Back in the period of time when Abram was alive, many land areas were not governed by individual nations as we know them today. During Abram’s time (around 2000 BC), most land areas in and around the Middle East were ruled by “city-states.”
City-states were independent communities that each controlled a fairly small area of land. Each city-state operated like an independent nation with it’s own government but they were closer in size to what we might call a town or village today. This city-state form of government also existed in ancient Greece and in other areas throughout western Europe during the middle ages as well.
This information is helpful in understanding some of the events that occur in Genesis chapter fourteen. You see, Genesis chapter 14 tells us about how five kings ruling five city-states in the area of Sodom and Gomorrah decided to revolt against a confederation of four other city-states that had been ruling over them. Genesis 14:4 tells us that these five city-states had been subject for twelve years to a man named Kedorlaomer (pronounced “ked-or-lay-oh-mer”) who appears to have been the leader of this four city confederacy.
To be “subject” to another ruler during this time usually meant that you had to pay some money to the person that you were subject to. This money was called the “tribute” and it was something that we might call “protection money” today. To put it another way, this tribute money was like an ancient adult version of the schoolyard bully who says, “Give me your money or else I’m going to beat you up.”
So Genesis 14:4 tells us, “For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.” In other words, these five city-states fought back against Kedorlaomer and his group by not giving them any more protection money. This was like a declaration of war, and you can probably guess what happened next…
“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) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar–four kings against five” (Genesis 14:8-9).
This five-on-four matchup would seem to be pretty favorable for the five king alliance, but what does all this have to do with Abram? Well, the answer is nothing, really- until a certain “someone” got himself dragged into the fight.
“Now the Valley of Siddim was full of tar pits, and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled to the hills. The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away” (Genesis 14:10-11).
So much for the big revolution, huh? In the end, it turned out to be a bad idea for these five city-states to go to war against the four city alliance because the five-city group eventually ended up losing everything. The armies of these four kings came in and took all of the food and everything else in Sodom and Gomorrah- but that’s not all they got…
“They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom” (Genesis 14:12).
This was much more than just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time for Lot. You see, Lot made some specific choices that put him in a position to get caught up in this mess. The first choice involved Lot’s decision to move to this area without asking for any help, direction, or input from God first.
Next, Genesis 13:12 tells us that, “Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.” So Lot was originally living somewhere “near” Sodom when we last met him. But notice that Genesis 14:12 says that Lot was now living “in” Sodom just before he was captured.
Now we’ve already been told that Sodom was a place where some really bad things were happening (see Genesis 13:13). This made Lot’s decision to move to Sodom bad enough by itself. However, Lot’s decision to make his home in Sodom also meant that he got caught up in the same trouble that everyone else who lived there did when these these enemy troops invaded. So Lot’s choice put him in a dangerous position that eventually lead to some seriously bad consequences.
So what does this mean for people today? Well, Lot chose to hang around and live with a group of people who were doing some very wrong things. Because of this, he suffered the consequences when everything started going bad. The lesson for us is this: if you want to hang around with bad company, don’t be surprised if you’re the one who pays the price when trouble comes. Lot probably didn’t expect to become a prisoner of war when he originally moved to Sodom, but that’s exactly what happened to him.
“One who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshcol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan” (Genesis 14:13-14).
So it seems that Abram stayed out of this big fight until he found out that his nephew had been captured. Now when Abram heard this news, he could have said something like, “Too bad for Lot. He made his choice and now he’ll just have to live with the consequences.” But Abram graciously chose to rescue his nephew instead.
This illustrates the responsibility that God’s people sometimes face when friends or relatives make bad choices. Since God has has shown His graciousness towards us, we have a responsibility to honor Him and be gracious towards others when they get into trouble as well (see Romans 5:8).
While Lot should have known better than to move into Sodom, Abram didn’t let that fact stop him from helping Lot when he got into trouble. We can follow Abram’s good example today during those times when we’re asked to step up and do the difficult work of helping someone whose choices have gotten them into trouble.
So Abram mobilized his 318-member army to go and rescue Lot. Now anybody who can afford to keep 318 soldiers around has to be doing pretty well. On the other hand, 318 guys doesn’t really sound like much of an army, does it? Well, that might be true today, but remember that we’re not talking about two large nations going to war against each other- it was more like Abram’s “group” going up against an opposing group. When you think of it in those terms, 318 soldiers sounds a lot more impressive.
“During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people” (Genesis 14:15-16).
Abram chose to advance against the enemy from different directions under the cover of darkness in what we might call a “guerrilla attack” today. While this is a good military strategy, Abram definitely must have received God’s help because he successfully took out this entire four-king alliance with 318 guys when a five-king alliance couldn’t do it.
As a result of this great military victory, a representative of the people that Abram liberated will soon seek him out to show his appreciation. But someone else is about to visit Abram as well- someone who will turn out to be very different from his other visitor.
“After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’ Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything” (Genesis 14:17-20).
So following this successful military campaign, Abram received two visits from two different people. The first person was the king of Sodom and the second individual is identified as Melchizedek (pronounced “mel-key-zed-ek”), king of Salem.
Now Melchizedek is something of a mysterious figure in the Scriptures. Besides the fact that he was the king of Salem, the only other thing we’re told about Melchizedek is that he was also a priest of God. However, this passage doesn’t tell us where Melchizedek came from, how he came to be there with Abram, how he got to be a priest of the one true God, or how Abram knew about him. We only know that he was there, that he brought out bread and wine, and that Abram responded by giving Him 10% of everything.
Now its possible to look at this meeting in a very straightforward way. For example, we could say that Melchizedek was simply an important official who welcomed Abram home following his success on the battlefield. After providing Abram with the hospitality of a meal, Melchizedek then gave Abram his blessing and Abram responded by honoring him with ten percent of the valuables that were taken during the war. Sounds simple enough, right?
But let’s take a closer look at these clues we’ve been given about Melchizedek before we move on. First, we’re told that Melchizedek was the king of Salem. “Salem” is a word that means “peace” and it is believed to be the oldest name for the city of Jerusalem. (1) So we can say that Melchizedek was the “king of peace.” The name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness” (2) and he was both a priest and a king, which is very unusual.
In addition to this, notice that Melchizedek brings bread and wine to Abram, two items that will become very significant later on in the New Testament (see 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Finally, the fact that Melchizedek gave Abram a blessing is very important because a lesser person was always blessed by a greater person in that culture. Because of this, we can say that Melchizedek was a greater spiritual figure than Abram because Abram received a blessing from Melchizedek.
(1) “Salem” The Online Bible Thayer’s Greek Lexicon and Brown Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon
(2) “Melchizedek” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers
This information makes it possible to draw some comparisons between Melchizedek in the Old Testament and Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
For example, Melchizedek was the king of Salem (a word that means “peace”) and Romans 5:1 tells us that “…we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness” and 1 Corinthians 1:30 says that Jesus “…has become … our righteousness.”
Melchizedek was also both a priest and a king. The New Testament book of Hebrews tells us that “we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God.” (Hebrews 4:14). And when Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “Yes, it is as you say…” in Matthew 27:11. So Jesus was also both a priest and a king.
Genesis 14:18 tells us about how Melchizedek “brought out bread and wine” when he met with Abram. This may sound familiar because Jesus did much the same thing with His disciples during the last supper…
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins'” (Matthew 26:26-28).
Many years after the events of Genesis chapter fourteen, God inspired Israel’s King David was to write this about the Messiah: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek'” (Psalm 110:4). Even though priests in David’s day were only supposed to be descendants of a man named Aaron (Exodus 28:1), this verse says that God’s Savior would be a priest in Melchizedek’s order.
Finally, the New Testament book of Hebrews tell us that Melchizedek was, “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever” (Hebrews 7:3). The only two people in Israel’s history to have the office of priest and king were Melchizedek and Jesus.
Because of this, many people believe that Melchizedek was a Christopany or Old Testament appearance of Jesus Christ prior to His physical birth. But even if Melchizedek does not represent an actual appearance of Jesus in the Old Testament, he is at the very least a type or symbol of Jesus.
So that’s Abram’s encounter with king number one. However, we’ll soon see that Abram’s meeting with king number two will be very different.
“The king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.’ But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’
I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me–to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre. Let them have their share” (Genesis 14:21-24).
According to the custom of that time, Abram had the right to keep anything that he gained from his victory over the four-king alliance that had captured his nephew Lot. This is why the king of Sodom said to him, “All I want are my people. You can keep everything else” (Genesis 14:21 CEV).
But check out Abram’s reply to this offer: “…Abram told the king of Sodom, ‘I swear to God, The High God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, this solemn oath, that I’ll take nothing from you, not so much as a thread or a shoestring. I’m not going to have you go around saying, ‘I made Abram rich'” (MSG).
Abrams’s example reminds us that it’s important to be careful in choosing who we become indebted to. You see, just because someone offers something for “free” doesn’t always mean that it’s a good idea to take it.
For example, some offers that seem “free” (like credit card promotions that are marketed to people in their teens and 20’s) may actually become very expensive in a very short time. A person who takes advantage of a seemingly free offer like this without reading the “fine print” could find themselves with a big obligation to pay back in a very short time.
On the other hand, Abram was very smart in choosing to reject the king of Sodom’s offer. Abram didn’t take advantage of the king’s offer because he didn’t want the king of Sodom to be able to say, “Yeah, Abram’s rich because he has all my old stuff.”
Abram didn’t want his wealth to be associated with anything from Sodom. He also had no intention of becoming indebted to the leader of a city with Sodom’s reputation. Abram knew that God had provided him with a victory over this four-king alliance and he did not want feel obligated to the king of Sodom in any way.