Bold and Passionate Faith
By Charles E. McCracken
READ TODAY’S TEXT: (Genesis 14-15)
The people of the Bible are often presented as flat—two dimensional figures—occupying a dusty page of what many perceive as an impossibly difficult to understand relic of the past.
To some degree, this can be attributed to the methods and materials used to convey the Bible to a particular generation. Cultural constructs also limit how biblical narratives are represented and perceived. Even a quick look at religious art confirms the inability of culture to divorce itself from the trends, styles and fashion of the day.
There is, however, an approach that can take us beyond a 2-D concept of the Bible.
Friend and highly regarded archeologist, Dr. Eilat Mazar, shares the secret to her spectacular success:
“One of the many things I learned from my grandfather was how to relate to the Biblical text: Pore over it again and again, for it contains within it descriptions of genuine historical reality. . . concealed within the Biblical text are grains of detailed historical truth.”
When we take time to pore over the Scriptures, we no longer see Abram as a flat dusty character, but a real human being who was a bold and passionate man of faith.
At an age when most men slow down and take life at a more leisurely pace, we find Abram charging across the central highlands of Canaan pursuing a coalition of four armies that had kidnapped his nephew.
Genesis 14:13-16 (emphasis added)
“Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, for he dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner; and they were allies with Abram. Now when Abram heard that his brother (kinsman) was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. He divided his forces against them by night, and he and his servants attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people.”
Assessing the situation, God gave Abram the moral clarity to evaluate the threat and determine a course of action. Although a peaceable man, Abram understood that doing the right thing necessitated taking the battle to the enemy; so he did. It was a daring act demonstrating a proactive faith.
Lot and his family were living in the Valley of Siddim when Chedorlaomer King of Elam and a coalition of Mesopotamian kings attacked the cities of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Zoar.
This was no band of desert ruffians, but rather a well-equipped army from one of the most advanced civilizations in the world of that day. Chedorlaomer King of Elam led the coalition from an area corresponding to Khuzestan Province on the western border of modern-day Iran. Joining him were Amraphel of Shinar (near Babylon), Tidal the Hittite with the honorific title “King of Nations” hailing from eastern Turkey and Arioch who ruled in northern Mesopotamia.
On a military campaign that stormed southward from Mesopotamia to the Gulf of Aqaba, the armies of the four kings subdued the Rephiam, Zuzim and Emim—giants living in the south of modern day Syria and Jordan. They battled the Horites south of the Dead Sea all the way to modern day Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba. Turning northward, they followed the edge of the desert and terrorized the Ishmaelites, the whole territory of the Amalekites and a city of Amorites (possibly En-gedi) on the western shore of the modern Dead Sea (2 Chr. 20:2)
For 12 years, the cities in the Valley of Siddim were forced to pay tribute to Chaderlaomer and his ruthless coalition. A year earlier, the cities united and began a revolt by refusing to pay the mandatory tax. Now the Mesopotamian coalition had come to collect.
Chedorlaomer’s armies drove the allied troops defending the cities into the surrounding asphalt pits with their kings deserting to the mountains. The attacking armies plundered the undefended cities and captured the inhabitants. Lot and his family were among the prisoners.
Miraculously, one of Lot’s acquaintances from Sodom managed to escape the assault and rushed to inform Abram.
When he arrived and reported that Lot and his family had been taken captive, Abram took immediate action. There were no police to call; no national guard; no SWAT team; Abram was on his own. He quickly assembled a veritable fighting force from the servants born in his household numbering 318 men strong.
Not willing to use his 80 plus years as an excuse to sit on the sidelines, Abram took charge of the operation and followed the offending armies in hot pursuit.
Abram’s forces approached and ambushed the invading armies almost a hundred miles north of Sodom, near Dan. Not satisfied to simply defeat the enemy’s fighting force in a strategically impressive night attack, he chased the rest of the army another hundred miles to Hobah near Damascus in order to retrieve the people and plunder seized from the cities of Siddim Valley.
In addition to rescuing Lot and his family, Abram returned victorious with all the goods and captives taken by the four marauding Mesopotamian kings.
God gave Abram an impressive victory and used the incident to further promote him.
Had Lot not been a resident of the plain near Sodom, it is unlikely Abram would have been drawn into the conflict.
Yet, as a result of the confrontation with the kings of Mesopotamia, Abram would be recognized not only as a prince in the environs of Canaan, but also as a formidable force among the surrounding nations.
Just as God promised, He gave Abram a name of renown among the nations (Gen. 12:3).
Like all men of faith, Abram did not sit idle when he had resources available to help.
Abram made the right choice to deliver Lot and his family from the enemy and God blessed him with a miraculous and astounding victory.
After rescuing Lot and his family, Abram made the 200-mile journey home. As he traveled, the kings of Salem and Sodom met him in the Valley of Shaveh near the place where the city of Jerusalem would one day be located. His response to each king is indicative of his integrity as a man of faith.
“And the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley), after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him.
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: ‘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 hand.’
And he [Abram] gave him a tithe of all.
Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.’
But Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’— except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.’’”
Melchizedek the king of Salem came out to meet Abram with wine and bread—indicative of the celebratory nature of the provision made to honor the returning warriors. He was the king of Salem and also a priest who blessed Abram in the name of the Most High God confirming that it was God who had given the victory.
Melchizedek is unique. In spite of the numerous genealogies recorded in the book of Genesis, none list Melchizedek’s birth. As a result, some identify him as a pre-Incarnate appearance of Messiah. Interestingly, eschatological texts included with the Dead Sea scrolls portray Melchizedek as a heavenly being who atones for the righteous and judges the wicked. (2)
Whether Melchizedek was a theophany (manifestation of the pre-Incarnate Christ) or not, he functions as a type representing Messiah. As both king and priest, he prophetically portrayed Messiah who would be both everlasting King and eternal high priest after the order of Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 7:14-17).
Abram recognized Melchizedek’s unique office as priest of the Most High God and tithed one- tenth of the spoils out of gratitude to God.
Seeking notoriety, Bera King of Sodom offered Abram what sounded like a lucrative deal (v. 2).
He offered Abram all the spoils if the captives would be permitted to return to their homes. The offer sounded magnanimous; however, the spoils were not his to give; and, Abram had already tithed a tenth to Melchizedek.
The deal was a sleazy attempt to give the appearance that the king of Sodom was also blessing Abram.
Abram publicly refused the goods. He had not entered the conflict for profit; justice had prompted his actions. God had granted victory and Sodom’s king would have no claim to Abram’s success.
It is significant to notice that Abram’s relationship with his neighbors was such that they were willing to accompany him in rescuing Lot. Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre—the three brothers allied with Abram—were granted portions for their service. Although he did not impose his convictions upon them, Abram took nothing choosing to wait for the fulfillment of God’s promised blessing.
Following the spectacular rescue of Lot, God appeared to Abram for the fifth time. God’s first words to Abram were, “fear not.” As is usually the case when this phrase is used in Scripture, the one receiving God’s assurance has much to fear.
Genesis 15:1, 6, 18-21
“After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.’ And he [Abram] believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.”
On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying:
‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates—the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.’”
Abram no doubt assumed that his defeat of the Mesopotamian kings would make him a target for retaliation. What if this vicious band of marauding raiders regrouped? Strengthened their forces? Attacked him unexpectedly?
God assured Abram, “I am your shield.” The word translated “shield” is used metaphorically throughout the Hebrew Scriptures to portray God’s protection for His people. God promised Abram the ultimate protection—Himself.
Not only did God promise to be Abram’s protection, but also his reward. As he made his way home following the rescue of Lot, Abram refused the rightful spoils of victory; he refused to be obligated to Bera, the king of Sodom. God confirmed that Abram’s act of faith in refusing the spoils was the right choice. Abram not only had a reward, but an “exceedingly great reward” that was as certain as God Himself.
Although still unrealized at the time, Abram believed God’s promise.
Abram lived his faith in daily experience. In response, God credited Abram’s faith as an act of righteousness.
During the encounter, God gave Abram a glimpse into the future with a prediction that his offspring would be subjugated for 400 years (vv. 13 – 14). While God did not specify the location, history documents Israel’s bondage in Egypt. At the set time, however, God also promised to liberate them with great wealth while returning them to the Promised Land. (Ex. 12:33-36).
The term “cutting a covenant” describes the ancient treaty recorded on this occasion. Animals were divided lengthwise into two pieces; and then, those responsible for fulfilling the covenant walked between the two halves
The three-year-old heifer, female goat and ram along with a young turtledove and pigeon marked the seriousness ascribed to the covenant between God and Abram. In this case, however, only God walked between the divided animals because He alone took responsibility for fulfillment of the covenant.
God demonstrated His faithfulness by confirming His original promises of a land to Abram as an everlasting possession.
The Abrahamic Covenant is a unilateral covenant. God is responsible for its fulfillment; it will never fail!
Within the context of this unilateral covenant, God details the boundaries of the Promised Land.
Although some assert that the map of the British Mandate of Palestine loosely approximates the boundaries of the land God described, the area is more extensive stretching from Lebanon to Egypt and from the Euphrates River to the Mediterranean Sea.
The fact that Abram’s descendants would live outside the land for 400 years is immaterial.
God describes the land as an eternal possession; the title deed belongs to Abram’s covenantal descendants regardless of their residence—living in the land or not.
The modern State of Israel inhabits only a minuscule portion of the total land God allocated to the nation (cf. Dt. 32:8).
We can be assured, however, that God’s promises to Abram’s covenantal descendants (the Jewish people) will be fulfilled literally when Messiah establishes His kingdom on the earth and rules the earth from Jerusalem.
The narrative about Abram’s bold rescue of Lot teaches an important principle. Genuine faith is not synonymous with pious inactivity; genuine faith is bold and passionate.
When faced with a legitimate threat, Abram was proactive.
When confronted with a challenge to his integrity, he was discerning.
More important, however, Abram trusted God implicitly and lived each day expectantly believing in the certainty of God’s promises!
1) Eilat Mazar, “Did I Discover King David’s Palace?” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2006 <http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/jerusalem/did-i-find-king-davids-palace/>.
2) K. A. Matthews, Genesis 11:27 – 50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 151.
1) Abram Chases the Enemies Who Captured His Nephew, c. 1613. By Antonio Tempesta (1555–1630) [PD-US, PD-Art], via Wikimedia – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
2) Abram Rescues Lot,the Women,and Goods. By illustrators of the 1728 Figures de la Bible, Gerard Hoet (1648–1733) and others, published by P. de Hondt, The Hague, 1728 [PD-Art],via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
3) Abraham meets Melchizedek, circa 1300. By anonymous master, Basilica di San Marco, [PD-US, PD-Art], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement- MKM Portfolios
4) A Deep Sleep Fell Upon Abram and a Horror Seized Him. By illustrators of the 1728 Figures de la Bible, Gerard Hoet (1648–1733) and others, published by P. de Hondt, The Hague, 1728 [PD-Us, PD-Art], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
5) Abram’s Promised Possession as in Genesis 15:18–21. (Screenshot from NASA’s globe software World Wind [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
6) Israel from space; nighttime view. By NASA Earth Observatory [PD-Hubble], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
© Charles E. McCracken 2016, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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