“Blessed be Abram of God Most High … who hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand” (Genesis 14:20 ASV).
by Kome Ajise
Nations have gone to war for a wide range of reasons, such as to protect or defend their territorial area, or access to valuable resources, or to be free from a domineering power. Five kings in the West, from the Valley of Siddim, were invaded, conquered, and put to tribute by four kings from the East. Later they rebelled, and a second multinational war followed. These are the two earliest international wars recorded in the Bible. In fact, these would seem like the very first World Wars, as there were two alliances of nations at war with each other.
After twelve years of subjection, the five kings of Siddim had become weary of their northern overlords, formed an alliance, and rebelled, as told in Genesis 14:1-4 (NAS). “And it came about in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, (2) that they made war with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). (3) All these came as allies to the valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). (4) Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but the thirteenth year they rebelled.”
The text says that they rebelled in the 13th year, but it was not until the 14th year that Chedorlaomer responded. He reestablished the alliance with the three other kings from Mesopotamia. On the march toward battle in the valley of Siddim, they first laid waste several nations in the South: the Horites, Amalekites, and Amorites. Thus they arrived in Siddim, flush with spoils from these predatory exploits.
The Northern Alliance Returns
This powerful northern alliance, now led by Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, subsequently defeated the Canaanite alliance in the valley of Siddim. The Westerners who did not die in battle fled, while many more perished in the slime pits — a bituminous area of land southeast of the Dead Sea. This war of the kings would have been insignificant to us except for the tactical error of the Mesopotamian powers. They had routed major nations in transit toward Siddim, with all the spoils. Then they routed five nations in Siddim, including Sodom and Gomorrah, and took spoils of war from them all. But they overreached and took Lot, his household, and all of his possessions too. With that, their fortunes turned. For thus Abram became duty-bound to become a party to this war of alliances in order to rescue his nephew, Lot, and his household.
Reading further in Genesis, chapter 14, (11) “Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food supply and departed. (12) They also took Lot, Abram’s nephew, and his possessions and departed, for he was living in Sodom. (13) Then a fugitive came and told Abram the Hebrew.”
Hitherto there was no indication that Abram had a standing army. However, he had 318 “trained servants,” armed them, and went forth. This was quite small for an army, which may remind one of Gideon’s army later on. Both of these small armies were backed by Jehovah’s will and power. In Judges 7, Gideon went through a precise selection process to settle on the ablest and ready 300 men to take into battle against the enemy. This small army would be typical of the Lord’s selection of his little flock. Did Abram go through a similar rigor to identify 318 men to take into battle against the most powerful armies of the region? The record does not say.
Abram pursued as far as Dan, indicating that he went to the northern edge of the Promised Land to engage the alliance from Mesopotamia. Given his small brigade, made up of his loyal servants, he relied on the element of surprise to attack from different fronts in the middle of the night. Abram’s war tactic was carried out flawlessly — not unlike the body of Christ, working effectually together to achieve the Master’s objectives (1 Corinthians 12:7, Ephesians 4:16).
Abram’s objectives were accomplished, and in verse 16 he brought back “all the goods … Lot with his possessions … the women, and the people.” Abram and this little flock did not merely defeat the Elamite king Chedorlaomer and his alliance; they must have destroyed them to be able to return with all the northern alliance had taken from the Valley of Siddim. In fact, Hebrews 7:1 refers to Abram’s victory over those kings as a slaughter!
This spectacular victory brought the king of Sodom out to salute and welcome the conquering heroes, led by Abram, in a place known as Shaveh, or Kings valley (Genesis 14:17). The account of what transpired between Abram and Bera, King of Sodom, continues four verses later, in verse 21. Bera was thankful to Abram for saving his people and their possessions, and he offered Abram all the possessions as a reward. Abram rejected the offer, except to ask for the others to be duly compensated and wanted absolutely nothing for himself. The exchange between Abram and Bera may make one wonder if Bera might have been the fugitive who had informed Abram about Lot’s capture (Genesis 14:13).
In Genesis, 14:17-21 are some of the most consequential verses of Scripture. Here, Melchizedek, King of Salem, also came out to meet Abram as he returned victoriously. There are some curious things about this meeting. There was no mention of Melchizedek before verse 18. He was neither recorded as being a party to the war in the valley of Siddim nor to Abram’s war in Hobah to rescue Lot. Still, he spoke with authority about those recent events with Abram.
“(18) And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. (19) He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; (20) and blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” He [Abram] gave him a tenth of all.”
In verse 18, Melchizedek is introduced as the King of Salem and as a priest of the Most High God. His credentials as a priest of the Most High are confirmed, as he gave glory to God for Abram’s victory. It was a commendation of Abram’s faith to go to war with only 318 men against those powerful regional chieftains. Abram left for that battle knowing it was the Lord’s battle, and all glory was due Jehovah.
Melchizedek, whose name means “king of righteousness,” was also the king of peace (Salem) as explained in Hebrew 7:2. He offered Abram bread and wine. He was unique as both king and priest, but even more so a priest outside the Aaronic genealogy (thus, no beginning and no end recorded). This was a priesthood superior to the Aaronic priesthood, even a perpetual priesthood without succession, but also with an oath, as we read in Hebrews 7:11, 21 (NAS95).
“(11) Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? … (21) but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’”
Melchizedek typified our Master Jesus’ royal priesthood in the kingdom. But a question to ponder is, what did this mean to Abram at the time? We know Abram was aware of Melchizedek’s superior office and paid him homage. In this short period, Abram had interacted with several kings and was clearly not on friendly terms with most of them. He barely tolerated the king of Sodom and was quick to move on from dealing with him. But the final encounter with Melchizedek, king of Salem, was totally different. Evidently, it was because Melchizedek worshipped God.
The Promise for Abram to Bless
In Genesis Chapter 12:1-3, God had told Abram to leave his homeland and go to the land He would show him. If Abram obeyed, God also promised to make Abram a nation. But more importantly, God had promised to bless all the families of the earth through Abram. We should suppose that his encounter with Melchizedek, with the provision of the bread and wine, may have been an occasion for Abram to better understand the agency and mechanics of the blessing of all the families of the earth. He was further educated about the plan of God by this blessed priest of the Most High.
Melchizedek represented Jesus, and the bread and wine represented the body and blood that Jesus would give to redeem the world, to prepare for the promised blessing of “all the families of the earth.” Abram might have become aware that God’s kingdom, which would thus bring about the blessing of the families on the earth, would be through a Melchizedek priesthood. Might he have become aware of the ransom (bread) and the sin offering (wine) as the way that the future blessings would be realized? In Hebrews 11:16-18, Abraham’s faith is described in terms of strong conviction of God’s plan, such that he desired a better country, such that he was willing to offer up even his only begotten son.
From the wording, it appears Amraphel king of Shinar (Ur-Nammu king of Sumer) led the first invasion, but Chedorlaomer (Kutir-Lagamer) king of Elam led the second. In the first war Amraphel may have taken Haran, while Chedorlaomer took Sodom and its allies. (Perhaps these wars
ended the “Early Bronze Age.”)
Ur-Nammu claims to have conquered the West in his 4th year, but he died in battle in his 18th year — exactly 14 years apart. His son, Shulgi, testifies of the surprise night attack: (Ur-Nammu) “had been abandoned on the battlefield like a crushed vessel” (S.N. Kramer, The Sumerians, page
Melchizedek brought “bread and wine,” the first suggestion in the Bible of last-supper emblems.
Lot shows us that we Christians should not draw near to a “Sodom,” much less live in it.