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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Genesis 14

 

 

Introduction

Verse 1

XIV.

INVASION OF THE JORDAN VALLEY BY CHEDOR-LAOMER, KING OF ELAM.

(1) It came to pass.—Connected with the settlement of Lot in the Jordan valley is one of the most remarkable episodes in the whole of the Bible, derived either from Canaanite records, or, as Mr. Sayce thinks (Chald. Genesis, p. 72), from those of Babylon. The latter view is made the more probable by the fact that Amraphel, though but a subject king, is placed first; and the way in which the patriarch is described in it, as “Abram the Hebrew,” seems certainly to suggest that we have to do here with a narrative of foreign origin.

Its incorporation with the history admirably sets forth the consequences of Lot’s choice in the troubles, and even ruin, which overtook him, the bravery and power of Abram, and his generosity to the rescued kings. It is also most interesting, as showing Abram’s relation to the Amorites, among whom he lived, and the existence in Palestine of a Semitic population, who still worshipped “the most high God,” and over whom one of the noblest figures in the Old Testament was king. The narrative is Jehovistic, for Abram calls God Jehovah El Elton, but is, nevertheless, of such ancient date as to forbid the acceptance of the theory which regards the occurrence of the name Jehovah as a proof of later authorship. Upon Elam and the conquests and route of Chedorlaomer, see Excursus at end of this book.

Amraphel.—An Accadian name, which Lenormant has found on Babylonian cylinders, and which he explains as meaning “the circle of the year.”

Shinar.—See on Genesis 10:10.

Arioch.—i.e., Eriaku, which in Accadian means “servant of the moon-god.” He was king of Ellasar, i.e., Al-Larsa, the city of Larsa, now called Senkereh. It is situated on the left bank of the Euphrates, in Lower Babylonia, and has contributed some very ancient tablets to the collection in the British Museum. The name occurs again in Daniel 2:14.

Tidal.—More correctly in the LXX., Thargal, that is, Tur-gal. the great son (Sayce). In the Syriac he is called “Thargil, king of the Gelae,” the latter being a mistake, through reading Gelim for Goim. This word does not mean “nations,” but is a proper name, spelt Gutium in the inscriptions, “by which the Accadians designated the whole tract of country which extended from the Tigris to the eastern borders of Media, including the district afterwards known as Assyria” (Chald. Gen., p. 197).


Verse 2

(2) Bera king of Sodom.—The failure of the attempt to explain the names of these five kings, and of the cities over which they ruled (with one or two exceptions), by the help of the Hebrew language makes it probable that the inhabitants of the Ciccar were either Canaanites who had come from the sea-coast, or men of some Hamite stock who had colonised this region from the east. The latter is the more probable view, as they do not seem to have had much affinity either with the Amorites or with the Jebusites, their neighbours.


Verse 3

(3) The Horites.—Cave-men, the aboriginal inhabitants of Mount Seir, subsequently conquered by the Edomites (Deuteronomy 2:12; Deuteronomy 2:22). The miserable condition of these earth-men is described in Job 30:3-8.

El-paran.—This forest of oaks (or terebinths) was on the edge of the great wilderness, and reached to within three days’ journey of Sinai (Numbers 10:12; Numbers 10:33).


Verse 4

(4) They served.—That is, paid a yearly tribute, that they might be exempt from Chedorlaomer’s marauding expeditions (see 2 Kings 18:7). There must, therefore, have been envoys going from time to time to and from the Jordan valley to Shinar.


Verse 5

(5) The Rephaims.—Described as an Amorite tribe (Amos 2:9) of great stature, settled in Bashan, where Moses conquered them (Joshua 13:12). We find them also on the other side of Jordan, in Mount Ephraim ( Joshua 17:15), on the western side of Jerusalem (Joshua 15:8; Joshua 18:16; 2 Samuel 5:18; 2 Samuel 5:22), and even among the Philistines (2 Samuel 21:16; 2 Samuel 21:18). In many of these places the word is wrongly translated giants. From this wide dispersion of them we may safely conclude that they belonged to the earlier settlers in the land and that only their rulers, like Og (Joshua 9:10), were Amorites.

Ashteroth Karnaim.—The two-horned Astarte, the Phœnician Venus, identified by the Rephaim with the moon. Her worship had, no doubt, been introduced by the Amorites. This city was the capital of Og (Deuteronomy 1:4), and is called Be-Eshtera, “the house of Astarte,” in Joshua 21:27. Its remains have been found at Tell-Ashtereh, in the Hauran, about two leagues from the ancient Edrei.

The Zuzim.—Called in Deuteronomy 2:20 Zamzummim, where they are identified with the Rephaim, of which stock they were an inferior branch. Their capital, Ham, has been identified with Hameitât, about six miles to the east of the lower part of the Dead Sea (Tristram, Land of Moab, p. 117).

The Emims.—Of these also we read in Deuteronomy 2:10-11 : “The Emim . . . also were accounted Rephaim, as the Anakim.”

In Shaveh Kiriathaim.—More probably, in the plain of Kiriathaim. This city, given to the tribe of Reuben (Numbers 32:37), was, upon the decay of the Israelites upon the east of Jordan, re-occupied by the Moabites (Jeremiah 48:1), who had taken it from the Emim.


Verse 7

(7) They returned.—More correctly, they turned, as they did not go back by the same route, but wheeled towards the north-west.

Enmishpat.—The fountain of justice, because at this spring the ancient inhabitants of the country used to meet to settle their disputes. It was also called Kadesh, probably the ’Ain Qadis described by Professor Palmer. It was a great stronghold, and both a sanctuary and a seat of government. It has been visited lately by Mr. Trumbull, for whose account see Palestine Exploration Fund, Quarterly Statement, July, 1881, pp. 208-212.

The Amalekites.—Saul had to pursue these wandering hordes into the recesses of Paran (1 Samuel 15:7), but they were evidently now in possession of the Negeb of Judea.

Hazezon – tamar, the felling of the palm, is certainly the same as Engedi (2 Chronicles 20:2). For descriptions of this wonderful spot, so dear to Solomon (Song of Solomon 1:14), see Conder, Tent-work, ii. 135; Tristram, Land of Israel, 281; and for its strategical importance, Tristram, Land of Moab, 25.


Verse 8

(8) They joined battle with them.—Heb., they set themselves in array against them. As the five kings left their cities to do battle with the invaders “in the vale of Siddim,” it is plain, as was said in Genesis 14:3, that the vale embraces a far wider extent of country than merely the site of the five cities.


Verse 10

(10) The vale of Siddim was full of slimepits.—That is, of holes whence bitumen had been excavated. Layers of this natural asphalte, well known both to the Greeks and Romans as pia Judaica, Judean pitch, still exist on the western side of the Dead Sea; and the places whence it had been dug out, and which are often very deep, formed dangerous impediments in the way of the defeated side.


Verse 13

(13) One that had escaped.—Heb., the escaped; not any one in particular, but the fugitives generally. As Sodom lay at the north-western end of the Dead Sea, the region where Abram was dwelling would be their natural place of refuge.

Abram the Hebrew.—That is, the immigrant (from beyond the Euphrates), but also his patronymic from Eber, who in like manner had crossed the Tigris. It was, no doubt, the usual title of Abram among the Canaanites, and has been preserved from the original document, whence also probably was taken the exact description of Lot in Genesis 14:12.

The plain of Mamre . . . these were confederate with Abram.—Heb., the oak of Mamre (see Genesis 13:18), and lords, or owners of a covenant. Abram had not occupied Mamre without the consent of the dominant Amorites, and probably there was also a league for mutual defence between him and them.


Verse 14

(14) Abram . . . armed . . . —Heb., led forth, or literally, let them loose, let them pour forth, the verb indicating both their number and also their haste. The word for trained comes from the same root as the name Enoch, for which see note on Genesis 4:17. As Abram’s cattle would often be exposed to danger from the Amalekites, who throughout the Biblical history appear as a race of inveterate plunderers, there is no reason to doubt that these men were trained and practised in the use of weapons. This large number of servants born in his house, and of an age capable of undergoing the fatigues of a rapid pursuit, added to the older men left to defend and take care of the cattle, proves that Abram was the chieftain of a powerful tribe.

Dan.—There is a city of this name in Gilead, mentioned in Deuteronomy 34:1, but this is probably the better known town at the source of the Jordan, also called Laish (Judges 18:29). For having swept the hill country on his march southwards, Chedorlaomer would now plunder the rich vale of the Jordan as his final exploit. Dan is about 140 miles from Hebron, where Abram began his march.


Verse 15

(15) Hobah . . . on the left hand of Damascus.—That is, to the north, as the Hebrews looked eastward in defining the quarters of the heaven. The victory had thus been followed up with great energy, the pursuit having lasted, according to Josephus, the whole of the next day and night after that on which the attack was made. At Hobah the mountains cease, and the great plain of Damascus begins, and further pursuit was therefore useless.


Verse 17

(17) The slaughter.—Heb., the smiting, that is, the defeat of Chedorlaomer.

The valley of Shaven.—That is, the valley of the plain (see on Genesis 14:5). It was the place where Absalom erected his pillar (2 Samuel 18:18), and lay on the northern side of Jerusalem, probably where the Kedron valley widens out. Its other name, “the king’s dale,” may have been given it from this meeting of the kings of Salem and Sodom with the victorious Abram; but Onkelos, with far greater probability, considers that it was so called because upon this level ground the kings of Judah in subsequent times assembled and exercised their forces.


Verse 18

(18) Melchizedek king of Salem.—There is a Salem near Scythopolis in the tribe of Ephraim, near to which John baptised (John 3:23, where it is called Salim), and Jerome mentions that some local ruins there were said to be the remains of Melchizedek’s palace. But such traditions are of little value, and we may eel certain that the place was really Jerusalem (Psalms 76:2); for it lay on Abram’s route homeward, and was within a reasonable distance of Sodom, which, as we have seen, lay in the Ciccar of Jericho, at the northern end of the Dead Sea. Salem is a common name for towns in Palestine (Conder, Tent-work, i. 91), and the village in Ephraim is too remote to have been the place of meeting.

In Melchizedek we have a type of Christ (Psalms 110:4; Hebrews 5:6; Hebrews 5:10; Hebrews 7:1-21), and so venerable is his character and aspect that Jewish tradition identified him with the patriarch Shem, thus reconciling also to themselves his superiority over their forefather Abraham. But this idea is contradicted by Hebrews 7:3. He was more probably the king of some Semitic race who still occupied Salem, but from whom it was at a subsequent period wrested by the Jebusites, who called it Jebus, after the name of their ancestor (Judges 19:10-11). Up to David’s days it seems to have still had a titular king (2 Samuel 24:23), and upon his conquest of it its old name reappears, but with a prefix, and henceforward it was known as Jeru-salem, that is (probably), the possession of Salem.

The typical value of Melehizedek’s priesthood lies not merely in his being “king of righteousness and king of peace,” but even more in his priesthood being universal, limited by no external ordinances, and attached to no particular race or people. Moreover, he is a king-priest (Psalms 110), and by taking precedence of Abram. and blessing him, and receiving of him tithes, he became the representative of a higher priesthood than any that could spring from Abram’s loins.

Bread and wine.—The representatives of food of all kinds, both liquid and solid. Though the primary object of this offering was the refreshing of the bodies of Abram’s men, and of the prisoners wearied with their long march to and fro, yet we cannot but recognise in it a foreshowing of the bestowal by Christ, the antitype, upon His Church of the spiritual food of His most blessed Body and Blood.

Priest of the most high God.—Heb., of El ‘elyon. The mention of the term priest (used here for the first time) shows that some sort of sacrificial worship existed at Salem. Sacrifice had, however, been practised before; for Abel had acted as a priest when offering his firstlings, and Abram at the various altars which he built. Apparently, however, Melchizedek had been set apart for the priesthood in some more definite way. El ‘elyon means “the supreme God,” and though the two words are so similar in English, they are altogether unlike in Hebrew. In Psalms 7:17 the epithet ‘elyon is applied to Jehovah. With that precision in the use of the names of Deity which we have so often noticed before, Melchizedek is described as a priest of El ‘elyon, the Supreme Ruler of the universe; but Abram swears by Jehovah El ‘elyon, thus claiming that Jehovah was that Supreme Deity whom Melchizedek served, though without the special knowledge of Him which the patriarch possessed.


Verse 19

(19) Possessor.—Literally, creator, or framer. It is a poetical word, as are also those for “delivered” and “enemies.” The form of the blessing, moreover, is poetical, as it is arranged in parallel clauses.


Verse 20

(20) He gave him tithes.—Abram thus consecrated the war by a thank-offering to God, Who had given him the victory. But he also, by paying tithes, acknowledged the priesthood of Melchizedek, and that the God Whom he served was the true God. See Hebrews 7:4-11.


Verse 21

(21) Grive me the persons.—To this day it is the rule among the Arabs that, if a camp be plundered, anyone who recovers the booty gives up only the persons, and takes the rest for himself. But Abram, with noble generosity, will accept nothing. The “lifting up of the hand” to give solemnity to an oath is mentioned here for the first time.


Verse 24

(24) The young men . . . the men which went with me.—The former are Abram’s 318 servants, and they are to take only their food. The latter are the Amorites, and they are to have their fair share of the spoil.

We must notice in Abram’s policy that, while Lot had joined himself to the Canaanites, he stood aloof, ready to help on fit occasion, but even so maintaining his independence, and refusing to draw the bonds of friendship close together. Such, too, was the true policy of the people sprung from him. Standing apart from all nations, they were to trust in Jehovah alone for the maintenance of their liberty and rights; and so long as they did thus act they found in Him peace and security.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Genesis 14:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/genesis-14.html. 1905.

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