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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 14

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

Verses 1-24



Genesis 14

1. The Great Foray

2. Its Defeat by Abraham

3. Melchizedek

4. Abraham’s Disinterestedness

The account of the war, or foray, in the fourteenth chapter of Genesis, treated but as an episode in the life of Abraham, very briefly outlined, yet is full of interest in showing how the nations descending from the three sons of Noah were strangely mingled in the countries drained by the Tigris, Euphrates, and the Jordan. The most labored research of modern times, including all discoveries of archeology and philology, fails to solve satisfactorily the perplexing questions of nationality bristling in this episode. The best human authorities differ as to the location of Ellasar, one of the kingdoms mentioned, and of the nations over whom Tidal reigned, and even as to the location of the five cities of the plain. There is equal difficulty in determining with certainty the derivation of some of the nations and tribes mentioned in our lesson. But the solution of these questions is of little practical importance in our times. The best and safest course for us to pursue is to follow strictly the Bible story, and later, if you have leisure and desire, you may prosecute studies in the vast and varied literature pertaining to the subject. We need not waste time in perplexing ourselves over these matters now.

Just a few sentences will be sufficient to outline the situation: Abraham, the hero of the story, is at Hebron, west of the Dead Sea, in the southern part of Palestine. The mountains are between him and that sea. He has formed an alliance for mutual protection with three brothers, Marnre, Eschol, and Aner, who are Amorites, that is, descendants of Ham. Lot, his nephew, is living in Sodom, chief city and head of the five confederate and petty governments near the Dead Sea. These are descendants of Ham.

The country east of the Jordan River, commencing at a point as far north as the sea of Galilee, and extending south as far as the middle of the Dead Sea, is held by three tribes of giants, called Rephaim, Zuzim, and Ernim. These are original inhabitants; that is, they were in the country before the Canaanites, Ham’s descendants, migrated to Palestine. They were descendants of either Shem or Japheth. They were idolaters, worshiping the moon goddess, Ashtoreth (plural Ashtaroth), called by the Greeks, Astarte. The corresponding male divinity was Baal, the sun god.

South of these, and in the northern and mountainous part of Arabia, were the Horites. These also were original inhabitants, who dwelt in neither tents nor houses but in caves. Hence they are called Troglodytes, that is, those who creep into holes. From which son of Noah they were descended the record does not clearly show) and research has not satisfactorily determined. This example of cave dwellers in historic times is a sufficient refutation of the baseless speculation that cave dwellers and the Stone Age belong to an infinitely remote past, and marked a grade of man’s evolution from lower animals. Troglodytes never mark an ascending scale from lower animalism, but always a degradation from a higher grade. Cave dwellers and the most highly civilized races are contemporaries.

West of these in the mountainous district of Asia, between Palestine and Mount Sinai, were the Amorites, descendants of Ham, with some of whom Abraham was in covenant; and the Amalekites of unknown origin. With the Amalekites our later history will have much to do. They are the uncompromising foes of Israel after the exodus from Egypt. They are called by Balaam "The first of the nations" (Goiim), (Numbers 24:20). We will hear of them throughout the Old Testament period. It must not be supposed that they commenced with Amaiek, grandson of Esau (Genesis 36:10-16), though it is probable that this descendant of Esau was named after them, and his descendants became mingled with them, as perhaps also the descendants of Ishmael mingled with the Horites whom they dispossessed of the country around Mount Seir.

Let us now glance at the other parties of the story. We have seen how Nimrod, a descendant of Ham, through Gush, established the first empire in the land of Shinar in the lower valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris, and pushed northward to Nineveh. This ancient empire is now divided into two governments: Shinar, ruled by Arnraphel, and Ellasar ruled by Arioch, and both of these are now tributary to Elam, a country east of them and extending south to the Persian Gulf. The Elamites were descendants of Shem. So that now under Chedorlaorner the Shemites hold dominion over nearly all the original territory assigned to Shem. Thirteen years before this story opens they had subdued the five petty kingdoms of which Sodom was chief. In the thirteenth year these cities had revolted. The nations under Tidal, who were also subject to Elam, were probably descendants of Japheth, north of Elam in Assyria. The empire of Chedorlaorner was, therefore, very extensive, but neither homogeneous nor cohesive, being held together only by force of arms and the genius of Chedorlaorner. It embraced nearly all the Tigris and Euphrates country down to the Persian Gulf, part of Arabia, and much of Syria.

On the revolt of Sodom and its confederates, Chedorlaorner organizes and conducts one of the best planned and most extensive campaigns in early history. Assembling into one great flying column the forces of Elam, Shinar, Ellasar, and uniting them with the nations under Tidal, he sweeps down first upon the Rephaim, then upon the Horim, then upon the Zuzim, then upon the Emirn, all the time moving south until he reaches his terminus at El-paran, on the border of the Sinai wilderness. Thus far he has moved east of the Jordan and the Dead Sea. Now turning north and on a line westward of his first movement, he smites the Amalekites and Amorites southwest of the Dead Sea, and moving near to Abraham’s home in Hebron, he falls upon the cities of the plains, defeats the five kings in the valley of Siddim, spoils Sodom and Gomorrah, and moves as rapidly north as the great booty and numerous captives will permit. Whether he moved east or west of the Dead Sea depends upon the location of Sodom and Gomorrah. My own conviction is that from Engedi, on the west coast of the sea, he moved around the southern end, and there fought his battle and captured the cities whose site was southwest of the Dead Sea. Among the captives is Lot, now also stripped of all his goods, both household effects and cattle.

So far the expedition has been a complete success. Fugitives from Sodom carry the doleful story of the disaster to Abram, the Hebrew, at Hebron. The fate of his unfortunate kinsman is his interest in the matter. We now discover a new trait in Abram’s otherwise peaceful character. He becomes suddenly a man of war and a general. He hastily organizes a flying column of his own armed retainers, 318 in number, and of his confederates in covenant, the three Amorite brothers. What force they had does not appear in the record. With this column Abram rapidly pursues the now careless and heavy laden army of Chedorlaorner, overtakes them at Dan, the most northern part of Palestine, divides his forces and surprises them by a night attack on both flanks, utterly routs them, presses on in a relentless pursuit as far as Damascus, retakes all the spoil and recovers all the prisoners. It was a regular Stonewall Jackson campaign; matchless in strategy, swift in execution, and persistent in the pressure of the defeated army We are surprised at this achievement of Abram. We never could have suspected from his past history that beneath his quiet, religious, and peaceable disposition there slumbered the spirit and genius of a great general and swift-smiting warrior.

From a military point of view, Chedorlaomer’s well-planned campaign and Abram’s defeat of the whole plan in its hour of victory, by one lightning stroke equal to Rossbach, is full of interest. But a greater surprise awaits us. The news of his great victory flies before him on his return. He comes as a conquering hero, a deliverer of many smitten people. As he approaches Salem, afterward Jerusalem, a personage mightier than Abram steps out of the shadows to bless him and then recedes into the shadows and is swallowed up for ever. The episode is the most unique, startling, dramatic, and mysterious in all history. We hold our breath in surprise as the brief incident seems to step out of the skies and step back again. The author tells the story with the simplicity and brevity of a child, without one word of explanation to satisfy the curious. A silence falls on the scene and its incident unbroken for nearly 900 years. It is then broken by the psalmist king of Israel, whose prophetic spirit foresees the ascended messianic king on the throne of heaven and exclaims: Jehovah hath sworn, and will not repent:

Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. – Psalms 110:4

Silence falls again on both the original incident and the subsequent vision for more than a thousand years, to be broken by the apostolic voice speaking in the letter to the Hebrews, a voice of light which shines back for twenty centuries and re-illumines the startling episode of Abram’8 life, but only intensifies its mystery. For thirty centuries men have been reading that brief paragraph in the fourteenth chapter of Genesis. .From the mind of every reader leaps the question: Who is Melchizedek? When the psalmist record is added, the question doubles: Who, who is Melchizedek? When the apostolic record comes, the question trebles: Who, who, who was Melchizedek?

Men who never propounded the question to themselves, "What must I do to be saved?" have died unhappy because they could not find out who was Melchizedek. Curiosity deepens as time rolls on. Savants and schoolboys, rabbis and rustics, have assumed the role of Ordipus to this sphinx. And in all probability the reader also is now asking, "Who was Melchizedek?" I am quite sure that I will fail to satisfy your curiosity, but I will try, provided you will not ask me to go out of the record. So I will hoist your question to the masthead of a separate division:

We are shut up to three records: Genesis 14:18-20; Psalms 110:4; Hebrews 5:6-7. Many answers by many men have been given, a few of which will be merely named: He was Shem; he was Ham; he was an angel; he was a pre-manifestation of the Son of God in human form; he was the Holy Spirit; he was an appearance of the divine influence. Only two of these answers have been made plausible enough to obtain wide acceptance. These two alone will be noted, then one additional will be discussed.

First, therefore, was he Shem? The argument in favor of this theory is substantially as follows:

Shem was alive at this date. He was about 100 years old at the time of the deluge and lived 500 years after that event. This establishes the fact that he was a contemporary of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

This was a king in the middle of the territory assigned to Shem, and the place, afterward Jerusalem, always remained the sacred center of Semitic sentiment and religion. It was to this place, Mount Moriah, Abraham went later by divine command to offer up Isaac.

He was a priest of the Most High God. And by divine arrangement in patriarchal times the head of the family was the priest of the family. Shem, then living, was the head and priest of all his descendants.

By virtue of his leadership and office he was greater than Abraham and was entitled to the tithes offered by his illustrious descendant.

It was exceedingly appropriate that the aged and venerable patriarch should go forth and bless his distinguished descendant on his deliverance of the whole country from an invading and despoiling tyrant.

Abram’s instant recognition of his superior standing and office is perfectly natural if this were Shem, but would call for a revelation if Melchizedek were a Canaanite, resting under Noah’s curse.

Such a priesthood in the person of a Hamite was violative of the religious birthright of Shem. Noah’s prophecy had declared: "Blessed be Jehovah) the God of Shem." This was the spiritual primogeniture held by Abel above Cain, by Seth above Cain, by Abram above Haran, by Isaac above Ishmael, by Jacob above Esau, by Judah above Reuben.

The second plausible theory is that Melchizedek was a pre-manifestation of the Son of God – an appearance in human form as in Genesis 18:22, and Joshua 5:13-15. The arguments in support of this theory are derived from the seventh chapter of the letter to the Hebrews:

The titles: (a) King of Righteousness, and King of Peace, (b) Priest of the Most High God.

Without earthly parentage or genealogy.

Eternity of being expressed in these words: "Having neither beginning of days nor end of life"; "Here men that die receive tithes, but there one of whom it is witnessed that he liveth."

Eternity of office: "Priest for ever"; "abideth a priest continually"; "a priest who hath been made not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life." His greatness: "But without dispute the less is blessed of the better."

The third theory, and the only one worth consideration, is based on both negative and positive argument:

Negative. He was not Shem, (a) because the record nowhere calls him by that name, which is marvelous if he had been Shem, and (b) because his lack of genealogy or registered pedigree makes it impossible that he could have been Shem, since his pedigree is carefully and repeatedly given.

He was not a pre-manifestation of the Son of God, but a type of the Son of God. God cannot be a type of himself. There is a likeness between shadow and substance, but not identity.

Positive. The Genesis account is simple and natural history. The king of Sodom and the king of Salem are both recognized as going out to meet Abram, in the same connection (Genesis 14:17-18), and as if both were earthly kings.

As the place of meeting was in the territory of the king of Salem, he acts as a host and provides refreshments for all parties; but being priest as well as king, he blesses Abram and receives tithes.

He was greater than Abram by superiority of office. The points of likeness between him and our Lord, which constitute him a type are these:

As to kingship: His name meant king of righteousness, and his country, Salem, meant peace. These normal significations were relations in Christ’s case.

As to priesthood: Melchizedek was not a priest because the head of a family, nor because of a pedigree connecting him with a family of priests, as in the case of the children of Levi; but by direct appointment of God, and this appointment was not transmissible to his descendants. It stood out unique without precedent or consequent, and hence figuratively was for ever. So far as the record goes there is no genealogy of the man. No account of his father or mother or descendants. Just as now, people who are proud of their ability to trace their descent in England from William the Conqueror, or in this country from Revolutionary sires, count a man who is unable to trace his descent as a man of no family. So the prophet Isaiah speaks of the Messiah who was cut off: "Who shall declare his generation?" There is no record of the beginning or end of Melchizedek’s priesthood, and hence its seeming eternity. In its seeming, not in its reality, is its likeness of Christ’s priesthood. So far as the history goes, Melchizedek cannot be proved to be a descendant of Shem, Ham, or Japheth. It is as if he were a foundling, an orphan, whose parentage is undeterminable, who yet by sturdy manhood won his way to the throne, and by his piety in the midst of darkness was singled out by the Almighty to be his priest. A.II around him was gross idolatry. He alone worshiped the true God and mediated between his subjects and God with priestly functions. These singularities in his remarkable history made him a type of the great messianic High Priest. In Joshua’s time we shall find an Adonizedek, king of Salem, who possesses none of the characteristics of Melchizedek.

According to this theory, Melchizedek was a real earthly king of unknown parentage, who, without the aid of family teaching, and in the midst of gross idolatry, was taught of God and appointed his priest, though of the time of the appointment there is no record, and none of its discontinuance.

Our lesson closes with another flash of light on the greatness of the character of Abram: "And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods thyself. And Abram said unto 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 shoe-latchet nor aught that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich: save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men that went with me, Aner, Escliol and Mamre; let them take their portion" (Genesis 4:21-24). The lifting up of his hand indicates an oath or vow made to God, doubtless when he started in pursuit, that if the Lord would bless him he would not enrich himself by this war. His disinterestedness is mingled with justice. He does not bind his allies by his oath, and insists that they should have their lawful part of the spoils. The reader will note here the first mention of tithes.

1. In the great foray of the fourteenth chapter of Genesis, what great difficulties confront the reader?

2. Briefly outline the situation at the beginning of this episode.

3. What was the extent and nature of the empire of Chedorlaorner?

4. Describe the military campaign of Chedorlaorner.

5. Describe Abram’s brilliant counterstroke.

6. To what modern general may Abram be compared in this marvelous campaign?

7. What two great events grace his triumph on his return?

8. Who broke the silence first after the first incident, and when does second voice break another silence?

9. Name several theories of Melchizedek.

10. What is the first theory discussed and what are the arguments in favor of it?

11. What is the second theory and the arguments for it?

12. The third theory and its arguments?

13. Was his offering of bread and wine a prototype of the Lord’s Supper?

14. In what respect was he a type of Christ?

15. Why did Abram refuse reward from the king of Sodom?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Genesis 14". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/genesis-14.html.
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