Another crisis in the life of Abram now comes before us. His was the faith that led to the migration from Ur, and in Lot he found a companion. Lot shared in his pilgrimage up to a certain point, but evidently, though a righteous man, he did not fully share in the faith that prompted the pilgrimage. A point had now been reached when the increase in their possessions, under the Divine blessing, was such that strife broke out among their servants and they could no longer dwell peaceably together. It was not seemly that the two professed pilgrims should be in conflict in the presence of the Canaanite and Perizzite.
Formerly they both had separated from Ur; now they must separate from each other geographically, and put sufficient distance between their cattle and herdsmen to avoid conflict. Abram, the man of faith, is content to yield the first choice to Lot the younger man. The choice of Lot reveals him at once to have been one who walked by sight rather than by faith. They were dwelling on the central heights of the land, whence, lifting up his eyes, Lot could see the warmer and much more fruitful plains of Jericho, stretching down to the Dead Sea and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. With a keen eye to his own profit, Lot made choice of that alluring district and left the less fruitful heights to Abram. He journeyed east, coming down to the plains.
In this episode we see Abram back at the moral elevation that had marked his outset. Then he gave up Ur with its civilized amenities; now he yields up the choicest part of the land of promise content to be still a pilgrim, if in communion with God. His altar indicated that he was in touch with God; his tent that he still remained a pilgrim, though in the land of promise. What lay behind it all is indicated in Hebrews 11, where we read, "By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles [tents] . . . for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." We also read in the same chapter, "They desire a better country, that is, an heavenly." He had been called by "the God of glory," as Stephen made known in his final address, and to that call he remained true.
In contrast to this, Lot saw that the plain, stretching towards Sodom and Gomorrah, was "as the garden of the Lord," and he embraced it, pitching his tent toward Sodom. The men of Sodom however excelled in wickedness, as verse 13 tells us, so evidently though those cities were like the garden of the Lord, they were really a playground of the devil. Towards that evil spot Lot gravitated.
From verse 14 to the end of the chapter we get God's response to Abram's faithfulness. The gift of the whole land to him and to his posterity is confirmed, and a promise is given that his seed shall be very numerous as the dust of the earth. He is bidden to survey the land walking through the length and breadth of it. This led him to move his tent to Mamre or Hebron, but there also he maintained his altar to the Lord.
We can have little doubt that the confusion of tongues at Babel, and the consequent division of mankind into nations, must soon have given rise to fightings and regular warfare, but we have no record of a battle in the Scriptures until we reach Genesis 14, when four kings from the Mesopotamian district made an expedition towards the Dead Sea, ravaging cities as they marched, and ultimately defeating the five kings of the cities of the plain. The "kings" mentioned were mostly, if not all, the leaders of various cities, what we should now call petty chiefs. Chedorlaomer was apparently the suzerain of the kings associated with him, and he had extended his sway over the region of Sodom. The repudiation of his suzerainty was the reason for the expedition.
It is an interesting fact that at this point in the Scripture narrative we come to names of persons that the archaeologists believe they can identify as the result of their researches in digging up the past. Some of these greater kings, such as Amraphel and Chedorlaomer, left their mark on very ancient records, whereas no mark of that nature would be left by Abram the pilgrim,who years before had severed himself from their cities and their whole way of life.
In Genesis, however, all the interest is centred upon Abram with Lot in the background. In verse 12 we are permitted to see another step in the downward course of Lot. Not content with pitching his tent toward Sodom, he had now abandoned tent life altogether and taken a permanent residence in the wicked city—a spot worse than Ur, which originally he had left under Abram's guidance. He now suffered the fate of the people of Sodom and was carried captive with all his house.
Abram acted with great decision directly the news of this disaster reached him. Arming his servants he pursued after the victorious kings, and overtaking them by night, utterly defeated them. No idea is given us of the number of the adversaries but we are told the small number of Abram's forces—318 beside himself. And we are told this we believe, to indicate that Abram's action was prompted by very extraordinary faith. The army he attacked must have been immensely stronger than he, and also flushed with victory all along the line up to that point. Yet he hesitated not, and God was with him. His victory seems to us as remarkable as the victory of Gideon over the Midianites, recorded in the Book of Judges.
In result Abram recovered everything, including Lot, his household and possessions. How striking the picture, and how important its lesson for us! The man—even though he was "just"—who grasped at the world with its outward prosperity and pleasures, lost everything and found himself a captive. The man who gave up the world and walked with God, was the only one in the whole region who could act in faith and have the power of God answering this faith, and giving him the victory.
At the end of the chapter we find Abram winning a victory of another kind, but before we reach it we have the episode of Melchizedek, of which much is made in Hebrews 7, inasmuch as he was a striking type of Christ in the power and grace of His eternal priesthood.
He is introduced to us in verse 18 without any details as to his ancestry: an unusual feature, seeing he held a place of nearness to God. With those who had lapsed into idolatry ancestors are sometimes not mentioned, as, for instance, in the early part of our chapter, but otherwise they are. This fact is part of the Divine design, as pointed out in Hebrews. As far as the record goes, he is without father or mother; there is no pedigree, no mention of his birth nor of his death. He appears suddenly at verse 18 of our chapter, and after verse 20 he disappears. The Son of God has neither beginning of days nor end of life, and in a typical way Melchizedek was made like unto Him in this. Note carefully that in Hebrews 7: 3, he was made like the Son of God, already existing from eternity; not the Son of God made like to him.
Melchizedek then was raised up as type of the eternal order of priesthood, which is consummated in Christ. His name means, "King of righteousness," and Salem meaning peace, he was "King of peace." The argument of Hebrews 7 is that the Lord Jesus, risen from the dead, is Priest after this eternal order, though at present He is exercising His priesthood in ways that were typified in Aaron.
This is the first mention in the Bible of a priest, and so, as we might expect, the full thought of priesthood is here typically set before us. That which the Lord is doing today, as set forth in Aaron, is provisional, in view of our wilderness experiences. When, as seen typically in the beginning of our chapter, the power of the adversary is broken and the captives are delivered, the priesthood, of Christ will be strikingly manifested. He will be the Minister of spiritual food, refreshment and blessing to those who come to Him. In the type we are not carried beyond the blessing that; will be brought to pass on earth, and the millennial name of God—"Most High God"—is used for the first time in Scripture. We have to pass to the New Testament to get a view of heavenly things. Here we have to be content to know that the Most High God is the Possessor of heaven as well as of earth.
Abram, though possessed of earthly goods, as yet possessed nothing of that which God had promised him. To be blessed of the One who is Possessor of heaven and earth, must have been no small thing to him. Abram received the blessing and he gave tithes of all. Both the receiving and the giving were . through Melchizedek, the priest. And since the less is blessed of the better, we see, as pointed out in Hebrews 7, that as priest Melchizedek took precedence of Abram and of the Levitical priesthood of Aaron. Once we know the One who was typified, how luminous the type appears!
The king of Sodom had gone forth to meet the victorious Abram, as mentioned in verse 17, but he does not really come into the picture till verse 21. Wishing to recompense Abram he offered to him all the goods of Sodom, that he had recovered. The way Abram declined the offer is very striking. Through the ministrations of Melchizedek he now knew God in a new way. Put into touch with the Possessor of heaven and earth, the goods of Sodom, however attractive they might have seemed to others, had no value for him. Moreover they were all stained with the enormous sins of that city and brought defilement with them.
Hence, in verse 23, we find language of great decision. The, young men had eaten certain things, and Abram's confederates and helpers might take their portion, but as for himself he would take nothing, not even the smallest item. He had been so fully enriched, both spiritually and materially, by God Himself, that he needed nothing more. His testimony to that would have been marred, if he had given opportunity to the king of Sodom to say he had made Abram rich. It is the same in principle for us today. If we are in the enjoyment of the spiritual blessings that are ours, we have neither need nor desire for the gifts or patronage of the world.
The first verse of Genesis 15 is intimately connected with all this. Not only had the hand of God been with His servant, but the eye of God had been upon him. Abram had renounced his original home in Ur; secondly, the more fruitful parts of the land of promise in favour of Lot thirdly, any portion or tribute from the sinful world, at the hands of the king of Sodom. All this had been observed, and now in a fresh vision God presents Himself to him as his shield and his "exceeding great reward."
If Abram had not had some confidence that God would be his shield he would hardly have undertaken to pursue the victorious kings and rescue Lot with a mere handful of men, as he had just done. But that he should have God for his reward went far beyond this. When he left Ur, he may have looked upon the land of promise as his reward, though he never actually possessed it. Now God Himself is to be his reward, and this surely is "exceeding great." Brought, as we are, into the light of God revealed in Christ, we are better able to estimate the greatness than ever Abram could have done.
The greatness of it did, however sufficiently dawn on Abram to make him feel acutely, by way of contrast, the poverty of his present position as a childless man with a servant born in his house as his heir. How could the everlasting God be reward to one who had no hope of a posterity to carry on his name? Hence his seemingly rather selfish enquiry, "Lord God, what wilt Thou give me?"
The answer to this was the word of promise, which called forth Abram's simple acceptance of God's word in such distinctness and in such measure that he stands for all time as the pattern of faith. To his example Paul appeals in Romans 4, calling him, "the father of all them that believe." The word to this childless man was that he should have true seed as numerous as the stars of heaven; and the record is that, "he believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness."
As yet there was no sign of the promise being accomplished. But Abram simply took God at His word, and in view of this God accounted him to be righteous. As we saw in Genesis 3, when our first parents began to doubt the word of God, sin entered and mankind got out of right relations with God. Conversely when a man dismisses doubting and simply takes God at His word he is thereby put into right relations with God—he is accounted righteous.
This promise of the seed enfolded within it a far greater blessing than appeared at the moment, for presently we shall find that the promise of the Saviour was wrapped up in it. For the moment a numerous posterity was guaranteed, and coupled with that the lesser promise of the land was repeated, as we see in verse 7. As to this second part Abram's faith was not so robust, and he desired some confirmation that he might know with assurance. Have we not often found that we may accept the greater thing in faith, and yet be lacking in assurance as to some lesser thing? He was already in the land and yet possessed nothing of it, and the years were passing by. He felt he needed some extra assurance on this point.
God graciously condescended to answer this by making a solemn covenant, according to a rite that was common and accepted in those far off days. In Jeremiah 34: 18, 19, we find an allusion to this kind of ceremony as ratifying a covenant. In the case before us the solemnity of the occasion seems to be enhanced by the number and variety of the animals that were sacrificed. Abram was kept waiting however until sundown before anything happened, and then he fell into a deep sleep, accompanied by horror and darkness. God was drawing near to him, and the covenant involved darkness as well as light.
Verses 13-16, give the terms of the covenant. The centuries of affliction in Egypt for Abram's seed are predicted, and this was in keeping with the great darkness that had fallen upon him. But there was light also for he had the assurance that he should end his days in peace, and that ultimately his seed should be delivered from their affliction by the judgment of their oppressors, and back to the land of promise they should come. Thus, in spite of long waiting and much trouble, the land was made sure to his seed.
The ratification of all this as a covenant was when after dark a smoking furnace and a burning lamp passed between the divided pieces of the sacrifice. In this twofold way did God manifest His presence. There was no thought of Abram passing between the pieces, as though he were pledging himself to anything. It was God pledging Himself to do as He had just said, and that in an unconditional way. This manifestation of God, passing between the pieces, was as remarkable as His manifestation to Moses in the burning bush.
In after days we find both Moses and Solomon speaking of Egypt as the "iron furnace"—see, Deuteronomy 4: 20; 1 Kings 8: 51. How apposite then the manifestation afforded by this vision! God was in the furnace equally with the flame of the lamp. It might be easy to discern Him in the bright shining of the flame, but not so easy in the smoking furnace. It was the guarantee however that he would be with Abram's seed when they should be in the furnace, and then when the hour struck, lead them forth with Himself as a pillar of fire at their head.
Before we leave Genesis 15 note two things. First, God was going to permit the Amorites to fill up the cup of their iniquity before he ejected and destroyed them. This is ever the way He takes in His holy government, and it accounts for the long-suffering He extends to the guilty world in which we are living. He knows the full nature of man's evil from the outset, but He allows it to be fully developed, so that His judgment, when it falls in full severity, may be justified in the sight of all created intelligences.
Secondly, the full extent of the land pledged to the seed of Abram, is given—"from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates. The land we call Palestine is bounded on the East by the small river, the river Jordan, and is only a very small part of the land they are ultimately to possess. Ten peoples are mentioned in the closing verses as then dwelling therein. All are to be dispossessed and in the millennial age the true Israel will possess their promised land.