The Rescue of Lot

Sermon preached on Genesis 14 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 08/20/2023 in Petaluma, CA.

Sermon Manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.

Here we have quite a dramatic scene of war and rescue. You could imagine an engaging movie based on this chapter. From a religious standpoint, we lament over the sinfulness of man that initially brought about this war. We also lament the fact that Lot found himself so captured. But we rejoice in the God-given success of Abraham in rescuing Lot. Indeed, here we ultimately see God as mighty to save. Let us then learn the lessons God would have us from today’s passage.

I’ve titled the first point for today, “The Rebellion and the Resistance.” We find the setting in the opening verses, a conflict ultimately between four kings and five kings. The list of the four kings are given in verse 1 and their territories mentioned are from the east, in the area of Mesopotamia. Notice that the first king mentioned in verse 1 rules the land of Shinar, which we’ve already heard a lot about in Genesis. The land of Shinar is where the Tower of Babel was and where the infamous Nimrod went about his imperialistic efforts subduing peoples. By putting the Shinar first, it really connects the aggression of these four kings with the past imperialism that had been coming forth from Babylon. The text goes on to show that of the four kings, Chedorlaomer king of Elam was especially prominent.

So then, we see the list of the five kings in verse 2. These kings hail from five cities in the Jordan River plain. Each of the five cities are identified there in verse 2, but other times it seems that they are described in shorthand as just Sodom and Gomorrah, and possibly at other times as just Sodom. Notably, these five cities are in the region where Lot decided to settle last chapter when he and Abram decided to amicably separate to give their respective houses more room. Last chapter, Lot had sojourned toward Sodom, and here we find in verse 12 that he actually had started living in Sodom. These cities were likely located somewhere either south and/or east of the Dead Sea which the Jordan River flows into.

Verse 4 gives us the background for the conflict today. We learn that the five cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had been in subservient relationship to the four kings from Mesopotamia. What this surely describes is what was known as a suzerain-vassal treaty. Chedorlaomer was the suzerain king over these five vassal kings in the Jordan River plain. Such relationships usually involved the vassal kings giving tribute to the suzerain in exchange for peace and maybe protection. It says that this relationship went on for twelve years, but then the five vassal kings rebelled. They rebelled by probably refusing to pay the tribute any longer.

So then, by the fourteen year, King Chedorlaomer comes with this alliance of Mesopotamian kings to try to again subdue and subjugate these five kings of the Jordan River plain. Notice that their military campaign, starting in verse 5, that it describes a whole bunch of other military battles they do first before they end up fighting the five kings. Whether this was strategic or just opportunistic, they wreak a lot of havoc on the area. Here’s the simple description of their military campaign. They come down from the north along the eastern side of the Jordan River. They start conquering different groups along the way. They make it all the way to the southern end of this whole Jordan River region, well below the Dead Sea, before they start to swing back around, at first heading more westward and then cutting back toward the south side of the Dead Sea.

And that is where the five kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela make their stand. They come together as a coalition to resist this Mesopotamian super power that had come to destroy them. They come together at the Valley of Siddim which as verse 3 points out is a valley next to the Dead Sea. To clarify, some scholars think this area today is now covered by the southern extension of the current Dead Sea. There, they take their stand against Shinar, Ellasar, Elam, and Goiim. So, it is four kings against five. We find the battle there in verses 8-12. It seems to be an epic battle. Ultimately, the five kings decide they have lost and try to flee to safety, verse 10. In trying to flee, it mentions how some fell into bitumen pits, i.e. tar pits. Some have suggested this meant they tried to hide in them. Others think this just means they fell into them trying to escape and thus probably died. Others, however, successfully escaped into the hills. Yet, others, including Lot, are captured by the Mesopotamian forces. Also, as verses 11-12 describe, the five Mesopotamian kings successfully plunder the possessions of the five kings’ armies and people. In other words, in this epic battle of the four kings versus the five kings, the four kings from Mesopotamia win the battle, and the five kings from the Jordan River plain lose. The resistance of the five kings of Sodom and Gomorrah failed miserably.

This leads us to our second point for today which I’ve titled, “The Rescue and the Retreat.” We continue the story in verse 13 and there learn that a survivor of the battle, obviously someone from the kingdoms of the five kings, comes to Abraham to tell him what happened. Obviously, this man must have known both Lot and Abraham in some way. So, Abraham learns what happened especially about Lot’s capture.

This sends Abraham into action to go and try to rescue Lot. He musters his own forces and also his allies. From his house he has 318 trained men, which means these people were not just herdsmen given a sword, but people well trained for combat. His allies include three Amorite brothers named Mamre, Eshcol, and Aner, and presumably they each have some trained forces too. But either way, what an amazing and daring thing for Abraham and then to do. To think that their small forces could mount such a rescue missions would seem like folly, yet Abraham showed that his faith in God proved worthy of such trust.

So then, verses 14-15 rather briefly describes their rescue mission. First, they have to go after them and catch up to them. It says they pursue them all the way up to Dan. So that is at the northern end of this whole Jordan River area, just a little bit north of the Sea of Galilee. Then in verse 15, we see Abraham’s rescue plan take form. Once they caught up to them in Dan, it mentions that Abraham has his forces attack by night. It also mentions that he divides up his relatively small forces. This all suggests something covert and strategic. It suggests capitalizing maybe on the element of surprise. But the text doesn’t go into all the details, so we are left to wonder how it all transpired. But what an amazing rescue mission. They recover Lot alive and his possessions. They also recover other captives and plunder which had been taken from the kings of the five cities.

But that’s not all. Not only do they rescue Lot and all these people and possessions, but they send the four kings retreating. After the victory in Dan, the four kings are apparently trying now to escape themselves. Look at the end of verse 15. It says that Abraham then “pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus.” While Dan was in the northern most area of the Jordan River area, the area of Damascus was farther north and east. In other words, on the way home to Mesopotamia. So, Abraham doesn’t just retrieve Lot and the other captives and all the stolen property. He also chases these foreign kings out of town, sending them running back to their home. This also means that these five key cities of the Jordan River plain are now liberated from these Mesopotamian powers who are not successful in resubjugating them.

This leads us to our third point for today, which I’ve titled, “The Return and the Responses.” Coming to verse 16, we see it narrate how Abraham so gloriously returns with all the saved people. Abraham has delivered them from captivity. Verse 17 clearly describes Abraham’s return as how he defeated Chedorlaomer and the other kings with him. What amazing words to think that Abraham and his forces so decisively were given the victory. So, they return with such glory. And the text describes them gathering with other kings then in the Valley of Shaveh, also known as the King’s Valley (maybe because of this event).

There we are told especially of Abraham’s interactions with the King of Sodom and with another king, Melchizedek King of Salem, who is yet a tenth king in this story. There we see their responses to Abraham’s victorious return. Interestingly, Abraham’s important interaction with Melchizedek is actually bracketed in the text with Abraham’s interactions with the King of Sodom; see verses 17 and 21. I think that is to help us see King Melchizedek as a foil to the King of Sodom. And I think we probably should understand the King of Sodom as representative here for all the five kings and their response.

So look at King Melchizedek and his response to Abraham and his victory. Let’s begin by noting what we know about him. We learn that he reigns over Salem. This was located somewhat close to where Abraham had been living in Hebron, and King Melchizedek surely was pleased to see this foreign domineering power had been checked before it could have also tried to attack or subjugate Salem. And yes, Salem, is the same city that we know later by the name Jerusalem. So, before King David many centuries later takes control of this Salem, there is this King Melchizedek. And we see here that Melchizedek is not just a king but also a priest. So, Melchizedek is a royal priesthood. As an aside, the later King David in Psalm 110 would prophesy of Jesus Christ who would come from his line, and say that he would also be a royal priest in the order of this Melchizedek. As the ruler of the same city of Jerusalem, David by the Holy Spirit saw that Jesus would carry on this royal priestly office of Melchizedek. This is an interpretation of Psalm 110 confirmed by the teaching in Hebrews 7 which continues to develop the way in which Melchizedek is a type of Christ. In fact, Hebrews points out how Genesis tells us nothing of the origins or ending of Melchizedek and uses that as an analogy for the Son of God, Jesus, who is both eternal and a priest forever.

So then, Melchizedek comes out with bread and wine to share with Abraham. Now, it is often suggested that this was a sort of an act of mercy, that Melchizedek figured the soldiers were hungry as they are returning from the battlefield, and they are not yet home, so they would be blessed with some provisions. That’s possible, but I suspect it is more than that. You see, right after this it mentions that he is a priest of the Most High God and proceeds to record Melchizedek blessing Abraham. Abraham then responds with giving a tenth to Melchizedek the priest. You see, the context here is worship. And it was not uncommon to involve food in some aspect of a religious meal in the context of worship. Such a meal would often connotate fellowship and peace that you have with God and with one another as fellow followers of God. Later the Levitical priests would facilitate such fellowship offerings that involved a meal together with the worshippers. And similarly we have our Lord’s Supper today. So, I tend to think that this meal has a religious component to it, and expresses the fellowship and worship that Abraham and Melchizedek are sharing here with the one true God.

Either way, the context is clearly worship driven. Melchizedek gives this blessing in the name of God and he is doing it as a priest of God. The book of Hebrews says that this shows that Melchizedek in this context is the superior to Abram, since it is the superior who would bless the inferior. This blessing is done in the name of the “God Most High”, which is clearly a monotheistic statement. Abraham in verse 22 confirms that Melchizedek is speaking of the one true God, because there Abraham takes the name and benediction of Melchizedek and relates that to the name of the LORD, Yahweh. So, while it is possible that God had not revealed to Melchizedek his name of Yahweh, as he had in such covenantal relationship with Abraham, clearly Abraham affirms that they have the same God and the same religion. So then, we note that the benediction of Melchizedek upon Abraham both blessed Abraham and also praised God. Melchizedek prophetically speaks of how Abram has been so blessed by God even to be enabled to have such a victory over these four foreign kings. This is in fact how all this chapter should be understood. It is not ultimately a story of some bravery and cunning military skills of Abraham, but about the Almighty God giving Abraham a victory that no one would have expected possible, ever. But with God, nothing is impossible, he is mighty to save.

So then, Abraham responds to the benediction with a tithe. This is another example in the Bible of the dialogical principal of worship, by the way. God speaks through the benediction, and Abraham responds with an act of worship. So, Abram gives a tenth to Melchizedek as a priest of God, presumably of all the spoil he just acquired in his victory over these four kings. That’s what the word tithe means, it means a tenth. As an application, here, we learn that tithing is not something unique to the later Mosaic Covenant. Yes, it does become an official ceremonial law for old covenant worship, and thus takes on a mandate for such old covenant worship. But the principle of tithing, of giving a tenth of our income to God, precedes the Mosaic Covenant. Unless there were a reason to see that practice abrogated, it’s precedence here and elsewhere in Genesis serves to continue to commend such a practice. I would put this in a similar category as the Sabbath principal we also find in Genesis predating the Mosaic Covenant.

So then look at the King of Sodom’s response and Abraham’s interaction with him in verse 21. We see the King of Sodom immediately concerned about the disposition of the people and the possessions. In other words, as the text contrasts this with Melchizedek, the King of Sodom does not show any response of worship to God. There is no praise of God for the salvation and deliverance he just brought thru Abraham. Interestingly, the King of Sodom acts like he has the decisive say regarding the disposition of the spoils of war that Abraham and company had just won. Now, we can appreciate that to a degree. These four foreign kings had plundered all these people and possessions from Sodom and the other four cities of the Jordan River plain. There is a surely appreciation expressed toward Abraham in offering him to keep all the possessions but to just return the people he had freed. But the other way to look at it, was that Abraham had just been the one to take it all back, and one might argue that Abraham should be the one leading the conversation about how to distribute the plunder. In fact, Abraham did exercise some of that prerogative by before this just giving a tenth of it to Melchizedek in worship.

Nonetheless, Abraham makes a bold pronouncement that he won’t receive any of it, lest the King of Sodom say that they made Abraham rich. He does ask that his Amorite allies get their proper portion or share of the proceeds for their service in reclaiming it. But for Abraham himself, he doesn’t want to give any impression that these pagans were the reason for Abraham’s riches. Indeed, this would be to show God’s glory in prospering Abraham. And I do think it shows a bit of spiritual growth for Abraham versus how in chapter 12 he had received so much wealth from the Egyptians under scrupulous circumstances.

So in conclusion, let us tie this all together by looking ahead. Ultimately, Abraham here becomes a type of Christ as a savior and deliverer. Lot particularly is to be understood as one of God’s people being delivered, even though arguably he put himself in a bad place to start. Then again, that is the grace of God seen in this. But I think the related thing to recognize here is that this became a missed opportunity for Sodom and Gomorrah and the other allied cities. They, a people already known for great wickedness, were graciously delivered by God through Abraham (as a type of Christ). Did they not know that God’s kindness toward them was meant to lead them to repentance (Rom 2:4)? Melchizedek showed them that this was a “come to God” moment, and they missed it. Indeed, in just a few chapters, in Genesis 19, God will bring judgment and destruction upon their continued great wickedness. They didn’t learn the lesson that was here to learn. And even the godly Lot will struggle with learning a lesson from this, because God will have to again save him at that time when Sodom is about to be destroyed and he is back living there again.

Christ’s death on the cross is a kindness towards the world that is meant to lead us to repentance. That we would know him as Savior and Deliverer, saving us from sin, death, and damnation. That such would then lead us to know Jesus as our Priest and King. This God yet holds out to the world. God’s grace toward sinners calls us to learn from such moments and live differently because of it. That is true in the big picture with Christ and the cross. And it is true in various other ways we find God’s grace working in our lives. May we each learn the lessons God would have us from such gifts of grace, and respond with greater repentance, love, and new obedience to the LORD, the God Most High, Possessor of Heaven and Earth, and the one who has delivered all Christ Jesus’ enemies into his hand.


Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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