Scripture: Genesis 14
Title: Abram liberates Lot
- Abram liberates Lot
- War in the Bible
- Abram chooses peace
You may have heard of the movie, Saving Private Ryan
– Saving Private Ryan is set during the Second World War when the Allied soldiers were fighting in Europe (after the D Day landings)
– The film tells the story of a platoon of American soldiers who are sent on a mission to the front to find Private Ryan and bring him back to safety
– Although this platoon are outnumbered they fight bravely and eventually manage to rescue the young soldier
Today we continue our series on the life of Abram
– Please turn with me to Genesis chapter 14 – page 17 near the front of your pew Bibles
– The story of Abram in Genesis 14, is a bit like the story of Saving Private Ryan in that Abram is going into battle with a relatively small number of men to rescue his nephew Lot from a powerful enemy
– Genesis 14 is the first account of war recorded in the Bible
– From verse 1 we read…
Four kings, Amraphel of Babylonia, Arioch of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer of Elam, and Tidal of Goiim, 2 went to war against five other kings: Bera of Sodom, Birsha of Gomorrah, Shinab of Admah, Shemeber of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (or Zoar). 3 These five kings had formed an alliance and joined forces in Siddim Valley, which is now the Dead Sea. 4 They had been under the control of Chedorlaomer for twelve years, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled against him. 5 In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and his allies came with their armies and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in the plain of Kiriathaim, 6 and the Horites in the mountains of Edom, pursuing them as far as Elparan on the edge of the desert. 7 Then they turned around and came back to Kadesh (then known as Enmishpat). They conquered all the land of the Amalekites and defeated the Amorites who lived in Hazazon Tamar.
8 Then the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela drew up their armies for battle in Siddim Valley and fought 9 against the kings of Elam, Goiim, Babylonia, and Ellasar, five kings against four. 10 The valley was full of tar pits, and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah tried to run away from the battle, they fell into the pits; but the other three kings escaped to the mountains. 11 The four kings took everything in Sodom and Gomorrah, including the food, and went away. 12 Lot, Abram’s nephew, was living in Sodom, so they took him and all his possessions.
13 But a man escaped and reported all this to Abram, the Hebrew, who was living near the sacred trees belonging to Mamre the Amorite. Mamre and his brothers Eshcol and Aner were Abram’s allies. 14 When Abram heard that his nephew had been captured, he called together all the fighting men in his camp, 318 in all, and pursued the four kings all the way to Dan. 15 There he divided his men into groups, attacked the enemy by night, and defeated them. He chased them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus, 16 and got back all the loot that had been taken. He also brought back his nephew Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other prisoners.
May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us
Abram liberates Lot:
Genesis 14 contains lots of unfamiliar names and places, all listed in quick succession, which makes it difficult for us to follow – so I’ve put together a table here to make it easier to understand
Basically there were two opposing alliances…
– The mafia alliance and the rebel alliance
– The mafia alliance was comprised of 4 kings
– And the rebel alliance was comprised of 5 kings
The word ‘king’ appears 28 times in this chapter – so it’s a key word 
– When we think of a king we tend to think of someone who is in charge of a whole country or perhaps a commonwealth of countries
– But that wasn’t necessarily the case 4000 years ago when Abram walked the earth – kings at that time usually had a more modest kingdom
– For example, Sodom & Gomorrah were cities, they weren’t countries
– So being the king of Sodom was sort of like being the mayor of the city
– It appears some kings though (like Chedorlaomer perhaps) may have reigned over a larger area
I imagine the alliance of four kings was a bit like the mafia in that they required other kings to pay them protection money
– You pay us a tribute and we won’t destroy you
– It was like an extortion racket, in other words, with Chederlaomer as the mafia boss – or the god father
I’ve given the five kings the label ‘rebel alliance’ because they rebelled
– After 12 years of towing the line they decided to make a stand and stopped paying the tribute to the mafia alliance
– Now the problem with the name ‘rebel alliance’ is that those who are into Star Wars will think, ‘Ah, the rebel alliance. They’re the good guys.’
– Well, the rebel alliance may be the good guys in Star Wars but in Abram’s galaxy they were thoroughly wicked, really bad
– So you need to understand that both the mafia and the rebels behaved in ways that were evil – neither side was good
The irony is that Abram, who does not have the title of king, shows more honour and more nobility than any of the 9 kings named in either alliance
As a consequence of the rebels’ action in not paying their tribute, the mafia alliance went on the war path
– In verses 5-7 we read how the mafia encountered and defeated six people groups before facing off with the 5 rebel kings in the valley of Siddim
– This might seem like unnecessary detail to us but we are told these facts so that we understand just how formidable the mafia alliance was
– No one could stand against them
– The mafia defeated the rebels and carried off all the loot, taking the survivors as slaves, including Abram’s nephew Lot
Up until this point Abram has managed to stay out of this war
– You will remember that God had promised the land of Canaan in perpetuity to Abram and his descendants
– All Abram had to do was trust in God’s promise – which is actually a lot more difficult than it sounds
Since arriving in Canaan, Abram’s faith in God’s promise had been tested – first by famine and then by prosperity
– Now Abram’s faith is tested again, this time by the threat of foreign invaders
– When the mafia alliance went charging through Canaan, throwing their weight around, Abram may have felt tempted to make a stand and defend his turf
– But he doesn’t – he stays out of it, not relying on his own strength but trusting God to fulfil his promise in the fullness of time
– It’s only when Abram learns that his nephew Lot has been taken captive that he takes action – Abram is his brother’s keeper
Sometimes faith is passive in the sense that we just need to sit still and leave the outcome in God’s hands
– Other times though faith is more active, requiring us to get off our backside and do something brave
Abram’s motivation for getting involved in the war is not defence of his land but liberation of Lot
Two points to note here:
– Firstly, Abram shows loyal (unselfish) love for Lot
– Abram could have done nothing and simply let Lot be taken into captivity, saying, ‘He’s made his bed now he needs to lie in it’
– But Abram doesn’t do that. (He is more gracious.) Even though there’s nothing in it for him Abram goes out of his way to set Lot free
The second point to note is that Abram’s response to this conflict (with the mafia alliance) is very different from his response to the conflict in Genesis 13
– You may remember from last week’s sermon that Abram & Lot’s herdsmen started quarrelling over grazing rights for their animals
– Abram handled that conflict by suggesting he and Lot separate, giving Lot first option of where he wanted to go
– Lot chose the best land for himself, moving toward Sodom and eventually settling in the city of Sodom itself
So, in Genesis 13 Abram handles the conflict by giving way to Lot, by not contesting, not fighting
– By contrast, in Genesis 14, Abram handles the conflict by chasing after the mafia alliance – by taking them on and not giving way to them
When it comes to handling conflict we need to have more than one tool in our tool box
– The mafia alliance only had one tool, a hammer, and so every problem looked to them like a nail – just bash it
– Abram though has a number of tools and he chooses the tool that is best suited to the situation
– In Genesis 13 Abram uses a saw to make a clean separation with Lot
– But in Genesis 14 Abram uses a screw driver to take apart the mafia alliance
Abram knows that his fighting force is not as strong as the mafia’s so he doesn’t try to face the mafia head on, with a hammer
– He takes his enemy by surprise, attacking in small strategic groups at night
– Abram rescues his nephew Lot and recovers the loot that had been stolen by the 4 kings – not bad for a wandering shepherd
– This was a real David & Goliath victory – a victory for the little guy against the giants
Verse 16 is interesting the way it specifically mentions that Abram brought back the women, along with his nephew Lot and the other prisoners
– In a society and culture that generally didn’t see women as equal to men, or as valuable as men, it is significant that Abram (and the narrator of Genesis) did value them
– Women tend to suffer the most in war
– If they are in the conflict zone itself then they are often raped or abused
– But even if they are out of harm’s way (physically) they still suffer deeply by losing their husbands, their sons and their brothers
– God had promised to bless others through Abram and here is a case in point – Abram’s war effort blesses women and other oppressed people
– Abram foreshadows Christ, who came to set the captives free, not with brute force but with wisdom and truth
War in the Bible:
One question for us today is: what is a Christian response to war and violence?
– Well, it seems quite complicated to me – I’m not sure we can make a blanket rule about it
– Like Abram we need to have more than one tool in our tool box – that is, more than one strategy or response for handling conflict and we need to choose the response that best fits the situation
Mic Duncan wrote a series of three really helpful articles on the subject of war in the Baptist magazine last year 
– He used a number of examples of responses Christians had made to war, including the way “Maori prophets Te Whiti and Tohu employed nonviolent tactics at Parihaka in Taranaki”  [on the 5th November 1881]
– Today, incidentally is Parihaka day (as NZ’ers we should be remembering Parihaka, not Guy Fawkes)
Another example Mic used was when the former President of the Philippines (Ferdinand Marcos) was defeated by some Catholic nuns who lay down on a main highway in front of oncoming tanks
– The tanks stopped within an inch of their bodies and Marcos had to flee
– They termed it the bloodless revolution 
In contrast to these non-violent responses to oppression, Mic also talked about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor in the 1930’s & 40’s…
– “After quiet and serious reflection, [Bonhoeffer] came to the view that Adolf Hitler had to be removed from power, even if it was at the point of a gun. In fact, Bonhoeffer said he would be willing to pull the trigger himself, then ask God for forgiveness. You may disagree, but in his view Hitler was like an out of control truck, swerving this way and that, harming and maiming people that got in its way. What should the Christian response be? To bandage the maimed and wounded on the sidewalk? Or to drive a spike through the truck wheels to stop it? Bonhoeffer… determined the truck must be stopped…” 
Bonhoeffer became involved in a plot to kill Hitler which failed. Bonheoffer was caught sent to prison and eventually hanged by the Nazis before the war ended
These 3 quite different examples show us that a Christian response to war is not one size fits all – we need a variety of tools for responding to evil
– Abram’s responses to the conflicts he faced was different, depending on the circumstances
In his final article, Mic refers to six salient points made by Biblical theologian John Goldingay (and I paraphrase a bit here)
This is what the Bible as a whole tells us about war…
Firstly, war happens
– Conflict is part of the reality of our world so we have to deal with it (or at least think about it) whether we want to or not
War is not one thing – that’s the second point
– There are wars for setting people free, defensive wars, wars for power or greed, punitive wars, all sorts of different kinds of wars
– For the mafia alliance the war was about maintaining power & control
– Whereas for Abram it was about liberating people, in particular Lot
The third point is that God sometimes takes part in war
– God does not rule out using force or violence to accomplish his purpose, although I don’t think it is his preferred option
– As followers of Jesus this may be difficult for us to swallow but we need to remember that God is wise and free – he knows what is best and he is free to act as befits his good character, his justice & mercy
This third point begs the question, did God take part in Abram’s war against the mafia alliance?
– Well, it appears he did
– The text doesn’t say that God commanded Abram to go to war but it does imply that he supported Abram’s decision
– I don’t believe it was just random luck that a man escaped to tell Abram that Lot had been captured
– That was most likely God’s providence – perhaps even God’s catalyst for Abram to take action and get involved
– Later in chapter 14, Melchizedek attributes Abram’s victory to God, which makes it clear that Abram won because God took part
– How else could a wandering shepherd take down the most powerful military alliance at that time
Having just said that God sometimes takes part in war it is also true that war is not God’s ideal
– Although Abram went to war to liberate Lot, he didn’t major on war, he preferred peace
– God will eventually end war – His kingdom is characterised by peace
Which leads us to our fifth point: Some Christians should be pacifists – (i.e. resist evil in non-violent ways) as a reminder to the church and the world that God’s creation is not meant for war, that war is unnatural
Taken as a whole the Bible shows us more than one response to evil
– Some must love our enemies by lying in front of tanks (they are the real heroes)
– While others must love the oppressed by taking to the tanks in order to bring down wrong 
Abram chooses peace:
After defeating his enemies and setting the captives free Abram returns from battle and is greeted by two other kings
– We pick up the story from verse 17 of Genesis 14…
17 After Abram returned from defeating Chedorlaomer 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). 18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High,
19 and he blessed Abram, saying,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.”
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap 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, Eschol and Mamre. Let them have their share.
May God bless the reading of his word to us
Two quite different kings approach Abram after his victory
– Bera, the king of Sodom and Melchizedek, the king of Salem
Melchizedek means ‘king of righteousness’ and Salem means ‘peace’
– So Melchizedek was also the king of peace
– Righteousness and peace go hand in hand
Melchizedek, who is a priest of God Most High, as well as a king, greets Abram with hospitality and a blessing
– Melchizedek wants to establish a right relationship with Abram
– He wants peace and so does Abram who honours God by giving Melchizedek 10% of the loot – a tithe
The king of Sodom is quite different to Melchizedek
– The first words out of Bera’s mouth were a demand, “Give me…”
– No blessing, no word of thanks, no hospitality just, “Give me”
– The king of Sodom is a selfish man, only interested in his own welfare
– He wants to control the situation
– But Abram won’t have a bar of it
– Abram refuses to be manipulated by such an evil man and returns the loot to the king of Sodom
In this way Abram’s motivation is revealed
– Unlike his enemies Abram did not go into battle for financial gain or for power or land
– He simply went to rescue his nephew Lot – that is: to set the captives free
– Again Abram points to Jesus, who also came to redeem humanity – to set us free from sin & death
In Luke 4 Jesus says of himself…
– The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
It’s not just Abram who points to Jesus, Melchizedek points to Jesus also
– In the book of Hebrews, chapter 7, we read how Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek
– In other words, Jesus is a high priest superior to all other priests
– He is the King of righteousness and the Prince of peace
– Through faith in Jesus we receive righteousness and peace with God
The musicians will come to lead us in song now as we prepare to honour our King, Jesus, by sharing communion together
Questions for reflection &/or discussion:
1.) What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?
2.) In what ways does Abram show how a true king should behave, in contrast to the 9 other kings named in verses 1-2 of Genesis 14?
3.) What was Abram’s motivation for getting involved in the war?
4.) How is Abram’s response to his conflict with Lot different from his response to the conflict with the ‘mafia alliance’?
5.) What tools do you have in your tool box for handling conflict?
6.) How are women affected by war?
– Have you ever been affected by war, either directly or indirectly?
7.) What does the Bible, as a whole, tell us about war?
– Reflect on / discuss John Goldingay’s 6 points
8.) Reflect on / discuss the contrast between Melchizedek (king of Salem) and Bera (king of Sodom)
9.) How does Abram’s response to oppression, in Genesis 14, point to Jesus?
– How does Melchizedek point to Jesus?
 Bruce Waltke, Genesis, page 226.
 Refer Baptist Magazine, Vol 132, no’s. 4, 5 & 6.
 Mic Duncan, Baptist Magazine, v. 132, no. 6, page 27.
 Ibid, page 28.
 Mic Duncan, Baptist Magazine, v.132, no.6, page 17.
 John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology, vols. 1-3 (2003), referenced in Mic Duncan’s article in the Baptist Magazine, v.132, no.6, (2016) page 17.