A Man on a Mission

The Bible presents us with a very interesting story here, but at the same time, it’s probably one of the less familiar or talked about incidents in Abraham’s life. He finds himself getting caught in the crosshairs of war and puts on an outstanding display of courage. I think there is a lot we can take from this passage of Scripture. I feel like the easiest way to break this down is to outline the details of the story first, and then we’ll make some practical applications afterward.

  1. The Rebellion (Gen. 14:1-12) – Genesis is a book of firsts, and we see a couple of firsts within this chapter. This is the first war we find mentioned in the Bible. It is not necessarily the first war ever, of course, but this is the first one we see in Scripture. We’re not going to focus too much on the specific kings listed here because we don’t know anything about them other than what the Bible tells us here. There are some scholars who speculate that Amraphel is another name for Hammurabi, a famous Babylonian king who ruled sometime during that period, but we’re not sure. The one thing of note that I found here that I thought was interesting is that Sodom’s king is named Bera, and the name “Bera” means “Son of evil.” That should give you a further idea of how wicked Sodom was at that time.

Anyway, let’s focus on the details of this war. I’ll try to explain it as simply as I can. Basically how this war gets started is that these five kings, headed up by the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah (which means their territories were probably located somewhere around the Dead Sea), had been in subjugation and paying tribute to these four kings, headed up by the king of Shinar, which was the name for Babylon in those times (which means their territories were probably located somewhere in Mesopotamia, or modern-day Iraq/Iran). These five kings around the Dead Sea had been doing this for twelve years, but they decided to rebel against the four kings from Mesopotamia and stopped serving them and paying them tribute.

Naturally, the four kings from Mesopotamia were not thrilled with the idea, so they decide to go teach them a lesson. They declare war on the five kings from the Dead Sea and invade their territory. These five kings quickly realize that they made a big mistake by rebelling because the four kings from Mesopotamia are wiping the floor with them. There was a reason why they were the ones in charge in the first place, after all. The five kings attempt to flee, but the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah end up falling into some slime pits in the area and getting stuck. “Slime pit” is another word for “tar pit,” so if you fell in something like that, you’d definitely be stuck with no way to get out on your own. Specifically, this is referring to bitumen, which is what asphalt concrete is made of. It’s a semi-solid form of petroleum, so the fact that the Middle East abounds in oil should come as no surprise. It’s been right there in the Bible all along. This stuff is obviously very flammable, too, so when God rains down fire from heaven onto Sodom and Gomorrah, you can imagine all the havoc all these tar pits catching fire would wreak at the same time. It’s no wonder why Abraham was able to see the billowing smoke from miles away after they were destroyed.

After their victory, the four kings from Mesopotamia plunder the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, taking all their goods and taking several of the people captive, including Lot, who now lived in Sodom. When we last saw him in chapter 13, he had pitched his tent toward Sodom, but now he’s moved within the city limits. The temptation of sin drew him in, and so he gets caught up in the mess of this war. Charles Spurgeon said, “Those believers who conform to this world must expect to suffer for it.” That leads us into the second part of this story:

  1. The Rescue (Gen. 14:13-16) – Someone who had managed to escape getting caught by the four kings, probably one of Lot’s servants, finds Abraham and tells him what happened. As soon as he hears this, he puts a plan into action. He arms 318 of his servants, and he also recruits these three Amorite brothers—Mamre, Eschol, and Aner—to help him. He chases the army all the way to the city of Dan, which is basically at the northern border of Israel. We’re talking somewhere between a 100-125-mile pursuit. It would have taken them several days to catch up, but Abraham was determined to rescue his nephew.

Once he finally catches up, Abraham divides up his forces and they ambush their encampment at night. This was a very cunning strategy by Abraham. Naturally, he knows he is outnumbered, so their best bet at rescuing Lot is a surprise attack at night. He divides his forces so they can attack from several different places. Doing this, Abraham was able to mask his numbers, so the enemy would really have no idea who or how many people were attacking them. In a situation like this, the soldiers might panic and start attacking everyone in sight. After all, it’s dark and they can’t distinguish friend from foe, so it’s potentially “kill or be killed” to them. Then the troops will scatter and try to flee, dividing their numbers and keeping them disorganized, which makes it much easier to defeat them. If you read the story of Gideon’s 300 and their attack on the Midianites in Judges 6, which is a very similar setup to this one, you’ll find that’s exactly what happened there. After the troops scatter, Abraham mops them up as far as this place called Hobah, which is near Damascus in Syria, and manages to rescue Lot and the rest of the captives and retrieve their plundered goods.

  1. The Refusal (Gen. 14:17-24) – After the battle, the tenth and final king in this chapter appears, a man by the name of Melchizedek, who was the king of Salem (which is what is later called Jerusalem). He’s not only a king, but he’s also a priest. He brings Abraham rations for his troops to commemorate their victory and blesses him in the name of the Most High God, the Possessor of heaven and earth, as Melchizedek puts it. After receiving this gift, Abraham gives a tithe of his assets to this king-priest.

We won’t get too deep into this tonight, but if you read Hebrews 7, it explains the significance of this meeting and tells us that Melchizedek is an Old Testament picture of Jesus Christ. He is both a king and a priest who rules in Jerusalem, much like Jesus Christ one day will. Melchizedek also brought an offering of bread and wine, which can be seen as a picture of the Lord’s Supper, foreshadowing Christ’s death for us. It also explains how Jesus Christ can be both our King and our High Priest, since as someone from the tribe of Judah, He could not be a Levitical priest. Jesus Christ is a priest after the order of Melchizedek. If you read Psalm 110, which is a Messianic Psalm, it says, “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” The writer of Hebrews explains that this is a superior priesthood to the Levitical priesthood, which is demonstrated when Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, paid tithes to Melchizedek. You pay tithes to someone you regard as a superior. When you tithe to the Lord, you are in effect recognizing the superiority and authority of God in your life. That is what it is meant to symbolize.

In contrast to Melchizedek, from whom Abraham received gifts and to whom he gave a tithe, his reaction to meeting the king of Sodom is markedly different. Abraham vehemently refuses to take anything from him, to the point that he says he wouldn’t even take a thread from a shoelace if it was offered to him. He also does not give him any sort of tithe because he recognizes that he owes nothing to this wicked, earthly king. It’s also interesting to note that Abraham does not force his convictions on the three men who came with him. He told them that they could take a portion from the king of Sodom if they wanted to.

So what can we learn from this chapter tonight? I think there are a few lessons we can take from it:

  1. Being separated does not mean you have to be isolated – This is a mistake the Roman Catholic church has made with its monasteries and convents. Abraham did not live as a hermit in some monastery, nor did he live in some ivory palace looking down on the world below him. He formed bonds with these three Amorite brothers who helped him out in his time of need. We may no longer be of this world, but we are still in this world. We are never going to reach this world if we are not in and among them. That does not mean we endorse their lifestyle, but we cannot expect the world to come to us. Some of them might, but most of them won’t.

Abraham was also willing to fight. There was a story of a man during World War II who refused to be drafted as a conscientious objector. When he was brought before the tribunal, the judge asked him if he would do anything to help the war effort. He refused, and when asked for his reason, he replied, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Shrewdly, the judge replied, “Very well. Then you won’t need a ration card.”

The point is that we can’t remain aloof or indifferent to the needs of the world around us. What this world needs isn’t political or social reform. It needs a spiritual awakening. It needs the Gospel. Where are they going to get it if we aren’t willing to give it to them? It’s important for us to have a testimony that they know we care about them, but we’re not going to be able to minister to their spiritual needs if we remain indifferent to their physical, mental, or emotional needs. Your testimony for Christ will be stronger if you are separated among the world instead of being completely isolated from it.

  1. Never give up on people, even when it seems like they aren’t responding – This lesson isn’t really overtly stated in this chapter, but it’s strongly implied. The entire reason Abraham got involved in this war in the first place was to rescue Lot. Now Lot had already separated himself from Abraham because their herdsmen couldn’t get along, and not only that, the entire reason he got captured was because he was living in Sodom, one place he absolutely should not have been. It would have been easy for Abraham to say, “Well, he got himself into that mess; he can get himself out of it. He got what he deserved,” but that’s not what he did. Lot is referred to as his brother twice in this chapter. Abraham still regarded Lot as a fellow brother, and so he was not about to give up on him, even at great risk and cost to himself.

Once again, this isn’t overtly stated in this chapter, but we see it later on. What did Lot do after Abraham risked his life to rescue him from his captors? He went right back into Sodom. When you read Genesis 19, he’s sitting in the gates of Sodom. Maybe there’s someone you care about that you’ve tried to reach, whether it’s a lost person or a backslidden Christian. No matter how much you may do for them, you never seem to be able to get through to them. Right after you get done bending over backwards to help them, it seems like they go right back into the mess you worked to get them out of. When you try to talk to them about the Lord, they turn you off. They might accept your help, but they won’t accept the Gospel.

The temptation after a while is just to say, “Forget it. I’m done. I’m tired of going out on a limb for them.” Yet even after Lot seems to spurn Abraham and goes right back into Sodom, what do we see Abraham doing a few chapters later in Genesis 18? Standing before the Lord and begging Him to spare whatever righteous people there were in Sodom and Gomorrah, undoubtedly for Lot’s sake. Even from afar, Abraham never gave up on Lot.

Now we don’t know if Lot ever got his act together. From the last we saw of him in Scripture, it doesn’t seem like he did, but maybe he did at some point. Regardless, Abraham’s dedication toward helping Lot was not based on future results. He was going to help Lot and try to reach him, no matter how he responded to it. I have a tendency to think in worst case scenarios, and sometimes I feel like, “They’re just never going to respond.” And maybe they won’t. We can’t force anyone to do anything.

But maybe they will. Only God knows the future, and where are they going to end up if you give up on them? Who is going to care about their spiritual condition if you stop caring? We need to be faithful to show compassion on people and share the Gospel with them, no matter how they may respond to it. You never know. Maybe one day they’ll get it. We need to have that sort of faith.

  1. When you live for God, you are never alone – Does it ever feel like sometimes you’re the only one trying to live for God? It’s possible Abraham felt that way as he watched his ungrateful nephew just go right back in to what he rescued him from, but then he meets Melchizedek. We don’t know how Melchizedek found out about Abraham, but in the land of Canaan, he met someone else who was living faithfully for the one true God.

As a result, that gave Abraham the courage he needed to stand up to the king of Sodom and not give in to the temptation to take his riches. If you pay attention, Abraham uses the same titles for God that Melchizedek used just a few verses earlier. He calls Him the Most High God, the Possessor of heaven and earth.

So when you feel discouraged or when you feel tempted, remember that you do have fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who are there for you to help you when you need it. That’s what a church is there for. We don’t live unto ourselves, and we don’t die unto ourselves. We need each other. The temptation for Christians when they go through trouble is to isolate themselves, and the last thing you should do when trouble comes is to run away from the ones who can help you the most. The devil wants to isolate us, because he knows we’re easy pickings when we’re alone. Truthfully, the Lord knows that, too, and that’s why we have churches. God sent Melchizedek to Abraham at just the right time so he would be able to stand for his convictions.