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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 14

 

 

Verse 1

1. Amraphel king of Shinar — Successor of Nimrod, and perhaps mentioned first because of his location in this most ancient seat of empire. Comp. Genesis 10:10. The derivation of the name is uncertain, though some have sought to trace it in the Sanscrit Amarapala, “guardian of the immortals.” No other record of this king is known besides what is contained in this chapter. The same is the case with Arioch king of Ellasar. The modern town Senkerah, between Ur and Ereck, is supposed by many to be the site of the ancient Ellasar here mentioned. It was known to the Greeks as Larissa, and appears from the inscriptions to have been one of the primitive capitals of this region. Chedorlaomer, though mentioned third in order here, appears from Genesis 14:4-5; Genesis 14:17 to have been the chief king, and the leader of the expedition. Elam, the province which he ruled, is doubtless the same as the vast district known as Elymais, east of the lower Tigris, and first settled by the children of Shem. Genesis 10:22. The name Kadur Mapula has been found on Chaldean bricks, and he is called “Ravager of the West.”

Tidal — Sept., Thargal. This name, according to Rawlinson, is found in the early Hamitic dialect of the lower Tigris and Euphrates country, and means “the Great Chief.” The title king of nations may denote that Tidal was chief of a number of nomadic tribes, without settled dominion. Some render גוים, nations, as a proper name, Goyim. But we have no knowledge of any nation or district of that name.


Verses 1-12

INVASION OF THE EASTERN KINGS, 1-12.

Considered merely as an historical document, the following chapter is invaluable. Its antiquity is greater than that of any of the records of the past as yet deciphered, and the internal marks of its genuineness are beyond dispute. This is acknowledged by many of the ablest rationalistic critics, who regard this part of the narrative as a most ancient historic document, inserted here by the compiler of the Book of Genesis.

Here we find the earliest record of those hostile invasions from the East which in later times so repeatedly troubled the nations of western Asia, Egypt, and Greece. The narrative here serves a twofold purpose, namely, 1) to show the mistaken policy of Lot’s choice, in selecting for residence the cities of the plain, and 2) to exhibit Abram’s generous heart and military sagacity and prowess. In this first conflict between the world-powers and the chosen seed we also note the arbitrary and rapacious spirit of the former and the righteous principle and honour of the latter. The heir of the Land of Promise appears as the protector and defender of his own. God honours him, and he maintains righteousness and honours God.


Verse 2

2. Bera… Birsha — The names of the kings of the pentapolis of this Jordan plain live only in this record. Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim are said in Genesis 10:19, to have been settled by the sons of Ham. Bela, more commonly known as Zoar, is generally supposed to have been situated at the southern end of the Dead Sea. But Grove, in Smith’s Bib. Dict., places it at the northern, as also Sodom and Gomorrah.

This new theory of Grove is controverted, and the older view ably defended by Wolcott in Bib. Sacra, for 1868, vol. xxv, p. 112, ff.


Verse 3

3. These were joined together — They were allies and confederates. The vale of Siddim is, according to the obvious import of the words here used, the name of the ancient plain or valley in which the five kings joined together, but which, at the time of our writer, was covered by the waters of the salt sea. But these waters may cover a larger extent of surface than was included in the vale of Siddim. The word Siddim ( שׂדים) itself means fields or plains. The sea here called the salt sea is called in Deuteronomy 4:49, “the sea of the plain;” in 2 Esdras 5:7, “the Sodomitish sea;” in Josephus, “the Asphaltic lake;” by the Arabs, Bahr Lut, “Sea of Lot;” and by the Greek writers and most moderns, “the Dead Sea.”


Verse 4

4. Twelve years they served — During these years they were probably required to pay annual tribute to the king of Elam, the leader and most powerful of the eastern kings.

Rebelled — Threw off this yoke and refused to pay homage to eastern sovereignty.


Verse 5

5. Smote the Rephaim in Ashteroth Karnaim — The word Rephaim is in the Hebrew plural, and designates an ancient people of gigantic stature, of whom Og, king of Bashan, is spoken of as the last remnant.

Deuteronomy 3:11. Of their origin the Bible is silent. Their chief seat was at Ashteroth Karnaim, or Ashteroth of the two horns, so called, probably, from the worship of the two-horned Astarte, the Syrian Venus and moon-goddess. See note and cuts on Judges 2:13. Some identify this place with the Ashtaroth near Edrei, where Og dwelt, (Deuteronomy 1:4,) which is generally identified with the modern Tel-Ashtereh, some 25 miles east of the Sea of Galilee. Others locate it at the modern Es-Sanamein, about half way between Tell-Ashtereh and Damascus. After this defeat these Rephaim seem to have settled in other parts of Canaan, and the “valley of Rephaim” south-west of Jerusalem probably derived its name from them. We find traces of them in the time of David. 2 Samuel 21:18; 2 Samuel 21:20; 2 Samuel 21:22. The Zuzim were probably the same as the Zamzummim of Deuteronomy 2:20, a people akin to the Rephaim, and described as “great, and many, and tall.” Ham, where they dwelt, is probably represented in the modern Amman, east of the Jordan, better known as Rabbath-Ammon, the capital city of the Ammonites. The Emim are represented in Deuteronomy 2:10-11, as the ancient occupants of the land of Moab, and also “a people great, and many, and tall, as the Anakim.” Shaveh Kiriathaim, or the “plain of the two cities,” is probably the same as Kirjathaim, allotted to the Reubenites. Numbers 32:37; Joshua 13:19. The name still lingers in the extensive ruins of Kureiyat, east of the Dead Sea, and about three miles southeast of Mt. Attarus.


Verse 6

6. The Horites in their mount Seir were the original settlers of the wild and mountainous country south of the Dead Sea, and were, as the name denotes, “cave dwellers.” Mt. Hor perhaps derived its name from these ancient people, whose excavated dwellings in the rocks abound in all that region, especially in Petra. They were succeeded in later times by the descendants of Esau. Deuteronomy 2:12. El-paran, or the oak of Paran, was probably some notable landmark (an ancient oak) on the border of the great wilderness of Paran, the modern desert et-Tih. This wilderness embraced the great central region of the Sinaitic peninsula north of the Sinai mountains.

It appears from this account, that the whole country east of the Jordan from Damascus on the north to the Paran wilderness on the south was, in Abram’s time, occupied by a gigantic race all belonging to the same stock, and distributed in the order here indicated: The Rephaim on the north in the region afterward known as Bashan; the Zuzim next, centring at or near the modern Amman; the Emim next, south of these and directly east of the Dead Sea; and the Horites in the mountains of Seir.


Verse 7

7. They returned, and came to En-mishpat — Having pursued their victorious march southward through all the regions named as far as the wilderness of Paran, they turned northward, fetching a compass to En-mishpat, which seems to have been the ancient name of Kadesh. The site of Kadesh was for a long time an unsettled question. Stanley identified it with Petra; Robinson with Ain-el-Weibeh, some twenty miles northwest of Mt. Hor; Rowlands with Ain Gades, forty miles west of Mr. Hor. But it was reserved for an American traveller, H.C. Trumbull, to confirm the opinion of Rowlands, and put beyond reasonable doubt the locality of this ancient and long lost fountain. Some eighty miles southwest of Hebron he discovered several large springs issuing from underneath a ragged spur of a range of limestone hills, and still bearing the name Qadees. The abundant waters fill several wells or pools, are remarkably pure and sweet, and flow off under the waving grass. The fountain creates an oasis of verdure and beauty in the midst of the great desert et-Tih. “A carpet of grass covered the ground. Fig trees laden with fruit nearly ripe enough for eating, were along the shelter of the southern hillside. Shrubs and flowers showed themselves in variety and profusion.” — TRUMBULL’S Kadesh-Barnea, pp. 272, 273. New York, 1883. Returning from the great wilderness of Paran, the victorious kings would have passed through the region afterward known as the country of the Amalekites, which bordered on the south of Palestine. The Amalekites were a branch of the Edomites, (Genesis 36:12,) and are mentioned here proleptically. It is not said they smote the Amalekites, but the country (Hebrews the whole field) of the Amalekites.

Also the Amorites… in Hazezon-tamar — Hazezon-tamar is said to be the same as En-gedi, (2 Chronicles 20:11,) and the latter name lingers in the modern Ain-Jidy, on the western shore of the Dead Sea. The Amorites, descendants of Canaan, (Genesis 10:16,) early settled in the palm groves of this region. The conquerors, returning from the south by way of Kadesh, would naturally enter the vale of Siddim from the west, and smite these Amorites on their way.


Verse 9

9. Four kings with five — And the four, flushed with many victories and grown fierce by war, conquered the five. What were the weapons and what the modes of warfare used by these ancient kings we have no means of knowing. Their principal arms were probably the sword, the bow, and the spear.


Verse 10

10. Full of slimepits — Sept., φρεατα ασφαλτου, pits of asphaltum; Vulg., puteos multos bituminis, many pits of bitumen. The Hebrew may be rendered: The vale of Siddim was pits, pits of mineral pitch; that is, such bituminous pits abounded there; and this abundance of asphalt has given the Dead Sea the name Asphaltic Lake. These pits served as so many snares to the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, who, with their forces, were defeated, and fled, and fell there. These two kings seem to have taken the lead in the battle, and so are mentioned as representing all the rest. From Genesis 14:17; Genesis 14:21 we infer that the king of Sodom himself escaped capture, probably by fleeing to the mountains.

They that remained — That is, those who were neither killed in battle nor taken prisoners.


Verse 11

11. All the goods — All property of the Sodomites that they could lay hands on and remove.


Verse 12

12. Took Lot — This fact our writer is careful to note. Lot and all his family and possessions (comp. Genesis 14:16) were taken, and it is also stated that Lot now dwelt in Sodom. He had first “pitched his tent toward Sodom,” (Genesis 13:12,) but now has come to dwell in the city. “It does not seem that Lot had taken part in the revolt, or in the war; but as a prominent man his capture may have been deemed the more important.” — Jacobus.


Verse 13

ABRAM’S MILITARY VICTORY, Genesis 14:13-16.

13. One that had escaped — Hebrews the fugitive, emphatic as representing a class, or company.

The Hebrew — Or the Eberite, a patronymic of Eber, (Genesis 10:21,) the ancestor of Abram. Abram is called the Eberite in distinction from Mamre the Amorite with whom he held friendly alliance. What gave Eber such prominence in connexion with Abram’s descendants we do not know, but the language of Genesis 10:21, assigns him a notable prominence among the sons of Shem. Others derive the name Hebrew from עבר, the region beyond, and understand it of Abram because he was an immigrant from beyond the great river Euphrates. This latter view appears in the Septuagint and Vulgate, and is held by most ancient interpreters.

Confederate with Abram — Hebrews lords of a covenant with Abram. They had joined an alliance, and, as appears from Genesis 14:24, they went with Abram to the war.


Verse 14

14. When Abram heard — He had no pleasure in the misfortune of his more worldly kinsman, who had taken advantage of his offer (Genesis 13:9) and chosen the fertile plain, but moved immediately for his rescue. The word brother is here used in the wider sense of kinsman, a usage not unfrequent. Exodus 2:11; Numbers 8:26.

Armed his trained servants — Rather, led forth his trained ones. The word rendered trained is of the same root as that rendered train in Proverbs 22:6 : “Train up a child in the way he should go.” These were drilled and practiced in the use of weapons, as well as to (Genesis 18:19) “keep the way of the Lord.” Genesis 34:25; Genesis 49:5, further show that the pastoral patriarchs were skilful in the use of arms. This was probably often necessary for purposes of self-defence. These trained and skilful adherents of Abram are further described as born in his own house, a regular part of the patriarchal family; not bought, nor taken in war. Comp. Genesis 17:12. And the number, three hundred and eighteen, shows what a powerful community one patriarchal family might be. To these were added the forces of Mamre, Eshcol, and Aner. Genesis 14:24.

Pursued them unto Dan — From which it appears that the victorious kings made no hurried march homeward, but took a northerly route. There is no reason to suppose the Dan here mentioned as any other than the well known city of this name near the source of the Jordan. It is doubtless the same as the Dan-jaan of 2 Samuel 24:6, and the Dan mentioned in Deuteronomy 34:1; for the language of the latter passage does not necessarily imply that the Dan there mentioned was in the land of Gilead. The ancient name of the place was Laish or Leshem, (Joshua 19:47; Judges 18:29,) but Dan is here used either proleptically, or else was substituted by a later editor as being the more common name of the place.


Verse 15

15. Divided himself against them — Abram was the leader and commander in the war, and the forces of his confederates, as well as his own servants, were at his disposal. This dividing up into several squads and attacking the enemy from different quarters, and by night, explains how Abram’s company might, without any miraculous help from God, put to flight the combined armies of four Asiatic kings. Compare the similar strategy of Gideon. Judges 7:15-23.

Hobah — Perhaps at the modern Burzeh, three miles north of Damascus, where there is a tomb called the “praying place of Abraham,” and marking, according to local tradition, the place where Abram gave thanks to God after this victory over the kings. It was on the left hand of Damascus, that is, to one facing the east.


Verse 16

16. Brought back… Lot,… goods… women… people — The victory of Abram was complete, and resulted in recovering all that had been taken, both persons and property. So that while the broken remnant of the eastern armies fled homeward, panic stricken and without any spoil, of all their conquests, Abram led back in triumph all that had been taken away.


Verse 17

ABRAM AND MELCHIZEDEK, Genesis 14:17-20.

17. The king of Sodom — Hence it appears that this king survived the defeat, probably by flight to the hills. Genesis 14:10 does not necessarily mean that the kings there named were killed. Some expositors, however, so understand it, and suppose that the king here mentioned was successor to the one who fell in battle.

Valley of Shaveh — According to Gesenius and Furst, Shaveh means plain or valley. This valley was afterwards known as the king’s dale, probably from the occurrences here recorded. We find the name again in 2 Samuel 18:18, and old tradition identifies it with the valley of the Kedron. In the absence of any thing more definitely known, and in view of the probability that Salem was the ancient name of Jerusalem, we do well to adhere to the traditional location of Shaveh. Abram returning southward from the source of the Jordan may well have passed through the Kedron valley; and there would have been a suitable place both for the king of Sodom to meet him, and for the king of Salem to bring forth refreshments.


Verse 18

18. Melchizedek king of Salem — This mysterious stranger here suddenly emerges from the dim background of the old Canaanitish heathenism, “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life,” (Hebrews 7:3,) that is, without any recorded genealogy, (a matter of prime importance with a Hebrew,) or mention of birth, age, or death. His name and title are significant, “first being, by interpretation, king of righteousness, and after that also king of Salem, which is, king of peace.Hebrews 7:2. His bringing forth bread and wine suggests to the Christian the symbols of the holy Eucharist, and his benediction on Abram, his receiving tithes of him, and his position and title as priest of the most high God, (a title never used of Abraham,) place him above the father of the faithful. No wonder the psalmist, a thousand years later, caught inspiration from the name, and, in prophetic vision, used this sacred character as a type of the Messiah. Psalms 110:4.

From the earliest times there have been strange speculations and various conjectures as to this mysterious person. Some have identified him with the patriarch Shem, supposing that survivor of the flood to have lingered until Abram’s time. But if so, why should his name have been changed to Melchizedek, and how could it be said of Shem, with Genesis 11:10-27, before us, that he was without pedigree? Hebrews 7:3. Others have maintained that Melchizedek was the Son of God himself, appearing in human form. But such a Christophany, without a word of explanation, is scarcely supposable, and the sublime comparisons drawn in Psalms 110:4, and Hebrews 6:20; Hebrews 7:3, are reduced to the empty platitude of making Christ like himself. A sect called Melchizedekians arose in the third century, and were so named because of their strange doctrine that Melchizedek was not a man, but some heavenly power, an intercessor for the angels, and so superior even to Jesus Christ. For other notions, unnecessary to record here, see the Bible Dictionaries.

Doubtless the proper view to take of this mysterious character is to regard him as an exceptional instance in that early time of a venerable Hamite, or perhaps, like Abram, a Shemite, who had been kept pure from the prevailing idolatry of the world, and like Job and Jethro was a worshipper of the one true God. Nor need we deem it strange that such an example of righteousness should have been living in that place and time. God has had, in all ages and nations, men eminent for uprightness and even sanctity of life. The Noachic covenant, of which the rainbow is the gracious sign, embraces “in every nation him that feareth God and worketh righteousness.” Acts 10:35. The mystery which invests Melchizedek is chiefly owing to our utter lack of knowledge of his pedigree, his subsequent life, and his death. His name breathes a strange charm, and may have indicated his far-famed eminence for righteousness. Some take the words king of Salem as a title, melek-shalem, (king of peace,) and urge that Hebrews 7:2, favours this view. But such suppositions are not to be pressed, for the writer to the Hebrews evidently uses the meaning, both of his name and residence, homiletically. Salem is undoubtedly the name of a place, the residence of this saintly king, and is probably the archaic name of Jerusalem, as used also in Psalms 76:2. Identification with Shalem, of Genesis 33:18, or Salim, of John 3:23, is far less satisfactory. See notes on Hebrews 7.

Melchizedek came forth from his royal city, and was, like the king of Sodom, grateful to Abram for ridding the land of its invaders and oppressors. He also brought forth bread and wine, general terms for food and refreshments, in token of his gratitude, and of his appreciation of the services of the noble Hebrew. On the use of divine names in this passage, see on Genesis 14:19; Genesis 14:22.


Verse 19

19. He blessed him — And to enhance the greatness and grandeur of Melchizedek, the writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 7:7) argues: “Without contradiction the less is blessed of the better.” This blessing pronounced on Abram rises to a poetic strain:

Blessed be Abram of God most high,

Possessor of heaven and earth.

And blessed be God most high,

Who has delivered thine enemies into thy hand.

The divine names here used are אל עליון, El Elion, God, the Highest; the Supreme God; that is, the one God over all. Note how Abram, in Genesis 14:22, uses the same words but prefixes the name Jehovah.

Possessor — The Hebrew word קנה may be rendered maker or founder, (Sept. and Vulg. creator,) as well as possessor. The word ready involves both these meanings.

Hath delivered — Here the providential interposition of God in the affairs of man is recognised. Accordingly, in the words of Melchizedek, we find the doctrines, 1) of God’s unity and supremacy; 2) of his dominion of heaven and earth; 3) of the duty of praise and thanksgiving to him; 4) of divine Providence.

He gave him tithes of all — That is, Abram gave Melchizedek tithes of all the booty he had taken. Thus early do we find the mention of the tenth, as a suitable portion of things acquired to be devoted to religious purposes.


Verse 21

ABRAM AND THE KING OF SODOM, Genesis 14:21-24.

21. King of Sodom said — His northward journey to meet Abram is mentioned in Genesis 14:17, but his action was anticipated by that of Melchizedek.

Give me the persons — Hebrews, the soul, the singular used collectively for all the rescued life of those taken captive.


Verse 22

22. I have lifted up mine hand — A solemn form of making oath before God.

Unto the Lord, the most high God — Unto Jehovah El Elion. The God of Melchizedek was El Elion, (Genesis 14:19,) a name that first appears in this connexion; not Elohim, nor yet Eloah. Elion is mentioned by Sanchoniathon as the name of the Phenician deity, and was probably common among the early Semitic nations as the name of the Supreme God. But Abram knows God under another name, Jehovah, the God of gracious revelation and promise. Although as king and priest of the most high God, blessing Abram and receiving tithes from him, Melchizedek appears as one superior to “the friend of God,” yet, as Kalisch well observes, “the religious enlightenment of the king of Salem was but a ray of the sun of Abram’s faith, and scarcely sufficient as it was, in itself, entirely to dispel the darkness, it could not be intended to spread a light to distant regions.” Abram can appropriately use the name El Elion, possessor of heaven and earth, thus repeating, with thankful recognition, the name of the God of Melchizedek, but he puts before it the NAME to him more sacred, the name of the God who had appeared to him in this land of promise, and to whom he had erected altars. Genesis 12:7-8; Genesis 13:18.


Verse 23

23. That I will not take — Literally, If from a thread even to a shoe-latchet, and if I take from all that is thine; and thou shalt not say — I have enriched Abram. Observe the emotionality of Abram’s language. In the face of temptation, and in possible danger of being misunderstood by those who could scarcely appreciate his lofty standpoint, he declares his holy vow not to take to himself any of the spoils. The particle if appears prominently in the ancient formulas of swearing. The full form appears in

1 Samuel 3:17 : “God do so to thee, and more also, if, etc.” “There is a marked difference between Abram’s conduct to Melchizedek and his conduct to the king of Sodom. From Melchizedek he receives refreshment and treats him with honour and respect. Toward the king of Sodom he is distant and reserved. Probably the vicious lives of the inhabitants of Sodom made him careful not to lay himself under any obligation to the king, lest he should become too much associated with him and them.” — Speaker’s Commentary.


Verse 24

24. The young men — The trained ones of his own household. Comp. Genesis 14:14.

The men which went with me — His allies in the war. Abram keeps himself from all entanglement or occasion of reproach; but he allows his warriors their natural and obvious right, and his allies to act their own pleasure.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 14:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/genesis-14.html. 1874-1909.

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