As we approach chapter 14 we must remember that the original text was written hundreds of years before it was copied by Moses. By his time the Geography may have altered and many of the old town names had changed. So occasionally Moses adds an updated name, but even so some of the places mentioned are no longer known. For example, originally the area around the Dead Sea was simply called the Valley of Siddim. Who the Sidds were we don’t know!
Similarly we are about to meet many names of kings of the area but we have to adjust our thinking here. Nowadays when we hear the word King we make an association with our own Royal Family (At least, those of us living in the UK) and picture a national figure.
In those days it was a title given to a local chief – so Abram would have been referred to as king of Hebron. (Hebron was originally called Kiriath Arba (23:2) and may have taken its new name ‘hbr’ from Abram the Hebrew – see end of study 10b)
1 At the time when Am–raphel was king of Shinar (1), Arioch king of
Ell–asar (2), Ke–dor–laomer king of Elam (3) and Tidal king of Goi–im (4), 2 these kings went to
war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of
Admah, Shem–eber king of Zeboy–im, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar).
3 All these latter kings joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Dead
Sea Valley).4 For twelve years they had been subject to Ke–dor–laomer, but in the
thirteenth year they rebelled (See Map007 on page 2 for the kings of v2)
Note that in the original Hebrew the names of people groups often end in ‘I’ singular, or ‘im’ plural – ‘Goim’, ‘Zeboyim’, ‘Siddim’. That is rather like us adding ‘ish’: British, Scottish; or ‘ans’: Americans, Italians; or ‘ese’: ‘Burmese’, ‘Chinese’, or ‘ites’ etc. (Don’t ask who chooses these endings – it seems random to me!)
So the first we come to – ‘Goiim’, is not a town but more likely a loose term for ‘Gentile Peoples’, and so is difficult to place accurately on a map. Come to that, many of the actual towns are hard to locate with certainty so the maps are for general guidance, and are not terribly accurate.
What we have here are a group of Tribal Chiefs in Mesopotamia who effectively control the trade routes: from the Persian Gulf in the East, to the Mediterranean Sea in the West. All traders to and from India and the other countries beyond, and similarly those trading to and from the Mediterranean, would have to pay taxes, often in the form of ‘protection’.
For the last twelve years they had also controlled the route south through Damascus to the Gulf of Aqaba at the top of the Red Sea. This meant that they controlled all traffic to and from Egypt and the African coast that used the ‘Kings Highway’, to the east of the Jordan.
Now we hear in verses 3 and 4 that chiefs around the south end of the
Dead Sea decided that they were
strong enough to rebel. That of course provoked response and we read
5 In the fourteenth year, Ke–dor–laomer and the kings allied with him went out and defeated the Repha–ites
in Ashteroth Karna–im (A) , the Zuzites in Ham (B) , the Emites in Shaveh Kiriatha–im (C) 6 and the Horites in the hill country of Seir, as far as El Paran near the desert (D). 7 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.
It is important to understand what is going on before moving on –
Could someone explain in their own words what was happening here?
This action effectively removed all opposition from those living along the King’s Highway, and also those who might have been called on to help defend, when they started the main thrust of their campaign – aimed at the towns on the south-
8 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 (somewhere at the south end of the Dead Sea before the area was destroyed by God: Genesis 19)
9 against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar–four kings against five.
Even so, once the five kings saw the size of the attacking army, they did the sensible thing and ran for the hills.
10 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. 11 The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. 12 They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.
That was a bad mistake. These men may well have been known to Abram, and similarly he may possibly have been known by them. They did not want to meddle with the trade routes to the east of the Jordan – they may even have had trade agreements with Abram.
Abram himself might not have wanted to interfere with ‘legitimate’ control of the trade routes the other side of the Jordan, but capturing Lot – his nephew, was another matter entirely.
He would not have been in a position to attack the fairly powerful army by himself, but he was able to call on his business associates and their men, who were ready and willing to assist.
13 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 Eshcol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. 14 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.
Why 318? It has been suggested that for every twenty men there was a sergeant, and for every hundred, a captain – 300 men + 15 sergeants + 3 captains! But there would have been at least a similar number provided by the three brothers allied to Abram.
The men set off north, probably using the ‘ridge route’ which kept to high ground – the central spine of Canaan, past the Sea of Galilee, and on into Lebanon. The River Jordan, and mount Hebron, formed a natural barrier and line of defence between East and West. There were some fords near Jericho, but it was easier and quicker, to cross further north.
Note also ‘as far as Dan’ is a more modern description simply meaning ‘the most northern part of Israel’ but of course Dan (and Israel) had not been born at the time of Abram.
The triumphant armies of the Northern Kings would have been fairly slow moving. There was no need to hurry, they were enjoying the spoils of war, and there would have been many flocks and herds of captured animals to move. The nearer they came to Damascus, the safer they felt. Damascus was at the psychological boundary between North and South and once you were there you were on the home straight.
But it was home territory for Abram too. As they headed north they would have come to the main East–West trade route which crossed from the Mediterranean through Damascus, and it is likely that Abram’s armies turned here and followed this route to cut off their enemies just when they were feeling safe. Dividing his men so they could attack from two different directions would also have caused maximum confusion.
15 During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.
The routed army left everything and ran! Now speed was important and once Abram was convinced they were ‘on the run’ he could stop pursuing them and concentrate on returning with the plunder.
17 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).
Whether the defeated kings of the Dead Sea had regrouped and headed north in the hopes of recapturing people and possessions we don’t know, but we are told that they met Abram’s returning army at the King’s Valley. It is guessed that this was near Salem (Jerusalem).
18 Then Mel–chiz–edek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying,
‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
20 And praise be to God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.’
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
Melchizedek is a most interesting person. The Old Testament has little to say about him: he was King of Salem, and Priest of God Most High. (See also Psalms 110:4). This immediately raises a question: how could a true priest of God become king of a town in a pagan land? Or how could a pagan king become accepted as a true priest of God? (No easy answers to these!)
Then we are told he brought out bread and wine. Was that for the troops? Unlikely, there were many hundreds, and they had no doubt been feasting on the spoils they had recaptured. Was it for a feast between two Kings? Bread and Wine doesn’t sound feast-
Then was it symbolic? And if so what did it symbolise? It possibly formed part of a very early offering ritual, and is reflected in the instructions for the first Tabernacle – Exodus 25: 29-
29 And make its plates and dishes of pure gold, as well as its pitchers and bowls for the pouring out of offerings. 30 Put the bread of the Presence on this table to be before me at all times.
Of course, our thoughts immediately turn to the New Testament (John 6:48-
Hebrews chapter 7 is actually the best commentary on this passage and you may wish to take a detour and look at that.
One thought is that Melchizedek was a Theophany – Jesus Christ himself visiting Abram and confirming God’s blessing to him. That would seem to conflict with the fact that Melchizedek was king of Salem, 15 miles north of Abram’s town, and Abram would have known about him already. But the meeting was significant, and the blessing was an important confirmation to Abram.
Abram’s response was a tithe of everything – not as a tax to a king, but an offering to his God.
The king of Sodom sees his chance and tries to find if Abram’s generosity might extend to him – I doubt he was in any position to fight for the return of his possessions.
21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.’
22 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, 23 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.” 24 I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me – to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre. Let them have their share.’
Abram’s faith continues to grow: effectively he is saying ‘I will not rely on man’s help – I will trust the Lord for all that he has promised me’.
Even while, at the back of his mind, there is still a question – perhaps even a doubt, which we will look at in our next study.
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