Genesis Lesson 14 | 14:1–14:24
Prayerfully read Genesis 14 at least two times and then read the following notes.
Context: Setting the Table
After the foundational account of the creation of the heavens and the earth, the book of Genesis divides into two unequal halves of five sections each. The first half of the book (2:4–11:26) deals with the history of humanity as a whole, from its creation to the birth of Abram. The second half of the book (11:27–50:26) focuses on the history of the patriarchs. In this third installment of the story of Abram, he delivers his nephew Lot from captivity and receives a blessing from Melchizedek.
Content: Reading the Text
(Introduction) In both language and content, this chapter is in many ways unique in the patriarchal narratives and is the closest they come to returning to the world-wide focus of Genesis 1:1–11:26.
(14:1–12) The Invasion from the East
(14:1) Shinar refers to the region surrounding Babylon. “Elam…designates a region in ancient Persia (modern southwest Iran) whose capital was Susa.”1 Although the locations of Ellasar and “nations” or “Goiim” are uncertain, it is likely that these kings also came from East.
(14:2) While the precise location of these cities is not known with certainty, their most likely location is on the east of the southern end of the Dead Sea. Bela would be renamed Zoar after it was spared from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by the pleading of Lot (Genesis 19:22).
(14:3) The description of this battle, the only one found in the book of Genesis, is continued in verses 8–12, with verses 4–7 providing background information explaining the origin of the conflict. The Valley of Siddim, as the text clarifies, is now covered by the Dead(=Salt) Sea. While the northern portion of this body of water is much older than the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the shallow southern end fits this description perfectly. The Dead Sea is aptly referred to in Hebrew as the “Salt Sea”—these “waters register the highest salt content of any body of water in the world, an average of 32 percent as opposed to the 3 percent average salinity of the oceans.”2
(14:5)“The names of other peoples whom the Elamites and their allies subdued—Rephaim, Zuzim, Emim, Horites, Amalekites, Amorites—would indicate that the uprising of the five southern kinglets was but one part of a massive effort to resist continued Mesopotamian control in Transjordan.”3
(14:10) The “slimepits” refer to deposits of bitumen or natural asphalt. The Hebrew translated as “fell” can also have the nuance of a voluntary hiding, (“threw themselves”4 or even “hid out”5), which makes the presence of the king of Sodom in 14:17 somewhat easier to understand.
(14:12) After eleven verses we finally find out what all of this has to do with the story line of Genesis—Lot, Abram’s nephew, has been taken captive!
(14:13–16) Abram Rescues Lot
(14:14a) Hebrew terms for family relations tend to be much more flexible in meaning than their English equivalents. As 14:12 makes clear, “brother” here carries the broader sense of “relative” or “kinsman.”
(14:14b) While there does not seem to be any obvious symbolic significance to the number of Abram’s servants in this passage, the fact that God deliberately reduced the followers of Gideon (Judges 7) to a strikingly similar number before ordering him to follow strikingly similar tactics against strikingly similar odds is surely significant. In reducing him to 300 men divided in companies for a night attack against enemies from the east, God was deliberately reminding Gideon of the victory he had given to Abram centuries before.
(14:14c) As this city did not receive the name Dan until after the conquest (Judges 18:29), this represents an instance of inspired textual updating, perhaps undertaken by Ezra.
(14:17–24) Abram, Melchizedek, and the King of Sodom
(14:17) “The Valley of Shaveh…[is] the little plain formed by the junction of the valleys of Hinnom, Tyropoeon, and Kidron” just east of Jerusalem.6
(14:18a—Melchizedek) Melchi-zedek is the combination of two words in Hebrew, one meaning king and the other meaning righteousness. While there is no basis in Scripture for supposing him to be anything other than a human being, he is certainly one of the most extraordinarily mysterious figures in all of Scripture. It should be noted that writer of Hebrews focuses on the way that the silence of Genesis regarding the ancestry and descendants of Melchizedek enables him to serve as a fitting type of the royal priesthood of Christ. “[It is] most proper not to inquire curiously who he was, since the Scripture is silent concerning his genealogy and descent; and that as it should seem on purpose, that he might be a more full and fit type of Christ[.]”7
(14:18b—Salem) While the shortening of the name follows an unusual pattern that is somewhat difficult to account for, the traditional identification of Salem with Jerusalem remains quite likely.
(14:18c—bread and wine) “What is being portrayed…is the generosity of Melchizedek. Bread and water would have been the staple diet. Bread and wine is royal fare…Melchizedek…is portrayed as laying on a royal banquet for Abram the returning conqueror.”8 As we partake of the table our Priest after the order of Melchizedek has spread for us, let us not forget that we have been made partakers of the banquet of a royal victor.
(14:18d—“priest”) Melchizekek is the first priest to be mentioned in the text of Scripture. How the king of a Canaanite city came to be a priest of the “most high God” is one of the great mysteries of Scripture!
(14:19–20) “Each of Melchizedek’s blessings contain [in Hebrew] exactly seven words.”9
(14:20a) The Hebrew verb translated as “delivered” is almost identical in sound to the noun translated as “shield” in 15:1. The link between the two is clearly intentional.
(14:20b) While Abram refused to take even so much as a thread for himself (14:23) from the goods he had recovered from his striking victory over the eastern coalition, he nonetheless gave Melchizedek tithes (tenths) from the whole lot. Despite Abram’s personal significance in God’s plan, he chose to submit himself to Melchizedek’s office as a “priest of the most high God” (Hebrews 7:6). As Jesus made clear in the Gospels (Matthew 6:19–21; Luke 12:32–34), what we willingly do with our finances is one of the truest indications of the state of our hearts. If Abram by his giving recognized the authority of Melchizedek, who was a type of Christ, how much more should we by our giving recognize the authority of the church, the very body and bride of Christ? When we begrudge cheerful contributions from the firstfruits of what God has given us we are guilty of a self-centeredness that is nothing less than idolatrous.
(14:21) Unlike Melchizedek, who began by bringing out bread and wine and followed with a blessing, the very first word of the ungracious demand of the king of Sodom is “Give!” The fact that he has no blessing for Abram does not bode well for his future (Genesis 12:3).
(14:22) Abram leaves no doubt that he worships the very same God as Melchizedek.
(14:24) In striking contrast to his behavior in Egypt, Abram chose to forgo any enrichment at the expense of the king of Sodom. Yet while he is to be commended for this, it is to be noted that he made this sacrifice on his own account only, without imposing it on any of his allies. “For this also is not the least part of virtue, to act rightly, yet in such a manner, that we do not bind others to our example, as to a rule.”10
Credo: Believing the Truth
Despite Abram’s separation from Lot, he never ceased to care about the welfare of his nephew. When a powerful coalition of eastern kings took Lot captive, Abram acted quickly. Arming his servants and gathering his allies, he pursued after them. Against overwhelming odds, he defeated the kings of the east and rescued Lot. After receiving the blessing of Melchizedek, he gave him tithes of all before restoring the citizens and goods of Sodom to their ungrateful ruler. Through it all, whether Abram was failing miserably or succeeding brilliantly, God continued to pursue his plan to bless the nations through the seed of this particular man.
Conduct: Reshaping Our Walk
Discuss the meaning of the text and then walk through the following application questions as you discuss the difference this meaning ought to make in our lives today.
Though Abram chose to forgo his right to personal enrichment from the spoils, he rightly refused to impose his choice on others. How might we be tempted to expect the sacrifices we have chosen for ourselves of our fellow believers?
Examples: Judging others who do not follow the extra-biblical standards that we have found profitable in our own lives; Secretly thinking that those who allow themselves a luxury or liberty we have chosen to give up must therefore be less “spiritual” than we are.
Our attitude toward money is one of the best indications of the true priorities of our hearts. What are some of the ways in which we could be tempted to place our needs and wants ahead of God’s kingdom purposes?
Examples: Focusing on how much we are required to give rather than seeking the Lord for how much we should. Seeking work based on salary alone without considering the impact our choice will have on our opportunities for ministry.
1. Mathews 2005, 142
2. Sarna 1989, 104
3. Hamilton 1990, 402
4. Sarna 1989, 107
5. Hamilton 1990, 397
6. Astour 1992, 5.1168
7. Gill 1809, 3.413
8. Wenham 1987, 316
9. Sarna 1989, 102
10. Calvin 1847, 1.395