1 In the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, 2 these kings made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). 3 And all these joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). 4 Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled. 5 In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him came and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim, 6 and the Horites in their hill country of Seir as far as El-paran on the border of the wilderness. 7 Then they turned back and came to En-mishpat (that is, Kadesh) and defeated all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who were dwelling in Hazazon-tamar.
8 Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out, and they joined battle in the Valley of Siddim 9 with Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar, four kings against five. 10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the hill country. 11 So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. 12 They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way.
13 Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner. These were allies of Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people. – Genesis 14:1-16 ESV
Abram and Lot have separated, with Lot taking up residence near the city of Sodom, while Abram continued his nomadic lifestyle, setting up a temporary camp by the oaks of Mamre in Hebron. But Abram’s separation from Lot would not last long. His nephew’s presence in the land would come back to haunt him.
This new season of Abram’s more independent life was going to be rocked by unexpected events that were outside of his control. What chapter 14 reveals is that Abram was far from alone in the land of Canaan. Up to this point in the narrative, there has been little mention of other nations, but the story recorded in this chapter will reveal that Abram has company and lots of it.
The chapter opens with news of a coalition of four kings whose nations lie outside the boundaries of Canaan. It’s difficult to determine with any certainty the exact locations of these ancient realms, but it seems that they each were located within the fertile crescent, an area known as the land of Shinar. It is important to recall that Shinar was the location of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11). It was there that God decided to confuse the language of the people who attempted to build a tower that would reach to the sky. As a result of the confusion caused by the proliferation of new languages, the region became known as “Babel,” a word that literally means “confusion.” This region would later bear the name of “Babylon” and play a vital role in the history of the Hebrew people.
These kings all hailed from the region of Mesopotamia that stretched from the northern tip of the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf. One of these kings, Chedorlaomer, had earlier invaded southern Canaan and forced its occupants to become his vassals. The people living in Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela (Zoar), had found themselves subjugated to a foreign power for 13 long years. But at one point their kings had decided to throw off the yoke of this foreign oppressor. And their decision had forced King Chedorlaomer to form a coalition with three of his fellow kings from Mesopotamia and invade Canaan yet again.
This entire scene is meant to display the interconnected nature of all that has gone on before. Every event that has happened up to this point is linked together in God’s plan. There are reasons for everything. And there are repercussions for every decision made by men and consequences for every act of a sovereign God. Nothing happens by chance. The ill-fated decision of the people to disobey God and construct a tower to glorify their own greatness had produced a myriad of nations that were dispersed across the earth. And the confusion created by their disparate languages would eventually turn into conflict.
In chapter 13, Moses recorded God’s reiteration of His promise to Abram.
“Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever.” – Genesis 13:14-15 ESV
And yet, here we have nine different kings vying for the right to control the land that God had given to Abram and his descendants. Ever since the gates to Eden had been slammed shut, mankind had been busy trying to grab up the remaining territory. Rather than steward that which belonged to God, they had been attempting to claim it as their own. Instead of acknowledging God as King, they had chosen to set up their own petty kingdoms here on earth. And here in this story, nine of these would-be gods were facing off in a battle of will and weapons, all in an effort to control what really belonged to God.
This coalition of four Mesopotamian kings slowly made their way south, defeating various clans, tribes, and nations along the way. They were successfully demonstrating their superior strength and telegraphing to the five kings of southern Canaan that their prospects for victory were dim. But refusing to consider surrender, the five kings joined forces and faced their enemy in the Valley of Siddim. Things did not go well. The tar pits that covered the valley floor proved to be their undoing. Many of the soldiers became mired in the sticky muck and were captured. As a result, the five kings were unable to put up a fight and their forces were easily defeated. And Moses provides a summary of this demoralizing debacle.
So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way. – Genesis 14:11-12 ESV
What makes this rather brief recap of the battle stand out is its focus on Sodom and Gomorrah, and its mention of Lot, the nephew of Abram. If you recall, chapter 13 chronicled Lot’s decision to choose the well-watered lands near Zoar as the place to pasture his flocks. But he actually “settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom” (Genesis 13:12 ESV). This nephew of Abram made a determined choice to seek refuge among “the men of Sodom,” who “were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13 ESV).
Somewhere along the way, Lot had given up his tent and sought shelter within the walls of Sodom. Moses makes it clear that he “was dwelling in Sodom” (Genesis 14:12 ESV). And that decision would prove to be far from wise. When the four Mesopotamian kings looted Sodom, Lot was taken captive along with all his possessions. He was enslaved.
But news of his capture eventually reached the ears of his uncle. Abram was about to discover that his separation from Lot had been anything but permanent. And his decision to give Lot his choice of the land as his own had probably been a mistake. Now, Abram had a decision to make. Would he intervene and rescue Lot from his predicament or allow him to suffer the consequences? Moses records that Abram spent no time deliberating over his decision.
When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. – Genesis 14:14 ESV
One can debate the wisdom of Abram’s decision, but there is an overwhelming sense of God’s sovereignty woven throughout this entire event. The actions of the five kings, while autonomous and self-determined, are actually the byproducts of God’s providential will. Nothing happens outside His control or in opposition to His predetermined plan. These events came as no surprise to God. They were simply part of the sovereign strategy He was orchestrating so that His will might be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). What He had preordained was coming to fruition, just as He had planned.
Abram and his 318-man army went to battle against the coalition of kings and their superior forces, and he won. That outcome would have come as no surprise to Moses’ readership. They knew that, for them to exist as a people, Abram had to have won. His victory was assured because God had promised to make of him a great nation. And nothing was going to stand in the way of that promise being fulfilled. Whether the number of enemy kings was four or forty, it didn’t matter. Regardless of the size of the foe, God could give victory.
This story should bring to mind another battle fought by a servant of God against superior forces. Years later, Gideon, one of the judges of Israel, would find himself going up against the Midianites. He was outnumbered and outgunned. But much to Gideon’s surprise, God informed him that he had too many soldiers. In a series of bizarre events, God whittled down Gideon’s force until he only had 300 men left. And with that diminutive army, Gideon defeated the Midianites.
And, in a similar fashion, Abram defeated the five kings of Mesopotamia. His “surprising” victory allowed him to rescue Lot and bring back all the possessions that had been stolen. Lot had been redeemed by Abram. He didn’t deserve it and he hadn’t earned it. Abram simply extended unmerited mercy and grace to his young nephew. And this story provides a foreshadowing of another undeserved rescue that will take place in the lives of Abram’s descendants after another army from the north will invade Canaan and take God’s people captive. God will graciously and dramatically rescue them, returning them to the land and fulfilling the promise He had made to Abram.
This event is simply one of many illustrations of God’s goodness, grace, and sovereignty as displayed in the life of Abram. And there are many more to come.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.