Series: Abraham - Part Three
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
February 19, 2017
This morning we are at Genesis 14 and continuing our study of Abraham.
We’ve being seeing that Abraham struggled with faith just like we struggle in our faith. In seeking to follow after God his faith wavered. He messed up. He had lessons to learn. But, with whatever Abraham went through - every time he turned to God - God was there - ready to take him to next level - in his faith - in their relationship. Through all those struggles Abraham grew in his relationship - his faith in God.
God holds Abraham up as an example to us of a man who lived by faith. An example for us of what means to live life with God.
Chapter 14 brings us to a new opportunity for Abraham to grow in faith. A new test question. Verses 1 to 12 give us The Setting of that opportunity. There are a lot of names in these verses so, if you will allow me, I’ll read and mispronounce them for all of us.
In the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, [which is where the name of the cheese comes from… cheddar] Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, these kings 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). And all these joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.
Let’s pause there and put some places with all those names.
Looking at the map - what is the Middle East - the Mediterranean Sea on the left. Right? Well… correct. Syria and Iraq are on the right.
The first group of kings - mentioned here in verse 1 - are all from the east - from Mesopotamia - three who are allied with the fourth king Chedorlaomer - who controlled the main trade routes between Mesopotamia and Egypt - the fertile crescent between the Nile Valley and the Tigris-Euphrates rivers. Main Street of the Middle East. For 12 years Chedorlaomer and this coalition had controlled that trade route.
What’s important for us to grab on to here is that these four kings represent an extremely wealthy and powerful coalition. These are the powers of the day to be reckoned with.
Then notice back in what is Israel today - this little red circle - around the southern end of the Dead Sea - what verse 3 calls the Salt Sea - the southern end of which is the Valley of Siddim.
We’re going to blow up that area. Sorry… we’re going to enlarge that area.
In verse 2 we’re given a list of the five kings that ruled the cities in that small area - southern end of the Dead Sea - Valley of Siddim - who for 12 years - had been subject to these 4 powerful kings of Mesopotamia - paying tribute - homage - etc. In year 13 these 5 kings get together and rebel. “We ain’t payin’ no more tribute.”
We’re together? Let me go on reading for us.
Verse 5: In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him came and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim, and the Horites in their hill country of Seir as far as El-paran on the border of the wilderness. Then they turned back and came to En-mishpat (that is, Kadesh) and defeated all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who were dwelling in Hazazon-tamar.
If you look at the map you’ll see that these verses are describing a southward march of these four kings - down to what today is the Gulf of Aqaba - the Red Sea - and then they turn and march north to just west of the Dead Sea.
On the way they take out the Rephaim and Zuzim who were families of giants. Names that later on in history have more meaning for us. Goliath comes from these people. These men were at least eight to ten feet tall. A mighty race of warriors.
These four kings just plow through them - seemingly conquering at will. Pillaging and plundering cities and gobbling up vast expanses of real estate.
Scripture doesn’t give us the gory details of how these battles went. How many people got slaughtered and so on. What’s important is that there really isn’t any significant opposition.
Point being that these are very powerful kings. How powerful are these four kings? Very powerful.
They are an invincible - relentless - unstoppable - military juggernaut - striking fear in whoever happens to be in their crosshairs. Target next.
Let’s go on at verse 8: Then 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 they joined battle in the Valley of Siddim with Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar, four kings against five.
The Four Kings against The Five Kings. Kind of sounds like Tolkien. Doesn’t it? The Battle of the Nine Kings. Except this real time real history.
The odds are in their favor. Four kings coming up against five kings that are defending their own home turf. Maybe these five kings won’t get dead like everyone else has.
Verse 10: Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the hill country.
Anyone ever been to the La Brea Tar Pits in LA? Lovely place. Asphalt pools. Go swimming and become a permanent resident. This is a picture of an asphalt bubble at La Brea. Notice the leaves covering the asphalt. Hiding the death trap underneath.
The Valley of Siddim was like that. Tar pits with dust blown over the top of the pits so these death traps looked like all the other ground.
Could have been that these 5 kings had the clever idea that these tar pits - on their own home turf - would be a natural defense - in their favor. Idea being they knew where the pits were.
Except - apparently when they started losing the battle they panicked. As they’re running for the hills - on the way many of them got trapped in their own tar pit death traps.
So these five kings become another notch on the belts of these four powerful kings. How powerful are the four kings? Very powerful.
Verses 11 and 12 are the bottom line of the setting: So the enemy - these four very powerful kings - the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, the son of Abram's brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way.
Last Sunday we were in chapter 13. Which is online in case you want to go back listen to the teaching. Back in chapter 13 we looked at the conflict between Abram’s herdsmen and Lot’s herdsmen over the seeming lack of good grazing land. We saw how Abram - trusting God - gave Lot the choice of what land to graze his flocks on. Remember that?
Lot - with his flocks and herds - Lot chooses the lush - green - well watered Jordan Valley. Lot chooses what was appealing to his own eyes rather than waiting for God’s direction. Lot trusting himself rather than trusting God. What were reading here in verses 11 and 12 is a tragic result of that choice.
Lot - choosing to dwell in the lush green valley with his flocks down by the city of Sodom - apparently no longer lives outside the city of Sodom. But he’s been enticed inside the city. Apparently he’s compromised with Sodom’s immorality and sin to gain what he sees as advantages with living in the city.
Lot who had chosen to trust in the wealth and power of Sodom and Gomorrah is hauled off in defeat. Hauled off with all his possessions and family - with all that he’s trusted in - hauled off as a spoil of war - by these four very powerful kings from Mesopotamia.
It isn’t much of a stretch to put ourselves where Lot was. Right? When we trust ourselves instead of God - getting caught up in our own perspective of life - we find out the hard way that all that misplaced trust is really a trap - pulling us away from God and all that He has for us.
The setting here in verses 1 to12 really is the pits. These overwhelmingly powerful kings mowing down everyone in their path. What’s happened to Lot. The situation that confronts Abram is very sad. In many ways hopeless - seemingly without a solution.
Which brings us to the beginning of verse 13: The Question: Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew...
Do you see the question here?
Here it is: How will we respond when the situation calls us to step up and all we want to do is step away?
Abram is moving through life - doing well with God - peaceful and prospering - and then this person who escapes the slaughter comes and tells Abram what’s gone on. Suddenly Abram’s got a huge problem on his hands. He’s got a very difficult decision to make.
Does he step in and clean up Lot’ garbage. Does he somehow try and go and rescue Lot? Or, does he step away from the whole thing.
It’s not hard to hear Abram processing and rationalizing his way through all that. Lot’s been a pain ever since they left Ur. Lot’s made choices. He’s an adult. He may even be dead by now.
And those kings are very powerful. How am I suppose to do what all those kings couldn’t? I could get dead and then what would happen to God’s covenant. God chose me not Lot.
But, Abram’s the uncle. This is family. I’ve got a responsibility here.
All that must have seemed overwhelming. Who would blame Abram if he just walked away from the whole thing?
There’s a point where we can relate to where Abram was at. That might be caring for a spouse - or dealing with the issues of a spouse - or a marriage. Or needing to care for an aging parent or relative. A friend in crisis. Or our kids or grandkids are wandering away from God - maybe getting themselves into crud. There’s a financial crisis. Some ongoing family issue or an ongoing situation at work or school. Other people mess up and we’re left holding their excrement.
Some situation where just thinking about it makes us just go weak. The reason it seems overwhelming is because it is overwhelming.
The question is this: How will we respond when the situation calls us to step up and all we want to do is step away?
Going on in verse 13 is Abram’s Answer to the question. Abram’s decision is to go rescue Lot.
Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner. These were allies of Abram. When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus. Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people.
The custom of the day was that a conquering army - after a great victory - the winning army would travel to a place they considered safe. “Hobah” means “hidden.”
These four kings head off to a place - just north of Damascus - a place considered “hidden” - to make camp - and then - according to the custom of the day - they probably spent several days getting totally toasted - drunk and carousing around celebrating their victory - partay.
Abram - when he hears that Lot has been captured - not that Sodom or Gomorrah or any one else has been captured - when Abram hears that nephew Lot has been captured - his nephew that he’s been given responsibility for - Abram takes his own 318 men - specially trained for battle - takes his men and his allies men - does a forced march up the Jordan River valley to Dan - where he splits his troops into two groups - attacking the drunken army at night from two sides - and utterly routs them. A huge victory.
We need to be careful. It would be easy to think that Abram got the news about Lot - got the boys together - and headed on out to take on these four kings.
But, we need to think carefully about where Abram was when he was told about Lot. Where Abram was at both physically and spiritually.
Verse 13 tells us that when Abram got the news he was where? Down living by Hebron at the oaks of Mamre. Mamre who is an Amorite - the brother of Eschol and Aner. Apparently these are friends - allies of Abram.
In chapter 12 we saw Abram - who was trusting himself and not God - Abram heads south to Egypt - gets himself and everyone else into all kinds of trouble. When Abram is sent out of Egypt he comes back to where God originally called him to dwell with God - to a place between the towns of Bethel and Ai. Abram builds an altar. Calls on the name of the Lord. Worships God. Cries out to God.
At the end of chapter 13 God speaks to Abram. God tells Abram to walk north, south, east, west - wherever Abram walks God is going to give that land to Abram. Land meaning a place for Abram and his descendants to dwell with God.
Chapter 13 ends with verse 18 telling us: So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord.
Obeying God - walking all over the land - Abram moves to where he’s dwelling with God in peace and prosperity - the place where Abram gets the news that Lot has been hauled off by the four kings.
Coming back to chapter 14 - verse 13 is the only place in Scripture where Abram is called a Hebrew. The Hebrew word is “ibree” - which has the idea of someone who’s come from beyond - out there someplace - a pilgrim who’s crossed over into our land. Which Abram did - coming from Ur via Haran.
Abram - this pilgrim - is dwelling by the oaks of Mamre at Hebron. The word “mamre” means “fatness” or “strength.” “Hebron” is a word that means “association” or “fellowship.” It’s descriptive of a place where a person’s soul is made fat - strengthened - supplied with all that’s needed by the fellowship there.
The oaks of Mamre at Hebron is a place where Abram’s soul is made fat - full - strengthened - by God. A place of spiritual supply and fellowship with God where Abram comes and pitches his tent and builds an altar - worships God - dwells with God - experiences the strength and supply of God in his life.
Gathered with Abram - apparently under the leadership of this pilgrim from another land - Abram - gathered together - in the face of this hopeless situation - gathered together in God’s presence - are Abram’s Amorite allies.
Jesus said that a wise man builds his house on the… rock. The rock is what? What Jesus taught. The word of God. In Abram’s day that’s the presence of God in real time. God speaking directly to Abram. Abram dwelling with God.
Jesus said, build on the rock and when the rain falls and the winds beat against your house - when the storms of life come the house won’t fall. (Matthew 7:24-27)
Meaning that the time to start building isn’t when the storms come.
Grab this: When the storm came Abram’s house was already built. He’s dwelling with God. Abram is experiencing the fatness and supply of living life with the living God. That’s where he was physically and spiritually when he got the news about Lot. From that relationship built on the rock Abram answers the question - how to respond in the midst of overwhelming circumstances.
Which should be true of us. Being continually in the presence of God - focused on Him - seeking Him - waiting on Him. Our commitment to be here on Sunday’s worshiping God - to loving God - to personal Bible study and prayer or together studying his word and loving others - serving God - serving the world. The disciplines of being a growing godly man or women. All that is building on the rock so that no matter what we’re confronted with - we’re already in the place where God can lead us through our circumstances according to His will.
In the midst of this overwhelmingly horrible circumstance - Abram begins with God - dwelling with God. So his response isn’t about Abram or Lot or the fear of getting creamed. Abram’s response is to do what pleases God and to trust God for the results. Which here is this huge victory in the face of overwhelming circumstances.
Verses 17 to 24 focus on Abram’s Heart.
After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he - Melchizedek - blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
Have you heard this? It’s not whether you win or lose but how you… play the game. Every parent ends up telling their child that. Every child has heard it. And every child knows that what’s really important is winning. Even parents know that. Crushing the competition in a Christian “God loves you” sort of way. That’s why we parents end up screaming and yelling on the sidelines - especially at referees. Just saying...
Winning means bragging rights. Being able to point to what we - by our skills and ability - what we were able to accomplish. Or letting slip into the conversation what our child did. Just saying…
Abram’s victory was a complete ego boosting rout of the competition.
How powerful are the four kings? Very powerful. Totally mowed down everyone in their path.
Abram - this pilgrim tent dweller - with only 318 men with his Amorite allies - totally routs them. Total victory. Brings home the goods - Lot and all his possessions - the women - the people.
It’s an ego moment well deserved. “Abram - you just defeated the most powerful military alliance in the world. What are you going to do now?”
“I’m taking the lot to Disneyland.”
Ability - success - are dangerous things. It is way too easy for us to get off track thinking all that is about us. Way too easy to really get messed up in our faith.
Look at how Abram handled success - the heart of this man. There is a lot we can learn here.
As Abram’s heading back down towards the oaks of Mamre he’s met by the king of Sodom. Who we’re going to see comes with an offer of all the wealth and power and ego stroking stuff of this world.
Then there’s Melchizedek the king of Salem. In the Old Testament Melchizedek is a type of Christ. Meaning what we see in Melchizedek foreshadows - points forward to Jesus.
The name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness.” And that fits Jesus. Melchizedek is the king of “peace” - “shalem.” Jesus is called the Prince of Peace.
Melchizedek is both the king and priest of Salem. A man who has authority over the people - who represents God to the people and the people to God. Jesus is prophet, priest, and king.
Their meeting takes place outside the village of Salem - which down the line of history becomes Jerusalem - the capital of Israel. The King’s Valley is where this little brook runs down the eastern side of Jerusalem - which later is called the Valley of the Kidron - which separates the Mount of Olives from the city itself. The same valley Jesus went through on his way to Gethsemane.
Point being: This isn’t just a few guys who happened to bump into each other on the road some place. This is a set-up. God is at work here making sure that Abram - and us - that we don’t miss God’s point.
In verse 19 - Melchizedek reminds Abram that it’s God Most High - the owner and ruler of heaven and earth - the God who is infinitely more powerful than any earthly king - even four of them put together - it’s God Most High Who’s blessed Abram.
In verse 20 - Melchizedek testifies that it’s God Most High who’s won this incredible victory - not Abram and his band of 318 merry men and a handful of others against this military juggernaut. It’s not because of Abram’s clever “divide the troops and attack at night” strategy that they don’t get themselves creamed - that they’re utterly victorious.
There’s more going on here. God Most High is worthy of blessing and honor and glory and adoration for all that He - God Most High - has accomplished.
We need to process what that represents. All those maps - the setting. One tenth of everything plundered as these four kings made their way west and then plundering their way down to the Red Sea and then back up again to loot the five cities in the valley of Siddim.
Plus everything these four kings had brought with them in the first place. This is royalty. All the comforts of home on the road. It’s not hard to imagine that these four kings traveled with lots of good stuff.
Abram just hands it over. Without hesitation. Without thinking through all he’s gone through to get all that stuff - the long march - risking his neck - having to put up with Lot’s foolishness.
Just hands it over. Because Abram understands - at the heart level - that this victory isn’t about him and how clever he is. The victory is God’s. God is God Most High - not Abram. All the stuff is God’s stuff. Graciously given to Abram because God Most High is gracious and merciful and loving. Because God has chosen to bless Abram.
Verse 21: And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.”
That’s a tempting offer - appropriate. A payment for services rendered. Let me keep my people - take them back to their homes. You don’t need them as slaves. It’s the right thing to do.
And, you keep all the wealth. Whatever’s left after paying your tithe to Mel here. After paying off God certainly you can do what you want with what’s left. All that stuff is what you have coming to you. You earned it. Consider it part of God’s blessing. Hasn’t God said He’d bless you?
Which of one us could honestly say that we wouldn’t be tempted by that offer? It is an ego twisting temptation.
So let’s be careful. Where did that wealth come from? Sodom. Where was Lot living? Sodom. What was Lot trusting in? The wealth and power of Sodom. Sodom’s stuff. Blessings of God sinfully misused by self-serving men.
“Let these other guys make up their minds what they’re going to do with what’s theirs. But, there’s no way I’m going to get hooked into any indebtedness to you. This victory isn’t about you - or me. It’s about God.”
Sometimes it seems easier to trust God when we’re overwhelmed by what we’re up against. What’s here is the other side of the coin. To remember in blessing and in victory that our need to trust God remains the same. Who He is and who we are hasn’t changed. He alone still deserves the glory.
Processing all that...
Paul writes in Romans 12:3: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
Saul, the great persecutor of the church. A man zealous in his faith dragging Christians from their homes to their martyrdom. Saul is on his way to Damascus - same route Abram took.
What happens? Jesus - God Most High - graciously stops Saul - a man destined for the judgment and wrath of God - Jesus stops Saul dead in his tracks. On the road to Damascus Saul comes to believe and trust in Jesus as his Savior. Saul becomes Paul - by God’s grace - one of the greatest evangelists and theologians the church has ever had.
Paul writes, “Through the grace given to me I say this to you.” Grace is what? Getting what we do not deserve. God’s riches at Christ’s expense.
Sound judgment - clear thinking - comes as we humbly see ourselves as recipients of faith that God by His grace has awakened in us.
Each of us is a collection of atoms that God created out of nothing and are held together by God. We’re given life and breath and a will and emotions by God. This time and place for us to exist - exists only by an act of God’s willing it all to exist and to keep on existing. Whatever we possess only exists because God wills it to exist.
Being loved by God is His choice. That we know God and have a relationship with Him is an act of God’s choice. Forgiveness and salvation and eternity with God is an act of God’s grace for His purposes alone. We exist solely for the glory of God. Period. Life is about… God. Not us.
We need to continually marinate in that reality. Humbling as it should be. Faith is because of God’s grace not the depth of our spiritual insight or righteous worthiness.
Who are we to withhold anything from God? Or to think that we are somehow the lawful possessors of anything - time - talent - treasure. Our tithes and offerings - our service - the time given to us - all need to be given - joyfully - willingly surrendered in acknowledgement of the reality that we owe everything to God. Apart from Him we’re nothing. Whatever ability or success we have in life is because of God and for His glory alone.
When we begin to understand who we are before the God Most High - when that reality begins to soak into our hearts we begin to live at the heart level by the depth of faith that Abram had when he stepped forward trusting God in overwhelming circumstances. We begin to dwell with God with the heart attitude that God will use to teach us to let go of anything - any self-destructive attitudes - anything that will keep us from fully trusting Him and living in His blessing and victory.
I don’t know what circumstances overwhelm you. Where you’re being called to step up. You and God know that. I know some of what I tend to lose sleep over. Stuff that tempts me to step away instead of stepping up. We all have our stuff.
What I can tell you is this. However overwhelming all that might be - God is greater and worthy of trust. He has always - always - brought me through whatever I have trusted Him to lead me through. Not because of me. But, maybe so that I can stand here today and tell you that He will and that to God alone be the glory
We can learn from Abram. The answer is always to turn to God. To dwell with Him. To build our lives on His word. To cry out to God. To wait on Him. To trust Him. And God - Who is gracious and steadfast in His promises - He will - in His only God can do it way - He will take care of you - even bringing great victory through you. To God alone be the glory.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.