************ Sermon on Genesis 14:17-18 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 11, 1999
"Torn Between Two Lovers"
I The Setting
A Genesis 14 is a rather peculiar chapter. The author packs the first thirteen verses with the names of kings, peoples, and cities before he actually gets around to his main point. In working through these names it is easy to become distracted from the main event the author wants to highlight. But, to understand the author's main point we do have to take note of the details of the story in front of us.
B What are the details that help us to understand Genesis 14? First, you need to know the alliances. We are told that five kings formed an alliance against four kings led by Kedorlaomer.
C Second, you need to know the geography. The five kings all came from the Jordan River Valley; they were pretty well clustered around the south end of the Salt Sea. The other alliance – led by Kedorlaomer – came mostly from Mesopotamia, the River Valley formed at the junction of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. This means that the army headed by Kedorlaomer was more than one thousand miles away from home.
D Third, you need to know the history. For twelve years the five kings and cities of the Jordan River Valley had been paying tribute to Kedorlaomer – a king who lived more than a thousand miles away. From this we can only conclude that Kedorlaomer was the head of a swift and powerful army. In the thirteenth year the five kings of the Jordan River Valley rebelled and stopped paying tribute. In the fourteenth year Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him made the thousand mile plus journey to the Jordan River Valley and defeated the Rephaites, Zuzites, Emites, and Horites. Then they attacked and defeated the Jordan River Valley alliance. Kedorlaomer and those with him then looted the five cities and hauled off the inhabitants as captives – including Lot and his family.
E Fourth, you need to understand that though Abram's bonds with Lot had been severed, he was not alone. He not only sheltered 318 trained soldiers in his own household but he had also formed an alliance with three chieftains living in his vicinity. Abram, in other words, was the head of his own military alliance.
F Fifth, you need to realize that in defeating Kedorlaomer's army Abram established himself as a formidable power in Canaan. The Bible tells us that when Abram was told his relative had been taken captive he set off in pursuit of Kedorlaomer and his army. He chased them for about 180 miles. He then showed himself to be a military strategist – Scripture tells us he divided his men and came at Kedorlaomer and his soldiers from two sides and defeated them. His soldiers pursued the defeated soldiers for about another 75 miles. He recovered all the goods that had been looted and all the people that had been taken captive – including Lot and his family. Abram's victory was no small thing; don't forget, Abram thoroughly defeated the powerful alliance headed up by Kedorlaomer. And, the consequences of Abram's victory was no small thing either; in fact, Abram's victory made him the most powerful man in the Jordan River Valley and the land of Canaan.
II Two Choices
A What is the most important scene in this chapter? It isn't the one in the Valley of Siddim, where the forces of Kedorlaomer were victorious. Nor is it the one at Dan, where Abram's men defeated the powerful alliance headed up by Kedorlaomer. Rather, the most important scene is the one mentioned by our text this morning: Abram standing between the King of Sodom and the King of Salem.
B The King of Sodom knew that Abram was the most powerful man in Canaan. He knew that Abram was a man to be reckoned with. Abram had, in effect, taken Canaan militarily by destroying its enemy. The King of Sodom knew that he owed Abram his life, his city, his people, and his goods. So he offered Abram all the booty of his city. In other words, he was now willing to pay to Abram the tribute he had been paying to Kedorlaomer. He was willing to treat Abram as his overlord, as his king. He was handing Canaan to Abram on a platter.
All Abram had to do now was consolidate his power. All Abram needed to do to control Canaan was set up a government, enlarge his army, and collect tribute from the other four kings of the Jordan River Valley alliance. The choice was Abram's.
I am sure Abram could see the opportunity that the King of Sodom was offering him. Don't forget the promises of God to Abram: God had promised to Abram a great nation, a great name, and a great land (Gen 12:1-3). Was Abram's defeat of Kedorlaomer what God had in mind? Were God's promises to be realized by military might and victory? Should Abram see the offer of the King of Sodom as the way God intended to fulfill His promises?
C The King of Sodom was not the only one who met Abram as Abram returned victorious from battle. Abram was also met by Melchizedek, the King of Salem.
Melchizedek is a very mysterious figure mentioned only in Genesis 14, Psalm 110, and Hebrews 5-7. The name "Melchizedek" means "king of righteousness" (Heb 7:2). Our Scripture reading identifies him as "king of Salem" which literally means "king of peace"; the city of "Salem," by the way, was later given the name "Jerusalem." Genesis also tells us that Melchizedek is a "priest of God Most High" (vs 18). As such, Melchizedek was someone like Job or Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses – he was one of a small remnant in the midst of the idolatry and corruption of Canaan who was still involved in the pure worship of "God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth" (vs 19).
Melchizedek has been the subject of much speculation. Some early Christian thinkers believed him to be an angel. Others thought he was Christ Himself. Jewish opinion held that he was Noah's son Shem, surviving to the time of Abram.
When we look at Melchizedek in the light of the New Testament, we see him to be a type of Christ. Like Christ He is "king of righteousness" and "king of peace" and "priest of God Most High." Melchizedek foreshadowed Jesus Christ, the great Priest-King Who was to come (Zech 6:13).
Scripture tells us that this mysterious figure, Melchizedek, offered Abram bread and wine and blessed Abram in the name of the Lord. Now, you need to realize that a blessing is something given by a greater to a lesser. So in giving the blessing Melchizedek was declaring his superiority over Abram. Of course he was superior – because he was a type, a foreshadowing, of Christ Himself.
D Abram now had a choice. He could accept the blessing of Melchizedek or he could accept the booty of the King of Sodom. Abram had a choice between being a subject or being a king. Abram had a choice between being a ruler or being a servant. Which would he choose?
To steal a phrase from a song in the 70's, Abram was torn between two lovers: Melchizedek and the King of Sodom. He needed to make a choice. Which would he choose?
If you were in Abram's shoes (or sandals) which would you choose? Most people today would accept the offer of the King of Sodom. They would reason to themselves that they had pursued the enemy, they had fought the battle, they had won the war, they had put themselves at risk – therefore, they deserved what the King of Sodom was offering. They had earned their reward.
III Abram's Choice
A I want you to notice what Abram did. Abram gave Melchizedek "a tenth of everything." Abram gave Melchizedek a tithe of the booty he had regained in rescuing Lot. A tithe, of course, is what God later demanded of His Old Testament people. A tithe, in other words, is what you give to a greater person, to your superior, to your overlord, to your master and king.
I also want you to notice what Abram said. Abram told the King of Sodom he would not accept the booty offered to him. He said,
(Gen 14:23-24) "... I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, 'I made Abram rich.' (24) I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me--to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre. Let them have their share."
Abram made his choice: he said "Yes" to Melchizedek and "No" to the King of Sodom.
B There is more at stake here than what first meets the eye. In making his choice, Abram said "No" to receiving Canaan on a platter; he said "No" to being treated as an earthly king. But he also said "No" to receiving God's promise of a land and nation and name through military might and conquest.
Abram knew that the choice before him was to either possess the land by faith and trust in God and His promises or to possess the land by the power of the sword, by military strategy, and by making deals and treaties and alliances with the Canaanites. Abram's choice was to live either by divine grace or by the works of the flesh.
When it comes right down to it, did Abram earn, did he deserve, what the king of Sodom was offering to him? The victory over Kedorlaomer and his army – was it Abram's victory or was it the Lord's victory? Was Abram his own man or was he God's soldier? And the alliance he headed, was it Abram's army or God's army? Abram's answers to these questions shows whether he lives by divine grace or by the works of the flesh.
The choice confronting Abram reminds me of the words of the prophet Zechariah:
(Zech 4:6) "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty."
The choice confronting Abram also reminds me of the words of the song "There's No God as Great" that we are going to be singing in a few minutes:
There's no god as great as you, O Lord, O Lord ...
There's no god who works the mighty wonders,
all the wonders that you do ...
Not by our weapons, nor by our power,
but by your Spirit we are led ...
(P.H. # 517)
The choice confronting Abram also reminds me of Christ's Parable of the Growing Seed:
(Mk 4:26-29) "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. (27) Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. (28) All by itself the soil produces grain--first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. (29) As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come."The point is that the Kingdom of God is solely God's doing from beginning to end. None of our dreams or plans or work or treaties or battles can bring about the Kingdom. The Kingdom is like a seed that the farmer plants and that God alone nurtures with sunshine and rain. The seed matures, in other words, without the help of the farmer.
Abram is like the smart farmer in the parable. He did not set aside his faith in God to jump at the offer from the King of Sodom and force the early birth of the Kingdom of God. Rather, he had faith and trust that God would bring about His Kingdom and realize His promises in His own time and in His own way.
C You and I have the same choice as Abram. Like Abram we have to choose to live either by divine grace or by the works of the flesh.
I want to remind you that God's promises to us are as big as His promises made to Abram. God promises us life everlasting. He promises us a new and better life in a new and better body on a new and better earth. He promises us a place in the heavenly kingdom. He promises us a crown of righteousness. He promises us salvation and the blessings of salvation.
Are these promises to be fulfilled by the works of the flesh or by divine grace? Like Abram we also are torn between two lovers: the kingdom of God on the one hand and the kingdom of the world on the other.
You all should know that salvation and all the blessings of salvation are not something we can grab by our own effort or win by our own merit. They are something we receive only by grace and through faith. Here we part company with every other religion and even every other expression of Christianity:
Topic: GraceWhat a contrast to Christianity. Aren't you glad that conversion to Jesus Christ is not accomplished by this kind of self-inflicted torture?
Subtopic: Salvation by
The following headline was in the Grand Rapids Press in December of 1989: "Conversion to Hindu Faith Is Tortuous."
The article went on to state that "A West German businessman has completed his conversion to the Hindu faith by piercing himself through the cheeks with a ¼-inch thick, 4-foot-long steel rod, and pulling a chariot for 2 miles by ropes attached to his back and chest by steel hooks. Others walk through 20-foot-long pits of fire, wear shoes with soles made of nails, or hang in the air spreadeagled from hooks embedded in their backs."
(Zech 4:6) "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit," says the LORD Almighty.
Or, consider what happens in many Roman Catholic and Muslim countries:
Topic: GraceIn order to be saved, people do so many odd, self-humiliating acts, of the flesh not understanding that Jesus paid it all and God did it all! They don't understand that salvation is all by grace and through faith and not by any work of the flesh.
Subtopic: Salvation by
For instance, on Maundy Thursday, thousands of Filipinos re-enacted the last agony of Jesus. Barefoot, over the hot stone streets in scorching sun, they dragged heavy wooden crosses and flogged their bare backs bloody with glass-studded whips. More than a dozen people were nailed to crosses, seeking redemption through pain and suffering.
At a Moslem shrine in Bangladesh a woman worshiper offering prayers extended her arms toward one of the crocodiles which live there; it bit off her hand and swallowed it.
Abram, when torn between two lovers, made a choice to live by grace and through faith and not by the works of the flesh.
Is this your choice as well?
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