Refreshment Between The Battles
“Four kings with five.”—GENESIS 14:9.
THE strife recorded in Genesis 14 was no mere border foray. It was an expedition for chastisement and conquest. Chedorlaomer was the Attila, the Napoleon of his age. His capital city, Susa, lay across the desert, beyond the Tigris, in Elam. Years before Abraham had entered Canaan as a peaceful emigrant, this dreaded conqueror had swept southwards, subduing the towns which lay in the Jordan Valley, and thus possessing himself of the master-key to the road between Damascus and Memphis. When Lot took up his residence towards Sodom, the cities of the plain were paying tribute to this mighty monarch.
At last the men of Sodom and Gomorrah, of Admah and Zeboiim, became weary of the Elamite yoke and rebelled, and Chedorlaomer was compelled to undertake a second expedition to chastise their revolt and regain his power. Combining his own forces with those of three vassal and friendly rulers in the Euphrates Valley, which lay in his way, he swept across the desert, and fell upon the wild tribes that harboured in the mountains of Bashan and Moab. His plan was evidently to ravage the whole country contiguous to those Jordan towns before actually investing them.
At last the allied forces concentrated in the neighbourhood of Sodom, where they encountered fierce resistance. Encouraged by the pitchy nature of the soil, in which horsemen and chariots would move with difficulty, the townsfolk risked an engagement in the open. In spite, however, of the bitumen pits, the day went against the effeminate and dissolute men of the plain, in whose case, as in many others, social corruption proved itself the harbinger of political overthrow. The defeat of the troops was followed by the capture and sack of those wealthy towns; and all who could not escape were manacled as slaves, and carried off in the train of the victorious army.
Sated at length with their success, their attention engrossed by their rich booty and their vast host of captives, the foreign host began slowly to return along the Jordan valley on its homeward march. “And they took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.” Then one of the survivors of that fatal day climbed the hills, and made for Abraham’s encampment, which he may have known in earlier days, when, as one of Lot’s many servants, he lived there. “And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, … and divided himself against them” (14:14, 15).
(1) HERE IS THE UNSELFISH AND SUCCESSFUL INTERPOSITION OF A SEPARATED MAN, ON THE BEHALF OF OTHERS.
Hidden in the configuration of the country, and confederate with his friends, Abraham had watched the movements of the devastators from afar. “But they had not come nigh him; only with his eyes had he beheld and seen the reward of the wicked” (Psalm 91:8). Common prudence would have urged him not to embroil himself. “Be thankful that you have escaped, and do not meddle further in the business; lest you make these mighty kings your foes.”
But true separation never argues thus. Granted that the separated one is set apart for God, yet he is set apart that he may re-act more efficiently on the great world over which God yearns, and towards which He has entertained great purposes of mercy, in the election of the few. Genuine separation—an unattachedness to the things of time and sense, because of an ardent devotion to the unseen and eternal—is the result of faith, which always works by love; and this love tenderly yearns for those who are entangled in the meshes of worldliness and sin. Faith makes us independent, but not indifferent. It is enough for it to hear that its brother is taken captive; and it will arm instantly to go in pursuit.
Ah, brothers and sisters, have there never come to you the tidings that your brothers are taken captive? How, then, is it that you have not started off long ago for their deliverance? Is this separation genuine, which stands unconcernedly by while there is such need for immediate and unselfish action?
But Abraham’s interposition was as successful as it was unselfish and prompt. The force with which he set out was a very slender one; but his raw recruits moved quickly, and thus in four or five days they overtook the self-reliant and encumbered host amid the hills where the Jordan takes its rise. Adopting the tactics of a night attack, he fell suddenly on the unsuspecting host, and chased them in headlong panic, as far as the ancient city of Damascus. “And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people” (14:16).
Is it not always so? The men who live the life of separation and devotion towards God, are they who act with most promptness and success when the time for action comes. Lot being in Sodom, could neither elevate its morals nor save it from attack. Abraham living among the hills is alone able to cope successfully with the might of the tyrant king. Oh, do not listen to those who say you must live on the level, and in the midst of worldly men, in order to elevate and save them; and advise you to go to the theatre, the ball-room, the public-house, in order to give them a higher tone. Did Lot save Sodom?* Nor will a better fate than his befal any man, who, unbidden by God, settles down in the world for his own whim and pleasure. If you would lift me, you must stand above me. If Archimedes is to move the world, he must rest his lever on a point far enough outside the earth itself.
(2) THE TIME OF A GREAT SUCCESS IS OFTEN THE SIGNAL FOR A GREAT TEMPTATION.
The King of Sodom had not been amongst the prisoners. He had probably saved himself, by a timely flight to the hills, from the field of battle. When therefore he received tidings of the patriarch’s gallant and successful expedition, he set out to meet and welcome him. He would ascend from the Jordan plain by one of the gorges into the hills, and would come out on the great central road, by which Abraham and his confederates were marching back to Hebron.
The two met at the King’s Dale, a place to become memorable as the years went on; and situated near the city of Salem, a title which was destined to develop into the word—Jerusalem. A memorable meeting that: between the representatives of two races—the one destined to grow weaker and weaker still, until it was dispossessed by the children of that very man whose sword now saved it from utter extinction.
But more memorable than the place is the record of the spiritual encounter that took place there. Grateful for Abraham’s succour and deliverance, the King of Sodom proposed to him to surrender only the persons of the captives, whilst he kept all the spoils to himself and his allies.
It must have been a very tempting offer. No slight matter for a shepherd to have the chance of appropriating all the spoils of settled townships, so large and opulent; especially when he seemed to have some claim on them.
But he would not hear of it for a moment. Indeed, he seems to have already undergone some exercise of soul on the matter, for speaking as of a past transaction, he said, “I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the Most High God, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take from a thread even to a shoe-latchet; and that I will not take anything that is thine, lest thou shouldst say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ ”
What a magnificent contempt of specious offer! What a glorious outburst of the independence of a living faith!
There is a close parallel between this suggestion of the King of Sodom and the temptation of our Lord in the wilderness, when Satan offered Him all the kingdoms of the world for one act of obeisance. And does not this temptation assail us all? Are we not all tempted to take the gilded wage of the world, which is so eager to lay us under obligation to itself, and to feel that we are in its pay and power? The world is aware that, if we will only accept its subsidies, we shall have surrendered our position of independence, and have stepped down to its level, no longer able to witness against it, shorn of the locks of our strength, and become weak as other men.
In theory it may be argued that we can turn to good account the wealth which has been ill-gotten. But, practically, we shall not find it so. The wealth of Sodom will scorch the hand that handles it, and will blight every godly enterprise to which it may be put. Besides, what right have we to depend on the revenues of the world, we, who are heirs to the Possessor of heaven and earth, the children of the Great King: to whom, in giving us His Son, He has also pledged to give us all things? Better a thousand times be poor, until He make us rich with the gold that has passed through His cleansing furnace. Happy they who prefer to be pensioners on the daily providence of God to being dependent on the gold of Sodom—the wages of iniquity.
(3) THE PREVENIENT GRACE OF GOD.
It may be that Abraham would not have come off so grandly in the second conflict if he had not been prepared for it by the wondrous encounter with a greater king than either we have named. After his defeat of Chedorlaomer, and before the advent of the King of Sodom, the Hebrew had met Melchizedek, the Priest-King of Salem.
We may not stay to speak now of all the interest that gathers around this sacred figure, sacred as the type of our blessed Lord. Of that more anon. We shall be satisfied to notice now that he brought bread and wine, and blessed the weary conqueror, and coined in his hearing a new name for God. For the first time God received the title, “Possessor of heaven and earth”—one which seems to have made a deep impression upon Abraham; for we find him using it in his encounter with the King of Sodom—and it was the talisman of victory. Why should he need to take aught from man, when this new revelation of God had just fallen upon his ear, and enriched his heart forever?
Is not this the work of the Lord Jesus still? He comes to us when wearily returning from the fight. He comes to us when He knows we are on the eve of a great temptation. He not only prays for us, as for Peter; but He prepares us for the conflict. Some new revelation; some fresh glimpse into His character; some holy thought—these are given to fill the memory and heart against the advent of the foe. Oh, matchless mercy! He forewarns and forearms us. He prevents us with the blessings of His goodness.
When next we are tempted with the bribes of an ungodly world, let us recall that name for God, which, in Abraham’s case, was the talisman of victory; and let us think of Him as the POSSESSOR of heaven and earth. Why should we soil our fingers with ill-gotten gains, even though they seem needful for our existence, when our Father is the Owner of all that flies in the air, treads on the land, swims in the water, or lies embedded in the rocks.
We have not infrequently been made sweet and strong, or have passed through some marked spiritual experience, for no other object than to fit us for coming peril. Let us avail ourselves of such occasions, whenever they occur, and let us ever be grateful to our Lord for victualling His castles before they are attacked, and for giving us His own new name, by which we may overcome all the wiles of men and devils.
O King of loyal hearts, may we meet Thee more often on life’s highway, especially when some tempter is preparing to weave around us the meshes of evil; and bending beneath Thy blessing, may we be prepared by the communications of Thy grace for all that may await us in the unknown future!
F. B. Meyer, Abraham: Or, The Obedience of Faith, Old Testament Heroes, (New York; Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Company, n.d.), 58–64.