The people of the Bible are often presented as two-dimensional relics of the dusty past. There is, however, a common sense approach that can take us beyond a flat perception of Bible characters.
Dr. Eilat Mazar, the archeologist responsible for discovering the City of David, shared the secret to her spectacular success:
“One of the many things I learned from my grandfather [Benjamin Mazar] was how to relate to the Biblical text: Pore over it again and again, for it contains within it descriptions of genuine historical reality. . . concealed within the Biblical text are grains of detailed historical truth.“ (1)
When we dig deep into the Scriptures, it is impossible to see Abram as a flat dusty character. His bold faith leaps from the pages of the Bible.
“Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, for he dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner; and they were allies with Abram.
Now when Abram heard that his brother [kinsman] was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. He divided his forces against them by night, and he and his servants attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus.
So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people.”
Assess the Situation After Hearing the Facts
At an age when most men slow down and take life at a more leisurely pace, we find Abram charging across the central highlands of Canaan pursuing a coalition of four armies that had kidnapped his nephew.
Assessing the situation, God gave Abram the moral clarity to evaluate the threat and determine a course of action. Although a peaceable man, Abram understood that doing the right thing necessitated taking the battle to the enemy. So he did. It was a daring act demonstrating bold faith.
Move Proactively When Your Family Is In Danger
Lot and his family were living in the Valley of Siddim—where the Dead Sea is now located—when Chedorlaomer King of Elam and a coalition of Mesopotamian kings attacked the cities of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Zoar.
This was no band of desert ruffians, but rather a well-equipped army from one of the most advanced civilizations in the world of that day. Chedorlaomer king of Elam led the coalition from the area corresponding to Khuzestan Province on the western border of modern-day Iran.
Joining Chedorlaomer were Amraphel of Shinar (near Babylon), Tidal the Hittite with the honorific title “King of Nations” who hailed from eastern Turkey and Arioch who ruled in northern Mesopotamia.
On a military campaign that stormed southward from Mesopotamia to the Gulf of Aqaba, the armies of the four kings subdued the Rephiam, Zuzim and Emim, who were giants living in the south of modern day Syria and Jordan.
The four kings then battled the Horites south of the Dead Sea all the way to modern day Eilat.
Turning northward, the coalition followed the edge of the desert and terrorized the Ishmaelites, the Amalekites and a city of Amorites (possibly En-gedi) on the western shore of the modern Dead Sea (2 Chr. 20:2)
For 12 years, the cities in the Valley of Siddim were forced to pay tribute to Chaderlaomer and his ruthless coalition. A year earlier, these same cities united and began a revolt by refusing to pay the tax. Now the Mesopotamian coalition had come to collect.
The coalition armies drove the cities’ allied troops into the surrounding asphalt pits with their kings deserting to the mountains. The undefended cities were plundered and the inhabitants captured. Lot and his family were among the prisoners.
Miraculously, one of Lot’s acquaintances from Sodom managed to escape and rushed to inform Abram.
When the messenger reported that Lot and his family had been taken captive, Abram moved proactively. He quickly assembled a veritable fighting force numbering 318 men strong from the trained servants born into his household.
Please note that Abram was not willing to use his 80 plus years as an excuse to sit on the sidelines. He took charge of the operation and followed the offending armies in hot pursuit.
Abram’s forces approached and ambushed the four invading armies almost a hundred miles north of Sodom, near Dan. Again, he was not satisfied to simply defeat the enemy’s fighting force in a strategically impressive night attack (14:16). Abram chased the remaining enemy troops another hundred miles to Hobah near Damascus to rescue the captives and the plunder seized from the Siddim Valley cities.
Lot and his family were among the captives. God gave Abram an impressive victory and used the incident to further promote him.
Had Lot not chosen to reside in the plain near Sodom, it is unlikely Abram would have been drawn into the conflict. Yet, as a result of the confrontation with the kings of Mesopotamia, Abram would be recognized not only as a prince in the environs of Canaan, but also as a formidable force among the surrounding nations (12:3).
Use Discernment When Your Integrity Is Challenged
After rescuing Lot and his family, Abram made the 200-mile journey home. As he traveled, the kings of Sodom and Salem met him in the Valley of Shaveh near the future location of Jerusalem. Abram’s response to each king is indicative of his integrity as a man of faith.
“And the king of Sodom went out to meet him at 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.
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And he [Abram] gave him a tithe of all.
Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.’ But Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’— except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion”’” (14:17-24).
The king of Sodom offered Abram what sounded like a lucrative deal (v. 2). Looking closely at the text, however, it becomes apparent that Bera offered spoils that were not his to give in an attempt to gain notoriety when he had actually abandoned his people and run to the mountains. The offer sounded magnanimous, but was a sleazy attempt to give the appearance that Bera was blessing Abram.
Abram publicly refused the goods. He had not entered the conflict for profit and had already tithed a tenth to the king of Salem. Abram had moved proactively to save Lot and his family and God had granted victory. Sodom’s cowardly king had no claim to Abram’s success.
Indicative of the celebratory nature of the event honoring the returning warriors, Melchizedek came out to meet Abram with bread and wine. (2) He was the king, but also the priest of Salem who in blessing Abram in the name of the Most High God also confirmed that the victory was supernatural.
Melchizedek is unique. There is no record of Melchizedek’s birth in the genealogies recorded in Genesis. Theologians identify Him as a theophany, which is a pre-Incarnate manifestation of Messiah. Eschatological texts included with the Dead Sea scrolls portray Melchizedek as a heavenly being who atones for the righteous and judges the wicked. (3)
Whether Melchizedek was a theophany or not, He functions as a type representing Messiah. As both king and priest, He prophetically portrayed Messiah who is both everlasting King and eternal high priest after the order of Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 7:14-17).
Abram recognized Melchizedek’s unique office as priest of the Most High God tithing one- tenth of the recovered plunder out of gratitude to God.
It is significant to note that Abram’s relationship with his neighbors was such that they were willing to accompany him in rescuing Lot. Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre—the three brothers allied with Abram—were granted portions for their service. Although he did not impose his convictions upon them, Abram took nothing choosing to wait for the fulfillment of God’s promised blessing.
Don’t Be Afraid To Intervene On Behalf of Your Family
Following the spectacular rescue of Lot, God appeared to Abram for the fifth time. God’s first words to Abram were, “fear not.” As is usually the case when this phrase is used in Scripture, the one receiving God’s assurance has much to fear.
“After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.’ And he [Abram] believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.”
On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates—the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites’” (Gen. 15:1,6, 18-21).
Trust God With The Outcome of Your Battle
Abram no doubt assumed that his defeat of the Mesopotamian kings would make him a target for retaliation. What if this vicious band of marauding raiders regrouped? Strengthened their forces? Attacked him unexpectedly?
God assured Abram, “I am your shield.” The word translated “shield” is used metaphorically throughout the Hebrew Scriptures to portray God’s protection for His people. God promised Abram the ultimate protection—Himself.
Not only did God promise to be Abram’s protection, but also his reward. As he made his way home following the rescue of Lot, Abram refused the rightful spoils of victory. He refused to be obligated to Bera, the king of Sodom. God confirmed that Abram’s act of faith in refusing the plunder was the right choice.
God promised Abram an exceedingly great reward that was guaranteed by the Most High Himself. Still unrealized at the time, Abram chose to believe God’s promises; and, God credited Abram’s faith as an act of righteousness.
During the encounter, God gave Abram a glimpse into the future with a prediction that his offspring would be subjugated for 400 years (15:13 – 14). While God did not specify the location, history documents Israel’s 400-year bondage in Egypt. At the set time, God also promised to liberate them with great wealth while returning the fledgling nations to the Promised Land. (Ex. 12:33-36).
The term “cutting a covenant” describes the ancient treaty recorded on this occasion. Animals were divided lengthwise into two pieces. Then, those responsible for fulfilling the covenant walked between the two halves.
The three-year-old heifer, female goat and ram along with a young turtledove and pigeon marked the seriousness ascribed to the covenant between God and Abram. In this case, only God walked between the divided animals because He alone took responsibility for fulfillment of the covenant.
God demonstrated His faithfulness to Abram by confirming His original promises of the eternal inheritance of the land of Israel. This promise is known as the Abrahamic Covenant today and is unilateral. God is responsible for the fulfillment. He can never fail.
Within the context of the Abrahamic Covenant, God detailed the boundaries of the Promised Land. Although some assert that the map of the British Mandate of Palestine loosely approximates the boundaries of the land God described, the area is more extensive stretching from Lebanon to Egypt and from the Euphrates River to the Mediterranean Sea.
The fact that Abram’s descendants would live outside the land for 400 years is immaterial. God described the land as an eternal possession. The title deed belongs to Abram’s covenantal descendants regardless of their residence—living in the land or not.
The modern State of Israel inhabits only a minuscule portion of the total land God allocated to the nation (cf. Dt. 32:8). God’s promises to Abram’s covenantal descendants (the Jewish people) will be fulfilled literally when Messiah establishes His kingdom on the earth and rules from Jerusalem.
Bold Faith Is Essential For Christians Living In the 21st Century
Faith is not synonymous with pious inactivity. Biblically authentic faith is bold.
When faced with a grave threat to his family, Abram was proactive. When confronted with a challenge to his integrity, he was discerning. More importantly, however, even when he was afraid, Abram trusted God implicitly. He lived expectantly believing in the certainty of God’s word.
You can demonstrate the same bold faith in the context of family life. This incident in Abram’s life teaches important principles that can guide us through similar challenges.
- Assess the situation after hearing the facts.
- Move proactively when your family is in danger.
- Use discernment when your integrity is challenged.
- Don’t be afraid to intervene boldly on behalf of your family.
- Trust God with the outcome of your battle.
The necessity to engage in conflict when our family is in danger is not a prospect we enjoy thinking about. Yet, the reality that we may see the need to intervene is very real. Don’t be afraid. No matter how grave the threat, God is able to provide a supernatural victory when we trust Him and choose to exercise bold faith.
1) Abram Makes the Enemies Flee Who Hold His Nephew. (Image used for illustrative purposes) (Image credit: By Antonio Tempesta (1555–1630)/[Public domain]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
2) Abram Rescues Lot, the Women, and Goods. (Image used for illustrative purposes.) (Photo credit: By illustrators of the 1728 Figures de la Bible, Gerard Hoet (1648–1733) and others, published by P. de Hondt, The Hague, 1728/Wikimedia/[Public domain]/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
3) Lot and His Family Recalled Home by Abraham. (Image used for illustrative purposes.) (Photo credit: Antonio Tempesta Wikimedia/[Public domain]/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
4) Abraham meets Melchizedek, (circa 1300). (Image used for illustrative purposes) (Photo credit: By anonymous master, Basilica di San Marco, [PD-US]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
5) A Deep Sleep Fell Upon Abram and a Horror Seized Him. (Image used for illustrative purposes) (Photo credit: By illustrators of the 1728 Figures de la Bible, Gerard Hoet (1648–1733) and others, published by P. de Hondt, The Hague, c. 1728/[PD-US, PD-Art]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
6) Israel at Night. (Photo credit: NASA Earth Observatory/[Public domain]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
7) Bold Faith. Quote by Charles E. McCracken © 2020 (Image used for illustrative purposes/Pixabay/[Public domain]/Digital composition, MKM Portfolios)
1) Eilat Mazar, “Did I Discover King David’s Palace?” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2006
2) The word translated “bread” (Hebrew: lechem) can refer to food in general, a meal or in this case, a banquet in honor of Abram’s victory. Wine is a symbol of joy in the Bible. Some see Melchizedek’s gesture as a precursor to communion.
3) K. A. Matthews, Genesis 11:27 – 50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 151.
Copyright © 2016 Charles E. McCracken, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.