James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
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;Genesis 14:1-15:21
THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT
THE CONFEDERATED KINGS (Genesis 14:1-12)
How does the Revised Version translate “nations” in Genesis 14:17 In what valley was the battle joined (Genesis 14:3)? How is that valley now identified? Against what six peoples did Chedorlaomer and his confederates campaign in the fourteenth year (Genesis 14:5-7)? You will find these peoples located on the east and south of the Dead Sea.
Who were victors in this case (Genesis 14:10)? How did they reward themselves (Genesis 14:11)? What gives us a special interest in this story (Genesis 14:12)? Objectors have denied the historicity of it, but the monuments of Assyria, Babylonia and Egypt, with their inscriptions and paintings, confirm it. The names of some of these kings are given, and it would appear that Chedorlaomer was the general name of a line of Elamite kings corresponding to the several Pharaohs and Caesars of later times.
ABRAM’S EXPLOIT OF ARMS (Genesis 14:13-24)
By what name was Abram distinguished among these heathen peoples (Genesis 14:13)? What hint have we of his princely power (Genesis 14:14)? What was the manner of his attack (Genesis 14:15)? The motive for it (Genesis 14:16)?
We are not surprised at Abram’s meeting with the king of Sodom on his return, but what other king is named (Genesis 14:18)? What office did he hold beside that of king? Was he a heathen like the others (Genesis 14:19)? Who gave the tithes, Abram or he? (Compare Hebrews 7:6.) Melchizedek seems to have been a king of Salem, later called Jerusalem, who like Job had not only retained the knowledge of the true God but also like him was in his own person a prince and a priest. (Compare Job 1:5-8; Job 29:1-25; Job 25:1-6.) Recent discoveries of correspondence of the Egyptian kings written at about the time of the Exodus refute the theory once held that Melchizedek was an imaginary character and that this incident never occurred. This correspondence includes letters of the king of Jerusalem, Ebed-Tob by name, which means “the servant of the Good One,” who speaks of himself in the very phrases used by his predecessor Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:1-28). The probability is that Melchizedek, like Chedorlaomer, was the common name of a race or dynasty of priest-kings ruling over that city. He is employed as a type of Christ in Psalm 110:1-7 and in Hebrews 7:1-28.
How does the king of Sodom probably the successor to him who had been slain (Genesis 14:10), express his gratitude to Abram (Genesis 14:21)? What is Abram’s response (Genesis 14:22-24)? How does this response show that Melchizedek worshipped the same God? What elements of character does it show in Abram?
THE SECOND TEST AND REWARD OF FAITH (Genesis 15:1-6)
“After these things” Abram might have feared that the defeated warriors would return in force and overwhelm him, nor is it improbable that misgivings arose as to relinquishing the spoil he was entitled to as conqueror. But God could deliver him from fear in the one case and make up to him the loss in the other. How does He express both ideas in Genesis 15:1?
But what burdens Abram heavier than either of these things (Genesis 15:2)? God promised him a seed to inherit Canaan, which should be multiplied as the dust of the earth, yet he was going hence childless. He who should be possessor of his house under these circumstances would be Dammesek Eliezer (RV). Just how to explain this is difficult, but Eliezer was his steward, and oriental custom may have entailed the possessions of his master on such an one where no natural heir existed. We cannot explain this but would call attention to the reply of Jehovah, that it is not an adopted son he shall have but a supernatural one (Genesis 15:4). And now what does Jehovah do to Abram (Genesis 15:5)? And what does He ask Abram to do? And what does He then promise him? Was Abram’s faith able to measure up to this stupendous declaration (Genesis 15:6)? And in what did this faith of Abram result to him (Genesis 15:6, last clause)? The words, “counted it to him for righteousness” reveal something more important to Abram personally than the promise of a seed, except that the seed, considered as the forerunner and type of Christ, was the only ground at length on which Abram might be counted righteous. To understand these words is vital to an understanding of our own redemption, and an apprehension of the Gospel.
Abram was a sinner, born into a state of wrongness, but God now puts him by an act of grace into a state of rightness, not because of Abram’s righteous character but on the ground of his belief in God’s word. Nor does this righteous state into which he is brought make it true that thereafter he is without a flaw in his character, for he is guilty of much. But he has a right standing before God, and because of it God can deal with him in time and eternity as He cannot deal with other men who do not have this standing. The significance of this to us is seen in Romans 4:23-25, which you are urged to read prayerfully.
The question is sometimes asked whether Abram for that matter, any Old Testament saint was justified or made righteous just as we are today. The answer is yes and no. They were made righteous just as we are in that Christ took away their guilt on the cross and wrought out a righteousness for them, but they were not made righteous just as we are in that they knew not Christ as we do. Christ indeed said that Abram rejoiced to see His day, and he saw it and was glad (John 8:56), but this does not mean that he saw and understood what we now do of the Person and finished work of Christ.
The fact is this: God set a certain promise before Abram. He believed God’s testimony concerning it and was counted righteous in consequence. God sets a certain promise before us, and if we believe God’s testimony concerning it we are counted righteous in consequence. The promise to Abram was that of a natural seed; the promise to us in that of salvation through Jesus Christ, the anti-type of that seed. We have but to believe His testimony concerning Jesus Christ, as Abram believed it concerning the seed, to obtain the same standing before God forever. It is not our character that gives it to us, nor does our change of standing immediately produce a change of character, but this does not affect the standing, which is the important thing because the character grows out of it. The reward of the first test of faith brought Abram a country (Genesis 12:1-20), but that of the second brought him a better country, that is, a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:8-16).
THE COVENANT OF GOD (Genesis 15:7-12; Genesis 15:17-21)
In what words does God now identify Himself and renew the promise of the land (Genesis 15:7)? Is Abram altogether satisfied about the land (Genesis 15:8)? What does God tell him to do (Genesis 15:9)? What now happens to Abram (Genesis 15:12)? What next takes place with reference to the sacrifice (Genesis 15:17)! And in connection with this what does God do with Abram? How does He define the boundaries of His gift? We ought to say that “the river of Egypt,” can hardly mean the Nile, although some so regard it. Others think it is the wady or brook of Egypt lying at the southern limit of the land of Israel (Numbers 34:5; Joshua 15:4; Isaiah 27:12).
The strange incident recorded here is of symbolic importance. Men entered into covenant with one another in this way, that is, they would slay an animal, divide it into parts, walk up and down between them and thus solemnly seal the bond they had made. Afterward part of the victim would be offered in sacrifice to their gods, while the remainder would be eaten by the parties to the covenant. It was the highest form of an oath. God thus condescended to assure Abram, since the smoking furnace and burning lamp, passing between the pieces and doubtless consuming them, typified His presence and acceptance of the bond. Among men it takes two to make a covenant, but not so here. God is alone in this case, and asks of Abram nothing in return but the repose of confidence in His faithfulness. It is thus that God covenants with us in Christ. He gives, and we take. He promises, and we believe.
But dwelling on what Abram saw we passed over what he heard, and this is an essential part of God’s covenant with him (Genesis 15:13-16). What did He say would be true of Abram’s seed for a while? It is a matter of dispute how these four hundred years are computed. Anstey’s Romance of Chronology says that Abraham’s seed here means Isaac and his descendants from the time of the weaning of the former when he became his father’s heir, to the date of the Exodus, which was precisely four hundred years. What twofold promise is given Abram personally (Genesis 15:15)? What particular reason does God give for the delay in possessing Canaan (Genesis 15:16)? “The Amorite” here is the name used doubtless for all the inhabitants of Canaan, of which they were a chief nation and a very wicked one. The long-suffering of God will wait while they go on filling up the measure of their iniquity, but at last the sword of divine justice must fall. The same thing happens with sinners in general, and as another says, it ought to embitter the cup of their pleasures.
1. What corroborative evidence of the historicity of chapter 14 can you name?
2. Recall in detail what has been taught or suggested about Melchizedek.
3. How would you explain Genesis 15:6?
4. Can you repeat from memory Romans 4:23-25?
5. In a word, what is the significance of the transaction in Genesis 15:7-21?