The 14th chapter of Genesis is a fascinating chapter for two reasons:
1) It stands as a transitional chapter between the first giving of the covenant in Chapter 12 and its elaboration in Chapter 15 and by serving in this transitional way it gives the reader a greater understanding of what it means that God is going to make Abram into a (Gen. 12:2-3) “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
This is done by painting a picture of battle in which an apparent underdog triumphs over the strongmen.
2) It introduces us to the mysterious figure of Melchizedek who establishes a priesthood more important than the Levitical priesthood but who doesn’t reappear in scripture again until Psalm 110 and then after that until Hebrews 5-7 where he is compared to Jesus Christ, the great High Priest.
Melchizedek is a mysterious figure that Abram meets after the battle. He is a prophetic foreshadowing of the greater kingly priesthood that would eventually arise, a priesthood that would far surpass anything the Levitical code with its laws and sacrifices could envision. He is great because Melchizedek has neither “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life,” and so the author of Hebrews declares, “like the Son of God he remains a priest forever” (Hebrews 7:3). Melchizedek is an image of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. We can take great joy that not only has Christ rescued and redeemed us, but in the words of Hebrews 6:20 he has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
A priest like Melchizedek would have the power of an indestructible life (Heb 7:16). He would not only bless the people of God, but he would completely save those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Heb 7:25). As people living today, we can be assured from the life and interaction of this mysterious Melchizedek with Abram, that the true worship of God has taken place through Jesus Christ who is greater than Melchizedek. He has brought the new covenant. He offers us table fellowship, establishing the bread and the wine as symbols that feed our weary souls from the battles that rage in the spiritual realms. He calls us to allegiance, presenting a call to submit to God through his word or to deny the Lord and live by our own power. He invites us to be subjects of the Almighty, entering his kingdom, a kingdom that has no end. Will you come? Will you obey? Will you trust in the promises of redemption, not for what you do or have done or will do, but for what Christ has done, is doing and will continue to do for you? This is what the 14th chapter of Genesis is all about so how does the battle scene fit into all of this?
Remarkably, the chapter spends more than half of its verses giving us details about what is about to happen and so it is easy to miss what is important and get bogged down in names and locations. So let me summarize these opening verses, and how they relate to the last story. If you recall from last week, Abram and Lot separate because the land can’t contain them both. Lot chooses the land he wants to go to and like many of us who are self-seeking, he takes the land that looks good – it is lush and fruitful, but appearances can be deceiving as we find out in this chapter.
For the land that Lot has chosen is a land that is about to be embroiled in a war. Its inhabitants have been paying tribute to the mighty forces of the east, an alliance consisting of kings from Babylonia and Persia and other powerful nations. Unfortunately about the time Lot chooses the “good land,” the rulers of the good land decide to rebel and they suffer a staggering military defeat where all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food (Gen 14:11) and all their people are carried away into exile (Gen 14:16), Lot included.
To understand how powerful these overlord kings from the east were we need to remember that they are over 1000 miles away from their homeland and yet they easily subdue the local nations. To travel 1000 miles would require quite a sizeable force arrayed for battle. It would need lots of people and animals and superior fighting skills. Furthermore, they would need plenty of carts to transport all the booty back home. These guys are the equivalent of the US Marines of today, backed up in full by the Army Corp of Engineers to ensure that the supplies are delivered on time and available as needed.
So why incorporate this story, after having informed us of the great blessing God has given Abram and the promise that this land will be his – Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever (Gen. 13:14-15). This story gives us a chance to see God’s promises in action forming Abram into a great nation. It gives us a glimpse of what it means that those who bless Abram are blessed and those who curse him will be cursed. To be blessed, in this story, is to be safe, rescued and victorious while being cursed is defeated and driven out of the Promised Land.
All of the members of Abram’s family are recipients of this blessing, Lot included. We need to recognize that in this story, Lot serves as a picture of all righteous people. We don’t often think of Lot as righteous, but Peter describes Lot as a righteous man (3x) in his 2nd epistle with these words, (2Pet. 2:6-9) if he [God] condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard). Lot stands for all righteous people who are overtaken by poor choices, difficult situations, their own sin and the sins of others and who are delivered by un unlikely savior.
Lot would have never anticipated his own kin coming to rescue him. He would never have imagined his uncle coming out against a mighty army and defeating it. But with these foreigners in the land ruling, how can Abram really possess the land? How can his people be safe and secure?
Truly these Eastern kings are awesome and nothing has stood in their way, yet Abram determines to march forth and redeem his family. He heads off on a proverbial suicide mission. He marches upwards of 120 miles from Mamre to Dan and then divides the men, attacks by surprise and drives them another 40 miles northward until they are far beyond the boundaries of Canaan, rescuing all who had lived in the land. In this piece of history we find the blessing of God coming to fruition – Abram’s name is revered, in fact he has essentially become “King” of the land by driving out the enemy, that is what the King of Sodom is saying to him when he declares, Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself (Gen 14:21). All that I was giving in tribute to the East, I offer to you as my new lord. You are greater than I, and I will submit to your yoke. Abram is blessing many peoples who were being oppressed and he is receiving the land.
Indulge me for a moment, had Abram taken the offer of the King of Sodom and determined to sit upon the throne as the new ruler of Canaan, would he have been able to continue possessing that land by any means other than strength, military might and power? Would those who had rebelled against their former masters, peacefully submit never to raise their arms against him, or would they likely wait until an opportune time when he and his descendants were weak and overthrow them, thus invalidating the promise of God?
This next part boggles my mind and reveals just how far Abram has come in his faith walk. This is where we meet the second king. Where the King of Sodom represents the works of the flesh and the ways of the world, the Priest-King Melchizedek represents the way of faith and submission to God. Melchizedek comes to Abram and begins by feeding him. Surely Abram was tired, but Melchizedek brings out the fare of kings, one commentator declared this “a covenant meal” consisting of – bread and wine. Melchizedek makes a bold declaration to Abram saying …blessed by God Most High who delivered your enemies into your hand (Gen 14:20). In effect he is reminding Abram, saying: “You didn’t rescue these people, God did.” And given that truth, you must act accordingly, give God the glory, don’t take the credit or the reward, but let it belong to God alone.” So Abram must decide, does he agree with Melchizedek or Sodom? Was his success personal effort, or divine blessing? Is this how the promise will be fulfilled, or is there a different way that God works than by power and might?
And the choice is made; Abram has become a man of impeccable character and wisdom, anyone else might view the events that had transpired as God’s way of giving him the land, yet not this man, he views his actions in opposition to the promise of God to be inherited by faith. His actions have been personal works, undertaken for the benefit of his family and the honor of his clan, not for the inheritance of the land and the taking of the promise. The offering of the tenth is given immediately to this priest-king from the spoils. Abram has declared to the world a model of peace and trust in the Lord for all his promises instead of power and control to claim the promise.
In accepting the blessing and submitting to the truth of Melchizedek’s declarations, Abram has effectively declared himself not a ruler but a servant, (Heb. 7:7) And without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater. Abram has submitted himself to one greater than he is, for this priest-king is the representative of God Almighty, Jehovah Jireh, Abram’s provider. Abram is not the Lord of his life, nor is he the one responsible for securing the promises of God. On the contrary, God must fulfill his word to Abram. Abram must wait upon the timing of the Lord.
Don’t we see that same pattern in the Scriptures? Is it not David who is promised the kingship, and yet he refuses to lift a hand against the Lord’s anointed – King Saul. And so he faithfully serves King Saul awaiting the day when God will fulfill his promise. Is it not the teaching of the prophets “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!”(Isaiah 30:18) and the psalms “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.”(Psalms 130:5)
This is the gospel. Salvation and the promises of God come to those who trust and wait upon the Lord. Unfortunately, that is hard to do as we see from the history of the world. Two thousand years ago there were men and women waiting for the consolation of Israel. In their waiting, some banded together to fight off Antiochus Epiphanies under the leadership of the Maccabees. That was successful for a time, but then the Romans came. To this threat some banded together to fight as Iscarii, daggermen who sought opportune times to assassinate Roman officials. Then there were the Herodians who sought to rule the land by treaty and negotiation with the Romans. But none of those people ever really possessed the land or entered into the rest God had promised. But in the temple were 2 people, Simeon and Anna. We are told, Simeon was righteous and devout, he was waiting for the consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25) and Anna never left the temple but worshipped night and day fasting and praying (Luke 2:37). Anna and Simeon waited for God and trusted in his promises. It was these two and others like them who saw the promised Messiah and truly became possessors of a kingdom that never ends.
And that Kingdom is still being built today. It is a Kingdom that is not of this world. It is a kingdom that is built upon odd principles like the beatitudes, humility and servanthood. It is a kingdom that cannot come about by any effort of human will but only by the powerful working of God through his Spirit in the lives of people. And it is a Kingdom that will not end.
Unfortunately, the same struggles that existed in the past between effort and faith continue to be troublesome to the church. There are some in the Church who have become embroiled in the affairs of this world as a means to seeking the fulfillment of God’s promises to come again and reign over humanity. Some say, “If Christians got serious and cared for the poor, lobbied governments and legislated Christian morality then Jesus would be able to come back and we would be living in the wonderful reign of God on earth.” This is commonly known as postmillennial theology or in our reformed heritage it also goes by the name of Christian reconstructionism or Dominion theology. Then there is another group of folks that believe we must establish Israel as a nation and protect her from all threats so that the temple can be rebuilt and then Jesus will return and salvation will be complete. This is premillenial theology.
I don’t want to downplay the good parts of both of these views for we do have a call to care for the needy, and to shape governments. We do have a responsibility to protect nations that are in need but if we really think about it, will our best efforts in any of these areas ever bring about the fulfillment of God’s promises to come again. No! We must wait upon the Lord, renew our strength and see his grand deliverance. We are not called to be citizens of this world; we are aliens and foreigners. We called to be citizens of heaven for we are being built into a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to our God (1 Pt 2:9). Our strength lies not in ourselves but in faithfully submitting to the Lord and trusting that his ways are the only way the Kingdom can be built.
For this is the gospel: Jesus of Nazareth, our own flesh and blood came to earth, born in a stable, from an impoverished family instead of ruling nobles, without army, nation or worldly power, He came and took on the great enemy of sin and death in by the power of an indestructible life (Heb 7:14). He conquered both triumphing over them by the cross (Col 2:15). He was offered the world on a platter by Satan himself as one of the three temptations recorded in Luke 4, but like Abram Christ refused to take what the Lord hadn’t personally given him yet. And it was in this way, humbly waiting upon God that Jesus became the savior of the World.
He always has been our savior, but he illustrated it to us by waiting upon God. This same Jesus saves all who are caught up in the great battle between the forces of God and evil. And just like nothing could stand in the way of Abram as he marched his 120 miles to redeem his nephew, a captive unable to redeem himself, so nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:38-39) For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Christ rescues us from our greatest enemy, the Devil, who (1Pet. 5:8) prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. And like Abram drove the invaders from the land, Christ, (Rev. 20:2, 10) [has] seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years…And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. Our victory and redemption was assured by a an unassuming man who was born in Bethlehem, followed by 12 disciples and ultimately died on a cross, only to rise again on the third day in order to defeat the sting of death, to crush sin and to set the captives free.
- Introduction (Gen 12:2-3)
- Melchizedek (Heb 7:3, 6:20, 7:16, 25)
- Historical Setting (Gen 14:11, 16, 13:14-15)
- Lot stands for all righteous in need of rescuing (2Pt 2:6-9)
- Offer of the King of Sodom (Gen 14:21)
- Melchizedek’s Reminder (Gen 14:20, Heb 7:7)
IV. Waiting upon God (Isa 30:18, Ps 130:5, Luke 2:25, 37)
V. A New Nation (1Pt 2:9, Heb 7:14, Col 2:15, Rom 8:38-39, 1Pt 5:8, Rev 20:2, 10)