Adam Clarke Commentary
The war of four confederate kings against the five kings of Canaan, Genesis 14:1-3. The confederate kings overrun and pillage the whole country, Genesis 14:4-7. Battle between them and the kings of Canaan, Genesis 14:5, Genesis 14:9. The latter are defeated, and the principal part of the armies of the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah slain, Genesis 14:10; on which these two cities are plundered, Genesis 14:11. Lot, his goods, and his family, are also taken and carried away, Genesis 14:12. Abram, being informed of the disaster of his nephew, Genesis 14:13, arms three hundred and eighteen of his servants, and pursues them, Genesis 14:14; overtakes and routs them, and recovers Lot and his family, and their goods, Genesis 14:15, Genesis 14:16; is met on his return by the king of Sodom, and by Melchizedek, king of Salem, with refreshments for himself and men, Genesis 14:17, Genesis 14:18. Melchizedek blesses Abram, and receives from him, as priest of the most high God, the tenth of all the spoils, Genesis 14:19, Genesis 14:20. The king of Sodom offers to Abram all the goods he has taken from the enemy, Genesis 14:21; which Abram positively refuses, having vowed to God to receive no recompense for a victory of which he knew God to be the sole author, Genesis 14:22, Genesis 14:23; but desires that a proportion of the spoils be given to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre, who had accompanied him on this expedition, Genesis 14:24.
In the days of Amraphel - Who this king was is not known; and yet, from the manner in which he is spoken of in the text, it would seem that he was a person well known, even when Moses wrote this account. But the Vulgate gives a different turn to the place, by rendering the passage thus: Factum est in illo tempore, ut Amraphel, etc. “It came to pass in that time that Amraphel, etc.” The Chaldee Targum of Onkelos makes Amraphel king of Babylon, others make him king of Assyria; some make him the same as Nimrod, and others, one of his descendants.
Arioch king of Ellasar - Some think Syria is meant; but conjecture is endless where facts cannot be ascertained. Chedorlaomer king of Elam - Dr. Shuckford thinks that this was the same as Ninyas, the son of Ninus and Semiramis; and some think him to be the same with Keeumras, son of Doolaved, son of Arphaxad, son of Shem, son of Noah; and that Elam means Persia; see Genesis 10:22. The Persian historians unanimously allow that Keeumras, whose name bears some affinity to Chedorlaomer, was the first king of the Peeshdadian dynasty.
Tidal king of nations - גוים (goyim), different peoples or clans. Probably some adventurous person, whose subjects were composed of refugees from different countries.
These made war with Bera, etc. - It appears, from Genesis 14:4, that these five Canaanitish kings had been subdued by Chedorlaomer, and were obliged to pay him tribute; and that, having been enslaved by him twelve years, wishing to recover their liberty, they revolted in the thirteenth; in consequence of which Chedorlaomer, the following year, summoned to his assistance three of his vassals, invaded Canaan, fought with and discomfited the kings of the Pentapolis or five cities - Sodom, Gomorrah, Zeboiim, Zoar, and Admab, which were situated in the fruitful plain of Siddim, having previously overrun the whole land.
Rephaims - A people of Canaan: Genesis 15:20.
Ashteroth - A city of Basan, where Og afterwards reigned; Joshua 13:31.
Zuzims - Nowhere else spoken of, unless they were the same with the Zamzummims, Deuteronomy 2:20, as some imagine.
Emims - A people great and many in the days of Moses, and tall as the Anakim. They dwelt among the Moabites, by whom they were reputed giants; Deuteronomy 2:10, Deuteronomy 2:11.
Shaveh Kiriathaim - Rather, as the margin, the plain of Kiriathaim, which was a city afterwards belonging to Sihon king of Heshbon; Joshua 13:19.
The Horites - A people that dwelt in Mount Seir, till Esau and his sons drove them thence; Deuteronomy 2:22.
El-paran - The plain or oak of Paran, which was a city in the wilderness of Paran; Genesis 21:21.
En-mishpat - The well of judgment; probably so called from the judgment pronounced by God on Moses and Aaron for their rebellion at that place; Numbers 20:1-10.
Amalekites - So called afterwards, from Amalek, son of Esau; Genesis 36:12.
Hazezon-tamar - Called, in the Chaldee, Engaddi; a city in the land of Canaan, which fell to the lot of Judah; Joshua 15:62. See also 2 Chronicles 20:2. It appears, from Song of Solomon 1:14, to have been a very fruitful place.
Bela, the same is Zoar - That is, it was called Zoar after the destruction of Sodom, etc., mentioned in Genesis 19.
Slime-pits - Places where asphaltus or bitumen sprang out of the ground; this substance abounded in that country.
Fell there - It either signifies they were defeated on this spot, and many of them slain, or that multitudes of them had perished in the bitumen-pits which abounded there; that the place was full of pits we learn from the Hebrew, which reads here בארת בארת (beeroth beeroth), pits, pits, i.e., multitudes of pits. A bad place to maintain a fight on, or to be obliged to run through in order to escape.
They took all the goods, etc. - This was a predatory war, such as the Arabs carry on to the present day; they pillage a city, town, or caravan; and then escape with the booty to the wilderness, where it would ever be unsafe, and often impossible, to pursue them.
They took Lot, etc. - The people, being exceedingly wicked, had provoked God to afflict them by means of those marauding kings; and Lot also suffered, being found in company with the workers of iniquity. Every child remembers the fable of the Geese and Cranes; the former, being found feeding where the latter were destroying the grain, were all taken in the same net. Let him that readeth understand.
Abram the Hebrew - See note on Genesis 10:21. It is very likely that Abram had this appellation from his coming from beyond the river Euphrates to enter Canaan; for העברי (haibri), which we render the Hebrew, comes from עבר (abar), to pass over, or come from beyond. It is supposed by many that he got this name from Eber or Heber, son of Salah; see Genesis 11:15. But why he should get a name from Heber, rather than from his own father, or some other of his progenitors, no person has yet been able to discover. We may, therefore, safely conclude that he bears the appellation of Hebrew or Ibrite from the above circumstance, and not from one of his progenitors, of whom we know nothing but the name, and who preceded Abram not less than six generations; and during the whole of that time till the time marked here, none of his descendants were ever called Hebrews; this is a demonstration that Abram was not called the Hebrew from Heber; see Genesis 11:15-27.
These were confederate with Abram - It seems that a kind of convention was made between Abram and the three brothers, Mamre, Eshcol, and Aner, who were probably all chieftains in the vicinity of Abram‘s dwelling: all petty princes, similar to the nine kings before mentioned.
He armed his trained servants - These amounted to three hundred and eighteen in number: and how many were in the divisions of Mamre, Eshcol, and Aner, we know not; but they and their men certainly accompanied him in this expedition. See Genesis 14:24.
And he divided himself against them - It required both considerable courage and address in Abram to lead him to attack the victorious armies of these four kings with so small a number of troops, and on this occasion both his skill and his courage are exercised. His affection for Lot appears to have been his chief motive; he cheerfully risks his life for that nephew who had lately chosen the best part of the land, and left his uncle to live as he might, on what he did not think worthy his own acceptance. But it is the property of a great and generous mind, not only to forgive, but to forget offenses; and at all times to repay evil with good.
And he brought back - the women also - This is brought in by the sacred historian with peculiar interest and tenderness. All who read the account must be in pain for the fate of wives and daughters fallen into the hands of a ferocious, licentious, and victorious soldiery. Other spoils the routed confederates might have left behind; and yet on their swift asses, camels, and dromedaries, have carried off the female captives. However, Abram had disposed his attack so judiciously, and so promptly executed his measures, that not only all the baggage, but all the females also, were recovered.
The king of Sodom went out to meet him - This could not have been Bera, mentioned Genesis 14:2, for it seems pretty evident, from Genesis 14:10, that both he and Birsha, king of Gomorrah, were slain at the bitumen-pits in the vale of Siddim; but another person in the meantime might have succeeded to the government.
And Melchizedek, king of Salem - A thousand idle stories have been told about this man, and a thousand idle conjectures spent on the subject of his short history given here and in Heb. vii. At present it is only necessary to state that he appears to have been as real a personage as Bera, Birsha, or Shinab, though we have no more of his genealogy than we have of theirs.
Brought forth bread and wine - Certainly to refresh Abram and his men, exhausted with the late battle and fatigues of the journey; not in the way of sacrifice, etc.; this is an idle conjecture.
He was the priest of the most high God - He had preserved in his family and among his subjects the worship of the true God, and the primitive patriarchal institutions; by these the father of every family was both king and priest, so Melchizedek, being a worshipper of the true God, was priest among the people, as well as king over them.
And he blessed him - This was a part of the priest‘s office, to bless in the name of the Lord, for ever. See the form of this blessing, Numbers 6:23-26; and for the meaning of the word to bless, see Genesis 2:3 (note).
And he gave him tithes - A tenth part of all the spoils he had taken from the confederate kings. These Abram gave as a tribute to the most high God, who, being the possessor of heaven and earth, dispenses all spiritual and temporal favors, and demands the gratitude, and submissive, loving obedience, of all his subjects. Almost all nations of the earth have agreed in giving a tenth part of their property to be employed in religious uses. The tithes were afterwards granted to the Levites for the use of the sanctuary, and the maintenance of themselves and their families, as they had no other inheritance in Israel.
I have lift up mine hand - The primitive mode of appealing to God, and calling him to witness a particular transaction; this no doubt generally obtained among the faithful till circumcision, the sign of the covenant, was established. After this, in swearing, the hand was often placed on the circumcised part; see Genesis 24:2, Genesis 24:9.
From a thread even to a shoelatchet - This was certainly a proverbial mode of expression, the full meaning of which is perhaps not known. Among the rabbinical writers חוט (chut), or חוטי (chuti), signifies a fillet worn by young women to tie up their hair; taken in this sense it will give a good meaning here. As Abram had rescued both the men and women carried off by the confederate kings, and the king of Sodom had offered him all the goods, claiming only the persons, he answers by protesting against the accepting any of their property: “I have vowed unto the Lord, the proprietor of heaven and earth, that I will not receive the smallest portion of the property either of the women or men, from a girl‘s fillet to a man‘s shoe-tie.”
Save only that which the young men have eaten - His own servants had partaken of the victuals which the confederate kings had carried away; see Genesis 14:11. This was unavoidable, and this is all he claims; but as he had no right to prescribe the same liberal conduct to his assistants, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, he left them to claim the share that by right of conquest belonged to them of the recaptured booty. Whether they were as generous as Abram we are not told.
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