Abraham’s Special Military Operation

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It all started over grazing lands. Both Lot and Abraham had flocks and herds and when they came to a piece of land that could not sustain both their flocks and herds, arguments broke out among the herdsmen working for them. Lot decided to leave and head east into the fertile plain of Siddim and established his tent before Sodom, while Abraham stayed in Canaan and moved to the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron. After some years had passed, a group of refugees brought news to Abraham that the armies of Mesopotamia had marched on Sodom, a great battle took place, and Lot had been captured afterwards.

This brings us to a few questions to ask. What caused the armies of Mesopotamia to occupy the cities of the Jordan River plain? Who were these rulers, and what was their objective?

The Bible is silent concerning the Mesopotamian invasion of the Jordanian land. However, this should not stop us from trying to figure it out. Why would a vast army from a collection of nations invade the region? The answer is instability. With the absence of a foe strong enough to challenge them, the armies of Mesopotamia marched in, almost unopposed, confiscated untapped resources, and expanded their political influence throughout the region.

The leaders involved were Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations (Umman Manda). These four made war on the five kings of the plain. These five kings were Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar. What can be gathered given the timing of the event is that the power in charge of this operation is none other than the Mesopotamian Empire of Ur III. The king responsible for the mobilizing and executing the operation may have been none other than Amraphel of Shinar (Sumer) otherwise known as King Amar-Sin of Ur. Amar-Sin ruled Ur for 9 years from 1834-1826 BCE.

During his reign, Ur achieved the highest economic production, which allowed for the continued construction of public buildings. When it came to controlling his empire, instead of stationing military troops throughout the imperial state, Amar-Sin decided it would be best to use peaceful and constructive socio-economic incentives to extend the revamped Sumerian city-states on the outer edges. Amar-Sin established ensi or governors, who enjoyed almost complete independence, such as in the cities of Alalak, Mari, and Assur. Ensi’s for the most part were natives of the area they controlled. Amar-Sin’s policy not only encouraged local cultural development but also cemented the imperial structure by doing so. With such freedom came economic and social creativity.

Amar-Sin’s treasury was bursting at the seams, so he decided to go on another tour to expand his state. During his nine years, he conducted war in the northeasterly districts, but when it comes to how far he, like his father Shulgi, expanded the state, the extent remains hazy. What can be identified is that Mari and Elam were within the sphere of Ur’s influence by a policy of matrimonial alliances introduced by his grandfather Ur-Nammu at Mari. Such alliances, allowed Amar-Sin to utilize their armies for political and economic expansion by force.

After twelve years had passed, Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar said no more. They grew tired of paying tribute to Amar-Sin and knew that war was inevitable. King Amar-Sin, angered over the news, mobilized the forces. Leading this army to punish the people in eastern Canaan (western part of Jordan) was the king’s extortionist, King Chedorlaomer of Elam, according to the Bible, but also identified as King Kutir-Lagamar, loyal vassal of Amar-Sin.

In the spring of the fourteenth year, the armies of Ur marched out. The number of troops partaking in this military operation may have been around 10,000, perhaps a bit less. As Chedorlaomer’s armies moved from north to south, they would have taken the King’s Highway along the east side of the Jordan River in the hill country to reach their targets that dotted the plateau.

The first phase of Chedorlaomer’s campaign focused not on attacking the kings of the valley, because that was too risky. Rather, he focused his attack on those who were their vassals or allies to the east. Chedorlaomer chose this strategy to knock out the eastern allies of the kings, securing his eastern flank with the desert. He could then focus on neutralizing all potential threats to the south.

Chedorlaomer first struck the city of Ashteroth Karnaim in Rephaim, laying waste to the city of Ham in Zuzims and to the city of Shaveh Kiriathaim in Emim. Chedorlaomer continued to push into Mount Seir of the Horites and continued until he reached Elparan at the edge of the desert. There are two possibilities as why Chedorlaomer stopped there. The first reason from a military perspective is obvious; it’s the desert. To proceed any farther spelt disaster. If not the desert, then it has to be political. It could be that Chedorlaomer encountered the important trade route that leads to Egypt, and to cause any upheaval along that commercial route would cause Egypt to take issue. Egypt had commercial interests throughout the Levant.

News of the disasters traveled quickly to each city, causing many citizens and rulers to panic and fear the worst. This was exactly what the invaders wanted, psychological warfare to bend the knees of their enemies. While many of the inhabitants were taken prisoner, many others fled before Chedorlaomer’s arrival and sought refuge behind the walls of Sodom, or behind any walls large enough for that matter, hoping that the armies of Mesopotamia would eventually turn back and head home. However, they were going to be disappointed. Chedorlaomer turned north and sacked the Enmishpat, which is Kadesh, smote the Amalekites and the Amorites that dwelt in Hazezontamar.

The five kings of the plain knew that they would be picked off individually if they stayed behind their walls. However if they united, it would give them a fighting chance. Both armies would meet for battle on the southern end of the Dead Sea just south of Sodom in the Valley of Siddim. The battle, even though not recorded in any detail, was no doubt prolonged, bloody, and downright messy. The kings of the Plain were defeated. There is no way of knowing for sure if any of the kings died in battle as the Bible is silent on the matter. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls do mention that King Birsha of Gomorrah fell into the slime pits. The remaining kings, Shinab, Bera, Shemeber, and Bela fled into the hills. But not only did the surviving kings flee, many others seeking safety from the marauding armies of Mesopotamia also fled.

There is no doubt that Abraham and the inhabitants living to the west of the Dead Sea knew of the events taking place east of the Jordan. They received news from refugees, trade caravans, and possibly their own spies sent out to investigate, keeping a close eye on a potential threat, carefully preparing for the worst, but taking no action until war arrives at their doorstep. Abraham was concerned, but he knew that Lot was a capable adult able to make his own decisions. Unfortunately, Lot, for whatever reason, did not pack up and move out of harm’s way. No reason is given as to why Lot stayed. Perhaps he thought that the power vacuum sweeping throughout the Jordan River plain would bypass him. Whatever the case was, Lot’s clan and belongings were captured. While Abraham was going about his business, a refugee, perhaps one of Lot’s kinfolk, told Abraham what had happened, that Lot had been taken captive, and if he didn’t do something soon, Lot would be sold into slavery.

Abraham did not hesitate and sent messengers to his confederate Amorite allies, Mamre, Eshcol, and Aner informing them of the situation and asking for assistance. While the messengers were on their way, Abraham informed his household of what just happened. Abraham quickly mustered his forces of three hundred and eighteen men.

Abraham and his forces travelled north for five days, possibly taking the King’s Highway for a time, gathering intelligence and keeping an eye on the enemy’s movements. Eventually the enemy encamped near the town of Laish (Dan). While the armies of Mesopotamia continued their victorious celebration, Abraham kept a watchful eye on the festivities, keeping track of the guards, their movements, and perhaps collecting information on the exact location of where the prisoners and loot were held from people not aligned with the army who were able to come in and out of the encampment. Abraham waited for many hours, allowing the alcohol drunk by the enemy to take full effect before storming in. Once the army began to succumb to intoxication, Abraham divided his men, into two groups of 159. While the enemy slept and their fires flickered, casting shadows, Abraham and his men infiltrated the camp in silence and smote many of the sleeping enemy. Once Lot and the loot were found, they quickly packed up and moved out before any alarm could be made. The Bible does mention that they pursued them as far as “unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus,” which could suggest that Abraham was still making hit and run raids. One can assume that Abraham and his men were the only ones making these raids or perhaps they were now receiving help from their Amorite allies. Whatever the case, Abraham was successful in his special operations mission.

Abraham along with his men camped at the Valley of Shaveh. The new king of Sodom, who was in hiding, along with the other kings, came out after he received word that Abraham defeated the Mesopotamian kings and retrieved the property of the people and that of the five kings. Before the Kings of the Plain arrived, Melchizedek, priest-king of Salem (Jerusalem) visited Abraham. Melchizedek, who had no part in the war, recognized kindness when he saw it and came out to Abraham and his men, bringing food and drink. Melchizedek thanked Abraham and blessed him for his good deed. Abraham, seeing the sincerity of Melchizedek, responded to the priest-king by giving him a tithe.

While Melchizedek responded with hospitality, wanting nothing but to say thank you, the king of Sodom was rather political in his approach. He didn’t say thank you or offer food and drink. Instead, the king of Sodom wanted to strike a deal. He offered all the loot to Abraham, as long as he returns the people to the king. The problem with this is that the Mesopotamian kings captured the people and looted the cities of the plains. Abraham had not taken anything from them, thus technically he owed the king’s of the Plain nothing legally or morally. It was legally Abraham’s by the fair fortunes of war. But Abraham was not like that. Instead of making a deal with the king and his royal entourage, Abraham’s response surprised the king by refusing to keep loot or people, for Abraham was clearly entitled,

I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich.

In other words, Abraham’s riches will come from God, not from some politician seeking to strike a deal. Besides, saving the lives and their property and not taking a single item is far more rewarding. Abraham’s rescue of Lot is technically the first recorded special operations mission.

By Cam Rea

References 

Genesis

Garcia, Juan Carlos Moreno. Ancient Egyptian Administration. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2013.

Rohl, David. From Eden to Exile: The Epic History of the People of the Bible . London: Arrow, 2003.

Rohl, David. From Eden to Exile: The Epic History of the People of the Bible . London: Arrow, 2003.

Roux, Georges. Ancient Iraq. 3rd ed., New ed. London: Penguin Books, 1992.

Thomson, Gary Arthur. First Market: The Genesis of Wall Street in Ancient Iraq. New York: IUniverse, 2010.

Schwartz, Matthew B. Politics in the Hebrew Bible: God, Man, and Government. Lanham, MD: Jason Aronson, Inc, 2013.

Vermès,Géza. The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English. London: Penguin, 2004.

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