Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The war, which furnished Abram with an opportunity, while in the promised land of which as yet he could not really call a single rood his own, to prove himself a valiant warrior, and not only to smite the existing chiefs of the imperial power of Asia, but to bring back to the kings of Canaan the booty that had been carried off, is circumstantially described, not so much in the interests of secular history as on account of its significance in relation to the kingdom of God. It is of importance, however, as a simple historical fact, to see that in the statement in Gen 14:1, the king of Shinar occupies the first place, although the king of Edom, Chedorlaomer, not only took the lead in the expedition, and had allied himself for that purpose with the other kings, but had previously subjugated the cities of the valley of Siddim, and therefore had extended his dominion very widely over hither Asia. If, notwithstanding this, the time of the war related here is connected with "the days of Amraphel, king of Shinar," this is done, no doubt, with reference to the fact that the first worldly kingdom was founded in Shinar by Nimrod (Gen 10:10), a kingdom which still existed under Amraphel, though it was now confined to Shinar itself, whilst Elam possessed the supremacy in inner Asia. There is no ground whatever for regarding the four kings mentioned in Gen 14:1 as four Assyrian generally or viceroys, as Josephus has done in direct contradiction to the biblical text; for, according to the more careful historical researches, the commencement of the Assyrian kingdom belongs to a later period; and Berosus speaks of an earlier Median rule in Babylon, which reaches as far back as the age of the patriarchs (cf. M. v. Niebuhr, Gesch. Assurs, p. 271). It appears significant also, that the imperial power of Asia had already extended as far as Canaan, and had subdued the valley of the Jordan, no doubt with the intention of holding the Jordan valley as the high-road to Egypt. We have here a prelude of the future assault of the worldly power upon the kingdom of God established in Canaan; and the importance of this event to sacred history consists in the fact, that the kings of the valley of the Jordan and the surrounding country submitted to the worldly power, whilst Abram, on the contrary, with his home-born servants, smote the conquerors and rescued their booty, - a prophetic sign that in the conflict with the power of the world the seed of Abram would not only not be subdued, but would be able to rescue from destruction those who appealed to it for aid.
In Gen 14:1-3 the account is introduced by a list of the parties engaged in war. The kings named here are not mentioned again. On Shinar, see Gen 10:10; and on Elam, Gen 10:22. It cannot be determined with certainty where Ellasar was. Knobel supposes it to be Artemita, which was also called Χαλάσαρ, in southern Assyria, to the north of Babylon. Goyim is not used here for nations generally, but is the name of one particular nation or country. In Delitzsch's opinion it is an older name for Galilee, though probably with different boundaries (cf. Jos 12:23; Jdg 4:2; and Isa 9:1). - The verb עשׂוּ (made), in Gen 14:2, is governed by the kings mentioned in Gen 14:1. To Bela, whose king is not mentioned by name, the later name Zoar (vid., Gen 19:22) is added as being better known.
"All these (five kings) allied themselves together, (and came with their forces) into the vale of Siddim (השׂדּים, prob. fields of plains), which is the Salt Sea;" that is to say, which was changed into the Salt Sea on the destruction of its cities (Gen 19:24-25). That there should be five kings in the five cities (πεντάπολις, Wis. 10:6) of this valley, was quite in harmony with the condition of Canaan, where even at a later period every city had its king.
The occasion of the war was the revolt of the kings of the vale of Siddim from Chedorlaomer. They had been subject to him for twelve years, "and the thirteenth year they rebelled." In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer came with his allies to punish them for their rebellion, and attacked on his way several other cities to the east of the Arabah, as far as the Elanitic Gulf, no doubt because they also had withdrawn from his dominion. The army moved along the great military road from inner Asia, past Damascus, through Peraea, where they smote the Rephaims, Zuzims, Emims, and Horites. "The Rephaim in Ashteroth Karnaim:" all that is known with certainty of the Rephaim is, that they were a tribe of gigantic stature, and in the time of Abram had spread over the whole of Peraea, and held not only Bashan, but the country afterwards possessed by the Moabites; from which possessions they were subsequently expelled by the descendants of Lot and the Amorites, and so nearly exterminated, that Og, king of Bashan, is described as the remnant of the Rephaim (Deu 2:20; Deu 3:11, Deu 3:13; Jos 12:4; Jos 13:12). Beside this, there were Rephaim on this side of the Jordan among the Canaanitish tribes (Gen 15:20), some to the west of Jerusalem, in the valley which was called after them the valley of the Rephaim (Jos 15:8; Jos 18:16; Sa2 5:18, etc.), others on the mountains of Ephraim (Jos 17:15); while the last remains of them were also to be found among the Philistines (Sa2 21:16.; Ch1 20:4.). The current explanation of the name, viz., "the long-stretched," or giants (Ewald), does not prevent our regarding רפא as the personal name of their forefather, though no intimation is given of their origin. That they were not Canaanites may be inferred from the fact, that on the eastern side of the Jordan they were subjugated and exterminated by the Canaanitish branch of the Amorites. Notwithstanding this, they may have been descendants of Ham, though the fact that the Canaanites spoke a Semitic tongue rather favours the conclusion that the oldest population of Canaan, and therefore the Rephaim, were of Semitic descent. At any rate, the opinion of J. G. Mller, that they belonged to the aborigines, who were not related to Shem, Ham, and Japhet, is perfectly arbitrary. - Ashteroth Karnaim, or briefly Ashtaroth, the capital afterwards of Og of Bashan, was situated in Hauran; and ruins of it are said to be still seen in Tell Ashtereh, two hours and a half from Nowah, and one and three-quarters from the ancient Edrei, somewhere between Nowah and Mezareib (see Ritter, Erdkunde).
(Note: J. G. Wetztein, however, has lately denied the identity of Ashteroth Karnaim, which he interprets as meaning Ashtaroth near Karnaim, with Ashtaroth the capital of Og (see Reiseber. b. Hauran, etc. 1860, p. 107). But he does so without sufficient reason. He disputes most strongly the fact that Ashtaroth was situated on the hill Ashtere, because the Arabs now in Hauran assured him, that the ruins of this Tell (or hill) suggested rather a monastery or watch-tower than a large city, and associates it with the Bostra of the Greeks and Romans, the modern Bozra, partly on account of the central situation of this town, and its consequent importance to Hauran and Peraea generally, and partly also on account of the similarity in the name, as Bostra is the latinized form of Beeshterah, which we find in Jos 21:27 in the place of the Ashtaroth of Ch1 6:56; and that form is composed of Beth Ashtaroth, to which there are as many analogies as there are instances of the omission of Beth before the names of towns, which is a sufficient explanation of Ashtaroth (cf. Ges. thes., p. 175 and 193).)
"The Zuzims in Ham" were probably the people whom the Ammonites called Zam zummim, and who were also reckoned among the Rephaim (Deu 2:20). Ham was possibly the ancient name of Rabba of the Ammonites (Deu 3:11), the remains being still preserved in the ruins of Ammn. - "The Emim in the plain of Kiryathaim:" the אימים or אמים (i.e., fearful, terrible), were the earlier inhabitants of the country of the Moabites, who gave them the name; and, like the Anakim, they were also reckoned among the Rephaim (Deu 2:11). Kiryathaim is certainly not to be found where Eusebius and Jerome supposed, viz., in Καριάδα, Coraiatha, the modern Koerriath or Kereyat, ten miles to the west of Medabah; for this is not situated in the plain, and corresponds to Kerioth (Jer 48:24), with which Eusebius and Jerome have confounded Kiryathaim. It is probably still to be seen in the ruins of el Teym or et Tueme, about a mile to the west of Medabah. "The Horites (from חרי, dwellers in caves), in the mountains of Seir," were the earlier inhabitants of the land between the Dead Sea and the Elanitic Gulf, who were conquered and exterminated by the Edomites (Gen 36:20.). - "To El-paran, which is by the wilderness:" i.e., on the eastern side of the desert of Paran (see Gen 21:21), probably the same as Elath (Deu 2:8) or Eloth (Kg1 9:26), the important harbour of Aila on the northern extremity of the so-called Elanitic Gulf, near the modern fortress of Akaba, where extensive heaps of rubbish show the site of the former town, which received its name El or Elath (terebinth, or rather wood) probably from the palm-groves in the vicinity.
From Aila the conquerors turned round, and marched (not through the Arabah, but on the desert plateau which they ascended from Aila) to En-mishpat (well of judgment), the older name of Kadesh, the situation of which, indeed, cannot be proved with certainty, but which is most probably to be sought for in the neighbourhood of the spring Ain Kades, discovered by Rowland, to the south of Bir Seba and Khalasa (Elusa), twelve miles E.S.E. of Moyle, the halting-place for caravans, near Hagar's well (Gen 16:14), on the heights of Jebel Halal (see Ritter, Erdkunde, and Num 13). "And they smote all the country of the Amalekites," i.e., the country afterwards possessed by the Amalekites (vid., Gen 26:12),
(Note: The circumstance that in the midst of a list of tribes who were defeated, we find not the tribe but only the fields (שׂדה) of the Amalekites mentioned, can only be explained on the supposition that the nation of the Amalekites was not then in existence, and the country was designated proleptically by the name of its future and well-known inhabitants (Hengstenberg, Diss. ii. p. 249, translation).)
to the west of Edomitis on the southern border of the mountains of Judah (Num 13:29), "and also the Amorites, who dwelt in Hazazon-Thamar," i.e., Engedi, on the western side of the Dead Sea (Ch2 20:2).
After conquering all these tribes to the east and west of the Arabah, they gave battle to the kings of the Pentapolis in the vale of Siddim, and put them to flight. The kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fell there, the valley being full of asphalt-pits, and the ground therefore unfavourable for flight; but the others escaped to the mountains (הרה for ההרה), that is, to the Moabitish highlands with their numerous defiles. The conquerors thereupon plundered the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and carried off Lot, who dwelt in Sodom, and all his possessions, along with the rest of the captives, probably taking the route through the valley of the Jordan up to Damascus.
A fugitive (lit., the fugitive; the article denotes the genus, Ewald, 277) brought intelligence of this to Abram the Hebrew (העברי, an immigrant from beyond the Euphrates). Abram is so called in distinction from Mamre and his two brothers, who were Amorites, and had made a defensive treaty with him. To rescue Lot, Abram ordered his trained slaves (חניכיו, i.e., practised in arms) born in the house (cf. Gen 17:12), 318 men, to turn out (lit., to pour themselves out); and with these, and (as the supplementary remark in Gen 14:24 shows) with his allies, he pursued the enemy as far as Dan, where "he divided himself against them, he and his servants, by night," - i.e., he divided his men into companies, who fell upon the enemy by night from different sides - "smote them, and pursued them to Hobah, to the left (or north) of Damascus." Hobah has probably been preserved in the village of Noba, mentioned by Troilo, a quarter of a mile to the north of Damascus. So far as the situation of Dan is concerned, this passage proves that it cannot have been identical with Leshem or Laish in the valley of Beth Rehob, which the Danites conquered and named Dan (Jdg 18:28-29; Jos 19:47); for this Laish-Dan was on the central source of the Jordan, el Leddan in Tell el Kady, which does not lie in either of the two roads, leading from the vale of Siddim or of the Jordan to Damascus.
(Note: One runs below the Sea of Galilee past Fik and Nowa, almost in a straight line to Damascus; the other from Jacob's Bridge, below Lake Merom. But if the enemy, instead of returning with their booty to Thapsacus, on the Euphrates, by one of the direct roads leading from the Jordan past Damascus and Palmyra, had gone through the land of Canaan to the sources of the Jordan, they would undoubtedly, when defeated at Laish-Dan, have fled through the Wady et Teim and the Bekaa to Hamath, and not by Damascus at all (vid., Robinson, Bibl. Researches).)
This Dan belonged to Gilead (Deu 34:1), and is no doubt the same as the Dan-Jaan mentioned in Sa2 24:6 in connection with Gilead, and to be sought for in northern Peraea to the south-west of Damascus.
As Abram returned with the booty which he had taken from the enemy, the king of Sodom (of course, the successor to the one who fell in the battle) and Melchizedek, king of Salem, came to meet him to congratulate him on his victory; the former probably also with the intention of asking for the prisoners who had been rescued. They met him in "the valley of Shaveh, which is (what was afterwards called) the King's dale." This valley, in which Absalom erected a monument for himself (Sa2 18:18), was, according to Josephus, two stadia from Jerusalem, probably by the brook Kidron therefore, although Absalom's pillar, which tradition places there, was of the Grecian style rather than the early Hebrew. The name King's dale was given to it undoubtedly with reference to the event referred to here, which points to the neighbourhood of Jerusalem. For the Salem of Melchizedek cannot have been the Salem near to which John baptized (Joh 3:23), or Aenon, which was eight Roman miles south of Scythopolis, as a march of about forty hours for the purpose of meeting Abraham, if not romantic, would, at least be at variance with the text of Scripture, where the kings are said to have gone out to Abram after his return. It must be Jerusalem, therefore, which is called by the old name Salem in Psa 76:2, out of which the name Jerusalem (founding of peace, or possession of peace) was formed by the addition of the prefix ירוּ = ירוּי "founding," or ירוּשׁ "possession." Melchizedek brings bread and wine from Salem "to supply the exhausted warriors with food and drink, but more especially as a mark of gratitude to Abram, who had conquered for them peace, freedom, and prosperity" (Delitzsch). This gratitude he expresses, as a priest of the supreme God, in the words, "Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, the founder of heaven and earth; and blessed be God, the Most High, who hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand." The form of the blessing is poetical, two parallel members with words peculiar to poetry, צריך for איביך, and מגּן. - עליון אל without the article is a proper name for the supreme God, the God over all (cf. Exo 18:11), who is pointed out as the only true God by the additional clause, "founder of the heaven and the earth." On the construction of בּרוּך with ל, vid., Gen 31:15; Exo 12:16, and Ges. 143, 2. קנה, founder and possessor: קנה combines the meanings of κτίζειν and κτᾶσθαι. This priestly reception Abram reciprocated by giving him the tenth of all, i.e., of the whole of the booty taken from the enemy. Giving the tenth was a practical acknowledgment of the divine priesthood of Melchizedek; for the tenth was, according to the general custom, the offering presented to the Deity. Abram also acknowledged the God of Melchizedek as the true God; for when the king of Sodom asked for his people only, and would have left the rest of the booty to Abram, he lifted up his hand as a solemn oath "to Jehovah, the Most High God, the founder of heaven and earth," - acknowledging himself as the servant of this God by calling Him by the name Jehovah, - and swore that he would not take "from a thread to a shoe-string," i.e., the smallest or most worthless thing belonging to the king of Sodom, that he might not be able to say, he had made Abram rich. אם, as the sign of an oath, is negative, and in an earnest address is repeated before the verb. "Except (בּלעדי, lit., not to me, nothing for me) only what the young men (Abram's men) have eaten, and the portion of my allies...let them take their portion:" i.e., his followers should receive what had been consumed as their share, and the allies should have the remainder of the booty.
Of the property belonging to the king of Sodom, which he had taken from the enemy, Abram would not keep the smallest part, because he would not have anything in common with Sodom. On the other hand, he accepted from Salem's priest and king, Melchizedek, not only bread and wine for the invigoration of the exhausted warriors, but a priestly blessing also, and gave him in return the tenth of all his booty, as a sign that he acknowledged this king as a priest of the living God, and submitted to his royal priesthood. In this self-subordination of Abram to Melchizedek there was the practical prediction of a royal priesthood which is higher than the priesthood entrusted to Abram's descendants, the sons of Levi, and foreshadowed in the noble form of Melchizedek, who blessed as king and priest the patriarch whom God had called to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. The name of this royal priest is full of meaning: Melchizedek, i.e., King of Righteousness. Even though, judging from Jos 10:1, Jos 10:3, where a much later king is called Adonizedek, i.e., Lord of Righteousness, this name may have been a standing title of the ancient kings of Salem, it no doubt originated with a king who ruled his people in righteousness, and was perfectly appropriate in the case of the Melchizedek mentioned here. There is no less significance in the name of the seat of his government, Salem, the peaceful or peace, since it shows that the capital of its kings was a citadel of peace, not only as a natural stronghold, but through the righteousness of its sovereign; for which reason David chose it as the seat of royalty in Israel; and Moriah, which formed part of it, was pointed out to Abraham by Jehovah as the place of sacrifice for the kingdom of God which was afterwards to be established. And, lastly, there was something very significant in the appearance in the midst of the degenerate tribes of Canaan of this king of righteousness, and priest of the true God of heaven and earth, without any account of his descent, or of the beginning and end of his life; so that he stands forth in the Scriptures, "without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life." Although it by no means follows from this, however, that Melchizedek was a celestial being (the Logos, or an angel), or one of the primeval patriarchs (Enoch or Shem), as Church fathers, Rabbins, and others have conjectured, and we can see in him nothing more than one, perhaps the last, of the witnesses and confessors of the early revelation of God, coming out into the light of history from the dark night of heathenism; yet this appearance does point to a priesthood of universal significance, and to a higher order of things, which existed at the commencement of the world, and is one day to be restored again. In all these respects, the noble form of this king of Salem and priest of the Most High God was a type of the God-King and eternal High Priest Jesus Christ; a thought which is expanded in Heb 7 on the basis of this account, and of the divine utterance revealed to David in the Spirit, that the King of Zion sitting at the right hand of Jehovah should be a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek (Psa 110:4).