Good morning Grace. Lauren, thanks for reading. It seems like every time I preach lately, the scripture reader gets to work overtime.
Pastor Dave and the VanAcker clan are on vacation for the next two weeks, but we are continuing our way through Genesis. Starting in Chapter 12, the focus of the Genesis has shifted to one particular family, which at this point isn’t even family yet. But God has chosen Abram to become the father of God’s people and makes Abram promises. Now we come to chapter 14 and on the surface it sounds kind of out of place from what we’ve seen so far. In previous chapters God is speaking or at least a visible character. He doesn’t speak or act explicitly in this chapter. That gives the chapter, especially the first 16 verses a very earthly feel to it. What I mean is that it sounds like a story you might find in a book outside the Bible. It’s just the natural way things happen. Have you ever felt that way about your life? It’s a series of small, insignificant, natural events that add up. You did the next thing because it made sense, but there wasn’t any real deep meaning to it. We don’t see God show up in visions, he doesn’t speak audibly to us or lead us by a pillar of fire. We just get up, make breakfast because that makes sense, take care of the most pressing things for that day. But one thing this passage will show us is that God is at work even if we don’t always get to see how.
A few warring clans fight, Abram is brought into the fight and despite long odds, he defeats 4 ferocious kings. But then the last seven verses present us with an interesting and glorious glimpse into heaven. It’s like the curtain gets pulled back on these “normal” events and we get more understanding. It’s a glimpse of things that are happening all the time, but here we have the privilege of understanding exactly what is happening.
After Abram and Lot separate and dwell in different parts of the land, we get to this story of two groups of warring kings. It almost sounds like a footnote in the Bible until Lot gets pulled into the action and is taken captive. This sets Abram and his small forces to action to rescue Lot. But how do we make sense of it all? Is it just luck, shrewd battle strategy or is something else going on in this passage? The key, as we’ve seen before with Abram, is in his ability to trust the King of King’s promises and receive blessing despite the circumstances around him. We’ll also see this mystery man named Melchizedek and his role related to Abram and blessing.
Pray that we would understand this text, feel the weight of it, see the glory of Christ, and how it all relates to us today.
Father God, we love you, but only because you loved us first. We would have no way of even knowing you as God if you didn’t reveal yourself to us. Thank you for your Word and what is revealed in it. Help us to see it as spiritual food to sustain us at all times. Thank you for a congregation that values your Word and wants to know it well.
Thank you for our building, thank you for sound equipment, internet and all of the moving pieces that we count upon daily and weekly for worship. Thank you for the people who tirelessly help behind the scenes. We are dependent on you for all things, including the logistics of our worship service.
Father, I pray for Pastor Dave and his family. Give them rest this week. May they delight in your creation, one another and have joy in your salvation. May you strengthen them to return to ministry with even greater desire and joy.
Lord, I also thank you for our older saints. Please comfort them and remind them of your presence. We miss them, please strengthen their faith, keep them healthy and may we find ways to love them well during this season.
God, we also pray for wisdom in how to move forward with ministries and gatherings. Grant us unity in our body. Grant us charity in our opinions, convictions and consciences.
Finally, I ask that your Spirit would help us understand this passage. There is so much that is unfamiliar to us, but also a lot of glorious truths about Christ. Please show us Christ. Remind us of your character and your promises. Remind us of your power and complete control of this world. And help us to receive grace. Amen.
Genesis 14. There’s a lot of names and places, but I’ll try to keep things simple. The story uses this battle of 4 kings versus 5 as a way to highlight Abram’s faith, and also who is truly the mightiest king. The King of Kings. The chapter is broken into three main parts: verses 1-12 describe the background of these warring kings. Verses 13-16 give us Abram’s response. And then verses 17-24 provide the explanation and significance of the chapter. The main point of the chapter is that God Most High gives victory to his people as a means of blessing. We’ll see in the text that Abram will face choices two times and each time he must decide whether to trust God’s promises or go his own way.
Before we get to the text, a couple of background pieces will be helpful to keep in mind.
One. Last week, Pastor Dave covered chapter 13 where we saw Abram and Lot separate. To avoid strife between their two families, Abram let Lot choose part of the land. Lot chose the land east of the Jordan, which, was beautiful and lush. And also, as the text noted, Lot’s chosen land contained Sodom and Gomorrah. Moses has highlighted this fact a few times for the readers. In chapter 13 he adds a little parenthesis in verse 10 (this was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah). Moses wants the readers to keep this in mind as we continue reading Genesis. The destruction ultimately comes in chapter 19, but as we read and see Sodom and Gomorrah as key figures in the story, we need to keep destruction in mind.
In this chapter, Lot again, is a source of conflict for Abram. As we’ll see, he draws Abram into a conflict that maybe otherwise doesn’t involve him. With Lot, it’s important to remember where he lives.
Secondly, Remember Moses is writing the book of Genesis and the original readers are Israel’s second generation who is preparing to take the Promised Land. Before we can understand the meaning of this chapter for us, we have to understand the meaning for this audience. What is it that Israel needed to hear as they prepared to conquer the land of Canaan? This is a really important question to ask wherever we are in Genesis. Again, the footnotes that Moses adds in parenthesis can help remind us of who he is writing to. This book is not read to Abram’s family or any of the characters we see in Genesis, but a generation hundreds of years later. We’ll come back to this later in the sermon, but keep it in mind.
I. Battle of the Kings (1-12)
Let’s look at the background of what is happening with all of these names and places. Don’t get caught up in the names and places. Here’s the simple background. There were 4 kings led by Chedorlaomer. They ruled the land north of Canaan. These kings likely ruled cities or smaller regions so they would often unite to defend larger areas.
In the land east of the Jordan, the land where Lot chose to live, there were 5 other kings. These included the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. What appears is going on is that the 4 Kings were dominant in the area and the 5 kings were forced to pay tribute to the 4 kings. This would likely be money or resources and probably was a yearly tribute. So when we look at verse 4 it says the 5 kings served the Four for 12 years. But then they rebelled in the 13th year. That means they probably stopped paying tribute to the 4.
Now the action really starts in verse 5.
5 In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him came and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim, 6 and the Horites in their hill country of Seir as far as El-paran on the border of the wilderness. 7 Then they turned back and came to En-mishpat (that is, Kadesh) and defeated all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who were dwelling in Hazazon-tamar.
Chedorlaomer leads the 4 Kings on a rampage of the surrounding nations. They head south down the land east of the Jordan. Let me just point out a couple of things about these nations. The main thing to notice here is that the 4 kings are ferocious. These other nations are mentioned other places in scripture as ferocious enemies themselves. The Rephaim are relatives of Og, King of Bashan, one of the enemies Israel fought while in the wilderness in Numbers 22. Ham shows up again. The Emim are related to the giants who are feared by later Israelites. The Amalekites and Amorites will be continual enemies of Israel in later times. So these nations are ferocious, and the 4 Kings run through all of them in victory.
After carving a path of destruction, the 4 move on to the 5. 4 kings against 5. Verse ten shows us that the 4 Kings make quick work of the 5 kings too. It says some fell into bitumen pits. Bitumen is like tar or asphalt. We last saw bitumen used in the building of the Tower of Babel. Some people in the 5 kings party fell into the pits. Again we see the 4 Kings conquering everything in their path.
Up until this point in the story, it’s hard to see why we should care. Why is it in Genesis? What does it have to do with the reader? This does involve part of the land promised to Abram, but it’s the part that was given to Lot. So this takes place in land that is part of the blessing from God. But things really hit home in verse 12, when it says, “they also took Lot,…” Now it’s personal.
Two quick observations about how this is hitting home for Lot and Abram.
First, Lot has gotten caught up with a sinful people. Chapter 12 speaks about the wickedness of Sodom and Lot keeps getting more entangled with them. First he set his tent near Sodom in chapter 12, now he is dwelling in Sodom. This isn’t to say that there are non-wicked places to live in our world, obviously sin is everywhere. But when a place is noted for its wickedness and Lot keeps getting closer and closer, that’s playing with fire. In a few chapters from now, we’ll see how that turns our for Lot.
Second, the world’s problems aren’t always avoidable. Just as we can’t get comfortable with sin like Lot seems to have done, we also can’t assume that we can shelter away from all of the world’s problems either. As much as we’d like to think we can live peaceable lives, it’s not always possible. Abram had nothing to do with the 4 or 5 kings, but trouble came to him. It’s tempting to think that what happens in far away cities like New York, LA, or San Francisco doesn’t affect me. Cities far away might have confused worldviews, or there’s violence there, but not here. If crazy things happen there, it won’t really bother me here in Forest Lake or North Branch. Even as we’ve seen a lot of troubling things in Minneapolis, we could still fall into thinking that living 30-45 minutes away will keep us from having to deal with some of these things. I’m not thinking of something specific, but just the general idea that we can’t avoid what our culture is doing, it will affect us. But just like Abram saw the conflict come to him, there will be times when we have to be prepared to deal with the larger conflicts of our culture. It doesn’t mean always going on the offensive, but we at least have to be prepared to respond with truth and love when the issues of our culture confront us.
So Lot is taken captive along with all of his possessions. The 4 Kings return to their homes after having conquered everything in sight. What will happen next? This moves us to our second section where we see Abram’s response.
II. Abram’s response and victory
13 Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner. These were allies of Abram.
Abram gets the news, this otherwise pretty irrelevant conflict now hits home. His nephew and possessions have been taken captive. What should Abram do? There are a number of reasons for him to do nothing. This is the nephew that keeps causing trouble. Lot got first choice of the land, he brought this on himself!
Or he could recognize that these 4 kings are the dominant force and out of fear or common sense realize that this is an undertaking too large for Abram and his small band of allies. But we see his response in verse 14, When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.
As soon as Abram hears about Lot, he responds with action. His kinsman is in trouble and he will pursue, even if it is with a small band of soldiers. The tension between the power and success of the 4 kings is now compared with 318 trained men. Is Abram foolish, brave, or something else? We don’t know yet, but regardless, he and his men head out. It’s clear they are underdogs, but the Bible and history have been filled with underdogs who end up winning and that’s exactly what happens with Abram too. First they pursue the 4 kings as far as Dan, then when they find them verse 15 tells us what happens next:
15 And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people.
Through some strategy Abram’s men split up and attack at night and defeat the 4 Kings. Not only do they defeat them, they chase them even further. They didn’t stop at freeing Lot or getting his stuff back, they pursued the 4 kings beyond Damascus. That’s over 150 miles from where Abram began. What’s more, Hebrews 7:1 describes the event as Abram slaughtering the kings. This was a thorough victory.
I mentioned earlier that this story can feel very earthly and not much indication that God is or needs to be involved. Some mighty kings go to war with one another, a nephew gets taken and the uncle and a small army prevail through a sneak attack at night. You could read similar descriptions of other battles throughout history.
It’s happened in world history: America defeated the British despite long odds through some clever strategy, some good fortune where things fell in place in America’s favor. So how do we explain it? How is this battle different than the Revolutionary War?
Underdogs have won at other times both in the Bible in places like Judges and David defeating Goliath. The greatest parallel in the Bible is the story of Gideon defeating the Midianites in Judges 7. Gideon was a Judge of Israel and was preparing his army to attack. But God told him to reduce it down to 10,000, then 300 people. And through a night attack, they routed the Midianites, who were described as locusts in abundance they had so many people. The difference here, though, is that God spoke to Gideon and directed him what to do. What about Abram, then?
Our first clue to understanding these events is found in God’s promise to Abram back in Genesis 12.
And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
In this story, it seems that the focus is on those who dishonor Abram will be cursed by God. There’s no way to know whether the 4 kings understood who Lot was, it’s probably doubtful that they would. But when they captured Lot, suddenly they incurred the curses that come with dishonoring Abram’s family. So Abram, leaning into the promise goes and pursues them to recapture Lot and his possessions.
III. A tale of 2 Kings
After the dust settles and the smoke clears, Abram begins his return to his land. On the return Abram meets two kings: the King of Sodom and a new character, Melchizedek, king of Salem. And it’s here that we get an even fuller understanding of this story.
Look at verses 17 and 18:
17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.)
These two kings represent contrasting views in a few ways. First, based on all that we know about Sodom by this point, the King of Sodom could be looked at as the King of Wickedness. Compare that with this mysterious new king, Melchizedek. His name means King of Righteousness. On top of that the parenthetical note says he was also a priest of God Most High. Notice also that he is the King of Salem. Salem means peace. We’ve spent most of this chapter seeing battles upon battles, and now we meet the King of Righteousness and Peace. Clearly Melchizedek is a different kind of king than the king of Sodom or any of the other kings we’ve seen in this chapter.
Who is this guy? He seems so out of place compared to everything else in this passage. I’m going to speak to a few aspects of his role in this story and then next week, John will preach on Melchizedek and go deeper into his significance in the larger story of the Bible.
So let’s take a closer look at this mystery man. Melchizedek is an interesting character in the Bible. This is the only place where he shows up as a character, and he’s only mentioned one other time in the Old Testament in Psalm 110. Even the way he shows up here is kind of mysterious. A king-priest showing up with bread and wine. So a King of righteousness and peace, appears, blesses Abram, and then disappears as quickly as he came. Even the way it disrupts the story with the king of Sodom adds to his mystery. Look at verse 17 and then if you were to read verse 21 next, it flows seamlessly. It’s here where we get this glimpse of what is going on behind the scenes of Abram’s victory. The curtain is pulled back and we get to see what God is doing through this story.
19 And he blessed him and said,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
Melchizedek blesses Abram and through the blessing explains how Abram could defeat these 4 mighty kings. The God Most High did it. He delivered Abram’s enemies into his hand. Maybe it’s obvious, but Melchizedek points to God Most High. It’s God who delivered Abram’s enemies into his hand. This title, God Most High, is said four times in the chapter. God is superior not only of the earth, as if he was the mightiest king of the land, but also of heaven. There is nothing higher than God the Creator. And God has been at work in this story to move things about, to give Abram an unlikely victory and ultimately to get glory. Melchizedek and Abram recognize God’s control over earthly events.
Delivered into his hand. This is a phrase used throughout the Old Testament to indicate when God had made a way for victory over Israel’s opponents. We see it with Moses, Joshua, the Judges and David. We see this in several stories where the earthly odds are against Israel, but having the Most High God on Israel’s side tip the scales. Abram and Gideon defeat larger armies by night attack. It wasn’t strategy alone, but the fact that God was on their side, working to orchestrate victory. David defeated Goliath, not because he had incredible accuracy with a sling, but because God delivered Goliath into his hands.
For Israel to read Genesis 14 while they are preparing to take the land, should give them greater faith. The God who delivered 4 kings into Abram’s hand, will certainly deliver the Canaanites into Israel’s hand. It is meant to be an encouragement: Take heart! God is at work and will bring you victory!
The same is true today, even though we don’t always know it explicitly. God Most High, is still at work, holding all things together and moving history forward to accomplish his purposes through people in order to do good for his people and get all glory. We don’t always get an explanation for why the earthly things we see and experience are happening. We don’t get a Priest-King like Melchizedek showing up to summarize things for us. But recognize that God Most High, possessor of earth and heaven, is at work.
With that said, let me add a caution. Be careful about interpreting what exactly God is doing in events. Whether it’s events that we interpret as blessing or others that we might view as curses, like suffering, or something bad happening, we don’t know all that God is doing. It would be too simplistic to equate suffering with judgment, for example. Does God use suffering as a form of judgment. Yes. Always? No. Could God use suffering for multiple reasons? Absolutely. The surest way to go is to seek the true Priest-King Jesus Christ by knowing God’s word. It won’t tell you all of the specifics of your life, but you will be on more solid ground than trying to interpret your circumstances through your own senses.
Now the text resumes with the king of Sodom and we see the difference between the kings’ dealings with Abram.
21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.”
After receiving a warm blessing and a royal meal of bread and wine from Melchizedek this other king doesn’t even offer a thank you to Abram for rescuing his kingdom. He gets right down to business and ask for his people back but allows Abram to take the spoils of victory. Again Abram is faced with a decision. From an earthly perspective he is entitled to the earthly riches of his conquest. But God has called him to a higher calling and God continually has reminded Abram of that calling in each situation he has found himself in. And he was just blessed by Melchizedek.
22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.”
Abram uses the same wording, “God Most High” as Melchizedek, but now he identifies this Most High God as Yahweh. This possessor of heaven and earth has a name. And Abram lifts his hand to to the LORD. He is making a vow to not take anything from this king. God will satisfy all he needs, even if it’s not obvious to Abram what that might be. And the reason he refuses the spoils of victory is that he doesn’t want anything taking away from God getting the glory. God will make Abram great and nothing else.
The final thing we see is that the three tribes that aligned with Abram get the spoils of victory. Those who bless God’s people will be blessed as well.
So what? What does all of this have to do with us? We aren’t’ fighting literal battles with people.
In the New Covenant, which Jesus mediated and enacted through his blood, the battle changes from a physical battle with rival neighbors to a spiritual battle.
Ephesians 6:10-13 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm
Notice that Ephesians uses battle language, put on armor, stand, strength, forces of evil, but they are all spiritual now. Instead of employing military tactics to rescue a nephew, we fight for truth. We fight against sin and unbelief.
Fight for truth. Be in the Word and understand your worldview better. So you can fight, not on Twitter and Facebook, but so you are prepared with truth at your dinner table as your train your kids to know God Most High. Talking with your neighbor in the yard. Having lunch with a co-worker.
Fight against sin. Go to your Priest King. We have a Priest King after the order of Melchizedek. Jesus is the greater Melchizedek. He is our high priest to bring us to God.
Fight against unbelief. Remind yourself that God is sovereign. Nothing in earth or heaven is above our God. Remind yourself of the promises he has made to his people. That He is present. And he will never leave. That he is at work and has not stopped working.
That’s not all. Just as God Most High delivered the 4 kings into Abram’s hand, Jesus Christ was delivered into the hands of his enemies (Romans 4:25). The Romans and the Jews thought they were accomplishing God’s purposes, and yet God worked in these circumstances to ensure that God’s enemies, Satan, sin and death were all defeated on the cross. And that as a result of Christ’s death and resurrection, we who were enemies now receive blessing. Romans 4:24 and 25 says this:
24It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
God Most High, there is nothing above you. No other gods, forces of nature or anything else in this universe that thwarts your purposes and plans. We don’t always see your work so obviously, but please give us the faith to trust your promises. Strengthen us to live in the knowledge that your work is being done. Prepare us battle this week against the rules, authorities and cosmic powers over this present darkness. Help us to love those around us and see them as people in need of a savior rather than people to battle against. Help us stand up for truth, being prepared with answers and love whoever comes into our path.
Jesus, you are glorious. As cool as Melchizedek is to think about, he points us to you and your surpassing glory. You descended to us to bless us, kill our enemies and protect us forever. Help us to meditate on your greatness as our Priest and King. You are King of Kings.
Sprit, empower us to respond in worship now. Convict us of sin so we can repent. Apply the gospel to our hearts, I pray. Help us to rejoice in the gospel. May we sing loudly and triumphantly knowing that the battle is already won. Help us to hold on to the promises and build us up for the week ahead. Amen.