Sermon: The Rescue of Lot

Outside of the names of Abram and Lot, few of us will recognize the names we will hear in our passage this morning. As we continue the story of God in the story of Abram, we are entering a dark and murky chapter. It is dark because Genesis 14 is the first story of war in the Bible, filled with death and captives taken. But it is also murky because the story takes place so long ago that we have trouble connected the names and places to anything we recognize today. In fact, even by the time Moses is writing this story down in the wilderness, the names of the places have changed so that four different times he feels the need to update the names so that the Israelites can understand. The story is ancient, but, as we will see, so very familiar.

As we hear Genesis 14 this morning, listen well to the names and places, but also listen to the contours of the story, hear the tragedy of war for the likes of Lot. But also hear the powerful story of God’s redemption of Lot through the hands of Abram, and ask where God might be calling you to walk toward the darkness. But before we hear Gods’s word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s word.

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.

At the time when Amraphel was king of Shinar, Arioch king of Elassar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goyim, these kings went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboyim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). All these latter kings joined forces in the valley of Siddim (that is, the Dead Sea Valley). For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year, they rebelled.

In the fourteenth year, Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him went out and defeated the Rephaites in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, the Emites in Shaveh Kiriathaim, and the Hornets in the hill country of Seir, as far as El Panam near the desert. Then they turned back and went to En Mishphat (that is, Kadesh) and they conquered all the territory of the Amalekites, as well as the Amorites who were living in Hazezon Tamar.

Then the King of Sodom, the King of Gomorrah, the King of Admah, the King of Zeboyim, and the King of Bela (that is, Zoar) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the valley of Siddim against Kedorlaomer King of Elam, Tidal King of Goyim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Elassar – four kings against five. Now the valley of Siddim was full of tar pits and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled into the hills. The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.

A man who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshkol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. When Abram heard that his relative had been captured, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. During the night, Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. Abram recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.

After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the King of Sodom went out to meet him in the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).

Then Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High and blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,

Creator of heaven and earth.

And praise be to God Most High,

who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and take the goods for yourself.”

But Abram said to the King of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will not accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or a strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ I will accept only what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men that went with me – to Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre. Let them have their share.”

This is the Word of the LORD. Thanks be to God.

War has torn apart the land of the Middle East. The names and places have changed from the times of Genesis 14, but the story is all too familiar.

A powerful king has moved in, grabbing land, gaining allies, and subjecting the peoples too weak to resist. Kadorlaomer. After twelve years, some of the people have finally had enough and rebel. These five kings draw up battle lines in the Valley of Siddim against Kedorlaomer and his four allies, but they are crushed. Some men die in the battle, some fall into tar pits and die fleeing from the battle and the rest flee to the hills for safety. Kedorlaomer enters Sodom and Gomorrah victorious and takes whatever he wants: goods, food, people. It is a story repeated countless times in human history: in places like Carthage, Constantinople, and Paris. Even Israel will experience this brutality and captivity at the hands of the Babylonians. In Genesis 14, in the midst of the ransacking of Sodom, we are told of one man in particular, Lot, Abram’s nephew. They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.

Lot is taken for no other reason than he was living in Sodom. The darkness of war came sweeping over Sodom and Lot is caught up and carried away in the swell. Lot was not a soldier, but an ordinary citizen taken with the spoils. His only crime was living where he lived. So he was taken away into captivity.

We might rightly say that Lot should not have been living where he was, pitching his tents near wicked Sodom. But for the many modern-day Lots, this choice is not available to them.

The darkness of war has swept over places like Syria, uprooting many lives in its wake, those whose only crime was living where they lived, being born where they were. We might say that those living in such areas should move somewhere else, but they have tried and our nation has made it clear that these refugees are not trusted and not welcomed.

The darkness of poverty has crept into neighborhoods, forcing families to choose between bad choices and worse in order to survive. Many work themselves to the bone but still find themselves crushed and carried away into a form of captivity.

The darkness of loneliness has made its way deep into the heart of our late modern society. We have worked so hard to be self-sufficient and self-reliant that we have cut ourselves off from life-giving relationships with others. There are not enough shows on Netflix to drown out our isolation.

The darkness of addiction ravages not only the addict, but all those in their orbit. It is a type of captivity that leaves many casualties.

We live in a world whose bright goodness at creation has been dimmed by darkness. Sin and its various offspring have taken captives, just as Kedorlaomer took Lot. So how do we respond to the darkness? How do we respond as Christians to a world where the ancient story of Lot reads like a regular headline of our newspapers? It is not only war that carries people off into captivity, but the captivity is not less powerful. How do we respond?

How does Abram respond? When Abram heard that his relative had been captured, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. During the night, Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. Abram recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.

At least one man escaped from the fiasco of the battle of Siddim. He comes across Abram and tells him that Lot has been captured. What does Abram do? He goes after Lot to rescue him.

In their award-winning book, The Justice Calling, Kristen Johnson and Bethany Hoang call this ‘moving toward the darkness.’ Christians are those people who see the darkness of the world – see the sin, see the poverty, see the loneliness, see the brokenness and pain – but instead of running away, they move toward it. But significantly, Johnson and Hoang point out that Christians do this as Saints, not Heroes. When we see the darkness of this world, we don’t head into a nearby phone booth to don our cape and tights. Instead, we pray. We trust in the only true Hero, the only true Savior Jesus Christ. We trust that he is the light in the darkness that the darkness will not overcome, that he is the hope that every person and every situation truly needs and then we will work diligently, faithfully, and hopefully to see justice and redemption worked out in the lives of others. We are saints – called by God to serve him – not heroes or saviors.

This is exactly what we see in Abram’s rescue of Lot. Lot is in distress, taken captive by Kedorlaomer. Abram does not sit idle, but grabs all the men in his household, all 318 of them. Think about that for a moment. Kedorlaomer has three other kings allied with him, he has defeated the Rephaites, the Zuzites, the Emites, the Horites, took over the whole territory of the Amalekites and much of the Amorites. In one battle, He defeated five kings allied against him and routed them so thoroughly that their entire army fled to the hills and he could waltz into their city unopposed. This is Kedorlaomer and Abram goes out with 318 men. We are not given any numbers telling us the size of Kedorlaomer’s army, but the odds must have been staggering.

Yet, Abram moves toward the darkness – not as a hero, but as a saint. He divides his men up during the night and they route the enemies and drive them back, recovering all the looted goods and people, including Lot.

While Abram recovered the goods, it was God who rescued Lot. 318 men routing four kings is not something done apart from the work of God. But just in case Abram could possibly miss what was going on, the LORD sends Melchizedek: Verses 18-20: Then Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High and blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,

Creator of heaven and earth.

And praise be to God Most High,

who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

Lot is redeemed because God was on the move. Kedorlaomer fled before Abram because God was on the move. Melchizedek comes and proclaims the mighty hand who has given this victory – the hand of the LORD. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.

Abram moved toward the darkness, because God moves toward the darkness. Abram moves toward Lot, not with his strength, but trusting in the LORD who saves and redeems.

Lot was swallowed by darkness, taken captive for no other reason than where he was living. Yet, the light of the LORD shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. Abram moves toward Lot, toward the darkness and the LORD redeems Lot.

I don’t need to tell you that there is darkness in this fallen world. You see it, you feel it, you are troubled by it. It can be easy to despair. We must respond, as humans made in the image of God, but especially as those redeemed of the LORD, who find life and peace at the foot of the cross. We can respond with activism, quietism, or hope.

On the one hand, we can see the darkness and seek to defeat it ourselves. We can pour ourselves out in trying to beat back every social ill, fix every broken system, or save every lost soul. But when that activism is fueled only by our passion, our will, and our effort, it will eventually lead to burn out and cynicism. We can become bitter that we are sacrificing so much and everyone is not. We can become frustrated and despair of ever succeeding in our goals. That passion can become like a fire that burns out of control, eventually hurting others and ourselves, consuming us as the only fuel it has.

On the other hand, we can retreat to quietism. We can say that nothing can really be done. It is a fallen world after all and stuff happens. Life is hard, but I can take care of myself and my family and I can’t do much about anything else. Quietism takes the light we have been given and puts it under a bushel basket – safe, but largely useless.

Or, we can hope in the LORD. Everyone experiences bondage, everyone walks in some sort of darkness. But God has come and rescued us. What Abram did for Lot with 318 men, God does for all humanity by the one man, Jesus Christ. Because God broke our chains and will come again to set things right, we can move toward the darkness. We do not bring the light, but the light of Christ has already dawned.

This is what we see in Abram. After the great victory that liberated Lot, he gratefully acknowledges the truth of Melchizedek’s words, that God Most High had delivered his enemies into his hand. Abram gives God all the credit and refuses to share it with others, either himself or the King of Sodom. He responds to God’s grace by giving a tenth of everything – a tithe.

The posture of Abram is grateful hope. Because God still works, because God still redeems, because the light of Christ still shines in the darkness and cannot be overcome, Abram can move toward Lot and see Lot redeemed.

This past Thursday was Ascension Day. Forty days after Easter, Jesus was taken up into the clouds and the disciples saw him no longer. It was a sad parting, but Jesus told them it would be for their good. Jesus ascended to heaven, not to sit on his hands and do nothing, but so that his ministry of redemption would extend over all creation. He sits at God’s right hand and, while the ultimate work of redemption was finished, Jesus is still at work. He is still redeeming. He is still going ahead of us into the darkness. So because Jesus is seated on high, we can walk toward Lot. We can go into the dark places we see because we do not need to bring the light, but testify that the light has come.

The darkness of war swept over Lot and carried him off into captivity. We see many modern-day Lots swept up into captivities not of their own making. Abram walked toward Lot, regardless of the odds, and witnessed the redemption of the LORD. We, too, because our risen Savior, Jesus, is now sitting at the right hand of the Father, can move toward the dark places in our world, trusting that we too may get to witness the redemption of the LORD.

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