Chapter xiv
4. The Defeat of the Kings by Abram (14:1-24)

We now see Abram in an entirely new capacity. He appears in contact with the kings of this world and in contrast with them to some extent. Indeed, in part his unselfishness is still further demonstrated. But at the same time we are shown how courageous true faith makes this man. As prominent a fact as any revealed by the chapter is how the man whom God has honoured by rare promises of mercy is a man who enjoys honer also among men: he moves at ease among kings, easily the equal of any of them. However, not one of these facts dare be stressed at the expense of the rest, as though any of them fully expressed the purpose of the chapter.

Criticism misinterprets an honest record when it represents the whole narrative as a bit of fiction written in order to magnify the hero. Equally unfair is the approach which says since elsewhere matters of this sort are not narrated concerning Abram, therefore this cannot be true.

Source criticism finds itself sorely beset by difficulties at this point, inasmuch as the customary sources usually assigned for Genesis fail to prove adequate for this chapter here are neither E, J, or P. About four terms are discovered that are usually assigned to P, but with that the similarity ceases. The very obvious fact concerning, the vocabulary of this chapter, namely, that it is somewhat different from other chapters merely because it deals with a different type of subject -- this obvious fact does not seem to occur to the critics. As a result much learning is expended on the questions: from what source are the facts narrated derived; are they oral tradition; do they come from some Canaanite or some Babylonian clay tablets; etc.? It cannot be denied that parenthetical explanations abound throughout the chapter: e. g., v.2, "the same is Zoar"; v.3, "the same is the Salt Sea"; v.7, "the same is Kadesh"; v.15, "which is on the left hand of Damascus"; v.17, "the same is the King's Vale." These are most readily accounted for on the score that the old names current at the time this event transpired in a number of instances required an explanation by the time when Moses wrote the account for his contemporaries.

Before taking in hand the various proper names of the kings mentioned particularly in v.1, we wish to draw attention to a general fact in regard to all of them. The claims raised in regard to all of them range from one extreme to the other, Whereas some students leave the impression that just about each one of the four mentioned has been positively identified by Babylonian evidence of clay tablets or monuments; others just as decidedly seek to create the impression that not one has been or can be identified. In fact, for that matter they contend that the historical situation here described is quite out of harmony with what an accurate study of history reveals.

As so often, the truth lies between the two extremes. Some of the kings in question may have been identified by other historical evidence; at least, the names involved are names quite possible for these lands and these times. In other words, what the chapter contains is in reality neither proved nor disproved by sound historical research, just as little as grounds exist for questioning the reliability of any item in the chapter.

1. And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel, king of Shinar, and Arioch, king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, and Tidal, king of Goyim.

"Amraphel" first demands attention. It is customary to identify him with the famous Hammurabi. Yet it cannot be denied that the identification is far from convincing. The chief difficulty centres in the final "1," for the assumed Babylonian original has no equivalent for it. This is freely admitted by many (cf. Procksch and Koenig). But the difficulty is disposed of by the assumption that some Jewish copyist must have made a mistake. But how unscientific: I seek to establish the identity of a certain name; the identity fails to become clear and convincing; therefore, I am not wrong but the name is. K. C. adopts the device of a longer form which he claims is once used for Hammurabi, viz., Chammurapi-ilu, that is, "Chammurapi is a God." But that is a complete sentence, not a name! Besides, Hammurabi, according to Michell's accurate computations, first ascended the throne in 2068 B. C.; whereas Chedorlaomer's famous expedition had occurred twenty years earlier in 2088 B. C. Now the Shinar over which he reigned was Babylon, as we noted on 10:10.

Certainly "Arioch" is analogous to Eri-Aku, whom some identify with Rim-Sin, King of Larsa, which last name certainly resembles "Ellasar," an old Babylonian city a bit to the north of the lower Euphrates, a place now called Senkereh. At this point the identification is highly probable, for Rim-Sin actually came to the throne about 2098 B. C.

In the case of "Chedorlaomer" everything again becomes highly problematic. For a Babylonian name like Kudur-Lathgumal, or as others construe it: Kudur-lagomar, is possible but has never been discovered. So the Babylonian source-material fails to prove adequate for identification. "Elam" is, of course, to the east of the middle Tigris and south of Assyria, corresponding roughly with the later Persia (cf. Ge 10:22).

As far as "Tidal" is concerned, it may be that he is identical with Tudkhula who made an attack upon Babylon together with the Elamites. But the words following his name present difficulty: "Goyim"may simply mean "nations" (A. V.). In that event Tidal would have been the head of a more or less mixed group composed of various nationalities. There is the more remote possibility that "Goyim" is another way of writing Guti, a people on the Upper Zab.

The noun "days" has a succession of nouns in the construct, relationship following; cf. K. S.276 b.

2. They made war with Bera, king of Sodom, and Birsha, king of Gomorrah, Shinab, king of Admah, and Shemeber, king of Zeboyim; and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar).

It is true that there is a slight break in the construction at this point: strictly speaking, the four proper nouns, i. e., the names of the kings preceding, are not subjects of the verb "made" but genitives dependent on "days." But in reality these names stand out so prominently that they may without the slightest confusion be regarded as the subjects of the verb of v, 2. To call this "a faulty syntax which a good writer would have avoided" is unfair. Not one of these five kings has ever been identified. The Jewish interpretation of their names is entirely fanciful and unlikely, when it separates the first into be-ra', i. e., "in wickedness," and the second into be-resha', i.e., "in iniquity." On the strength of the unreasonableness of such an etymology critics jump to the conclusion that the names themselves are fictitious. By comparing parallel Arabic roots (cf. K. W.) it will be seen that the first name might mean "Victor," the second, "a sturdy man," the. third, "Sin (the moon god) is father," and Shemeber, "the name (of God) is mighty." Sodom and Gomorrah, as we indicated (13:10), apparently lay at the southern end or lagoon of what is now the Dead Sea. "Admah" and "Zeboyim" are mentioned, aside from this chapter, only in Deut.29:23 and Hos.11:8, where their overthrow together with Sodom and Gomorrah is implied, though their destruction is not reported in chapter nineteen. They must have been rather near the two more familiar cities, yet sufficiently distinct from them to allow for having a separate king. "Bela," or "Zoar," had best be placed at the southeast corner of the Dead Sea.

Note the unconnected perfect 'asû after the introductory wayhi of v. I (K. S.370 b).

3. All these allied themselves for an expedition to the valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea).

Though the construction of the sentence is somewhat loose and this verse might possibly refer to an act of the kings of v.2, it seems quite a bit more likely that as in v.2 the kings of v.1 were regarded as grammatical subjects, so in v.3 the same subjects are still under consideration. These kings from the East "allied themselves (chabherû) for an expedition to (all covered by el in a pregnant construction) the valley of Siddim." The name of this valley may be allied with the noun sidh, "chalk," and so no reason exists for changing Siddim to Shedhîm, (Kittel) i. e., "evil spirits." The parenthetical remark "that is, the Salt Sea," does not commit the author of it, as commentators so frequently assert at this point, to the view that the entire Dead Sea is the result of the catastrophe reported in chapter nineteen. For, since the bottom of the northern two-thirds of the sea lies in some instances as much as 1,300 feet beneath the surface level, which in turn already lies 1,300 feet beneath the sea level, it seems most likely that this part of the lake was in existence from days of old. An author well aware of this, as Moses no doubt was, would then mean his remark in the sense: Valley of Siddim -- the southern end of the Salt Sea -- a synecdoche, the whole for the part.

4-6. Twelve years they had remained subject to Chedorlaomer and in the thirteenth year they revolted; and in the fourteenth year came Chedorlaomer and the kings allied with him and smote the Rephaim at Ashteroth-Qarnayim and the Zuzim at Ham and the Emim in the plain of Qiryathayim; and the Horites in their mountains, namely those of Seir, as far as El Paran which is by the wilderness.

A concise account is given as to how the war mentioned in v.2 originated, or rather, why Chedorlaomer and his confederates undertook the punitive expedition which gave rise to the chief episode of our chapter. Elamite and Babylonian domination of Palestine had been effective for twelve years. Chedorlaomer the Elamite was at the time in question sovereign also over Babylon, a fact with which historical records agree. For reasons not revealed at this point the five kings listed in v.2 decided to revolt. When the customary tribute as token of submission failed to be paid, Chedorlaomer decided that the rebels needed to be brought to time. This punitive step was feasible in the fourteenth year. Though it be said that "Chedorlaomer came," that does not of necessity involve personal participation. In the language of the monuments expeditions sent out at the king's behest are ascribed to him, at least if they are successful. At this point we may well note how it came to pass, perhaps, that no record of this expedition has come to us. Egyptian and Babylonian kings were not wont to have chronicles made of their defeats, and this expedition ended disastrously for Chedorlaomer. The kings of Shinar and Larsa must identify their cause with that of Chedorlaomer: he himself, no doubt, compelled them, as did also a community of interests. The cardinal numerals are used for the ordinals (G. K.134, o).

5b. Now the route, taken by these Mesopotamian forces is interesting. It reveals a wide sweep to the east and south and then around to the southwest; then northeast to the western side of the Dead Sea, and lastly the troops swarm down upon their final objective, the cities in the Vale of Siddim. All manner of fault has been found with this route taken by Chedorlaomer. Because the reason for it is not given in this brief account, the critics feel they may with impunity make light of any explanation that we may offer, as though it must needs be trivial. Again and again a very reasonable explanation has been suggested to them, only to be brushed aside. The simplest of all explanations is that the army coming from the east wanted to eliminate the possibility of an attack from the rear by unfriendly groups. These unfriendly groups were either unsubdued opponents or subjugated opponents known to be restive and inclined to side with other revolters. The author of our chapter is not under necessity of giving a full account of all that transpires and of the motives behind every act. For the building-up of the narrative, what is related is very effective. It shows the line being drawn closer and closer about Sodom and Gomorrah. We are made to sense the apprehension of the revolting cities; and they turn around from point to point as reports come pouring in about the defeat of the groups being attacked.

The first ones subdued are "Rephaim," who are overcome at Ashteroth-Qarnayim. The only thing we are safe in saying about the Rephaim is that they belonged to the earlier level of inhabitants of the land. They are found on both sides of the Jordan. Since they are associated with other races that may have been of the giants, it is not impossible that they themselves were of gigantic stature. "Asteroth" seems to be the old capital of Bashan, of which ruins still remain under the name of Tell Aschtera, nearly twenty miles east of the Sea of Galilee. The name itself is that of the goddess Astarte, and Qarnayim means "of the two horns"; perhaps Astarte as goddess of the moon (whose crescent has two horns) may in this town have been known as "Astarte of the twin horns." At any event, there the first major victory was achieved.

In regard to the "Zuzim" it seems best to accept the suggestion that this is merely another form of Zamzummim who are mentioned in De 2:20. The Ammonites dispossessed them, apparently, and so they would have dwelt to the south of the Rephaim. The Greek translators already were at a loss to identify them and so translated the term "strong peoples" eynh iscura. The scene of their defeat, "Ham," is not known. Since it lay in Ammonite territory, it could well have been Rabba of the Ammonites (cf. De 3:11), as Keil suggests; for this was apparently the capital city.

The "Emim" also belonged to the aboriginal inhabitants of Canaan. Something unusual was associated with them apparently, for their name seems to signify "terrors" (B D B). They had formerly possessed the land of the Moabites (De 2:10,11). The scene of their defeat was in the plain of "Qiryathayim." The name of this town, being dual, perhaps signifies "double town." The modern Kurêyât about 1¼ miles southeast of Mt. Attarus and 6¾ miles north-northwest from Dibon seems to serve pretty well as identification. This would be a location about seven miles east and a bit to the north of the middle of the Dead Sea. These conquests of Chedorlaomer seem to mark almost a straight line to the south.

From Qiryathayim the punitive expedition made somewhat of a circuit around the chief rebels and first proceeded to deal out punishment to the south, in fact, due south of the Dead Sea, in the land or the mountains of Seir, later Edom. Here dwelt the "Horites." This name means "cave-dwellers," it would seem (chor -- "hole"). This meaning may be regarded as almost established by the expression following, viz., "in their mountains." "As far as El Paran" is a concise expression which is best taken to mean that the pursuit after the vanquished Horites extended to this point. Some seek to identify this El Paran with Elath on the Gulf of Akaba. In that case 'eyl, which means "terebinth" or "large tree" generally, would seem to indicate that originally El or Elath was marked by a large grove of perhaps terebinths. But Paran is the name of the wilderness in the northern half of the Sinai peninsula, and so it would seem more likely that El Paran lay on its borders.

7. And they returned and came to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh) and smote all the field of the Amalekites and also the Amorites that were dwelling in Hazazon Tamar.

El Paran must have marked the farthest point reached, for after reaching it, the host "returned" in the direction of "Eh Mishpat." This spot is explained to be Kadesh. Now, without a doubt, Kadesh Barnea is meant, the famous stopping place of Israel during the wilderness wanderings. Hardly any scholars nowadays doubt that this must be what is now known as Ain Kadeis, a famous oasis. "En" (Hebrew: 'eyn -- 'Ain) -- "well." Originally this spot had been called "the Well of Judgment" (mishpat). It may, therefore, originally have been a sacred spot where judgment was sought or given, or where some famous seer had held forth. "Kadesh" means "holy." So the later name would indicate that some type of sanctuary had been found here. In any case, it was a prominent spot even in those days. Apparently, from this point the host proceeded to smite, an area that lay to the west, namely "the field of the Amalekites." Now the Amalekites are descended from Amalek, a grandson of Esau (Ge 36:12). Consequently there could be none at Abram's time. Therefore the unusual expression is used, "the field (or plain) of the Amalekites" in the proleptic sense of "the field which later was occupied by the Amalekites." Moses could not be guilty of so crude an anachronism as to say that the Amalekites were smitten. However, he does not indicate what name this desert tribe bore.

The last group attacked and vanquished are the "Amorites," who dwelt as far north as Lebanon but were scattered all through Palestine and were really the most prominent of the Canaanites. In Chedorlaomer's time they were established at "Hazazon Tamar." This name would mean "the sandy country of palms." According to 2Ch 20:2 this was Engedi on the western shore of the Dead Sea, still a beautiful spot. This seems to have been the last foe that needed to be disposed of. Though the approach to Sodom is very difficult from this point, Sodom was next taken in hand, although it is not said that a direct approach was made to it from Engedi.

8, 9. And there went forth the king of Sodom and the king of Gomorrah and the king of Admah and the king of Zeboyim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar), and they drew up in battle array against them in the valley of Siddim, that is against Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, and Tidal, king of Goyim, and Amraphel, king of Shinar, and Arioch, king of Ellasar -- four kings against five.

Governed by the nearest subject, as so often in Hebrew, we have a singular verb yetse', though other subjects of the same verb follow. The style of narrative is a bit diffuse, as is often the case in epic poetry. That the kings of the Dead Sea region did not turn out sooner to encounter the foe of whose approach they had long been aware, indicates either lack of ability and enterprise, or lack of courage, or, perhaps, the illusory hope on their part that their enemies would not venture against them. It seems most in harmony with the facts of the case to argue that the debauched mode of life characteristic of this group had debased their courage so that they only took up arms when actually compelled to and then put up but a pitiable defense. That "they drew up in battle array in the valley of Siddim" seems to be a further indication that this portion, which is now the southern third of the Dead Sea, was in those days not yet inundated by the waters of this sea.

The different order of the names of the attacking kings (or of their armies, perhaps, if the kings were not actually present in person) that appears in v.9 over against v.1, may have been occasioned by the relative importance of these kings at this point of the campaign. The dominant factor, no doubt, was Chedorlaomer; cf. also v.4 and 5. Next in order came Tidal.

10. Now the valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and of Gomorrah fled some leaped into the pits, and the rest fled into the mountains.

The Hebrew way of saying "full of bitumen pits" is: "pits, pits of bitumen." Repetition expresses abundance, plentitude, etc. (G. K.123 e; K. S.88). Now, indeed, yippelû shammah might mean: "they fell there" -- "perished." Strictly applied to the subjects expressed, namely the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, this would mean: they perished. However, this assumption would create a difficulty in v.17 where the king of Sodom is still alive. In any case, in v.17 a new king of Sodom could hardly be met with so soon, for opportunity for the choice of one had hardly been given. But the verb naphal may mean "to get down hastily" (cf. Ge 24:64). So we have the somewhat disgraceful situation of a number of defeated kings hastily crawling into bitumen pits, and their defeated army taking refuge in the mountains. The word "king" before "Sodom" and "Gomorrah"does not mean that one king governed both cities but is a concise way of saying "kings." "Some" has to be supplied before "leaped" because immediately a "rest" is spoken of (Meek).

11, 12. And they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their foodstuffs and went away. They also captured Lot, Abram's brother's son, and his goods before they left, for he was living in Sodom.

The victors, though not last mentioned, are naturally the subject of the verb "took." Hebrew rhetoric does not require to have the subject specifically indicated to prevent ambiguity. In true marauder style the victors take along all that can feasibly be transported -- "all the goods," rekhush, a word supposed to belong to P's vocabulary. Since their own food supply has run low, they also replenish their stock by taking practically all that the people of these towns had laid up in store. Lot, of whom we last had heard that he was approaching Sodom more closely, now had actually taken up residence within its gates -- a very puzzling act. Somehow he was not in the army, or if he was, he was unfortunate enough to be taken captive, and at this point now we are shown how this event involved Abram, for he was "Abram's brother's son." This familiar fact is merely stated to recall how all this had its bearing upon Abram. The man who had been willing to cast in his lot with Abram's at the time of the latter's departure from Haran was now certainly exposed to as wretched a fate as could befall men in ancient times, that of a prisoner of war.

13, 14. And a fugitive came and told Abram, the man from across the river, who was dwelling by the terebinths of Mamre, the Amorite, the brother of Eshcol and Aner, who were bound by covenant to Abram. And Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive and he led forth his trained men, born in his own household, three hundred and eighteen of them and went in pursuit as far as Dan.

Now follows the story of Abram's prompt action. A fugitive from the Sodomite catastrophe appears, "the fugitive" in Hebrew; generic article; this may cover any number of fugitives (K..S.300 a). He informs Abram regarding what transpired. In apposition with Abram stands in Hebrew the word "the Hebrew," which we have rendered, according to its meanings: "the man from across the river," i. e., the Euphrates, The term ultimately practically denotes nationality and is used in particular in contrast with other nationalities (cf. Ge 43:32; Ex 1:15; 2:11; 21:2; De 15:12; 1Sa 13:3). The contrast is here with the Amorites who are about to be named. Abram still is where the close of the previous chapter left him; and this fact should be mentioned that we may understand that Abram was readily accessible and in a position to inaugurate immediate pursuit. So, too, the brothers, or perhaps kinsmen, of Mamre are also mentioned here, Eshcol and Aner, who are to be referred to before the incident is entirely concluded. For these men were "bound by a covenant" to Abram, an expression for which the Hebrew uses the terms "masters of a covenant" -- ba'aley berîth -- ba'al being used in that familiar, broad sense of merely expressing some type of relation, (K. S.306 g).

Strange to say, criticism is surprised that three men should be mentioned here, who bear names identical with place names, and says, "it is hard to believe" that this should be the case (Procksch). However, that difficulty is easily removed. A frequent identity of personal names and place names is found. An equal difficulty to many seems to be the writer's failure to mention here that Mamre, Eshcol and Aner at once took. part in the expedition about to be inaugurated. But is not that already definitely implied in the mention of the fact that these men were "bound by covenant to Abram"?

As soon as Abram hears of the capture of "his kinsman" (Hebrew: "brother" -- the broader use of the word), he takes measures to rescue him. The inconsiderate treatment of Abram by Lot is not counted against the captive. The dangers and difficulties are not allowed to stand in the way of brotherly duty. Courageous as he is, Abram recognizes that a resolute surprise attack, wisely timed, may offset the lack of numbers. Though, of course, we encounter Abram here engaged in war, it is most evident that he was not venturing abroad for honer's sake or to achieve some personal advantage. The safety of others led him on this unselfish undertaking. Luther mentions, by way of contrast, the exploits of Alexander and Scipio. We translate the hapax legomenon chanîkh as "trained men" -- practically the same as A. V. and A. R. V. These were all of them servants "born in his own household" and therefore more apt to be dependable under all circumstances. We are amazed at the number of them -- 318. This points to a body of servants easily numbering a thousand and gives us some idea of the size of the flocks as well as of the influence of the man. The hardy courage that urged him to "go in pursuit" calls forth our admiration; for, besides, Abram was no longer young.

Almost without exception commentators locate "Dan" at the site of Dan Laish, about ten miles almost due north of Lake Merom, that is the town frequently referred to in the expression "from Dan even unto Beersheba." This town, as all know, first received the name Dan in the days of the Judges; see Jud 18:7, 29. The use of the term at this point would then clearly be post-Mosaic and evidence of authorship of the book later than the time of the Judges. Critics are so ready to accept this view that by almost universal consent they ignore the other possible location of Dan so entirely as though it were not even worthy of consideration. For another Dan in Gilead (see De 34:1), mentioned apparently in 2Sa 24:6 as "Dan Jaan," excellently meets the needs of the case, for that matter even better than does Dan Laish. For Dan Jaan must lie, according to De 34:1, on the northern edge of Gilead and therefore about east, perhaps fifteen or twenty miles from the southern end of the Dead Sea, and therefore along the route that an army retreating to Babylon and Elam would be most likely to take in approaching Damascus. Dan Laish lies too far north and presents difficulties for men in flight, who would hardly turn toward Damascus in flight because of intervening rivers. Consequently, we have here no post-Mosaic terms and everything conforms excellently with the idea of Mosaic authorship.

15, 16. And he divided his forces and made an assault upon them by night, he and his servants, and he defeated them and he pursued them as far as Hobah which lies to the north of Damascus; and he brought back all the goods and also Lot, his kinsman, and his goods did he bring back, as well as the wives and the soldiers.

A pregnant construction opens the verse: "he divided himself upon" -- "he divided his forces and made an assault upon." The fact that he comes "by night" (adverbial accusative, K. S.331 b) shows that Abram recognized the need of some very strong strategy like a surprise attack. One can visualize the manner in which the victorious army returning back home lay scattered about, secure in the thought of having none to attack them, flushed with victory and, perhaps, with drink; no sentinels posted; nothing farther from the thoughts of all than the idea of an attack. Other instances of dividing forces for an attack are recorded in Jud 7 :16; 1Sa 11:11; 13:17; Job 1:17. Apparently the statement "he and his servants" indicates that Abram personally participated in the assault and did not merely direct the strategy. Many instances are on record, also in the Scriptures, how oriental armies were thrown into a wild rout by some such device as the one employed here. Though, of course, in point of numbers Abram's force must have been far inferior to that of the confederate kings, we create a badly distorted picture of the situation if we claim (with Dillmann) that Abram encountered only such scattered bands as trailed behind. For how, then; could he have retrieved all the people of Sodom merely to mention this one outstanding fact. Unusual as it may seem, the whole army was routed. God was permitting Abram to meet with success in his bold venture. To make the defeat as effective as possible and to guard against a return attack, the assailants pressed their pursuit rather far, as we are expressly told, going even as far as "Hobah," north of Damascus. A fountain by this name was identified by Wetzstein about eighty miles northeast of Damascus. Of course, the expression missemo'l, "to the left," means "to the north of," because the Hebrew gets his bearings by facing the "east" qédhem -- "before" -- "east". Damméseq is the ancient city of Damascus, known also later from the Amarna tablets as Dimaski.

16. That Abram did a very thorough and effective piece of work in an effort to rehabilitate the poor people of Sodom appears from all that he recaptured. For one thing, he brought back all the goods, which were, indeed, a necessity for the Sodomites. Fortunately, "Lot, his kinsman," had suffered no harm and could be freed as well as his goods restored. Then since "women" were the special objects of capture, it lay in Abram's purpose to liberate these unfortunates. Lastly he set free and brought back also ha'am, literally, "the people." But this expression signifies the "people bearing arms" (B D B), as appears from passages such as 1Sa 11:11; 1Ki 20:10.; sometimes they are called by the fuller title 'am hammilchamah, "people of war," (Jos 8:1, 3; 10:7; 11:7). So here it is better not to translate "rest of the people" (Strack, Meek) but "the soldiers," (K. W, , Mannschaft).

Let this yet be said in justification of Abram's step. Without a doubt, the four kings of the East cannot with any show of right lay claim to the control of the five kings of the Valley of Siddim. Abram was, therefore, championing the cause of those who had been unjustly oppressed.

17. And the king of Sodom went forth to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley) after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him.

Now Abram is a hero and a public benefactor. It appears that those were doing him honer who previously had scarcely deigned to notice him. "The king of Sodom," whom we last saw taking precipitate refuge in the bitumen pits, now again has come forth and desires to acknowledge publicly the inestimable benefit that Abram has bestowed upon him. Critics again attempt to invalidate the story by stating that this verse conflicts with verse 10, claiming that there the king of Sodom died, here he is resurrected. In all fairness they ought to offer to their readers the simple explanation given above, that v.10 may mean they hastily hid in the pits. The canons of criticism employed by critics are often so sharp that no writings, not even their own, could pass muster in the face of them. A positive identification of "the Valley of Shaveh" is no longer possible, though, no doubt, the explanation "the King's Valley" marked it definitely for the early readers. The name itself indicates that it was a "level" valley. The name "King's Valley" seems to come from the fact that kings, especially Melchizedek met with Abram there on this historic occasion. As a rule, expositors seek this valley northeast of Jerusalem, in the valley of the Kidron. Nor is it improbable that the king of Sodom should encounter Abram so far from the south end of the Salt See. Circumstances would have made it eminently proper for the king of Sodom to express his gratitude by coming quite a distance to meet Abram.

The infinitive shûbhó preceded by "after" ('acharey) is the equivalent of an adverbial clause of time (K. S.401 c). On hakkôth see G. K.76 c.

18. And Melchizedek, the king of Salem, brought forth bread and wine, and he was a priest of El Elyon.

Another prominent personage appeared at this juncture, Melchizedek. To make the fact of his coming forth specially emphatic, this verse does not, as usual, place the verb first, but the subject, Melchizedek, a deft touch of emphasis which can hardly be produced in translation, being something like: "Even Melchizedek came forth." In view of the explanation of Ge 7:2 the meaning of the name is fully established: "king of righteousness." All other attempts at interpretation such as, "My king is righteousness" (K. C.), or "My king is Tsedheq"( B D B et al.) are to be rejected, especially where the latter understands Tsedheq to be some native god. The ending î of Melchî is to be regarded as merely conjunctive, not possessive, first person (contra K. S..272 a). Since this man is a priest of 'El'Elyon, i. e., "God Most High," and this is a name of Yahweh, found indeed only in Ps 78:35 but in many similar combinations quite frequently, we are compelled to regard this venerable king-priest as a worshipper and publicly an adherent of the true religion of Yahweh as handed down from the sounder tradition of the times of the Flood. That this was the actual course of development of religions, and that monotheism definitely preceded polytheism may now be regarded as fully demonstrated by works such as Samuel Zwemer's The Origin of Religion. However, "Salem" is merely a shortened form of "Jerusalem," the Urusalim of the Amarna tablets; the same short form appears in Ps 76:2. What further confirms this identification is the fact that proper names are frequently used in an abbreviated form in the Scriptures. Besides, Abram is regarded as having practically returned from the expedition: Jerusalem is not so far from Hebron. The identification of Salem with other sites, as near Scythopolis, almost up at the Sea of Galilee, is, therefore, not very satisfactory.

Melchizedek "brings forth bread and wine." He does this as one who wants to be seen to offer his support to such good men, who do such laudable things as Abram had just done. He recognizes that a generous offer of rations for the troops was at this time the prime physical necessity. Nothing more should be sought in this act of Melchizedek's. He expresses his friendship and perhaps his religious kinship with Abram by offering the most common form of meat and drink, "bread and wine." Attempts to find here a type of the Holy Sacrament have been consistently and rightly rejected by Protestant commentators after the example of Luther.

All they who, following a Jewish tradition, attempt to identify Melchizedek with Shem, the son of Noah, who, it is true, was still living at this time, must do so on the strength of the merest supposition, for no scriptural evidence points in this direction. All that can be said in favour of this interpretation is that it makes the figure of the priest-king more glamorous. Of true value is that which the author of Hebrews sees in Melchizedek that, inasmuch as he combines in himself two offices which were not even combined in the commonwealth of Israel, namely those of priest and king, he is a type of Christ of a higher order even than Aaron (Heb 7:11 ff.).

But what of the striking parallel to Heb 7:3 offered by the formula repeated several times in the Amarna letters by the king of Jerusalem writing to the Pharaoh, Amenophis IV, where he says: "Neither my father nor my mother set me in this place; the mighty arm of the king established me in my father's house," (vs. "without father, without mother," Heb 7:3)? Viewed soberly, the parallel is striking but quite superficial and in the last analysis purely accidental. The words written in the Amarna tablets are merely diplomatic flattery: he owes his position, he claims, entirely to his Egyptian overlord not to heredity from father and mother. The author of Hebrews sees in the fact that father and mother of this mysterious king of old are not mentioned a parallel to Christ's spiritual position: He owes nothing in this exalted priesthood to father or mother. Here is a case where archaeology, though offering an accidental word parallel, in reality contributes nothing to the case under consideration.

The dative le after "priest" necessitates rendering "a priest" and forbids "the priest" (K. S.280 l); correct, iereuv tou ueou (LXX).

19, 20. And he blessed him, saying: Blessed be Abram of El Elyon, the Creator of heaven and earth, And blessed be El Elyon, who has delivered thine enemies into thy hands. Thereupon he gave him a tithe of all.

As one who as priest ranks above Abram, Melchizedek bestows a blessing; for "the less is blessed of the greater" (Heb 7:7). The le before the divine name does not mean "to" but "of" or "by" (K. S.104; B D B 5d, sub le). The priest defines who he considers El Elyon to be, namely, "the Creator of heaven and earth" -- a strictly monotheistic conception and entirely correct. Though we only assume that Melchizedek came into possession of the truth concerning God by way of the tradition that still prevailed pure and true in a few instances at this late date after the Flood, there is nothing that conflicts with such an assumption except an evolution theory of history, which at this point, as so often, conflicts with facts. The verb for "Creator" (for "Creator" is a participle) is not the customary bara', as the usual Hebrew tradition knows it, but the less common qanah -- a further indication that Melchizedek had a religious background different from Abram's. In fact, it would seem that Melchizedek is not in possession of as full a measure of the truth as is Abram; for, apparently, Melchizedek does not know God as Yahweh, though the correctness of the conception "God Most High" cannot be denied. "Heaven and, earth" stand without an article -- poetic style (K. S.292 a).

20. Melchizedek's blessing is in every way what it should be: it ascribes the glory to God and lets Abram appear merely as what he is, an instrument God deigned to use -- so the second half of the blessing. The first half had represented Abram as standing in need of the blessing of El Elyon and therefore bestowed that blessing from the hands of the Omnipotent Creator. As Luther beautifully points out in this connection, this comprehensive blessing is quite exhaustive and gives a true and adequate presentation of truth, in fact, since it contains so much of truth, Luther calls it eine sehr lange Predigt, and actually believes that Melchizedek set forth the substance of what is here stated in a much more detailed fashion. There can be no doubt about it that whether long or short this blessing was a clear-cut confession of him who gave it and a strong testimony to the truth, given at a solemn moment under memorable circumstances also in the ears of an ungodly and unbelieving group of neighbours. No doubt, on Moses part the object of recording so memorable a piece of history connected with one of the major cities of the blessed land, was to impress the people with the glorious record that truth had had in the earliest day in some of these venerable cities.

The "tithe" given by Abram is, no doubt, rendered to Melchizedek in his capacity as priest and for the sanctuary at Salem. By this act Abram expressed his gratitude to God, Who alone had prospered his venture. Strictly speaking, ma'aser should be rendered merely "a tenth part," for it was not identical with the tenth part or tithe which the Mosaic law required.

21-24. And the king of Sodom said unto Abram: Give me the people and take the goods for yourself. But Abram said to the king of Sodom: I have lifted up my hand to Yahweh, El Elyon, the Creator of heaven and earth, not to take anything of all that belongs to thee, from a thread to a shoestring, lest thou shouldest say, It is I who made Abram rich. Quite apart from me (let this matter be settled). Only what the young men have eaten (will I accept). But as for the portion of the men who accompanied me, Aner, Eshcol and Mamre, let them take their own portion.

A second king now addresses Abram, apparently at the same spot, "the King's Vale," this king, however, thinks in entirely different terms, in terms of things purely material. As king he naturally expects to have his people restored to him. He recognizes, however, how enormously he is indebted to Abram and seeks to give expression to his sense of indebtedness by asking Abram to take all the goods recaptured, ie., rekhush, "the movable chattels," such as precious garments, all gold and silver, weapons, cattle. No one can deny that Abram could have kept these as his due. The king of Sodom is ready to give his full sanction to such an act. Abram, however, cannot do such a thing. He is not covetous, the thought of the acquisition of wealth never entered into the undertaking of the expedition. But another weightier consideration enters into the case: Abram desires to stand out clearly as a man who prospers only because of God's blessing. Hitherto this status of his had been unmistakably clear; Abram had never sought wealth, nor resorted to questionable methods of getting it; nor had anyone contributed to his wealth. Least of all could Abram accept a generous bestowal from a man of the calibre of the king of Sodom, a purely sensual materialist and idolater. The acceptance of the gift would have impugned Abram's spiritual standing. Consequently, Abram summarily rejects the proposal. Firmness but not "proud and almost disdainful magnanimity" characterizes this action. So far-reaching are the spiritual consequences which Abram sees involved in this step that he had already taken an oath by "lifting up his hand to Yahweh" (cf. for the same formula of oath Ex 6:8; Nu 14:30; De 32:40; Eze 20:23; Dan 12:7) No doubt, Abram knew the king of Sodom to be just such a character who would afterward distort the facts of the case in such a fashion as to claim: "I made Abram rich."

By calling Yahweh by the name employed by Melchizedek (v.19), "El Elyon, the Creator of heaven and earth," Abram bears testimony to the fact that his God and Melchizedek's are one and the same person, even though, in reality, Melchizedek's conception of Him may be less deep. 'Im introduces a negative oath. (K. S.391b; G. K.149c). By the way, this is the first oath recorded in the Bible.

23. Abram makes his point in the refusal emphatic by the statement that he would not even take "a thread or a shoestring." We might have said "a piece of string" for the first item. The second, strictly speaking, is a sandal thong. We before 'adh strengthens the form (K. S.376 c.).

24. The initial bil'adhay, means literally, "not up to me." We believe this meaning may be retained (as K. C. suggests) in an ellipsis, "Quite apart from me," that is to say, "Leave me out of the adjustments to be made on the question of goods."

Frankly, we cannot understand why men should ever have claimed that "an earlier writer would perhaps not have understood this scruple." This claim merely injects the claim of gradual evolutionistic growth of spiritual apprehension. Was Abram so far above his time that even a sympathetic recorder of the things he did could not appreciate the finer traits in his character? Equally strange to us is the attempt to make contradictions where everything harmonizes, by claiming that Abram who disclaimed a right to the spoils for himself could not possibly have bestowed a tenth on Melchizedek. The least bit of effort to understand would show that a religious tenth reveals the same spirit as the refusal for personal use.

One natural exception must be made: Something of that which was taken from the vanquished enemy had to be used to feed the deliverers. Abram wanted it understood that he felt justified in having appropriated this much. His confederates, Aner, Eshcol and Mamre, were, of course, not to be bound by his own conscientious scruples. These men were at liberty to make whatever adjustment they desired with the king of Sodom.

So closes this chapter that throws a delightful sidelight on Abram's character, more particularly on the faith of the patriarch; for it was a faith that made Abram both courageous and extremely considerate for the honer of Yahweh. It was a faith utterly selfless.


The entire chapter is a unit text. Surely, v.1,12 could hardly be used alone; for who would care to preach about campaigns, as the kings of this earth conduct them? Even v.1-16 would be unsatisfactory, for some of the finest things essential to the proper understanding of Abraham's victory would be passed by. In any case, the remaining portion v.17-24 would also hardly constitute a unit that is satisfactory in itself. The major point in our approach to this chapter would suggest a theme such as "The Dignity of the Father of Believers." Very proper also would be the theme "The Courage of Faith," if one desires to carry through consistently the idea that Abram is above all else a man of faith. Could v.18-20 be used for a sermon on "Melchizedek -- a Type of Christ"? Why not? The letter to the Hebrews would in that case suggest the points of view that must predominate. Yet Hebrews points only to the material found in this pericope. Consequently v.18-20 gives occasion for a good sermon on "Christ -- our Priest King."

chapter xiii
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