2.3 Abram's Relations with Other Nations
There are several accounts of Abram's relations with foreigners:
a. Abram's new home was "the land of Canaan" (Gen 12:5). Much of this region was already settled land, and Abram encountered people of many different nationalities. However, he and Sarai did not stay long because of a famine in Canaan. For a time, they lived in Egypt, as so many of his descendants later did. When he met Pharaoh, however, Abram lied to him, saying that Sarai was his sister. He did this out of fear that he would be killed if it was known that she was his wife (Gen 12:12-13). This was not a stance of courageous honesty and faith in God. In fact, it might be considered cowardly failure to protect his wife. Yet God delivered Sarai and vindicated Abram by inflicting sickness on Pharaoh's household. Pharaoh was justifiably angry at Abram, since he did not intend to do wrong to him. This episode was repeated later on with the Philistine king Ahimelech (Gen 20). It is regrettable that Abram's own relations with foreign kings were not always righteous. He was responsible for bringing trouble to both Pharaoh and Abimelech, both of whom had received him peacefully into their territories.
b. Abram and Lot separated (Gen 13). Lot was part of his household from Haran, his nephew. This was not just a physical separation because their herds had gotten too big, it was also a spiritual separation.
"Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom" (Gen 13:12).
Lot dwelt without qualm in Sodom among the Canaanites, apparently adopting or at least tolerating their customs. His descendants became enemies of Israel during the Exodus and after -- Ammonites and Moabites. In the splitting up of Abram's household, God was still paring down the circle of His blessing -- Lot did not become a participant in the Covenant. And yet, even here there was a grace note appended hundreds of years later: Ruth the Moabitess' inclusion in the ancestry of Jesus Christ showed that God's final word on these people was not judgment. Out of a debased people came a righteous woman.
c. Abram fought four kings who had defeated five Canaanite kings (Gen 14). His motive was to rescue Lot and his family, who had been kidnapped. The scale of warfare was tiny -- Abram's entire force consisted of 318 men. Significantly though, he had local allies among the Amorites (Gen 14:13, Gen 14:24). Later, they would be enemies of Israel.
It was after this battle that Abram encountered two kings, who represented vastly different kingdoms. First was the mysterious Melchizedek, king of Salem.
"He was priest of God Most High" (Gen 14:18).
There are two other Scripture references to Melchizedek, starting with the Psalms:
"You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek" (Ps 110:4)
and continuing with Hebrews:
"[Jesus] was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek" (Heb 5:10).
This short meeting between Abram and Melchizedek is filled with symbols and significance: the bread and wine, the blessing upon Abram, the offering by Abram of a tenth of his possessions. The Bible tantalizes us, but does not explain the identity or status of this priest.
In contrast to this was Abram's rejection of the King of Sodom. He swore to God that he would take no reward for rescuing the captives of Sodom. It is possible that he was already aware of the practices of the inhabitants of that city, and wanted no alliance with them.