While Abraham was growing up, Assyria was a great power in the world. By the time Abraham was 72, he had to flee to the Danube because of Assyrian persecution. Now our story is to the year 1939 B.C. Abraham has gone from Mesopotamia to Canaan, down to Egypt, and then back to Canaan. Meanwhile, nothing had taken place to halt Assyria's rise in power. It was inevitable that Abraham the mighty prince should once again be confronted with the advance of Assyrian domination in the ancient world. He did not have long to wait.
The Extent of Abraham's Wealth
Before going to Genesis 14, a few comments should be made about the 13th chapter. Several verses in it show the great wealth of Abraham. Notice: "and Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold ... and Lot also, which went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents. And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together; for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together. There was strife between the herdsmen of Abram's cattle and the herdsmen of Lot's cattle ..." (verses 2, 5-7). The chapter goes on to tell how Abraham and Lot separated because they had too many cattle and too much property. Abraham lived in a tent but that was probably the largest, most comfortable, and best provisioned tent the world has ever seen. It was probably more like a portable house with a dozen rooms. Before going into chapter 14, notice that God repeated his promise to Abraham (verses 14-17), especially in verse 15: "For all the land which you see, to you will I give it, and to your seed for ever." The inheritance God gave to Abraham was to be an Eternal inheritance. And an Eternal inheritance of necessity involves and includes everlasting life. Other scriptures prove Abraham was actually an heir of the kingdom of God which includes the entire earth. So the promise of God to Abraham, when carried to its ultimate significance, actually meant if he obeyed God, he would receive Eternal life and the entire earth. Abraham did not have all that wealth just to look at. He had to use his resources to fulfill God's purpose. Now it is time for the exciting story of Genesis 14.
The Assyrian Empire
The first verse of Genesis 14 actually reveals a gigantic Assyrian empire in the days of Abraham. The Bible does not label it as Assyrian. However Josephus, in covering this in his history, plainly states, "At this time ... the Assyrians had the dominion over Asia ..." Yes, Assyria was dominating the world and trying to control everything. Let's analyze these kings and their territories more closely. First the king of Shinar is mentioned. At this time Shinar or Sumeria, in southern Mesopotamia was dominated by the city of Erech or Uruk and its famous First Dynasty. This dynasty had boasted such renowned rulers as Cush, Nimrod, and Horus. Following the death of Horus in 1968 his son Amraphel took over. As this verse shows, he was the king who was now ruling. Shinar was his portion of the Assyrian realm — but not for much longer. Arioch is the Assyrian king who succeeded Horus or Ninyas Zames. He ruled from the city of Ellasar. Ellasar is just another form for Asar or Asshur. Asshur was one of the royal cities of ancient Assyria; it was south of Nineveh. Thus Arioch was in control of northern Mesopotamia. His period of rule was the same as Amraphel's — 30 years, 1968 to 1938 — as given in Assyrian history. Chedorlaomer, the third ruler named, was king of Elam in this period. Elam was the area east of Shinar. The dates of his reign are not known. Apparently he was the main leader of this military expedition into Canaan (verse 4-5). The last king named is Tidal. He ruled over the portion of the Assyrian realm now called Asia Minor or Anatolia, the area of Turkey. Notice that the Bible designates him "king of nations." (gowy, go'ee) is the Hebrew word for "Nations." At that time Asia Minor was composed of a variety of peoples. The history of ancient Asia Minor is the story of continuous attempts to unite the warring nations of the region into a loose confederacy. In 1938 Tidal was the ruler of this confederacy, an Assyrian king and general ruling over several different nations and peoples. Consider that the Assyrian realm in the time of Abraham stretched from Elam and Shinar through Canaan and northern Mesopotamia into Asia Minor. But, even beyond that, it extended into Europe because Assyrians had already migrated there. How vast the ancient Assyrian empire actually was has never been fully realized. Many different kinds of people made up the population of this empire but they were all under the domination and control of these four powerful Assyrian overlords.
The Attack into Canaan
These four great Assyrian overlords (they are called "Kaisers" in modern history) came to make war with the kings of Canaan (verse 2). These five kings are listed here and also in verse 8. They ruled over the towns of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela (Zoar) in Palestine. In modern terminology we would probably refer to these rulers as "mayors" rather than kings. Each of them ruled over a comparatively small city-state and were leagued together in a loose confederation. They weren't as tightly organized as the Assyrian realm. Why did the Assyrian kings come conquering into Palestine at this time? Notice verse 4: the Assyrians had held these five mayors under subjection and tribute for twelve long years, 1952-1940. Then, "in the thirteenth year (1939) they rebelled." Consequently, the Assyrian overlords went to Palestine to put down the rebellion. Before the Assyrians met the five Canaanite kings they trampled under other peoples in the region of Palestine. These are listed in verses 5 through 7. After conquering these peoples they got around to conquering the Canaanite Mayors whose armies were no match for those of the mighty Kaisers. In this victory the Assyrians sacked and looted the Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. They also took captives. One of them was Lot, the son of Haran, Abraham's wealthy nephew. It was a serious mistake the Assyrians would pay for! (verses 11-12)
When Abraham heard of what happened to Lot, he went into action immediately. He marshaled his private army of 318 and went after the Assyrian troops (verses 13-14). Again it is important to emphasize who these 318 men were. The italicized word "servants" in the King James version is misleading. The word retinue would come closer to the real meaning. A retinue is "the body of retainers who follow a prince or other distinguished person; the personal staff accompanying a ruler, diplomat, or dignitary on official business" (Webster). Abraham was a mighty prince and these specially trained men, who had grown up in his service (note the words ("born in his own house"), formed his personal bodyguard. They served him in his court. And they had special training in military skills! Yes, Abraham went after the Assyrians with his "crack troops!" In this pursuit, Abraham was also accompanied by his three confederates, Mamre, Eshcol, and Aner (verses 13-14). Josephus gives an interesting account of what took place. He records that Abraham and his men "marched hastily, and the fifth night fell upon the Assyrians, near Dan ... and before they could arm themselves, he slew some as they were in their beds, before they could suspect any harm; and others, who were not yet gone to sleep, but were so drunk they could not fight, ran away" (Antiquities I, X, 1). They pursued those who fled and killed many of them at Hobah near Damascus. Abraham recovered the captives and the stolen goods and brought them back (verse 16). Now read verse 17 which speaks of "the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him!" Think of what this means. Abraham not only routed the grand Assyrian army — he killed the four top leaders of the Assyrian empire. Amraphel, Arioch, Tidal, and Chedorlaomer were all dead. The power of Assyria was deflated in one night, the course of world affairs was completely changed. The last section of Genesis 14 reveals that the Eternal, the one who became Jesus Christ, came out personally to meet the returning Abraham! At this point in ancient times he was ruling in Jerusalem (Salem) under the name Melchizedek appearing to people in bodily form. Josephus states, "Now this Melchisedec supplied Abraham's army in an hospitable manner, and gave them provisions in abundance; and as they were feasting, he began to praise him (Abraham), and to bless God for subduing his enemies under him" ( I, X, 2). Read verses 18 through 20. At this feast Abraham "gave him TITHES of all" (verse 20). In Hebrews 7 the Apostle Paul discusses this incident in detail and makes clear that this was the Eternal himself. Before his birth in 4 B.C. Christ appeared on earth many times.
With this slaughter of the four kings Abraham actually brought about the decline of Assyria. It was a significant event that effected world affairs for centuries after. Think again of the vastness of the Assyrian empire in the year 1938. All the civilized world was coming under heavier and heavier Assyrian control. But God wanted this domination stopped. He decreed that the year 1938 was the time in history of the ancient world for the proud Assyrians to be cut down to size! The Assyrian invasion into Palestine was according to God's will. With the armies of the four kings in the Palestinian area, God could use Abraham and his resources to defeat them. Consider this also. The whole background of events of this time, from the early life of Abraham onward, shows that the Assyrians were imposing one government and one religion in the world that would have stamped out all the truth. Abraham, after going to Palestine, was relatively free of Assyrian problems for a time. But inevitably Satan would have inspired Assyrian persecution upon him again. Thus, if Abraham and his family would have been executed, ALL KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S TRUE WAY WOULD HAVE BEEN ERASED FROM THE WORLD SCENE! Shem, though still alive, would have been too old to carry on. It would have been like the true church completely dying out in New Testament times. But this is something God would never allow to happen. The story behind the story of Genesis 14 is that God, through Abraham, put a screeching halt to ultimate Satanic Assyrian world control. THE YEAR 1938 WAS A KEY PIVOTAL JUNCTURE IN ANCIENT HISTORY WHICH WITNESSED A CHANGE IN THE ENTIRE COURSE OF FUTURE EVENTS! God does intervene in the affairs of men. And think of the parallel in modern history. God used the descendants of Abraham, Britain and America, in the First and Second World Wars to put a stop to potential complete world control by fascism imposed through modern Assyria, the German Reich.
How This Changed History
How did the defeat of Assyria in 1938 change the course of future world events? Notice these points: 1) Though the Assyrian empire was very extensive in 1938 it had not yet conquered Egypt. The Assyrian leaders would sooner or later have laid plans to launch an attack into the land of the Nile. This would have been relatively easy because Palestine was already under their control and Egypt was only beginning to grow strong! But the annihilation by Abraham changed all that. The fall of Assyria in 1938, when it received its "deadly wound," left Egypt free from conquest thus allowing it to grow to become the leading nation of the ancient world. Egypt was unknowingly preparing for the coming of Joseph and the Children of Israel. God wanted Egypt to be dominate in the middle east, not Assyria. This was of major importance in God's plans for Israel. 2) If Assyria had remained strong, its armies would have conquered the Israelites after they reached Palestine in 1447 under Joshua. (this is assuming that Egypt would not have previously been overrun by Assyrians.) With Assyria on the scene in Mesopotamia the nation of Israel would never have been free to grow to power and greatness under David and Solomon. The Assyrian leaders would never have allowed this if they had seen strong enough to prevent it. 3) The defeat of Assyria by Abraham was so thorough that Assyrian power and influence were not evident for centuries. The decline of Assyria lasted for hundreds of years. The Bible reflects how lasting the effects of Abraham's victory were. The only Assyrian attack upon Israel that is recorded in all the years before the time of the kings of Israel and Judah is in the time of the Judges. In the eight years between 1400 and 1392 Chushan-rishathaim. A king of the Assyrians (so labeled by Josephus in Antiquities V, III, 2), oppressed the sinning Israelites (Judges 3:8). Other than this instance Assyria is not heard of in the Bible for a long period. That's right! The Assyrian Empire was dealt such a crippling blow in 1938 that it never really grew great till the time of Pul, Shalmaneser, Sennacherib, and Sargon in the 700's. And then, when at its greatest height of power, Assyria COLLAPSED COMPLETELY after having carried the Children of Israel into captivity. This same thing will happen a few years from now. History does repeat. God used Abraham to remove Assyrian power from the world for centuries so that his nation Israel would be free to grow and develop. This is the breathtaking significance of Genesis 14.