The Life of Abraham: The Rescue Mission
In our last study, we learned that there had been several kingdoms that had come together in unity but that unity had recently been breaking down. This situation finally erupted in war. One of the casualties of this war was Lot and his family being taken captive.
In this passage, we see Abram in the only military action ever recorded in which he participated. His only mission was to rescue those taken captive. This was not a mission of vengeance or conquest but only one of charity. As Matthew Henry wrote in his commentary1 , “Never was any military expedition undertaken, prosecuted, and finished, more honourably than this of Abram’s.”
Then a fugitive came and told Abram the Hebrew. Now he was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner, and these were allies with Abram. (Genesis 14:13)
Abram had formed friendly relationships with the people in the region in which he had settled. He had a good reputation and the pagan people of the area respected him. Even this fugitive knew who Abram was and knew he was a man who could be trusted to act apropriately with this information.
“It is our wisdom and duty to behave ourselves so respectfully and obligingly towards all men as that, whenever there is occasion, they may be willing and ready to do us a kindness.” ~ Matthew Henry
1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12 says, “But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.”
Abram exemplified this passage. He was a hard-worker, he was wise and charitable in his dealings with his family but also with the strangers of the land, he respected the customs of the local people, and lived at peace with them. He did not compromise his beliefs or adopt the immoral practices of the pagan nations but he also did not treat them with contempt. He openly professed his belief in the one, true God, openly practiced his religion, and treated all men with respect as image-bearers of God.
Romans 12:17b-18 says, “Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Hebrews 12:14-5 says, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;”
We are called to call out sin, share the Gospel, and practice our religion, however, we are also to do so while showing respect, kindness, gentleness, grace, mercy, and peace to all men, including those who are hostile to us and our God.
When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. He divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them, and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. (Genesis 14:14-15)
Matthew Henry1 , in his commentary on this passage, pointed out the wisdom of Abram in training men in his household for battle. Abram strived to live at peace with all men and this in the only place in Scripture that records any time he ever had to use the battle-trained men, however, he was prepared when it was needed.
This passage also points out that while we are to always try to live at peace with all men, we are not forbidden to engage in war. This war, as I mentioned above, was not a war based on retaliation or conquest but rather, a rescue mission.
There is much that can be said regarding just war but I will not get into that here today. However, it is important to note that this instance is an example in which Abram was justified in going to war.
“Religion tends to make men, not cowardly, but truly valiant. The righteous is bold as a lion. The true Christian is the true hero.” ~ Matthew Henry
This was not meager enemy Abram was up against. They were not a defeated army on the run. They were several kingdoms just coming off of the high of a great victory. They were clearly skilled fighters and had the confidence to fight this small army of shepherds. This was not an equally matched fight.
Wise Abram, however, divided his forces and they attacked from many sides. They also attacked at night. This would have caused chaos and would have made it feel like they were fighting a much larger army.
Abram and his servants not only defeated them but sent them on the run. This victorious, pride-filled army was now running from a small band of shepherds.
The Lord has placed His people throughout history and has gifted them with great wisdom in each generation to use the skills and technology of that age for His glory. Today, we live in a time where we have access to more information and education for honing our skills than every before. We should honor this privilege by being good stewards of our time and skills and improve our talents to be used to bring glory to God.
He brought back all the goods, and also brought back his relative Lot with his possessions, and also the women, and the people. (Genesis 14:16)
As we studied in previous passages, Lot had shown great disrespect to Abram. On the verge of war themselves, Abram wisely proposed the two families separate.
It is often difficult to separate from those you love but in the pursuit of peace, separation should never be ruled out as not an option. If there seems to be no way to live in unity and peace with one another, separation may be a valid and honorable solution. It shouldn’t be the first option in every case, but it may be a good option for a time and certain sitation.
If two family members cannot get along and are always causing strife in the family, it may be best for them to not be around each other. This may be for a short time, until one or both matures or learns to live in peace with the other or it may be for an extended time. This is a difficult situation to be in and will be different for every case. However, the separation between Lot and Abram, while heart-breaking, was a wise solution at the time.
Now, however, we see that Abram had put the dispute aside and, without second thought, ran to the rescue of his nephew.
“We ought to be ready, whenever it is in the power of our hands, to succour and relieve those that are in distress, especially our relations and friends.” ~ Matthew Henry
We may not be able, called, or obligated to help friends and family in every case, but we should show charity and grace when and where we can. This does not mean that we allow ourselves to be taken advantage of, for we are to called to be wise, discerning, and good steward of what God has given us. However, we are also called to be self-sacrificing and to put others before ourselves. Deciding when, where, and how to show charity often times requires much wisdom and discernment.
“As we have opportunity we must do good to all men. Our charity must be extensive, as opportunity offers itself. Wherever God gives life, we must not grudge the help we can give to support it. God does good to the just and unjust, and so must we, Matt. 5:45.” ~ Matthew Henry
We are called to do good to all men. This “good” is as defined by God in His Word and not what our friends, family, and the world may claim is “good.” As Jesus said in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”
To be as “shrewd as serpents” (some translations use “wise as serpents”) requires great wisdom and discernment. James 1:5 says, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” If you need wisdom in any situation, ask God for it. It pleases Him to grant this type of prayer. If you need discernment, study God’s Word and pray that He grant you with discernment. The psalmist said in Psalm 119:66, “Teach me good discernment and knowledge, For I believe in Your commandments.”
Abram was a wise servant of the Lord. He was also a man of peace, skill, courage, and forgiveness. He lived at peace with the pagan nations around him, he pursued peace with his family, he trained those in his household in the doctrines of God but also in the skills of war, he dealt fairly with those he did business with, and courageously took on enemies out of charity and not of advancement.
Pray that God grant you such wisdom, humility, and courage as you deal with the world, friends, and family.
1. Henry, Matthew. 2017. “Chapter 14 – Matthew Henry’s Commentary – Bible Gateway”. Biblegateway.Com. Accessed November 14. https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/matthew-henry/Gen.14.1-Gen.14.24.