Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
EXCURSUS E: UPON ELAM AND THE CONQUESTS AND ROUTE OF CHEDORLAOMER (Genesis 14).
Of Elam we lately knew nothing more than that it was a country called after a son of Shem, and this narrative, containing an account of a conquest of Canaan by Elamites, was a puzzle to thoughtful Bible readers, and a mark for the derision of such critics as imagine that everything of which a clear explanation cannot be given must necessarily be unhistorical. Within the last few years our knowledge has so grown that the narrative fits exactly into its place, although neither the name of Chedorlaomer nor the history itself has been found in the cuneiform texts.
The country of Elam itself is a vast highland on the eastern side of the Tigris, with broad plains lying between mountains which sometimes attain an elevation of eight or ten thousand feet. It is easily defensible, rich, and well watered, and its inhabitants were dreaded neighbours of the Babylonians, upon whose fertile plains they constantly poured down in sudden inroads, and returned to their hills laden with booty. It was from Elam that the Accadians descended and conquered Babylonia, and we thus gather that its earlier inhabitants were Turanians, sprung from Japheth. The names of the towns in that part of the country of which Susa is the capital still bear witness to the supremacy there of this race, while the names of the rest of the Elamite towns are said by M. Oppert (Records of the Past, ix. 5) to be Semitic. Elamitic Semites appear also among the Assyrian sculptures, where “their keen and refined features are set off to great advantage by the blunt outline and thick protruding lips, which have been identified with the Kissians, or Cossaeans, of classic authors, the Kassi of the monuments, the sons of Cush of the Bible” (Rawlinson’s Anc. Mon., ii. 500). Thus in Elam, as on the Tigris and Euphrates, we find the families of the three sons of Noah distinct in lineament and language, but dwelling near one another, and coming in successive waves of population to struggle for the possession of the land.
The first great event recorded concerning Elam is found in the Annals of Assurbanipal, son of Esarhaddon, king of Assyria. He asserts that he conquered Elam, and took the city of Susa in B.C. 645, and that he then brought back an image of Nana which Kudur Nakhunté had carried away from Babylonia 1,635 years before; that is, in B.C. 2280. As Nana and Nakhunté seem to be names of the same goddess, while Kudur means “servant,” we thus find this Elamite king calling himself, perhaps from this exploit, “the servant of Nakhunté.” Lagomar, or Lagomar, is the name of another Elamite god, and thus Chedorlaomer means “servant of Lagomar.”
Nearer to the time of Abram we find an Elamite king named Kudur-Mabuk, who claims the title of adda Martu, that is, lord of Phœnicia, showing that he too, like Chedorlaomer, had conquered Syria. His son was named Eriaku, and being associated with his father in the government, received Larsa as his capital. The names Eriaku and Larsa are the same as those of Arioch and of Ellasar, and this further suggests the idea that Kudur-lagomar and Kudur-Mabuk may have been the same person. Canon Rawlinson gives the probable date of Kudur-Mabuk’s reign as about B.C. 2100, Mr. Sayce about a century later, and M. Lenormant somewhere about the epoch of Abraham (Tomkins’s Studies, p. 180).
Now the Elamite king, fourteen years before, had subdued the Jordan valley (Genesis 14:5), and as this second expedition was prior to Abram’s taking Hagar to wife, which happened in the tenth year after his migration to Palestine (see Genesis 16:3), it follows that Abram and Terah were still at Kharran when Chedorlaomer passed through it, as he must have done, on his march. Himself a Turanian, he would look with ill-will on powerful Semitic chiefs such as were Abraham and Lot, and his visit may have had something to do in urging them on their further route as soon as Terah’s death set them free. We see also that, besides the caravan road, there was a war track to Canaan, and thus, with troubles from Elamite invasions at home to urge him on, Abram was but following the great current of population in going to Palestine first, and thence onward to Egypt. So many took this route and remained in Egypt that, under the name of the Hyksos, they took possession, first of the Delta, and then of Egypt generally. And in this stream of human migration there was one whose going and purpose was Divine.
For twelve years Chedorlaomer’s tribute was regularly paid, but in the thirteenth year the five kings who possessed the wealthiest portion of the Jordan valley rebelled. A twelvemonth is spent in gathering Elam’s forces; but in the next spring, attended by three subject monarchs, the king starts on his march to punish the revolters. On his arrival at Damascus, probably by the same route which Abram had followed, we find him taking a wide circuit, so as to sweep the whole country and fall upon the rebels last, and from the side where they least expected an attack. For, moving southwards through Bashan, he smites the Rephaim and other tribes along the plateau on the east of Jordan, until he reaches the wild mountains inhabited by the cave-dwelling Horites, and which extend from the Dead Sea to the gulf of Akaba. The most southerly spot reached by him was El-Paran, the oak-forest of Paran, situated on the edge of the great desert of Et-Tih. Turning henco to the north and north-west, he smites on his way the Amalekites, whose wandering tribes occupied this vast desert, and thus reaches the Dead Sea, along the western shore of which he marches till he reaches Hazezon-Tamar, better known as En-gedi. This ravine is, as Dr. Tristram has shown, of the utmost strategical importance. For it is easy to march along the shore of the lake as far as this point, while inland the route lies across a rough and almost waterless wilderness. But north of Engedi the shoreline is impracticable even for footmen. We gather that the Amorites held the pass, but were not reinforced by their countrymen, and probably were surprised—for a handful of men could defend the zigzag path which mounts up the side of the precipice to a height of 1,800 feet. At the head of this ravine Chedorlaomer was less than twenty miles distant from Abram at Mamre, but with a difficult country between; and, moreover, his object was to smite and plunder the rich cities of the plain. As he had now traversed two-thirds of the length of the Dead Sea, it again becomes manifest that Sodom and the other cities were at its northern end. In the vale of Siddim the battle is fought, and the five kings, entangled among the bitumen pits, are defeated with so great slaughter that a remnant only escapes. Fleeing, not to the mountains of Moab, as commentators assume, but to those of Judea, they carry the news to Abram, telling him that, with other captives, Lot and his goods are carried away. He draws out at once 318 men, all trained to arms, and all born in his house, and therefore of sure fidelity, as those bought or lately acquired would not be, and, reinforced by bodies of Amorites under Mamre, Aner, and Eehcol, starts in rapid pursuit. Encumbered with goods and prisoners and cattle, Chedor-laomer marched but slowly, and when, after four or five days' pursuit, Abram overtook the Elamites, they would probably be as little prepared for an attack as the Amalekites whom David found, after they had sacked Ziklag, "spread abroad upon all the earth, eating and drinking and dancing” (1Samuel 30:16). Still they were numerous, and most of them veteran warriors, and so Abram waits till night, and then, dividing his little army into three divisions, he makes his attack, throws them into confusion, and pursuing them almost to the gates of Damascus, recovers all the persons and spoil which they had gathered in their long route downwards and upwards throughout the whole length of Palestine.
INVASION OF THE JORDAN VALLEY BY CHEDOR-LAOMER, KING OF ELAM.
INVASION OF THE JORDAN VALLEY BY CHEDOR-LAOMER, KING OF ELAM.
(1) It came to pass.—Connected with the settlement of Lot in the Jordan valley is one of the most remarkable episodes in the whole of the Bible, derived either from Canaanite records, or, as Mr. Sayce thinks (Chald. Genesis, p. 72), from those of Babylon. The latter view is made the more probable by the fact that Amraphel, though but a subject king, is placed first; and the way in which the patriarch is described in it, as “Abram the Hebrew,” seems certainly to suggest that we have to do here with a narrative of foreign origin.
Its incorporation with the history admirably sets forth the consequences of Lot’s choice in the troubles, and even ruin, which overtook him, the bravery and power of Abram, and his generosity to the rescued kings. It is also most interesting, as showing Abram’s relation to the Amorites, among whom he lived, and the existence in Palestine of a Semitic population, who still worshipped “the most high God,” and over whom one of the noblest figures in the Old Testament was king. The narrative is Jehovistic, for Abram calls God Jehovah El Elton, but is, nevertheless, of such ancient date as to forbid the acceptance of the theory which regards the occurrence of the name Jehovah as a proof of later authorship. Upon Elam and the conquests and route of Chedorlaomer, see Excursus at end of this book.
Amraphel.—An Accadian name, which Lenormant has found on Babylonian cylinders, and which he explains as meaning “the circle of the year.”
Shinar.—See on Genesis 10:10.
Arioch.—i.e., Eriaku, which in Accadian means “servant of the moon-god.” He was king of Ellasar, i.e., Al-Larsa, the city of Larsa, now called Senkereh. It is situated on the left bank of the Euphrates, in Lower Babylonia, and has contributed some very ancient tablets to the collection in the British Museum. The name occurs again in Daniel 2:14.
Tidal.—More correctly in the LXX., Thargal, that is, Tur-gal. the great son (Sayce). In the Syriac he is called “Thargil, king of the Gelae,” the latter being a mistake, through reading Gelim for Goim. This word does not mean “nations,” but is a proper name, spelt Gutium in the inscriptions, “by which the Accadians designated the whole tract of country which extended from the Tigris to the eastern borders of Media, including the district afterwards known as Assyria” (Chald. Gen., p. 197).
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) Bera king of Sodom.—The failure of the attempt to explain the names of these five kings, and of the cities over which they ruled (with one or two exceptions), by the help of the Hebrew language makes it probable that the inhabitants of the Ciccar were either Canaanites who had come from the sea-coast, or men of some Hamite stock who had colonised this region from the east. The latter is the more probable view, as they do not seem to have had much affinity either with the Amorites or with the Jebusites, their neighbours.
All these were joined together in the vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea.(3) All these were joined together.—Were united in a confederacy, and so formed a pentapolis, or group of five allied towns, like the Philistine league with its five lords (1Samuel 6:16-18).
The vale of Siddim.—Mr. Conder (Tent-work, ii. 16) says that the name Sidd is still given by the Arabs to the cliffs or banks of marl which run along the southern edge of the plain of Jericho; and with this agrees Aben-Ezra’s explanation, who derives the word from the Hebrew sid, chalk. Mr. Conder searched throughout the Ciccar for traces of the ruined cities, but in vain; and “the gradual rise of the level of the plain, caused by the constant washing down of the soft marl from the western hills, would effectually,” he thinks, “cover over any such ruins.” He found, however, copious springs of water upon the north-western side of the lake, and considers that the five cities were in their neighbourhood.
Which is the salt sea.—From these words commentators have rashly concluded that the vale of Sodom was swallowed up by the Dead Sea; but not only is no such convulsion of nature mentioned in Genesis 19, but Abram is described as seeing the Ciccar-land not submerged, but smoking like a furnace (Genesis 19:28). Probably “the vale of Siddim” was the name of the whole district in which these sidds, or bluffs, are situated, and which extend round all the northern shores of the lake. Mr. Conder, after tracing the lines of former beaches, which show that the Dead Sea has long been shrinking in extent, tells us (Tent-work, ii. 43) that geologists hold that it had reached its present condition long before the days of Abram. It still, indeed, covered a much larger space, for the rains at that time were far more copious in Palestine than at present; but it no longer extended over the whole Arabah, as, by the evidence of these beaches, was once the case.
(3) The Horites.—Cave-men, the aboriginal inhabitants of Mount Seir, subsequently conquered by the Edomites (Deuteronomy 2:12; Deuteronomy 2:22). The miserable condition of these earth-men is described in Job 30:3-8.
Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled.(4) They served.—That is, paid a yearly tribute, that they might be exempt from Chedorlaomer’s marauding expeditions (see 2Kings 18:7). There must, therefore, have been envoys going from time to time to and from the Jordan valley to Shinar.
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) The Rephaims.—Described as an Amorite tribe (Amos 2:9) of great stature, settled in Bashan, where Moses conquered them (Joshua 13:12). We find them also on the other side of Jordan, in Mount Ephraim ( Joshua 17:15), on the western side of Jerusalem (Joshua 15:8; Joshua 18:16; 2Samuel 5:18; 2Samuel 5:22), and even among the Philistines (2Samuel 21:16; 2Samuel 21:18). In many of these places the word is wrongly translated giants. From this wide dispersion of them we may safely conclude that they belonged to the earlier settlers in the land and that only their rulers, like Og (Joshua 9:10), were Amorites.
Ashteroth Karnaim.—The two-horned Astarte, the Phœnician Venus, identified by the Rephaim with the moon. Her worship had, no doubt, been introduced by the Amorites. This city was the capital of Og (Deuteronomy 1:4), and is called Be-Eshtera, “the house of Astarte,” in Joshua 21:27. Its remains have been found at Tell-Ashtereh, in the Hauran, about two leagues from the ancient Edrei.
The Zuzim.—Called in Deuteronomy 2:20 Zamzummim, where they are identified with the Rephaim, of which stock they were an inferior branch. Their capital, Ham, has been identified with Hameitât, about six miles to the east of the lower part of the Dead Sea (Tristram, Land of Moab, p. 117).
The Emims.—Of these also we read in Deuteronomy 2:10-11 : “The Emim . . . also were accounted Rephaim, as the Anakim.”
In Shaveh Kiriathaim.—More probably, in the plain of Kiriathaim. This city, given to the tribe of Reuben (Numbers 32:37), was, upon the decay of the Israelites upon the east of Jordan, re-occupied by the Moabites (Jeremiah 48:1), who had taken it from the Emim.
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) They returned.—More correctly, they turned, as they did not go back by the same route, but wheeled towards the north-west.
Enmishpat.—The fountain of justice, because at this spring the ancient inhabitants of the country used to meet to settle their disputes. It was also called Kadesh, probably the ’Ain Qadis described by Professor Palmer. It was a great stronghold, and both a sanctuary and a seat of government. It has been visited lately by Mr. Trumbull, for whose account see Palestine Exploration Fund, Quarterly Statement, July, 1881, pp. 208-212.
The Amalekites.—Saul had to pursue these wandering hordes into the recesses of Paran (1Samuel 15:7), but they were evidently now in possession of the Negeb of Judea.
Hazezon – tamar, the felling of the palm, is certainly the same as Engedi (2Chronicles 20:2). For descriptions of this wonderful spot, so dear to Solomon (Song of Solomon 1:14), see Conder, Tent-work, ii. 135; Tristram, Land of Israel, 281; and for its strategical importance, Tristram, Land of Moab, 25.
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;(8) They joined battle with them.—Heb., they set themselves in array against them. As the five kings left their cities to do battle with the invaders “in the vale of Siddim,” it is plain, as was said in Genesis 14:3, that the vale embraces a far wider extent of country than merely the site of the five cities.
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) The vale of Siddim was full of slimepits.—That is, of holes whence bitumen had been excavated. Layers of this natural asphalte, well known both to the Greeks and Romans as pia Judaica, Judean pitch, still exist on the western side of the Dead Sea; and the places whence it had been dug out, and which are often very deep, formed dangerous impediments in the way of the defeated side.
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) One that had escaped.—Heb., the escaped; not any one in particular, but the fugitives generally. As Sodom lay at the north-western end of the Dead Sea, the region where Abram was dwelling would be their natural place of refuge.
Abram the Hebrew.—That is, the immigrant (from beyond the Euphrates), but also his patronymic from Eber, who in like manner had crossed the Tigris. It was, no doubt, the usual title of Abram among the Canaanites, and has been preserved from the original document, whence also probably was taken the exact description of Lot in Genesis 14:12.
The plain of Mamre . . . these were confederate with Abram.—Heb., the oak of Mamre (see Genesis 13:18), and lords, or owners of a covenant. Abram had not occupied Mamre without the consent of the dominant Amorites, and probably there was also a league for mutual defence between him and them.
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) Abram . . . armed . . . —Heb., led forth, or literally, let them loose, let them pour forth, the verb indicating both their number and also their haste. The word for trained comes from the same root as the name Enoch, for which see note on Genesis 4:17. As Abram’s cattle would often be exposed to danger from the Amalekites, who throughout the Biblical history appear as a race of inveterate plunderers, there is no reason to doubt that these men were trained and practised in the use of weapons. This large number of servants born in his house, and of an age capable of undergoing the fatigues of a rapid pursuit, added to the older men left to defend and take care of the cattle, proves that Abram was the chieftain of a powerful tribe.
Dan.—There is a city of this name in Gilead, mentioned in Deuteronomy 34:1, but this is probably the better known town at the source of the Jordan, also called Laish (Judges 18:29). For having swept the hill country on his march southwards, Chedorlaomer would now plunder the rich vale of the Jordan as his final exploit. Dan is about 140 miles from Hebron, where Abram began his march.
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) Hobah . . . on the left hand of Damascus.—That is, to the north, as the Hebrews looked eastward in defining the quarters of the heaven. The victory had thus been followed up with great energy, the pursuit having lasted, according to Josephus, the whole of the next day and night after that on which the attack was made. At Hobah the mountains cease, and the great plain of Damascus begins, and further pursuit was therefore useless.
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 slaughter.—Heb., the smiting, that is, the defeat of Chedorlaomer.
The valley of Shaven.—That is, the valley of the plain (see on Genesis 14:5). It was the place where Absalom erected his pillar (2Samuel 18:18), and lay on the northern side of Jerusalem, probably where the Kedron valley widens out. Its other name, “the king’s dale,” may have been given it from this meeting of the kings of Salem and Sodom with the victorious Abram; but Onkelos, with far greater probability, considers that it was so called because upon this level ground the kings of Judah in subsequent times assembled and exercised their forces.
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.—There is a Salem near Scythopolis in the tribe of Ephraim, near to which John baptised (John 3:23, where it is called Salim), and Jerome mentions that some local ruins there were said to be the remains of Melchizedek’s palace. But such traditions are of little value, and we may eel certain that the place was really Jerusalem (Psalm 76:2); for it lay on Abram’s route homeward, and was within a reasonable distance of Sodom, which, as we have seen, lay in the Ciccar of Jericho, at the northern end of the Dead Sea. Salem is a common name for towns in Palestine (Conder, Tent-work, i. 91), and the village in Ephraim is too remote to have been the place of meeting.
In Melchizedek we have a type of Christ (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:6; Hebrews 5:10; Hebrews 7:1-21), and so venerable is his character and aspect that Jewish tradition identified him with the patriarch Shem, thus reconciling also to themselves his superiority over their forefather Abraham. But this idea is contradicted by Hebrews 7:3. He was more probably the king of some Semitic race who still occupied Salem, but from whom it was at a subsequent period wrested by the Jebusites, who called it Jebus, after the name of their ancestor (Judges 19:10-11). Up to David’s days it seems to have still had a titular king (2Samuel 24:23), and upon his conquest of it its old name reappears, but with a prefix, and henceforward it was known as Jeru-salem, that is (probably), the possession of Salem.
The typical value of Melehizedek’s priesthood lies not merely in his being “king of righteousness and king of peace,” but even more in his priesthood being universal, limited by no external ordinances, and attached to no particular race or people. Moreover, he is a king-priest (Psalms 110), and by taking precedence of Abram. and blessing him, and receiving of him tithes, he became the representative of a higher priesthood than any that could spring from Abram’s loins.
Bread and wine.—The representatives of food of all kinds, both liquid and solid. Though the primary object of this offering was the refreshing of the bodies of Abram’s men, and of the prisoners wearied with their long march to and fro, yet we cannot but recognise in it a foreshowing of the bestowal by Christ, the antitype, upon His Church of the spiritual food of His most blessed Body and Blood.
Priest of the most high God.—Heb., of El ‘elyon. The mention of the term priest (used here for the first time) shows that some sort of sacrificial worship existed at Salem. Sacrifice had, however, been practised before; for Abel had acted as a priest when offering his firstlings, and Abram at the various altars which he built. Apparently, however, Melchizedek had been set apart for the priesthood in some more definite way. El ‘elyon means “the supreme God,” and though the two words are so similar in English, they are altogether unlike in Hebrew. In Psalm 7:17 the epithet ‘elyon is applied to Jehovah. With that precision in the use of the names of Deity which we have so often noticed before, Melchizedek is described as a priest of El ‘elyon, the Supreme Ruler of the universe; but Abram swears by Jehovah El ‘elyon, thus claiming that Jehovah was that Supreme Deity whom Melchizedek served, though without the special knowledge of Him which the patriarch possessed.
And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth:(19) Possessor.—Literally, creator, or framer. It is a poetical word, as are also those for “delivered” and “enemies.” The form of the blessing, moreover, is poetical, as it is arranged in parallel clauses.
And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.(20) He gave him tithes.—Abram thus consecrated the war by a thank-offering to God, Who had given him the victory. But he also, by paying tithes, acknowledged the priesthood of Melchizedek, and that the God Whom he served was the true God. See Hebrews 7:4-11.
And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself.(21) Grive me the persons.—To this day it is the rule among the Arabs that, if a camp be plundered, anyone who recovers the booty gives up only the persons, and takes the rest for himself. But Abram, with noble generosity, will accept nothing. The “lifting up of the hand” to give solemnity to an oath is mentioned here for the first time.
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) The young men . . . the men which went with me.—The former are Abram’s 318 servants, and they are to take only their food. The latter are the Amorites, and they are to have their fair share of the spoil.
We must notice in Abram’s policy that, while Lot had joined himself to the Canaanites, he stood aloof, ready to help on fit occasion, but even so maintaining his independence, and refusing to draw the bonds of friendship close together. Such, too, was the true policy of the people sprung from him. Standing apart from all nations, they were to trust in Jehovah alone for the maintenance of their liberty and rights; and so long as they did thus act they found in Him peace and security.