The battle belongs to the Lordhttp://file%20will%20be%20published%20here
- Hebrews 7:1-10
- Genesis 14:1-24
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
It was told of Charles William Eliot, once president of Harvard University, who had a conversation with a campus labourer who said: “There is not much difference between men, but the little difference there is makes all the difference in the world.”
There was not much difference between Abraham and those around him living in Canaan. But the difference between him and other leaders made all the difference for the rest of history as we know it. Abraham was not a special man, with an extraordinary skill-set; he was just a man who trusted the God who called him out of the futility of worshipping idols, and he trusted the God promised to carry him all the way till those promises were fulfilled – even long after he died.
Things did not always work out for the man of God and his wife. Their life in more than one way is our experience as Christians every day. They expected fertility, but they found famine. There were conquering armies and disputatious stockmen. Maybe Sarah had dreams of a peaceful home, instead she experienced temporary exile. Abraham possibly had visions of many little children running around, instead he found himself preparing for the battlefield to rescue his nephew. If anyone of us received the promise of Genesis 12:1–3, we might have felt being deceived – at face value at least, nothing seemed to come to fruition.
Abraham and the first war in the Bible
It is almost as if the first verse of Genesis 14 takes us back to the world out of which Abraham was called. It is sort of a reality check. The first king mentioned in that verse is Amraphel, king of Shinar. It was from this valley that Abraham had come. In coalition with two other kings he descended onto the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah and three other cities in the Jordan valley and brutally subjected them. For twelve years long they became servants of the northern kings, but in the 13th year they rebelled. This invoked the anger of their oppressors which then went on a rampage by taking far more territory that previously had. At first the folk in the Jordan Valley thought they could stand against the northern kings, but soon they realised their weakness against the superior armies and withdrew in humiliation. They lost their cities and livelihood. The people were taken into captivity – which included the nephew of Abraham, Lot.
This was not just a little localised squirm between insignificant personalities. It was a major shift of political powers of international importance which, in terms of land mass, covers an area inclusive of all of modern day Israel, Lebanon, Syria and parts of the present day Iraq.
Lot, who in the previous chapter, chose go and live in the green Jordan valley where everything looked so attractive – and remember he went there because he had many possessions – lost everything. He went there to increase his possessions but ended up with nothing. This holds a great lesson for us. In a way I think Lot’s history is a practical outworking of what God said in Genesis 12:1-3:
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1–3, NIV)
Lot was not under the blessing of Abraham anymore. Yes he was of the same family line, but he deliberately chose to move out from under that blessing. Now he found himself with nothing, destined to serve as a slave to godless people.
Abraham – and the Most High God
It seems that at that stage Abraham had gained influence in the Promised Land. For security reasons Mamre and his two brothers, Eschol and Aner, allied with Abraham, who had trained 318 men as soldiers. This number reminds us of the small army of men with Gideon.
Without hesitation Abraham mustered his men and went in pursuit of the armies of Kedorlaomer and his allies to rescue his nephew. Abraham had no political ambition, although it would have been the perfect opportunity to claim his stake on the land if God would allow him the victory. God had already promised him the land, he had no need to fight for it.
As Christians we have no need to go into military battle for the world; Christ defeated the powers of this world on the cross and He declared that all power and authority have been given to Him. We don’t go into battle with destructive weaponry; we don’t don’t demand of people, facing the barrel of a gun, to repent of die. We don’t blow up buildings – we don’t need any military power to achieve what God wants us to do. Christians may not find themselves involved in a holy war with real armies and battle gear. It is not by power and by might, but by the Spirit of God.
Abraham did not blame Lot for what happened to him. He did not say that he should sleep on the bed he made. The case was not lost; rescuing Lot was possible, and maybe he might come to his senses to trust God once again in and with his life.
For all practical reasons the pursuit was doomed even before it began: who in his right mind would go after established armies with a handful of people with no real war experience.
But for Abraham the cause was right. It was God’s will that he rescue Lot – and that was the end of the argument. The God who rescue him from slavery of sin, made promises to him, and he trusted that God to bring him home safely.
He also trusted God for wisdom as to how he should plan and execute the rescue. David more than once said God taught him to battle against his enemy:
He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. (Psalm 18:34, NIV)
With the wisdom which God gave him he pursued the armies where they were going to the north, even north of Damascus. God gave him the mercy to rescue the goods and people stolen from Sodom and Gomorrah. He brought back his nephew Lot too.
The battle belongs to God. It was not the strength of military expertise of Abraham or his courage that brought about the victory. It was God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, who delivered hi enemies into his hand. (Genesis 14:19-20)
What grace it was to Lot! You would have thought that he would not go back to Sodom, the evil place. One would have thought that even Sodom and Gomorrah would have repented to worship the God of Abraham. But it apparently made not impact on them. Lot settled there again and the sin of Sodom compounded. Their next visitation as not from hostile earthly kings, but from the holy, just and righteous God.
Abraham and Christ
On his return, as he went past Salem, two very important people came out to meet Abraham. If I were in Abraham’s shoes I would have thought, “Rightly so! I have just routed the armies of the enemy, gained some international recognition as a military leader. I have put my life on the line while these folks did nothing!”
In the Valley of Kings these two kings met with Abraham. The first was Melchizedek. He was also a priest of God Most High. With him had bread and wine. He was king of righteousness, while at the same time, as king of Salem, he was king of peace. As priest he was ministering, not to one peculiar people, as the Levites afterwards did, but to mankind at large without any distinction.
He blessed Abraham. This was the first person Abraham came across in the Promised Land whom he could relate to: they served the same God. The Bible gives us very little about Melchizedek, but God sent him to Abraham for encouragement. I don’t think it’s beyond comprehension to think that these two men spent wonderful moments of fellowship in the Lord: the Valley of Kings that day became the Valley of The King – God Most High.
God revealed something to Abraham in his meeting with Melchizedek: there is something great about who that man represents. By faith he saw something that is hidden to the unspiritual eye: Abraham was not great, even after his victory; Melchizedek and who he represented was great! We need to go to Hebrews 7 now. Verse 2:
First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” (Hebrews 7:2, NIV)
It is by the righteousness that God provides through the priesthood of Jesus Christ that peace comes to us. The writer of the Hebrews explains to us that Christ is priest in the order of Melchizedek: not according to the tribe of Levi – Jesus was born from the tribe of Judah. He met the righteousness of God by being far more than any earthly priest could be: he was sinless and there was no need for him to make atonement for Himself. He was an end to the earthly priesthood of intercession by the blood of bulls and calves: his won perfect sacrifice of body and blood brings peace to us. He is is “the great High Priest” that once ministered on earth, and is now passed into the heavens to offer incense before the throne of God. In Him alone, after Melchizedek, were combined the offices of King and Priest: He and he only is “a Priest upon his throne.”
By faith, this is what Abraham saw on the Valley of the Kings. That’s why he give gave him a tenth of all of the loot. One does not give something like this to human beings – only to God.
Did you notice that Melchizedek did not offer sacrifices when he met with Abraham? He had bread and wine to feed the hungry and weary soul just back from war. In this he also exemplifies our Lord who feed us on the signs of wine and bread: his body and his blood – and we look back to his victory on the cross, and we look forward to the eternal rest when He comes again.
Abraham went on his journey as happy man. God sealed his promise to Abraham through the ministry of Word and sacrament. But there was another choice to make.
Abraham and the anti-Christ
While still in the Valley of the Kings, another king arrived. It was Bera the king of Sodom. Although he was in no position to deal with Abraham, he made him an offer. The devil is good at this. He even tried to trick Jesus into giving Him what rightly already belonged to Him: the kingdoms of the world. Communists are good at this game too: they often want you to sit down around the negotiation table so that they can discuss how to deal with the things belonging to other parties.
Keep in mind Bera was a defeated king. That part of his people now in the custody of Abraham and their possessions only existed because of Abraham, but he insisted on getting his people back in exchange for their possessions which he thought Abraham could keep. If Abraham went into a deal with him this could be held against Abraham in the future.
But after his dealings with Melchizedek and the vision of God’s Kingdom in Jesus Christ, Abraham did as God requires of us in our conduct with the world: no deals! There is no fellowship between light and darkness. There is no harmony between Christ and Belial. What does a believer have in common with and unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? (2Corinthians 6:15-16)
Abraham had made up his mind:
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, 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.’ (Genesis 14:22–23, NIV)
Give the devil no honour. Abraham’s honour was the glory of God who delivered his enemies into his hands. If his allies, Mamre, Aner and Eschol wanted something of the lot, they could take it, but he would not take a thing.
Does it surprise us then that in the next verse God appeared to Abraham and said:
After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Genesis 15:1, NIV)
There is a real possibility that the church of Christ, and of course members individually, find themselves in compromise with the devil: but one’s spiritual life suffers as a result. The spiritual life of the church suffers when we make deals with the world: God’s Spirit cannot minister to us the riches of God’s grace if there are certain corners of our lives we have compromised because we are not walking in the pure light of God’s Word.
There was this day that all of this became very clear to Abraham: it was either Christ – as the king and priest Melchizedek ministered to him the righteousness and peace of God, and they ate the bread and drank the wine – all pointing to the One who would fulfil everything, according to the same order as that of Melchizedek, as the perfect priest, king and prophet of his Father by giving Himself a ransom for many to bring them to God.
… they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:15–16, NIV)
May God give us such a vision: that we would be satisfied with Him, that we would feast on his promises, that we would not compromise ourselves with the devil – that indeed we, like Abraham, would march out in the power of the Lord Jesus, for the battle belongs to HIm. To Him all glory in heaven and on earth. AMEN.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 17 August 2014