Genesis 14 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Ch. 14. ( origin uncertain)

1 12. I. The campaign of Chedorlaomer King of Elam and three vassal kings against the five rebellious kings of the Plain, who are defeated and their cities looted; Lot made prisoner.

13 16. II. Abram’s victorious pursuit of Chedorlaomer and rescue of Lot.

17 24. III. Abram, the King of Sodom, and Melchizedek.

This chapter presents us with the picture of Abram in the character of a warrior vigorous, resourceful, successful, and magnanimous. On the historical background of the narrative, see the chapter comments. The story is somewhat abruptly introduced. The mention of Lot who is dwelling in Sodom forms the chief point of contact with the previous narrative. There are numerous features in the account which seem to indicate its derivation from an entirely distinct source of tradition.


The precise amount of historical value to be assigned to the contents of this chapter has in recent years been much disputed. Archaeology, as Skinner says (p. 276), has proved “that the general setting of the story is consistent with the political situation in the East as disclosed by the monuments; and that it contains data which cannot possibly be the fabrications of an unhistorical age.”

I. Possible Historical Situation. The following is a brief summary of the historical facts which are possibly involved in the account of the Eastern kings mentioned in this chapter: “Under the early kings of the first dynasty of Babylon, the Elamites had invaded Southern Babylonia, and possibly the invasion was the immediate cause of Terah’s migration northwards. At the time of Khammurabi, Kudur-Mabug was the governor of Emutbal, while his son, Rîm-Sin, ruled over Larsa and Ur. Chedorlaomer, whether identical (?) with Kudur-Mabug, or his over-lord, might thus not unnaturally have obliged Amraphel (Khammurabi) to accompany him to battle (Gen 14:1-2). During the latter part of his reign, however, Khammurabi threw off the Elamite yoke, and also defeated Rîm-Sin (who succeeded his brother Arad-Sin as ruler over Larsa) and established his supremacy over Babylonia as well as over the land of Amurru (i.e. Canaan) 1 [17] .”

[17] Handcock, Latest Light on Bible Lands, p. 59. S.P.C.K., 1913.

II. Possible Date. The date assigned by Ungnad (Gressmann’s Texte u. Bilder (1909), i. 103) to the reign of Khammurabi is 2130 2088. Driver (in his Addenda, p. xxxix. N. 3) mentions that Khammurabi “lived, according to Nabuna’id (559 539 b.c.), 700 years before Burnaburiash (1399 1365 b.c.), i.e. c. 2100 b.c.”

No trace has yet been found in the inscriptions of this particular expedition in which the Elamite king Chedorlaomer, attended by his vassal kings of Babylonia, Larsa, and Goiim, invaded the country E. of the Jordan, in order to punish a rebellion. It may be prudent, until further evidence is forthcoming, to suspend our judgement upon the identification of the names of the four kings of the East. The distinguished Assyriologist, Johns, after an investigation of the whole subject, raised a warning voice ten years ago. “The cuneiform originals suggested for the names in Genesis 14 are therefore only ingenious conjectures. They may all be right, but as yet not one is proved” ( Expositor, Oct. 1903, p. 286).

III. Literary Character. The chapter differs in style from the three main literary sources of Genesis, J, E, and P. The special use of the words rendered “goods” ( Gen 14:11-12 ; Gen 14:16 ; Gen 14:21), “persons” ( Gen 14:21), “born in his house” ( Gen 14:14, cf. Gen 17:12 P), which are characteristic of P, is insufficient for any general inference.

The mention of Lot in Gen 14:12 as “Abram’s brother’s son” may possibly be a gloss. But the unique description of Abram in Gen 14:13 as “the Hebrew,” as if his name were here freshly introduced, is certainly surprising. It cannot, however, be claimed that the chapter is a mere isolated fragment. It presupposes the residence of Lot in the region of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 13:10-11 J). It assumes the residence of Abram by “the oaks (or, terebinths) of Mamre” (Gen 13:18 J; cf. Gen 14:13), although it identifies Mamre and Eshcol, with the names of persons and not of places.

The unskilfulness of the literary style is in marked contrast to that which is prevalent throughout the rest of the book. The following examples are noteworthy in this short passage. (1) The grammatical structure of Gen 14:1-2 is strangely cumbrous: “And it came to pass in the days of [four kings], that they made war.” (2) Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, who, as appears from Gen 14:9 ; Gen 14:17, was the over-lord and leader of the expedition, is mentioned third in the list of the four kings in Gen 14:1. (3) In Gen 14:3 it is uncertain which kings are spoken of, and the contents of the verse anticipate Gen 14:8. (4) It is implied in Gen 14:10 that the king of Sodom perished; in Gen 14:17 the king, of Sodom meets Abram on his return from his victory. (5) The incident of Melchizedek ( Gen 14:18-20) interrupts the account of the meeting of the king of Sodom with Abram ( Gen 14:17 ; Gen 14:21). (6) In Gen 14:20 “he gave him a tenth of all,” if, as has generally been supposed, Abram is the giver and Melchizedek the recipient, there is an abrupt change of subject. But the grammatical uncertainty has led some to suppose that Melchizedek paid tithes to Abram!

IV. Geographical Notes. In the geographical allusions, archaic names are for the most part employed.

( a) Gen 14:2, “Bela (the same is Zoar).” It is implied that the city whose name was altered to Zoar (19) had previously been called Bela.

( b) Gen 14:3, “the vale of Siddim (the same is the Salt Sea).” This name for the Dead Sea is only found in this passage. It assumes that four cities out of the five (i.e. Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim) were overwhelmed at the time of the catastrophe described in chap. 19.

© Gen 14:4-5, “the Rephaim … the Zuzim … the Emim … the Horites” are mentioned in Deu 2:10-12; Deu 2:20-21 as the names of the aborigines subsequently dispossessed by Moab, Ammon, and Edom. The Rephaim, or sons of Rapha, were a legendary race of “giants.”

( d) Gen 14:7, “En-mishpat (the same is Kadesh).” Kadesh was the scene of the Israelite encampment in the wilderness; where Moses obtained water for the people by striking the rock (Num 20:1-13). If the name En-mishpat (a Well of Judgement) was an older title, it implied the existence of water there before the name of “The Waters of Meribah” had been given to the spring.

( e) Gen 14:7, “the Amalekites and the Amorites.” The mention of the Amorites along with the Amalekites who were a wandering race in the south of Canaan, is inexact. “Amorite” is sometimes used in E for “Canaanite.” The “Amurru” of the Tel-el-Amarna tablets were in N. Palestine.

( f) Gen 14:14, “as far as Dan.” The writer, instead of using the archaic name Laish or Leshem, employs the name which could only have come into use after the capture of the town by the Danites, recorded in Jdg 18:29.

( g) Gen 14:17, “the vale of Shaveh (the same is the King’s Vale).” “Shaveh” is here used as a proper name; but, as in Gen 14:5, it is usually a word meaning “a plain.” The King’s Vale, if we may judge from 2Sa 18:18, was in the vicinity of Jerusalem.

( h) Gen 14:18, “king of Salem.” See note. In view of the archaic names employed in the context, it is most natural to assume that “Jerusalem” is intended; and that the writer deliberately avoided the familiar name of the city. On the other hand, “The Samaritans identified the city of Salem with their sanctuary on Mount Gerizim (see LXX, Gen 33:18; comp. Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica ix. 17) 1 [18] .”

[18] Kohler, art. “Melchizedek,” Jewish Encyclopaedia.

V. Origin of Tradition obscure. Whatever its source may have been, the story stands by itself. It represents one of many legends which were current respecting the patriarch. Whether the framework in which it now stands be derived from a very early document or from some later collection of traditions ( Midrash), it is impossible to decide.

That Abram should suddenly figure in events of the greater world’s history, that he should appear as a warrior and inflict defeat upon the armies of four Eastern kings, produces an impression widely different from that which is forthcoming from the rest of the patriarchal narrative. But, making allowance for the tendency of traditions to magnify the deeds of the national hero, we need not pass any hasty verdict against the general trustworthiness of the story.

It is true that, according to the Hebrew tradition, the five kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela, must have been petty princes of towns lying quite close together in a small inconsiderable district of S.E. Canaan; and that an expedition against them by their over-lord, the king of Elam, and his vassals would, on the face of it, have been most improbable. But we must remember that, if we might assume a wide-spread rebellion, or refusal to pay tribute, on the part of the Western Provinces belonging to the Elamite Empire, the punitive expedition, according to the Hebrew local legends, would have been reputed to be more especially directed against the Canaanite rebellious kings. As to the improbability of the route, or of the strategy, it is unreasonable to expect minute accuracy from a narrative reproducing archaic conditions, in reference to an almost prehistoric event. Proper names, when unfamiliar, are liable to undergo assimilation to more familiar ones. The heroic deeds of the hero become exaggerated: the greatness of his victories is enhanced by lapse of time.

If we may judge from geological evidence, there is no probability in the supposition that in the time of Abram the Dead Sea submerged a fertile district and overwhelmed populous cities. Hence it is not unlikely that the tradition of the Five Cities “in the vale of Siddim” may have received an erroneous identification as to their site and names.

Consult other comments:

Genesis 14:0 - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Genesis 14:0 - Commentary on the Holy Bible by Thomas Coke

Genesis 14:0 - College Press Bible Study Textbook Series

Genesis 14:0 - Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers (Old and New Testaments)

Genesis 14:0 - John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

Genesis 14:0 - Matthew Henry's Whole Bible Commentary

Genesis 14:0 - Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Genesis 14:0 - English Annotations on the Holy Bible by Matthew Poole

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges