Do you see how far out of his way Abram went to rescue Lot? This battle was not settled in one day. It probably went on for weeks. Weeks of following them, tracking them, pursuing them, attacking them. When it comes to rescuing family members from the clutches of captivity, there is no distance too far to travel, no cost too great to expend. If a family member is enslaved to sin, we must do all we can to deliver them from captivity.

And in so doing, Abram didn't just rescue lot, but all the women, children and other people who were also being carried off. When you set out to rescue a family member, God causes your efforts to rescue others as well. In Africa, children are routinely abducted off the streets and then sold into prostitution or child slavery sweatshops. One father had his son kidnapped in such a way, and went to great lengths to find him. When he did, he was able to get the law involved, and rescue all the other children who had been similarly enslaved. Chuck Colson is indicted for his involvement in the Watergate Scandal. Someone comes to him in prison and shares the Gospel. Now Chuck Colson heads one of the largest prison ministries in the world where thousands of inmates hear and accept the Gospel every year.

When you seek to rescue a family member, also look around for others who have no family to rescue them. Abram went to rescue Lot, and rescued all the people who had also been taken captive. When Abram returns, he receives the blessing and thanks from a very important person, Melchizedek, the King of Salem.

IV. Thanksgiving (14:19-20a)

18Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. 19And 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."

It's interesting, isn't it, that we had all this talk about kings and wars, but Melchizedek was not mentioned until now. He just walks onto the pages of Scripture, blesses Abram, and then disappears. But stranger still is that he is not only a king, but also a priest of God Most High. This is El Elohim, the God, the Only God, the God over all. This is the same God that Abram worships, and is God of heaven, creator of heaven and earth. Beyond even that, however, he was the king of Salem, which is later known as Jerusalem. And notice what he brings - bread and wine. This reminds of a later time when another King of Jerusalem, who is also a High Priest, brings bread and wine to his disciples and tells them that it represents His body broken and His blood shed for them (1 Cor. 11:26). I am not saying that Melchizedek is Jesus. I am saying that Melchizedek is a foreshadowing, or a type of Jesus. And the reason we know it is, is because Scripture tells us so. Psalm 110 prophecies that the Messiah will be in the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 5-7 makes a big deal about Melchizedek and what happens here in Genesis 14, and how it all relates to Jesus Christ.

Melchizedek thanks Abram in verse 19 by blessing him, and then gives credit to God in Heaven, for it is only because of God that Abram was able to defeat the enemy and rescue Lot. When God does something great through us, do not take the credit. It was not your might, or your power, or your creativity that brought about such a great victory. It was God's power working through you. Give Him the glory. Give Him the praise. This is kind of what Abram does in the last part of verse 20 when he offers a tithe to Melchizedek.

V. Tithe (14:20b)

And he gave him a tithe of all.

When Abram gave the tithe to Melchizedek, he was actually giving it to God Most High. This is the way tithes work. When you tithe, you are tithing not to the church, and not to the pastor. You are tithing to God. If you refuse to give to God, you are stealing not from the church, not from the pastor, but from God. The tithe has changed a little bit in the New Testament, but notice that Abram is tithing long before any law about tithing was giving. So don't let anyone tell you that tithing is an Old Testament law and therefore doesn't have to be obeyed. Abram tithes as an act of giving worship to God long before any law about tithing ever came into existence. Tithing is one way to worship God and give him thanks for what He has done for you and given to you. By refusing to tithe generously and joyfully (this is the instruction of 2 Corinthians 8-9), you are losing the joy of worshipping God, and refusing to give back to God some of what he has given to you. Everything you have belongs to Him and came from Him. A tithe is a universal and timeless way of recognizing that.

Now that Lot has been rescued, Abram has been thanked, and Abram has worshipped God, it would seem that the story could end. But it doesn't. The war is over, but the real battle is just about to begin. The King of Salem has just blessed Abram. Now, the King of Sodom comes and tempts him.

VI. Temptation (14:21)

21Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself."

The trap is sprung! Abram is ambushed. He has gone and rescued Lot. He was victorious. He even worshipped God. He tithed. He did everything right, and just when he heaved a big sigh of relief that it was all done, just when he was about to let down his guard, the enemy attacks. This is the way it often is with the severest temptations. Temptations often come right after the blessing. Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River. The Holy Spirit descends out of heaven like a dove upon him, and God the Father speaks out loud, "This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased." That's a blessing. That's a mountain top experience. But then, Luke 4:1 says that he was immediately led into the wilderness to be tempted. The worst temptations always come right after the victory, right after the blessings. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah sees a great victory over the prophets of Baal. But in 1 Kings 19, he is hiding out in the wilderness for fear of his life. He was afraid that God would not protect him from the Jezebel.

It is the same way with all great victories and blessings. After the blessing comes the trial. After the victory comes the temptation. This is because God wants to see what we will do with our newfound fame, our recent success, our financial windfall. We have proven faithful in the past with what he has given to us. That is why he gave us this most recent blessings. But now He wants to see how we will handle it.

This is what happens with Abram in verse 21. The king of Sodom offers riches and wealth to Abram. Now, Abram was already rich. He was already wealthy. But there is always the desire for more. So here is a test of Abram's contentment. Is he content with what he has, or is he greedy?  But more than this, it is a test of Abram's trust in God's Word. God promised Abram wealth and success, but this wealth and success would come from God. Now, the king of Sodom was offering Abram the goods, the spoils, the wealth from the war. We could speculate about whether the offer was genuine or not, or whether the king of Sodom was trying to bribe or win over Abram as a friend, or maybe the king was just being generous. There are so many things that could be going through the kings mind when he makes this offer. We cannot know what the king was thinking.

But one thing we do know. Sodom was one of the most evil cities in history. Because of this, the wealth and goods that the king was offering Abram had probably been gained through evil means. It was blood money, extortioner's money, money from thieves and criminals. Maybe Abram thought about all the good he do with it. If he let the king of Sodom keep it, the money would only be used to fund more evil. This is the temptation Abram faced. He had an opportunity to become more rich than he already was, but the money had come from criminal activity, and it would be a gift from an evil king.

In fact, if King Melchizedek later becomes a figure for Jesus Christ, I believe that the King of Sodom can be understood as a figure for Satan. He was the ruler of an evil city. He is trying to bypass God's promise to Abram and give Abram a shortcut to wealth. He may even be trying to bribe Abram. The words this king speaks to Abram in verse 21 reminds me very much of the words Satan spoke to Jesus Christ during the temptation in the wilderness. Jesus, knowing that God had promised Him the right to rule the world, was offered a shortcut to that promise by Satan. Satan took Jesus to a high mountain and showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth and said, "I will give you all these kingdoms if you will just worship me" (Luke 4:6-7). That sounds very similar to what the king of Sodom offers Abram here.

You see, Abram had just, in a sense, given honor to Melchizedek, the King of Salem. Melchizedek blessed Abram, and Abram tithed to Melchizedek. And the King of Sodom, looking on, probably thought, "I want some of that praise. I want some of that recognition. I'm not going to bless Abram, but I'll give him some money rather than have him give me some."  And what is even more humorous about this is that technically, the money belonged to Abram anyway. If Abram hadn't gone and rescued the king of Sodom, the king would still be in captivity. So the king is actually saying, "I will give to you what is already yours. Aren't I generous?" This is exactly what Satan was saying to Jesus. "Here are all the kingdoms of the earth. I will give them to you. Aren't I generous?" But Jesus knew that God had already promised to give Him all the kingdoms. Jesus didn't need a handout from Satan. The kingdoms of the earth already belonged to him based on the promises of God.

I think Abram recognized all this as well. The possessions the king of Sodom was offering here technically already belonged to Abram. But Abram did not want the king of Sodom to be able to malign God's name or get glory for helping God keep the promises to Abram. Abram has faced another test, and he passes this test with flying colors. Although he was probably weary and tired from the battle with the kings, he was not caught unaware by the temptation from Sodom. In verses 22-24, we see the true victory of chapter 14.

VII. True Victory (14:22-24)

22But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, 23that 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’—24except 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 passes the test here. According to code of Hammurabi of that day, all the people and all the booty belonged to Abram. It was his right to take it. The King of Sodom comes along, and very craftily lays a trap for Abram. "Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself." Abram could have fought for his rights, and said, "Hey, they're mine anyway. I get to keep it all." But as soon as Abram heard the King of Sodom lay this trap for him, Abram knew what the outcome would be. If Abram held on to his rights, by holding on to all the people and possessions he had won back, then forever after, whenever somebody said, "God sure made Abram rich" the king of Sodom would be able to say, "It wasn't God. It was me." The king of Sodom is trying to take the place of God, and bring discredit to the name of God through a sly trick, and Abram sees right through it. He abandons his rights, and chooses instead to serve God.

Did you know that it is sometimes not possible to both serve God and hold on to your rights? Sometimes, it is not right to say "I have my rights!" Sometimes, holding on to our rights discredits and brings slander to the name of God. God has given us his own promises in Scripture to uphold us, and provide for us. There is nothing in Scripture about the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Do not get me wrong. I love our country. I am patriotic. I love the Declaration of Independence. I love living in a democracy. But God has not promised us a democracy. And when our rights and citizens of a democracy conflict with our responsibilities as citizens of heaven, we must choose to abandon our rights, and live for what is right. Our government could change tomorrow. Rome fell in a day, so could the United States. If that were to happen, we would most likely no longer have the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If that were to happen, would you still know how to live right? Christians in certain parts of Africa, China and the Middle East could probably teach us a lot about living right when we have no rights.

Abram gives up his rights in verses 22-24 and chooses instead to live right. God made a promise to Abram to bless him, and multiply him and give him this land. Abram made a promise in return to receive God's promise from God's hand alone. Abram promised to not accept anything from any man so that it might seem that man made Abram rich rather than God. If Abram gets rich, God will have to do it. I think it was Francis Schaeffer who once said that if you are faced with two options, and one seems more glorious than the other, take the one that is less. That way, if God is going to raise you up, it will be obvious to all that it was God's doing. This is the route Abram chooses. He takes none of the people or possessions for himself.

Of course, notice at the end there that even though this is Abram's choice for himself, he also recognizes that he has other people under his care who must provide for themselves and for their families, and must be paid for the work they have just performed. So after saying that he himself will not take anything, he will let those who fought for him take their portion of the plunder. Trust in God for self, but provide for those under your care. God may call you to suffer, but he does not call you to make sure that others suffer with you or because of your decisions. Nor should you expect others to live up to your convictions for how you will live your life.  Paul says the same thing in Romans 14 and elsewhere. Each of us have been given certain promises from God, and certain convictions about how to live. It is our responsibility to live up to those convictions, but not to make sure others live up to our convictions. To you own Master, you stand or fall.

One year the board of a church I served didn't give me a raise. Not a cent. Why? Because, in their words, "God calls pastors to suffer." That is true. God does want pastors to suffer in various ways so they may depend on him, and be able to shepherd their people with a tender heart. But God nowhere calls church boards to be the ones to make sure their pastor suffers. Just the opposite, he calls church boards to give double honor to those who are over them in the Lord, especially to those who preach and teach the Word of God. Board members must honor and respect their spiritual leaders, and one of the ways to do this is to make sure they and their families are well taken care of financially. This means that their salary should be commensurate to other people in their church who have similar years of education, and similar years of experience. If the pastor feels that God wants him to get by on less, then he will inform the board of that, or use the money elsewhere.

Abram provides for those who are under his care, but he makes sure that in so doing, his own convictions and promises from God are not compromised in any way.  He has faced two wars in chapter 14, and with God's help, came through both victoriously. He defeated the enemies, and conquered a temptation. Why? Because in both situations, he trusted and relied upon God. Whether you are facing a physical threat or a spiritual battle, your approach should be the same - trust in God, rely upon Him for the strength and wisdom to make it through.