Good morning. A few weeks ago we began a new sermon series called “The Chosen Church: Getting to Know the Patriarchs”. Over the next few months we will carefully study the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. We will discover how God used these men to produce and establish His chosen people Israel.
Today’s message is named “War in Canaan”. It is the 3rd sermon of this series. It focuses on Genesis 14, which contains the first mention of warfare between kings and armies recorded in the Bible. Prior to this time, God had not chosen or designated a special people of His own. Thus, none of the wars fought before this one had any direct bearing on the LORD’s name or reputation. But now that He had closely aligned Himself with Abraham and his descendants, God had a vested interest in the outcomes of these battles.
By the end of last week’s message, Abram and Lot had separated from one another. Lot took his family and possessions eastward toward the Jordan valley and settled in the bustling city of Sodom. Meanwhile, Abram and Sarai remained in central Canaan and settled near Hebron. Both men were new residents in the country. They were likely unaware and unfamiliar with the broader political strife that was going on there. But trouble was brewing...
I. BATTLE OF THE KINGS (v1-12)
During this period of ancient history, the lands immediately east and south of the Jordan River and Dead Sea were firmly controlled by the distant kings of Babylonia and Persia. Canaanite cities located in these weaker areas paid tribute to those who domineered over them. A powerful Mesopotamian alliance which included Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim held a strong grip over the entire region.
After several years, these Canaanite subordinates waged a hopeful rebellion. The Mesopotamian kings, led by Chedorlaomer, set out on a military campaign to crush the feeble uprising. In battle after battle the rebels were resoundingly defeated, including the Rephaim, the Zuzim, the Emim, and the Horites. Chedorlaomer also conquered the Amalekites and Amorites. In a last ditch effort to save the rebellion, the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela joined together to fight against the combined forces of Chedorlaomer. Perhaps together, they could overcome their Babylonian and Persian oppressors.
A great battle took place in the valley of Siddim, near the Dead Sea, between these 2 large and formidable alliances. Chedorlaomer and his forces again won the day, and the men of Sodom and Gomorrah fled before them. The battlefield was covered with tar pits which themselves took many lives. Some survivors escaped to the mountains. The rebellion had utterly failed. Chedorlaomer proceeded to loot the conquered cities, taking all of their food and supplies. He also took captives, including Abram’s nephew Lot, who had recently moved to Sodom.
II. PURSUIT OF THE ENEMY (v13-16)
A fugitive with knowledge of the battle came to Abram to report what had happened. Abram was living near Hebron and had become allies with a few of his neighbors - namely Mamre, Eschol, and Aner. When he heard that Lot had been taken captive, Abram knew he must act. So Abram mustered his own forces together, rallying trained men from among his numerous servants, along with those of his close friends. Together these soldiers formed Abram’s own personal army.
Abram set out in relentless pursuit of Chedorlaomer. He traveled northward, chasing the enemy as far as Dan. When he finally caught up with the Babylonian and Persian troops, Abram devised an ingenious plan. Separating his forces, he attacked them from all sides by night, and was victorious. Completely taken by surprise, Chedorlaomer retreated northward toward Hobah with Abram and his men giving chase. By the time the fighting was over, Abram had recovered all of the goods, possessions, and people who had been taken - including his nephew Lot.
Up to this point, Chedorlaomer had enjoyed overwhelming success having easily crushed the entire Canaanite rebellion. Yet, seemingly out of nowhere, an unknown man named Abram arose with his own small, private army of just 318 men and defeated the mighty king. This was, without question, a providential act of God Almighty. The dominion of Babylon and Persia over the cities of the trans-Jordan region came to an abrupt end. Abram had accomplished something that the revolutionaries were unable to do.
III. DIVISION OF THE SPOILS (v17-24)
After his great success, Abram and his men returned with their spoils to Canaan. The king of Sodom, who was no doubt thankful to Abram for recovering the lost goods and peoples of his city, met him at the valley of Shaveh. Melchizedek, the king of Salem, also attended this post-war meeting. In addition to being a king, Melchizedek was also a priest of God Most High. He brought bread and wine to the ceremony. Such a man would have been quite rare in Canaan during these days.
Melchizedek blessed Abram, clearly stating that God had given him the unlikely victory. Abram recognized Melchizedek’s godly authority, and gave him a tithe of ten percent of all the spoils. The appreciative king of Sodom offered to let Abram keep the rest of the goods for himself, requesting that only the captives be returned. However, Abram answered that he did not want to keep any of the remaining spoils. He had not done this for personal gain, nor did he want to be indebted to anyone. So, other than the food they’d already eaten, the shares that belonged to his allies Mamre, Eschol, and Aner, and the amount he’d already given as a tithe, everything else was restored to the king of Sodom.
Some experts have proposed that Melchizedek was actually a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. Such a suggestion is not unprecedented. We will see Jesus appearing to Abraham in the form of a man later on in this series (Genesis 18). Perhaps He did so here as well. At the very least, Jesus is repeatedly spoken of elsewhere in Scripture as a high priest “in the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:6, 6:20). Clearly, Melchizedek points to Christ… and perhaps even was Christ.
As we wrap up today’s message, let me share a few personal observations...
Abram and his men were not professional soldiers. There were only a few hundred of them altogether. Yet, as shocking as it might seem, they utterly routed the mighty Mesopotamian alliance. Their miraculous victory made it clear that God was on their side. When the LORD fights with and for you, the enemy has no chance. This was the first of many Biblical battles to come in which God would fight on behalf of His chosen people.
Abram practiced tithing. He gave 10% of the spoils to Melchizedek, the priest of God. This took place more than 500 years before Moses and the Hebrew children encountered the LORD at Mt. Sinai. In other words, the concept of tithing pre-dated the Law by several centuries. Contemporary Christians who argue that tithing is now obsolete because the Law is no longer in effect fail to realize that tithing was never a product of the Law.
Abram was pulled into a situation that he did not create. He wasn’t originally involved in the Canaanite rebellion against Chedorlaomer. Both groups were pagans. When he finally did join the battle, he wasn't fighting on behalf of Sodom. Abram simply wanted to rescue his nephew Lot and the other captives. He fought to protect his own limited interests. Perhaps when intervening in someone else’s conflict, we should take this same approach rather than taking sides with one or the other.