The First War Genesis 14

The fourteenth chapter of Genesis is of deep interest to the student of ancient usages. It contains a brief and rapid, but suggestive history, not indeed of the first war, but of the  first was of which any record has been transmitted to us. The history itself implies the existence of previous wars; and the manner in which this war is conducted, evinces that men had already gained much experience in the art of afflicting and destroying their fellows.

It appears that certain kings from beyond the region of the Tigris and Euphrates, whether independent, or acting under some great power, is uncertain, had at a former period invaded the country formed by and extending along the east side of the valley of the Jordan and of the hollow valley called the Arabah, which at the present day reaches from the Dead Sea to the eastern arm of the Red Sea. It is difficult to account for their confining their operations to this line, without making any attempt upon the comparatively rich country west of the Jordan, without assuming that its object was to obtain the possession or the command of a line of country which was at once a natural frontier westward, and an important military and commercial route. If at the same time this power held possession of Egypt, as some suppose, and constituted the intrusive dynasty known in history as the Hyksos, or shepherd kings, the necessity of keeping open this line of communication with that country must be apparent.

Whatever were the precise objects of the expedition, or the nature of the power brought into action, it was successful, and all the tribes and nations upon this line were brought into subjection.

Under this subjection they continued for twelve years, and then ventured to throw off this foreign yoke. They were in due time called to account for this. It was in the thirteenth year of their subjection that they rebelled, and in the fourteenth their former conquerors re-appeared in the north, and pursuing their victorious march southward along the western border of the valley, from the sources of the Jordan to the Red Sea, returned along the country west of the Arabah, Note: The prevalent name of the broad valley which extends from the Dead Sea to the eastern arm of the Red Sea.] subduing  the tribes by which that district was inhabited. Approaching still further north, they descend into the valley, purposing to reduce the towns in the enclosed plain, which now forms the basin of the Dead Sea, but which was then beautifully fertile and well inhabited. The principal towns were five—Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar. In the first of these Abraham’s nephew, Lot, had his abode; for soon after their return from Egypt, the great increase of their substance, and the consequent quarrels of their shepherds about rights of water and pasturage, had constrained them to separate. One would think that the invading force was not large, for the inhabitants of these towns and neighboring villages determined to give it battle, although returning victorious and laden with the spoil of conquered places.

The conflict was soon, however, decided in favor of the invaders. The beaten citizens of the Pentapolis fled before them, and many of them lost their lives in the “slime pits” which were at that day visible, and which still, under the deep waters, throw up their asphaltum. The conquerors then plundered the towns, and crossing the plain, passed out of it on the east side laden with spoil, and followed by a train of captives destined for bondage. Among the captives was Lot, and his substance was among the spoil.

Abraham was no farther off than Mamre, near Hebron, and yet, as the invaders had carefully avoided trespassing on the proper land of Canaan, to which the vale of Siddim (as it was called) was not regarded as belonging, the transaction does not seem to have engaged his attention till one of the fugitives brought him the intelligence. No sooner did the patriarch learn that Lot was among the captives, than he at once decided to pursue the conquerors, and rescue his nephew from their hands.
For this purpose, he armed as many of his slaves as were fit for the service. They were three hundred and eighteen, and were exclusively such as had belonged to him from their birth (“born in his own house”), as he could better rely upon their zeal and devotedness than on that of the slaves who had  been presented to him (as in Egypt), or “bought with his money.” Considering the distance from Hebron, the pursuit probably took three days, as the enemy were not overtaken till they reached the sources of the Jordan. Here they lay for the night, free from all suspicion of danger, weary probably with the rapid march they had made, and burdened with spoils and captives. Abraham’s manner of dealing with a force doubtless much greater than his own, was similar to that of Gideon in a later age, who, indeed, may very possibly have taken the hint from this memorable action of his great progenitor. In the darkness of the night, he divided his force, and directed an assault to be made upon the secure and sleeping host, at once on different sides, probably with great outcries. The enemy, confused by such an unexpected attack, which must have led them to entertain most exaggerated ideas of the assailants’ force, soon fell into disorder and fled, hotly pursued by the victors, who did not give over the pursuit until they had reached the neighborhood of Damascus. All the spoil that had been taken away was thus recovered; and of all the persons, not a woman or a little child was lost.
Night attacks of this nature are still common in the East, and are generally successful, if the assailants can so contrive that the enemy shall have no intimation of the intention. The movements are usually so timed, that the assailants arrive on the ground late at night, or rather towards morning, when it is certain that the men of the camp against which the expedition is aimed, are in their deepest sleep. Such operations are also much facilitated by the great and extraordinary neglect of keeping watch at night, which is still the characteristic of eastern military or predatory operations, and of which there are most remarkable examples in Scripture.

By the usage of the East, all the spoil that had been recovered belonged to him by whom it had been recaptured; while the persons returned to their former condition. Accordingly, the kings of the plundered towns, who met their  deliverer on his returning march, proposed to Abraham, through the king of Sodom, that he should retain the goods, and return the persons to them. But the truly great patriarch, whose disinterestedness in this respect can only be truly appreciated by those, who have studied the class of sentiments which belong to that condition of life in which he moved, declared that not a particle of all this vast spoil should remain with him; and to preclude all remonstrance, he said that he had already taken a most solemn oath to that effect—“I have lifted up mine hand (in the act of taking an oath) to the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take from a thread even to a shoe latchet, and that I will not take anything that is thine.” And why not? what was the special motive that influenced him? It was the becoming pride of independence. He did not conceal it. It was, he said, “Lest thou shouldest say, ‘I have made Abraham rich.’” This he could not endure, at least not from strangers with whom his relations were not peculiarly amicable, whose character was indeed objectionable, and whom he had served merely for the sake of Lot.

This transaction must however greatly have enhanced the credit and influence of Abraham in the land of his sojourning; and it doubtless materially contributed to procure for him that respect and consideration, with which we subsequently find him treated by the native chiefs and princes of the country.