Scriptures

Genesis 14

Introduction

In Genesis 13 we read about the parting of Abram and his nephew Lot and were told the reason for the parting, the bad relationship between their herdsmen. There was ‘strife’ between them. There’s no suggestion that Abram and his nephew had any personal difficulties, the problem was between the men who served them. It’s often the way we respond to problems that reveal our character, and we should notice the manner in which the two masters dealt with this situation.

It’s wholly in keeping with what we know about the character of Abram that he deplored that there should be any trouble between them, and it was he who suggested a solution. Bearing in mind the fact that Abram and his nephew were very wealthy men. Abram ‘had silver and gold’, and they both had large flocks and herds, and it isn’t altogether surprising that conflict could arise when it came to watering their animals in an area where water was very often hard to find, therefore, as a result, they were often faced with the same sensitive situation.

The solution that Abram proposed was both gracious and extremely generous. The two companies should go their separate ways. In effect, he said to his nephew, ‘the whole area is before you’. But we also see the different, selfish Lot. We read that Lot ‘chose for himself,’ he might have been more gracious, suggesting that his uncle Abram, being the older man, should choose first, but although he was already a wealthy man, he was still looking to increase his wealth and he made a choice on the basis of selfishness and self-interest.

He saw that the Plain of Jordan was ‘well-watered everywhere’ and so, ‘Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan’ and travelled east ‘in the direction of Sodom’. And the Scriptures sound out a warning in Genesis 13:13 ‘the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.’

But this isn’t the end of the story! Lot and Abram have parted company, and Lot will live to regret his selfish choice. They will meet again in very different and dangerous circumstances and Lot will have very good reasons to be thankful to his Uncle Abram. But, after Lot has gone, God speaks to Abraham, ‘Look North, South, East and West.’ In other words, ‘in every direction!’

‘All that you can see, I have given to you and your descendants for ever’. You may be inclined to think that this couldn’t be, because Lot has already chosen some of that land for himself and has even gone to take possession of it, but an individual only possesses what God gives to him, Ecclesiastes 5:10.

This was the first of the promises that God made to Abram, there were more to follow, promises that were greater and more important. Genesis 14 continues with the tragic story of Lot. Whilst Abram is still in his tent, near his altar, under the Oaks of Mamre, and the two words, ‘tent’ and ‘altar’ summarise his life and speak of his relationship with God. Abram is a worshiping pilgrim.

Lot, meanwhile has moved close to Sodom, and before long will have exchanged his tent for a house in Sodom, even though he must have been aware of the wicked reputation of the inhabitants.

The war of the kings

‘At the time when Amraphel was king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goyim, these kings went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboyim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). All these latter kings joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Dead Sea Valley). For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled. In the fourteenth year, Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him went out and defeated the Rephaites in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, the Emites in Shaveh Kiriathaim and the Horites in the hill country of Seir, as far as El Paran near the desert. Then they turned back and went to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and they conquered the whole territory of the Amalekites, as well as the Amorites who were living in Hazezon Tamar.’ Genesis 14:1-7

We should notice that, in this chapter, for the first time, we find Bible history recording a political situation which secular history also records, and we read how it affected the lives of Bible characters. There were five rulers of Cities of the Plain, cities that included Sodom and Gomorrah, who, for 12 years had been compelled to pay an annual tribute to a confederacy consisting of four other city-kings, led by Kedorlaomer, King of Elam.

One of his allies was Amraphel, king of Shinar, who is better known to modern archaeologists as Hammurabi, who was to become famous because of the legal code which became extremely widely known in the ancient world, more of this later!

The coalition of the four kings from the Mesopotamian area and the Hittites to the north was too strong for the defences of the five kings of the south. The kings of the south surrendered, and for twelve years served the foreigners.

The word ‘Horites’ was probably a term that referred to the Edomites, Genesis 36:20 / Deuteronomy 2:12 / Deuteronomy 2:22, in whose land there were rich deposits of copper ore in the southern part of the Arabah. It was no doubt this treasure the northern kings were looking for.

‘Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboyim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goyim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five. Now the Valley of Siddim was full of tar pits, and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled to the hills. The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.’ Genesis 14:8-12

The five kings decide the time had come to end their servitude, and they refuse to pay the annual tribute. Perhaps they felt that the five of them were now strong enough to defeat their four overlords, and the two armies met in the Vale of Siddim, which, we read, was full of ‘slime-pit’, A.V.

Later versions correctly identify them as ‘bitumen pits’, and it was to this area that the Egyptians came for the oily bitumen which they used in water-proofing their dead during the process of mummification. In fact, dozens of these pits have been found in that region.

But the rebel kings discovered that their optimism had been misplaced, and they were badly defeated and put to flight. It seems likely that they fled by night, because many of them fell into the bitumen pits, which would present a hazard to anyone fleeing at night.

The outcome was that Sodom and Gomorrah were plundered by the victorious quartet, and, among the prisoners they took, who were destined to become slaves, was Lot, ‘who lived in Sodom’. No doubt he protested that he didn’t belong to Sodom, but, he was found in Sodom and was treated as a Sodomite There is surely a lesson to be learned here!

Abram to the rescue

‘A man who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshkol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.’ Genesis 14:13-16

Fortunately for Lot, a man who had escaped capture, and who was aware of the relationship between Abram and Lot, came and told Abraham what had happened to his nephew. Notice that Abram is called ‘the Hebrew’, this is the first time this term is used in the Scriptures, where the word means ‘the immigrant’ or ‘the man who crossed over’, crossed over the river from Mesopotamia.

He was, evidently, a powerful man, because he had a private army of 318 trained servants, whom he used to rescue his hapless nephew, who as we should notice, is called his ‘brother’ in some translations, which simply means son of his brother.

When Abram heard what was happening, it seems as though this peaceful man became a leader of an army consisting of 318 soldiers, in which he led them into battle against other kings.

Abraham was also a wise strategist, who realised the danger in a hasty attack on the enemy army which was slowly making its way back home. He waited until nightfall, and then, when the unsuspecting enemy was making merry and celebrations its victory, he attacked from several sides, causing such confusion that the bewildered enemy fled, and was defeated, so that Abram was able to recover all that they had taken in their ‘victory’. Lot went back to Sodom after Abraham won the battle and got his possessions back for him.

‘After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’ Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.’ Genesis 14:17-20

After the battle Abram was met by the king of Sodom at the valley of Shaveh, which could possibly have been the Kidron valley near Jerusalem. He then is greeted by Melchizedek the king of Salem.

Melchizedek

Melchizedek is an interesting character and to some he seems to be somewhat of a ‘mysterious’ character and it may come as a surprise to some people that Melchizedek is mentioned in Scripture only 5 times, therefore we know very little about him. As with most people we don’t have a lot of information about in the Bible, a lot of misunderstanding and speculation arises.

The first appearance of him is found in the days of Abram, Genesis 14:13-20. 1000 years later we read about him in Psalm 110:4. We wait another 1000 years before he appears in the New Testament, Hebrews 5:5-10 / Hebrews 6:19-20 / Hebrews 7:1-25.

He was both High Priest, and King of Salem, who met Abram and blessed him and subsequently his priestly ancestors the Levites. He has no genealogy, or known history, yet was greater than Aaron because, in blessing Abram, who was the ancestor of Aaron, Melchizedek blessed the future Jewish High Priest.

Melchizedek was the only man to combine in himself offices of High priest and King. Hebrews 5 therefore refutes the charge that the Hebrew Christians did not have a High Priest and asserts that they have a very special High Priest, not like Aaron, but superior to Aaron, after the style of Melchizedek.

Notice how the writer opens his argument in Hebrews 4:14, ‘Since we have a great High Priest.’ and how he finishes it in Hebrews 10:21, ‘Since we have a great High Priest.’

The Melchizedekians

There was a sect in the 3rd century which believed that Melchizedek was a Christophony. Other views expressed about him, ranged from the belief that he was an angel, to the denial of his having existed! Some theologians even thought that he was actually Shem, who lived long enough after the flood to see Abraham.

In more detail, what was so remarkable about this man? And what is his connection with the Lord Jesus? The argument here is that Jesus is a greater High Priest than Aaron, because His priesthood is after the order of Melchizedek.

Like I mentioned, the first reference to Melchizedek is found in Genesis 14:18, where we read of his meeting with Abram. This means that in this man were combined the offices of Priest and King, a fact which is of profound significance, as I hope we shall see. Notice, also, that this is the first time the word ‘priest’ ‘icohen’, occurs in the Old Testament Scriptures.

When the New Testament Scriptures describes Melchizedek as a priest, the word used is ‘heireus’, which means ‘one who is holy and set apart for the service of God’.

His name, ‘Malkiy Tsedeq’ means ‘king of right’ or ‘righteous king’, whilst the name of the city over which he reigned, ‘Salem’, is a form of ‘shalom’, which I think most people know, means ‘Peace’. In later times this became the name of several towns or cities in Palestine, but it is interesting to notice that Salem is mentioned in the Tel-elAmarna, tablets, which date back to before 1400 BC, and, even before the time of Abraham, the city was known by that name.

Centuries later, in the days of Joshua, it was the city of the Jebusites which the Israelites were unable to capture, Joshua 15:63, and it is probable, because it was occupied and held by the Jebusites as their stronghold, until it was captured by King David several centuries later, 2 Samuel 5:9, that the city of Salem had acquired the name ‘Salem of the Jebusites’ or ‘Jebu-Salem’, which eventually became ‘Jerusalem’.

Certainly, the identification of ‘Salem’ with ‘Jeru-salem’ is established quite clearly in Psalm 76:2. Josephus, the Jewish historian, who lived in the 1st century AD, stated, ‘The first founder of Jerusalem was a chief of the Canaanites, who, in our tongue is called ‘Righteous King.’ And so, Melchizedek was King and Priest in the City which was later to become ‘The City of David.’ 2 Samuel 5:6-9 records how David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites.

Melchizedek, ‘priest of El Elyon’

The fact that Melchizedek was both King and Priest surely reveals what a remarkable person he must have been. In an age of polytheism, here was a Canaanite king who knew the One True God, ‘God Most High’ or ‘the supreme God’, and who served Him as priest. In Psalm 7:17 God, is described as ‘Yahweh, the Most High.’

The name, Melchizedek means ‘King of Righteousness’. He is also referred to as ‘King of Peace’, that is, ‘King of Salem’. Here we have the name of his city, Jerusalem. We have his Name, Righteous king. We have his Office, priest of the Most High God. ‘El Elyon, God Most High.’

In an age when men followed many gods, Melchizedek worshipped the one true God. And Abraham paid tithes to him, and so recognising him as the priest of the God Who called him from Ur.

1. He offered a tithe to Melchizedek. Later, according to the Mosaic Law, the people were required to recognise the position of the Priesthood by the giving of a tithe. Numbers 18:21-24.

In Genesis 14, Abraham, the federal head of Hebrew people and the Father of the nation, gave a tithe, not merely for himself, but for all his descendants, and this included the entire priestly tribe of Levi and Aaron, its first High Priest.

2. Abraham accepted bread and wine from Melchizedek.

3. And received a blessing from Melchizedek. This blessing of Abraham by Melchizedek is something that the Scriptures stress as very significant, pointing out that, ‘the lesser is blessed by the greater’. Hebrews 7:7. Or, as the R.S.V. renders the verse, ‘the inferior is blessed by the superior.’ No wonder the inspired writer of the letter to the Hebrews exclaims, ‘See how great he is!’ Hebrews 7:4.

The uniqueness of Melchizedek’s priesthood is stressed in Hebrews 7:3, where we find the statements, which create difficulty. It will help if, when we read this verse, we bear in mind that the writer is setting out the similarity between Melchizedek and the Lord Jesus, in order to show why Jesus is a Priest ‘after the order (‘taxin’, meaning style or fashion) of Melchizedek.’

‘Without father or mother or genealogy’. The uniqueness of the man’s priesthood is stressed by Hebrews 7:3. ‘Without father or mother or genealogy’ doesn’t mean that Melchizedek came into existence miraculously, without parents! This simply means that Melchizedek had no priestly ancestry. To qualify to be an Aaronic priest a search had to be made into the ancestry of the individual, to see if he had the correct ancestry.

Melchizedek did not have ancestors in the Aaronic line and could not have because he existed 400 years earlier than Aaron. We know nothing about his ancestry, because there is no record.

This reveals the difference between his priesthood and that of the sons of Aaron who came along later, when proof of ancestry was essential before a man should become a Levitical priest, and when the credentials of a priest had to be established beyond doubt. After the return from the Babylonian captivity certain men wished to serve in the temple but were excluded from priesthood because their names could not be found among, ‘those enrolled in the genealogies, so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean’ Nehemiah 7:64

In any case, Melchizedek could not possibly serve as a Levitical priest, because, as Hebrews 7:10 points out, Aaron had not yet been born! The Aaronic priesthood was established four centuries after the time of Melchizedek!

Similarly, the writer points out that on Earth, Jesus couldn’t have become a priest because, ‘It is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah, concerning which tribe Moses said nothing about priesthood.’ Hebrews 7:14

This underlines the fact that only after He returned to Heaven and sat down at the right hand of the Father, did Jesus become a Priest, and so, our Mediator. It also exposes the mistake of describing the Lord’s Prayer in John 17, as ‘the High priestly prayer’.

‘Beginning of days or end of life’, Hebrews 7:3, does not refer to physical life. It means that He did not commence His priestly ministry at a given time, nor did he end at a given time. He functioned as a priest as long as he lived. Normally, the Levitical priests entered their service when they were 25 years old and were “retired” at 50 years old. Not so with Melchizedek. Like Jesus he was a priest forever, or as long as he lived.

When we are told that he had ‘neither beginning of days nor end of life’, it would be foolish to suppose this means that Melchizedek was not born and did not die! This refers to the length of his service as priest. It means that, unlike the sons of Aaron who became priests, Melchizedek didn’t succeed anyone to his priestly office, nor was he himself succeeded in it by anyone. His priesthood was unique. As verse 3 states, he, ‘remains a priest forever’.

This draws our attention to the fact that, unlike the Aaronic priests, Melchizedek did not commence his ministry at a set age, nor was he compelled to retire at a set age. He had an ‘abiding’, that is, a continuing priesthood. Under the Law of Moses, a descendant of Aaron became an apprentice at 25 years of age, carrying the tabernacle and performing similar menial tasks, and he became a full priest at 30 years of age.

God’s law governing priesthood was extremely benevolent and was considerate of the heavy work involved in priesthood. That law stated that a priest must retire from service upon reaching the age of 50, although, if he wished and was able, he might continue to serve in a voluntary capacity. Numbers 8:23-26. Not so Melchizedek!

There was no set time for his priestly ministry either to begin or to end, so that in this his service was altogether unique.

‘Abraham gave him tithes’. The argument is that because Abraham gave him tithes, Hebrews 7:4, and Aaron being not yet born, Aaron, through Abraham, gave tithes to Melchizedek, and so recognising his superiority. And so, Jesus is better than Aaron. As the writer states, the lesser pays tithes to the greater. Hebrews 7:7. Melchizedek was the first to fill the offices of King and Priest at the same time. Jesus was to be the last to do this.

Taking all of these facts into consideration, we see the wonderful similarity between Melchizedek and the Lord Jesus.

1. Neither had priestly ancestry.
2. Neither served for a set period of time.
3. Neither had successors in his particular ministry.
4. And in both, the offices of King and Priest were combined.

Whilst Melchizedek was said to be king of Salem and priest of God Most High, concerning the Christ it had been prophesied, ‘He shall be a priest upon his throne!’ Zechariah 6:13.

Bear in mind that this was a prophecy that could not be fulfilled during His earthly ministry, since whilst on earth He could not have been a priest according to the Law of Moses under which He lived as a Jew. But, having ascended to heaven, He now reigns and mediates as King and Priest.

In the entire history of God’s ancient people, no-one was allowed to serve as both king and priest at the same time. On the three-recorded occasions when kings intruded into the priestly function, the consequences were catastrophic.

1. King Saul presumed to offer a sacrifice and lost his throne as a punishment. l Samuel 13.

2. King Jeroboam dressed himself as a priest and served at an altar to a god of his own making, and the punishment which followed resulted in the destruction of the entire House of Jeroboam. 1 Kings 13.

3. King Uzziah entered the Temple and began to offer incense and was struck with leprosy. 2 Chronicles 26.

Down through the ages from the time of the unique Melchizedek, God held the offices of King and Priest apart until He should come of whom Melchizedek had been a type. We see the importance, then, of the opening statement in Hebrews 4:14 ‘Since we HAVE a great High Priest.’ and notice how he concludes this discussion in Hebrews 10:21 with identical words.

God declared that it was His intention that His own Son should combine in Himself, the function of Kingship and Priesthood, when in Psalm 110:4, He said, ‘You are a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek’.

In Hebrews 5:1 the high priest is chosen from the people. He is for the people. He is of the people. Hebrews 5:2 the ordinary high priest was beset with weaknesses which Jesus didn’t have. Hebrews 5:3. The high priest needed to offer a sacrifice for his own sins, which Jesus didn’t need to do, since He was sinless.

‘The king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.’ But Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.’ Genesis 14:21-24

Though the king of Sodom was being very generous by not asking for his good back, Abram reminds him that he had made an oath to God that he wouldn’t keep anything that belonged to the king of Sodom. Abram knew that if he didn’t do this, this unpleasant king would later claim that it was him who made Abram rich. They are entitled to as much of the soil as anyone else and Abram’s faith is good again.

Go To Genesis 15

 

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