Previous Post: Genesis 12 – The Flawed Faith of Abram
Now Read: Genesis 13-14
Last time, in Genesis chapter 12, we saw how God had chosen a deeply flawed individual by the name of Abram, to be the father of God’s chosen people Israel. While Abram initially showed faith in God, by picking up everything he had and leaving his home on nothing but a promise, it wasn’t long before Abram’s faith was truly tested. And he failed miserably. First he abandoned the land that God led him to. Then he lied about his wife, saying she was his sister. And to top it all off, he handed his wife over to the Pharaoh of Egypt to become a concubine. Doing it all out of fear for his own life. Whatever faith Abram did have was evidently very flawed.
But as we move into chapters 13 and 14, it seems that Abram has learned his lesson.
Abram seems to have come out of Egypt even more wealthy and affluent than he was before. “Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold.” (13:2) He then returns to the Negev, the land he was in before the famine, and goes to the same place where he had previously built an altar (see Genesis 12:8), and there once again, “Abram called on the name of the Lord.” (13:4). It seems that in spite of Abram’s tremendous lack of faith through the famine and Egypt ordeal, God has still tremendously blessed Abram. And Abram, by the looks of it, is turning things around.
Abram, and his nephew Lot, have apparently become so wealthy, that the land cannot sustain their tremendous flocks. As a result of the strained resources, Abram’s men and Lot’s men start to clash. “There was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock.” (13:7). But Abram did not want this conflict with his nephew, saying, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left.” (13:8-9).
Here we see the first sign of Abram’s maturing faith and trust in the Lord. He sees that there is a lack of resources, and righteously wanting no animosity among family, he decides that he and his nephew Lot must split up. But rather than take his choice of the land (as would be his prerogative as the patriarch of the family) he generously decides to let Lot have first pick. Abram is now showing more faith in God’s provision and is not concerned about having the better land for himself, but is instead deciding to trust that God will take care of his herds and his family wherever they go.
Lot, by contrast, decides to take what appears to be the better land for himself, in the valley of the Jordan that was “well-watered everywhere” (13:10). But the land that appeared to offer an easier life in some regards, came with greater risks in others. For the land the Lot chose also happened to be near the infamous city of Sodom, where the people were already identified as being “wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord.” (13:13).
And this where things start to get interesting.
War is brewing. And Lot’s decision to move near the city of Sodom puts him dead center of an epic battle between 9 kingdoms.
An alliance of 4 kingdoms (Shinar, Ellasar, Elam, and Goiim) is facing off against an alliance of 5 kingdoms (Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela). These 9 kingdoms, divided into two great opposing forces come to meet each other in an epic battle in the “valley of Siddim (that, is the Salt Sea)” (14:3) which today is known as the Dead Sea.
The alliance of the 4 kings uses the terrain to their advantage. For the Dead Sea, even today, is known for having lumps of asphalt (or tar pits) that float in certain regions. During the battle the alliance of the 5 kings get bogged down in these tar pits, killing many, and the survivors flee into the surrounding hill country (14:10). And so the 4 kingdoms defeated the 5 kingdoms at the valley of Siddim, and then proceed to pillage the defeated cities of Sodom and Gomorrah taking, “all the goods” and “all their food supply” (14:11).
And in the midst of all this chaos, war, and plundering, is Abram’s nephew, Lot.
“They also took Lot, Abram’s nephew, and his possessions and departed” (14:12). Abram finds out that his nephew has been taken captive from the city of Sodom. This is where we would expect Abram to once again cower in fear for his own life. If Abram was willing to prostitute his own wife to the Pharaoh of Egypt to save his own skin; do we really think that he would risk everything to rescue his nephew who selfishly took the better land for himself and willingly put himself in harm’s way by moving into such a wicked city?
But that’s exactly what Abram did. We see how far Abram’s faith and trust in the Lord has come. “When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit.” (14:12) Abram takes his own men numbering only 318 (plus some of his Amorite allies) and goes up against the might of the 4 kingdoms. So great was Abrams concern for his nephew, and so great was his trust in the Lord, that he was willing to take his meager “army” against a force that vastly outnumbered him.
And against all odds, Abram is victorious. He not only rescues Lot, but he defeats the enemy. He not only defeats them, but he pushes them into a full blown retreat and pursues them. He not only retrieves Lot, but also all of the goods plundered from Sodom, as well as all of Lot’s possession and all the people in Lot’s household. It was not just a success; it was a complete and total victory.
There is no reason to think that Abram should have been able to do all this. The only logical explanation is divine providence. The only way that Abram could have defeated such a formidable opponent is with the hand of God upon him. Abram showed tremendous courage and faith in God.
And for his faith, God blesses Abram.
As Abram is returning from defeating the armies of the 4 kings, Abram is met by the king of Sodom, as well as Melchizedek, king of Salem who is also identified as being a “priest of God Most High” (14:18).
It bears noting that while Melchizedek is only briefly mentioned here, in the New Testament book of Hebrews the significance of Abram’s meeting with Melchizedek is given more meaning (See Hebrews 7) Melchizedek is identified as being both a king and priest. And Jesus, who is also a king and priest, is called as being “according the order of Melchizedek”. So this is not just any king, or any priest, but is a precursor to Jesus Christ.
And this precursor to Christ blesses Abram saying, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hands.” (14:19-20). Abram recognizes that this priest is a representative of God on earth and as such he offers up one tenth of the spoils to Melchizedek (the origin of the tithe).
The king of Sodom then comes to Abram, no doubt grateful that he defeated the kings who plundered his kingdom, and offers to let Abram to keep much of his spoils, “Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.” (14:21). Finally we see Abram’s faith in God reaching its fullest. Abram is being tempted with wealth beyond anything he probably could have ever imagined, but he turns it down. “I have sworn to the Lord God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong, or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’” (14:22-23). Abram is saying, “I do not want to be indebted to you, lest you think that you are now my king. God is my king, and I will follow Him.” He therefore refuses to take even the most meagre of spoils for himself. He refuses to give in to the temptation of wealth and riches. He refuses to submit to anyone but God.
Think about how the faith of Abram seen here contrasts to the faith of the Abram we saw just previously in chapter 12. In chapter 12 we saw an Abram that:
- Failed to trust that God would provide for him in famine, and fled to Egypt
- Failed to trust that God would protect him from Pharaoh, and therefore lied, saying that his wife was actually his sister, and then proceeded to hand his wife over to Pharaoh as a concubine
But here, in chapters 13-14 we see a very different man. We see an Abram that:
- Trusts that God will provide for him wherever he goes, and allows Lot first pick over which lands to take.
- Trusts in God’s hand over him, such that he goes up against the armies of 4 kings to rescue his captured nephew.
- Demonstrates his devotion to God, by resisting the temptation to take gifts from the king of Sodom that would make him unimaginably wealthy.
How is this even the same man? It seems that Abram has completely turned himself around. He has transformed himself from a man consumed with himself and protecting his own skin; into a man who is more concerned about others and has complete trust in God’s protection and provision.
I’m not sure what exactly happened. It could be as simple as maturing in his faith. Perhaps he learned some valuable lessons from his sojourn in Egypt; seeing the foolishness of his ways. Perhaps He saw firsthand what God is capable of doing and how God is devoted to him even when he falters, and because of that now he has a renewed devotion to God.
Whatever the reason, Abram has turned things around and now knows how to stand strong in the Lord when faced with adversity or temptation. His faith that was once very flawed, has been renewed, and appears stronger than ever.
And there is a tremendous lesson that we can learn from that.
We are not bound by the people we once were. We are not even bound by the people we are now. We can be so much more if we will put our faith and hope in God.
It can be easy for us to lose heart when we fail to live up to God’s plan for our lives. It can be easy to be discouraged as we fall into sin time and time again. It can be easy to think that we will never overcome our sin, or grow in our faith.
But if Abram can be transformed from a man of flawed faith, into a man of renewed faith who trusts in God and follows Him, then so can we.
Next Post: Genesis 15 – God’s Assurance for Abram
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