The King of Sodom
“Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’” (Gen. 14:22–23).- Genesis 14:21–24
A wealthy man once became frustrated with his elders’ refusal to follow his advice for running the church more efficiently. During the capital campaign for a new sanctuary, other members of the church were greatly impressed by his generous offer to fund the entire project. Their excitement turned to dismay when the elders rejected his gift, but the leaders feared he would use his philanthropy to influence the congregation unduly.
In today’s passage, Abram, for similar reasons, rejects a proposal from the king of Sodom that he keep the booty from his successful raid. The scene depicted in Genesis 14:21–24 is vital for grasping the meaning of this chapter as a whole, and it reveals what was most important to God in those days of mighty kings.
The king of Sodom is contrasted with the king of Salem in these verses, thus accentuating the faithfulness of Salem’s ruler. Sodom’s regent offers to share the spoils from the battle with Abraham, and unlike Melchizedek, he brings no blessing with him (vv. 17–20). If Abram were to accept this offer, the king could enhance his prestige, claiming that he enriched the patriarch. The fate that befalls Sodom (19:23–29) confirms his wicked motivations.
Plainly it would have been wrong of Abram to accept the king’s offer? For one thing, it would have threatened the Lord’s promise to make Abram’s name great. John Calvin perceptively remarks that if Abram had not refused the spoils due him, others would falsely accuse him of using the rescue of Lot as a pretense to get rich.
Secondly, to accept plunder from a defeated and jealous king would have taken glory from God. The Lord promised to reward Abram (12:1–3), and though He can do so through men, Abram knew that He had not chosen to use the king of Sodom for this purpose. Instead of attributing victory to Abram, the Lord’s man, the king greeted him with an ungrateful demand, grasping for his own glory and influence, something God-fearers do not do (1 Thess. 2:5–6). In refusing Sodom’s offer, Abram testified of the Lord’s mighty power, and left no doubt whose hand brought the triumph (Deut. 20:4).
Matthew Henry comments on today’s passage: “The people of God must, for their credit’s sake, take heed of doing anything that looks wicked or mercenary, or that savors of covetousness and self-seeking.” Appearances can be deceiving. We must take care not to accept gifts given under false pretenses or which might bring reproach to Christ. Be wise when it comes to accepting presents and do not give gifts in order to exercise control over others.
Passages for Further Study
2 Sam. 13:1–22
1 Tim. 6:9–10