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How and when to engage in the worlds battles. We are to be a people separated. To know when to engage in the battles around us takes a great deal of wisdom. Those from the political right and the political left want to drag us in to their battles.
The world ever rages around us.
What are some of the ways that the world rages around us, they all ultimately have to do with power.
- Political battles
- Popularity battles
- Promotional battles
- "Pecking-Order" battles
- Preference battles
Genesis 14 contains an account of this first and great war of the Valley of Siddom, as a continuing example of a great theme of Genesis: that the inhabitants of the world, having severed their ties with their Creator, rage against one another in cycles of violence and oppression. Chapter 13 ends with Abram settling by the oaks of Mamre, peaceful in worship, and we will find halfway through this chapter that Abram is living a life of peace and prosperity so that his household has continued to expand, yet during this period of peace in Abram’s life, the world is raging around him.
Gen. 14:1 In the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, 2 these kings made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar).
3 And all these joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). 4 Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled. 5 In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him came and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim, 6 and the Horites in their hill country of Seir as far as El-paran on the border of the wilderness.
7 Then they turned back and came to En-mishpat (that is, Kadesh) and defeated all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who were dwelling in Hazazon-tamar.
Gen. 14:8 Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out, and they joined battle in the Valley of Siddim 9 with Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar, four kings against five.
10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the hill country. 11 So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way.
Gen. 14:13 Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner. These were allies of Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people.
Just by this review you can see how fascinating these battles must have been in regards to the political strategy and geopolitical politics, yet through it all Abram as depicted as detached. In fact, the text introduces Abram by using a new word, one that Abram has not yet been called up until now in the Bible, the word “Hebrew”. The word Hebrew has a disputed meaning, yet most scholars of language believe that the word has some association with the words, “foreigner, journeyman, wanderer, or pilgrim”; that is, the word did not describe Abram’s ethnic origin, but his position in the land. He is detached from the geopolitical systems around him, he’s detached from the local politics, he is detached from the wars and battles that rage around him. And many have seen Abram as a picture of the Christian, who is waiting patiently for the kingdom of heaven, who lives among the kingdoms of the world, yet stands detached from them. As the old song says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through” or Peter calls us in the New Testament “sojourners and exiles” or Paul, who refers to us as “citizens of heaven”. The idea is that there is a detachment within the life of the believer from being too entangled in fighting the world’s battles.
This is a difficult thing to work out today, in today’s politically charged environment. We live in a world in which political engagement is becoming a day to day requirement. It’s harder still because we want to pick a side and fight for our rights and liberties. I know I do from time to time. And yes, it is true that we can err on the side of being too detached from the world around us - there are times in which the church’s testimony has suffered because we have been silent in the face of injustice within and around us. And finally there are times in which the battles of the world around us suddenly become directed at us, and in that case detachment is not an option. However, I do think that Abram gives us some help in developing some wisdom in engaging the battles of the world around us.
we engage the world’s battles to rescue the wandering
First notice that Abram does not get involved in the worlds’s battles simply to fight, or to pursue his own purpose. His purpose of engagement is to rescue to lost and wandering. Now there may be other reasons in which it is wise to join in the world’s battles, to seek justice, to defend the widow and the orphan, yet the one thing we have been authorized to do, it to be engaged in the world in order to save souls. “All authority has been given to me,” Jesus said, “therefore, go”.
The choice to associate with the sinners of Sodom has led to devastating consequences for Lot. Many commentators have understood Lot as a wandering believer, drawn to the materialistic call - the good life, but drifting, drifting down to the company of the wicked in Sodom. And it is this drift toward Sodom, this settling in Sodom, that has sealed Lot’s fate and made him captive. And perhaps Abram, could have held it against Lot
Yet Lot is here twice called “kinsmen” - the Hebrew word, “brother”. Though he would not be the heir of Abram, he is still a brother,
James 5:19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Jesus engaged the world to save the lost.
Who are the people who need rescuing? What battles in your home, school, and work, and culture would you need to engage in to go after them?
we engage the world’s battles allied with an all-powerful God
The more I studied this passage, the more threatening these armies from the North became to me. This was a well-operated military advance. Cities and armies fell before them. And then Abraham hears of Lot’s capture, he gathers 318 trained men, born in his house, and they pursue this vast army nearly 140km, surround them in the night and defeat them. To what is this credited? the answer is given in the text for us, not through any description f a miraculous victory, but through a unique visitation
After Abram rescues the Lot and the people and there possessions, he is visited by one of the most intriguing people you will find in scripture.
Gen. 14:17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
This King Melchizadek has sparked the imagination and speculation of interpreters for thousands of years. What do we know about him:
- He is the king of Salem, meaning the king of peace - it is interesting that he himself remained detached from the world’s wars. Salem would later be renamed “Jerusalem”, and become the capital of Israel.
- His name means “King of Righteousness”
- He is not only a king, but is also a priest - he is actually the first priest referred to in the Bible. In the Old Testament a priest was understood to be a mediator between the people and God, and certainly Melchizadek functions as a mediator/representative of God here. Although in Israel, the offices of king and priest were kept separate so that one could not be both king and priest, King David, writing in Psalm 110, prophesied that in the person of the Messiah the offices of king and priest would be united once again, and thus Melchizadek becomes a foreshadowing of the Messiah. Psalm 110:4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
This is important in understanding the work of Jesus Christ. As a descendant of King David, Jesus could not have served as a Levitical priest in Israel’s temple. However, the author of Hebrews argues, Jesus’ priesthood is far more ancient than the levitical priesthood, as he is a priest after the manner of Melchizadek. Some have even gone so far as to speculate that Melchizadek is Jesus, given that he just appears on the scene and vanishes as quickly after offering the bread and wine - a possible allusion to the Lord’s Supper. I don’t think that one needs to go that far, that seems unnecessarily speculative, but it demonstrates how important Melchizadek is in his dual office of priest/king.
- Melchizadek is the priest of the God Most High, El Elyon. This is very significant. As we go through the book of Genesis we will every once in a while meet people who have a relationship with the Creator God, who show up in surprising places. Although God chose Abram, and his descendants as the people through which the promises of the Messiah would be passed down, people such as Melchizadek remind us that God is still God of the nations and was still dealing with humanity as they passed down knowledge of the creator to their own descendants. Some Jewish commentators believe Melchizadek was a descendent of Shem, for example. In any case, he is presented without comment as a true worshipper of God. This is important because sometimes we give a picture of human history in which it is assumed that no one outside of Israel ever had knowledge of God and that entire regions of the world are damned simply because of their distance from God’s people. Genesis seems to understand that there were at that time at least still true worshippers of God outside of Israel.
Anyway, that’s Melchizadek, and he explains Abraham’s unlikely victory: “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” Abram’s victory was not by might, or by cunning, or by strength of numbers, but by the blessing of the Lord.
This should give us great encouragement. Gideon. David. The church in the Roman Empire. Your school. Your family. Your workplace. Our culture. Maybe God has us right where he wants us, when our resources seem small and the enemies overwhelming, because God can be big.
Abram worship God through Melchizadek be offering a tithe, a tenth of the spoils of the victory. A recognition that yes, indeed, the victory was not the Lord’s and that everything that Abram has is a gift of grace, as it is God who blesses, God who gives, God who works in us.
we engage the world’s battles cautious of the enticement of goods and acclaim
As Abram worships the Lord for giving him victory, we seem that his spiritual victory is immediately countered by a temptation. This is not rare. We need to be wise about the devil’s scheme’s and one of his schemes is to tempt you after you’ve had a spiritual or personal victory, because he knows that at that time you are especially vulnerable to sins of entitlement. I deserve this, or I was good yesterday, so today I’ll indulge this or that lust. Abram’s temptation follows this line of entitlement, but note his wisdom in dealing with this trap:
21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.”
In the midst of great victory, Abram does not exploit the blessing of the Lord for financial gain or acclaim by men. Abram does this because he understands what men will say about him, about his motives, and about his character. Abram only got involved because he wanted to get rich off of the victory. Your motives may have been complete altruistic. However, people in this world generally don’t think altruistically, and so they will project evil motivations upon us
Titus 1:15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.
This is why it is often very wise to forgo even the spoils of the victory, for the sake of maintaining a purity of character in front of others. Abram is here trusting the Lord. He knows that the Lord will give the land to his descendants, but he is not going to take it to himself before the Lord gives it. It takes a lot of discipline to think in this way.
As you engage the battles around you at home, school, and work, what temptations will you face? How will you take steps to ensure that your reputation will be preserved even as people try to project evil motives to you?