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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
Genesis 14

 

 

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 nations;

And it came to pass. This chapter presents Abram in the unexpected character of a warrior. The occasion was this: the King of Sodom and the kings of the adjoining cities, after having been tributaries for twelve years to the King of Elam, combined to throw off his yoke. To chastise their rebellion, as he deemed it, Chedorlaomer, with the aid of three allies, invaded the territories of the refractory princes, defeated them in a pitched battle, where the nature of the ground favoured his army (Genesis 14:10), and hastened in triumph on his homeward march, with a large amount of captives and booty.

Amraphel - supposed by some to be derived from the Sanskrit Amarapala, 'worshipper of the gods;' but it has been suggested, though somewhat doubtingly, by Sir H. Rawlinson, that this name is rather connected with the god Phul-a cylinder having been found at Khileh-Shergat bearing the name of Amraphel, king of Shinar, contemporaneously, as it seems, with the event referred to.

Shinar - i:e., Babylonia (see the note at Genesis 11:2).

Arioch king of Ellasar - or Larsa, the old Babylonian name, as appears from the cuneiform inscriptions of Irak or Senkereh in Mesopotamia, situated between Babylon and the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates. Von Bohlen derives this name also from the Sanskrit, aryaka, 'respected, revered.'

Chedorlaomer - a corruption of Kudur el Ahmar, or 'Kudur the red,' an epithet applied to this king on the ground of his Semitic descent, to distinguish him from the Cushites or Scythian aborigines, who were termed 'the black.' A war of races prevailed at that time among the people of Shinar, who were designated by their different colours, as the opposing factions in England were discriminated in the same way during the wars of the Roses. Another etymology countenanced by the Septuagint form of this name (Chodollogomor) has been proposed-namely, that Chedorlaomer is composed of two words signifying 'servant of Lagomer,' an Elamite god.

These derivations, however, must be regarded as very uncertain, especially as Sir H. Rawlinson has now discovered, and candidly acknowledged, that Kudur-Mabuk, a name read on one of the mounds, and taken at first for Chedorlaomer, must be the name, not of that king himself, but of a descendant; and that Apda Martu of the bricks, which was interpreted to mean 'Ravager of the West,' and applied to the Elamite conqueror, must be regarded still as of unknown signification. One thing, however, is perfectly certain, that great social and political commotions did exist at that period in the native land of Abram; and that, as always happens in times of strife and trouble, daring spirits rose conspicuous to view. Chedorlaomer, who, of all the adjoining kings, had the boldness to undertake, as well as the skill and energy to accomplish, the steerage of the tempest-tossed vessel of the state, attained the supremacy. The rulers of Shinar and of the neighbouring countries surrendered themselves to his authority, and the seat of power was thenceforth transferred to the country over which he reigned.

All this is confirmed by the monumental records, which not only bear that the line of native kings in Shinar was interrupted, but point to Elam as the quarter whence the interruption proceeded (see Loftus, 'Chaldea'). The signet cylinder or official seal of Chedorlaomer, although brought to this country forty years ago by Sir

R.K. Porter, and deposited in the British Museum, was but recently deciphered and identified by Sir H. Rawlinson. This king of Elam was undoubtedly a great prince, inasmuch as he was the first, in historical times, who not only by his genius conceived the idea of a universal empire, but by the influence of his victorious name was enabled to retain so long in peaceful subjection a kingdom extending beyond the southern limits of Palestine, and comprising so many heterogeneous elements.

Elam - or Elymais = Susiana lay on the east bank of the Tigris while it extended eastward to the western Elam - or Elymais = Susiana, lay on the east bank of the Tigris, while it extended eastward to the western boundary of Persia.

Tidal king of nations , [Hebrew, gowyim (Hebrew #1471), peoples] - some unknown tribes. Rawlinson calls them 'Median Scyths, belonging to the old population.' Amraphel, Arioch, and Tidal, were probably local governors who had submitted to Chedorlaomer on his successful invasion of Chaldea, and were now enlisted as vassals, subordinate chiefs, under his banner in the distant expedition he planned. Each of them brought a contingent of troops to his aid; because, as there seems to have been a general rising among the tributary states in the region all along the east and southeast of the Jordan, a large army was required, and doubtless raised, for their reduction. Wars similar to that described in this chapter, and from exactly the same cause, occur to this day among the Arab chiefs, when any neighbouring tribes on which they have imposed black mail refuse to pay it.

These made war with Bera king of Sodom - [Hebrew, C


Verse 3

All these were joined together in the vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea.

All these were joined together - i:e., were confederate.

The vale of Siddim , [Hebrew, `eemeq (Hebrew #6010).] - a low and broad tract of land bounded by hills.

Siddim. Gesenius, who regards the word as probably Arabic, takes it to denote a depression or wady full of obstructions; a plain cut up by stony channels and pits (Genesis 14:10). [The Septuagint has epi teen pharanga teen halukeen , upon the salt valley. The common view is, that Sidiym (Hebrew #7708) is the plural of saadeeh (Hebrew #7704), a level cultivated field; and accordingly the Jewish Targums for the most part render "the vale of Siddim" 'the valley of the fields.']

Which is the salt sea. This clause is evidently designed to refer to that which precedes; and the unmistakable meaning of it is that what was formerly "the vale of Siddim" had in the days of the historian become "the salt sea." This is the name by which the Dead Sea is commonly designated in the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua (Numbers 34:3; Deuteronomy 3:17; Joshua 3:16; Joshua 15:2; Joshua 15:5); and here there was a special propriety in the use of this descriptive epithet, from the contrast which that locality afterward presented to the sweet refreshing streams by which the vale had been formerly fertilized (Genesis 13:10).

It is pre-eminently entitled to be called "the salt sea," for it is impregnated with saline qualities far beyond other seas. 'The saline matter of the ocean occurs in pretty nearly the same proportion at whatever latitude the sample examined be taken. It amounts to nearly 35 percent, or in 100 lbs. of sea water 3 1/2 lbs. of saline matter, principally common salt. In this inland sea, however, which receives the waters of the Jordan and several other streams, but which has no outlet, the excess of water being carried off so rapidly by evaporation that the lake never overflows, the salts accumulate constantly. While the ocean shows the same 3 1/2 percent of salts ever since it began to be analyzed, here the quantity of salt accumulated is already so great (upwards of 20 percent, or 20 lbs. in every 100 lbs. of water) that the density of the water (l-24) in this sea is greater than any other, except perhaps in the great Salt Lake of Upper California. While the stated proportion of saline matter in the ocean is required by the plants and animals that inhabit it, the water in this sea is so intensely salt that no plant or animal can live in it: hence, it is sometimes known as the Dead Sea' (Phipson's 'Chemistry of the Sea').

It is peculiarly situated, being completely separated from, though so near to, the Mediterranean by a high chain of mountains; and English science, in the course of Palestinian Explorations, has very recently ascertained the exact geodesical position of this sea. Captain Wilson, of the Royal Engineers, after a most carefully conducted survey, has proved that, on the 12th of March last, the Dead Sea lay 1,292 feet below the level of the Mediterranean. This is an unexampled depression of surface: it is by far the deepest known fissure on the earth's surface.

Finally, the salt in the ocean is supplied by rivers which, in their passage, dissolve every soluble ingredient they meet with, and carry it to the sea; moreover, the sea itself corrodes the various coasts, and dissolves saline matter daily. But the saltness of "the Salt Sea" is caused not only by the conveyance to it, by the Jordan, of earths containing rich saliferous deposits, but by the proximity of rock-salt-the Mountain of Salt-Jebel Usdum.

Now, as to the relation of the cities of the Pentapolis to the vale of Siddim, a great difference of opinion exists. Without stopping to examine the sites fixed upon by M. de Saulcey for Sodom at Usdum, at the southwestern, and for Gomorrah at Goumram, at the northwestern extremity of the lake, which, though alleged discoveries, are purely imaginary, there are two theories respecting the position of the five towns. The one, rejecting the words "which is the salt sea," as the interpolated gloss of some late and uninspired editor, places all the cities on the north of the lake, which is considered to have existed from the earliest ages as it is now; appeals in support of this view to Genesis 10:19, where the cities are described as extending in a row from west to east; also to Genesis 13:10, where Abram and Lot are represented standing upon an eminence, whence they could see "all the plain of Jordan" - i:e., all the tract to the north of the lake, but not any further south; and assigns the locale of Siddim somewhere in the same northern quarter, on the ground that the five kings would not have chosen Siddim for their battle-field had it been to the southward, as in marching to it they would have had to pass the enemies' camp in Hazezon-tamar (Genesis 14:7). The other theory, considering the clause "which is the salt sea," to be genuine Scripture-as integral a part of the composition of Moses as any other portion of the history, regards, consequently, "the vale of Siddim" to have been in the spot now occupied by the southern half of the lake (cf. Joshua 12:3; also Josephus, 'Antiquities,' 1: 9), and recognizes the ruins of Zoar in the mounds of rubbish that are found at the southeast angle of the Dead Sea, at the mouth of Wady Kerak, near the promontory Lisƒn. This is the view of Robinson, Stanley, Porter, etc. (see further the note at Genesis 19:28).


Verse 4

Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled.

Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer - i:e., were tributary to him (cf. 2 Kings 18:7).

And in the thirteenth year. The accusative of time denoting duration. Ewald renders these words, 'during the whole of the thirteenth year.'


Verse 5

And in the fourteenth year came Chedorlaomer, and the kings that were with him, and smote the Rephaims in Ashteroth Karnaim, and the Zuzims in Ham, and the Emims in Shaveh Kiriathaim,

Smote the Rephaims in Ashteroth Karnaim. The Rephaim were an aboriginal people, who, though not Canaanites by descent, possessed numerous and powerful settlements both in Canaan Proper (2 Samuel 5:18; 2 Samuel 21:18; 1 Chronicles 11:15; Isaiah 17:5) and in the Transjordanic provinces. Their origin is unknown; but they are supposed to have been closely connected with the Hyksos or shepherd race so renowned in the early history of Egypt, and they were distinguished by their tallness of stature, whence the word Rephaim is frequently rendered in our version giants, as the Septuagint has it in this passage [tous gigantas tous en Astarooth].

The whole region on the east of the Jordan was occupied by various branches of the Rapha tribe. From the absence of any distinctive epithet to Rephaim in this passage, it appears probable that these were the original root of the nation, and that their primeval seat was in what was afterward known as the kingdom of Bashan, the whole of which, with a trivial exception, is comprehended in the modern district of the Jaulan.

"Ashteroth Karnaim" - i:e., the two-horned Ashtaroth, was their metropolitan city, which was dedicated to their tutelary divinity (Deuteronomy 1:4; Joshua 21:2; Joshua 13:31). Ashtaroth, Ashtoreth, or Astarte, typifying the productive principle, was the great object of worship among the Phoenicians from whom it spread over all Canaan; and from the mental tendency of that people to connect the symbols of their religious worship with the stars, Astarte represented sometimes the moon, but more especially the planet Venus. The worship of this Syrian goddess was, though under a variety of forms, almost universal in patriarchal times, and her statue in the sanctuaries of all the Rephaite people was that of a cow-headed female, bearing on her head a globe between two horns, as is still seen on Phoenician coins and antique gems. It may be added that the Rephaim wore helmets surmounted by a metallic globe between horns, in honour of their national deity.

And the Zuzims in Ham. The Zuzim, a tribe of the Rephaim, whose name, according to Gesenius, might have some reference to the fertility of their country, were the soos of Manetho, the Shasu of the Egyptian monuments, and probably also were the people called Zamzummims (Deuteronomy 11:28) by the Ammonites, who afterward dispossessed them. [The Septuagint, instead of Zuzim, reads kai ethnee ischura hama autois, 'and the strong nations along with them.' The ancient Hebrew MSS. from which that version was executed must have read baahem (H871a), along with them,' 'among them,' instead of bªhaam, or bªchaam, the Cheth, as Kennicott says is the reading of seven Samaritan MSS., giving the sense of "in Ham."] The Septuagint, which takes the word as a pronoun, conveys the impression that only one battle was fought between the invaders and the Rephaim, who were reinforced by 'the mighty people among them;' whereas our version, following the Masoretic text, which, from the other clauses in the verse, seems likely to be most correct, makes two engagements-the first in Ashteroth Karnaim, and the second in Ham, which is considered by Tuch, Rosenm˜ller, etc., to be what was afterward called Rabbath-bene-Ammon, 'Rabbath of the children of Ammon,' now 'Amman on the Hadj road from Syria, (Robinson, 'Append.') The Zuzim were the leading tribe of the Rephaite nations, and their territory was between the Arnon and the Jabbok.

And the Emims in Shaveh Kiriathaim. "Emim" ('terrible'), from a root verb to terrify - i:e., by their gigantic stature-was the name given (Deuteronomy 2:11), by the Moabites, who afterward subdued them, to this third section of the Rephaim. "Shaveh Kiriathaim" - the plain of Kiriathaim, identified by Porter with the ruin Kureiyat, or Kureiyeh, so remarkable for its cyclopean style of architecture, apparently the work of the giant, Rephaim. [The Septuagint has: en Sauee tee polei.]

The engagement, however, did not take place in a city, but in a plain near it. The city Kiriathaim lay on the southern part of Jebel Attarus, the highest peak or ridge of the Abarim mountains, and the plain in question was probably along the eastern base of that mountain. The ruins called Kureiyat lie on the southwestern end of the ridge. Burckhardt ('Travels in Syr.') describes a level plateau, a few miles south of Kureiyat, which was probably the battlefield. The edifices which remain in this town, as well as throughout the whole region, are of such gigantic proportions, and in such primitive forms, as to induce a strong conviction that they are the work of the early Emims, or giants-strong enough to defy the destruction of man or the operation of common earthquakes; their roofs are formed of beams of stones in juxtaposition, twenty-five feet long, supported by square stone pillars, and the huge doors are slabs of a single stone each (Cyril Graham, 'Cambridge Essays,'

1858).


Verse 6

And the Horites in their mount Seir, unto Elparan, which is by the wilderness.

And the Horites in their mount Seir - the most southern section of the Rephaite nation, called Horites [from chowr (Hebrew #2715), a hole, or chuwr (Hebrew #2354), to bore], the aboriginal inhabitants of the mountainous tract on the east side of the great valley of the Arabah, which extended from the Dead Sea to the Elanitic Gulf. They were troglodytes, dwellers in caves (cf. Job 30:1-8), and both by their habitations and food (wild roots) were a race of low, uncivilized beings.

"Mount Seir" (rugged) - the name was derived either from Seir the Horite (Genesis 36:20), or from the physical aspect of the region. It was afterward the Edom or Idumea, possessed by the descendants of Esau, and is now Esh-Sherah.

Unto El-paran, which is by the wilderness - [Hebrew, 'Eeyl-Paa'raan (Hebrew #364)]. The Septuagint has [heos tees terebinthou tees Pharan] unto the terebinth of Paran-some well-known sacred tree or grove in the wilderness of Paran, which formed a part, or was situated to the north, of the Et-Tih desert. The terebinth, however, is not the tree of the desert, but the palm; and accordingly it is maintained by Tuch that El-paran is identical with Elath, at the southern extremity of Wady Arabah, at the shore of the Red Sea; because the wilderness Paran really terminated at Elath with Akabah Aileh, the Elanitic Pass; so that the plane in question might be said with perfect propriety to be at the entrance of the Great Wilderness. To penetrate thus far was absolutely necessary to attain the great object of the expedition. 'That was,' as Tuch has clearly shown,' to secure command of the great caravan-road to Arabia, and its choice productions; so that all commerce with the southern coast, and the bazaars in western and eastern Asia, might come into the hands of one and the same power; which was a sufficient motive for procuring these advantages by conquest, and for maintaining them against revolt by the putting forth of force.


Verse 7

And they returned, and came to Enmishpat, which is Kadesh, and smote all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites, that dwelt in Hazezon-tamar.

They returned, and came to En-mishpat (i:e., the spring of judgment), which is Kadesh. Having at Elath reached the goal of their expedition, and made arrangement for securing the important benefits for which it was undertaken, they prepared to return northwards, and by what route? 'Not through the Arabah, but they ascended the desert plateau from Aileh, either through the pass Akabah Aileh, or following the tract of the subsequent Roman road through Wady El-Bejaneh (see Robinson, 'Resear.', 1: 328), then went round Jebel Araif since the mountain-wall opposite blocks up the passage through, and arrived on the edge of Jebel Helƒl, the eastern mountain at its northern extremity, about twelve miles to the east-southeast of Moilahhi' (Tuch, J.S.L., July, 1848).

There was Kadesh (Ain El Kadeis), a copious spring which Chedorlaomer evidently deemed it of prime importance in a strategical point of view to secure, since this watering place must, to all who traverse that region, be a most important station, lying near the junction of the various roads from Egypt and the desert on the southern border of Canaan (see further the notes at Numbers 13:26; Deuteronomy 1:46).

And smote all the country of the Amalekites , [Hebrew, sªdeeh (Hebrew #7704), field, open cultivated field. Instead of this, the Septuagint translators must, in their Hebrew copy have read sariy; because they have: pantas tous archontas, all the princes; whence it has been inferred that the Amalekites had in that early age an independent national existence, distinct from the branch that afterward sprang from the grandson of Esau (Genesis 36:12).]

This reading has the recommendation of preserving a uniformity in the narrative of the historian, who has hitherto spoken only of the people or tribes that were smitten. But if the text in our version is adhered to as the correct one, the clause must be taken as an instance of prolepsis, "all the country of the Amalekites" meaning all the district that was occupied by them in the days of Moses. The term [ sªdeeeh (Hebrew #7704), cultivated plain] is a very appropriate one, the whole region from Kadesh, round by Beer-sheba to Engedi, partaking partly of a pastoral and partly of an arable character.

And also the Amorites, that dwelt in Hazezon-tamar - the cutting or pruning of palm-trees. This town was situated on the western shore of the Dead Sea, at an equal distance from both extremities of the lake. It stood at the base of a precipitous ridge of rocks, over which a copious stream issues from a spring about 400 feet above the level of the sea, and clothes the high table-land around with verdure and plantations of a tropical character. It was near the cities of the plain, and then inhabited by a tribe of Amorites. It was an oasis abounding in palm trees. But that grove has entirely disappeared. The place was afterward called Eugedi (see the note at 2 Chronicles 20:2; Ezekiel 47:19; Ezekiel 48:28).


Verse 8

And there went out the king of Sodom, and the king of Gomorrah, and the king of Admah, and the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (the same is Zoar;) and they joined battle with them in the vale of Siddim;

And there went out the king of Sodom, ... It appears that the five chiefs of the ciccar had resolved to oppose the invaders [Hebrew, wayeetsee' (Hebrew #3318), went forth], and having rallied their subjects, ventured to attack the enemy in the rocky fastness of Engedi, where they lay en- camped. But being repulsed and driven down into the 'vale,' a regular engagement [Hebrew, waya`arkuw (Hebrew #6186) 'itaam (Hebrew #854) milchaamaah (Hebrew #4421), to put the battle in array, to draw up an army against any one] ensued on that verdant spot, beside the shore of the Dead Sea.'


Verse 9

With Chedorlaomer the king of Elam, and with Tidal king of nations, and Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar; four kings with five.

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 10

And the vale of Siddim was full of slimepits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and fell there; and they that remained fled to the mountain.

And the vale of Siddim was full of slimepits , [Hebrew, be'


Verse 11

And they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their victuals, and went their way.

And they took all the goods of Sodom, ... [The Septuagint has: elabon de teen hippon pasan, and they took all the horses having in their Hebrew copy rekesh (Hebrew #7409), steed, instead of r


Verse 12

And they took Lot, Abram's brother's son, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.

They took Lot ... who dwelt in Sodom. Though retaining his pastoral habits, he seems to have taken up his abode in the town (cf. Genesis 19:1), and his goods. [The Hebrew has the same word here as in the preceding verse; but the Septuagint has: teen aposkeueen autou, his baggage]. How would the conscience of that young man now upbraid him for his selfish folly and ingratitude in withdrawing from his kind and pious relative! Whenever we go out of the path of duty, we put ourselves away from God's protection, and cannot expect that the choice we make will be for our lasting good.

Thus far the career of the warlike chiefs from Mesopotamia was one of uninterrupted conquest; and their route, from the details in the sacred narrative, is easily traced. Having crossed the Euphrates, they would proceed along the right bank of that river until they reached a point where they had to strike off for Tadmor (Palmyra), the only place in the desert where a copious supply of water is at all times to be got. Directing their course southwards, they would then traverse the plains of Syria to near Damascus, where there are two roads into Palestine. Choosing the eastward, they came to the Bashan mountains, and surprised by their unexpected onset the Titanic inhabitants of Gaulonitis (the Jaulan). Thence, sweeping rapidly southward, they overran the whole country east of the Jordan, with that portion of Arabia Petraea which borders on the eastern extremity of the Dead Sea, and penetrated the Arabah as far as the head of the Elanitic Gulf. Having reached that point, the goal of their expedition, they turned northwards again, and by a westward route re-entered the southern border of Canaan, and encamped at Engedi.

It is evident from the rapidity of their movements, the suddenness of their attacks, and their avidity for booty and captives, that this was an Arab raid on a large scale-an incursion in the manner of the marauders of the desert, who frequently scour the neighbouring country, attack the villages, and loading themselves with as much plunder, in the shape of victuals, substance, and prisoners, as they can take, scamper off as quickly as they came.

Nor, probably, was the Mesopotamian army, though a formidable, a very numerous horde. Burckhardt and others who have traveled among the Arabs say, that a chief rarely musters above three hundred men in the greatest of their warlike expeditions; and supposing that Chedorlaomer and his allies brought each of them such a contingent, the whole amount would be 1,200 men-a very inconsiderable force according to modern notions of an army (Genesis 14:12).

And departed. Considerable difference of opinion exists as to the homeward route of the invaders after the battle of Siddim. The common opinion is that they went up the valley of the Jordan. But Tuch maintains that, from the fact of the conquerors plundering Siddim, which was near to Zoar, 'they must have marched across the plain, and reached at Zoar the eastern bank of the sea, at that which was then the southeast point.' This he considers to be decisive respecting the direction of the way back, which cannot be up Canaan along the western bank, which is in various ways shut up through the steep pass En-gedi (Rob., 2: 1, 38), but along the east bank of the Dead Sea.


Verse 13

And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew; for he dwelt in the plain of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner: and these were confederate with Abram.

There came one that had escaped , [Hebrew, hapaaliyT (Hebrew #6412), the escaped] - used collectively for fugitives from the vale of Siddim (cf. Ezekiel 24:26; Ezekiel 33:21-22). Abram might have excused himself from taking any active concern in his "brother," i:e., nephew, who little deserved that he should incur trouble or danger on his account. But Abram, far from rendering evil for evil, resolved to take immediate measures for the rescue of Lot.

And told Abram the Hebrew - Septuagint [peratee, transitori], the 'crosser over;' namely, the Euphrates. [Those translators derived the original term either from `aabar (Hebrew #5674), to pass; or from the preposition, `eeber (Hebrew #5676) beyond, on the other side; so that, as applied to Abram, in such a sense, it was equivalent to transfluvialis, a dweller on the other side of the Euphrates]. The first was the view of Jerome and several of the Christian fathers; while the second is adopted by Gesenius, De Wette, Winer, etc. But it could scarcely be a distinctive appellation for Abram, that he had made the passage of the Euphrates, as many of the early tribes which emigrated southward must have crossed that river from Shinar, as did Chedorlaomer and his allies at that very time; and it could with as little propriety be said that he was an Eberite, an inhabitant of a trans-Euphratean country, when he had migrated to Canaan. Besides, it has been recently objected to this view, that, 'whether Abram previously resided at Mugheir or Warka, it would have been unnecessary for him to pass over the great river; if in his time it flowed, as some suppose, considerably eastward of these places, and joined the Tigris, as before stated, at Kut-el-Amara' ('Loftus,' Chaldea).

Sir H. Rawlinson has suggested an entirely new explanation of the term. He says that one particular district of Mugheir, the Biblical Ur, was called Ibra, from which he supposes Abram to have set out on his journey to Canaan, and from whence originated the word Hebrew ('Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society,' vol.

i., p. 47). But this is a mere fanciful conjecture. The true view of the word is, that it is a patronymic, being derived from Eber, 'the last of the patriarchs descended from Shem previous to the division of the peoples and the beginning of new lines, which, in the midst of the mass of peoples that diverged into manifold branches, founded and propagated a special chosen race' (Havernick).

Hence, Abram is called a Hebrew-i.e, a descendant of Eber (the name Hebrew having the same radical elements as Eber, besides being spelled Ebrew in early English versions) - and his descendants called themselves (Genesis 40:15), and were called (Genesis 39:14; Genesis 39:17; Genesis 41:12), Hebrews. Gesenius, indeed, pronounces this derivation-namely, of Hebrew from Eber-to be purely mythical, and of no more historical value than the Greek derivaties of Aeolians from Aeolus, etc. But admit the truth and authenticity of this history, and there is distinct evidence that, at the period of the general dispersion, a large branch of the Shemites remained in Shinar, who regarded Eber as their direct ancestor; and from this branch Abram was sprung. It seems a confirmation of the view here given that the word "Hebrew" appears with special propriety applied to Abram as a patronymic, in contradistinction from his allies, who are called Amorites (see the note at Genesis 13:18).


Verse 14

And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan.

When Abram heard that his brother was taken captive. "Brother" and "sister" were used by the Hebrews, as cognate terms are used by the Orientals still, in a wide sense, equivalent to relative, kinsman or kinswoman (cf. Genesis 20:11 with 28:6; 24:60; 2 Samuel 19:13; Judges 14:15; Job 42:11). Abram, as long as he was in the vicinity, was bound, according to ancient usage, to hasten to the help of Lot, being his nearest kinsman, or Goel.

He armed his trained servants, born in his own house , [ wayaareq (Hebrew #7324), from a verb, ruwq (Hebrew #7324), to pour itself out, to be emptied, in Hiphil signifies poured out] - metaphor, drew out the sword, led out troops for war. [The Codex Samaritan has here w-y-d-q mustered, from a Chaldaic root: and hence, the Septuagint has eerithmeese, numbered. The Hebrew verbal, ch


Verse 15

And he divided himself against them, he and his servants, by night, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus.

And he divided himself against them, he and his servants, by night - [Hebrew, wayeechaaleeq (Hebrew #2505), Niphal, was divided: construc. praeg., he divided himself; i:e., his forces, and made an attack upon them under covert of the darkness]. Josephus says that, 'having marched hastily, Abram on the fifth night came upon the camp of the enemy before they could arm themselves: he killed some as they were in their beds, before they could suspect any harm; and others, who were so drunk that they could not fight, yet were able to run away' ('Antiquities,' b. 1: 10, sec. 1).

He divided himself ... by night. This war between the petty princes of ancient Canaan is exactly the same as the frays and skirmishes between Arab chiefs in the present day. When a defeated party resolve to pursue the enemy, they wait until these are fast asleep; then, since they have no idea of posting sentinels, they rush upon them from different directions, strike down the tent poles-if there is any fight at all, it is the fray of a tumultuous mob-a panic commonly ensues, and the whole contest is ended with little or no loss on either side.

And pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus - i:e., on the north. Damascus was a very ancient city. From the beauty and natural advantages of its situation, it would, as Porter says, be among the first selected for settled habitation in eastern Syria, and it had evidently risen into importance and celebrity when it was mentioned as a mark to determine the position of another place. At Damascus, as has been already stated, commenced the great roads which formed the media of communication between Syria and the north; and hence, the fugitives from Abram directed their flight there. There are preserved in it many local traditions concerning Abram; and 'in a small village called Burzeh, one hour north of the city, there is a sacred wely, called by the name of the patriarch, and held in high veneration by the Muslims, since it is believed that here the patriarch worshipped when he turned back from the pursuit of the kings who had plundered Sodom and carried away Lot' (Porter's 'Damascus,' vol. 1:, p. 82).


Verse 16

And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people.

And he brought back all the goods. The Hebrew word is the same here as in Genesis 14:12; but the Septuagint has: ta huparchonta, the things belonging to them.


Verse 17

And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king's dale.

From the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings. Professor Rawlinson thinks that this expression, "the slaughter," in our version is over-strong. The Hebrew phrase does not mean more than 'defeat,' or 'overthrow.' It is certainly used in this general sense in the earlier part of this chapter, where, as applied both to a people and a country, our translators have rendered it "smote" (Genesis 14:5; Genesis 14:7). But the same phrase occurs, Joshua 10:20, where it evidently expresses the idea of slaughter. Paul (Hebrews 7:1), in allusion to this passage, follows the Septuagint in the use of kopees (Greek #2871), "slaughter;" and certainly it looks as if they had fallen in the melee caused by Abram's attack; because we do not read of Chedorlaomer and his allies undertaking any future expedition.

At the valley of Shaveh, which is the king's dale - (see the note at Genesis 14:5). The king's valley or dale is mentioned only in one other passage (2 Samuel 18:18), where, however, Shaveh is not used.


Verse 18

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.

Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine. This victory conferred a public benefit on that part of the country; and Abram, on his return, was treated with high respect and consideration, particularly by the King of Sodom and Melchizsedek, who seems to have been one of the few native princes, if not the only one, who knew and worshipped "the Most High God," whom Abram served. Melchizedek was probably an official title, as Adoni-zedek (Joshua 10:3). Salem, or Shalom, signifies peace. It is so interpreted by the apostle in its application to Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:2), who was king of peace, the effect of his righteous government; and in accordance with this, Dr. Wolff, with reference to Abd-er-Rahman (servant of the merciful God), in the kingdom of Khida, says that he has two royal titles-the one, Shahe-Adaalat, 'king of righteousness,' and the other, when a peace-maker with his warlike neighbours, Shahe Soolkh, 'king of peace.' On the ground of apostolic authority and modern oriental precedent, we might explain "Salem" in this passage as part of a title, not as a place. Since the word, however, is commonly regarded as bearing a topographical reference, it is necessary to consider it in that point of view.

Salem is a name given to Jerusalem (Psalms 76:2), and it has been generally considered to bear the same application in this passage. But that might be only an abbreviation, admissible in a poetical book, and therefore not decisive of the geographical question: for the conditions of the narrative, it is alleged, require that Salem should be in a more northern locality. And accordingly the Salem [or Saleim] (John 3:23) beyond Jordan has been fixed upon by many writers ever since the days of Jerome, who says (Epist. 73), Salem is not, as Josephus and our Christian writers after him believe it to be, Jerusalem; but a town near Scythopolis, which is still called Salem, and where the palace of Melchizedek is shown. The preponderance of opinion, however, is in favour of Jerusalem. "Brought forth bread and wine." He came for the performance of a sacred duty, that of offering a public and formal tribute of thanksgiving, to acknowledge the divine goodness in the rescue of the people, and the patriotic services of Abram on the occasion. This religious offering was accompanied by a eucharistic rite, which seems to have been an established ordinance of the patriarchal church before the Mosaic dispensation (cf. Exodus 18:12). Joseph Wolff informs us ('Researches and Missionary Labours') that this patriarchal usage still obtains in the East. 'I have seen,' says he, 'in Toorkestan, and around Cashmeer, Dervishes, who are generally visited by the conquering parties, and to whom the conquering chief gives a portion of the spoil he has taken from the enemy, and the Dervish, if a Mussulman, sets before his victorious guest bread and sherbet, a kind of lemonade; but if the Dervish is a Hindu, he brings wine instead of sherbet. It should also be observed that Dervishes in Persia, Turkistan, and the valley of Cashmeer, are called Shah (king). In such a manner as this the meeting between Melchizedek and Abram took place.'

And he was the priest of the most high God. The Hebrew text not having the article here, the clause should stand a "priest of the most high God." This title does not imply that he was a functionary in a material temple, whose official duty consisted in the offering of animal sacrifices, or the performance of ceremonial services. The discharge of these offices was not, in patriarchal times, confined to a consecrated class; because the heads of houses rendered them for their families; and in this respect Melchizedek may have acted as the patriarchs. But his priesthood was at the same time of a moral and spiritual nature: it consisted in serving God by the dispensation of justice and the practice of benevolence among his fellow-men, as well as by the presentation of praise and sacrifices to God; and it seems to be on this account also-his pre-eminent zeal and readiness in the performance of these services-that he is called a "priest of the most high God." He was a type of Christ, our eternal priest (Psalms 110:4; Hebrews 5:6; Hebrews 5:10; Hebrews 6:20; Hebrews 7:17; Hebrews 7:21); because though he who was a mere man could not be "a priest forever," yet he had what may be viewed as an image of eternity, in the absence of any historical record of his pedigree, of his birth and death. He was assuredly born, and did no less certainly die than other men; but neither of these are recorded concerning him (Hebrews 7:3-6). We have no more to do with, or learn from him, nor are we concerned in him, but only as he is described in Scripture; and there is no mention in the sacred record of the beginning of his days or of the end of his life. He was both king and priest, This union of the offices was special to patriarchal times; and although vestiges of the primitive practice are traceable in the subsequent history of pagan nations, where they were combined in some cases by the constitution of the country, in others by specific appointment, there was no instance in the Mosaic church, or until the character of the typical Melchizedek was fulfilled in Christ, who united in his own person the two-fold character of king and priest.

The most high God. [The word used by Melchizedek and Abram (Genesis 14:22), as well as in the narrative by the historian, is not 'Elohiym (Hebrew #430) but `Elyown (Hebrew #5945), an archaic term; it was used, as appears from Sanchoniathon, by the Phoenicians. The Septuagint translates it by: ho Theos hupsistos, 'This Greek expression,' says Auberlen, 'is a Hebraism, and is not to be understood as a superlative'.] It means 'God in the high place,' i:e., in heaven (cf. Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:14, with Nehemiah 11:4; Daniel 11:28; Daniel 11:45). Melchizedek was not an idolater, nor a Pantheist addicted to nature-worship in any form, but a believer in a living personal God-a Monotheist in an age when mankind were becoming rapidly polytheistic. It is observable, however, that although Melchizedek defines the character of God as the "possessor of heaven and earth," and so he and Abram worshipped the same Divine Being, he does not speak of him as the covenant God, the deity special to Old Testament revelation; and hence, Abram, while adopting the language of Melchizedek, prefixes [ Yahweh (Hebrew #3068)] Lord, to it. The meeting of these two venerable characters was a real "communion of saints." They first joined in a solemn sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and then kept alive their feeling of joy and gratitude in a sacred feast.


Verse 19

And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth:

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 20

And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.

And he gave him tithes of all. Although it does not appear very clearly in the narrative which of them paid tithes to the other, the apostle has expressly declared that it was Abram who paid tithes to Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:8-9), and in that fact the identity in principle between the patriarchal and the subsequent dispensation is clearly seen. Here is an evidence of Abram's piety, as well as of his valour; because it was to a priest of the most high God that Abraham gave a tenth of the spoil as a token of his gratitude, and in honour of a divine ordinance (Proverbs 3:9).


Verse 21

And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself.

The king of Sodom ... Give ... persons. According to the war customs still existing among the Arab tribes, Abram might have retained the recovered goods, and his right was acknowledged by the King of Sodom; but with honest pride and a generosity unknown in that part of the world, he replied, in strong phraseology, common to the East, 'I have lifted up mine hand (i:e., I have sworn} unto the Lord that I will not take from a thread even to a sandal-thong - i:e., neither a thread nor a sandal thong-that I will not take anything that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich.

It remains to consider where the interviews of these two distinguished personages took place. Those who fix the locality of Salem on the banks of the Jordan suppose that the course of Abram, on returning from Damascus, would be along the highway which, at the Sea of Tiberias, leads into the valley of the Jordan;-that Salem being situated eight miles south of Scythopolis, along the line of road by which Abram was traveling, he must pass in its immediate neighbourhood; and it was becoming and proper for Melchizedek, its king, as representing the lately desolated districts, to meet the conqueror and give him a public tribute of thanks for his services;-that at the conclusion of this scene Abram proceeded in a southern direction as far as Sodom, to whose petty ruler he restored the prisoners and the plundered property; and that, having thus successfully accomplished his undertaking, he turned his face homeward to Hebron.

But there are objections to this view. Since Abram showed so firm a determination to keep aloof from the King of Sodom, and not to lay himself under obligations either to him or to his people, it can scarcely be thought that he would have chosen a circuitous route for the express purpose of visiting that place. It is much more probable that he returned from Damascus, across the Gaulau plain in the present Haj route, down the ravine of the Jabbok, and southward by the central road, which runs through Jerusalem to Hebron; and consequently, in approaching that intermediate place, he had to pass the king's dale (2 Samuel 18:18) (the valley of Jehoshaphat), which lay on the north of it. In that spacious and beautiful vale the two kings, as they came from their respective capitals, would meet the victor. 'The King of Sodom passed up through the modern Wady en-Nar, which is a continuation of the valley of Kedron, and leads to the Dead Sea; while Melchizedek descended toward that valley from his neighbouring mountain fortress of Salem' (Kraff, quoted by Kurtz, 'Hist. of Old Cov.' 1:, p. 219).

Viewed in its relation to this sacred history, the incident which forms the subject of this chapter is peculiarly interesting and important. Abram in Canaan was only a private individual, and, living beyond the range of the invasion, had no natural call nor political right to take vengeance into his own hands. But as the destined lord of the country, constituted by the promise of God, he exercised the royal prerogative of making war. It was a just war, undertaken in a righteous cause. Since there can be no doubt, from his previous character, that he prosecuted it in a believing dependence on the aid and blessing of God, it must be considered typical of the spiritual warfare; and his triumphal success foreshadowed the victory of faith over the world and the powers that rule in the world.

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Genesis 14:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/genesis-14.html. 1871-8.

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Tuesday, December 10th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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