September 17, 2006
When the odds are long against you, faith dares to follow God's lead.
The Setting: War in the Middle East (Genesis 14:1-12)
I. Faith Dares to Rescue (Genesis 14:13-16)
II. Faith Dares to Give (Genesis 14:17-24)
MessageLike a wolf in the fold. In recounting the Syrian attack on the Israeli held Golan heights on Saturday, October 6th, 1973, many commentators recalled Lord Byrons famous line. There is little doubt thats what the Syrian commanders had in mind when they planned the attack that would hurl more tanks at the Israelis than any of Hitlers generals had ever dreamed of having. However, the sheep found by the Syrians on that Day of Atonement, the most solemn day of the Jewish year, were more like big-horned rams than poetic lambs. The two Israeli brigades on the Golan were out numbered nearly nine to one. The 7th held the northern Golan and barely budged, its defense a delicate balance of rigidity and flexibility. Individual strong points held stubbornly, channeling the Syrians into rocky defiles, to be smashed by roving bands of Israeli armor. At the time reinforcements began arriving, the situation was still in hand - barely. By the fourth day the Syrian tank army was a smoking ruin.
The Barak (Thunderbolt) Brigade held the southern heights. Here the terrain was less suited to defense. Within hours the Barak had been broken up. The Syrian spear heads were quick to exploit the gaps and race toward their strategic objective, the Sea of Galilee. The situation that developed over the next thirty-six hours would prove the gravest test of Israeli arms since 1948. Reinforcements had to be thrown into the battle area piecemeal - plugging holes, blocking roads, even rallying units that had broken in combat and fled the field. Only on the third day were the Israelis able to assemble their armored fist, first enveloping, then smashing the three deep Syrian penetrations. The changeover to offensive operations followed without pause. The Syrians were hurled back by a wrathful counterattack. At the end of the fourth day the troopers of the Barak and the 7th heard by radio a message from Israeli Defense Forces High Command: You have saved the people of Israel.
This account, from Tom Clancys novel The Sum of All Fears chronicles what could almost be a typical scenario for ancient Israel. Against overwhelming odds and with daring faith a small force of Israeli soldiers goes out against a much larger army, and the foe is almost miraculously defeated. In fact the first instance of this occurs before Israel is even Israel. In Genesis 14, we find Abram, the father of the father of Israel, leading a small band of trained men in a desperate rescue that succeeds against all odds. The lesson we need to learn as were traveling on this journey of faith is that when the odds are long against you, faith dares to follow Gods lead.
The Setting: War in the Middle East (Genesis 14:1-12)
Lets begin by setting the scene for this conflict. Well go through Genesis 14:1-12, a few verses at a time, staring with 14:1-4 At this time Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goiim 2went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). 3All these latter kings joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (the Salt Sea). 4For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.
Okay, who are these people? There are two groups, the oppressors and the rebels. The oppressors are a coalition of kings from near Babylon. Shinar is the name of the plain in which Babylon is located. Elam is to the east of that, in modern-day Iran. Ellaser and Goiim are a little harder to locate, but certainly in the same general area. The leader of these kings was Kedorlaomer, who is usually mentioned first. He and his allies had subjugated the whole area of Canaan and Jordan, but now five kings from the cities of the plains had rebelled against the tribute they were required to pay. The five cities of the plain were Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Zoar. So this is Middle Eastern politics, 2000 BC style. The only difference may be that these kingdoms and armies would be much smaller than they are today. Where the Egyptians and Syrians massed hundreds of thousands of troops for the Yom Kippur war, these armies might have numbered only in the thousands.
But Kedorlaomer and his allies were thorough and efficient when they set out to crush the rebellion. Verses 5 to 9: 5In 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 6and the Horites in the hill country of Seir, as far as El Paran near the desert. 7Then 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 Hazazon Tamar. 8Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim 9against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar--four kings against five.
Whats happening is that instead of just marching down the Jordan valley, Kedorlaomer and his allies are defeating every army and kingdom on the whole west side of the Jordan, along a route called The Highway of the Kings. The locations of some of these kingdoms are debated, but its pretty clear that they run in a north to south line down the map. The oppressors defeat the Rephaites, the Zuzites, the Emites, and the Horites. Then they double back and take care of the Amalekites and the Amorites. Only then do they go up to the Valley of Siddom, along the current Dead Sea, to engage the five rebelling kings. Verses 10 to 12: 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. 11The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. 12They also carried off Abram's nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.
The kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and their allies, were obviously daunted. Their troops dug in for all-out battle in the valley of Siddim, yet in the end they offered little resistance. They retreated from the enemy, northward on the west side of the Jordan river. Some fell into the tar pits of the valley, others fled to the hills. Sodom and Gomorrah were sacked: everything and everyone that could be was carried off. Verse 12 adds: They also carried off Abram's nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom. What a commentary on Lots decision in chapter 13. Hed made a foolish choice based on human wisdom, and all that hed gained by taking advantage of Abram was lost in an instant. Seemingly by chance, he was caught in the middle of an international incident. But dont miss the fact that he was living in Sodom. When we left him in chapter 13 he was first living in the valley of the Jordan. Then he moved his tents near Sodom. Now hes moved into the city - so now he and his family and their goods are carted off with the rest of the plunder. He whod been so shrewd was now a slave, all because of his selfish desires.
I. Faith Dares to Rescue (Genesis 14:13-16)
But fortunately for Lot, Abram is learning that faith dares. When the odds seem long, faith dares. Genesis 14:13-16 13One 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 Eshcol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. 14When 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. 15During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.
A number of people escaped from the defeat of the rebellious cities of the plains, and one came and reported to Abram. Its not out of the question that the one who escaped was one of Lots servants. Notice that Abram is for the first time called the Hebrew. The term has been found in several inscriptions in the Middle East beginning at about this time. It may mean a descendant of Eber, Noahs grandson, which Abram was. Another way to decode it is one from beyond the river and since Abram was an immigrant from beyond the Euphrates, that would make sense too. Its hard to decide between the two. We do know that the term Hebrew becomes the ethnic and national name for all Abrams descendants.
We also find out that Abram was still living by the great trees of Mamre, almost certainly still dwelling in tents. The great trees belonged to an Amorite named Mamre, who, with his brothers Eshcol and Aner, has become close to Abram, close enough that when Abram calls out his own trained troops, these three join him. But its not a large group. Abram finds 318 fighting men from his household - servants, relatives, herdsmen, etc. With whatever similar number of Amorites are along, he takes off in pursuit of the triumphant armies of Kedorlaomer and his allies.
Think about that: its a step of faith. The odds must have been as bad as those which the Israeli Defense Forces faced on the Golan Heights: ten to one. Moreover, these four northern kings had momentum - they were undefeated in the campaign. There was no human way that Abram could expect victory. But he didnt lack military sense. He probably knew the land along the Jordan well, and he employed a forced march to create a surprise attack from two directions. I suspect Clancys description of the 1973 war could apply to Abrams, in almost the same location: Individual strong points held stubbornly, channeling Kedorlaomers forces into rocky defiles, where they were smashed by mobile bands of Abrams warriors. Having routed the enemy armies, Abram pursued until they were north of Dan and even of Damascus. At that point the pursuit was so vigorous that the oppressors left behind the plunder and the captives in order to make their escape. If you remember the Persian Gulf war, the same thing happened: Saddams forces abandoned a treasure trove of Kuwaiti loot along the highway from Kuwait to Bagdad. So Abram simply gathered the loot, and the hostages, and his nephew and brought them all back.
This was an against all odds victory, a David-defeats-Goliath victory, a classic God comes through victory. Abram went out in faith and God responded in faithfulness. I could multiply Scriptural examples, but I can also multiply examples in my life and in your lives and in the life of this church. There are times when we are called to take a step of faith against the odds, to be daring as we go where we think God is leading. A favorite example from my life is when I felt God calling me into ministry: I didnt know how Id make ends meet in seminary. But God provided through the unexpected sale of my business and the chance to work for the company that bought it. In the life of our church, we have the shared experience of knocking on doors only God can open, and seeing him provide not only this building, but the finances needed to purchase it. We took a step of faith and found God faithful.
So the lesson to be learned from Abram and really from all of Scripture is that when the odds seem long against something that you clearly discern as Gods leading, there are these times when faith dares. You dont get guarantees; sometimes you dont even get a safety net. But God is faithful and will care for you, often in ways you dont expect, and often in ways that miraculously bring him glory.
Let me ask you a question: what was Abram doing by faith? He was rescuing Lot. Abram dared great odds to rescue. In the same way we need to dare to rescue. Who? How about the lost, those who do not know Jesus as their rescuer? There are people all around - family, neighbors, co-workers - who need the rescue only Jesus can give, and you and I need to have the daring faith form relationship, to get out of our comfort zone, to speak the good news. Other rescues might be relational - stepping out in faith to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and children to fathers, husbands to wives, wives to husbands. Some situations may seem incurable - but faith dares to attempt the rescue even when the world says its impossible.
II. Faith Dares to Give (Genesis 14:17-24)
God is faithful when the odds are stacked against us. But faith dares other things as well. Verses 17 to 24: 17After 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). 18Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19and he blessed Abram, saying, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. 21The king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself." 22But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath 23that 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.' 24I 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 returns in triumph with those he has rescued and the loot he has gathered. As he comes, the king of Sodom meets him. But before this king can praise Abram, another king shows up with a different focus: Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. Melchizedek is one of the great mysterious figures of Scripture. He only appears this once, yet hes regarded as crucially important. His name means king of righteousness and he is king of a city called Salem or peace, the predecessor name of Jerusalem. And more than a king: hes also priest of God Most High. In that age, when knowledge of the creator God seems to have long since faded, there was still someone, besides Abram, who identified with God Most High and worshiped and served him.
Who is Melchizedek? Psalm 110:4 says The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. The writer of Hebrews points this at Jesus: He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. 7:1This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, 2and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. His name means "king of righteousness"; then also, "king of Salem" means "king of peace." 3Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever. Hebrews doesnt explicitly say Melchizedek was Jesus in a pre-incarnate appearance. But his use of bread and wine, and the fact that he is without beginning of days or end of life certainly fits Jesus. So Melchizedek / Jesus teaches Abram to worship. He says Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand. One commentator says Melchizedek puts Abrams victory in theological perspective. His words remind Abram that the victory was Gods, and that his success was a result of Gods blessing. And Abrams response, his tithe to Melchizedek, was a testimony to his faith. Faith dares to give.
In verse 21 the attention shifts back to the king of Sodom, and we see that Abrams faith not only dared to give, but it dared to refuse. Verse 21"The king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself. This would have been reasonable: by all customs of the day the spoils were Abrams. So his words may have been a shock: Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath 23that 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.' Abram, with daring faith, has chosen the path of radical dependence on God. He feels free to give a tenth of the spoils to God, but he doesnt feel free to keep the rest, because that would take away from the glory of depending on God alone for provision. Notice that Abram raised his right hand to the Lord and took an oath about these things. Notice too that when Abram refers to God Most High, creator of heaven and earth, he has learned this language of worship from Melchizedek - or Jesus.
The only concession Abram makes is to accept a share for his allies. Verse 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. These men were pagans, in front of whom Abram was learning to depend on God. Abram didnt want to spoil these relationships by denying his allies their rightful part - he just didnt want to take his.
So what are we seeing here? When the odds are long against you, faith dares to follow Gods lead. Abram is acting in daring faith by turning down what might be seen as mans provision so that the honor of providing would be Gods alone. Abram gave a tenth directly to God in the person of Melchizedek, but he gave the rest as well. Faith dares to give even where human wisdom would say whoa, too much. Now where would this apply? Well, of course it would apply to our finances - have you ever gone financially out on a limb for the sake of serving God? We as a church have - in buying this building, in choosing to hire an associate pastor, in going on Russia missions trips, weve done things where some have said whoa, too much. But weve had faith in a faithful God - and hes provided. Not that he has to - hes not a tame lion - but he is faithful to his purposes and provides to fulfill them.
And the same can be true in your family finances. There are times when faith dares to give. One of the rare joys of the Christian life is the chance to really be generous - to give above and beyond. I recommend you seek that joy as often as possible. Ive always been grateful for the generosity Caroline and David Casselberry showed to many. God had provided and they were generous. Faith also dares to give generously of time and energy. Pouring yourself out for others, daring to rescue, striving toward what is ahead, learning to say no but being willing to say yes - these are marks of daring faith. If I dare to give my self away to the point where people say whoa, too much then I will learn that there is a faithful God who supplies all my needs and who strengthens those who follow him.
Faith dares. Most of you know the Achgills, who are now living not too many miles from where these events took place, and who have repeatedly given it all up and given it all away for Jesus, to go on rescue missions So the next time you get a daring faith idea, like going on a missions trip or giving above and beyond, the next time somebody says whoa, too much, I ask you to prayerfully consider the leading of God, and the teaching of the Word. If youre confident of those things, then dare to rescue, dare to give. When the odds are long, faith dares to follow Gods lead.