The Word Made Fresh
1About this time Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goiim 2attacked Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (or Zoar). 3These five had joined forces in the valley of Siddim near the Salt Sea. 4They had served Chedorlaomer for twelve years. In the thirteenth year they revolted. 5In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and his three allies came and overran the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Saveh-kiriathaim 6and the Horites in the hill country of Seir all the way to El-paran at the edge of the wilderness. 7Then they turned back to En-mishpat (also known as Kadesh) and overran the Amalekites and the Amorites in Hazazon-Tamar.
8Then the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Bela (or Zoar) met them in the valley of Siddim 9and fought against Kings Chedorlaomer of Elam, Tidal of Goiim, Amraphel of Shinar and Arioch of Ellasar, four against five. 10The valley of Siddim was full of pits of asphalt, and as the men of Sodom and Gomorrah retreated some of them fell into the asphalt pits, and the rest fled into the hills. 11Their foes sacked Sodom and Gomorrah and took everything, and then left. 12They also took Lot, Abram’s nephew, who was living in Sodom, along with all his belongings.
13One of the men, however, managed to escape, and came to the oak grove owned by Mamre the Amorite. Mamre and his brothers Eshcol and Aner were friends of Abram. 14When Abram heard the news about Lot being captured, he led his army of trained men, all 318 of them born in his family, and pursued Lot’s captors all the way to Dan. 15He divided his men and attacked at night and routed them and chased them all the way to Hormah, which is north of Damascus. 16He returned with all the stolen goods. He rescued Lot and his belongings, along with the women and the others.
17When Abram returned from his defeat of Chedorlaomer and his allies, the king of Sodom met him in the valley of Shaveh (the King’s Valley). 18King Melchizedek of Salem brought bread and wine. He was a priest of God Most High. 19He honored Abram. “Abram is rewarded by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth,” he said, 20“and honor is given to God Most High who has granted you victory over your enemies.”
Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the spoils of battle.
21Then the King of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people, but keep everything else for yourself.”
22Abram refused, saying, “I have promised the LORD God Most High, who made heaven and earth, 23that I would not take so much as a thread or a sandal thong or anything else that is yours, so you won’t be able to say ‘I made Abram rich.’ 24I won’t take anything but what my men have eaten, but let the friends who came with me, Aner, Eshcol and Mamre, take their share.”
1-12: The “kings” listed here might more properly be referred to as “sheiks,” or “warlords.” The towns in the Jordan Valley where Lot has gone have been forced to pay tribute (cold, hard, cash – well, gold and silver) to Chedorlaomer, king of Elam – Elam was a territory east of Israel – and they are ready to attempt a revolt. So, the towns in the valley band together and a battle ensues. We might expect the troops in the valley to have the advantage of the home turf, but they are the ones who are hampered by asphalt tar pits in the valley, and Chedorlaomer and his cronies sack Sodom and Gomorrah, capturing Lot in the process.
13-16: Abram is told about Lot’s lot and summons his “bodyguard” of three hundred eighteen men, born in his household! So, it seems that Abram is a warlord in his own right, and this is probably a good indication that quite a few years have passed since he and Lot separated at the end of chapter 13. His pursuit of Lot’s captors takes him all the way to Damascus and beyond – over a hundred miles. He defeats the eastern “kings” and rescues Lot. (By the way, verse 13 contains the first use of the word “Hebrew” in the Bible.)
17-24: A victory celebration is held. The king of Sodom is there (still sticky with tar, I suppose), and another king named Melchizedek of Salem (later it is called Jerusalem) appears. His presence is shrouded in mystery, and that has led to all kinds of speculation about who he was. Early Christian commentators, because he brought bread and wine, saw in him a reflection of Christ. Other scholars think he is a made-up character: Melchizedek means “King of righteousness,” and Salem, his city, means “Peace,” and some scholars think that is just a bit too convenient. Abram, for his part, is grateful that a priest/king has arrived to invoke God’s blessing and gives Melchizedek 10% of all the spoils of battle, thus giving rise to the practice of tithing.
The King of Sodom wants the “persons” back, but not the other stuff. Abram insists on giving his allies – Aner, Eshcol and Mamre – a share of the spoil, but will not keep anything for himself. This is the only place that mentions that these three friends accompanied Abram in his war, and could mean that Abram had somewhat more than 318 men in his “army.”
The bottom line, of course, is that God is protecting Abram, and God is establishing him as an important leader in the territory he has settled. It is also an indication that God’s presence and God’s guidance is never exclusive to the hero of the moment. There are often others who will benefit from the LORD’s plan