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B'resheet/Genesis 14:21 Give me the people and take the spoil for yourself
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On the face of it, this doesn't seem like an unreasonable request. The king of Sodom is offering Avraham all the money while relieving him of the responsibility of providing for any of the people that he has rescued from the five kings that had raided Sodom and the other local city-states.Nechama Leibowitz points out, however, that "the Torah does not describe the character of its figures by direct psychological analysis, but only indirectly, through their utterances, actions and even lack of action." This is a possible reason why this verse follows the three previous verses - the intriguing mention of Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of G-d Most High, to whom Avraham gave a tithe - rather than following on directly from verse 17. The Torah wishes to draw a contrast between the characters of Avraham and the king of Sodom.
Abravanel explains that the text intends to throw into relief the cunning of the king of Sodom. After he had been rescued from defeat - possibly even death - and the loss of his kingdom, he would never have had the chutzpah to ask Avraham to give him anything since, according to the custom of the time, all that the victor rescued from the enemy was his. But when he saw Avraham's generosity in giving a tenth to Melchizedek the priest, he immediately took advantage and asked for something for himself. Or Hahayyim comments: "The interpolation regarding Melchizedek is introduced to reflect credit on the righteous and show the difference between them and the wicked. The king of Sodom went forth to welcome Avraham empty-handed though he was under obligation to repay him generously. The wicked went empty-handed, whereas Melchizedek the righteous with no obligation behaved generously and welcomed him with bread and wine."
The Psalmist describes G-d as a rescuer of captives: "He leads out the prisoners into prosperity" (Psalm 68:6, NASB) and the prophet Isaiah speaks of the Messiah when he says, "The Spirit of the L-rd is upon me, because the L-rd has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted; to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners" (Isaiah 61:1, NASB). The Hebrew Scriptures look to a time when G-d will intervene in the affairs of men to release people from bondage and captivity and bring them into freedom and comfort.
Yeshua Himself claimed the fulfillment of the Isaiah passage when He read from the scroll in the synagogue at the start of His ministry: "The Spirit ofAdonai is upon Me; therefore He has anointed Me to announce the Good News to the poor; He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the imprisoned ..." (Luke 4:18, CJB) and Rav Sha'ul applied the passage from the Psalms to Yeshua when he wrote, "When He ascended on high He led captive a host of captives" (Ephesians 4:8, NASB). Yeshua routed the enemy of our souls in the same way as Avraham defeated the kings who were attacking Sodom: "stripping the rulers and authorities of their power, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by means of the stake" (Colossians 2:5, CJB). By custom and convention, all the victor wrested from the enemy belonged to him, so by defeating the enemy, He rescued all our souls and we now belong to Him.
More than that, as Avraham rejected the king of Sodom's offer, refusing to accept anything from him lest he should be able to say that he made Avraham rich, so Yeshua responded when challenged by the devil. After a period of fasting in the wilderness, Yeshua was tempted three times by the devil to take matters into His own hands. The last of these three trials took place when "the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and he said to Him, 'All these things I will give you, if you fall down and worship me' (Matthew 4:8-9, NASB). Refusing the (false) offer to achieve His objectives by the wrong means - that is, by not submitting solely to the Father - Yeshua rebukes the devil and answers him from Scripture. In the same way, we should follow Yeshua's example and refuse any short-cuts or easy options that would take us out of the will of G-d; He has a plan for our lives and we must obey Him and stay within the limits He has set us.
Further Study: Jeremiah 39:18; 2 Corinthians 2:14; 1 Peter 3:18-22
Application: Are you tempted to take things into your own hands, take a short-cut or exploit forbidden information in order to speed things up or obtain a better position? Stand firm and resist the devil, for this is not G-d's way and order for you. "Resist the devil and he will flee from you!" (James 4:7, NASB).
© Jonathan Allen, 2007
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