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God and His People

In the Beginning: A Study in Genesis  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  30:42
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I’m beginning to think that Genesis 14 was put here to challenge those who get to preach it. The list of names is simply ridiculous; bear with me as I attempt to read the first half of the chapter.
If you have your Bible (and I hope you do), please turn with me to Genesis 14. Follow along with me.
Genesis 14:1–12 NIV
1 At the time when Amraphel was king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goyim, 2 these kings went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboyim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). 3 All these latter kings joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Dead Sea Valley). 4 For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled. 5 In the fourteenth year, Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him went out and defeated the Rephaites in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, the Emites in Shaveh Kiriathaim 6 and the Horites in the hill country of Seir, as far as El Paran near the desert. 7 Then they turned back and went to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and they conquered the whole territory of the Amalekites, as well as the Amorites who were living in Hazezon Tamar. 8 Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboyim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim 9 against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goyim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five. 10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of tar pits, and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled to the hills. 11 The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. 12 They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.
Besides all the names, it just a bit confusing. The last phrase in verse 9 was helpful to me: four kings against five.
That’s the essence of what’s going on here: rival alliances of kings fighting against one another: four kings against five.
I just kept reading these verses this week and then I would jot down on paper who was with whom and where each king was from. I’m a visual person; I need to get a picture in my mind. This map helped me out a great deal.
[SLIDE] The four Mesopotamian Kings
It’s immensely helpful for me to see the region in question, and to understand the scale of it all.
The king who’s farthest away is Chedorlaomer (roughly 1,200 miles via the route he takes to fight the other kings). I compared this map to a map of the United States. If Abram was living in this general area, Chedorlaomer would be in Virginia Beach, Virginia—right on the coast.
He traveled to what would be West Virginia to meet up with Amraphel. They traveled to Chicago where Tidal (Mackinac Island) and Arioch (Detroit) would meet up with them and the four kings would travel through Illinois and Iowa before turning south. Something like that.
It’s a long journey for them, but they have to get their people in line; those who have been subject to them need a good whoopin’.
On their way to battle the five kings, the four kings display their military strength along the way, defeating a number of tribal groups they encounter.
If we imagine them working their way down I-49, they’d be fighting people in several of the towns along the way. Grandview, Harrisonville.
These four kings from the East would have smacked Adrian around like our boys did Friday night.
In the battle between the four kings from the east, the five kings of the Jordan Valley fail to beat back the alliance of the four traveling kings.
It’s four kings against five and the four kings win. The kings of Sodom and Gomorrah flee from the battle sight and either fall into the tar pits or hide themselves there (the Hebrew word can mean either fall or lower into).
Either way, the four kings from the East emerge victorious and take everything all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food.
The real intrigue of the battle comes in verse 12:
Genesis 14:12 NIV
12 They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.
This makes the entire event—all the names and places and maps—much more relevant the story-arch of Genesis.
I love a good battle scene, but this isn’t that. This is just a bunch of names—people and places I don’t really care about or know anything about.
We don’t really know why the kings of the Jordan Valley decided now was the time to stage a revolt after 12 years.
I can’t explain why the four kings from the East took off on a 2,500 mile road-trip to beat down some inferior armies.
The real kicker—the reason this story is included in Genesis—is that Lot was carried off. Lot, Abram’s nephew.
This has moved from a boring battle of random names to an event that matters very much.
This makes it pretty interesting, though not in the way people might think.
People might think, “Boy, put 9 kings from all over the ANE into a story—four kings against five—toss their names around for a bit, have them battle it out, and you’ve got front page, above the fold news. This is primetime, interrupt-the-game-with-this-special-news-event kind of news.”
That’s not what makes this interesting.
The only reason we know about these kings, the only reason they’re in the story at all, the only reason we struggle to pronounce the names of these kings we’ve never even heard of is because their story happens to intersect with the story of Abram.
As much as these kings and all the people of the time would consider them to be the main event, it’s actually Abram and Lot whose stories we’re concerned about all these thousands of years later.

The Story of God and His People is the Real Story

Genesis 14 is an odd account and not very familiar to us at all. The author of Genesis starts the story with the big, important names of the day. But we end up seeing just how small they really are in the grand scheme of God’s story.
The Bible does this often.
Listen to Luke 2:1-4
Luke 2:1–4 NIV
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
At Caesar Augustus’ death, the Roman empire took in 3,340,000 square miles (that’s just a little smaller than the entire United States)
Caesar Augustus was hailed as “savior, bringer of good tidings, and a god.”
And yet, Caesar and his decree at the start of Luke 2 are just background information for the real story, the story of a baby born to save the world.
The great Caesar is nothing at all in our telling of the Christmas story. We ignore Caesar and talk instead about a carpenter from Nazareth and his fiance and a baby and a feeding trough.
A baby is the story; the mighty, mighty Caesar is background information.
Luke 3:1-2 borders on the hilarious:
Luke 3:1–2 NIV
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
Luke must enjoy this kind of subversive storytelling. For six clauses, Luke builds up the expectancy. Something big’s gonna happen if all the area leaders are mentioned.
But it’s not what anyone thinks.
The big story, the main event, the most significant news of the day is that the word of God came to John.
The Bible understands what we don’t have eyes to see:
Presidents and Congress and stock markets and the playoffs and Hollywood aren’t that big of a deal, despite what we tend to think about them and what they certainly think of themselves.
They are merely the background of history.
God’s attention is on Abram and his family. God’s concern is with His people. They might not make the cover of a magazine or headline the evening news, but God’s mind and His story are always focused on wherever His people are.
What matters is what happens among Abram’s family.
What counts is when a mom and dad read the Bible to their children and pray with them at night.
What matters is when a handful of ladies gather together to pray for friends and neighbors.
What’s significant is when Christian wakes up, goes to their job, and puts in a solid day’s work—doing so for the glory of God.
What’s important is that conversation you had about with your co-worker about Jesus, that plate of cookies delivered to a neighbor along with an invitation to church.
What matters is a decision to follow Jesus, a commitment to serve the church, repentance from sin or a lifestyle you know is wrong.
The story of God and His people is the real story.
Abram’s involvement has been hinted at, and now he enters the story.
Genesis 14:13–16 NIV
13 A man who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshkol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.
Here’s a map to help us:
[SLIDE] Abram and the four kings
Abram, officially involved, hearing his nephew was taken, called out the men who had been trained (in combat apparently). They attacked and routed the four kings.
Abram recovers everything that was taken, including, most importantly, his nephew Lot.
There’s no explicit mention of the LORD here. We don’t hear from Him or anything about Him up to this point in the chapter.
But, remember: the LORD God is always looking out for His people.
The promise the LORD made to Abram still stands. He promised to Abram:
Genesis 12:3 NIV
3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
This, here, is part of the “whoever curses you I will curse” promise. The forces who are against Abram and his family are no match for the LORD.
The LORD promises to bless Abram. Implicit in the promise is provision—of land, blessing, care, food, protection.
The LORD’s promise is a guarantee; an anchor for the soul.
The LORD is looking out for His people. This is true where Abram is concerned and where we are concerned.

The Story of God and His People is the Real Story

After the 9-king battle, the rescue of Lot by Abram, the recovery of everything Chedorlaomer & Company took, we read this:
Genesis 14:17–24 NIV
17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. 21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap 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, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.”
What started out as 9-king battle is now a tale of two kings, really.
The king of Sodom comes out to meet the conquering hero Abram, but Melchizedek, the king of Salem cuts him off.
Melchizedek is mysterious—he comes from out of nowhere, we don’t have any background information on him, he shows up and then he’s gone. He’s a mystery (I’ve spent as much time thinking about him and reading about him as I did working to pronounce the names of the kings).
Psalm 110 is a messianic psalm; that is, it finds fulfillment in Jesus, saying that Jesus is a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6-7 speak of Melchizedek and Jesus together and how they are similar they are. Hebrews says Melchizedek was someone resembling the Son of God.
Melchizedek is a type or foreshadowing of Christ; he’s comparable to the eternal high priesthood of the righteous Son of God—Jesus—who truly is the King of Righteousness and the One who brings true and lasting peace by the sacrifice of His body and blood.
Melchizedek, the king of Salem, is a king-priest in Jerusalem, one who holds onto knowledge of the true God in the midst of the religious chaos of Canaan.
Melchizedek praises the LORD, recognizing that the LORD is sovereign, powerful, and the creator/possessor of all. Melchizedek also rightly points out that it was God Most High who delivered Abram’s enemies into his hand.
For everything we don’t know Melchizedek, we know we like him. He’s pointing us to a different kind of priest, a different kind of King. We know he’s pointing us to Jesus—the great high priest and the King of Kings.
We like Melchizedek.
And then there’s the king of Sodom. The king of Sodom is trying to direct matters, trying to bring Abram under his authority and sway.
Abram will have none of it.
Abram’s already declared his allegiance to Melchizedek. Abram’s given his tithe to Melchizedek. Abram refuses to be subject to Sodom or give his allegiance to Sodom.
The story of God and His people is the real story; this we’ve seen. And this is what’s demanded of God’s people:

God’s People Must Be Ready and Willing to Stand for Him

God’s people must be ready and willing to stand for what’s right. Abram knows that the king of Sodom and everything he offers is evil.
Abram refuses to take so much as a shoelace from the guy. He boldly states: I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal…
For Abram, there was the choice to honor the LORD, to give His priest a tithe, a tenth of everything. Or the choice to keep all the goods/possessions, the spoils of war, and end up being in Sodom’s pocket.
The people of God routinely, over and over again, face the same alternatives.
It starts at the beginning of your life as a Christian.
It’s about choosing the path the LORD would have you follow (the narrow path which leads to life) or the wide path which leads to destruction.
These choices follow you all the days of your life.
Will you give into peer pressure and take what they’re offering you?
Or will you stand firm and do what you know the LORD asks of you?
Will you live by the Word of God or by the ways of the world?
One is easier than the other; it’s much easier to go with the majority and just fit it.
Those who share the same faith as Abram will be faced with similar decisions: who we’ll follow, who we’ll listen to, who we will let disciple us.
Colin Hansen has written: “The Internet — not the local church — has become the primary place where Christians are formed today.”
A couple years ago someone wrote that American Christians are discipled more by the news than they are the Word of God.”
No matter what direction the world tries to get us to go, we must remember: God’s people are to stand out and stand with the LORD.
It’s a matter of following the 1st Commandment—You shall have no other gods besides me.
We either worship the LORD as God or, by default, we serve other masters. You can’t serve God and anything else.
Abram’s rejection of the offer made by the king of Sodom powerfully affirms that he is depending upon God and not on human kings or their gifts in order to become a “great nation” and acquire a great name.
Abram knows that God—the possessor of heaven and earth—is adequate to give him all that is needed.
Abram doesn’t need and will have nothing to do with the paltry offer of temporary possessions from the king of Sodom.
Church, we must be ready and willing to stand for the LORD.
We know He’s with us (He’s promised).
We will face uncertain days. We will find ourselves pressured to conform to the pattern of this world. There is an endless barrage of evil forces, those who seek to kill, steal, and destroy.
But the LORD Almighty is with us—always. In Him, by His strength, we are able to stand with the LORD, for the LORD.
Abram had a choice:
To get rich at the hands of an evil king,
to honor the LORD and His priest (giving a tenth of all he had, accepting his simple provision of bread and wine).
Our choice isn’t really different at all:
To take what the world offers, celebrate and accept what the world does, and ultimately do what the world demands,
To stand with the LORD and trust Him for our daily bread.
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