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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Genesis 14

 

 

Introduction

Here again we have a whole chapter that cannot be identified with any of the alleged prior sources of Genesis, and this is characteristic of hundreds of other passages large and small that do not fit the theories. It is a waste of time to study the contradictory "guesses" of men concerned with only one thing, namely, that of finding some way to deny what is written here and what has come down to us as the Word of God. If we should go into the guessing game, one man's guess is as good as another's, and the Christian spirit which reads in this passage a marvelous revelation from the Father of all mankind is a thousand times more dependable than the fulminations of the critics. As stated repeatedly in this series, one word from the N.T. is worth more than a whole library of the works of guessing liberal critics. And that N.T. word is available on this chapter, especially, with reference to the episode involving Melchizedek, who appears here as an outstanding type of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The war in which Abram rescued Lot is denied by some on the basis that "it is not like Abram," and then it is classified as "a miracle" and rejected on the grounds of the a priori bias of some of the scholars that miracles are impossible! We reject such inadequate and irresponsible handling of the sacred text in this chapter. Miracle is an outstanding feature of the O.T., the sine qua non of the entire concept of God's choice and protection of a Chosen Nation through whom He would bring in "The Dayspring from on High" in order to deliver people from their sins.

The burden of the whole chapter is that of relating the account of the military operation in which Abram and his allies rescued Lot following his capture by a raiding party composed of an alliance of kings. This amazing narrative is the matrix in which is also embedded the significant episode regarding Abram's encounter with Melchizedek. The discernible reasons for the inclusion of this here would appear to be:

  1. For the purpose of revealing the great type of Jesus Christ, Melchizedek, the whole account being necessary in that presentation. That the Melchizedek incident is the important thing here is apparent in that the author of Hebrews devoted extensive passages to the discussion of it.

  2. For the purpose of emphasizing the fact that monotheism was not invented or even "discovered" by Abraham nor any of his posterity, but that it still remained on earth, however, in a limited and insufficient extent. Melchizedek was not a pagan but a follower of the true and only God. After all, with the consideration of the longevity of the patriarchs of that period, only a few generations had passed since the one true God revealed Himself to Noah and rescued him and his family from the Deluge. The apostasy after that event was widespread, of course, and in the process of becoming total, but Melchizedek proves that it was not yet complete. It was precisely for that reason that Abram and the Chosen People were commissioned and charged in order to prevent that knowledge from disappearing from the earth, and in the very nature of such a purpose, it was necessary that God's operation "Chosen People" should have begun while that knowledge was still extant on earth. This shows how vital to the proper understanding of God's covenant with Abraham is every line of the information recorded in this chapter.

  3. For the purpose of setting forth typically the fact that the kingly high priesthood of Christ is in every way superior, absolutely, to the priesthood established by the law of Moses. This was done by Abram's paying tithes to and receiving the blessing of Melchizedek.

The skill and genius evident in the construction of the narrative here are beyond the ability of even merely a learned man to accomplish, the hand of God Himself is in it. As for those who reject this portion of the Sacred Scriptures on grounds that "it does not fit," "there is no reason for this account," or that "it has no apparent connection with the covenant with Abram," their failure is explained in the N.T.:

"Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged." - 1 Corinthians 2:11.


Verse 1-2

"And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim (nations), that they made war with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (the same is Zoar)."

This narrative is not "completely isolated,"[1] but it is vital to the whole Genesis record. (See the introduction above.) "These names are historical, and it is highly probable that they reigned over the countries assigned to them in this chapter."[2] In our view, "probable" is not the proper word in such a review of what is written here, the correct word is "certain." Without the little war related here, none of the events of this chapter could have taken place.

Students of this passage should avoid being deceived by the critical device of blowing this entire episode up to the status of an international war involving hundreds of thousands of men and the rulers of mighty nations. Such a device changes the name Shinar into Babylon. Also, Tidal "king of nations" is magnified into a ruler of some vast international confederacy; all of that fits perfectly into the scheme of blowing this whole incident up into such a preposterous conflict that only an unqualified miracle could have enabled Abram to overcome them. This synthetic doctoring of the story here is erroneous. Quite obviously, these were five petty kings, ruling over such small areas as a small city. "Shinar," of course, is a poetic name applied to Babylon, in the same manner as a little hamlet west of Henrietta, Texas, calling itself "New York City"! Dozens of examples of this are visible all over the United States - Boston, London, and Moscow - all in Texas, etc.!

Jewish Commentators have long stressed this: "Shinar must here refer to a location closer to Canaan."[3] As for Tidal's being "king of nations," the reference is probably to a small city that called itself Goiim (meaning nations), as indicated in the ASV rendition. Also, it could have referred merely to the title he had given himself, such as General Lopez De Santa Ana's styling himself the "Emperor of North America"! As Skinner put it, "The data here cannot possibly be a fabrication."[4]

The cupidity and avarice of such a gang of petty rulers are the only motivation needed for raiding the cities attacked by them. The vision, encouraged by some, of the whole Babylonian structure in the East being involved here in the protection of vital trade routes is totally unnecessary. Lot had moved into the type of world where such events might logically have been expected, another possible reason for the inclusion of this brutal little war in the Genesis account.


Verse 3-4

"All these joined together in the vale of Siddim (the same is the Salt Sea). Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled."

"Which is the Salt Sea ..." The meaning here appears to be that the site of the battle mentioned was at the time of the writing of Genesis a portion of the Dead Sea. As Yates said, "Scholars affirm that the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah lie beneath the waters of the south end of this sea."[5]

"They rebelled ..." Chedorlaomer was probably the strongest of the raiding confederacy of kings, as indicated by his having laid tribute upon the cities mentioned.


Verses 5-7

"And in the fourteenth year came Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him, and smote the Rephaim in Ashteroth-Karnaim, and the Zuzim in Ham, and the Emin in Shaveh-kiriathaim, and the Horites in their Seir, unto Elparan which is by the wilderness. And they returned and came unto Enmishpat (the same is Kadesh), and smote all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites, that dwelt in Hazuzon-tamar."

The initial success of these marauding kings shows how formidable their raiding party must have been. Their strategy was that of mopping up the smaller and weaker points of resistance first, and then moving to attack Sodom and Gomorrah. The weakness and incompetence of the places raided must also have been a factor of their success.


Verse 8-9

"And there went out the king of Sodom, and the king of Gomorrah, and king of Admah, and the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (the same is Zoar); and they set the battle in array against them in the vale of Siddim; against Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, and Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar; four kings against five."

The different order in which the invading kings are listed here is significant in that this listing appears to be in the order of their importance. Sure enough, Amraphel king of Shinar is next to the bottom of the list here, instead of leading it; and therefore it denies any possibilities of his being any kind of great world overlord supposed by some, confirming the opinion that Shinar could not refer to Babylon.

"The vale of Siddim ..." means the "valley of Siddim." This valley lay southward from the Dead Sea, which later inundated the area.[6]


Verses 10-12

"Now the vale of Siddim was full of slime pits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and they fell there, and they that remained fled to the mountain. And they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their victuals, and went their way. And they took Lot, Abram's brother's son, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed."

"Slime pits ..." The words thus rendered actually mean "pits of bitumen,"[7] or "tar pits" as rendered in Good News Bible.

"They fell there ..." is not an assertion that the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah perished, because the king of Sodom appears alive in Genesis 14:17. The obvious meaning, therefore, is that they were disastrously defeated there. In all languages, some expressions have multiple meanings; and, of course, some translators and commentators, itching to discover (or create) contradictions, in the Bible deliberately choose a meaning here which is incorrect. As a matter of fact, this passage does not even say that the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah "fell," but that they fled. The RSV renders this place correctly, thus: "And as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them (the bitumen pits), and the rest fled to the mountain." Willis' comment is especially helpful: "In Hebrew it is impossible to tell whether the subject of `fell' is the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, or some of their soldiers."[8]

There is no description of the battle in which Sodom and Gomorrah fell and no mention of casualties on either side. It may be supposed that they were somewhat extensive, due to the difficult terrain where the conflict occurred. Even victorious armies sometimes sustain enormous casualties in achieving a given victory. We mention this, because the weakened state of the marauders could have been a factor in Abram's defeat of them.

The big thing related in the chapter thus far, of course, is the capture of Lot, and the plundering of his entire estate, including, evidently, the members of Lot's family.


Verse 13-14

ABRAM RESCUES LOT

"And there came one that escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew: now he dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, the Amorite, the brother of Eschol, and the brother of Aner; and these were confederate with Abram. And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued as far as Dan."

"These were confederate with Abram ..." Nothing is said of the numbers of soldiers Abram's three confederates were able to contribute to the mission, but they might have been significant. We may easily suppose that each of these three (brothers, probably) was able to arm and send forth as many soldiers as did Abram. Should we suppose that Abram had made a confederacy with men who would not have been able to do so? Although speculative, it is quite possible that the armed force commanded by Abram in the rescue mission numbered 1,300 men, an army fully as large as that of General Sam Houston who defeated the vastly superior forces of Santa Ana in the battle of San Jacinto, April 21,1836.

"Trained men born in his house ..." It is often overlooked that Abram was the possessor of many indentured servants, and slaves born in his house, including, no doubt, many natural sons born to his concubines:

"But unto the sons of the concubines that Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts; and he sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country." - Genesis 25:6.

Concubinage was common in Abram's family, his brother Nahor also having at least one concubine, and possibly others (Genesis 22:24). We are surprised that none of the scholars whose works we have studied make mention of this likely source of Abram's "trained men."

"Pursued as far as Dan ..." This place was in northern Palestine, and it was this fact that brought Abram into the Jerusalem area on his return trip to his residence in Hebron, thus providing the setting for his extremely significant meeting with Melchizedek. The entire record was constructed in such a manner as to focus upon that event.

As to how Abram was able to overtake them, that was easily done. The army of the raiding kinglets was licking its wounds following the victory over Sodom and Gomorrah. They were flushed with victory. They were encumbered by the host of captives, including women, whom they had seized. And, after the manner of such forces, they were also very likely overconfident, careless in the posting of sentries, perhaps having none at all, and feeling quite secure in the possession of their gains. If we should add that many of them were intoxicated, it would merely be to cite a probability.


Verse 15-16

"And he divided himself against them by night, he and his servants, and smote them, and pursued them to Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus. And he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people."

Skinner, while admitting the historicity of the narrative here, nevertheless set it aside as an exaggeration, claiming also that it was a miracle and therefore unacceptable![9] First, there is no need whatever to make a miracle out of this narrative, although we freely admit the providential guidance of the Lord in Abram's triumph. This was a token of what would continue to happen throughout the history of Israel. Whether or not a direct miracle was involved in this rescue, the element of the miraculous is conspicuous throughout all the subsequent dealings on the part of God with His Chosen People. The miracle which men are so anxious to deny in this passage may well have been what they claim it was, but their exaggerative interpretation of the difficulties is unjustifiable.

Summarizing the factors present in Abram's victory, we note that:

  1. Almighty God was with him and blessed his rescue effort.

  2. In all probability, the force he overcame was not any great international confederacy, as usually alleged, but a band of marauding kinglets. Many of the scholars are absolutely wrong in postulating any tremendous army as involved here. Chedorlaomer, perhaps the most important king mentioned, might possibly have been represented by a handful of men. There is no proof that he was king of Babylon.[10] Nothing in this account requires that we understand "Chedorlaomer came" to mean that he was personally present in the campaign. "In the inscriptions on ancient monuments, the expeditions sent out by various kings were ascribed to them personally,"[11] despite the fact of the kings not having been personally present on such excursions.

  3. Abram was aided by three allies.

  4. He had the advantage of surprise.

  5. He attacked by night.

  6. He attacked from a number of directions at one time.

  7. He attacked an overconfident force with their guard down.

  8. He attacked a force weary from a long campaign and depleted by casualities, how serious, or how many, unknown.

"And the people ..." Leupold affirmed that this expression, under the circumstances, meant, "the people bearing arms," that is "the soldiers."[12]

"Lot ... and his goods ..." The mention of "women" might also indicate that members of Lot's family were also rescued. In any case, he suffered no harm and was able to recover all of his property.


Verse 17

"And the king of Sodom went out to meet him, after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him, at the vale of Shaveh (the same is the King's Vale)."

It should be noted how skillfully the narrative is written in order to stress the great importance of Melchizedek. The king of Sodom evidently arrived first, but he is kept in the background while the far more important meeting with Melchizedek is recounted.

"The King's Vale ..." This and many other expressions in these chapters show that the narrative was being written at a time long after the events narrated. In this instance, however, it is not clear whether or not "King's Vale" refers to Melchizedek's Vale or to one who came later.


Verses 18-20

MELCHIZEDEK

"And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, and blessed be God Most High, who hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him a tenth of all."

Neil gave the only secret of understanding this place when he declared that: "We must be guided by the N.T. writers and by our Lord himself."[13] The N.T., of course, has a magnificent discussion of this event in Hebrews, where it is mentioned in Hebrews 5:5,6,10; 6:20, and repeatedly throughout Hebrews 7. The only other reference to Melchizedek in the Bible is in Psalms 110:4. This account in Hebrews is discussed thoroughly in my commentary on Hebrews, Hebrews 5:5-7:28, to which reference is made for those wishing to explore the meaning further.

We shall summarize briefly the significance of this great type of the Son of God.

  1. The manner of deployment of this account in the Genesis record stands for the eternal existence of Christ, "without beginning of days or end of life." Incidentally, this point made by the inspired author of Hebrews is the positive and emphatic denial of the notion that this material in Genesis was "added by a later hand."[14]

  2. "He brought forth bread and wine ..." The fact of this being mentioned first leads to the conclusion that something significant is meant by it. Of course, the Lord's Supper comes instantly to mind; and we cannot agree with scholars who ignore or contradict the symbolism certainly apparent in this event. The Holy Spirit knew the term "victuals," as used earlier in this chapter; and if that was all he meant here, why this significant terminology? Abram already possessed all of the booty recovered from the defeated kings, and thus Melchizedek's "bread and wine" had no place whatever in this narrative except as a symbol. And there is nothing else, in heaven or upon earth that could be symbolized by it except the Lord's Supper, a paramount feature of the kingdom to be established, in time, by Christ. The Ante-Nicene fathers were doubtless correct in the affirmation that:

    "Also in Melchizedek we see prefigured the sacrament of the sacrifice of the Lord, according to what divine Scripture testifies, and says, and Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought forth bread and wine."[15]

    Willis called such views "fanciful,"[16] suggesting that it means nothing more than that Melchizedek offered "the weary Abraham and his companions food."[17] However, as we have pointed out, the last thing on earth that triumphant Abram needed at that time was any food supplies; all of the looted booty of half of a dozen cities was in his hands and at his disposal, and, we must repeat, this "bread and wine" offered by Melchizedek has utterly no place whatever in this narrative except as a symbol.

  3. The very meaning of Melchizedek is "King of Righteousness," one of the titles of the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 7:1).

  4. The term "Salem" means "peace"; and therefore, "King of Salem" is the same as "King of Peace" (Hebrews 7:2), another of the glorious titles of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  5. Melchizedek was both king and priest, thus being amazingly typical of the Son of God. The author of Hebrews makes much of this.

  6. Melchizedek blessed Abram; and Jesus Christ blesses all who follow him.

  7. Melchizedek served both Gentiles and Jews, as witnessed by his receiving Abram. In the same manner, Jews and Gentiles alike are in the kingdom of Christ.

  8. The high priesthood of Christ has no formal beginning and no end whatever, and as this remarkable narrative appears in the Genesis record, somewhat like a little cameo cut into the very heart of it, it brings into view neither the beginning or end of Melchizedek's priesthood and kingship. And the inspired author of Hebrews received this as a type of the endless priesthood and kingship of Jesus Christ. (See also at the end of the comments on Genesis 14:18-20, for (9).)

"A priest of God Most High ..." It is a gross error to suppose that "Melchizedek was a pagan priest."[18] First, it is absolutely inconceivable that the N.T. would have hailed a pagan priest as a great type of Jesus Christ, but over and beyond that, there are the most solid and sufficient reasons why such a view could not possibly be correct:


MELCHIZEDEK WAS NOT A PAGAN

  1. Both the O.T. and the N.T. refer to him as a "Priest of God Most High," possessor of heaven and earth, a concept that never pertained to any heathen god.

  2. Abraham would never have paid tithes to a pagan. An essential element of Abram's answering God's call to leave Ur, was that he would worship the true God, not a pagan god. Therefore, his worshipping through Melchizedek proves that Melchizedek was worshipping the same God that Abram was worshipping.

  3. God Most High is not a title that ever belonged to a heathen god. Parts of this compound name, indeed have been ascribed to heathen deities, but the full title, never.

  4. No pagan priest would have blessed Abram.

As Yates said, "Abraham recognized Melchizedek's God [~'El] [~'Elyon] or [~Yahweh], the same God that Abraham worshipped.[19] As Payne put it, "The story would have been far different if Melchizedek had been a devotee of Baal."[20]

Another significant thing in this passage concerns Abram's use of the term [~Yahweh] (Jehovah) at a time long prior to the event in Exodus 6:3; revealing that it was of a "more complete knowledge" of that name that God spoke to Moses. Whitelaw commented that, "The use of Jehovah here proves the antiquity of its use as a designation of Deity."[21]

For a more thorough study of this most interesting narrative, reference is again made to my commentary on Hebrews, Hebrews 5:5-7:28.

"And he gave him a tenth of all ..." The antiquity of tithing as a part of the worship of God is seen here. For discussion of this, see more in my commentary on Hebrews 7:8. One of the principal theological facts established by this episode around the name of Melchizedek is that the coming high priesthood of Christ was both superior and prior to the priestly system "added" in the law of Moses. Also, it buries forever the widespread nonsense about the Jews having invented, or discovered monotheism. The truly discerning scholars of all ages have instantly recognized in Melchizedek, "A Canaanite prince by whom the true faith was retained amid the gloom of surrounding paganism."[22] We have lingered a little on this marvelous episode, true and accurate in itself, but also serving in the precise manner of its appearance in the sacred record as a witness of the Coming King.

"He gave him a tenth ..." The antecedent of the first "he" in this verse is Abram, indicating that Abram paid the tithes to Melchizedek, a fact of which we are absolutely certain because of Hebrews 7:1,2, which speaks of Melchizedek, "to whom Abraham divided a tenth part of all."

The fact of Melchizedek's receiving tithes is also made to be typical of Christ's receiving the tithes of Christians in heaven.

"There, he receiveth them (tithes)" (Hebrews 7:8). This should be added as (9) to the typical utility of Melchizedek cited above.

The sudden way in which the Scriptures draw back and close the curtain on Melchizedek is the divine way of making him a type of Jesus, the King-Priest, who like Melchizedek, stands alone unique in his priesthood and is absolutely distinct from the long Aaronic succession of priests.[23]

The inspired use of such a thing as the very placement of this passage in Genesis speaks volumes concerning the authenticity of the passage. This divine N.T. authority with reference to the passage here countermands and refutes all the criticisms ever made against it. Blessed be the word of the Lord!


Verses 21-24

ABRAM AND THE KING OF SODOM

"And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself. And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lifted up my hand unto Jehovah, God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread nor a shoe-latchet nor aught that is thine, lest thou shouldst say, I have made Abram rich: save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of them that went with me, Aner, Eschol, and Mamre; let them take their portion."

Significantly in this passage Abram continued to use the term Jehovah ([~Yahweh]) for God, indicating that he swore by that name, and in his refusal of any of the loot indicated that he promised Jehovah such restraint in case the victory for which he prayed was granted. Melchizedek also acknowledged that it was in answer to Abram's prayers that the victory had been granted. Thus, there is no way to make the passage in Exodus 6:3 refer to anything other than to increased and more specific knowledge of Jehovah than had been granted to Abram, who did most certainly know Jehovah, and by that name, as indicated here.

The generosity and magnanimity of Abram appear dramatically here, as does also his concern for his allies Aner, Eschol, and Mature, for whom he did not usurp the right of speaking, pointing out to the king of Sodom that he should negotiate personally with the allies and that they would speak for themselves.

We feel only disgust for the contradiction-hungry scholar (?) who asks, "How could Abram give a tenth to Melchizedek, if he had sworn not to take even as much as a string for himself?." As Leupold noted, "A religious tenth reveals the same spirit as the refusal for personal use."[24]

In this passage, the king of Sodom having waited until the episode with Melchizedek was concluded, presented himself before Abram with a suggestion that would have indeed added incredibly to the riches of that patriarch. In this must be seen the benefit to Sodom of having had even one righteous person in it, in the person of Lot. At a later time, ten such persons would have spared the city from God's judgment. It is ever thus, that the world is continually indebted to the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, however dimly they may be aware of it. "Ye are the salt of the earth," as stated by Jesus, is indeed the unqualified truth!

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Genesis 14:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/genesis-14.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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