Friday, September 25, 2015

ABRAHAM: My Keeper's Brother

13 Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, for he dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner; and they were allies with Abram. 14 Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 He divided his forces against them by night, and he and his servants attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. 16 So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people.
Genesis 14:13-16.

There’re lots of famous lines from the Bible kicking around. One was uttered by a man called Cain after the Lord asked him, “Where is Abel your brother?” The famous reply of Cain was, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” I remember looking at a little picture cartoon probably in the Creation magazine. It was a picture of a monkey or a gorilla in a cage in a zoo. A little think bubble come up from the monkey’s head with the words, “Am I my keeper’s brother?” An obvious dig at those who follow the faith religion of evolutionism!

What we’re looking at in the following is a demonstration of Christian love. We see our father Abram take on, rather unexpectedly, the character of a warrior. We see him risk his life for one of Christ’s brethren – his Keeper’s brother! Abram, it would seem, would have gone to the ends of the earth if need be, to rescue a brother! He risked life and limb to rescue his nephew Lot who had been taken captive. Theme or Principle: Serve your Keeper by looking after the wellbeing of His brethren. And we’ll follow three points: The Battle, The Booty & The Brother.

The Battle
What we’re looking at here is the very first battle or war recorded in the Bible. This, of course, is not to say that no battles or wars had ever taken place before this. There was the great war, for instance, that had already begun in heaven, according to Revelation 12:7. That was when Michael and his angels began fighting against the great dragon, that serpent of old, the Devil and his evil angels.

We know that battle must have begun before this one because Satan was in the Garden of Eden using a snake to deceive Eve. Adam sided with Satan and made a covenant with death by declaring war on God. I mention this in passing, and hopefully we will pick up on this later. But first we need to try to understand more fully dynamics and the principles involved in our text. So, for now, what we’re looking at is the first Biblical record of any organized war.

Who were the people involved in this war or “battle” as we’re calling it? This battle took place some 4,000 years ago. So the listed names don’t mean a great deal to us today. But here’s an over-view of what was going on. We’ve all heard of Sodom and Gomorrah? Sodom and Gomorrah were those cesspools of sin upon which God poured out His fiery wrath! I know it’s not funny but Matthew Henry in his commentary conjured up a strange picture to my mind. He said that the Lord “Fired Sodom over Abraham’s head”! It’s amazing how much the English language has changed since the 1600s! Well, anyway, what we’re looking at happened before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.

For now, the King of Sodom and the kings of the adjoining cities, including Gomorrah, had formed some sort of alliance – a confederacy. They had combined forces to gang up on, and over-throw, the King of Elam. The King of Elam’s name was Chedorlaomer. I won’t mention any names, but someone called him as the ‘Big Cheese’ i.e., ‘Cheddar’ – Laomer! Chedorlaomer had ruled over all these little pip-squeak kings for twelve years or so. These kings were most probably like the Arab sheikhs of today – the chiefs or heads of tribes.  There were five of them with all their bands of merry men.

We won’t go into the meanings of the names of these tribes at this time. But just on a curious note, one of the commentators referred to the Horites in Genesis 14:6 as “troglodytes.” He called them “dwellers in caves” and he directs us to Job 30, verses 1-8 v. 6 in particular. Although Hebrew uses the same root word for “hole in the ground” and “mountain”, I think the Horites were “mountain people” more than cave-men! However, it’s possible for them to have lived in caves in the mountain of Seir in Genesis 14:6.

Anyhow, big King, Chedarlaomer, well, he’s having none of their revolting stuff! So he, with the help of three other kings, kind of like the “UN” moved in. However, it wasn’t under the guise or pretense of being “peacekeeper”. No, Chedarlaomer and his ground troops moved in to crush the rebelliousness of the revolting confederacy. In today’s terms I suppose it’s a bit like when NATO moved into Kosovo or when the West began attacking ISIS in Syria. But what you have here is a battle between four kings on one side and five kings on the other (Genesis 14:9). And according to Genesis 14:8 the battle took place in the Valley of Siddim.

Now, we’re not absolutely positive where the Valley of Siddim is – or rather was! It’s generally believed to be toward the southern end of the Salt Sea or Dead Sea as we call it. Apparently Sodom and Gomorrah were in that general vicinity, as is Zoar. But the Valley of Siddim is significant to us because we all know someone who fancied living close to that general area – Abram’s nephew Lot! He took one look at the lush greenery and thought, “Wow! Paradise! Hold me back!” So he galloped off to stake his claim! But there he is, trying to get on with giving a good Christian witness to the Sodomites and everyone else who lived in that wicked place when all hell breaks loose! And before you know it, Lot’s in a lot of trouble in Lot’s Paradise.

We’re told in Genesis 14:10 that there were fighting men falling among the asphalt pits. So there were slime-pits or tar pits around the place in the Valley of Siddim. No wonder Sodom and Gomorrah went up in smoke when God fired it over Abraham’s head! Apparently, after God had rained fire and brimstone on the southern end of the Jordan Valley, the great hole left in the ground filled with water and became the Salt Sea! Be that as it may, it was the place where Lot and his clan were living, which was the well-watered plains of the Jordan Valley – and there was a war going on. And as in any war there are casualties, even the innocent suffer at times.

I remember watching the beautiful countryside of Yugoslavia blown to smithereens on TV. We also got to watch the recent bombing of Bagdad and the rest Iraq, by America and the “coalition of the willing.” It breaks your heart to see the thousands of refugees fleeing these conflicts! Invariably we see footage of little children fleeing the war with the look of terror in their eyes! Sometimes those fleeing would be bombed – “Oops! collateral damage!” Europe is being flooded by people fleeing the brutality of ISIS as militant Islam attempts once again to set up its Caliphate. Meanwhile the West drops a few bombs in a feeble attempt to stop the rot.

One journalist asked how wise is it to use $1m weapons to destroy $20,000 targets? Back in the day they aimed a $1,000,000 missile at a TV station in Kosovo only to hit a house Bulgaria! Mind you, they seemed to be a bit more on target in Iraq conflict and the present drama taking place in Syria. Never-the-less, with the types of weapons they’re using now-a-days, a “near miss” is as good as a direct hit!

When will all these wars begin to end? Well, Scripture speaks of a day when: “He shall judge between nations, and shall rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation neither shall they learn war any more” Isaiah 2:4. Also, of a time: “When the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” Isaiah 11:9b.

So, each one of us as Christians should be about the business of declaring peace! Therefore we should be about the business of spreading the knowledge of God, which is to say that we should be seeking to have the Gospel of peace declared even to the ends of the earth! But what we’re looking at is not so much the end of war on earth, but the beginning. And we see there’s at least one innocent, i.e., righteous man involved – even Abram’s nephew Lot.

The Booty
It’s sometimes said, “To the victor belongs the spoil!” Speaking of booty, it says in Genesis11-12, Chedarlaomer and his allies “Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.” So Chedarlaomer has once again asserted his authority over the rebellious kings. He has come and he has taught them a lesson and he has relieved them of their stuff. But we discover the Lot has also been relieved of his stuff also! And what did Lot ever do to deserve this kind of treatment? Regardless, Lot and his whole household and all their goods, are led away into captivity – like so many Sodomites.

Now, is this not a general theme repeated throughout Scripture? Let’s see now, the general principle is that God’s covenant people are taken captive. But usually the captivity is brought about by the people’s disobedience. It happens when they take their eyes off God and focus on every other thing! Therefore we wouldn’t be reading too much into the text by suggesting Lot fits this bill, would we?

Adam and Eve were captured by the enemy when they took their eyes off God & focused on a piece of fruit – forbidden fruit! The Devil was the victor over Adam and Eve, but as victor, what spoil belongs to Satan? Well, the Devil did battle in the wilderness with Jesus Whom Scripture calls the “last Adam.” What did the devil offer Jesus if only He would bow down and worship him? Matthew 4:8-9, “The devil took Him up on an exceedingly high  mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I give to you if you will fall down and worship me.” “All these things – all this booty – all these kingdoms of the world!” So the whole world since Adam has been carted away as the booty of Satan.

We see this principle then, in the action of King Chedorlaomer. He has carted off all kinds of goods and provisions, including one of God’s people – Lot – and all of his goods and provisions! We see a lot of this kind of thing going on in Scripture – God’s people being taken captive. Even in the next chapter of Genesis in 15:13 the Lord says to Abram, “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will inflict them four hundred years.” But the general principle that we need to hang on to, and never forget, is in the very next verse, Genesis 15:14, “And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions.

To the victor belong the spoils! That’s the great message of Scripture, isn’t it? And what about that wonderful promise the LORD made to Abram and us, Abram’s descendants? Genesis 22:17b, “Your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.” Or, to put the same thing another way, as Jesus did, “On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” Matthew 16:18b.

What does it mean to “possess the gate” of your enemy? It means that you can go in and plunder the cities and nations of your enemies! Or, in light of the principle we see at work in our text, it means that we may go in among our enemies and release those held captive in their cities and nations. We see the same principle in Luke 4:18 where Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor, He has sent Me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”

When the Lord fights the battle He is guaranteed the booty. He is the One who sets the captives free – even you and me from our sin! The whole earth and everything in it belongs to the LORD in the first place. He is the most High God, Possessor of heaven and earth (Genesis 14:19 & 22). But just as Adam was taken captive by going after a delight to the eyes so was Lot. And so are all who do not seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. We always have to remember the words of Ephesians 6:11-12, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

If Abram is the Christian of the Christians, in other words, if he is the father of the faithful, then don’t you think he would know about spiritual warfare? And contrary to popular belief “spiritual warfare” is not about you getting the devil into a headlock! It’s not about you wrestling in mortal combat with the devil and his demons. It’s not about putting the cranium crush on the head of a demon or tying him in a half-pretzel! But it is about you and me being obedient to God. It’s about you and me loving God and our neighbor as ourself. It’s about you and me keeping our eyes on God and the things of God. It’s about watching the LORD fight the battle and giving Him all the glory for the victory.

We should be able to see clearly then, a picture of our Lord, His Kingdom in Abram’s successful rescue of Lot. So let’s do just that as we look at our third and final point.

The Brother
Abram was a doer of the Word and not just a hearer. What did Abram do when he heard that his brother was taken captive as we see in Genesis 14:14? He, as it were, formed a posse, saddled up the horses (or camels maybe?) And he rode after the mighty Chedarlaomer and his merry men to head them off at the pass!

If Abram lived in the Age of Chivalry he would have been clad in a suit of armor. But regardless, he was kitted out with whatever they wore in those days. But as he stood up for Jesus against the evil in his generation, he no doubt: Put on the gospel armour, each piece put on with prayer!

Why did Abram put himself and his 318 men and the “coalition of the willing” at risk? Why? Because he loved his Keeper and he loved his Keeper’s brother. We see Abram fulfilling the Commandments of the Lord here. He was loving the Lord his God with all his heart, soul and mind. And he was loving his neighbor – even Lot as himself. As Jesus says in Matthew 7:12, “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” In other words, this is the teaching of the Bible. It is the teaching of the LORD.

But, doesn’t it take a heart changed by the Gospel to love God and your neighbor as yourself? Well, here’s Abram living some 400 years before the giving of the Law to Moses. Here’s Abram living before all the Prophets, major and minor. Here’s Abram living some 2,000 years before Christ and His Gospel. And yet we see in our text Abram demonstrate what is clearly a New Testament love for his brother! So let it be known, the heart of a Christian is the same whether he lives in Old Testament times or in New Testament times.

The heart of a Christian is at peace with God and therefore is at war with evil wherever it raises its ugly head. But evil is manifold. Evil is a “brood of vipers” – snapping hissing snakes – a Gorgon hairdo. Evil is not always easily seen, for Medusa sometimes wears a black hat. But we lift the sword and cut off the hydra heads of evil by loving God and your neighbor as yourself.

Abram loved Lot as Christ loves His Church. He was ready to lay down his own life for the wellbeing of Lot. Listen to 1 John 3:17-18, “But whoever has this worlds goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him” My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”

Now look at Genesis 14:14, “Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.” Abram would have gone to the very ends of the earth to save his brother in Christ! If you’re thinking I’m making Abram out to be New Testament believer then you’re catching on. The New Testament tells us in Romans 4:11 that Abram is “the father of all who believe.” Also in the New Testament in Galatians 3:8 we’re told that Abram heard the one and only Gospel of salvation! So Abram is a Gospel believer every bit as much as any New Testament believer! He’s the father of all the faithful – the father of all believers of Christ and His everlasting Gospel. Therefore it shouldn’t be too hard for us to see Jesus Christ in faithful Abram. And neither should it be too hard for us to see the familiar refrain of His Gospel in our text.

Notice then, in Genesis 14:14 that Lot is referred to as Abram’s “brother.” And also Genesis 14:16 speaks of “his brother Lot.” Both the King James’ version and the New King James Version use the word “brother.” The New International Version has “relative” while the Revised Standard Version has “kinsman.” The word can be translated either way, brother or relative or kinsman. Yet the same Hebrew word is used here as is used when Cain said, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And we know that Cain and Abel were actual brothers of the same mother and father, i.e., Adam and Eve. But we’ve already been told in Genesis 14:12 that Lot is Abram’s “brother’s son,” his “nephew.” So what’s going on here? A slip of the pen? Is Lot Abram’s nephew or is he his brother? Well, I put it to you that the Holy Spirit through Moses whom He had write this, wants us to see that Abram and Lot are more than blood relatives. He wants us to see that Lot and Abram are born of the same parent, i.e., the Spirit of God! In other words they are “brothers” in Christ. In this the Spirit would like us to see how Abram our father in the faith, our example of Christian living, “LOVED” his spiritual brother Lot. How Abram for the sake of the LORD and His elect was willing to lay down his life for Lot. Just as the Apostle Paul who invites us to use him as a pattern says, “I endure all things [Why?] for sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” 2 Timothy 2:10.

But look at Lot. Remember he was far from being the exemplary Christian. In fact it was his flirting with the things of the world that got him in trouble in the first place! Therefore, be careful not to set a bad example. Rather set a good example for others to follow.

Look at Abram. He’s got Christ written all over him, hasn’t he? And here’s the great Gospel theme of the kinsman-redeemer right before our eyes. Peaceable and peace-loving Abram is taking on the mightiest of kings of the earth here. Genesis 14:16 says, “So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people.” Abram, as it were, bound up the strong man, Chedorlaomer. He plundered his house. And to the victor belong the spoils! And isn’t this what the Son of God did for the brethren at Calvary?

Jesus saw His brother in need, including you and me. He saw that we had been taken captive by the prince of this world, even Satan. So God the Son left His glory and majesty with His Father in heaven. He came to seek and to save that which was lost. And He is even now pursuing the enemy even to the ends of the earth as he rescues his brethren.

It was the LORD who was at work. That’s how Abram was able to successfully rescue Lot. It was the LORD who sent Abram to rescue Lot. But did Lot learn to come out and be separate? Some time later, the LORD would have to send in His angels to rescue Lot from Sodom. And some time later again He would send in His own Son to rescue Lot – to rescue all the brethren! It was God who was at work in Christ rescuing us from the devil’s clammy clutches. “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins “ Colossians 1:12-13.

As we tie it all together, remember that you are your brother’s keeper! Remember that he is your Keeper’s brother! Therefore, serve your Keeper by looking after the well-being of His brethren. This we can do in various ways: Abram took 318 trained men and went to rescue Lot. Are you willing to stand up against the enemy by letting yourself be trained for war? The war we’re fighting at the moment is, of course, of a more spiritual nature.

Are you willing to go to the ends of the earth to save your brethren from the enemy? Missionaries trained in the true Gospel are badly needed overseas. But more than that, they are needed right here in Australia. Will you support training and equipping men at the Presbyterian Theological Colleges for instance? These are the places where men are trained in the things we Presbyterians hold dear. We know that we can’t all go there but we can certainly support it with prayer.

And what about the “booty” you’ve got stashed away? If more Christians supported their own local churches and our own theological colleges think of the impact we could have! Where are all the candidates for the ministry in the Presbyterian Church of Australia? But where are all the men in the Presbyterian Church who are willing to keep the faith? Where are all the young men who are willing to run the race? Where are the men who are willing to fight the good fight? Why are our colleges so empty of men training to be servants in the household of Abram?

The Lord used an ordinary man like Abram to beat the great kings of this earth. He used Abram to rescue Lot – his brother in Christ. Therefore the Lord can even use you, even me! Father Abram drew his strength for the task from God.

May the Lord strengthen each of us for the advancement of His kingdom and the praise of His glory.

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