The Faith of Abraham | Genesis 14 | Abram Rescues Lot and is Blessed by Melchizedek
1 In the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, 2 these kings made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). 3 And all these joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). 4 Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled. 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.
8 Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out, and they joined battle in the Valley of Siddim 9 with Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar, four kings against five. 10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the hill country. 11 So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. 12 They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way.
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. 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. 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.
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.) 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. 21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” 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.”
Genesis 14 holds the first war in the Bible. It’s a large one, international in scope, four against five. The four made up the coalition from the east. For twelve years, five kings from the west paid tribute to the eastern kings. But they decided those days were over. It was rebellion time.
The rebellion only makes the pages of the Bible because of Lot’s presence in Sodom. He moved from the outskirts of the city to the center sometime between chapters 13 and 14. When the rebellion came, Lot was taken captive. Then, Abram had a choice to make. He could intervene, or let Lot go. He chooses to intervene, a choice that proves his valor and leads him to a blessing.
ABRAM’S CHOICE TO RESCUE LOT (vv. 1-16)
Lot chose in Genesis 13 to take the valley near the city of Sodom. He saw the promise it held and moved away from God’s promised land to live among sinners. It is no surprise, then, that a chapter later we find Lot in deep trouble. In the midst of a war, he and his family are taken captive. Kent Hughes captures the tragedy Lot faced.
Lot and everything he possessed was carted off to who knows where. Turkey? Lot had seen agonizing deaths and rapes, the traditional wake of ancient victory. Perhaps he had lost children and loved ones. Perhaps a daughter was now the prize of some Hittite. As he trudged across the Transjordan toward Canaan’s borders, all his hopes were dead.
As Lot’s hopes died, Abram sat far away, uninvolved. Then a captured man escaped and ran Abram’s way, involving him.
Abram faced a choice. He could think, “Well, you know, Lot got himself into this mess by moving over there. He should have stayed out of the city. I love him, but I’m God’s chosen man to bring blessing to the world. I can’t risk my neck in this war. Besides, I’m a shepherd, a wanderer, not a soldier.”
But Abram didn’t think that. Verse 14 says, “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.” The Hebrew language captures what our English translations can’t. Abram “drew them out.” More than merely leading forth the trained men, he drew them out as you would a sword from its sheath. These men weren’t merely drafted; they were motivated. Abram wasn’t a reluctant leader. He was the William Wallace character, putting the heart in his men, preparing them for battle. Abram, the wanderer, became Abram, the general.
Abram risked his life for his nephew Lot. He knew the choices Lot made, and he pursued him anyway. His pursuit was successful, bringing them all back. Lot was restored thanks to Abram’s valor.
What about this story makes it “Bible-worthy”? It’s a long-forgotten war. Abram was successful. Lot didn’t die. But it shows us more than mere facts about war. It points beyond itself. Abram’s actions point to another, greater, braver One. Abram rescued Lot the way Jesus rescues us. As the knowledge of our plight rises to heaven, Jesus does not sit still. He springs into action to save and redeem. It was a risk. It was painful. Jesus not only could have died; he did die. As far as Abram went, Jesus went further still. This story is here because it shows us the heart of Christ. When we get into trouble, we have someone better than a brave uncle. We have the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, the Mighty One on our side.
ABRAM’S CHOICE OF BLESSING (vv. 17-24)
On his return to the land, he met two kings on the way: the king of Sodom and the king of Salem, Melchizedek. The contrast between these two kings could not be greater. The king of Sodom ruled over a sinful people. Melchizedek was not only a king but also a priest of God Most High.
The narrative points to Melchizedek making the first move. He blessed Abram and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” As God’s priest, he did not hesitate to bless God’s chosen servant. He recognized Abram for who he truly was. He brought out bread and wine—royal fare—showing goodwill and generosity. No doubt he had heard his name in his own land. And when meeting him here, he worshiped God with him. In response, Abram gave him a tenth of everything, tithing to God via his priest.
Then came the king of Sodom. “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” Here we see that as difficult as the battle may have been to rescue Lot, the real battle is here in the Valley of Shaveh with these two kings. Derek Kidner explains:
For Abram the harder battle begins, for there is a profound contrast between the two kings who come to meet him. Melchizedek, king and priest, his name and title expressive of the realm of right and good (see Heb. 7:2), offers him, in token, a simple sufficiency from God, pronounces an unspecified blessing (dwelling on the Giver, not the gift), and accepts costly tribute. All this is meaningful only to faith. The king of Sodom, on the other hand, makes a handsome and businesslike offer; its sole disadvantage is perceptible, again, only to faith. To these rival benefactors Abram signifies his Yes and his No, refusing to compromise his call.
Such a climax shows what was truly at stake in this chapter of international events. The struggle of kings, the far-ranging armies and the spoil of a city are the small-change of the story; the crux is the faith or failure of one man.
At this distance we can see that this is no artificial judgment. More hinged on this than on the most resounding victory or the fate of any kingdom.
Here stands Abram between two kings, between two worlds. The king of Sodom represents the world and all its unfaith. The king of Salem represents the kingdom of God and all its faith. The king of Sodom doesn’t understand the things of God. What he witnesses between Melchizedek and Abram is totally lost on him. His offer of worldly goods seems far greater in worth than the blessing of a priest.
What does Melchizedek understand that the King of Sodom doesn’t? Just this: Abram’s victory wasn’t his; it was God’s. As Melchizedek blesses Abram, his praise flows not only horizontally but also vertically.
Abram, for his part, gave instead of took. True faith has that effect. When given the two choices of giving God the glory or take the spoils of war, the man of faith glorifies God. “I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 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.’” Abram knew where his riches truly came from.
ABRAM’S PRIEST AND OURS
Though his time in the Bible is brief, Melchizedek is more than his short time seems to say. He’s mentioned in only three places throughout the Scriptures: here in Genesis 14, Psalm 110, and the book of Hebrews. But his inclusion in the book of Hebrews proves his value.
Melchizedek’s titles held an unusual combination: king and priest. The law, which was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai years after this event, established the priesthood and the kingship as two distinct, mutually exclusive offices of leadership in Israel. For the two offices to be combined, the author of Hebrews says, indicates a superior priesthood.
The author of Hebrews mentions Melchizedek in chapter 5, then picks him up again in chapter 7. In teaching his readers about the priesthood of Christ, he looks all the way back to Genesis 14 to find one who is like him. Hebrews 7:3 says of Melchizedek, “He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.” Melchizedek is an outlier on the landscape of God’s priesthood. But he resembles the Son of God. This is the key connection that the author of Hebrews intends to draw out. Jesus, by his lineage in relation to Israel, coming from the kingly tribe of Judah, not the priestly tribe of Levi, cannot be a priest according to the law. So, he must be a priest of a different order. To make sense of this, the author went back to the Old Testament and what he found was a man named Melchizedek, mentioned only twice in the Scriptures who existed before Christ so that we could understand Christ when he came.
Hebrews 7:4-10 continues the discussion, highlighting the superiority of Melchizedek in two ways. First, he is superior to Abraham. “See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils!” (v. 4) Abraham is the patriarch of the entire Jewish race. Therefore, for Abraham to be submissive to someone indicates that everyone flowing from Abraham is also in subordination to him. Second, he is superior to the Levitical priests. “One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.” (Heb. 7:9-10) We see again how Abraham is representative of the entire Jewish race, including the priesthood. Melchizedek is superior to Levi, and therefore, to the Levitical priests. It’s not to that Melchizedek himself is superior; it’s the office that he holds. The Levitical priesthood had its problems. The Melchizedekian priesthood resolved those problems, namely of eternity and continuity. His was a priesthood of a higher order.
This matters to the author of Hebrews because he’s highlighting the change in priesthood Jesus brought. He did what the Levitical priests could not do. There were limitations to the Levitical priesthood. Perfection was not attainable (Heb. 7:11). Therefore, the law was inadequate to do what God ultimately wanted (Heb. 7:12). Legal requirements and bodily descent cannot lead to everlasting life (Heb. 7:16). It was weak and useless (v. 18). It was insufficient to bring us as near to God as God desired (Heb. 7:19). There was no oath from God regarding this priesthood (Heb. 7:20). The priests were many in number and prevented by death from continuing in office (Heb. 7:23).
The Old Testament was pregnant with a better hope for God’s people. The Levitical system was not a system leading to perfection. It was a placeholder for the coming Son who would bring a more effective priesthood – one that his people need for all time. And, surprisingly, Abram met one like him way back in the beginning.
Melchizedek wasn’t Jesus. But the priest Abram met all those years ago was a type of the one to come—the priest he and we need, the eternal mediator between God and us. When we look to him by faith, we find in him the mercy and grace sufficient for our unfaith. We find in him the salvation we need. Jesus, the priest of a higher order, is ours. And he was Abram’s, too.
That day in the Valley, Abram found what all in Christ find to be true: our perfect priest is better than everything else. “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).