The Promises of God (The Life of Abraham)- 4. The Battle of the Kings
If you have your Bibles please turn with me to Genesis, chapter 14.
Our Lord and God, we love Your word, and we ask now that we would open our eyes to behold Your truth for us today from this, Your holy word. We ask that by the Spirit our eyes might perceive the great truth of this passage, and we might also, O Lord, receive, humbly, believingly, its instruction for us. We ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.
In this passage, for the first time, God's plan of redemption for His people and specifically His promises to Abram intersect with secular, national, or maybe better, tribal military history. Now we see this many times in the later history of Israel where Israel's military conquests are blended in with challenges to Israel's faith. Israel in some cases is told not to ally with certain nations around her. And it's a test of her faith and her trust in the Lord God. But this is the first time in the Bible that we see that. This is the first time in the Bible, in fact, that we are told about military warfare and conflict in the context of the Middle East. It will be many, many centuries on before we are done with this story of conflict between kings. In this case from Mesopotamia going into the land of Canaan, battling and trying to recoup particular natural resources and human resources for their own power and for their own wealth and aggrandizement.
But in this passage, the battle itself is really just the backdrop for a more important spiritual battle that is going on in the heart of Abram. And so as we look at this passage together, let's remember that everything is leading up to the spiritual battle that will go on in Abram's heart at the end of the passage. The passage outlines fairly easily into three parts.
If you look at verses 1 through 12 we have the setting of the story. Here Lot who has chosen to go down and live in that pleasant land by the rivers in the valley basin where Sodom and Gomorrah are, there Lot is found caught in the midst of a rebellion. For a number of years, the kings who are in control of this particular area had been client states of more powerful kings, some of whom who were from Babylon or from the Mesopotamian basin, some who were from other places. In fact we should note that we know now from archaeological and historical and linguistic sources that it was not uncommon for kings from other places to come into this particular area because it was rich in copper, bitumen, and also in manganese. So it was a popular target for invasions. And this was the case. These kings who lived in the valley were petty states. They were client states of these greater kings who had conquered them. But after thirteen years they decided this is it. We are no longer going to submit to these people who have conquered us. We’re going to throw off their yoke, and we're going to rebel. And Lot is caught in the middle that fix. But as we see the Lord unfold for us this story in verses 1 through 12, we see that the course of kings and nations is in the Lord's hand. That's the first section of this story. And we’ll review this in a little more detail later.
Now in verses 13 through 16 we see Abram's response to this. This is the second part of this passage. And Abram, when he hears of his relative Lot, his nephew Lot's capture, he immediately springs into action and implements a rescue plan along with his allies. And so this part of the story contrasts, in fact, Abram's character with the way he had acted in Genesis 13. We’ll talk about that in a moment.
And then finally, if you look down to verses 17 through 24, you see the third part of the passage. And this is, in fact, what the whole passage is leading up to. The King of Sodom comes out to meet Abram. The King of Salem comes out to meet Abram. And they have two very different proposals, two very different postures, and Abram has a choice before him. These are the three sections of the passage, and I'd like to look at it with you.
I. The course of kings and nations is in the hand of the Lord.
First, let's go back to verses 1 through 12. These verses tell us what's going on. The rebellion of the kings in the valley where Lot is living against these other kings brings their wrath. Now, by the way, the names of these invading kings tell us at least something about their origins. For instance, Amraphel, King of Shinar. That name Amraphel is a Semitic name, and so we know something of the origins of this king. By the way, in times past, Amraphel was identified as Hammurabi, the famous law giver in the Middle East, but this is thought to be incorrect now because Hammurabi lived later than this time. This is happening around the year 2000 B.C. Hammurabi didn't live until about 1850 B.C. So he's about 150 years later. Also, even looking at the English, you can see the differences between Amraphel and Hammurabi. The most obvious of which is there is no l in Hammurabi. And that even obtains in the original languages as you compare the philology. The second king, Arioch, King of Ellasar, that's a Hurrian name. So the Hurrian people who we knew were in this area at this time are represented. Then the leader of them, Chedorlaomer, the King of Elam, of course that's an Elamite's name. He's from Elam; it's an Elamite name. And also Tidal, the King of Goiim, that's an Hittite name, and we know several Hittite kings with names like this. For instance, there were several all who had the name Tudhalia, and so this is very likely one of those kings. At any rate, these invading kings come in to visit their wrath upon these rebelling kings. And Lot gets caught in between. And I think we can see here already Lot's mistake bearing itself out.
Now we said the last time that we were in this passage that you can't always tell God's providence by what immediately happens after you make a decision. But I think it's fair to say that given the way that these kings are described. For instance, the names of the first two kings who had rebelled are plural forms of the words wicked or evil. Okay? So already Moses is indicating to us that Lot has fallen in with a bad lot of folks and immediately what happens? He gets captured and carried away. So the Lord is showing in His unfolding providence that Lot has made an unwise choice to dwell in the midst of a valley where wickedness is. But also, I think we need to see that the main point of this part of the passage is to set up the story of Abram later on.
The point of this passage is to show that Abram chooses God to be his reward, and he chooses God to be his rewarder. And everything that leads up to that in the first sixteen verses is simply setting the table.
But even in that, I want you to see God Himself directing the course of history by providence for the benefit of His people. God has revealed to us already Abram's actions in Genesis 13, and frankly we come away a little disappointed. We see the character of Abram, and we're a little bit disappointed about how he has responded in this time with cowardice. He has not protected his wife in a very vulnerable situation. And here God in His goodness unfolds a scenario where He is going to build up Abram in our estimation and also in the estimation of the people with whom Abram live. But watch God conducting history. These kings from Mesopotamia and elsewhere had not the slightest idea that they were the pawns of God simply to build up His faithful servants. But that's what they were. You see, for the people in the time of Lot and Abram, the big thing here would have been the impact of this invasion on the social fabric of this valley. The big thing would have been the military actions. The big thing would have been the conflict between these kings, the rebellion and the act of retribution against the rebellion. But what was the big picture in God's eyes was the faith of His faithful servant, Abram? That's important for us to remember because we're placed in just those kinds of contexts today as Christians. As far as the world is concerned, the big things in the newspapers are not the things that you and I are doing on a day-to-day basis. There are other things. Big things in the world's eyes are going on in Washington, or London or Beijing or somewhere else, but not in the quiet lives of believers.
And so we're seeing here the Lord set up a course of tribal and national history for the purpose of building up His servant, Abram.
II. Abram's bravery reveals his character and presents us with a moral caution.
Then when we look at verses 13 through 16 we see Abraham coming to the rescue. And Abram's bravery reveals something of his character to us and presents us also with a moral caution. If we were disappointed with Abram in Genesis 13, we're a little bit proud of Abram in Genesis 14. After all his nephew has taken the better land. Abram has absolutely nothing to lose by ignoring the circumstance and saying to himself, ‘Well, I mean he chose first. I didn't get him into this fix. I told you so, Lot.’ But Abram immediately springs into action to rescue his foolish relative.
By the way notice what he is called there in verse 13, a fugitive. One guy who didn't get captured comes to Abram. He comes to Abram, the Hebrew. Now you see this is how you would identify someone who was a stranger in the land. You know you wouldn't go to Israel today and say well, here's Abram, the Hebrew. You might say this is Ligon, the Gentile. But you wouldn't say this is Abram, the Hebrew. No, this is like somebody in Mississippi, and they’re from upper New York state. This is Bob, the Yankee, and he's here in Jackson, and he's been with us and we really like him a lot. But you know, he wasn't born here. Okay? This is Abram, the Hebrew. And it's reminding us what? He's still a stranger in the land of promise. So there's something poignant about a fugitive identifying God's chosen as Abram, the Hebrew. But that is precisely how he is called in this passage. And, of course, as this servant comes to him Abram instinctively springs to the rescue. And God redeems Abram, his servant, a little bit in our eyes in this action. But then again this is not the main thrust of the passage.
This part of the story is true, and in contrast with how Abram acted in Genesis 13 makes us proud of Abram, but it also reminds us that it may be easier to act heroically in a physical, military struggle than it is to act bravely when our faith is challenged. Abram's faith in the Lord was challenged in Genesis 13, and he failed. When Abram was called on to bear arms, Abram was ready to go. And I think that may be a warning to us. There are some things externally where it's easier to be brave than it is to be brave in things of the Lord. You know, as I look at an older generation of men who went off to war in the Second World War and conquered a world, you cannot help but stand back in awe at what they accomplished. But as I look at that same generation of men who fought that war and held back the forces of evil in our world, and as I see them operate in the 1960's and ‘70's in historic denominations which had heralded the gospel and risked the loss of friendships and the love of family for the sake of holding up the gospel truth. You know I think I probably admire the latter thing even more than I admire their heroism in battle in World War II, because it cost their reputations in some cases. They were mocked. Are you evangelical? You backwoods, ignorant, Neanderthal, how can you believe that? And yet they persevered because they believed the gospel, and they were ready to endure the shame and to try their best to transmit to another generation the pure gospel about which we heard this morning. They kept the message clear, even though it cost their reputation in the eyes of their contemporaries. And I will never, ever fail to admire what they have entrusted to me. I wouldn't have the gospel today were it not for that generation of men. The man who was preaching the gospel in the pulpit before Gordon Reed came to my home church refused to preach the gospel. He said it was undignified. And if it were not for that generation of men who had transmitted the gospel, I would not have heard it as a son in the congregation where it was proclaimed.
III. God Himself is the rewarder of His people and we must take care that the world knows it.
So we see in verses 17 through 24 the real battle to which this whole passage is leading up. A battle of faith. And in this passage we see that God Himself is the rewarder of His people, and we must take care that the world knows it. Great contrast isn't it? After the battle is over, two kings come out to Abram: the King of Salem and the king of Sodom.
The King of Salem is Melchizedek, and his name and his title point to very important spiritual realities. His name and his title express that which is right and good. Melchizedek, the king of righteousness. Who is he? He is the King of Salem. This is simply a shortened version of the King of Jerusalem, but it's shortened in such a way to emphasize that he's the king of righteousness, who is the king of peace.
Let me remind you of a couple of very interesting things. First of all, this is the first time someone is called a priest in the Bible. Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God. Let me also remind you that David would be the first Israelite to sit on Melchizedek's throne. Now there is some sweet and rich truth in that. David would be the first Israelite to sit on Melchizedek's throne. You will remember that Jebus, which became the city of David, was never conquered under the time of Saul. It was conquered under the time of David. David was the first of the Israelites to sit on Melchizedek's throne. And, of course, Christ is the last Israelite to sit on Melchizedek's throne. There is a great deal of truth in it, and there is no wonder that the author of Hebrews says that Melchizedek was a type of Christ. And Abram ties to him. Of all the spoil that he brings back, Abram gives a tenth to Melchizedek.
Now the King of Sodom comes out, and he makes a generous offer. He says look, you keep all the spoil that you've gotten on this great military expedition. Just give us back the people that you have recaptured. And Abram says to the King of Sodom, I will not keep a thing. What I have given to Melchizedek, that's his. What the men who have eaten who are with me, that's fine. What Aner, and Mamre and Eshcol want to take, that's their business. But I will not even take a sandal thong from you because I do not want anyone to say that it was the Canaanites who made me rich. Only the Lord my God will have that honor for Himself. Abram wants God's promises to be his reward. The seed, the land, the nation. And he wants them from God Himself and from none other. What a tremendous example Abram is to us. Notice the absoluteness of Abram's posture here. I will not take anything from you. How important that is in the context of the world today, because the world wants to bribe us into compromise. And Abram says I will take nothing from you. And Abram is utterly trusting in the Lord his God. God will give him his reward, and he does not need to seek it from any other quarter.
You know, if the world can say of us as believers, "Even he has his price, even she has her price," then God is not our Lord. Abram, having failed in Genesis 13 comes through with flying colors in this battle of faith because he aligns himself with God, and he refuses to allow his heart to be compromised by the possibility of taking the riches that this world can offer. And especially the wicked riches of Sodom. And he stands awaiting God to be his reward. And he wants the world to know that it will be God's glory when he is rewarded. That's so important. Isn't it interesting. Abram stands here for the glory of God. He doesn't take this because he doesn't want God's glory to be diminished when he receives his reward. But in the end Abram's concern for God's glory is a blessing to him. Think about this: If Abram at the end of life had taken this spoil, or any of it, he could have wondered if even the temporal blessings that he had were in some measure due to his own effort and due to the contribution of wicked men. But by absolutely taking nothing. Abram could look back at the end of his life and know that not one shred of what he had came from anyone but the hand of God. May God give us that kind of faith in the world where he has placed us. Let's pray.
Lord God, give us the same concern for Your glory and the same trust in Your reward that Your faithful servant, Abram, had. May we, O Lord, offer gifts and sacrifices to the one who is the King of Righteousness and the King of Peace, even our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
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