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Four kings, having conquered five kings of Canaan, take Lot captive. Abram, with his servants, pursues and vanquishes them, and delivers Lot. Melchizedek blesseth Abram.
Genesis 14:1. And it came to pass, &c.— The Vulgate renders it, and it came to pass in those days, that Amraphel, &c. a translation which Houbigant follows and approves. It is very difficult to give any satisfactory account of the persons here mentioned. For my own part, I cannot help being very strongly of opinion, that these four kings were only petty monarchs, like those mentioned in the next verse; and not such illustrious princes as those of Persia and Babylon. Or, if we suppose they were kings of Shinar or Babylon, of Elam or Persia, &c. we must conclude, that these monarchies themselves were yet but small, and only growing into power. Almost all countries, we know, were at first divided into smaller principalities; and if we cannot, in the present case, give an exact account of the names of the places, it is not surely to be wondered at, at such a distance of time. Dr. Shuckford, who writes most plausibly at least upon the subject, supposes that the Assyrian empire had at this time extended itself over the adjacent countries, and had brought the little nations and petty princes of Asia under subjection, and, among the rest, the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, and of the other three nations mentioned, Genesis 14:2; Genesis 14:8. It is computed that this affair happened about the eighty-fourth or eighty-fifth year of Abram's life, a year or two before the birth of Ishmael, who was born when Abram was eighty-six years old, ch. Genesis 16:16. i.e.. in the year of the world 2093; four years before the death of Ninyas, the son of Ninus and Semiramis. So that Ninyas (according to Dr. Shuckford's supposition) must have been the Chedorlaomer of Moses, here called the king of Elam, or head of the Assyrian empire; and Amraphel king of Shinar was his deputy at Babylon in Shinar, as Tidal and Arioch were his deputies in some adjacent countries. It is remarkable, that, according to Diodorus Siculus, lib. 2: Ninyas was the first who appointed such deputies; and there is no impropriety in calling them kings; for, from what Isaiah hinted afterwards, it appears, that the Assyrian boasted his deputy-princes to be equal to royal governors: Are not my princes altogether kings? Isaiah 10:8. The occasion of this war is told us, Isaiah 10:4.—Twelve years they [the five kings mentioned, Isaiah 10:2.] served Chedorlaomer, i.e.. were his tributaries; and in the thirteenth year they rebelled; i.e.. endeavoured to recover their liberty, by refusing to pay the tribute he had imposed upon them. Upon which, in the fourteenth year, Isaiah 10:5. Chedorlaomer, or Ninyas, summoned his deputies, with an army, to attend him, and overrun the kingdoms in and about Canaan.
Genesis 14:2. Made war with Bera, &c.— These five kings were lords of the country, called Pentapolis, from their five cities, which stood in that rich and then fertile valley of Siddim, which is now the Salt-sea; so called from the great quantity of salt or bitumen wherewith it is impregnated. We call it the Dead-sea (Deuteronomy 29:23.); for it is of so strong a consistence, that the winds have not so much power over it, as over the waters, in common. The Hebrews call any large body of waters a sea: this, however, is properly enough so called, because it receives rivers into it, and has no exit; in which it resembles the Caspian sea, the lake of Mexico, &c. It may well be named the Salt-sea; for it is so exceedingly salt, that its waters seem fully saturated, or scarce able to dissolve any more; whence, in summer, its banks are incrustated with great quantities of dry salt.
Genesis 14:5. The Rephaims— The LXX and some others render this, the giants: they dwelt in Ashteroth-Karnaim, which was in Bashan, Deuteronomy 1:4.Joshua 9:10; Joshua 9:10. The word Karnaim signifying horned, some have supposed that this was the city of Ashteroth or Diana, dedicated to the moon, which, is always represented horned. The Zuzims are supposed to have lived in the country afterwards inhabited by the Ammonites, east of Canaan, Deuteronomy 2:20. The Emims joined on the south to the Zuzims, and inhabited the country afterwards possessed by the Moabites; they were also a robust, gigantic race. See Deuteronomy 2:9-10. The country which the Horites, Deu 2:6 inhabited, was afterwards possessed by the Edomites: El-paran, or the plain of Paran, was a part of the desert of Arabia Petraea. Those who would enter more into the history of these places, may receive satisfaction by referring to Dr. Wells's Sacred Geography.
Genesis 14:7. They returned, and came— i.e.. The kings mentioned Gen 14:5 returned from the conquest of the people enumerated in the foregoing verses, and then came to En-mishpat, which is Kadesh, a city in the frontiers of Idumaea, near the place where the Israelites afterwards murmured for want of water, and where God supplied them with water out of the rock En-mishpat, which signifies the fountain of judgment, might probably be so called, because judgment was there administered to the neighbouring people; or perhaps it was so called in after-times, from that severe judgment which God in that place passed upon Moses and Aaron for humouring the people in their unbelief. See Numbers 20:12.
And smote the country of the Amalekites— Hence it is evident, that Moses, under the direction of the Divine Spirit, who inspired him, intermixed ancient with modern names; which renders it difficult to give a determinate account of the nations and people referred to. The country of the Amalekites means that country which was inhabited by the people so called in the days of Moses; for the Amalekites had their name from Amalek, Esau's grandson, ch. Genesis 36:12. For the Amorites, see ch. Genesis 10:16. and Deuteronomy 20:20. Hazezon-tamar, was the same with Engedi, 2 Chronicles 20:2 a city, lying afterwards within the borders of the tribe of Judah, not far from the Dead-sea, Joshua 15:62.
Genesis 14:10. Vale of Siddim was full of slime-pits, &c.— Pits of (חמר see Genesis 11:3.) bitumen, which abounded much in that country. The Dead-sea, as we have observed before, contained a great quantity of this matter, and was thence called the Lake of Asphaltus, or Bitumen. See note on Genesis 11:2. The kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, in their flight, fell into some of these pits, whence one of them at least, the king of Sodom, was preserved, as we read of him again, Genesis 11:17.
Genesis 14:11. And they— That is, the victors.
REFLECTIONS.—This is the first war recorded in sacred history. Chedorlaomer, with his confederates, attacks the kings who, refused to continue tributaries to him, routs their forces, plunders their cities, and, among the rest of the captives, carries away Lot, for whose sake this victory is recorded. And now Lot began to see the folly of his choice, and to share in the evil of his bad fellow-citizens. Observe, 1. Pride and ambition are the great causes of the desolations which are wrought on the earth. 2. When a nation is sunk in luxury, it becomes an easy prey to any ambitious neighbour. Let us beware! 3. We are to blame ourselves for the mischiefs we meet with in bad company. What doth Lot here? 4. In public calamities the righteous often suffer with the wicked: but the other world will set all things right. 5. Too many are like Lot; when in haste to be rich, only going the ready way to be undone.
Genesis 14:13. Abram, the Hebrew— It is disputed whether Abram was called the Hebrew from his father Eber, or as coming from beyond the river Euphrates. Those who are inclined to the first, urge, that it was usual to denominate nations and people from some great progenitor; and as Eber was the father of this branch, it was natural to denominate Abram, and so his faithful descendants, from him: that if Abram had been so called only from passing the Euphrates, the name would not have descended to his posterity, who did not come from beyond the river: and that עבר eber, signifying only beyond, it seems too much to add the river to it. But Le Clerc, who is the strongest advocate for the second derivation, remarks, that eber, or heber, signifies the other side, whether of a river, sea, or any other thing: in which sense some people are called transmarine, transalpine, and the like. Accordingly the LXX and Aquila translate it περατης, the stranger, from beyond the river; as if it had been an appellation given to Abram and his family by the Canaanites. Nor can any good reason be offered, why Abram should be called a Hebrew from eber, rather than a Terahite from Terah, &c. Add to this, that it is very improbable, that the Canaanites should know any thing of Abram's being descended from Eber, whereas it was natural for them to distinguish him by the name of περατης, the Trans-Euphratian, or foreigner, because he not only came from beyond the Euphrates, but shunned all alliance with the Canaanites. And this, at the same time, gives a good reason, why the Ishmaelites, Edomites, and other descendants of Abram, were not called Hebrews; namely, because they incorporated with the Canaanites by marrying their daughters, and so insensibly wore out the distinction. Besides, the name derived from that source, was a perpetual memorandum to all his posterity of their great forefather's faith in relinquishing his own country, and coming a stranger into a foreign land, at the call of God. And probably, the word eber, though it signifies only beyond, might be used for the sake of shortness: the river, the Euphrates, being perhaps originally added to, but in common phrase dropt from, the sentence. The English word over seems to come from the Hebrew eber, as well as aber in the Welch, which signifies the fall of a lesser water into a greater, and in North-Wales a brook, a stream: from which word, and the name of the river joined to it, are derived many names of towns in Wales, as well as in Scotland, as Aber-deen, Aber-nethy, Aber-gavenny, &c. See Richard's Welch Dictionary.
Genesis 14:14. He armed his trained servants— The original word for armed, ירק iarek, may signify to lead or draw forth to battle; but Houbigant thinks the Samaritan reading the true one, in agreement with the LXX, which renders it ηριθμησε, he numbered; and might be rendered in French, says he, faire la revue, to make a review. He renders it in his translation recensuit. According to this, Abram made a review of his servants or domestics, who had been born in his house, and whom he had trained up or initiated, as well in arts and religion, as in arms; and finding them three hundred and eighteen fighting men, with these he pursued the enemy to the place, afterwards called Dan, near the source of the river Jordan, see Joshua 19:47. Judges 18:29. where, reconnoitring them, he divided himself and his servants, together with his three confederates; Gen 14:13 who most probably attended him, into two parties; and thus fell upon the enemy by night, and gained a complete victory over them; pursuing them unto Ho-bah, a place no where else mentioned in the sacred writings, but here described to have been on the left of Damascus, a city of the most venerable antiquity, concerning which we shall have occasion to speak more fully hereafter.
REFLECTIONS.—Though God afflicts his children, yet, when their case seems most desperate, help is at hand. Now was Lot giving himself up for lost, when Abram's courage and conduct redeem him from servitude. A fugitive from the battle informs Abram of the disaster; and he resolves immediately to pursue. Not ambition, but charity roused his spirit for war; it was not to enrich himself, but to recover his friend. We have here,
1. His preparations: his own servants, and the forces of his confederates. His own amounted to three hundred and eighteen, a large family, but a small army: but what they wanted in number, they made up in fidelity, courage, and obedience. They were trained, not to arms, as their trade, but for their defence; or rather trained up in the steps of Abram's faith and piety, and therefore ready to follow him, as confident of the divine protection under such a general. Observe, (1.) Though war is exceeding far from being desirable, it is not always unlawful. (2.) Those will be the best soldiers, who are the most pious. Though religion suffers not men to be quarrelsome, it ever prevents them from being cowards. (3.) It is highly the interest and duty of every general to have his soldiers disciplined in the truth: profaneness and impiety cannot but tend to make men afraid to die, unless they be desperate indeed. (4.) A great family is a great charge: happy the master, who like Abram, not only provides for their bodies, but cares also for their souls.
2. Their march, and attack of these confederate kings by night: brave to the last degree, and so wisely directed, that Abram may vie with the greatest generals. It might have been called rashness, to attack so great an army with such a handful of men; but Abram had the Lord of Hosts on his side, and then more were for him than against him. Learn, (1.) When we are engaged in a good cause, we are bound to trust upon the Lord mighty in battle for success. (2.) In war, policy is usually more effectual than force.
3. Their complete victory. Their enemies are pursued to their fenced cities, and all the captives and spoil left a prey to the conqueror. As it was for Lot's sake that the expedition was undertaken, he is first mentioned, and called Abram's brother, not only because of their family-relation, but of their religion. Note; (1.) We ought to be ready to lay down our lives for the brethren. (2.) Their unkindness to us affects not our duty to them: we must forgive, not only our avowed enemies, but what is harder to be borne, the ingratitude of our friends. (3.) A nation fares the better for one righteous man. For Lot's sake, all the inhabitants of these cities who were taken captive, are recovered.
Genesis 14:17. And the king of Sodom, &c.— After Abram's return with conquest, the recovered captives, and the spoil, Bera the king of Sodom, Gen 14:2 and Melchizedek the king of Salem, went out to meet him, at a place called the valley of Shaveh, which is the king's dale; probably so called from the event of the kings' meeting here. If this valley be the same with that mentioned, 2Sa 18:18 called also the valley of Jehoshaphat, Joel 3:2, it is very probable that Salem, whereof Melchizedek was king, is the same with Jerusalem; for this valley lies between Jerusalem and mount Olivet, and the brook Cedron runs through it. And it is plain from the view of any map of ancient Palestine, that Abram, in his return to Hebron from Hobah by Dan, (by which place it is most probable he returned,) must have passed near Jerusalem. Of this place then, it is most likely, Melchizedek was king; a petty princedom, like the others mentioned in this chapter, the kings of which, Bera, Birsha, &c. are as little known as Melchizedek: and, according to the custom of those ancient times, he was priest as well as king; a custom of which we find traces, in almost every nation: and he was a priest of the true and Most High God; a believer, yet untainted by the idolatry of the times, who kept up the true religion derived from his progenitor Noah. And being such a character, no wonder he went out to congratulate Abram, and to receive him with all the rites of hospitality. According to his office, as priest, he blessed the great patriarch; and the patriarch gave to him the priest's appointed due, the tenth or tithe: whence it seems to follow, that the oeconomy of the priesthood was settled before the law. We need not remark what various opinions there have been concerning Melchizedek; some supposing him to have been Shem, and others Ham; some the Holy Ghost, and others the Son of God. Whereas, if we attend to the literal history, nothing can be more evident, than that he was no other than here represented, "a king of Salem, named Melchizedek, a believer, and a priest of the Most High God." The allegorical account of him which is given in the epistle to the Hebrews, is very easily and most properly interpreted upon this plan, of considering Melchizedek as a real person, king of Salem, of whose pedigree and descent nothing is related; and who, in that view, may well be said to be without father or mother; especially where a topic is handled merely in an allegorical way. And as living in Canaan, there seems no doubt but he was of a different descent or family from Abram; probably descended from Ham. See Hebrews 7:6.
Genesis 14:19. God, possessor of heaven and earth— קנה Coneh, signifies possessor by right of creation; from which idea probably the translation of the LXX might be derived, for they have it, the creator, ος εκτισε, who created heaven and earth. Le Clerc, who approves the first sense, possessor, thinks this to have been a common appellation of God, distinguishing him as grand Proprietary of all things from the local deities of the nations. Let it be observed here, that the knowledge of the true God was yet preserved among the Canaanites, as appears from this character of Melchizedek: Abram's confederates also, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, were most probably true believers: and the expression used by the Lord, that the iniquity of this people was not yet full, seems to prove, that some religion yet remained in the land.
REFLECTIONS.—Behold Abram's greatness. Kings come to congratulate him on his victory. The kings of Sodom and Salem: the latter deserves attentive consideration:
1. His name, Melchizedek, king of righteousness: his kingdom, Salem, king of peace. His character, a priest of the Most High God.
2. His benediction on Abram. He blessed God for him, and blessed him from God. Observe, (1.) The Most High God must be the object of our continual blessing and praise. (2.) All good things come from him: if we be enabled to overcome our spiritual enemies, we owe it to the strength of the Most High God. (3.) A true christian rejoices, and blesses God for the prosperity of his brethren.
3. Abram's grateful offering: the tenth of the spoils, Learn, (1.) God expects that they who have abundance should honour him with it. (2.) The Lord Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, must be applied to as the only channel in which our services and offerings can be presented with acceptance to God.
Genesis 14:22. I have lift up mine hand, &c.— i.e.. I have sworn: a solemn act of religion usually accustomed with lifting up the hand, as it were, in appeal to God. Accordingly, lifting up the hand and swearing are put the one for the other, Exo 6:8 compared with Deuteronomy 32:40. Psalms 63:4. The same ceremony was used by the heathens. Virgil says, that Latinus tendit ad sidera dextram, lifted up his hand to heaven, &c. AEn. XII. 196.
Genesis 14:23. That I will not take, &c.— Fully to convince them, that he acted not from mercenary views, the patriarch declares in the most solemn manner, "I have lifted up my hand to the Most High, calling him in as a witness and an avenger, if I take (for so the Hebrew runs) from a thread to a shoe-latchet," a proverbial expression, "from a fillet that binds the head, to a thong that ties the shoes."
REFLECTIONS.—In the king of Sodom's conference with Abram, we have,
1. His generous offer of all the spoil, except the prisoners: but Abram deserved it all.
2. Abram's refusal; with the reasons for it. (1.) His oath before he went to battle. Swearing is a solemn act of religion: it is an appeal to the Most High God, who seeth and avengeth. Learn hence, Whenever we swear, we must perform, though it be to our own injury: and it must be in a lawful matter, for the glory of God and the good of our neighbour. (2.) He feared lest any reproach should be cast on his faith or his charity. He would not have it suggested, that he either desired or needed to be enriched from this spoil. Observe, A Christian will avoid the things, though lawful, from which the adversary might take occasion to speak reproachfully. Again, Faith will ever lead a man to look down upon this world as a very little thing. (3.) He excepts the food of his soldiers, and the share of his allies. This was both reasonable and right: for we have no authority to exact from others the same restraints we impose upon ourselves.
But before we take our leave of this chapter, we cannot omit considering with attention Melchizedek as a Type of the Messiah: for he is so repeatedly held forth in this view in the course of the sacred writings, that our comment on this part of Scripture would be incomplete without it. Let us then just review the narrative, and then compare.
The patriarch Abram had, with his little army, surprised and defeated the forces of the confederate kings who had plundered Sodom, and who, among other prisoners, had carried away captive his kinsman Lot, who, living in that wicked city, was now a very singular blessing to his sinful fellow-citizens, being the occasion of their rescue from the invaders of their country. As he returned from the slaughter, he was met by the king of Sodom, with another king of a very different character: his name was Melchizedek, which, though an excellent one, signifying king of righteousness, was not unsuitable to his real character, and is a proper admonition to all other kings for what they should be distinguished. The name of his city was Salem: whether it was that Salem where JEHOVAH afterwards had his tabernacle, or another place of the same name, is not absolutely determined. However, we are assured, that upon this occasion he brought forth bread and wine to refresh the patriarch's men, fatigued with toil. But the most extraordinary circumstance of all is, that though living in that wicked country, he was priest of the Most High God, and vested with regal dignity. When most around him were sunk in superstition and idolatry, this illustrious Gentile retained the knowledge of the true God, and thought it no disparagement of his kingly honour to officiate in the solemn rites of his holy worship. The hospitable monarch was a no less religious priest. As in the former capacity, he brought forth bread and wine; so in the latter he blessed the renowned patriarch, and received from him tithes of all. Thus far the sacred history. But from what parents he descended, when he was born, or when he died, who were his predecessors, or who succeeded him, are questions we are not permitted to resolve. And even the silence of the Scripture is expressive! "For he was made like unto the Son of God," both in what Moses relates concerning him, and in what he conceals from the curious inquirer. Let us carefully observe these two heads of resemblance, and we shall easily understand, how David in spirit says of the Messiah, "Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek," Psalms 110:4.
We shall first begin with what Moses relates of this extraordinary man.—To whom can his name Melchizedek so properly belong as to the King who reigns in righteousness; who, righteous himself, has wrought for all his subjects a justifying righteousness by the merit of his blood, and works in all his subjects a sanctifying righteousness by the power of his Spirit?—He, he is king of Salem, which is by interpretation, king of peace. Peace is the disposition for which he was renowned, who with his dying breath implored forgiveness for his bloody murderers: peace is the grand blessing he died to purchase, and lives to confer. O glorious peace, of which righteousness is the foundation, and joy in the Holy Ghost the inseparable attendant! Hail, ye subjects of his auspicious government, who call the blessings of his purchase all your own! Lo, in your princely Saviour, the great Jehovah lays aside his vindictive wrath, and becomes your loving Father; the angels no more stand aloof, but commence your ministers and guardians; the inferior creatures are turned into your faithful friends and allies; and conscience, no more an accuser, whispers peace in gentlest accents. Though "in the world you should have tribulation, yet in him you shall have peace." O Prince of peace, extend the borders of thy peaceful kingdom far and wide; and let the wished-for period come, when the nations shall learn war no more! O let thy peace rule in our hearts, through these tumultuous scenes of life; and bring us at last to those calm regions of joy and felicity, where peace extends her dove-like wings for ever and ever!—"He brought forth bread and wine," to refresh the hungry and thirsty soldiers, when returning from the slaughter of the kings. Such is the refreshment which the true Melchizedek affords to all who are truly engaged in the spiritual warfare. He "has prepared of his goodness for the poor." O "come unto him, and you shall never hunger; believe on him, and you shall never thirst. Eat of his bread, and drink of the wine which he has mingled." Happy they who conquer in the holy warfare, for they "shall eat of the hidden manna; and the Lamb in the midst of the throne shall feed them."—"And he was the priest of the Most High God." an honour not usually appropriated in after-times to those who sit on thrones; for God himself was pleased to provide against the blending of these offices in the commonwealth of Israel. Witness thy fate, Uzziah, 2 Chronicles 26:18; 2 Chronicles 26:23. who, snatching at the censer, lost the sceptre. And shall the triple-crowned priest of Rome, who exalts himself above all that is called God, go always unpunished? But of Jesus Christ a prophet testifies, "He shall sit and rule upon his throne," Zec 6:13 as once he was a king upon his cross,—"And he blessed Abram." So Christ, our royal Priest, was sent of God to bless the children of Abram, not with a verbal, but real benediction, in turning every one of us from our iniquity; and "men shall be blessed in him."—"Consider," in the last place, "how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abram gave the tenth of the spoils;" and, as we may say, even Levi, who received tithes from the people by the commandment of God, was tithed in the loins of his progenitor: a most convincing proof, that this Melchizedek was both a greater man than Abram, and a greater priest than Aaron. But we christians have a great High-Priest, in whose presence Abram must not glory, Levi has no pre-eminence. To our Melchizedek the royal priesthood, the holy nation, the peculiar people, do pay, not only the tenth, but all they have and are, when they present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is their reasonable service. Romans 12:1.
But the circumstances which Moses conceals are also truly worthy of our notice. In vain you ask his genealogy, his birth, his death, or the ceremonies of his consecration; for those are buried in darkness; the Holy Ghost signifying thereby, that Jesus Christ is really and truly what this mysterious king is in the history: without father,—not as he was God, but man;—without mother,—not as he was man, but God;—without descent,—for having no predecessors in office, he needed not prove that he was sprung from the priestly tribe; which was an essential qualification in the Levitical priesthood:—having neither beginning of days, nor end of life,—for being set up from everlasting, he abideth a priest continually: for though he died, yet even in death he was a priest, and now he ever liveth to make intercession for us.—What shall we say more? In the order of Aaron were many priests, who, like other mortals, resigning their breath by the stroke of death, their priestly honour was laid in the dust with them. We know whence they arose; with what carnal ordinances and ceremonies they received their inauguration; what sacrifices they offered; in what holy places they officiated; who assisted them in their various functions; and who succeeded them, when they either died, or were deposed from their office. But the Priest after the order of Melchizedek, being possessed of immortal life, and called of God without external ceremonies to his high office, himself was the Sacrifice, himself was the Altar, himself was his Tabernacle and Temple, assisted by none, nor succeeded by any. In Melchizedek, whom Moses speaks of as if he had been immortal, we have but indeed a faint shadow, and not the very image of the things themselves, which are found in Jesus Christ. But let the faintness of the resemblance remind us of the greatness of the mysteries: "For who shall declare his generation?"
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Genesis 14". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter