The threat of war (Genesis 14:1-16)

If you love high-drama action stories, you’ll love this! Abram left everything for the land where God promised he would establish his nation, yet the whole project is constantly under threat:

  • Famine drove Abram to leave the land and go to Egypt, where he feared for his life and lost his wife. God intervened (Gen 12).
  • Lot’s eyes seduced him to give up on Abram and join the dark side—the city of sinners. What if Abram had joined the wicked in the land instead of keeping his eyes on the promises of a future kingdom? (Gen 13)
  • Now earthly kings arrive to fight for control the land God has promised Abram (Gen 14).

We have not yet seen the word king in the Bible. Suddenly it’s a keyword—used 26 times in Genesis 14. What do these kings do? They make war (14:2, 8)! They oppress people under their power. They use force against any who try to break free (14:4-7). Are you seeing a contrast between earthly kings and earth’s true king?

Who are these kings? They’re from Shinar and surrounding regions:

Genesis 14:1–2 (ESV)
In the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, these kings made war …

Shinar is where Nimrod realized he could use the power of death (war) to establish his kingdom (10:8-12). Shinar is the land of Babel where people tried to take over God’s world (11:1). Shinar is the land of Ur—the land Abram had to leave (11:31). These kings are now advancing against the land God promised to Abram.

Abram stays out of the conflict as the invaders capture territory near the Dead Sea and beyond. But the rich farmland of the Jordan Valley is exactly the kind of land these kings want. Suddenly Lot’s temptation to leave the promises of Abram for the city of sinners looks foolish. Lot is captured, along with everything his greedy eyes had grasped for:

Genesis 14:12 (ESV)
They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way.

Abram steps in to rescue his nephew. Lot’s short-sighted selfishness has placed Abram’s life—and God’s restoration project— in jeopardy!

Abram bands together with other leaders of his area (14:13). They pursue the invaders to the northern edge of the Promised Land (14:14). With a surprise ambush from multiple directions at night, they overpower the invaders. Abram drives them far away to the north:

Genesis 14:15–16 (ESV)
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.

This is a wonderful victory. Abram rescued not only his nephew but many others who owe their lives and livelihood to Abram. Remember how God said to Abram, “… in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (12:3)? The blessing has started to spread, as he brings back not only Lot but others as well.

Imagine the victory celebration! Abram isn’t a king, but he has survived attacks by earthly kings, a victory granted him by the Most High, the one who rules above all kings. In the centuries that lie ahead, the Abrahamic nation will frequently be threatened by human rulers. They must expect their heavenly sovereign to give them victory, defend themselves, drive their attackers out, and stay in the land, exactly as Abram has done.

But what of the local kings—those who claimed to hold power over the region Abram liberated? They owe a great debt to Abram. Do they recognize him as the servant of the Most High God? Or are they only interested in resuming their own control over their cities, with no acknowledgement of the God of Abram?

It’s an important question for the future of the Biblical narrative. Will the kings of the earth submit to YHWH when he establishes his representative kingdom through Abram? Or are they self-interested, self-serving, unwilling to acknowledge the God of Abram as earth’s true king?

One wonders how this story will play out.


What others are saying

Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 101, 103:

Once again the divine promises to Abram seem to be on the verge of miscarrying, this time by the actions of the patriarch himself, who risks his life in battle. A confederacy of four eastern monarchs undertakes a punitive expedition in order to suppress a revolt of vassals in the west. In the course of the action Lot, by virtue of his association with Sodom, is taken captive and his possessions are plundered. On learning the news, Abram, with the help of three allies, immediately musters an armed force and mounts a military campaign to rescue his nephew. He puts the attackers to flight, accomplishes his purpose, and comes into possession of much booty. …

What are the purposes of Scripture in featuring this story? Undoubtedly, its primary motive is to bring into prominence new facets of Abram’s character. The one who displayed fear and evasiveness in Egypt now shows himself to be decisive and courageous in the promised land. The man of peace knows how to exhibit skill and heroism in battle. He who experienced his nephew’s estrangement unhesitatingly demonstrates self-sacrificing loyalty to him in his hour of need.

Read Genesis 14:1-16.



Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

2 thoughts on “The threat of war (Genesis 14:1-16)”

  1. Consider the alternative however- would we be speaking to and about the same God had Abram gone down an alternate (in this instance a wicked path). Is God dimensional? Could there be an alternate universe where God does not have a powerful presence due to wicked ways of ALL mankind?


    1. Thanks, for your thoughts, Dharmesh.
      Interesting question. You’re probably aware that there are various way of understanding God’s providence over the events of the world. Scot McKnight has a good post today on a book that wrestles with different ways to approach that issue (without a parallel universe):
      The narrative of Scripture certainly presents God as affected by his creation and how his creatures respond to him. Can we live with that perspective?


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