Genesis 14

Genesis 14:1 city-states around Canaan

Mark E. Petersen

The people of Canaan were not united into one nation. Each city had its own separate government, its own king, and its own army. They were what the Greeks called city-states, and in this regard they resembled ancient Athens and Sparta.
The Canaanite cities were usually small, some of them occupying only a few acres of ground. Jericho is reported by archaeologists to have contained no more than about six to ten acres.
The kingdoms warred against each other from time to time, a condition that continued even until the days of Moses, a half millennium later. (Abraham: Friend of God [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979], 91)
Genesis 14:1-4 these made war
Because the names and places are so unfamiliar, it is difficult to read this chapter and understand what is happening. The conflict is a pretty simple one. There are four kings, led by Chedorlaomer, who are trying to conquer the region. The king of Sodom and his group of confederate kings oppose him. They have been subservient to Chedorlaomer for 12 years but in the 13th year, they rebel. In the 14th year Chedorlaomer goes on the offensive. Perhaps the easiest way to remember these kings comes from verse 9-four kings against five.
4 Kings
5 Kings
Unnamed king
Bela (syn. Zoar)
Genesis 14:5-9 Chedorlaomer, and the kings that were with him, smote the Raphaims...
Chedorlaomer is the leader of these four kings. They are on the offensive trying to conquer as much as they can. On the attack, they successfully conquer the Rephaims, the Zuzims, the Emims, the Horites, the Amalekites, and the Amorites. These seem to be new conquests, but Chedorlaomer is intent on retaining his previous dominion. In the thirteenth year, five kings rebelled; it was time for Chedorlaomer to put them in submission. On the way to Sodom and Gomorrah, he meets the group of 5 kings in the slimepits of the vale of Siddim. All the historical background of chapter 14 is leading up to the conflict in the vale of Siddim because in this battle, Lot is taken captive.
What is remarkable is that Abraham with his small force of 318 is going to take on this group of kings! Chedorloamer and company have successfully conquered 11 different city-states, but Abraham goes up against them anyway.
Genesis 14:11-12 they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah... And they took Lot
Lot had chosen his lot. He wanted the plain of Jordan and set his tent toward Sodom (Gen. 13). Perhaps Lot admired the greatness of the city of Sodom, but his choice was ill-fated as Sodom's greatness would not protect him from Chedorlaomer's conquests.
Genesis 14:13 Abram the Hebrew
This is the first biblical use of the term Hebrew. For such an important term, its linguistic origin is not uniformly accepted, "it may mean 'one who had come from beyond (the Euphrates),' from eber, to cross; or it may be derived from the Eber mentioned in Gen. 10:25." (Bible Dictionary, "Hebrew")
Genesis 14:13-14 Mamre the Amorite... Eshcol, and... Aner... were confederate with Abram
Abraham, like Abel, was a keeper of the flocks. His semi-nomadic lifestyle could have placed him in conflict with others, but he was always the peacemaker (that is until Lot is captured). While he could not set up an alliance with several city-states, he did have three friends that he could count on to rescue Lot. Mamre, Eschol, and Aner were brothers who were close enough to Abram to join him in what would seem to be an ill-fated venture. How much loyalty was required that these brothers would join Abram's band of 318 against a confederation of 4 kings who had just conquered 11 other city-states?
In the end, Abram made sure he took care of his faithful friends. He wanted no spoil for himself. He couldn't stand the idea that Sodom's king would take credit for his wealth, but he did make sure Mamre, Eschol, and Aner got their fair share (v. 24).
Genesis 14:14 Abram... armed his trained servants... three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them to Dan
Two points deserve mention. First, how rich are you if you have 318 adult male servants? I had a lady come clean my house once but that doesn't really count. In reality, Abram had more servants than 318. Some were female; others would have been too young to have been trained. This vignette gives us an idea how much wealth Abram had. But this military venture was not about obtaining more wealth. It was about saving his nephew. Abram didn't care about the spoil.
Second, Abram had to chase them quite a ways north-to the land of Dan. Now wait a minute? Here is another geographical anachronism. Dan was one of the 12 tribes of Israel. After Joshua brings the Israelites into Canaan, Dan's tribe settles the northernmost part of Canaan. But Israel hasn't been born yet; Dan hasn't been born yet; Moses hasn't been born yet; Joshua hasn't been born yet. The scribe who is responsible for our text lived many years after the Israelites settled in Dan. He uses the term so the reader knows how far north Abram had to go to catch up with Chedorlaomer.
The anachronism reveals a scribe steeped in the particulars of the Law of Moses but ignorant of the Melchizedek Priesthood. When Melchizedek comes to congratulate Abram, the scribe misses the significance. He doesn't seem to place any more significance on the visit of Salem's king as he does on the visit of Sodom's king. But Salem and Sodom were completely different; their kings were also completely different.
Fortunately, the Prophet Joseph Smith fills in the gaps. He gives us the needed background on Melchizedek. In the JST, he restored the significance of Melchizedek's priesthood, the significance of the tithes offered, and the messianic typology of the great high priest.
Genesis 14:15 he divided himself against them, he and his servants, by night, and smote them
In his sole military conquest, Abram, like Book of Mormon generals, used stratagem. The army Abram was attacking must have been huge compared to his force. So, he attacks them at night, dividing his force into groups that would give the sleeping enemy the impression of a larger opponent.
Again, Abram must have had a lot of faith to think he could take on such a superior army. In this venture, Abram placed his trust securely in the Lord. As a type for the children of Israel fighting their neighbors (a theme for most of the rest of the Old Testament), Abram is the supreme example. He trusts in the Lord, attacks a superior force, takes the spoil, and returns home victorious. Furthermore, Abram didn't just find Lot and bring him home. He slaughtered the enemy. He killed the kings. This event would go down in history as "the slaughter of the kings" not merely "the rescue of Lot" (Heb. 7:1).
Melchizedek was impressed with Abram's success. The great high priest knew that God had given Abram the victory, "blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand" (v. 20). He saw this military conquest as an example of the power of Abram's priesthood, for the priesthood includes the power, "to put at defiance the armies of nations, to... subdue principalities and powers" (JST Gen. 14:31). Abram was the real deal. By nature a peacemaker, by necessity a conqueror, Abram's power in the priesthood was without bounds.
Genesis 14:18 Melchizedek king of Salem
Three prophets knew more of Melchizedek than the scribe who wrote Genesis. They are the apostle Paul, Alma, and Joseph Smith. The first of these spends an entire chapter on the significance of Melchizedek as a type for Christ and holder of a higher priesthood than that which pertained to the Law of Moses.
For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him;
To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace;
Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.
Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils. (Hebrews 7:1-4)
Alma recorded:
Melchizedek...was also a high priest after this same order of which I have spoken, who also took upon him the high priesthood forever.
And it was this same Melchizedek to whom Abraham paid tithes; yea, even our father Abraham paid tithes of one-tenth part of all he possessed.
Now these ordinances were given after this manner, that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God, it being a type of his order, or it being his order, and this that they might look forward to him for a remission of their sins, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord.
Now this Melchizedek was a king over the land of Salem; and his people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination; yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness;
But Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father.
Now, there were many before him, and also there were many afterwards, but none were greater; therefore, of him they have more particularly made mention. (Alma 13:14-19)
The Prophet Joseph Smith restored great truths about the power of this priesthood. In language superior even to Doctrine and Covenants passages on the priesthood, he revealed:
And Melchizedek lifted up his voice and blessed Abram.
Now Melchizedek was a man of faith, who wrought righteousness; and when a child he feared God, and stopped the mouths of lions, and quenched the violence of fire.
And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch,
It being after the order of the son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God;
And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name.
For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course;
To put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command, subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world.
And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven.
And now, Melchizedek was a priest of this order; therefore he obtained peace in Salem, and was called the Prince of peace.
And his people wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken, separating it from the earth, having reserved it unto the latter days, or the end of the world;
And hath said, and sworn with an oath, that the heavens and the earth should come together; and the sons of God should be tried so as by fire.
And this Melchizedek, having thus established righteousness, was called the king of heaven by his people, or, in other words, the King of peace.
And he lifted up his voice, and he blessed Abram, being the high priest, and the keeper of the storehouse of God;
Him whom God had appointed to receive tithes for the poor.
Wherefore, Abram paid unto him tithes of all that he had, of all the riches which he possessed, which God had given him more than that which he had need.
And it came to pass, that God blessed Abram, and gave unto him riches, and honor, and lands for an everlasting possession; according to the covenant which he had made, and according to the blessing wherewith Melchizedek had blessed him. (JST Gen. 14:25-40)
Joseph Smith
What was the power of Melchizedek? 'Twas not the Priesthood of Aaron which administers in outward ordinances, and the offering of sacrifices. Those holding the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood are kings and priests of the Most High God, holding the keys of power and blessings. In fact, that Priesthood is a perfect law of theocracy, and stands as God to give laws to the people, administering endless lives to the sons and daughters of Adam. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 322)
Genesis 14:18 Melchizedek... was the priest of the most high God
"The KJV contains very little about the ancient great high priest Melchizedek. He is briefly mentioned in Genesis 14, and again in Hebrews 7. [Gen. 14; Heb. 7] The Psalms speak of the Messiah as a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4), but few details about Melchizedek and his ministry are available today from the Bible. The Book of Mormon in Alma 13:14-20 gives a brief survey of Melchizedek's success as a teacher of righteousness, which information presumably was recorded on the plates of brass. By way of contrast, JST Genesis 14:17-40 gives an extensive account of the ministry of Melchizedek, more so than in any other available source, and presents an unparalleled description of the powers of the Melchizedek Priesthood. [JST Gen. 14:17-40]
"It is interesting that in the common Bibles available today, very little is said of either Enoch or Melchizedek; but in Jewish folklore and tradition, both are very prominent. Apocryphal sources also are heavy with stories of these two patriarchs, indicating that at some ancient time stories of Enoch and Melchizedek were very much a part of the sacred records.
"It should not be surprising, therefore, that the JST restores extensive information about these two brethren and places them again in positions of prominence in the holy writ. It is significant, indeed, with the beginning of the dispensation of the fulness of times and the restoration of all things, that the much needed lost material about Enoch and Melchizedek should be made available-the one identified with Zion; the other, with the powers of the higher priesthood. This knowledge which the ancient Saints had but which has not been preserved in the KJV has now been provided for us in the JST." (Robert J. Matthews, "Plain and Precious Things Restored," Ensign, July 1982, 19)
Genesis 14:18 Melchizedek... brought forth bread and wine
The law of animal sacrifice, not the emblems of the sacrament, symbolized the Savior's atoning sacrifice in Old Testament times. Yet, this passage is interesting. We don't know much of ordinances performed prior to the Law of Moses, but it would seem that Melchizedek's offering was symbolic-as is our modern sacrament.
Bruce R. McConkie
The sacrament of the Lord's supper is an ordinance of salvation in which all the faithful must participate if they are to live and reign with him. It may well have been prefigured, some two thousand years before its formal institution among men, when "Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought forth bread and wine; and he brake bread and blest it, and he blest the wine, he being the priest of the most high God. And he gave to Abram." (JST Gen. 14:17-18) It will be administered after the Lord comes again, to all the faithful of all ages, as they in resurrected glory assemble before him. (D&C 27) (The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 384)
John Taylor
In this action of Melchizedek, in administering the bread and wine, by virtue of his priestly office, is there not a representation of the body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as also indicated by the Messiah Himself when He partook of the passover with His disciples? (Mediation and Atonement [Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1882], 83 - 84)
Genesis 14:20 he gave him tithes of all
Howard W. Hunter
There are some who will not live the law of tithing because of the cost. This is in contrast to the reasoning of David who would not make an offering unto the Lord unless it cost him something. The great moral principles encompassed in the law of tithing are overlooked by those who are not tithepayers, and the lack the understanding of the law and the reasons for it.
The word "tithe" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon meaning "a tenth." It may be defined as a tenth of property or income which is paid over or dedicated for sacred uses or purposes. The history of the word, as traced through biblical and extra-biblical history, focuses our attention upon some very interesting information.
The first distinct mention of the word "tithe" in the Bible is in the very first book of the Old Testament. Abram, returning from the slaughter of the four kings, was met by Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of the Most High God. Melchizedek blessed him, and Abram "gave him tithes of all." (Gen. 14:20.)
A few chapters later in the same book, Jacob, at Bethel made a vow in these words:
If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on,
So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God:
And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee. (Gen. 28:20-22)
The third mention is in connection with the Levitical law. The Lord spoke through Moses:
And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's: it is holy unto the Lord. (Lev. 27:30.)
...This clearly indicates that the law of tithing was a part of the Levitical law and paid by all people-even the Levites themselves who were directed to pay tithing on the tithes which were received by them.
There are some who take the position that the law of the tithe was only a Levitical institution, but history confirms the fact that it has been and is a universal law. It was basic in the Mosaic law. It had existed from the beginning and is found in the ancient Egyptian law, in Babylonia, and can be traced throughout biblical history... The words of Malachi close the Old Testament with a reiteration of the law of tithing, indicating there had been no abrogation of this law which had existed from the beginning. (Conference Report, April 1964, Afternoon Meeting 35)
Genesis 14:23 I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet... lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich
Abram is suspicious of king Bera's potential for evil. He doesn't trust him, and he shouldn't.
"With the king of Sodom Abraham deals majestically. He recognizes no right of that king to offer him anything, and he will take no gain from his deliverance of Sodom. Neither that city nor its representative shall be allowed the opportunity to say, 'I have made Abram rich.' But fro Melchizedek Abraham accepted blessing. The significance of this was that Salem meant Jerusalem, and so Abraham is linked already with what was to be the Holy City that should become the center of his people's life." (The Interpreter's Bible, ed. by G. A. Buttrick et al [New York, Abingdon Press, 1952] vol. 1, p. 597)