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the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 14

Dummelow's Commentary on the BibleDummelow on the Bible

Verses 1-24

The Battle of the Kings, and the Capture and Rescue of Lot

Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, had subdued the Canaanites of the Jordan valley some years before the events narrated in this chapter. The latter had rebelled, and a campaign for their fresh subjugation was undertaken, which included a general punitive expedition from Syria to the Gulf of Akaba.

Within the last few years Assyrian tablets of great antiquity have been found, throwing considerable, if indirect, light on this narrative, and helping to determine its date. The cuneiform inscriptions on them refer to a series of campaigns by the kings of Elam NE. of Chaldea, perhaps about 2150 b.c. Their conquests extended over the vast territories, which became later the Babylonian and Assyrian empires, and included Syria and Canaan. The names Amraphel, Arioch, and (perhaps) Chedorlaomer occur in these inscriptions, and help to give a historical Betting to the present narrative. The Tel el Amarna tablets discovered in Egypt testify to the dominion exercised by these northern nations over Syria and Canaan some centuries later, perhaps whilst Israel was still in Egypt; see on Numbers 13:17.

1. Amraphel] king of Shinar or Babylonia. He eventually expelled the Elamites who had invaded his territory. Amraphel has by many authorities been identified with Hammurabi of the inscriptions. A tablet of laws issued by this monarch was discovered at Susa in 1902, and has been translated: see art. ’Laws of Hammurabi.’ Arioch] identified with Eriaku, king of Larsa (Ellasar), on the left bank of the Euphrates in S. Babylonia. He was a contemporary and rival of Amraphel, and of Elamitic family. Chedorlaomer] A name read by Prof. Sayce as Kudurlaghgamal was found on a tablet of Hammurabi in 1896. This reading is, however, questioned. The element Kudur (perhaps ’servant’) is found in the names of other Elamite kings, e.g. Kudur-Nahundi, and ’bricks have been found at Mugheir (Ur) due to a king Kudur-Mabug who calls himself Adda-Martu, “ruler of the west country,” viz. Canaan’ (D.). Tidal] identification uncertain. Of nations] RV ’Goiim’; perhaps the Heb. word is intended to describe the Guti, a powerful nation N. of Babylonia.

2. The five towns (Pentapolis) mentioned here lay round the Dead Sea. The kings were mere chieftains, tributaries of Chedorlaomer, who now threw off his yoke.

3. The vale of Siddim which is the Salt Sea] The words imply that what had been the fertile vale of Siddim was covered, in the author’s time, by the Salt (Dead) Sea. It is a disputed question whether this vale in which were the ’cities of the plain,’ was situated at its N. or S. end. ’For the N. end, it is argued that Abraham and Lot looked upon the cities from near Bethel (Genesis 13:10), whence it would be impossible to see the S. end of the Dead Sea; that the name “Circle (or plain) of Jordan” is inapplicable to the S. end; and that the presence of five cities there is impossible. On the other hand, at the S. end of the Dead Sea there lay, through Roman and mediaeval times, a city called Zoara by the Greeks and Zughar by the Arabs, which was identified by all as the Zoar of Lot. Jebel Usdum, at the SE. end, is the uncontested representative of Sodom. The name Kikhar (“circle”) may surely have been extended to the S. of the Dead Sea; just as today, the Ghôr (lower Jordan valley) is continued a few miles to the S. of Jebel Usdum. Jewish and Arab traditions fix on the S. end; and finally the material conditions are more suitable there than on the N end to the description of the region both before and after the catastrophe, for there is still sufficient water and verdure on the E. side of the Ghôr to suggest the Garden of the Lord, while the shallow bay and long marsh at the S. end may, better than the ground at the N. end of the sea, hide the secret of the overwhelmed cities’ (G. A. Smith). The Dead Sea, which is about 46 m. long by 9 m. wide, is now nearly divided in two parts towards the S. end by a tongue of land jutting from the E. shore. This tongue probably once joined the opposite shore, and formed the S. limit of the Sea: but it is conjectured that, by the action of an earthquake, a subsidence took place, and, as Prof. Smith hints, what had been the fertile vale of Siddim became a desolate lagoon. The saltness of the water (26 per cent, as compared with the 4 per cent, of the ocean) is due to the presence of a mountain of rock salt (Jebel Usdum) at the S. end of the sea. Fish cannot live in it, not so much owing to its saltness as to the excess of bromide of magnesium; and the extreme buoyancy of its waters is well known. The position of this salt mountain, taken in connexion with Genesis 19:26 and the occurrence of bitumen pits at the S. end (see on Genesis 14:10), supports the theory of the position of the cities just mentioned. The name ’the Dead Sea’ occurs nowhere in the Bible, and has not been found earlier than the 2nd cent. a.d.

4. They] i.e. the Canaanite chieftains. They refused to pay tribute.

5f. The Campaign of Chedorlaomer. Passing Hamath in Syria, and Damascus, the invaders first attacked the Rephaim, a race of great stature, who lived in the Bashan district, E. of Jordan. Their chief city was Ashteroth Karnaim, meaning, perhaps, ’Ashtaroth of the two horns.’ ’Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Zidonians, and associated commonly with Baal in worship (1 Kings 11:5; 2 Kings 23:13), was the female or productive principle in nature. She is identified with Ishtar (Assyria) and Astarte (Greece and Rome). Sometimes she is regarded as the Moon-goddess (Baal=Sun, cp. Genesis 14:5), sometimes as Yenus, the goddess of love. Her image of wood, cp. Deuteronomy 16:21; 2 Kings 23:15, was called an Asherah (AY “grove”)’ (’Camb. Compn. Bible’). Zuzims] or Zamzummims, in the country between the rivers Arnon and Jabbok: cp. Deuteronomy 2:20. Ham] Perhaps Rabbath Ammon to S. of Bashan, or Hameitat, 6 m. S. of the Dead Sea. The Peshitto and the Yulgate render ’among them’ for in Ham. Emims] They held what became the land of Moab: cp. Deuteronomy 2:10. Shaveh Kiriathaim] i.e. ’the plain of Karyathaim.’ It is mentioned on the Moabite Stone, but the site is disputed: cp. Numbers 32:37.

6. Proceeding S. the invaders smote the Horites, cave-dwellers in the mountainous district of Seir, afterwards held by the Edomites, descendants of Esau. This district extends from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Akaba. The wonderful rock city Petra may have been hollowed out by them. Thence they proceeded to Elath, near the wilderness of Paran, the scene of the forty years’ wandering, known as Et-Tih: see on Numbers 21:21. Turning to the north-west further victories were gained over the Amalekites at Kadesh Barnea, called also En-Mishpat (’well of judgment’), and over the Amorites at Hazezon-tamar, or Engedi, on the W. side of the Dead Sea.

8-10. The vale of Siddim was now reached, and was the scene of a fierce battle with the five Canaanite kings.

10. Slimepits] Wells of inflammable bitumen, a mineral pitch allied to naphtha. Masses of bitumen are still thrown up in the S. portion of the lake. The Canaanite armies seem to have been snared in the slimy substance. The king of Sodom.. fell there] This refers rather to his army, as we find him welcoming Abraham on his return (Genesis 14:17).

12. Lot with his wealth would be a desirable prisoner.

13. The Hebrew] Abraham may have been so called from his ancestor Eber (Genesis 11:14). As the Heb. ibrî, however, means ’of the country beyond,’ the title may have been given to him by the Canaanites because he had come from across the Euphrates. LXX renders, ’Abraham the crosser.’ In OT. the word generally occurs in the mouth of foreigners or in connexion with them: cp. Genesis 40:15; Genesis 43:32; 1 Samuel 13, 14, and some scholars consider it probable that the present narrative may come from a Canaanite source. The Jews called themselves ’Israel,’ ’Israelites.’ Plain of Manure] i.e. Hebron: see on 1 Samuel 13:18.

14. This number of able-bodied men in Abraham’s household shows that he was now a chieftain of great importance. He also had allies in the venture: see Genesis 14:24.

14. Dan] known in Abraham’s day as Laish. It was near the sources of the Jordan, some 30 m. N. of the Sea of Galilee. In later days part of the tribe of Dan settled there (Judges 18:27-29).

15. The Elamite army was doubtless much larger than Abraham’s following, but the attack from different quarters in the darkness created a panic, similar to that caused by Gideon’s men (Judges 7). Hobah] N. of Damascus.

17. The king of Sodom] see on Genesis 14:10. The king’s dale] unknown. Perhaps the place where Absalom set up a pillar: see 2 Samuel 18:18. Josephus says it was near Jerusalem.

18. Melchizedek] The word may mean ’Sidik’ (a deity) ’is my king,’ although in Hebrews 7 the Jewish writer in connexion with his argument explains it as ’King of righteousness.’ In Joshua 10:3, five hundred years later, we find another king of Jerusalem whose name has the same termination, viz. Adonizedec, i.e. ’Sidik is my lord.’ Melchizedek was king of Salem, the chief town of the Jebusites, known to us as Jerusalem. The Amarna letters (1400 b.c., written in cuneiform characters on clay tablets) which passed between the rulers of Egypt and their officers in Canaan (at that time tributary to Egypt), show that its name was then Uru-Salim, ’the city of peace.’ Among these tablets are letters from its king Ebed-tob to the Pharaoh of the time, in one of which he states that his office was not an hereditary one, but that he owed his position to the Egyptian king. Cp. Hebrews 7:3, ’without father or mother.’

Brought forthe bread and wine] to refresh Abraham and his party.

He was the priest of the most high God] This Canaanite chieftain was both king and priest, a combination not uncommon in those days: cp. Jethro (Exodus 18:12). ’He (Melchizedek) is designated priest of El Elyon, the most high God, whom Abraham, as we see from Genesis 14:22, could in a general way acknowledge as his god. This agrees very well with the findings of the history of religions. There is abundant evidence for the name El or Il as the oldest proper name of deity among the Babylonians, Assyrians, Phœnicians, and Sabeans,.. among foreign peoples he was early pushed into the background by younger gods who only expressed particular aspects of his being.. but Melchizedek in his worship still held fast to him as the old sovereign god, the ruler of the universe’ (D.).

20. Abraham, recognising in Melchizedek a priest of the true God, receives his blessing, and gives him as God’s representative a tithe (tenth part) of the spoils he has just taken as a thank offering. Other instances of the payment of tithes are Genesis 28:22; Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 31:31.; 2 Samuel 8:11.

21. Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself] The victor used to keep the whole booty, including prisoners who became his slaves. The king of Sodom proposes that Abraham should restore the captives but keep the spoil.

22-24. Abraham nobly refuses to keep anything for himself, but claims their share of the spoils for his Amorite allies. Possibly the character of the Sodomites made any transaction with them odious to him.

22. I have lift up mine hand] a form of swearing: cp. Exodus 6:8. The Lord, the most high God] Jehovah El Elyon. Note that Abraham prefixes Jehovah to the title used by Melchizedek, ’as if to claim for Him the exclusive right to supreme divinity.’

23. Shoelatchet] or ’sandal thong’: i. e. a thing of the least value.

Note. Melchizedek is referred to again twice in the Bible (Psalms 110:4; Hebrews 5-7), and each time as a type of the priesthood of Christ. ’The Melchizedek type of priesthood is, first, a royal priesthood (king of righteousness); second, a righteous priesthood (king of righteousness); third, a priesthood promotive of peace, or exercised in the country of peace (king of Salem=king of peace); fourth, a personal, not an inherited, dignity (without father, without mother, i.e. so far as the record is concerned); fifth, it is an eternal priesthood (without beginning of days or end of life—so far as the record is concerned) ’(HDB. art. ’Hebrews’). See on Hebrews 5, 6, 7.

Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Genesis 14". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcb/genesis-14.html. 1909.
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