Genesis 14
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 14. (origin uncertain)

1–12.  I. The campaign of Chedorlaomer King of Elam and three vassal kings against the five rebellious kings of the Plain, who are defeated and their cities looted; Lot made prisoner.

13–16.  II. Abram’s victorious pursuit of Chedorlaomer and rescue of Lot.

17–24.  III. Abram, the King of Sodom, and Melchizedek.

This chapter presents us with the picture of Abram in the character of a warrior—vigorous, resourceful, successful, and magnanimous. On the historical background of the narrative, see the chapter comments. The story is somewhat abruptly introduced. The mention of Lot who is dwelling in Sodom forms the chief point of contact with the previous narrative. There are numerous features in the account which seem to indicate its derivation from an entirely distinct source of tradition.


The precise amount of historical value to be assigned to the contents of this chapter has in recent years been much disputed. Archaeology, as Skinner says (p. 276), has proved “that the general setting of the story is consistent with the political situation in the East as disclosed by the monuments; and that it contains data which cannot possibly be the fabrications of an unhistorical age.”

I. Possible Historical Situation. The following is a brief summary of the historical facts which are possibly involved in the account of the Eastern kings mentioned in this chapter: “Under the early kings of the first dynasty of Babylon, the Elamites had invaded Southern Babylonia, and possibly the invasion was the immediate cause of Terah’s migration northwards. At the time of Khammurabi, Kudur-Mabug was the governor of Emutbal, while his son, Rîm-Sin, ruled over Larsa and Ur. Chedorlaomer, whether identical (?) with Kudur-Mabug, or his over-lord, might thus not unnaturally have obliged Amraphel (Khammurabi) to accompany him to battle (Genesis 14:1-2). During the latter part of his reign, however, Khammurabi threw off the Elamite yoke, and also defeated Rîm-Sin (who succeeded his brother Arad-Sin as ruler over Larsa) and established his supremacy over Babylonia as well as over the land of Amurru (i.e. Canaan)1[17].”

[17] Handcock, Latest Light on Bible Lands, p. 59. S.P.C.K., 1913.

II. Possible Date. The date assigned by Ungnad (Gressmann’s Texte u. Bilder (1909), i. 103) to the reign of Khammurabi is 2130–2088. Driver (in his Addenda, p. xxxix. N. 3) mentions that Khammurabi “lived, according to Nabuna’id (559–539 b.c.), 700 years before Burnaburiash (1399–1365 b.c.), i.e. c. 2100 b.c.”

No trace has yet been found in the inscriptions of this particular expedition in which the Elamite king Chedorlaomer, attended by his vassal kings of Babylonia, Larsa, and Goiim, invaded the country E. of the Jordan, in order to punish a rebellion. It may be prudent, until further evidence is forthcoming, to suspend our judgement upon the identification of the names of the four kings of the East. The distinguished Assyriologist, Johns, after an investigation of the whole subject, raised a warning voice ten years ago. “The cuneiform originals suggested for the names in Genesis 14 are therefore only ingenious conjectures. They may all be right, but as yet not one is proved” (Expositor, Oct. 1903, p. 286).

III. Literary Character. The chapter differs in style from the three main literary sources of Genesis, J, E, and P. The special use of the words rendered “goods” (Genesis 14:11-12; Genesis 14:16; Genesis 14:21), “persons” (Genesis 14:21), “born in his house” (Genesis 14:14, cf. Genesis 17:12 P), which are characteristic of P, is insufficient for any general inference.

The mention of Lot in Genesis 14:12 as “Abram’s brother’s son” may possibly be a gloss. But the unique description of Abram in Genesis 14:13 as “the Hebrew,” as if his name were here freshly introduced, is certainly surprising. It cannot, however, be claimed that the chapter is a mere isolated fragment. It presupposes the residence of Lot in the region of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 13:10-11 J). It assumes the residence of Abram by “the oaks (or, terebinths) of Mamre” (Genesis 13:18 J; cf. Genesis 14:13), although it identifies Mamre and Eshcol, with the names of persons and not of places.

The unskilfulness of the literary style is in marked contrast to that which is prevalent throughout the rest of the book. The following examples are noteworthy in this short passage. (1) The grammatical structure of Genesis 14:1-2 is strangely cumbrous: “And it came to pass in the days of [four kings], that they made war.” (2) Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, who, as appears from Genesis 14:9; Genesis 14:17, was the over-lord and leader of the expedition, is mentioned third in the list of the four kings in Genesis 14:1. (3) In Genesis 14:3 it is uncertain which kings are spoken of, and the contents of the verse anticipate Genesis 14:8. (4) It is implied in Genesis 14:10 that the king of Sodom perished; in Genesis 14:17 the king, of Sodom meets Abram on his return from his victory. (5) The incident of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20) interrupts the account of the meeting of the king of Sodom with Abram (Genesis 14:17; Genesis 14:21). (6) In Genesis 14:20 “he gave him a tenth of all,” if, as has generally been supposed, Abram is the giver and Melchizedek the recipient, there is an abrupt change of subject. But the grammatical uncertainty has led some to suppose that Melchizedek paid tithes to Abram!

IV. Geographical Notes. In the geographical allusions, archaic names are for the most part employed.

(a) Genesis 14:2, “Bela (the same is Zoar).” It is implied that the city whose name was altered to Zoar (19) had previously been called Bela.

(b) Genesis 14:3, “the vale of Siddim (the same is the Salt Sea).” This name for the Dead Sea is only found in this passage. It assumes that four cities out of the five (i.e. Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim) were overwhelmed at the time of the catastrophe described in chap. 19.

© Genesis 14:4-5, “the Rephaim … the Zuzim … the Emim … the Horites” are mentioned in Deuteronomy 2:10-12; Deuteronomy 2:20-21 as the names of the aborigines subsequently dispossessed by Moab, Ammon, and Edom. The Rephaim, or sons of Rapha, were a legendary race of “giants.”

(d) Genesis 14:7, “En-mishpat (the same is Kadesh).” Kadesh was the scene of the Israelite encampment in the wilderness; where Moses obtained water for the people by striking the rock (Numbers 20:1-13). If the name En-mishpat (a Well of Judgement) was an older title, it implied the existence of water there before the name of “The Waters of Meribah” had been given to the spring.

(e) Genesis 14:7, “the Amalekites and the Amorites.” The mention of the Amorites along with the Amalekites who were a wandering race in the south of Canaan, is inexact. “Amorite” is sometimes used in E for “Canaanite.” The “Amurru” of the Tel-el-Amarna tablets were in N. Palestine.

(f) Genesis 14:14, “as far as Dan.” The writer, instead of using the archaic name Laish or Leshem, employs the name which could only have come into use after the capture of the town by the Danites, recorded in Jdg 18:29.

(g) Genesis 14:17, “the vale of Shaveh (the same is the King’s Vale).” “Shaveh” is here used as a proper name; but, as in Genesis 14:5, it is usually a word meaning “a plain.” The King’s Vale, if we may judge from 2 Samuel 18:18, was in the vicinity of Jerusalem.

(h) Genesis 14:18, “king of Salem.” See note. In view of the archaic names employed in the context, it is most natural to assume that “Jerusalem” is intended; and that the writer deliberately avoided the familiar name of the city. On the other hand, “The Samaritans identified the city of Salem with their sanctuary on Mount Gerizim (see LXX, Genesis 33:18; comp. Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica ix. 17)1[18].”

[18] Kohler, art. “Melchizedek,” Jewish Encyclopaedia.

V. Origin of Tradition obscure. Whatever its source may have been, the story stands by itself. It represents one of many legends which were current respecting the patriarch. Whether the framework in which it now stands be derived from a very early document or from some later collection of traditions (Midrash), it is impossible to decide.

That Abram should suddenly figure in events of the greater world’s history, that he should appear as a warrior and inflict defeat upon the armies of four Eastern kings, produces an impression widely different from that which is forthcoming from the rest of the patriarchal narrative. But, making allowance for the tendency of traditions to magnify the deeds of the national hero, we need not pass any hasty verdict against the general trustworthiness of the story.

It is true that, according to the Hebrew tradition, the five kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela, must have been petty princes of towns lying quite close together in a small inconsiderable district of S.E. Canaan; and that an expedition against them by their over-lord, the king of Elam, and his vassals would, on the face of it, have been most improbable. But we must remember that, if we might assume a wide-spread rebellion, or refusal to pay tribute, on the part of the Western Provinces belonging to the Elamite Empire, the punitive expedition, according to the Hebrew local legends, would have been reputed to be more especially directed against the Canaanite rebellious kings. As to the improbability of the route, or of the strategy, it is unreasonable to expect minute accuracy from a narrative reproducing archaic conditions, in reference to an almost prehistoric event. Proper names, when unfamiliar, are liable to undergo assimilation to more familiar ones. The heroic deeds of the hero become exaggerated: the greatness of his victories is enhanced by lapse of time.

If we may judge from geological evidence, there is no probability in the supposition that in the time of Abram the Dead Sea submerged a fertile district and overwhelmed populous cities. Hence it is not unlikely that the tradition of the Five Cities “in the vale of Siddim” may have received an erroneous identification as to their site and names.

And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations;
Khammurabi (? Amraphel), King of Babylon, receiving laws from Shamash, the Sun-god.

1–12. The Campaign

1. And it came to pass in the days of] The opening formula of a new Hebrew section. Cf. Ruth 1:1; 2 Samuel 21:1; Esther 1:1; Isaiah 7:1.

Amraphel] King of Shinar, very generally accepted as the Hebrew reproduction of the name Hammurabi, king of Babylonia about 2150 b.c. (?). On the assumption of this identification it has been conjectured that the last syllable of the name should be “-i” instead of “-el,” i.e. Amraphi. For Shinar, see note on Genesis 10:10 and Genesis 11:2.

Hammurabi is famous as the king who finally freed his kingdom from the yoke of the Elamites, who united northern and southern Babylonia under one rule, and extended his conquests as far west as Palestine. Many cuneiform documents, belonging to his reign and referring to his government, have been discovered and deciphered, most remarkable and important of all being his Code of Laws1[15].

[15] Discovered in Dec. 1901 and Jan. 1902 by M. Le Morgan at Susa. See Driver’s Exodus, Appendix III.

Arioch king of Ellasar] Possibly the same as Rim-sin who is said to be referred to in an ancient Sumerian record as Eri-Aku, son of Kudur-Mabug, king of Larsa, and a contemporary of Hammurabi. Ellasar is clearly the Babylonian town Larsa, which is identified with the ruins of the modern Senkereh on the E. bank of the Euphrates in S. Babylonia.

We meet with the name of Arioch in a Babylonian court-official (Daniel 2:15); and as a “king of the Elymaeans,” a vassal of Nebuchadnezzar (Jdt 1:6).

Chedorlaomer] King of Elam. The name has not hitherto been identified in the history of Western Asia. In its formation, however, it is genuinely Elamite, i.e. Kudur = “servant,” and Lagamar = an Elamite deity. The supremacy of Elam over all that region of Western Asia about the time of Hammurabi is attested by the ancient documents. For Elam, see note on Genesis 10:22. It is the country called in the Assyrian Elamtu, and in the Greek Elymais, north of the Persian Gulf and east of the Lower Tigris. Its capital was Susa, which appears in the classical form of Susiana. On the overthrow of Elam by the Persians, see Jeremiah 49:34-39.

Tidal king of Goiim] The attempts which have been made to identify Tidal have not yet been successful. But there is no reason to suppose that it is a fictitious name; and future research may bring his name to light. Goiim is the regular Hebrew word for “nations,” and therefore seems to be very improbable as the name of a country or city. It may have been substituted by a Hebrew copyist for some unfamiliar proper name resembling it in pronunciation, or in shape of letters. Thus Sir Henry Rawlinson’s conjecture of Gutim has very generally found favour. The Guti were a people often mentioned in the inscriptions, living in the region of Kurdistan. Sayce suggests that Goiim may be correct as the Hebrew translation of the Assyrian Ummanmanda, the peoples, or nomad hordes, that constantly swept through those regions.

That these made war with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar.
2. that they made war] This anticipates and summarizes the contents of Genesis 14:5-10. As Hammurabi, the conqueror of Elam and founder of the Babylonian kingdom, terms himself king of Amurru = Amorites, or northern Palestine, there is nothing unhistorical in the representation of an invasion of this region by the Elamite suzerain.

Bera … Birsha] The kings of the cities of the Plain mentioned in this verse are not otherwise known. Identifications with the Arabic Bari and Birshi, and with the Babylonian Sinabu, have been conjectured. The five cities here named, sometimes (e.g. Wis 10:6) called the Pentapolis, were, according to the tradition, situated at the southern end of the Dead Sea, and, with the exception of Zoar, were overwhelmed in the catastrophe of chap. 19. Each city has its king, as was the case with the cities of Canaan, according to the Book of Joshua and the Tel-el-Amarna tablets.

It is noteworthy that Bera and Birsha can, in the Hebrew letters, denote “with evil” and “with wickedness” respectively.

The LXX (Cod. A) reads “Balla” for “Bera,” and “Sennaar” for “Shinab.”

Admah, and … Zeboiim] These towns are mentioned in Deuteronomy 29:23 and Hosea 11:8 as having been overthrown in the great catastrophe described in chap. 19.

the king of Bela] The only king whose name is not given. The omission favours the accuracy of the list. The name “Bela,” meaning “destruction,” conceivably contains a local allusion. It has been suggested that we should read “Bela, king of Zoar.” The reader, in reviewing these two verses, will be struck with the fact that Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, whose name is mentioned first in the list of Genesis 14:9, and who is evidently the supreme sovereign in Genesis 14:4-5, stands third in the list in Genesis 14:1. It is not easy to find an explanation. Some scholars suggest that the names are arranged in the order of their nearness to Palestine! Others, by a slight emendation of the text, reading the final “1” in “Amraphel” as a preposition, render as follows: “in the days of Amraph, when Arioch king of Ellasar was king over Shinar, then Chedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goiim made war with, &c.” But the mention of the four kings in Genesis 14:9, where their order is different, does not favour the conjecture.

A relief on the upper part of the basalt stele on which is inscribed in cuneiform characters the famous Code of Laws.

All these were joined together in the vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea.
3. All these] Probably the kings mentioned in Genesis 14:2, i.e. the five local subject princes. That there should be any doubt whether “all these” refers to the four kings of the east, or to the five kings of the west, is an example of the unskilful style in which this section is written.

joined together] The five local kings combined: “the vale of Siddim” was their rallying place. But as “the vale of Siddim” was their own country, the wording is awkward. Hence some prefer R.V. marg. “joined themselves together against,” with a change of subject; i.e. the kings of the E. combined and marched against the kings of the W. But the change of subject, interrupting Genesis 14:2; Genesis 14:4, is surely too harsh.

the vale of Siddim] Not mentioned elsewhere; but traditionally identified with the Dead Sea, beneath whose waters the “cities of the Plain” were believed by the Israelites to lie engulfed. The suggestion of Renan to read Shêdim (“demons”), a word occurring in Deuteronomy 32:17, Psalm 106:37, is ingenious, but lacks support from any other passage mentioning the Dead Sea. LXX τὴν φάραγγα τὴν ἁλυκήν = “the salt valley,” Lat. vallem silvestrem.

the Salt Sea] An explanatory note, like the reference to Zoar, in the previous verse. “The Salt Sea” is the commonest name in the O.T. for “the Dead Sea”: e.g. Numbers 34:3; Numbers 34:12; Joshua 15:2; Joshua 15:5. Another name by which it is called is “the sea of the Arabah,” Deuteronomy 3:17, Joshua 3:16; Joshua 12:3, where “the Salt Sea” is added as an explanation. In Ezekiel 47:18, Joel 2:20, it is called “the eastern sea.” Josephus calls it “the sea of Asphalt”; and in the Jewish Talmud it appears as “the sea of Sodom,” or “the salt sea.” The intense saltness of its waters and its deposits of salt have given rise to its name. Nothing lives in its waters. The name “Dead Sea” goes back to the time of Jerome, 6th cent. a.d.

Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled.
4. they served] The five kings “served,” i.e. were vassals, and paid tribute to, the king of Elam who was their over-lord.

rebelled] Probably by omitting to pay tribute or to send gifts, as they had done for 12 years. The distance from southern Palestine to Elam was great. The five kings were doubtless petty princes, who took part in a wide-spread rebellion. Perhaps they took advantage of the decline of the power of Elam, and of the growth of the power of Babylonia. This is a justifiable conjecture if “Amraphel” be the same as Hammurabi. For Hammurabi threw off the yoke of Elam, united Babylonia, and founded the Dynasty of Babylon.

Compare the description in 2 Kings 24:1, “Jehoiakim became his [Nebuchadnezzar’s] servant three years; then he turned, and rebelled against him.”

And in the fourteenth year came Chedorlaomer, and the kings that were with him, and smote the Rephaims in Ashteroth Karnaim, and the Zuzims in Ham, and the Emims in Shaveh Kiriathaim,
5. came Chedorlaomer] The king of Elam was strong enough to deal vigorously with the rebellion in his western dependencies. This and the two following verses describe the punitive expedition, with which Chedorlaomer and his vassal kings crushed the rebellion. Whether the kings led their forces in person, we are not able to say for certain. The description leaves it to be inferred. The Oriental style of chronicle identified successful generals with the name of the king who sent them on their campaign.

The march of the punitive expedition must have been across the Euphrates at Carchemish, and then southward past Damascus. It overthrew the Rephaim, Zuzim, Emim, and Horites who, apparently, were peoples on the east side of Jordan, involved in the rebellion. The southernmost point of the march was reached at the head of the Gulf of Akabah. As it commanded an important trade route, it may have formed the chief objective of the march. Returning from that point, the expedition struck at the Amalekites in the wilderness to the south of Palestine, and then attacked the joint forces of the five cities of the Plain and overthrew them in the valley of Siddim.

the Rephaim] or “sons of the Rapha.” The name given to the aborigines of Canaan, giant survivors of whom are mentioned in 2 Samuel 21:16-22. The name is specially applied, in Deuteronomy 3:11, to Og, the king of Bashan, whose territory corresponded with the country spoken of in this verse.

Ashteroth-karnaim] Generally identified with Tell-‘Ashtara, in the plateau of Bashan, about 20 miles east of the sea of Galilee. Karnaim means “the two horns”; and the full name will therefore probably mean “the two-horned Astarte,” who, as the Goddess of the Moon, was represented with two horns. “Astarte of horns was that immemorial fortress and sanctuary which lay out upon the great plateau of Bashan towards Damascus; so obvious and cardinal a site that it appears in the sacred history both in the earliest recorded campaign in Abraham’s time and in one of the latest under the Maccabees. Genesis 14:5; 1Ma 5:26; 1Ma 5:43” (G. Adam Smith, The Twelve Prophets, vol. i. p. 176.)

the Zuzim] Possibly the same as “the Zamzummim,” mentioned in Deuteronomy 2:20 as the aborigines who were dispossessed by the Ammonites.

in Ham] Ham has been conjecturally identified with the old name of the Ammonite capital, mentioned in 2 Samuel 12:26, Rabbath Ammon.

the Emim] Mentioned in Deuteronomy 2:10 as the name of the aborigines, “a people great and many and tall, as the Anakim,” dispossessed by the Moabites. The name means probably “the terrible ones.”

in Shaveh-kiriathaim] or the plain of Kiriathaim. In Numbers 32:37 and Joshua 13:19 Kiriathaim is a town in Reuben: in Jeremiah 48:23 in Moab. It is generally identified with Kureyat, about 10 miles east of the Dead Sea and north of the river Arnon.

And the Horites in their mount Seir, unto Elparan, which is by the wilderness.
6. the Horites] Mentioned also in Genesis 36:20-21; Genesis 36:30, and in Deuteronomy 2:12; Deuteronomy 2:22, where they are described as having been dispossessed of the country of Seir, the hill country between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Elath, by the Edomites. They have been thought to represent primitive “cave-dwellers,” of whom traces have been discovered by Macalister at Gezer.

unto El-paran] Generally identified with the town of Elath, the well-known port at the head of the Gulf of Akabah; which is sometimes called the “Aelanitic Gulf” from the name Ailana given to Elath in classical writings. The town may have derived its name from great palm trees in the neighbourhood (El = “a great tree”).

the wilderness] The Wilderness of Paran (cf. Genesis 21:21) between the Gulf of Akabah and the borders of Egypt.

And they returned, and came to Enmishpat, which is Kadesh, and smote all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites, that dwelt in Hazezontamar.
7. En-mishpat] i.e. “the Spring of Judgement.” A spring of water at which there would be a sanctuary, whose priest gave oracles and decided disputes; known in the Israelite history as “Kadesh-barnea,” or, as here, “Kadesh.” It has been identified in" modern times with a spring and oasis, called Ain-Kadish, in the desert to the south of Beer-sheba. This was the spot at which the Israelite tribes concentrated after quitting the neighbourhood of Sinai: cf. Numbers 21:16; Deuteronomy 1:46.

the country] Heb. field; LXX and Syr. “princes of” (reading sârê for s’dêh).

the Amalekites] The nomad peoples of the desert who opposed the Israelite march (Exodus 17); and were overthrown by Saul (1 Samuel 15) in the wilderness south of Canaan.

the Amorites, that dwelt in Hazazon-tamar] The Canaanite people dwelling at Engedi (see 2 Chronicles 20:2) among the rocks on the west shore of the Dead Sea. It has also been conjecturally identified with the Tamar of Ezekiel 47:19; Ezekiel 48:28, a town on the S.W. of the Dead Sea. The name Hazazon-tamar has been explained to mean “the cutting of palms.” The name has been thought to be preserved in the Wady Hasasa, not far from Ain-gidi.

And there went out the king of Sodom, and the king of Gomorrah, and the king of Admah, and the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (the same is Zoar;) and they joined battle with them in the vale of Siddim;
With Chedorlaomer the king of Elam, and with Tidal king of nations, and Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar; four kings with five.
9. four kings against the five] After Genesis 14:8 we should expect the “five kings against the four.” Notice the impressive repetition of the names of the kings, and the variation in the order of the names or the eastern kings, Chedorlaomer coming first, as the over-lord against whom the rebellion had been made.

The description of the battle itself has most unfortunately not been preserved.

And the vale of Siddim was full of slimepits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and fell there; and they that remained fled to the mountain.
10. full of slime pits] i.e. bitumen pits. Bitumen, or asphalt, is found in the neighbourhood of the Dead Sea. Josephus speaks of the bitumen floating upon the surface of its waters. Here we are to suppose that the bitumen came out of large holes or pits in the earth, into which the confederates fell in their flight.

“Full of slime pits.” The Hebrew idiom gives be’erôth be’erôth ḥêmar, “pits, pits of bitumen” = “all bitumen pits.” Cf. 2 Kings 3:16, “trenches, trenches” = “nothing but trenches.”

The narrative is so fragmentary, or condensed, that only the rout is recorded.

they fell] Referring to the fugitive troops generally. The king of Sodom appears again in Genesis 14:17. It is implied that those who fell into the pits were lost.

to the mountain] i.e. to the mountains of Moab, the chain of hills on the east side of the Dead Sea.

And they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their victuals, and went their way.
11. they took] The subject is abruptly transferred to the victorious army. The account of the fall of the towns is omitted.

Sodom and Gomorrah] Mentioned perhaps as the chief towns; the three others are passed over in silence. The victorious troops did not wait; but after inflicting punishment hurried off, like a predatory horde, with their booty.

And they took Lot, Abram's brother's son, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.
12. Lot, Abram’s brother’s son] Notice this minute description of Lot and the mention of his residence in Sodom, as if chap. 13 had not immediately preceded. In Genesis 14:14; Genesis 14:16, Lot is spoken of as Abram’s brother.

And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew; for he dwelt in the plain of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner: and these were confederate with Abram.
13–16. Abram’s Victory

13. Abram the Hebrew] Abram is described, as Lot in the previous verse, as if mentioned for the first time: an indication of the independent origin of the narrative.

The name “Hebrew” here occurs for the first time in Scripture. It is a title used of Israelites, either by foreigners, or in speaking of them to foreigners, or in contrast with foreigners. The word was popularly explained as a patronymic meaning “descendant of Eber,” see notes on Genesis 10:24, Genesis 11:14. Its formation, from the root ‘br, suggests that it means “one who has come from the other side,” probably, of the river Euphrates, cf. Joshua 24:2. The LXX renders here ὁ περάτης, Lat. transeuphratensis.

It is sometimes claimed that the name is identical with that of the Ḥabiri, a nomad, restless people, mentioned in the Tel-el-Amarna tablets as making war upon the Canaanite towns and communities (circ. 1400). The name Ḥabiri is akin to Hebron, and may denote “the confederates.” The identification of ‘Ibri = “Hebrew” with Ḥabiri would require a change of the first consonant, and an alteration of root meaning1[16].

[16] See Appendix D.

the oaks of Mamre] Better, terebinths. See note on Genesis 13:18. Mamre, though probably the name of a place, is here personified in its occupant. But there is no indication in Genesis 13:18 that “the oaks of Mamre” were called by the name of a local chieftain.

Eshcol] The well-known name, meaning “a bunch of grapes,” given to a valley near Hebron (cf. Numbers 13:23), is here transferred to a person.

Aner] has not been identified as a place near Hebron, but appears as the name of a town in 1 Chronicles 6:70.

confederate with Abram] Lit. “lords of the covenant of Abram,” i.e. allies with him by mutual compact, like Abimelech the Philistine, Genesis 21:22-23; Genesis 21:32, Genesis 26:28-31.

And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan.
14. And when Abram heard] It is implied that, if Lot had not been taken prisoner, Abram would not have stirred either to attack the invader or to assist the native kings. But, as a dweller at Hebron, he was within sight of “the land of the Plain,” cf. Genesis 19:28; and must have been well aware of Chedorlaomer’s punitive expedition against the kings of the Plain.

his brother] i.e. kinsman: see note on Genesis 13:8.

led forth] Lit. “emptied out,” or “unsheathed,” used of arrows from a quiver, or of a sword from a sheath. Driver gives the meaning “drew out rapidly and in full numbers.” The LXX ἠρίθμησεν, “counted” or “mustered,” Lat. numeravit, following probably a reading which is also found in the Samaritan version.

his trained men, born in his house] i.e. his most faithful retainers, the slaves (a) born in his household, as distinguished from those obtained by purchase; (b) specially exercised in the use of arms.

three hundred and eighteen] This exact figure seems strange. The old Jewish commentators explained it by pointing out that the numerical value of the Heb. letters of the name “Eliezer,” Abram’s steward (Genesis 15:2), was 318. In modern times Winckler has found some supporters for the astronomical explanation, that the moon is visible for 318 days in the year; and that the number of Abram’s retainers must, therefore, indicate that the story of Abram is blended with a lunar myth. The two explanations possess a certain kind of resemblance in their ingenuity and their improbability.

Dan] The pursuit of Abram enabled him to overtake the booty-laden army at Laish (Joshua 19:47), on the north frontier of Canaan. Laish received the name of Dan after its conquest by a band of Danites, as recorded in Jdg 1:18. The mention of Dan, therefore, is, strictly speaking, an anachronism, though quite intelligible. That Abram should overtake and smite his enemy at the furthest northern limit of the future Israelite country, is a feature in the story not without symbolical significance.

But, if Abram with a small force had to pursue the enemy the whole length of Palestine, the retiring army, though burdened with spoil, must have marched at a high rate of speed. Again, Dan would not be on the high road to Damascus; it lay too far to the left.

And he divided himself against them, he and his servants, by night, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus.
15. divided himself against them by night] Abram divides his forces into three bands, and from three different quarters delivers a simultaneous night attack. The same manoeuvre was adopted by Gideon (Jdg 7:20-22), when a small force similarly routed a large army. Cf. 1 Samuel 11:11. The surprise was complete. Chedorlaomer’s panic-stricken troops are chased for over 100 miles, and all the prisoners and booty recovered.

There is no mention of Abram’s confederates (see Genesis 14:13; Genesis 14:24). The credit of the victories lies with Abram and his household force.

unto Hobah] Probably a place about 50 miles north of Damascus. Skinner rightly points out that “it is idle to pretend that Abram’s victory was merely a surprise attack on the rearguard, and the recovery of part of the booty. A pursuit carried so far implies the rout of the main body of the enemy” (p. 267).

which is on the left hand of Damascus] For “left hand,” R.V. marg. has north. An Israelite always spoke as if he were facing eastward; and the north is, therefore, on his left hand; cf. Genesis 2:24.

Damascus, the capital of Syria (Heb. Damméseḳ = Assyr. Dimashḳi, = Dimashk esh-Shâm, i.e. “Damascus of Syria”), a famous city, mentioned in Egyptian inscriptions as early as the 16th century. On the fable of Abram’s capture of it, see note on Genesis 12:5.

And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people.
And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king's dale.
17. the king of Sodom] See note on Genesis 14:10. The writer evidently assumes that this is the same king who had fallen in “the slime pits”; for only the king who had lost property and wealth, but saved his life, could suggest to Abram that the latter should keep the booty.

from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer] Lit. “from the smiting of.” We need not suppose that Chedorlaomer and his vassal kings were personally involved in the overthrow.

the vale of Shaveh (the same is the King’s Vale)] “The King’s Vale” is mentioned in 2 Samuel 18:18 as the site of the monument raised by Absalom, and was supposed in the days of Josephus to be two “stadia” from Jerusalem (Ant. vii. 10, 3). The word Shaveh means “a plain,” cf. Genesis 14:5.

The meeting of the king of Sodom with Abram is here strangely interrupted by the story of the appearance of Melchizedek, and is resumed at Genesis 14:21.

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.
18. Melchizedek king of Salem] The name Melchizedek was considered by the Jews to mean “the king of righteousness” (Hebrews 7:2), or “my king” (malchi) “is righteousness” (zedek). The name should be compared with that of Adoni-zedek (Joshua 10:1). It appears most probable that Zedek was the name of a Canaanite deity, and that the names Adoni-zedek, Melchizedek, meant “my Lord is Zedek,” “my king is Zedek,” just as Adonijah, Malchijah, meant “my Lord is Jah” and “my king is Jah.”

Salem] In all probability to be identified with Jerusalem, as evidently by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 7:1-2). The objection, that Jerusalem was too far south for the present incident, is of no value. The objection that in Jdg 19:10 the ancient name of Jerusalem was “Jebus” is not conclusive. “Jebus,” as a name, seems only to have been inferred from the Jebusites. See Driver, H.D.B., s.v. “Jebus”; G. A. Smith, Jerusalem, i. 266. The following points deserve consideration: (a) In the Tel-el-Amarna tablets Jerusalem appears with the name Uru-salim. (b) Salem is the poetical, or archaic, name for Jerusalem, in Psalm 76:2. (c) Melchizedek is compared to the king of Zion in Psalm 110:4. (d) Abram’s paying of tithe to Melchizedek gains greatly in symbolical significance, if Salem is the same as Jerusalem. (e) The tradition of this identification is favoured by Josephus (Ant. i. 10, 1) and the Targums.

The alternative suggestion, made by Jerome, that Salem is the place mentioned in John 3:23, in the Jordan Valley, seems very improbable. On the other hand, if Salem be Jerusalem, it is the only mention of Jerusalem in the Pentateuch.

brought forth bread and wine] As a friendly king, Melchizedek provides food and drink for the returning victor, and, as a priest, gives to him his blessing. In the mention of bread and wine there is no idea of religious offerings. It is the gift of food to weary and famished soldiers. Jewish commentators have regarded these gifts as symbolizing the shew-bread and the drink-offering: Christian exegesis has often associated them with the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist. But the bread and wine are not offered to God; they are given to Abram as a token of good-will and as a means of refreshment. There is nothing sacrificial in the gift.

he was priest of God Most High] Melchizedek was not only king (melek) of Salem, but also a priest (ḳohen). The combination of the priestly with the kingly functions was common in the East; though amongst the Israelites it is not found until the Maccabean period.

This is the first mention of a priest in Holy Scripture. It is clearly intended that Melchizedek should impersonate pure Monotheism.

Melchizedek is a, not the priest of “God Most High” (Heb. El Elyon). Some have thought that El Elyon denotes here the name of an ancient Canaanite deity, and quote, in favour of this view, the statement of Philo of Byblus (Euseb. Prep. Ev. i. 10) that there was a Phoenician divinity Ἐλιοῦν καλούμενος Ὕψιστος = “Elyon called Most High.” But El in the O.T. is one of the most common names of God, especially frequent in poetical and archaic usage. It is often combined with some qualifying epithet denoting an attribute, e.g. Genesis 17:1, “God Almighty” = El Shaddai: Genesis 21:33, “the Everlasting God” = El ‘olâm: Exodus 20:5, “a jealous God” = El ḳanna. Again Elyon, “Most High,” is an epithet often applied to Jehovah, e.g. Numbers 24:16; and combined with El, Psalm 78:35. Melchizedek seems, therefore, to be regarded by the writer as a priest of God Almighty, the God of the Universe. The fuller knowledge of God as Jehovah, the God of Revelation, was the privilege of Abram and his descendants. The conception of Melchizedek as the representative of a primitive phase of Natural Religion, in the Canaan of 2000 b.c., idealizes his figure. Very probably, in the scene before us, his interposition will best be interpreted symbolically. Josephus (Ant. xv. 6, 2) mentions that the Maccabee princes assumed the title of High Priest “of God Most High.” Cf. Assumption of Moses, Genesis 6:1, “There shall be raised up unto them kings bearing rule, and they shall call themselves priests of the Most High God.”

18–20. Abram and Melchizedek


1. Its significance. The episode of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20) is one of the most interesting in the Book of Genesis. Its extreme brevity heightens the sense of mystery in which it is involved. It may be taken for granted that the incident is introduced on account of its profound religious significance. It describes the meeting between the Priest-King of “the Most High God” of the Human Race and the Father of the Chosen People, the Servant of Jehovah, the God of the new Revelation. The moment chosen for this meeting is instructive. Abram, the Hebrew stranger, is returning from victory over the foes of the land: Melchizedek, the Canaanite Priest-King, has had no part in the campaign. Abram represents the new spiritual force that has entered the world’s history: Melchizedek represents the ideal of the permanent communion of mankind with God. The new family and the new nation, through whom that communion is ultimately to be perfected, render their homage to the representative of the Universal and the Omnipotent.

To the Israelite reader Jerusalem was the centre of pure religion and spiritual aspirations. Abram, impersonating the people of which he was to be the founder, receives from Melchizedek, the Priest-King of Jerusalem (Salem), not riches, nor offers of reward and possessions, but firstly bread and wine, sustenance and refreshment, and secondly his blessing, in the name of the Most High God, upon the servant of Jehovah. Abram, in his turn, renders tithe to Melchizedek, typifying thereby the obligation of every true son of Abram to recognize the full claims of the spiritual life upon his loyal service.

II. Details for study. 1. The Name. Though originally the name may have meant “Zedek is king,” it suggested to Israelite readers or hearers “the king of righteousness,” cf. Hebrews 7:2, or “righteous king,” cf. Joseph. B. J. vi. 10, Μελχ. ὁ τῇ πατρίᾳ γλώσσῃ κληθεὶς βασιλεὺς δίκαιος. For the Messianic significance of which, cf. Psalm 45:4 ff.; Jeremiah 23:6; Jeremiah 33:15-16; Daniel 9:24; Malachi 4:2.

2. His Royal Office. He is King of Salem; and, while this title denoted to the Israelite the personal character of “a king of peace” (cf. Hebrews 7:2), it can scarcely be doubted that in the identification of Salem with Jerusalem (cf. Psalm 76:2; Joseph. Ant. i. 180) lies the peculiar typical significance of the event. The name of the city in the Tel-el-Amarna tablets (circ. 1400) is Urusalim: the king of Jerusalem in Joshua 10:1 is Adoni-zedek.

3. His Priestly Office. He is Priest as well as king. He is Priest of the Most High God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, who is identified, according to the text of Genesis 14:22, by Abram with Jehovah. There is no suggestion of anything evil, impure, or polluting, in the worship of which Melchizedek, a native Canaanite, is a priest. Abram treats him as the official representative of the true God. It was not until the age of the Maccabees that the High Priest was also king.

4. His Blessing. As the representative of the true God, Melchizedek invokes upon Abram a message of Divine blessing. He blesses God; the victory of Abram over his foes is a ground for grateful praise. He presents the patriarch with bread and wine as the pledge of good-will and as an expression of honour and gratitude.

5. He receives tithe from Abram, cf. Hebrews 7:7-10. The receiver is greater than the giver of tithe. The impersonator of the ideal worship at Jerusalem receives tithe from the father and founder of the Israelite people.

6. Melchizedek disappears from the page of history as suddenly as he appears. Nothing is recorded of his family or lineage, of his life or actions. He “stands unique and isolated both in his person and in his history … his life has no recorded beginning or close” (Westcott, Ep. Hebrews, p. 172). It is not the man Melchizedek, but the Scripture portrait of Melchizedek in Genesis 14, which causes the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews to designate him as “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life.”

7. The Messianic passage in Psalm 110:4 (quoted in Hebrews 5:6; Hebrews 7:17; Hebrews 7:21), “Thou art a priest after the order (or, manner) of Melchizedek,” seems to mean that the Messiah is not a priest of the tribe of Levi, or of the family of Aaron, but, like the Priest-King of Jerusalem in the story of Abram, is, according to a more primitive conception of priesthood, the king of a kingdom of priests (cf. Exodus 19:6).

8. Melchizedek is not mentioned in the Apocryphal Books. There is a lacuna in the Book of Jubilees at this passage (13:25). Abram has evidently made his offering of tithe; and the next words are “… for Abram, and for his seed, a tenth of the first-fruits to the Lord, and the Lord ordained it as an ordinance for ever that they should give it to the priests who served before Him, that they should possess it for ever. And to this law there is no limit of days; for He hath ordained it for the generations for ever that they should give to the Lord the tenth of everything, of the seed and of the wine and of the oil and of the cattle and of the sheep. And He gave it unto His priests to eat and to drink with joy before Him” (Charles’ Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, vol. ii. p. 33).

9. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews regards Melchizedek as the type of Christ; as (a) King of Righteousness; (b) King of Peace; (c) Priest, not of the line of Levi or Aaron; (d) greater than Abraham, receiving tithes from him; (e) eternal. See chap. 7 with Westcott’s notes.

10. Philo allegorizes the person of Melchizedek, who, he considers, represents the priesthood of “right reason,” offering to the soul the sustenance of gladness and joy in the thoughts of absolute truth (Leg. Allegor. iii. § 25).

11. Clement of Alexandria (Strom. iv. 25) regards the offerings of bread and wine as typical of the Eucharist, adding, “And Melchizedek is interpreted ‘righteous King’; and the name is a synonym for righteousness and peace”: cf. Strom. ii. 5, “He (the Saviour) is Melchizedek, ‘the king of peace,’ the most fit of all to head the race of men.”;

12. Jerome (Ep. lxxiii. ad Evangelum), summarizing opinions about Melchizedek, mentions that Origen and Didymus held him to have been an Angel; many others thought he was a Canaanite prince, exercising priestly offices, like “Abel, Enoch, Noah, Job”; the Jews very commonly identified him with Shem. Again, it appears to have been held by some writers, that Melchizedek was a manifestation of the Son; by others, that he was an appearance of the Holy Spirit (cf. Quaest. ex V. et N. Test. Augustini Opera, tom. iii. App. § cix.: ed. Migne, P. L. 35, p. 2329).

13. Westcott (Ep. to the Hebrews, p. 203) gives an account of the interesting legend respecting Melchizedek preserved in “the Book of Adam.” “To him (Melchizedek) and Shem … the charge was given to bear the body of Adam to Calvary, and to place it there where in after time the Incarnate Word should suffer, so that the blood of the Saviour might fall on the skull of the Protoplast. In the fulfilment of this mission Melchizedek built an altar of twelve stones, typical of the twelve apostles, by the spot where Adam was laid, and offered upon it, by the direction of an angel, bread and wine ‘as a symbol of the sacrifice which Christ should make’ in due time. When the mission was accomplished, Shem returned to his old home, but Melchizedek, divinely appointed to this priesthood, continued to serve God with prayer and fasting at the holy place, arrayed in a robe of fire. So afterwards when Abraham came to the neighbourhood he communicated to him also ‘the holy Mysteries,’ the symbolical Eucharist.”

14. That the episode of Melchizedek has been introduced from a distinct source of tradition is very probable. (a) It interrupts the narrative in Genesis 14:17, which is continued in Genesis 14:21. (b) Its contents are not in harmony with the context. In Genesis 14:22, Abram refuses to take anything from the spoil: in Genesis 14:20, Abram is said to give Melchizedek “a tenth of all.” If “a tenth of all” refers to the spoil, it contradicts Genesis 14:22 : if it refers to “all” his own property, then it assumes for Abram quite different surroundings from those of the story in chap. 14.

No late tradition of Abram is likely to have represented him as offering a tithe “of all” to a Canaanite king. But the short passage may illustrate a large class of traditions, religious and symbolical in character, which in early days had collected round the name of the patriarch. Psalm 110:4 is evidently based upon the present passage.

And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth:
19. he blessed him] Melchizedek, as a priest, blessed Abram for his courageous and chivalrous action. A stranger in the land, he had come to the rescue of its people.

of God Most High] i.e. by God Most High. The blessing of El Elyon is invoked by Melchizedek upon Abram, the servant of Jehovah.

possessor of heaven and earth] R.V. marg. maker. The word is poetical. It expresses the ideas of making, producing, creating, as in Deuteronomy 32:6, Psalm 139:13, Proverbs 8:22. It is more often used for “acquiring” (cf. Genesis 4:1), a sense which would not here be applicable. In Isaiah 1:3, it is found, as here, with the meaning of “owner.”

And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.
20. blessed be God Most High]—“praised be El Elyon.” The verb has a different sense when applied to the Deity from what it has when applied to man. To “bless God” means devoutly to acknowledge, that He has been the source of goodness which demands man’s thankfulness and praise. Melchizedek blesses the God, whose priest he is, for the great victory which his God has granted Abram.

And he gave him a tenth of all] Note once more a change of subject. It is Abram who gives Melchizedek a tenth part “of all,” i.e. the spoil; not of his own property, as he was at a distance from home, and was only in light marching order. The custom of paying a tithe, or tenth part, to the priesthood, or to the sanctuary, was very general in ancient times. Traces of it are found in Assyria and Babylonia. It prevailed among the Greeks. For the custom in Israel, see note on Genesis 28:22. Abram, the father of the Israelite people, performs symbolically an action which recognizes for future time their obligation to the sanctuary of Jerusalem.

The two statements that Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High, (1) blessed Abram, (2) received tithes from Abram, led to the figurative employment of Melchizedek in Psalm 110:4 as the ideal of a priest-king appointed by God to rule over the kingdom of Judah; and in Hebrews 5:9; Hebrews 7:4, as the type of the great kingly High Priest, raised above the Aaronic priesthood, at once king and priest receiving tithe from Abram, who impersonated the people and religion of Israel. See Special Note in the chapter comments for Genesis 14

And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself.
21. the king of Sodom] This verse resumes the narrative of Genesis 14:17. The incident of Melchizedek is parenthetical.

And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth,
22. I have lift up mine hand] i.e. I have sworn, taken an oath with a gesture, symbolizing the appeal to God. Cf. Deuteronomy 32:40; Daniel 12:7.

the Lord, God Most High] i.e. Jehovah El Elyon. The LXX and Syriac Peshitto omit “Jehovah.” The Sam. reads ha-Elohim for “Jehovah.” Abram takes his oath in the name of the God of Melchizedek whom a later scribe probably identified with Jehovah.

That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich:
23. a thread … a shoelatchet] Not the most trifling thing, not even, the lace for a sandal, will Abram take. The fact that Abram has already (Genesis 14:20) given to Melchizedek a tithe of all the spoil, strictly speaking, conflicts with his refusal, in this verse, to take any share of the spoil. Probably this discrepancy is an indication that the episode of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20) has been introduced from a distinct source of tradition.

lest thou shouldest say, &c.] Abram emphasizes the fact, (1) that he did not make war in order to make himself richer or stronger: (2) that he and his household are not going to be beholden to the king of Sodom and the people of the Plain. What he had done, was not for gain, but for the safety of his relative Lot. Contrast, however, Abraham’s acceptance of gifts, in Genesis 12:16, Genesis 20:14-16, under different cumstances.

Save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.
24. save only that] Better, as R.V. marg., “let there be nothing for me; only that, &c.” The expression here used occurs again in Genesis 41:16, It might be expressed in colloquial language: “nothing at all, please, so far as I am concerned.” Abram goes on to specify the two necessary exceptions, (1) a claim for the rations of his 318 followers: (2) a claim that an equitable share in the spoil should be assigned to his three confederates, mentioned in Genesis 14:13, who, we here learn for the first time, had joined in the dangers of the enterprise. According to the rights of war, all the booty belonged to Abram: and he magnanimously renounces his claim.

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