Then an escapee came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshcol and Aner, all of whom were bound by treaty to Abram.
I. THE LITTLE ARMY; emblematic of the handful of Christ's disciples at the first, and of the comparative feebleness of the Church still; yet "God's strength is ever made perfect in weakness," and so "the weakness of God becomes stronger than men."
II. THE TRUSTY CONFEDERATES; regarding the Amorite chieftains as possessors of the true faith, suggestive of the united purpose and action by which the Church of Christ in all its parts should be governed, and of the weakness that springs from divided counsels.
III. THE RAPID MARCH; a picture of the holy celerity and earnest zeal with which the Church should set about her enterprise of conquering the world for Christ; a reminder of how much may be lost by delay.
IV. THE SKILFUL TACTICS; proclaiming the same doctrine as Christ - that his people should be wise as serpents; revealing the necessity for the Church making use Of the most brilliant abilities she can command on all her different fields of action.
V. THE SPLENDID VICTORY; a foreshadowing of the final triumph which awaits the Church, and of the blessing which, through its instrumentality, will eventually descend upon the world. - W.
I. HERE IS THE UNSELFISH AND SUCCESSFUL INTERPOSITION OF A SEPARATED MAN, ON BEHALF OF OTHERS.
When Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants. I.
IN THE CAUSE OF MAN.
1. The sacredness of natural affection.
2. The noble generosity which forgets the faults of friends or kindred in their distress.
3. The heroism which sacrifices self for the benefit of others.
II. IN THE CAUSE OF GOD.
1. His engaging in war cannot be accounted for, except on the supposition that he had a Divine warrant for his conduct.
(1)As a private individual he would not have the right to wage war.
(2)His chance of success, to all human appearance, was small.
2. He wages war as the ruler and proprietor, by Divine right, of the land.
And now what think you Abraham shall do? Away in Hebron he dwells hidden in his pavilion from the strife of men, kept in perfect peace, untroubled amidst his flocks and herds, wrapped in communion with God. As the messenger arrives and inquires for him, do they go forth to find him at the altar and in prayer? Do they tell him the latest news — all about "Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations, and Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar?" Think of the holy man, waving them away with his hand, indignant at the interruption. "What is all that to me? Do you know that I am seeking a country out of sight, and that I am but a pilgrim here? It is not for me, called with so high a calling, to trouble myself with such things, or indeed to heed them. Leave me to my altar and to my God." And he turns again to pray. If he had done so the blessed life would not have been his. Many a man has tried to overcome this world by running away from it, but has never succeeded. The life that loses all interest in this world, in its politics, in its business, and thousand interests, is not the blessed life. You may baptize this selfish indifference with any sentimental name you please — call it, if you will, heavenly-mindedness: but it remains as ugly as ever. So long as I am in this world, so long ought its concerns to concern me, and its interests to interest me. Selfish isolation will not make me any more of an angel, only less of a man. The blessed life, the life of communion with God and surrender to Him, does not give me a pair of wings to fly away from the world; it does much better than that, it teaches me how to put the world under my feet and keep it there. Turn the message round a little, and there is another aspect of it worth dwelling upon: "Lot is taken, Abram's brother's son." What shall he say? "What have I to do with Lot? we have dissolved partnership. He has gone his way, and I have gone mine; and we have no further dealings together. He cannot complain, for I do him no wrong; he made his choice, and I had to accept what was not good enough for him. He knew the people that he was going amongst, and has only himself to blame. If I were in trouble he certainly would not go far to help me." Abraham could not have said so: depend upon it we cannot either, if our life is the life of surrender to God and communion with Him. Very significant is the first word: "And when Abram heard that his brother" — Do you think it is a misprint? I think not. He was only a nephew in prosperity, but in trouble he is a brother. That is the blessed life, when every man is in true relation to us; but sorrow makes men very much nearer and more to us. Many an earnest man misses the blessed life just at this point. You think you can quite justify the indignation you feel. Your position and natural feeling require that there should be an explanation or apology before you can render any help. So the opportunity is lost; and who, think you, is the loser, he whom I might have helped, or I? I who might have been a blessing shall be unblessed. But turn the incident round again, and let another light fall upon it. However much concerned about Lot, and however eager to help him, what can Abraham do? The case was really a desperate one. The mightiest monarchs probably in the world had combined their forces and conquered all the nations that dwelt in their course. There was one thing that he could do: perhaps only one, — things are never so desperate but that we can pray about them, — and that Abraham did pray comes out later in the chapter: "I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God." As to fighting in relation to the blessed life, I do not know that I need say more than this: that when God bids us fight and promises to go with us, then let us go forth as bravely as Abraham, but till then let us try to "live peaceably with all men." But the great thing for us to heed is this, our faith must be after the pattern and spirit of Abraham's. There must be the same indignation against wrong. Cold-blooded indifference, that goes on its way never seeing the misery of men and women, never heeding the want of our poor humanity, is simply devilish; and not much better is the sentimentality that cannot bear to see what others have to endure. Abraham was not a man of war, he was a man of peace: a man perhaps almost too ready for compromise. But his brother suffers — then Abraham cannot be quiet: all his soul is stirred within him. Nor does his indignation waste itself only in pity. He goes forth for his deliverance, with all the help he can get; he is away to help this brother of his as much as in him lies.
In this chapter Abram appears in a new character. He had encouraged Lot to separate from him for the sake of peace, and now we find him taking up arms at the head of a confederacy of Amorite chiefs, and contending against Elam, then the ruling power in that part of Asia. When Lot went to live in the Jordan valley, the kings of the Pentapolis acknowledged the suzerainty of Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, and paid him an annual tribute. At length, however, they had rebelled, and Chedorlaomer, with three tributary kings, after sweeping down upon the surrounding tribes, defeated the allied army in the Valley of Siddim. The foreign host then plundered Sodom and Gomorrah, "took Lot and his goods" (ver. 12), and withdrew up the Jordan valley, laden with booty and captives.
I. ABRAM'S RESCUE OF LOT (vers. 13-16). In this Abram showed —
1. A magnanimous and generous spirit. He did not say to himself, "Serve him right; my ungrateful nephew has made his bed, and I shall allow him to lie upon it." His natural affection and family spirit, together with the grace of God reigning in his heart, would not permit him to cherish any secret satisfaction in connection with Lot's punishment.
2. Martial prowess. In the sudden arming of his household, the gathering of his Amorite allies, the rapid march to the springs of the Jordan, the skilful tactics adopted in the attack, and the pursuit of the flying foe as far as Damascus, Abram discovered not only great gallantry, but also brilliant generalship. He employed the same tactics which Gideon used long afterwards to surprise the Midianites (Judges 7:16), which Saul adopted against the Ammonites (1 Samuel 11:11), and which have commended themselves to the greatest generals in all ages. What a contrast is presented here between the patriarch's distrustful timidity in Egypt (Genesis 12:12, 13), and the heroism which he displayed in the rescue of his kinsman! It was "by faith" that Abram fought to recover Lot, and "in the fear of the Lord is strong confidence."
II. ABRAM'S MEETING WITH THE KING OF SODOM (vers. 17, 21-24).
1. Abram's personal disinterestedness and independence (vers. 22, 23). Abram was not "seeking his own" when he went forth to rescue Lot, and he will accept nothing for having done his duty. The Lord whom he serves has made him heir of the whole land, and he cannot receive any portion of his inheritance from man, least of all from the representative of the filthy Sodomites.
2. His considerateness of the claims of others (ver. 24). He is generous, but he does not forget to be just. His own young men shall have only what of the spoil they have used as rations — a portion which, of course, could not be returned; but his allies, Aner, Esheol, and Mature, are entitled to their fair share of the plunder, and this cannot in equity be taken from them, except with their consent.
III. ABRAM'S INTERVIEW WITH MELCHIZEDEK (vers. 18-20). How marked the contrast between the patriarch's attitude towards the King of Sodom and his conduct to this King of Salem! He saw in the former the chief representative of the wicked heathen Pentapolis, but he recognized in the latter "the priest of the Most High God" (ver. 18). So, while he maintained a dignified reserve in his interview with the King of Sodom, and refused to receive any benefit at his hands, he accepted refreshment for both body and spirit from Melchizedek. In his dealings with Melchizedek two traits in Abraham's character are brought out.
1. His recognition of the communion of saints. The patriarch discerned in this royal priest — although he was a stranger, and perhaps a Hamite — a faith and piety closely akin with his own. These two eminent personages met on the basis of a common worship, involving a common confession of monotheism.
2. His profound humility as a man of faith. "He that had the promises" (Hebrews 7:6) felt himself honoured in being blessed by this Canaanite pontiff, and in offering his tithes to God through him.LESSONS:
1. Trust in God enables its possessor to be helpful to his fellow men, while it also keeps him exalted above all who are not like-minded with himself. We may well covet earnestly the wonder-working faith which Abram manifested in this great achievement.
2. We must beware lest the Jew beat us in noble behaviour. He can be great! He can forgive vile injuries!
3. Abram, in declining to retain any of the spoil for himself, acted under the guidance of a great principle, and not of the custom of the times, reminding us thereby that moral principle, rather than the example of others, ought to be our rule of action.
4. It casts a dark light upon the character of Lot that he should have allowed himself to return to Sodom after his rescue by Abraham, instead of seeing that he had suffered a punishment which was not only fully deserved, but also plainly premonitory.
5. "The sight of some men disfigures us. We feel after being with them that we can never be mean again. Abram had seen Melchizedek, and the King of Sodom dwindled into a common man. Abram had eaten the holy sacrament, and after that all gifts were poor."
II. THE TIME OF A GREAT SUCCESS IS OFTEN THE SIGNAL FOR A GREAT TEMPTATION.
III. THE PREVENIENT GRACE OF GOD.
()There are two lessons implied in Abraham's conquest.
1. One is, that military skill and experience are often easily vanquished by untaught valour, when that is at once inspired by impulse, guided by wisdom, and connected with a good cause. The history of earth contains the record of no battles so glorious as those of Morgarten, Bannockburn, Drumelog, the taking of the Bastille, and the Three Days of Paris in 1830. On such occasions, war assumes a grander aspect, is freed from its conventional and hireling character, unfrocked of its tame uniform, and catches the wild light of liberty and the free breeze of the mountains.
2. Another lesson we gather from Abraham's conquest is, that Christian duty varies at different times and in different circumstances. Sometimes it is the Christian's part to stay at home; and at other times to go far hence among the heathen. Sometimes it is his duty to sit under his family oak and attend to his family exercises; and at another time, like Abraham, to choose some post of peril, and do some good deed of daring.
()1. Providence, usually in the deepest distress of His servants, sends speediest means for their help.
2. God letteth some escape in public calamities, that may seek succour, for others who are oppressed.
3. God's escaped ones out of death and dangers, should haste to give tidings for help to others.
4. It is most proper that the sufferings of the Church in one place should be declared to the Church elsewhere for its relief.
5. The line of His Church, truth, and religion, God hath kept under a proper name.
6. It is fit that such as sit at ease in their own habitations should hear of the Church's troubles.
7. God can bring heathens eminently to confederate with His Church and people in affection and religion.
8. Confederates in truth are affected with the evils that betide their parties, especially in the Church of God (ver. 13).
()1. Tidings of the Church's miseries should make deep impression upon its members.
2. God's servants are not slow in hearing of the miseries of the Church and helping it.
3. Brethren's captivity by oppressors should affect and move to their rescue.
4. It becomes righteous heads of families to have their servants instructed in righteousness, and trained to righteous undertakings.
5. Righteous leaders called of God may array and muster forces against oppressors.
6. Small force of men, and great faith in God, may do mighty things.
7. Leaders affected with the oppression of the Church will haste to follow the oppressors.
8. Difficulties of march in such cases do not deter believers from the pursuit (ver. 14).
()He did not sit in his tent and say, "He left me for his own pleasure, and now he must take the consequences of his selfishness: he thought he could do without me, now let him try." If Abram had said this there would have been a good deal of excuse for him. It would have been most human. We at all events could not have complained with any consistency, for this is exactly what we said when our friend offended us; but, to be sure, we are Christians, and Abram was only a Hebrew: and Hebrews are mean, greedy, crafty, villainous! I find we must beware, though, lest the Jew beat us in noble behaviour! He can be great! He can forgive vile injuries! How much greater should he be who has seen Christ slain and has named himself after the name of the Son of God! How noble his temper, how forgiving his spirit, how hopeful his charity!
()In all this we have another illustration of the strength of Abraham's faith. It kept him equally removed from ascetic seclusion on the one hand, and worldly conformity on the other. He did not scruple to work with ungodly allies when he was himself clearly in the path of duty. Lot was a prisoner. There was no question in his mind that he should do his utmost to deliver his kinsman; and though he could hope for success in that only by joining himself for the time with the Canaanitish sheiks, and seeming to be on the side of the King of Sodom, yet he did not hesitate to take that course and leave the issue with God. Herein he has left us an example which is not without is significance; for there are movements, some political and some moral, in our city and in our land, in which we can hope to succeed only by accepting the alliance of men with whom in the highest parts of our nature we have no sympathy whatever; and there are many among us who stand aloof because they do not wish to be brought into contact with such characters. What is it but a widespread feeling of this sort which has given the regulation of municipal affairs among us into the hands of men who have in many cases neither the confidence nor the respect of the Christian portion of the community? But for Christians to stand aloof in these circumstances and let things take their course is the merest cowardice. Say not to me that you are seeking thereby to keep yourselves pure. Do your duty, and leave the consequences to God. Believe me, He will not let you suffer from that which you undertake out of a regard to His glory and the welfare of your fellow men. So, again, there are many enterprises of benevolence in which the deliverance of our fellow men from the misery of disease or poverty cannot be accomplished by us, unless we consent to work with persons of whose characters we cannot in all respects approve. What then? Must we refuse to sit at a benevolent board because Aner, Eshcol, and Mature are there also? As well might we decline to lend a hand in the extinguishing of a destructive fire, because we saw one of the greatest roughs of the neighbourhood holding the hose! No! no! So long as we are in the world we shall have to meet the men of the world; we shall have to work with them, too, in benevolent matters, if at least we would set free the Lots whom tyrannous evils have taken captive; and they who hold back from the fear of contamination are signally deficient in that faith for which Abraham was so remarkable. But notice, again, that this old patriarch would not allow the presence of the ungodly to keep him from showing honour to God in the person of His priest. When Melchizedek came forth to meet him, Abraham did not treat him with coldness, because he happened at the moment to be in company with the King of Sodom. On the contrary, he showed him special honour, was not ashamed to receive his benediction, and gave him, without asking anyone's leave, a tithe of the spoils. Now there was true courage! Abraham was not ashamed of his religion, and, when the occasion offered, he was ready to make it known. He did not hide his flag, but let it flutter openly in the breeze. And what a lesson is there in all this for us! It is hard enough for many of us to confess Christ in the midst of a company of His friends, and multitudes are altogether ashamed of Him in the presence of His enemies. If a stranger happens to be our guest, and we know that he ridicules religion, we omit family worship for that evening. If a friend not remarkable for spirituality calls upon us on the Lord's day, and the time comes for us to go to the sanctuary, we are afraid to say anything about it, and we remain at home with him. If, in our business hours, a brother comes and speaks to us about spiritual things, in a style that might be as refreshing to us as the bread and wine of Melchizedek were to Abraham, we see a smile of contempt on the countenance of our worldly customer, and we plead that we are too much engaged at present to give him any more of our time. And if one waits upon us in the name of Christ, and asks our pecuniary help for his cause, we have no tithes to give him, and too frequently consider him as an intruder. Why is this? Ah, friends! let us be honest and confess it frankly, it is because we do not really believe that our chief business is with God, or that our strongest obligations are to Him. But still farther here, observe how Abraham would not consent to be laid under any debt of any sort whatever to the King of Sodom. He could take refreshment and a blessing from the hand of Melchizedek, but he would receive nothing from Bern. Why this distinction? The only answer we can give is because of the different characters of the two men. With Melchizedek he was safe; but how did he know that Bera would not claim from him some return which he could not conscientiously make? Therefore he would fetter himself with no entanglement.
()In the last century, when absence of trains and existence of bad roads isolated English towns and villages from each other, and from London, the separation of friends became a serious matter. A young maiden persuaded her relatives to allow her to leave the remote western hamlet home and to visit friends of the family in the metropolis. After a time tidings came that the maiden had been carried off, and was supposed to be concealed in the hall of a northern baronet. Distressed at the tidings, and full of love for their sister, the two brothers considered how her rescue was to be achieved. Ascertaining the whereabouts of the hall, they decided to explore its buildings in disguise, so as to learn the precise apartment in which their sister was lodged, and then, under cover of night, to secure her freedom. A brother in battle: — Timoleon the Corinthian was a noble pattern of fraternal love. Being in battle with the Argives, and seeing his brother fall by the wounds he had received, he instantly leaped over his dead body, and with his shield protected it from insult and plunder; and though severely wounded in the generous enterprise, he would not on any account retreat to a place of safety, till he had seen the corpse carried off the field by his friends.
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