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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 14




Genesis 14. Abraham Conquers the Four Kings and Rescues Lot.—This chapter is, as Wellhausen says, like Melchizedek, "without father, without mother, without pedigree." In other words, it cannot be affiliated to any of the three main documents J, E, P, though some believe that E supplied its basis, since it relates alliances with native princes (Genesis 21:22-32) and records a military exploit of Jacob's against Shechem (Genesis 48:22 mg.). But the glorification of the sanctuary at Jerusalem, and the mention of tithes as paid there, goes to prove a Judæan origin, nor does E contain any hint of Abraham's residence in Mamre. There is no reference, in J's narrative of Sodom's overthrow, to the events of this chapter. Nor do the phraseology and general characteristics permit us to assign it to any of the three sources. Some of its phrases occur nowhere else in the Pent., some nowhere else in the OT. Yet it has points of contact with the other sources. The writer knows of Lot's residence in Sodom, he uses J's phrase, "the terebinths of Mamre." He employs phrases characteristic of P. And from the first the narrative was designed to stand in its present position. It is accordingly very late, but critical opinion is divided as to whether it is a late revision of an old narrative, or a composition altogether late, or a late composition in which some historical materials have been utilised. In its representation of Abraham as a warrior and the linking of him with contemporary history it has no parallel in Gen. It has been customary among opponents of criticism to assert that here archæology has decisively intervened to discredit critical views, and vindicate the accuracy of the Heb, narratives. This has no real foundation. Long before the discoveries were made, Nöldeke had (in 1869) granted that Chedorlaomer might be a historical character, and that the Elamite empire might have extended to Palestine. In 1884 E. Meyer pointed out that Kudurlagamar (Chedorlaomer) was a name of genuinely Elamite formation, and that an Elamite dominion in Syria was attested by the inscriptions. Both admitted the possibility of an invasion such as is here described. Yet they rejected the historicity of the narrative. What, then, have the inscriptions shown? That there was an Elamite dominion over Palestine at this period, and that the names of the four kings are not improbably mentioned on the monuments. All this and more was fully allowed for by those who disputed the historicity before the discoveries were made. So far the inscriptions have not even attested the fact of the invasion, and they are absolutely silent on the names of the five kings, the historical existence of Abraham or Melchizedek, or any of the incidents related in the narrative. Moreover, there is still considerable dispute among the foremost Assyriologists as to the identifications proposed for the four kings. Even if we accept the prevalent view that Amraphel is Hammurabi and that Arioch is Eri-aku, though the first of these is denied by some of the best authorities, the name Kudurlagamar, while presumably historical, has not yet been discovered, nor that of Tidal as a king. Granted, however, that the four kings here named really lived and were contemporaries, as is probable; granted that they stood in the relationship to each other described; we are no further advanced towards the proof of the historicity of the chapter than thirty years ago. The difficulties are created by the character of the narrative itself. Assuming that the object of the campaign was to crush the rebellion of the five kings, its course as described from Genesis 14:5 to Genesis 14:8 is very curious, especially when it is considered in detail, the ground traversed being often very difficult if not impracticable for an army. The defeat of the great army by Abraham's force, his pursuit of it to Hobah, his capture of all the spoil and captives, can hardly be historical. A night surprise of the rear-guard and recovery of some booty and captives is not impossible; but this does no kind of justice to the terms of the narrative, which affirm a defeat and pursuit of Chedorlaomer and his allies (Genesis 14:15; Genesis 14:17). The names of the five kings seem artificial (the first two contain the words for "evil" and "wickedness"); Mamre and Eshcol (Genesis 14:13) are elsewhere names of places; the number 318 is equivalent to the sum of the letters in the name of Abraham's servant Eliezer (Genesis 15:2). The narrative apparently suggests that the Dead Sea came into existence at a later time, for it identifies the vale of Siddim where the battle took place (Genesis 14:8) with the Salt Sea (Genesis 14:3); but the geological evidence decisively proves that the Dead Sea existed as early as the Tertiary period, when, however, it reached up as far as Lake Huleh (p. 32), and its level was many hundreds of feet higher than at present (pp. 26f., Driver, pp. 168-171). To prove the historical existence of Melchizedek, the case of Abdi-khiba, a governor of Jerusalem in the Tell el-Amarna period, has been quoted. There is no proof that he was a priest-king, and the words he uses with reference to his position, "It was not my father, not my mother, who gave it me, but the arm of the mighty king gave it me," ought not to have been imagined to illustrate the words used of Melchizedek, "without father, without mother, without pedigree." This description does not occur in Gen. but in Hebrews 7:3, and so far from having been read by the author in his copy of Gen. it is simply a characteristic Alexandrian inference from the silence as to Melchizedek's ancestry in a book which devotes such space to pedigrees as Gen. does. Besides, Abdi-khiba is simply asserting that he owed his position not to his parentage, but to his suzerain, "the mighty king" of Egypt, Amenhetep IV (pp. 54f.), and in view of his debt was not likely to be disloyal. Melchizedek may of course, have been, like the four kings, historical; and the Hebrew priesthood and royal house at Jerusalem may have claimed him as their predecessor. Or, if not historical, he may have been an ancient legendary figure.

On the whole chapter we should probably conclude that it is very late, compiled with the other documents of the Pent. already before the author and brought together in their present form. The cuneiform document on which three of the four names in 1 are thought to occur is itself very late, and belongs to the fourth or third century B.C. The object of the chapter was to glorify Abraham as a military leader of the first rank, who, with a handful of men, defeated the victorious army of a great confederacy of kingdoms, and as too magnanimous to enrich himself by the spoil. It was also designed to glorify Jerusalem and its priesthood, and supply an ancient precedent for the payment of tithes to it (cf. the tithe at Bethel, Genesis 28:22).

Verses 1-4

Genesis 14:1-4. The Four Kings Make War with the Five Rebel Kings.—The four kings of Lower Babylonia, Larsa, Elam, and (?) Guti, made war on the five kings of the cities of the Plain, who had formed a confederacy in the Vale of Siddim, a district now covered by the Dead Sea, and after twelve years' subjection threw off the yoke of Elam. Amraphel is by most scholars identified with Hammurabi (p. 51), in spite of serious objections which others regard as insuperable. The date of Hammurabi has been much disputed (pp. 119, 130). He threw off the sovereignty of Elam, then overthrew Rim-Sin, the brother and successor of Arad-Sin or Eri-aku, and created a united kingdom of Babylonia after the conquest of Sumer and Accad. He has become specially famous in recent times through the discovery of the legislation, known as the Code of Hammurabi, which, apart from its intrinsic interest for the student of jurisprudence, is important from its affinities with Hebrew Law, especially the Book of the Covenant. Arioch is probably to be identified with Eri-aku or Arad-Sin (not Rim-Sin), king of Larsa, now Senkereh, the son of Kudurmabug of Elam. The name of Chedorlaomer has not yet been discovered on the inscriptions. In Elamite it would be Kudurlagamar. Tidal has been identified by some with a Tudkhula mentioned in a late inscription, but this must be regarded as very uncertain. Goiim, in this context, should be the name of a country or people; it can hardly bear its usual Heb. sense, "nations" (mg.). It may stand for the Guti, a people on the Upper Zab in E. Kurdistan. Nothing is known of the five kings. The site of the cities was probably at the S. extremity of the Dead Sea.

Verses 1-24

Genesis 12:1 to Genesis 25:18. The Story of Abraham.—In this section the three main sources, J. E, P are present. Gunkel has given strong reasons for holding that J is here made up of two main sources, one connecting Abraham with Hebron, the other with Beersheba and the Negeb. The former associates Abraham with Lot. (For details, see ICC.) On the interpretation to be placed on the figures of Abraham and the patriarchs, see the Introduction. The interest, which has hitherto been diffused over the fortunes of mankind in general, is now concentrated on Abraham and his posterity, the principle of election narrowing it down to Isaac, Ishmael being left aside, and then to Jacob, Esau being excluded.

Verses 5-7

Genesis 14:5-7. The punitive expedition, instead of going straight for the rebel cities, makes a tour of conquest. It moves down the E. side of Jordan through Bashan and Moab to Edom and the Gulf of Akabah, then turning W. and N. it reaches Kadesh and the Negeb, Then at last the attack on the five kings is delivered. The apparent uselessness of much of these operations in the mountains and desert, not to speak of the difficulties and dangers, suggests that the narrator's object is to enhance the glory of Abraham's victory over such conquerors. The Rephaim (Job 26:5 *) were a race of giants, but of questionable historicity. The name is used for the shades of the dead (Isaiah 14:9*), also also connected with the Nephilim (cf. Deuteronomy 2:11 with Numbers 13:33). The Zuzim are probably the same as the Zamzummim of Deuteronomy 2:20 f., a branch of Rephaim so called by the Ammonites; the Emim is the name given by the Moabites to another branch (Deuteronomy 2:10 f.). The Horites were the original inhabitants of Edom. Ashteroth-karnaim was presumably in Bashan, but two places may be intended; Ham is unknown, but perhaps Rabbath-Hammon, the capital city of the Ammonites; Kiriathaim is in Moab. El-Paran is perhaps Elath, the well-known port on the Gulf of Akabah, an arm of the Red Sea. En-mishpat is Kadesh-barnea, a sacred spring now known as Ain Kadish, famous as the headquarters of the Hebrews after the Exodus. The Amalekites lived in the Negeb; the name "Amorites" (p. 53) is used sometimes for the people ruled by Sinon on the E. of Jordan, sometimes, as here, for the predecessors of the Hebrews in Canaan. Hazazon-tamar is identified with En-gedi in 2 Chronicles 20:2. The route this would involve is almost impossibly difficult; the descent to the Dead Sea from it is 1950 ft. and precipitous. Kurnub, 20 miles SW. of the Dead Sea, would provide an easier approach, but the identification is dubious.

Verses 8-12

Genesis 14:8-12. The Battle of the Four Kings against Five, and the Capture of Lot.—At last the victors over so many peoples attack the confederacy of five kings. In the words "four kings against five" the author may be suggesting that the kings from the East fought on unequal terms. But, if so, he quite misconceived the situation; really it was five trumpery kinglets against an imperial force. There is much bitumen in the district, and masses of it used to float on the surface (pp. 32f.), hence the author infers that what is now the bed of the sea was once pitted with petroleum wells. In these the two chief kings perish, the rest (? of the kings or the survivors of the slaughter) escape to the mountain. The story is far from clear, and no account of the battle itself is given. The conquerors leave with the spoil and with Lot, with other captives also, as we learn explicitly from Genesis 14:21. Lot is named because Abraham's action is entirely for his sake.

Verses 13-17

Genesis 14:13-17. Abraham Smites the Victors and Rescues Lot.—The fugitive, who is wont in such stories to bring the news, tells Abraham, mentioned here as if for the first time. He musters (Sam., LXX) his trained men, on whom as slaves born in his house he could rely more confidently than on purchased slaves, 318 in number (the sum of the letters in the name of Eliezer; see p. 148), and sets off in pursuit. He overtakes them at Dan, a name not borne by Laish till the age of Moses' grandson (Judges 18:29). There, attacking on three sides (cf. Judges 7:16, 1 Samuel 11:11, Job 1:17), he smites the army of the four kings by night and pursues them to Hobah. The site is unknown; it is placed by some in the neighbourhood of Damascus, by others twenty hours to the N. of it. Damascus itself is fifteen hours N. of Dan. It is no mere night attack on the rearguard that is meant (cf. Genesis 14:17). On his return he is met by the king of Sodom.

Genesis 14:17. the king of Sodom: either Bera's successor, or the author has carelessly forgotten Genesis 14:10, or possibly the subject of "fell" in Genesis 14:10 is the people, not the kings.—Shaven: here a proper name, not as in Genesis 14:5. For the King's Vale, see 2 Samuel 18:18.

Verses 18-20

Genesis 14:18-20. Abraham and Melchizedek.—This section comes in a little awkwardly, for we should have expected Genesis 14:21-24 to have followed Genesis 14:17. It would be hazardous to infer that it is a later insertion. Melchizedek is a priest-king of Salem, i.e. probably Jerusalem, the name Uru-Salim being attested as early as the Tell el-Amarna correspondence (Judges 19:10*). His name probably means "My king is Sidiq" (Joshua 10:1). The deity, whom he serves as priest, is described as El Elyon, i.e. God Most High. Whether a deity with this title was actually worshipped among the Canaanites we do not know; probably the narrator wished to represent the one true God as worshipped even then at Jerusalem, but was unwilling to put the name of Israel's God, Yahweh, into the lips of one who did not belong to the chosen people. Yahweh must be intended, for the priestly blessing would not be represented as uttered in the name of a heathen deity, moreover He is described as Maker (mg.) of heaven and earth, and therefore the only God. Abraham would not have sworn to any other, though the identification with Yahweh in MT of Genesis 14:22 is probably not original, LORD being absent in LXX and Syr. To the victorious little force Melchizedek brings out bread and wine to refresh them after their exhausting march, victory, pursuit, and return, and utters his priestly blessing on Abraham. The patriarch responds by paying him tithes of all, i.e. of the spoil. This is not necessarily inconsistent with his refusal in Genesis 14:22 f. By right of conquest all belonged to him, he had, therefore, the right to dedicate the tithe to the sanctuary; for himself, however, he will take nothing.

Genesis 14:21-24. Abraham's Magnanimity.—Captives as well as property belonged to Abraham. The king of Sodom appeals to his generosity for the former. But Abraham in reply lifts up his hand (render "lift" for "have lift") to heaven in solemn oath that he will take nothing even of the most worthless, not to mention the more valuable goods. He is too independent to be indebted to the king of Sodom. It is a strangely different Abraham from the man who can enrich himself with royal gifts at the price of his wife's honour (Genesis 12:13; Genesis 12:16). It is curious that he speaks as if all his spoil consisted of goods captured from Sodom, or the five cities, whereas that actually taken by the four kings must have been much more, to say nothing of what belonged to themselves. "That which the young men have eaten" he does not refund; it belongs to the "expenses" of the expedition. But he does not impose on others the high standard of self-abnegation he lays down for himself; he may waive his own right, but he has no title to waive the rights of his allies—they must have their share.

Genesis 14:24. Read mg.


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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Genesis 14:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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